This site is devoted to increasing public awareness of police misconduct and detainee abuse in addition to providing support for victims of police misconduct and detainee abuse. If you or someone you know have witnessed abuse or have been abused, please let us know.


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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Police Target Anti-Brutality Groups Ahead Of Convention

Among the numerous reports of several politically motivated raids taking place over the weekend in Minnesota to preemptively disrupt groups planning on protesting the Republican National Convention was this story of an anti-police brutality activist who's documents were ransacked back at her home while she was detained elsewhere in one of the questionable raids.

While it's clear that at the very least Michelle Gross, of Communities United Against Police Brutality, was the victim of a burglary. But because nothing of any real value was stolen during the burglary and it was clear that documents and photographs stored in her garage and car were rifled through while she was detained at a meeting of activists planning to protest the convention, so she strongly suspects that the police did it.

Given the kinds of things police have said to me about what I do here and what they would like to do to me, I have no reason whatsoever to doubt her... and it's pretty damn frightening seeing how our civil liberties in this nation are being trampled. But, both her and her husband have both said they won't let this form of intimidation stop them from participating in the protests and documenting any police misconduct.

To add some degree of credibility to the claim that police in Minnesota are targeting police misconduct activists and reporters, police also raided the house of a journalist who was hosting members of I-Witness, a group of journalists and citizens that monitor police misconduct from New York. Police handcuffed and detained several of the reporters for hours and other journalists watched from a backyard next door while police searched through the group's documents and video equipment. In addition to that raid, police also detained two more I-Witness reporters elsewhere with no reason given for the detention.

Here was the statement issued by the I-Witness group as the raid was taking place:
IMC-US , Aug 30, 2008 @ 20:20 GMT
From: I-Witness Video

This is Eileen Clancy, one of the founders of I-Witness Video, a NYC-based video collective in St. Paul to document the policing of the protests at the Republican National Convention.

The house where I-Witness Video is staying in St. Paul has been surrounded by police. We have locked all the doors. We have been told that if we leave we will be detained. One of our people who was caught outside is being detained in handcuffs in front of the house. The police say that they are waiting to get a search warrant. More than a dozen police are wielding firearms, including one St. Paul officer with a long gun, which someone told me is an M-16.

...For those that don't know, I-Witness Video was remarkably successful in exposing police misconduct and outright perjury by police during the 2004 RNC. Out of 1800 arrests, at least 400 were overturned based solely on video evidence which contradicted sworn statements which were fabricated by police officers. It seems that the house arrest we are now under and the possible threat of the seizure of our computers and video cameras is a result of the 2004

We are asking the public to contact the office of the St. Paul mayor to stop this house arrest, gross intimidation by police officers and the detention of media activists and reporters.

- Eileen Clancy
When police are brazen enough to do something like this, to target reporters and groups that monitor police activity, you really have to start think that they plan to do some pretty brutal things to anyone who dares to protest during the convention. Both groups see this as a form of preemptive intimidation ahead of the event but still pledge to stay and document any cases of abuse or misconduct that they see. However, having now been identified by the police, I fear they will be the first targets for any brutality that the police decide to unleash next week.

...I sincerely hope I'm wrong.

UPDATED 8/31/08

This Week In The News

The arrest of Asa Eslocker in Denver
There have been several interesting stories in the news over the last couple days, so let's take a look...

Media Feels The Wrath of Police Miconduct?

Let's look outside of Seattle for a second first....

With the seemingly unlawful arrest of an ABC news reporter and producer in Denver Colorado at a hotel near the Democratic Party's National Convention this week we certainly thought that maybe the media would be a bit more sensitive about complaints of police misconduct and unlawful activities that could have political motivation, such as what occured in Seattle at the Seattle Police Officer's Guild during a Republican candidate for governor's public press conference just a week before the arrest of Asa Eslocker in Denver.

Well, while several other questionable police actions in Denver were ignored by the press, some media sources have picked up on how the police in Minnesota have taken to the practice of preemptively arresting, seizing the property of, and harassing people they suspect MIGHT protest during the Republican Party's Convention in Minneapolis next week. Some reports are even indicating that children as young as five have been caught up in the raids having been handcuffed with guns pointed at their heads.

We'll have to wait and see how this develops and if the press remains biased towards the police version of events as the build up to the convention continues. In any case, it's a very disturbing precursor to the upcoming convention.

(UPDATE: More up-to-date information on the, apparently ongoing, raids is available at

More News From Sturgis

State's Attorney Jesse Sondreal has issued a statement to the press suggesting that the Hell's Angels member who was shot by off-duty Seattle Police detective Ron Smith had instigated the fight between the two that has resulted in the HA member, Joseph McGuire, being brought up on assault charges.

However, there is still no explanation as to why Detective Smith was also brought up on charges of aggravated assault and perjury, both felonies, as well as carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. The perjury charge is particularly worrisome in this case as it suggests that Detective Smith misled the grand jury when he testified a day after the August 9th incident.

Sondreal suggested that others might be charged but has not commented on the video evidence presented to the grand jury nor any specific testimony given that would explain why Smith, and other Iron Pigs motorcycle club members were also charged in the barroom brawl and subsequent shooting.

(More coverage of the Sturgis shooting can be found HERE and HERE.)

Critical Mass Rides Again

The monthly Critical Mass ride went off without a hitch yesterday after last month's violence in response to a hit and run driver where police did their best to blame the bicyclists instead of the motorist that hit them. Of course the police are taking credit for the uneventful event, even though the ride went off without a hitch for many years without a problem before and without such an aggressive police presence. Police have hinted that, while they escorted this month's ride, they documented all traffic violations made by the riders and will likely use that information to crack down on participants during their next ride.

I watched a portion of the ride and, frankly, the only real threat to public safety that I saw was a motorcycle cop almost hit a kid on a sidewalk just to catch up to the main group of riders after he had stopped to talk to a woman on a corner. He stopped short of the kid, who was between his parents, and gruffly said "Get out of the way!" before speeding off down the SIDEWALK and then onto a one way street going the WRONG WAY... Seems the rides were safer without the cops.

(I would have taken a picture of the incident I witnessed but I still haven't been able to replace the camera that mysteriously ended up missing from my baggage during my last business trip)

That Folklife Shooting

Seems I might have been right when I suggested that the person accused of shooting three at Seattle's Folklife festival may not have done it intentionally, but as a result over a struggle for his gun, for which he had a legal concealed carry permit. Although he had plead guilty to third degree asssault over the shooting, a judge released Clinton Chad Grainger to two years of community supervision after he had served 78 days in jail awaiting trial and sentencing.

Grainger's lawyer, Kearney Lee Hammer, seems to have successfully argued that Grainger "had become involved in a scuffle with an acquaintance at the festival" and that "The second man lunged for a holster holding the weapon on Grainger's ankle in an attempt to seize the gun and use it against Grainger." While the police and prosecutors attempted to paint Grainger as mentally ill, they failed to provide any evidence of this or of their presumed version of events.

Photos in the news after the attack showed a bloodied and obviously beaten Grainger being paraded through crowds at the festival while being pelted with garbage in a lynch-mob type scene. Of course, there have been no charges pressed against any of the other participants in the melee that resulted in the accidental discharge of the weapon nor the subsequent beating Grainger received.

...interestingly enough, Grainger appears to have said that he obtained his CCW permit while in the process of studying to be a cop.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Blue Must Be True

"If self-policing worked, then society would not need the police would we? Law enforcement agencies (as miniature societies) are no different - they cannot police themselves." -Karl Mansoor

Who is Karl Mansoor?

Mr. Mansoor is an ex-police officer and a current law enforcement instructor in Virginia... He is also the author of "Blue Must Be True", a blog about law enforcement leadership, ethics, and misconduct. He is also one of the examples of law enforcement professionals that prove not all police officers are bad.

Here is a portion of the latest post at Blue Must be True, to give you an idea of what I'm talking about:
"Certainly society wants to think the best of its heroes; in this case law enforcement officers...

I have worked with law enforcement officers who are worthy of emulation. They were and are true professionals dedicated to serving with integrity. Regrettably, I am also personally aware of, and have worked with, law enforcement officers who are just the opposite.

While I have only worked in two police departments and trained with perhaps several hundred officers from various agencies (only a fraction of officers in the U.S.), I get the strong sense that police culture is consistent throughout the United States. A negative aspect of that culture is the “Code of Silence.” It may be true that many officers do not personally engage in excessive force or other aspects of misconduct, it is also likely true that many law enforcement officers will not speak up about issues that need to see the light of day.

Citizens are wrong if they think this problem will self correct. They are even more wrong if they think the problem is sparse and of little consequence. Be wary of police administrators who tell you they can fix it - some are part of the problem. If self-policing worked, then society would not need the police would we? Law enforcement agencies (as miniature societies) are no different - they cannot police themselves.
The post in question is filled with very informative figures, statistics, and other facts that are both incredibly interesting and important for people to understand. But that's not necessarily what should draw someone to this site. The interesting story here is the perspective of the person who is presenting these facts and what that represents, because the person discussing these issues was a police officer himself and is currently a licensed law enforcement instructor.

The site, and the person who writes it, also represents the hope that not all police officers are bad or willing to look the other way when police abuses occur. I say this is a hope we need because it's true, we cannot have trust in our society if we cannot trust those who are entrusted to enforce society's laws and without that trust then such a society will certainly fail.

This is not to say that Mr. Mansoor is the only good officer out there, by far I know that's not the case. But, he is one of the few who have taken the brave step to bring an honest perspective to the issues surrounding misconduct and the need to find that delicate balance of authority and accountability. While the author of Blue Must Be True says that he will not be writing often since he is also working on a book, it's still a site I'll be following with interest...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Seattle Police Officer Indicted On Multiple Charges In Sturgis Shooting

Originally posted on 08/28/08 at 08:58, updated 09/05/08 at 11:40, perjury charge against Detective Smith was dropped.

Multiple charges have been filed today against Seattle police officer and Iron Pigs Motorcycle Club member Detective Ron Smith upon the recommendation of a Meade County grand jury over the August 9th shooting incident where Detective Smith, who was off-duty in attendance at the Sturgis motorcycle rally, had shot a Hells Angels Motorcycle Club member twice inside of a crowded Sturgis bar.

At the recommendation of the grand jury, the officer has been charged with multiple counts including perjury, aggravated assault, and carrying concealed pistol without a permit or abiding by a permit of a reciprocal state. The grand jury had heard 7 hours of testimony on the Sunday following the incident and considered further evidence and testimony on Wednesday, August 27. Smith could face up to 15 years in prison for the aggravated assault charge and five years for the perjury charge. Both are felonies. The two alternative charges he faces are misdemeanors.

While recent changes to the Seattle Police Department's disciplinary system makes committing perjury as part of an officer's official duty in the course of an internal investigation an offense that requires immediate termination, it is unclear if committing perjury while off-duty would apply. All officers involved in the incident have been put on administrative leave for the course of SPD's own internal investigation into the shooting incident.

(NOTE: The perjury charge against Detective Smith has since been dropped by state's attorney Sondreal who has also alleged that his investigation found that the Hell's Angels instigated the fight which resulted in the shooting.)

Also, while the department does have a policy of firing officers accused of felony offenses, the city was recently forced to rehire an officer who was charged with a felony but plead guilty to a misdemeanor instead, indicating that Smith and other officers will likely remain on paid administrative leave during the course of the investigation at least, which can last up to 180 days or more.

In addition to Smith, the four other Iron Pig MC members who were with Smith may also face charges of carrying a concealed pistol or an alternative charge of failure to abide by a permit of a reciprocal state. Also, it appears as though the person who was shot will also face charges of assault as well. The other Iron Pig MC members who were with Smith in Sturgis who face charges of carrying a concealed weapon without a permit include: Scott Lazalde of Bellingham, James Rector of Ferndale, Erik Pingel, of Aurora, Colorado, and Dennis McCoy of Seattle.

Two of the Iron Pigs MC members who were charged are SPD officers; Ron Smith and Dennis McCoy. Also, two other Iron Pigs members who were charged are US Customs Agents; Scott Lazalde and James Rector. There was no word yet as to Erik Pingel's occupation or relation to the Iron Pigs MC, which is reportedly comprised of only police officers and firefighters.

Sturgis state attorney Sondreal said in an e-mail this morning that the grand jury found that Smith lied while testifying before them the day after the shooting. Sondreal's press release issued the following statement:

"The grand jury must've decided that Mr. Smith, having taken an oath to testify truly, in a state proceeding, stated intentionally and contrary to the oath, a material matter which he knew to be false."
At this point there has been no comment from officer Smith, who claims to have shot in self defense, but the Seattle Police Officer's Guild, who previously insisted that the officer would be exonerated by video evidence taken from the Sturgis bar, has issued the following statement.
"The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) has been made aware of the findings of the Meade County Grand Jury surrounding the events which occurred in Sturgis South Dakota on August 9th of this year. We are certain that once all the facts are known, the involved SPOG members will be vindicated and absolved of any wrong-doing. Until that occurs, we are heartened by the news that Detective Ron Smith is recovering from his serious injuries and that no other parties were injured except for Detective Smith and his alleged assailant.

We would also encourage members of the community to remember that mere charges do not imply guilt and that the involved officers are innocent until proven guilty.

For more information contact SPOG at 206-767-1150"
Smith, in addition to being a member of the Iron Pigs motorcycle group and a Seattle police detective, is also on the board of directors for the Seattle Police Officer's Guild and editor of it's monthly newsletter "The Guardian". Online editions of that newsletter were quickly pulled offline after the incident. Smith and other SPD officers who were with him have been put on administrative leave pending an internal investigation into the incident.

While there have been no reported incidents of misconduct that involve SPD officer Sgt. Dennis McCoy, Detective Ron Smith reportedly has a history of disciplinary actions against him, including one 2005 incident at a Seattle Seahawks game where he allegedly taunted Seahawks fans which instigated a fight while he was working as security and another 2005 incident where he allegedly threatened to shoot a bar manager in Tacoma Washington while off-duty after the bar manager asked him to leave. Investigations into both matters found the officer guilty of misconduct, but the disciplinary actions merely resulted in a 2 day suspension for the first incident and a written reprimand for the threats he made in the Tacoma area bar.

Details about another alleged misconduct case against officer Smith, also in 2005, indicates that the officer may have had run-ins with the Hell's Angels previously when he apparently pressed charges against a Hell's Angels club member for making threats over the phone. However, it appears that the call was recorded and when played back to prosecutors the charges were dismissed and a subsequent internal investigation referred Smith for Supervisory Intervention as he appeared to be the person making threats during the conversation instead by telling the club member that Smith was a part of "the biggest gang of all" and that he should "watch his back".

No word yet on any trial dates or if the video taken from the Sturgis bar which was shown to the grand jury would be made public.

The Rapid City Journal
The Seattle Times
The Stranger
The Seattle Post Intelligencer

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sturgis Shooting Update

-UPDATE: Charges have been filed on 08/28/08

A Meade County, SD grand jury reconvened Wednesday in order to determine whether or not any charges would be filed over the shooting that occurred in a Sturgis, South Dakota bar last week by an off-duty Seattle police officer who was attending the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally as a member of the Iron Pigs Motorcycle club. The shooting allegedly occurred in a crowded bar, filled with 400 - 500 people, called the Loud American Roadhouse during an alleged fight between that officer, Detective Ron Smith, and a Hells Angels motorcycle club member named Patrick McGuire who was hospitalized with two gunshot wounds.

As of Wednesday evening there has been no word on whether that grand jury has made any decisions on the case. Meade County and Sturgis area press outlets have not had any updates since this morning either. The Rapid City Journal has indicated that the grand jury was scheduled to recess sometime late Wednesday afternoon or evening but no word on whether a decision was expected at that time.

More to come as more information becomes available.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How Dangerous Is Police Work? (and other police misconduct statistics)

I received an email today asking, as many do, whether there are any hard statistics on police related violence and color of law abuses. Unfortunately, as I have to tell many people, there aren't any easy ways to get this kind of information for a number of reasons.

However, I've decided to compile some of the statistics I have been able to gather for Seattle and nationwide in my own ongoing research into how pervasive police misconduct really is, what the trends might indicate, and whether there are any correlations between crime rates and excessive uses of force. If statistics bore you, don't worry, I made pretty graphs too.

Just a week or so ago I posted some statistics about how complaints of excessive use of force by Seattle Police officers compare to alleged incidents of assault on an officer. I did this to get an idea of whether or not the commonly used excuse for excessive force, being that police work is dangerous so officers need to use physical force even when none is used against them, really had any justification by the numbers.

Number of alleged incidents of assault on an officer, alleged injuries to officers from assaults, and excessive use of force complaints in Seattle

As you can see above, while complaints of excessive force have generally been trending upwards, the allegations of assault on an officer and any corresponding claims of injuries by officers stemming from said allegation have been on a clear decline. In fact, allegations of assault on an officer fell by over 200 and injury rates have more than halved since the year 2000 while complaints of excessive force have increased over the same period. This would seem to indicate that police aggressiveness is not a defensive response to a more violent populous.

Some might argue that the job of a policeman is still more dangerous than other jobs if you look outside of Seattle. Well, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released their report on occupational fatalities for 2007 (on 08/20/2008) and I decided to take a look to see how dangerous police work was on a national scale as another comparison point to see if this excuse for more aggressive use of force by police was valid on a national scale.

According to the BLS Occupational Fatalities press release, the top four most dangerous occupations in terms of deaths per worker are:

1. Fishing and Fishery Workers (111.8 per 100,000)
2. Logging Workers (86.4 per 100,000)
3. Aircraft Pilots and Flight Engineers (66.7 per 100,000)
4. Structural Iron and Steel Workers (45.5 per 100,000)

To make a comparison I calculated the fatality rate for law enforcement officers which comes in around 20.2 per 100,000 based on 2007 employment level statistics, nearly 6 times safer than working as fisherman and twice as safe as working in a steel mill.

Further into the depths of the report they provide are the actual number of deaths per profession, of which the top 10 appear to be:
Deaths by Occupation for 2007

So, even by counting the number of deaths instead of the per capita death rates it appears as though law enforcement ranks a bit on the safer side when compared to several other occupations. Of course, one could try to argue that it's still more dangerous in terms of having to worry about being shot at on a daily basis, right?

Well... let's break it down to see what the homicide rates on the job might be:

Job site deaths sorted by number of homicides

In this comparison we see that Law Enforcement homicide rates are at 37% of the total fatality rate for the occupation, making it the third most likely occupation in which a person might be murdered, but only fourth in the total number of murder victims overall. This might seem to indicate that it's pretty dangerous, but lets do some further comparisons...

The per capita murder rate for law enforcement officers in the US in 2007 was 8.07 per 100,000
The per capita accidental death rate for the United States in 2006 was 38.1 per 100,000
For 2007 there were 43 cities in the US where the per capita murder rate was higher than 8.07 per 100,000
The 2007 per capita murder rate in the worst city of the US (Detroit) is 47.3 per 100,000
The 2006 per capita murder rate in Seattle was 5.1 per 100,000

So, on average, it's more dangerous for a civilian to walk in some US cities than it is to work as a police officer in the US. In fact, in 2007, it appears as though it was more dangerous to be a civilian in Seattle than it was to be a police officer as the per capita murder rate was 5.1 per 100,000 but the law enforcement murder rate was 0 per 1,000.

How does Seattle stack up for use of force complaints?

Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), in 2002 the national average for use of force complaints against officers in medium to large municipal police departments was around 9.5 per every 100 officers. In Seattle, for 2007, the rate was 10.3 per 100.

Nationally, use of force complaints are sustained in approximately 8% of cases, in Seattle complaints for 2007 were sustained in a suspiciously low 3.48% whereas previously they stayed near the national average sustained rate, indicating a problem in the accountability process.

Compared to other cities of similar size?
By using the annual reports that some cities issue, the following comparisons could be made.

Pop Est 582,454: PD Size 1,200
2007 Use Of Force Complaints: 124 (10.3 per 100)

San Jose:
Pop Est 929,936: PD Size 1,400
2007 Use Of Force Complaints: 117 (8.4 per 100)

Washington DC:
Pop Est 581,530: PD Size 3,800
2007 Use Of Force Complaints: 101 (2.7 per 100)

San Fransisco:
Pop Est 744,041: PD Size 2,100
2007 Use Of Force Complaints: 186 (8.9 per 100)

Why are Seattle's numbers so different?

There is an distrurbing trend developing if you take the time to compare monthly accountability reports in the city of Seattle to each previous year. Previously, a vast majority of complaints in Seattle were processed through the civilian led Office of Professional Accountability which would investigate roughly 90% of complaints and refer 10% of complaints to administrative officers for a discretionary finding which didn't involve an investigation. This changed towards mid 2007 after a change in OPA management, as seen below:

OPA Investigation vs Administrative Discretionary Findings 2005-2008

Which led to an increase in the number of exonerations, as seen below:
Sustained/Unsustained Findings From 2005 to 2008

So, clearly there is a problem with police misconduct and use of force within Seattle that is not being addressed by Seattle's system of accountability and officer discipline to this day. In fact, the problem appears to be getting worse and it's not because police officers are in any real or inordinate danger while working on the streets of this city.

Monkey See...

Visitors By City For The Last 30 Days

The blogger over at Apesma's Lament, a really great local blog I try to make a daily habit of visiting, put up a map of his visitors for the month as a show of his obsessiveness with his blog stats... I share his pain.

While he blames his obsession on a hyper-focus aspect of his ADHD, I have to admit that I think mine comes from my PTSD, which usually forces me to imagine police officers reading this site while polishing their gun with that infamous "Gomer-Pyle-from-Full-Metal-Jacket-sort-of-look" in their eyes whenever I see a visitor come in from a police department's network.
That Officer Pyle Look

In any case, because of this case of seemingly justifiable policeaphobia that I've developed I actually use several different information gathering methods for this site, two of which give me a map-view option as well. So, even though I think his traffic just about doubles ours, I still thought it would be fun to share some stats too.
Visitors For Last 30 Days, Other Stat Counter

So, as you can see, I use multiple site monitors because each misses something the other sees. Oddly, this is especially true when I get hits from federal agencies for some reason... but, anyway...

What's more fun than that? Well, tying that to some of the more unusual traffic sources that send people our way. For example, one of those visits we got from that dot in China came from someone searching for "Grandma Vigilantes on High Alert"... Uh huh... didn't know China had a problem with elderly vigilantes.

Though that was funny, we also get visits as a result of some disturbing search efforts as well, such as what a searcher from Alberta, Canada was looking for; "will i face jail time 4 being to the to the police when my boyfriend did not hit me and i said he did"... Yes, that was an actual search term that brought someone here. Scary, huh?

Anyway, of the over 1,300 visits we've had in the last 30 days, about 22% came from some government network, be it city, county, state, or federal. At least one hit per day comes from the City of Seattle network and one visit every other day from the King County government network.

How do people get here? Glad you asked...

Visitor Sources breakdown for the last 30 days

Most visits this month came from keyword searches (most of those being related to the Sturgis shooting incident that is still under investigation), second place belongs to referrals (Thanks for linking to my posts!) and then direct hits from people who have the site bookmarked or whatnot, (thanks!).

Of the referrals, we got most of our referral visits from the following websites and fellow bloggers:
Top 10 Direct site referrals

(In that list, BTW, the Google referrals listed are only for Google feed readers, not searches.)

So, as you can see, watching the stats go by can be fairly boring, but insightful as well... so long as you're obsessive enough to watch them.

In any case, no matter how you got here or where you came here from, thanks for visiting!!!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tim Burgess Wages War On... Social Disorder?

Seattle city councilmember Tim Burgess has recently released his plan to combat "social disorder" within Seattle. While admitting that crime rates in the city are the lowest that they have been in several decades, he has come up with a new way to justify a call for more aggressive police tactics and additional hires for the most expensive police force within the state... that justification appears to be something called "social disorder".

There's quite a bit I could say about this plan, but Blogging Georgetown beat me to it with an excellent post about councilmember Burgess' plan that I would be really hard-pressed to add to in any meaningfully worthwhile way. However, there is one specific section of this plan that caused me more pause than any other and it's one I think needs a bit more attention than the rest.

First, this is an interesting item within his plan because he is proposing that the police should be used to assertively enforce a nebulously subjective idea of "social order" instead of enforcing the law. The concern, of course, is that this "social disorder" isn't quantified. Is Tim demanding that police continue criminalizing symptoms of social disorder like homelessness? Perhaps he would also like a harsher response to any acts of social disorder such as protests, like the police did to the October 22nd group? This concept of "social disorder" is not objective, there are no defining parameters or any laws that define this term, so to use it as justification for an "assertive police response" should cause a bit of concern. If not only from a civil rights perspective, but also from a financial perspective as Seattle has had to pay out legal costs for such "social disorder" enforcement efforts in the past.

Secondly, it's this call for more assertive police and for the city government to support proactive policing itself. It's assumed that Tim is talking about this kind of proactive policing where officers are trained to use aggressive tactics to crack down on people that they suspect might commit a crime at some point in the future based on subjective and error-prone profiling techniques that have gotten them into trouble in the past. This also seems to be a subtle call on the council to stop pushing for better systems of accountability within the police department which has been increasingly lax in regards to investigating complaints of abuse and misconduct on the part of Seattle police officers during this year. Basically it appears to be a call for the city to ignore police abuses in support of more aggressive tactics.

Putting both of these together would run contrary to public calls for improved accountability and reduced use of problematic "proactive" police tactics like the use of stand-alone obstruction charges. All this in response to a mere perception of increased "social disorder", but not any increase in crime rates. It's a big risk to take in response to a subjective perception instead of an objective fact, especially when you factor in the most likely reason for such a perception, that being the rapid increase in more affluent residents in the city due to booming development and reduced affordable housing. While the city is actually doing better in terms of crime rates, more people who are used to living in suburbs are experiencing the culture shock of living in an urban area.

While many items in Tim's plan have merit, especially the use of mental health professionals to help the mentally ill instead of just tossing them in jail, there are some problems with what Tim is using a justification for these calls for more assertive and proactive police in a city that has been battered by persistent stories of police misconduct. Overall, this appears to be a very questionable demand for more police powers and more hires in the current circumstances of reduced crime rates and persistent misconduct issues within the department and I think Tim should reconsider this demand in what otherwise appeared to be a fairly reasonable plan. In the very least, we hope Tim takes some time to be VERY specific about exactly what he's asking for, and why.

UPDATE 08/27/08 - Apesma's Lament also has a great post put up about Burgess' war on "Social Disorder" as well, go check it out.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

From The E-Mailbag

I received this message last night from an anonymous reader in regards to the Sturgis shooting story that we've been following lately and I thought it would be interesting to share it with my readers to see what they thought about it...

"Sir, you should check your facts before printing things on your blog if you want legitimacy..
1) The victim in the Sturgis brutal beat down is NOT a LT
2) Get a copy of the discipline report for the victim of the beat down via public disclosure to learn he was never discplined for threating to shoot a bar manager.
3) Call Hector Castro and ask him why he is being sued for SLANDER for reporting the same erroneous info
4) Irregardless is not a word.
5) Make the correction before the LT sues you..."
(For those who don't know, Hector Castro is the reporter who wrote the article in The Seattle Post Intelligencer which alleged Ron Smith, the officer who is suspected of shooting a Hells Angels MC member in a Sturgis bar last week, had a history of sustained misconduct complaints that included taunting fans while working at a football game and of threatening to shoot a bar manager who tried to throw him out of a Tacoma Washington bar.

I've forwarded this on to Mr. Castro to determine if it's a hoax, but I don't expect a reply. The paper and other news outlets that repeated the same allegations have not issued any retractions or corrections though.)

So, readers... what do you think you would do about this one?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Off-Duty Seattle Police Officer Involved In Sturgis Biker Shooting -Updated

(originally posted on 08/11/08 - updated 08/28/08, Officer Smith has been charged in the incident as have the four other officers with him and the person who was shot as well.)

An off-duty Seattle police officer and member of the "Iron Pigs" motorcycle club, (a biker group comprised of law enforcement officer and firefighters), is being investigated after being detained as a result of a shooting in Sturgis South Dakota this weekend. The Seattle Police Department has confirmed that it has put SPD officer Ron Smith, and 4 other officers who were with him, on administrative duty while Sturgis police and other local authorities investigate the shooting that left one "Hells Angels" motorcycle club member hospitalized.

The shooting occurred around 1:00am inside a bar called the Loud American Roadhouse that held about 500 patrons at the time of the shooting. Accounts differ as to how many shots were fired, from 2 to 8, but the officer involved alleges that the shots were fired in self defense after a fight broke out between members of the Iron Pigs and Hells Angels, according to the Seattle Police Officer's Guild.

Some witnesses who have given testimony to a grand jury convened in South Dakota and others in various motorcycle forums who claim to have been there suggest that the fight broke out over Iron Pigs MC members displaying their "colors" which is something most biker groups are discouraged from doing while at the Sturgis rally as it is seen as a provocation.

The previously unnamed officer, Ronald Smith, reportedly has a history of disciplinary actions against him, including one 2005 incident at a Seattle Seahawks game where he taunted Seahawks fans which instigated a fight while he was working as security and another 2005 incident where he allegedly threatened to shoot a bar manager in Tacoma Washington while off-duty after the bar manager asked him to leave. Investigations into both matters found the officer guilty of misconduct, but the disciplinary actions merely resulted in a 2 day suspension for the first incident and a written reprimand for the threats he made in the Tacoma area bar.

While some police officers have threatened us and journalists in Seattle with legal action in regards to the reports of previous misconduct rulings involving this officer, the reports of these prior misconduct allegations were apparently confirmed by the president of the Seattle Police Officer's Guild himself in an interview with The Seattle Times about the Sturgis shooting incident:

"O'Neill said the Seattle detective involved in the shooting has been investigated by the department a handful of times, once for allegedly taunting someone at a football game, but he has not received any "serious" discipline. He said the detective contacted him, as his union representative, since the shooting."

Details about another misconduct case against officer Smith, also in 2005, indicates that the officer may have had run-ins with the Hell's Angels previously when he apparently pressed charges against a Hell's Angels club member for making threats over the phone. However, it appears that the call was recorded and when played back to prosecutors the charges were dismissed and a subsequent internal investigation referred Smith for Supervisory Intervention as he appeared to be the person making threats during the conversation instead by telling the club member that he was a part of "the biggest gang of all" and that he should "watch his back".

(we should also note that officer Smith, as a guild board member and editor of the Seattle Police Officer's Guild's newsletter "The Guardian", has contacted us, and other blog writers, in the past to issue threats of legal action and other intimidating messages over articles published about misconduct and pieces critical of content posted in their monthly newsletter.)

The police guild has issued statements of support and insists that the officer was attacked without provocation. They state that they anticipate that he will be vindicated when video evidence taken from the bar becomes available. However, investigators have said the video is currently too dark to make out any details and they hope to have it enhanced by the time the grand jury reconvenes around August 27, so the assurances of the officer's innocence by Seattle Police Guild members is not based on any actual evidence or known independent witness testimony.

Alleged witness accounts reported in the press up to this point appear to contradict the officer's accounting of events to the media with the officer stating that he was being kicked and hit by several people and fired out of fear for his own life. Witness acocunts seem to be indicating that the officer who fired shots was standing and shot at a single person who was fighting with someone else or else there was more than one Iron Pigs MC member who was armed inside the bar that night. Additional commentary in the latest reports in the Sturgis area press from people who claim to have been there raise some disturbing accusations as well, however no testimony given to the grand jury has been confirmed so there is no way to verify any accounts reported in the press or various message boards.

Regardless of the nature of the shooting, the officer may face legal consequences for having a concealed weapon inside an establishment that serves alcohol while he was drinking. While off-duty officers are exempt from laws governing where they may cary their off-duty weapons by federal law, the law does not permit officers to cary weapons while under the influence. Witnesses say the officer was taken into custody inside the bar and the officer has admitted in a recent Seattle Times article that he had been drinking but insists he was not drunk. He was reportedly administered a BAC test but no results have been released and the federal law is not specific about what constitutes being under the influence.

(To highlight how rules about concealed weapons apply to officers, a recent politically motivated nightclub sting operation in Seattle, dubbed "operation sobering thought", resulted in the arrest of some nightclub employees because they allegedly allowed known undercover officers into bars with their service weapons. This would appear to indicate that Seattle Police believed officers should not be allowed into establishments that serve alcohol.)

The Seattle Police Department has sent a contingent of officers to Sturgis to oversee the investigation but insist that they will not interfere with grand jury and associated Sturgis police investigation. Authorities in Seattle and Sturgis remained quiet about details of the investigations and information surrounding the identity of officers involved and the wounded individual until recently. Sturgis authorities have also stated that the officer has been released after questioning by a grand jury that had been hastily convened over the incident, but there is no indication currently whether any charges will be filed. The individual who was shot still remains in the hospital recovering from his injuries as of 08/21/08.

Meanwhile, the Iron Pigs MC websites have been going down all over the US leaving many to suspect that the bike club members are trying to clean up the questionable content and images that were posted on their sites in response to the increased scrutiny caused by this incident and to avoid giving the appearance of being instigators to the grand jury that is currently investigating the shooting. Motorcycle enthusiest sites have been rife with descriptions and accounts of content in those sites that mimic terminology and imagery used by so-called "outlaw" motocycle groups like the Hells Angels and suggest that the incident may have started due to the Iron Pigs usage of a "three-piece rocker" patch on their jackets which allegedly denotes membership to such types of organizations.

A number of civil suits were filed recently over another off-duty police officer shooting incident in Seattle's Post Alley where a different officer allegedly hit a woman with his motorcycle, shoved her into a wall, and then shot a local defense attorney when people in the late-night bar crowd had allegedly attacked him over the incident. It's unknown as to whether that officer was a member of the Iron Pigs group and if that officer was among the five officers involved in the Sturgis shooting.

UPDATED 08/11/08 16:16- added information on a somewhat unrelated shooting incident involving an off-duty officer on a motorcycle per commenter request.
UPDATED 08/12/08 01:32- added more information as it became available in news reports and for information about the grand jury hearings held in Meade County, South Dakota.
UPDATED 08/15/08 23:33- More information from recent Seattle Times article and various sites and fixed the link to the correct "Operation Sobering Thought" article.
UPDATED 08/18/08 14:11- Added details about and sourced witness accounts reported in the Meade County press.
UPDATED 08/21/08 10:03- Referenced latest article from The Black Hills Pioneer.
UPDATED 08/23/08 11:42- Referenced information posted in The Seattle Times about a misconduct complaint filed against officer Smith over a different incident with another Hell's Angels MC member.

UPDATED 08/23/08 23:08- Referenced a Seattle Times article where the president of the police guild confirmed previous allegations of misconduct were filed against this officer as reported in the Seattle Post Intelligencer.

Note: While we were aware of the officer's identity we did not publish that information out of respect for concerns expressed in the media for the officer's safety until the officer's identity was released in the Seattle Times on Aug 15.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

About The Seattle Public Safety Civil Service Commission

The city of Seattle was recently forced to rehire a police officer who was charged with felony harassment and then plea bargained down to a misdemeanor harassment conviction after a jury deadlocked over an incident where the officer was accused of barging into the home of his ex-wife, shoving her, and then threatening her boyfriend while off-duty. Responses to the story both in the Seattle Post Intelligencer's message board and in the blogosphere have been pretty contentious with many Domestic Violence activists roundly condemning the decision by the Seattle Public Safety Civil Services Commission that forced the city to rehire the officer after he appealed the firing.

With rates of domestic violence involving police officers being higher than average when compared to the general population and many charges of bias during investigations into domestic violence accusations that involve police officers, this tends to be a very contentious issue. Many are now questioning just how much control the city has over it's embattled police force when the chief can't even make decisions about which officers to fire, let alone discipline.

While it's reasonable to expect that, before being convicted, any person should expect to be treated as innocent until proven otherwise... it's also true that in the private sector employees can be fired for just about any reason and often are once they have been accused of a crime. It's also true that problematic or criminal police officers can pose very serious and unique risks to society that ordinary citizens don't. Therefore, while the city's decision to fire the officer after he was accused but before he was convicted might have been wrong, it should have been able to put the officer on leave or administrative duty until the court outcome had been decided and then make a decision on his employment status.

However, the Seattle Public Safety Civil Service Commission apparently didn't give the city that option, stating instead that even after the conviction of a misdemeanor harassment charge the city shouldn't have been able to fire the officer and must give in to the officer's request to be rehired. Of course, this isn't the first time the commission has forced the city to rehire problematic officers and we've had a difficult time finding any cases where the commission didn't favor police officers who appealed disciplinary actions taken against them when appealed.

So, who are these commissioners, why is it that they favor police officers so heavily, and how is it that they have so much power over the city in regards to it's ability to discipline officers?

According to it's website, The Public Safety Civil Service Commission is made up of four people, one is appointed by the mayor, one by city council, one by the police union, and one by those other three members. As a result of the latest appointments, most have either some background as police officers or strong associations with police groups:

  • Herb Johnson was appointed by Mayor Nickels and has served in the Seattle Police Department for 30 years both as an officer and as a temporary police chief.
  • Joel Nark was appointed by the Police Guild and is currently a patrol officer in the Seattle Police Department.
  • David Brown was appointed by the city council and sits on the board of directors of the Seattle Police Foundation which is a non-profit group formed after 9-11 with the stated goal of supporting the Seattle Police Department and it's officers. (note: the site lists his term as ending on 12/2007, but no new member was mentioned and the site was last updated on 4/2008)
  • Mary Effertz appears to be the only member that doesn't have close ties to the police department that would bring up questions of bias. She previously worked for the city of Seattle in it's office of Civil Rights and taught journalism classes.

So, clearly, officers who appeal disciplinary actions by the city can likely expect some pretty preferential treatment by the commission, but how much authority does this commission have over the city in regards to how it manages it's police force?

Well, according the the commission's guide, the commissions decisions are binding and the city must comply unless it appeals to the Washington State Supreme Court. However, there are also other channels through which an officer can appeal disciplinary actions, which might be confusing to the average citizen who has few rights in regards to employment rights when compared to a police officer which would be expected to be held to a higher standard, but apparently isn't.

So, while many are venting their frustrations over this latest incident of the city's apparent unwillingness to discipline officers, in this case the deck is clearly stacked against the city, rendering it nearly unable to manage it's own police force... But, ultimately, it's still the city's fault for stacking the deck against itself by appointing apparently biased individuals to a commission that was meant to ensure that disciplinary actions against public employees were fair and unbiased.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Tapestry Of Abuses Redux

I haven't posted for a while on purpose as I wanted to leave the previous post up top for a while. It's about how Seattle Police misconduct complaints are being dismissed out of hand and bypassing the OPA process. It seems that when the city refined rules that made it more difficult to excuse sustained findings of misconduct the department responded by skirting the investigative process so officers wouldn't be found guilty of misconduct.

But, let's move on... A while back I wrote a piece about different police abuse stories around the nation that sort of meshed together... some of those stories have some updates so, for those who were actually interested in those stories, I wanted to give some updates.

But first, some local news...

The Sturgis Shooting
The shooting incident involving off-duty Seattle Police Officers and a Hells Angel's MC member in Sturgis is still generating quite a bit of interest so I've been updating our coverage of the investigation and grand jury questioning that has been going on surrounding that event. For the latest summary of noteworthy updates, tune in here.

Ex-Cop Fugitive Arrested Near Seattle
An (now ex) Alabama police officer who's been charged with transporting children across state lines for sexual purposes, rape, possession of child pornography, and other related charges has been arrested in Lakewood, Wa, near Seattle on Monday. The officer appeared in federal court today shackled from head to toe because he had been trained in SWAT tactics and was deemed a dangerous prisoner.

He had fled Alabama once he was released on bond and had been staying at a friend's home nearby for nearly a month when he was finally found. After he fled, federal agents found that his car had been left at an Alabama airport and contained several weapons along with a handwritten note that said "they won't ever find me; six days (in jail) was unbearable for me."

...Guess he was mistaken.

Latest Lawsuit Against the SPD
The federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Michael Watson and his attorney John Kanin was lost last week. While Mr. Watson claimed to have been stunned by a Taser a dozen times and doctors confirmed at least that many burn marks on his torso, the police claimed they didn't shock him that much and that they did so in order to stop him from being combative. Apparently the jury sided with the officers after a week-long trial.

This is the first loss against the city after a long slate of highly publicized settlements and the very pricey loss on a civil rights case appeal by the city on what was originally a quarter of a million dollar lawsuit that bloomed into half a million dollar bill for the city after the legal fees were added. There are several more lawsuits in the works from others though, so we'll try to keep up to date with the latest as we become aware of it.

Now for those updates on the Tapestry stories...

The Death of Andre Thomas
Andre Thomas ended up dead after an encounter with Swissvale Pa. police earlier this month that started with him going door to door asking for help saying he was afraid someone was going to shoot him and ended with, as one witness detailed, police stunning him with a Taser and then punching him in the back of the head until he vomited and then remained motionless for several minutes.

An autopsy performed by Allegheny County coroner was said to be inconclusive with the coroner citing the highly questionable "excited delirium" (a cause of death that is strangely only associated with deaths in police custody) as the cause of death and that there was no evidence of excessive force. With toxicology results taking longer than usual to be released the family asked for an independent autopsy to be performed as well.

The independent autopsy revealed 17 bruises and wounds on Mr. Thomas' face and torso and a preliminary finding of death to be positional asphyxia, though further results are pending due to the county coroner refusing to give the independent coroner blood and other tissue samples. The independent examiner also canvased the neighborhood where the death occurred and said that witnesses say Mr. Thomas did nothing criminal that night, he only seemed to be knocking on doors and pleading for help...

I'm sure we'll hear more about this case in the future since the citizens of that city have been holding protests and rallies to demand a proper investigation into this questionable death in custody.

More from Prince Georges County
While the case of the mistaken raid on a mayor's home in Prince Georges County Maryland has dominated the news, shortly after the case of an accused cop killer being "inexplicably" strangled to death in custody, comes yet another troublesome story of a man who's death has two different stories, one from police and the other from witnesses of Manuel de Jesus Espina's death.

It appears, in this case, an off-duty officer working security had confronted Manuel, supposedly for public intoxication, in an apartment stairwell and depending on which account you believe, the two ended up in a struggle that took them into an apartment where two women claim to have witnessed what happened next... While the officer claims that Manual reached for either his gun or his baton, he's not certain which, and he shot Manuel in front of the two witnesses.

However, the witnesses give a different tale, saying that they heard a commotion outside and saw the officer beating a cowering Manuel. They opened the door and the two fell into the apartment and the officer continued to beat on Manuel until he stood up and then shot Manuel while he laid on the floor.

The embattled police department, already being investigated by the FBI over the jail death and the raid against the mayor, has asked the Latino community for calm while they promise to investigate this latest high profile case of allege police brutality. However, the other two incidents were quickly put down as officers doing their jobs correctly, despite the FBI being called in to investigate these color of law abuses. So residents are rightly skeptical that a fair and unbiased investigation will be conducted by their scandal-ridden police department.

I'm sure we'll be hearing more from Prince Georges County soon, sadly enough.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Seattle Police Brass Excusing More Misconduct

An interesting trend appears to be developing at the Seattle Police Department's "Office of Professional Accountability" (SPD OPA), which is the civilian oversight mechanism for police misconduct investigations. Not only are complaints taking longer to investigate, but it appears as though fewer complaints are making it to the actual investigation process itself. Instead, more complaints than ever appear to be getting dismissed out-of-hand by SPD brass.

We took a look at the current and past OPA statistics and noticed this trend pretty quick because the change in data was startling. First, here's a graph showing the OPA findings from the past few years.

OPA Findings From 2005-2008

Of course, the SPD OPA categorizes how it handles and finds complaints in a number of somewhat confusing ways, as you can see above, but ultimately there are two different ways it goes about establishing a finding and two different basic findings it can come up with: The OPA can investigate the complaint or defer to a supervising officer's discretionary finding and the OPA can either find the complaint as being valid or invalid.

Now, first, let's look at the resulting findings of complaints over the same time period:
Simplified OPA Findings From 2005 to 2008

As you can see, the general trend in findings over the first few years was fairly static, ranging around 30% sustained, until 2007 and 2008 where the trend plummeted to only 11% of complaints being found sustained (of those a vast majority being managerial complaints like incorrectly reporting hours for example). So, why are complaints being dismissed far more often?

Well, while many people have so little trust in the OPA complaint system that they now bypass it and go straight to a lawyer in cases of serious misconduct, yet there may be another factor in play as well... It may have something to do with this:
OPA Investigation vs Administrative Discretionary Findings 2005-2008

As you can see, there has been a very drastic shift in the ratio of complaints that are actually investigated by the OPA and the number of complaints that are simply dismissed by administrative officers like Lieutenants and Captains as "administratively unfounded" or "administratively exonerated" without investigation. Previously, a vast majority of complaints, around 90%, were handled by the OPA with very few being discretionary, but strikingly the trend upended with complaints being deferred to the discretion of the brass in nearly 60% of cases so far this year and only 40% being investigated by the OPA.

Interestingly enough, this trend seems to have started when the OPA Director was replaced near the middle of last year and the entire OPA office was reshuffled. This was also around the time that the civilian oversight portion of the OPA system, the OPA Review Board, made a scathing report that alleged interference in investigations by the police chief and questioned the trustworthiness of the entire OPA process. The outgoing OPA director also expressed concerns about the future of the oversight system but her replacement has been a steadfast defender of the police department.

As a result of the accusations made by the OPA Review Board the entire board has also been replaced this year, with their last report on the status of the OPA system being kept secret because it was reportedly a scathing review that would have left the city open to litigation by the Seattle Police Officer's Guild. It is appearing more and more likely that the city and police department are responding to problems with the oversight and disciplinary system by making it less effective and more secretive than ever and staffing it with members who will keep quiet about problems with the process.

Needless to say, the results of all the changes to the oversight system are clear, whether they are intentional or not. More and more often, complaints are being dismissed without review or oversight and this appears to have a direct correlation with both the changes in management for the civilian oversight system in Seattle and the news coverage last year of failures within the oversight process.

While the city has made pains to publicize the changes to the system that help ensure officers found to have committed acts of misconduct are disciplined, it's becoming clear that the system has been altered to find fewer officers guilty of misconduct in order to bypass those new rules. Sadly, this means that the OPA system of civilian oversight in Seattle is looking more like a PR front that covers up cases of misconduct for the city's embattled and scandal ridden police department than a properly working and transparent civilian oversight system designed to clean up the police department. The end result will be even more distrust between civilians and the police as misconduct and brutality rates continue to climb due to a lack of consequences for misconduct.

Note: Since the 2008 statistics are only based on mid-year reporting statistics, all previous year statistics were taken from the same mid-year reporting time-frame for that year for accurate comparisons.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Seattle Media Intimidated Into Silence?

An interesting aspect of the Sturgis shooting story seems to have made a lot of people wonder why all the media and blogs in Seattle kept silent about the name of the Seattle police officer who shot a Hells Angel Motorcycle Club member in a South Dakota bar while off-duty this weekend. It seems a good question since the Meade County authorities have already released his name due to the Grand Jury testimony being taken over the case and so has the media outlets in South Dakota and elsewhere.

So why, when the officer's name is readily available, won't anyone in Seattle dare utter the officer's name?

That's what I tried to find out. I have questioned several media contacts in Seattle asking if they've heard of any pressure coming from the Seattle Police Officer's Guild or the Seattle Police Department over keeping the officer's name out of print even after his name was widely released in the South Dakota press. It seemed odd to keep his name out of the Seattle media due to security concerns when his name has been revealed elsewhere after all... and people were calling them and us on it.

Of course, as you can see above, some of our readers took us to task when we didn't release his name when we knew it as well. Well, first, when we realized who it was it hadn't been released yet, but we kept a lid on it originally because we don't want to see any officers or their families hurt due to the valid concerns for the officer's safety. But, after the officer's name became public knowledge we wondered why the press in Seattle still kept it quiet... after all, his name was reported in at least 4 different articles and television stations, albeit in states other than Washington. While the original reason hopefully was for the officer's family's safety, that reason didn't seem plausible anymore, unfortunately.

Since officer safety didn't seem a valid reason anymore and since the press, with it's own legal departments and on-staff lawyers, won't print the name, we sure as heck wanted to be cautious about it as well. After all, the Seattle Police Officer's Guild is no stranger to using lawyers to intimidate people into being quiet about misconduct. For example:

It's clear, given their past history, that the police officers make good on their threats to investigate or sue reporters and their employers for publishing their stories. So we had reason to worry and we wondered if others had the same reasons in mind when keeping it quiet.

Adding to our own reasons for being cautious was an incident where this site also had to deal with threats of legal action when, ironically, the same person involved in the Sturgis shooting himself threatened legal action when we published a picture from the Seattle Police Officer's Guild's monthly newsletter "The Guardian" which was critical of civil rights that was also published in the Blogging Georgetown blog (who also told us that they were similarly threatened as well).

With pressure like that, it's little wonder why the free press in Seattle might not be as free as you think. However, this case of self-censorship on the part of the press may not be the direct result of any undue pressure.

One reporter responded to our questions by speculating that it might be a case of reporters holding to a long standing tradition in Seattle of not naming people who might be the potential subject of a criminal investigation when they have not yet been charged or detained. This seems like a valid policy that should be applied to officers and citizens alike and may well be the case as the officer in question has not been charged over the shooting nor for bringing a firearm into a bar while off-duty in a different state. However, this reason didn't stop reporters in South Dakota from revealing his name. So, perhaps there are different journalistic standards in play, but we'll never know for certain.

No matter what the reason, for now, the officer's identity remains a secret... though only to the people of Seattle. Given past pressures police have put on the press in Seattle, it's no wonder that people are asking why the media is keeping information from the public, even if the reason is ultimately innocuous.

UPDATED 08/13/08 16:18 - One area reporter's response noted.
UPDATED 08/15/08 10:13 - The Seattle Times finally released Lt. Ron Smith's name 

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Tapestry Of Police Abuse Tales

Some sad and frightening stories of police brutality and misconduct from across the nation to thread together this week... While not all from the same place, they still weave the same pattern...

Let's start with the terrifying tale of Mr. Andre Thomas:

...She saw Andre Thomas standing with the prongs of the Taser still attached to him when four officers forced him to the ground and handcuffed him. "I saw them shove him to the ground, and they handcuffed him... They killed that man. They killed him. They killed him," she added, her hands trembling.

The woman said she saw one officer stomp on Mr. Thomas's upper back, holding his foot there while the subject lay on the sidewalk with his head hanging over the curb. Another officer "reared back and punched him in the head with all his might," she said.

Mr. Thomas vomited. Then, for several minutes, he lay motionless before an ambulance was called. The rescue truck stayed on the scene for several minutes more before Mr. Thomas was taken away...

...declared dead shortly thereafter.

-paraphrased from Simple Justice
, JonathanTurley, and The Post Gazette

Residents say Andre was scared, knocking on doors trying to find help and yelling that he was afraid someone was going to shoot him... Sadly the very people who were supposed to come and help him appear to have beat him to death instead.

While it's encouraging that citizens there have started protests over the killing, which is more than what they do here in Seattle and means there is a bit of hope for pressure on public officials to investigate. Unfortunately the department is investigating itself, which rarely ever ends well.

Sadly, this frightened woman's story of a man who was handcuffed and then had his life taken from him by a cowardly blow may very well change once police get a hold of her because they take a dim view on people who stand up and tell the truth or expose misconduct, like they did to this man and his family...
...he witnessed deputies beating a man in front of the restaurant/bar he owns. “They beat the shit out of him,” he said. “The guy’s lawyer came back and took witness statements. When the statements made it back to the sheriff’s department, they came by and asked me why I was getting involved.”

Not long after that, deputies started staking out his business, Jammers Rocking Road House, “They were wolf-packing my customers,” he said. “They would lie and wait for them to leave and then pull them over to see if they had been drinking.” Conover struck back by suing them and won an undisclosed settlement.
But the story didn't stop there...
On the night of his arrest, Conover and his family spotted a group of customers who had just left the bar. A Johnson County Sheriff’s deputy, who was parked along side of the road, pulled over the car with the customers.

“The lady who was driving doesn’t drink,” he said. “Her husband, who does drink, was sitting in the passenger’s seat.” So Conover pulled up to the scene and stopped his Hummer in front of the traffic stop. He asked his son for his IPhone, then rolled the window down and said:

“Hey fellas, I’m just getting your picture.”

Then he snapped the photo. Deputy McCloud - who has been on the force only 18 months - told him that photographing him was illegal.

Conver asked, "what planet are you from?”

McCloud started threatening to arrest him if he did not delete the photo, which as it turned out, did not even capture the deputy. The deputy then ordered Conover out of his car. Conver threw the phone back to my daughter and told her to keep taking photos.

McCloud placed two sets of handcuffs on Conover as Conover’s daughter snapped two photos before McCloud threatened her with arrest. “He started trying to get in my Hummer and get to the back seat where my kids were. I told him, ‘You better not go back there or else we’re going to have some real problems’,” he said.

McCloud then decided against arresting the daughter.

Later at the jail, Conover asked McCloud if had ever heard of the First Amendment. “He then turned to me and said, ‘I’m charging you with disorderly conduct’.”

Thirty minutes later, after McCloud had left the jail - and had time to think of what other charges he could come up with - he called the jailer and added another charge against Conover; pointing a laser at an officer. The problem is, the IPhone does not even emit a laser.

Conver's case is currently pending...

- Paraphrased from MagicCityMania via The Agitator
Making up false charges for an arrest in order to cover up for misconduct and to get a hold of the photographic evidence that proves it is nothing new, but lately it's been taking on a disturbingly brazen tone as officers don't even seem to be concerned about doing it right in front of multiple cameras...

-video linked by an anonymous poster who encourages us to bring cameras to the next Seattle Critical Mass ride.

Of course, for some reason even video evidence of misconduct fails to bring about any changes or discipline... so we wonder what would happen if a prominent political figure became the victim of police misconduct?

Mayor Cheye Calvo got home from work, saw a package addressed to his wife on the front porch and brought it inside, putting it on a table. Suddenly, police with guns drawn kicked in the door and stormed in, shooting to death the couple's two dogs and seizing the unopened package.

The mayor, who was changing his clothes when police burst in, also complained that he was handcuffed in his boxer shorts for about two hours along with his mother-in-law in the same room where his dogs lay dead on the floor in a pool of their blood. He said the officers didn't believe him when he told them he was the mayor. "They didn't believe me when I told them I was the mayor, they told a detective I was crazy."

"Our dogs were our children," said the 37-year-old Calvo. "They were the reason we bought this house because it had a big yard for them to run in." Calvo insisted the couple's two black Labradors were gentle creatures and said police apparently killed them "for sport," gunning down one of them as it was running away.
Well, we'll wait to see what happens, but the FBI is currently conducting an investigation that, well, would never have occurred so quickly if it were one of our own homes. Still, it's not something that should happen to anyone, being innocent and dragged though something like this, I definitely feel sorry for the family and hope they see justice done and can change things for the better.

The crime these two committed? Seems they were the unwitting victims of a scheme to ship pot to random addresses and have deliverymen in place to intercept them. County sheriff's officers say they didn't investigate the family enough to know the man was the mayor, but did know the layout of the house and that they had dogs.

Sadly, the police were reluctant to clear the mayor and his wife until today, when the police chief finally called the family... but not to apologize for how officers gunned down their dogs as soon as they entered. The sheriff says he's angry that the feds are investigating his officers now, he doesn't think it's fair that his department is being investigated, guess he doesn't like being in the other person's shoes now.

So... what do these kinds of events do to the public's trust in their government, in their system of laws and the people whom they entrusted to enforce them? The mayor's wife gives us a hint...
His wife spoke through tears as she described an encounter with a girl who used to see the couple walking their dogs.

"She gave me a big hug and she said, `If the police shot your dogs dead and did this to you, how can I trust them?'" Tomsic said. "I don't want people to feel like that. I just want them to be proud of our police and proud to live in Prince George's County."
We all want to feel that way, but sadly we cannot... and we cannot lie to the children to trust those people that we, unfortunately, have been shown that we can no longer trust. There are too many stories like this for us to accept that it's "just one bad apple" anymore.

It's a systemic problem, and the more ubiquitous cameras with wireless capabilities become the more we will see images of abuse, and things will likely grow worse before they get better as police unions and other law enforcement organizations continue to gain more political clout while officers find new ways to stop people from filming them and discredit those who would dare to testify against them.

...more on that later.

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