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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Racism Rising In Seattle

James Bible, head of the Seattle-King County chapter of the NAACP, 
complains of racial profiling by Seattle Police in an interview with KING5 News.

My mother was an immigrant from a small Greek island who blessed me with bronze-colored skin and a rare blood disorder similar to sickle-cell that is only found in Mediterranean people. Yet, my father's grandfather immigrated from Finland and this combination appears to confound many, or at least those who are comfortable enough to ask me, bluntly, "So, what are you anyway?"... which ultimately leads to discussions of presumption and confessions that I was thought to be mixed, Hispanic, Native American, or something else...

Honestly, this has caused some problems for me, not just from when I was beaten by a gang of racists here in Seattle or when I've been yelled at by white people here about how "my people" are taking their jobs, but also as I was growing up in some more intolerant rural areas of Ohio. It was there where the only friends I had were black because the white kids didn't find me similar enough to their liking. So it was a learning experience for me that when I would stay with my best friend at his house and go to his family events or to his church that I was usually accepted and treated kindly even though I was lighter in color than everyone else there... even though he wasn't really welcomed at my house by my family.

It's not that he was outwardly told he wasn't welcomed. But there was obvious, at least what should have been to me, discomfort for everyone whenever I would bring him over... It wasn't that my family was outwardly racist, but they were inwardly tolerant of intolerance and it showed to others, but I suppose I chose not to see it.

But, after I grew older I found out that that inward tolerance of intolerance can easily change into outward bigotry when I had my father over for my son's birthday and he started making racist comments about a football game we were watching... I was stunned, and ultimately I told him he had to leave because I didn't want my children to be exposed to that from their own grandfather... and because It personally hurt me because I myself had to deal with intolerance as a child as well.

Now, lately, I've been hearing a lot of stories on the street about racist and neo-nazi groups that have been coming into Seattle more and more frequently. People would tell me about a group of middle-aged guys with SS pins and other racist paraphernalia walking around the downtown area trying to recruit kids and I've heard stories of the groups of kids with swastika patches hanging around the malls harassing people as well.

Then there were the stories in the news about racist and bigoted graffiti being spray-painted on cars, fences, and buildings closer to Seattle than the usual strongholds for racist groups, like Renton. There were news stories of hateful pamphlets and fliers being left in mailboxes and lawns as well... then came the attacks.

Stories were coming through about people being attacked due to their racial background and their sexual orientation more and more frequently in Seattle, but nobody is sure about how frequently because the police department didn't want to track those as "hate-motivated crimes". In fact, many in the GLBT community were starting to accuse the Seattle police of refusing to investigate hate crimes and cases of assaults that were motivated by homophobia and the NAACP was accusing the SPD of doing the same about race-based attacks. The SPD promised to do something about it but due to a lack of unified pressure from the community, that failed to materialize and hate crimes have increased.

Now, as things often do, the problem has gone to the next stage where the police themselves are now being accused of showing racial bias in their policing. Citizens interviewed by the news media are telling stories of police stopping minorities just because they have new clothes on the assumption that they had to have stolen them instead of buying them. Police also stand accused of picking out any minorities who might be among a group of whites and telling them they are garbage and not welcomed.

Bigotry, of course, is a weed that grows best in the soil of apathy and seeks to, as it's simple goal, to divide people from one another. It seeks to separate black from white, homosexual from straight, and anything that is different from that which is homogeneous. What I've seen in Seattle is that, while each group decries discrimination against it's own, they don't work together to decry the same when it happens to the other group.

In fact, oddly enough, my own experience is that when I've tried to reach out and offer my support to these groups of people I get rebuffed, as if my support isn't welcomed... not that this should be considered discriminatory, but it does divide us and, ultimately, it means that we are divided in our responses to bigotry in all it's forms... it means that bigotry has succeeded in it's goal of division.

The result is that events meant to draw attention to racial profiling by police, police brutality that targets minorities, and the refusal of the police department to consider homophobic assaults as hate crimes draw very small crowds and are ultimately ridiculed or ignored by the press and the city itself. So... ultimately... we only have ourselves to blame for allowing bigotry to divide us, even if that bigotry remains silently outside of ourselves or comes unspoken from within.

Sure, Seattle is becoming more friendly to racism and bigotry because of the influx of right-wing suburbanites drawn here by aggressive gentrification, but that is only part of the problem. There remains divides between us, spoken or not, that ultimately makes Seattle a more welcoming place for hate than most of us are ready to admit... and it really shouldn't surprise us now that racism and hate have found fertile ground in a city where we chose stand divided against it or to ignore it... just like I ignored it and speak out against it happening in my own family when I was younger... and that ultimately divided us too.

It's a shame, really, because you don't have to be only black, or white, or gay, or straight to be a victim of police misconduct or bigotry... but we still keep approaching it as if it is not everyone's problem when it really is.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Was October 22nd, 2007 The Last National Protest Against Police Brutality?

For a while now we've been tracking the demise of several police accountability activist sites and organizations and the trend appears to be fairly far-reaching and, as of yet, unexplained. The trend appeared to have culminated in the sudden shutdown of the long-lasting and very outspoken, a site that aggregated international stories of police abuses and misconduct which is now only partially available in archives. (this is also part of the reason why this site has started focusing more on national stories of misconduct, because nobody else is really doing that anymore.)

That the news of that shutdown came right before the crackdowns on police accountability activists and copwatch organizations in Minnesota ahead of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul definitely hightened my own awareness of just how perilous speaking out against police abuses can be in the US and leads me to wonder what happened to all the sites and activists that have gone silent this year since BadCopNews wasn't the only site to shut down this year. From what I have observered myself, there have also been at least 7 sites which have either been completely shutdown without a trace or have just stopped updating for several months now, half of which went down in the month of May, including Spokane Police Abuses which was also last updated in May.

But perhaps what is even more disconcerting now is that the national October 22nd Coalition, which organizes a national day of protest each October against police brutality and has close ties to the Stolen Lives Project which published "Stolen Lives: Killed By US Law Enforcement" that documents the lives of people who have died in encounters with police, has also appeared to have gone silent as well, throwing doubts on whether or not there will be a national protest against brutality on what would have been the 13th annual protest this year.

The national October 22nd Coalition site has not been updated since last year and several of the local affiliate sites have also gone silent, including Seattle's 1022 site and the Bay Area California site. The only site that still seems operational is the New York site but even there the plans for this year's march in NYC appear in doubt as specifics are listed as TBA.

Email messages left with the national and Seattle chapter have gone unanswered and the national hotline number forwards to an automated answering service that tells callers to contact the national office via email or directs you to their site for more information. There has been no word on why the organization, formed in 1995, might have disbanded, but there appeared to be no indications of any problems last year when protest marches appeared to go off without problems; unlike a 2003 incident where Seattle police revoked the group's permit to march which then prompted a civil suit that cost the city $47,500 in a 2006 settlement with the group.

There has been no indication of any other groups forming protests or organizing on a national or local level to protest on what is typically considered to be the national day of protest against police brutality this year, which appears to be quite a setback for police accountability activists and organizations everywhere.

UPDATE: Shortly after publication of this article we received a statement from the October 22nd Coalition's national office that states they are behind but still planning events for this year, though none are definite as of yet. Hopefully this is true... yet with 10/22 less than a month away I hope they will have enough time to coordinate their plans with other groups and activists.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Police Misconduct Newswatch for 09-27-08

Recent Stories Of Police Misconduct In The News

Police Cheer For Brutality
A sharp increase in police brutality claims in Detroit has been met with cheers within the Detroit Michigan PD as officers have been allegedly heard to exclaim "It's back to the good old days of busting heads and kicking ass!" after an ex-SWAT officer took over as interim mayor.

...And Gloat About It On T-Shirts
Activist organizations are angry with a police union in Denver Colorado that has been distributing shirts depicting a truncheon-wielding cop with the caption of "We Get Up Early To Beat The Crowds" (shown at top)... the organization defended the shirts by saying it was a way to thank officers who arrested protesters during the convention.

Fallout From Riders Rides On
The Oakland California police department may be failing To implement court-ordered reforms stemming from the infamous Oakland Riders scandal, possibly spurring a continuation of state oversight.

Calls For Oversight Grow Louder
That widely seen police brutality video of a Yonkers New York police officer slamming Irma Marquez face first into a floor has resulted in an $11,000,000 lawsuit against the city and a DOJ Civil Rights probe along with renewed calls for a new civilian oversight program.

...And Louder
There have also been renewed calls for more transparency from the Inglewood California police department after an independent investigator has started reviewing the department after a series of questionable police-related shootings that have left at least two unarmed civilians dead.

...And Louder Still
Ft. Myers Florida residents have succeeded in getting 2,565 signatures to put a civilian oversight initiative on the ballot there.

...But Then It Happens To You
Mayor Cheye Calvo, who was the victim of a wrongful police drug raid that left his two dogs dead in Prince Georges County MD, joined in a protest against police brutality meant to call attention to a number of recent police-related deaths and other abuses there.

Officer Snitches To Gang, But Not Feds?
A Minneapolis MN police officer who stands accused of passing confidential police information to a street gang in return for bribe money has outright refused to cooperate with an FBI probe into police corruption, so much for cops liking snitches.

Guess MIT Students Don't Know What They Saw
The MIT police department is facing a lawsuit for excessive force used against two MIT students, oddly enough the police department claims there were no witnesses to the abuse while several students claimed to have been the part of a crowd who watched the beatings as they occurred.

More Campus Cop Crimes
In another college, this time in Florida, a Titusville cop has been suspended and now faces charges for misusing his authority to commit identity theft and then hack into a university student's email account in an attempt to cyberstalk his ex-girlfriend.

Coming To A Police Department Near You?
A New Rochelle NY officer who recently resigned has plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of misusing his authority in a sexual misconduct case involving a 17 year old victim of domestic violence... because the plea bargain was only a misdemeanor he remains certified to work as an officer elsewhere, the victim has promised to file suit.

Third Time Is A...?
Mesa Arizona has settled a police shooting death suit for $2,000,000 that stems from a 2005 incident of conflicting witness accounts where the officer shot an unarmed man on his patio. The officer remained on duty until this year when he was finally put on desk duty after shooting another unarmed man this year and one in 2000.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Police Misconduct NewsWatch for 09-23-08

Abbreviated Edition

The Tale Of Elliot Hughes; Beaten And Tortured In St. Louis
"‘me and some friends were chanting for food,’ when six or seven officers came into the cell. ‘One punched me in the face, and I fell unconscious. An officer slammed my head on the ground, waking me up.’ Then, he said, he was dragged to a retaining cell, where the officers put a bag on his head and did, ‘pain compliance on me.’"

Another Journalist Covering The RNC Describes Her Arrest

"I'm a very small person; I'm 90lbs, five feet tall. They put my shoulders up like this [holds arms up above her head] and used pain compliance holds. Three of them did. Two held my arms up above my head and they're dragging me backwards. My camera is hanging down. The other person comes behind me and starts pushing right there, right there [indicates points on both forearms and upper arms] right there, right there--all the pressure points."

A Tally Of Journalists And Other Media Personnel Detained During RNC
"Of the 800-plus people who were arrested or detained in conjunction with RNC protests, a good chunk of them — 42, by our count — were members of the news media."

Portland Oregon Man Sues Police For Being Ticketed And Harrassed for... Videotaping Cops.

Chicago Cops De-Police In Response To Embarracing String Of Misconduct Cases

The Return of the Beat-Down Posse in New Haven?

Critical Mass Rider Tackled By NYPD Cop Blames The Department For Encouraging Misconduct for the incident Instead of the Cop himself.

Pittsburgh man claims he has photos of police beating handcuffed suspects.

Journalist Claims The Media Has A Responsibility To Ensure Justice System Works And Share Blame When The Innocent Are Punished For Crimes They Did Not Commit

Jackson Twp Police Officer In Ohio Reinstated After Beating His Wife At Her Office In Front Of Coworkers

Houma California Police Chief Faces More Allegations Of Misconduct And Sexual Misconduct From Fellow Officers

Lake City South Carolina Officers On Trial For Accepting Bribes From Drug Dealers

Friday, September 19, 2008

Light Posting

Sorry for the light posting this week, been busy working two jobs and now I'm faced with yet another medical dilemma. Our 19 month old son has some sort of infection; what started out at first as a small pimple on his arm has erupted into a half dollar sized rash that we first thought was an allergic reaction to something... but now it's been a few days and it hasn't gotten better, just worse, despite constant bandaging and antibiotics.

So, while uninsured, I can either take him to a doctor and pay up front with money we need for food for the month, or take him to the ER which we can pay later but expose him to everything everyone else has... Either way, it's frustrating and worrisome... and either way I have to get him looked at soon, so it sounds like the ER for us.

So, no posting today either, and maybe longer depending... my apologies.

Update 9/23/0
8: I took out a payday loan and got him in at the doctor's office instead. They said it's a staph infection but we're still waiting on the test results. He's on antibiotics and we've been hard at work disinfecting everything each night and have bought a majority stake of stock in whoever makes generic bandages for the local pharmacy because, well, toddlers love to remove bandages as often as possible so I have been re-bandaging him every half hour or so.

As of today his arm is much better but his finger still looks bad, we're still watching closely and keeping in touch with the doctor but hoping we don't have to take him back in. In the meantime, I had time for a quick post today and an update here.

Yet again, an enormous thanks to those who wished him well, I truly appreciate it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Who Will Watch The Watchmen Now

When three ex-Seattle police officers formed VIEVU with the idea to develop a small wearable camera for police officers that would help reduce the number of false misconduct accusations against police officers and provide them with a useful tool to gather evidence while on the job, it's unlikely that they imagined that the most resistance to their idea would come from their peers and old coworkers at the Seattle Police Department.

The VIEVU is a three ounce rectangular wearable wireless audio/video recording device that is capable of storing up to 4 hours of video that supposedly cannot be manipulated or erased. Approximately the shape of an older style pager, the device can be clipped on a uniform or belt and allows the officer to record potentially volatile interactions or situations from his or her own perspective. The device cannot be tampered with and the recordings cannot be modified even after they are downloaded from the devices onto a central computer system.

In this regard, the VIEVU is unlike dashboard mounted cameras used in police cruisers that only point forward and have been known to miss recording disputed police interactions, such as the case of Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes who could be heard pleading for officers to stop beating him on a dash-mounted police camera that was not positioned to record the actual beating. So this could be a valuable tool that protects officers who have been wrongfully accused of misconduct and to hold officers accountable who do commit acts of misconduct.

However, the Seattle Police Officer's Guild has forced the Seattle Police Department to suspend it's testing of the VIEVU after it was used to help monitor an August 29th Critical Mass bicycle ride through the city of Seattle as a test of the portable recording system. When asked about the guild's problems with the device, Sgt. Rich O'Neill, president of the guild, cited privacy concerns along with the need for officers to undergo training and preparation for potential litigation as reasons for the guild's resistance to the camera.

O'Neill also argued, in an interview with the Seattle Times, that the devices may make it harder for officers to gather evidence in cases instead of making it easier. "If the officers have the cameras going all the time there could be a chilling effect on citizens and juvenile talking to the police. If they think the cops are videotaping all of their conversations they might not want to have their names or faces used." O'Neill was quoted as saying.

Surprisingly, the guild has an ally in it's argument against the cameras in the form of the ACLU of Washington State, headquartered in Seattle, Washington. In an interview taken before the guild stopped the department's testing of the device, Christina Drummond, the Technology and Liberty Project Director for the ACLU of Washington, cited similar concerns over the use of the device.

Are these concerns founded in an age where the common citizenry is told that there should be no expectation of privacy in public? Where workers in the private sector are allowed to be recorded by their employers while on the job and where the police themselves monitor citizens with CCTV cameras positioned on street corners and in public parks?

Why is it that a police officer should have a special expectation of privacy where the common citizen does not? Why is their supposed fear of accountability still taken seriously when they already have job security protections that most of us could only dream of, when it's already nearly impossible to fire a police officer for misconduct?

Now, it's certainly true that the implementation of such devices should be paired with a very well-thought out policy that dictates when and how the devices should be used, that prevent reviewing of recorded materials except for gathering known evidence or incidents that have received complaints. It does seem clear that there was little thought put into the testing performed at the SPD and there have been no mention of protocols that were given to officers that would govern how these devices were used or how information gathered by them would be protected from surreptitious review.

But such guidelines and restrictions already exist for the use of recordings made by the police from public CCTV systems and dashboard mounted cameras that already exist in their vehicles. Why have those technologies been praised by officers while they still resist putting cameras in precincts and the use of wearable recording devices?

In our present-day surveillance society, it's interesting that perhaps the very last bastion of privacy in America might very well reserved for the very same police officers that have been given the power and privileged of monitoring and recording the rest of us...

In the end it seems as though everyone will be left wondering if this technology will finally help us watch the watchers, or if the watchers will be only gaining yet another tool with which to watch us.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sturgis Shooting Update: Charges Dropped Against Ron Smith

Prosecutors in Meade County South Dakota announced today that they have dropped the last remaining felony charge against Detective Ron Smith, the Seattle police officer who shot a member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club in a crowded Sturgis bar in early August. The shooting occurred while Smith was off-duty and attending the motorcycle rally there as a member of a rival motorcycle club named the Iron Pigs, which consists almost exclusively of law enforcement and firefighters, and the prosecutor suggested that the Hells Angels started the fight after being provoked by the patches the Iron Pigs were wearing on their jackets.

Detective Smith had originally faced two felony charges associated with the case, a perjury charge that was dropped last week, and the assault charge that was dropped yesterday. Smith and other members of the Iron Pigs Motorcycle Club, of which Smith is a member, still face misdemeanor charges related to having concealed weapons, but I suspect these will likely be dropped due to a federal law that allows off-duty police officers to carry concealed weapons across state lines and inside areas where such weapons are normally prohibited. Smith still faces an internal police department investigation into the incident as well, but the dismissal of the felony charges makes it unlikely any discipline will be recommended.

However, as soon as the announcement was made by the press there were numerous accusations from the public of prosecutorial favoritism and biased investigatory practices on the part of the police in South Dakota since an off-duty officer, albeit from another jurisdiction, stood accused... but is this true?

While there is anecdotal evidence that such things occur, there is no evidence of this being the case at this time. Of course, nobody knows why the grand jury that heard several witness statements and reviewed video taken from the bar decided to charge Smith with assault in the first place and prosecutors have not released any specifics about the investigation which caused them to disagree with the grand jury findings... and this is a good illustration of why transparency in such cases is very important... but this is not unusual since a felony assault case is still pending against the Hells Angels member that was shot by Smith.

Ultimately, personally, I'm inclined to take Smith's word for what happened that night, and I say this for several reasons. I say this because I believe in presumed innocence and as a citizen of the US I expect to be treated as an innocent person unless I am found guilty in a court of law. Smith was not found guilty, thus if I am to ever hope to be treated as an innocent person myself, I must extend that consideration to others as well, whether they are police officers or not.

So, while comments in response to this case rage back and forth between supporters of police and those who are, perhaps with good reason, distrustful of the police and the justice system... I would ask those people to still consider walking in the shoes of the accused and think about how it would feel if people treated you as if you were guilty, even after a court found you innocent or charges were dropped against you. In other words, I recommend that people accept the findings in absence of any proof otherwise.

I personally know all too well how it feels to be falsely accused and how people still treat you like you are guilty even after the system finds otherwise, and it's a very painful experience... as I now suspect officer Smith now knows that feeling well too. So I can only hope that he and his fellow officers learn the right lessons from the experience; that all people deserve to be treated with respect even when accused of a crime, because they can never know when a mistake might have been made and the person they arrested was wrongfully accused.

Sure, that's a long shot... but to treat Detective Smith otherwise would make me a hypocrite and would be no different than supporting the mistreatment of any accused person at the hands of the police because doing so throws the concept of presumed innocence right out of the window.

After all, if you expect others to value your rights as a human being, you must also be willing to value theirs just as much.

Monday, September 15, 2008

News Recap for 09-15-08

A new feature that examines misconduct in the news

Sturgis Shooting Update
The Sturgis Shooting case has had a few new developments in the last couple of weeks. Joseph Patrick McGuire, the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club member who was shot by an off-duty Seattle police officer, is set to appear on Sept. 24 for his next court date on charges of aggravated assault or an alternative count of simple assault.

The person who shot McGuire, Detective Ron Smith of the Seattle Police Department, also faces the same charges as McGuire along with a misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed pistol without a permit. A separate perjury charge against Smith was dropped by state's attorney Jesse Sondreal last week.

Four other members of the "Iron Pigs Motorcycle Club", of which Detective Smith is a member, also face a misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed weapon without a permit, including another police officer from Seattle. Sondreal has stated that ALL of the defendants must appear in court in person and may not answer their warrants via video conference, as might have been requested by one of the defendants.

A lot of controversy over the weapons charges has been stirred up due to HR 218 "The Public Safety Officers Act" which supposedly allows police officers to ignore laws regarding concealed carry while off-duty, supposedly including establishments where such weapons are prohibited such as bars or taverns. HR 218 does not apply, however, to officers who are "under the influence" but that terminology has not yet been defined and Detective Smith did admit in media interviews that he had been drinking that night.

Also, according to an official from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives interviewed by the Rapid City Journal about the case, that while the act was passed, it has not yet been put into effect by the US Attorney General. Detective Smith and the other Iron Pigs members have yet to appear in court to answer to the charges that have been filed against them last month.

UPDATE: According to the Seattle Times, prosecutors dropped the remaining felony assault charge against Detective Ron Smith today after suggesting that the police-led investigation found Smith shot McGuire in self defense and that the shooting was justified. Smith still faces the same misdemeanor weapons charges as do the other members of the Iron Pigs motorcycle group who were with him that night in Sturgis, though it is likely that those charges will also be dropped.

San Diego Slapdown Suit
After suffering a fractured skull that put him in a coma for nearly a month and a traumatic brain injury from which he still has not recovered from, 28-year-old law clerk Pablo Gomez has won a stunning $8,000,000 police misconduct judgment from the city of San Diego California.

In January of 2006 Gomez was leaving the scene of an altercation that two intoxicated men had started with Gomez and his friend when he was ordered to stop by SDPD officer Joseph De Veaux. According to the suit, Gomez stopped and turned around when De Veaux shoved him backward, causing Gomez to fall and strike his head on the sidewalk.

A previous trial resulted in a mistrial when the jury couldn't come to a decision and there was no indication that the officer faced any disciplinary action as a result of the incident and there were no criminal charges. Although, it's likely he didn't as the city attorney defended the officer and said Gomez was responsible for his own injury and that the city plans on appealing.

Can't Keep A Bad Cop Down
According to the Northwest Herald in Illinois, two officers who had felony convictions of assault, obstruction, and other charges, have been recertified to serve as police officers and one reportedly has two job offers with departments other than where he last served despite pleading down to misdemeanor charges when their trials were overturned due to prosecutors allegedly withholding information.

The charges had stemmed from a 2005 incident outside of a bar where three officers allegedly beat a man after they had handcuffed him. As a result of the plea bargain they were able to have their court records sealed and since they only plead to misdemeanors they can now work as cops again... A third officer was convicted of several felonies related to the same case in a separate trial but has been released pending an appeal.

Someone Needs A Computer Time-Out
According to the East Valley Tribune in Phoenix Arizona, a Tempe Arizona cop recently fired and charged with cyberstalking a woman and threatening to distrubute nude photos of her over the internet has also been accused of collecting child pornography. The officer allegedly has a long history of misconduct and dishonesty during his career as an officer and had once been disciplined for receiving overtime pay while browsing the internet.

The allegations stem from a search of the data on his computer that was seized as part of a search warrant served in the cyberstalking case. The investigation is ongoing because the police have not analyzed the files found to determine if the subjects in the files, some named "lolita" or "teen", are really underage.

Police Chief Wants Less Discipline
The Deseret News in Salt Lake County Utah reports that the sheriff there wants to have more control over the disciplinary board that suspended or decertified 18 officers in the last quarter for misdeeds ranging from sexual misconduct to lying to investigators.

The sheriff said that the board should give more consideration to an officer's individual case and accept recommendations from an officer's commanders when asked to reduce disciplinary actions, but the council wants the board to be independent from the departments it reviews. The argument stems from disciplinary findings such as in the case of one sheriff's officer who faces a four year suspension for sexual misconduct who asked for a reduced sentence so he could look for another job in law enforcement...

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Weekly Misconduct Roundup

I'm contemplating making this a regular feature, rounding up the news of the week both in Seattle and elsewhere, so let me know what you think. (poll has been added above)

Lots of Misconduct In The Year's Best
First, I've been really busy for the last few weeks, if you couldn't tell, so I missed it when One World Report on KBCS 91.3 put out their "End of Summer - Best of One World Report" broadcast (the web page has a few videos to go with the stories too) that included several stories on police misconduct and, amazingly, that July interview with yours truly... Of course, I thought I was horrible as I was really nervous but it ended up sounding alright I guess... but "best of"? Gee, thanks guys!

Smile, You're On Candid Cop Camera

Next, remember that story about the Seattle Police officers who laughed at a reporter when asked if they planned on testing a new personal camera that can be worn by an officer to record interactions in order to help reduce rates of misconduct? Well, sounds like the Seattle Police Department is testing them now. Of course, I think this is a good step in the right direction, but only if there are policies that govern when officers may turn the cameras off and results in automatic discipline when they are turned off inappropriately.

UPDATE: Shortly after learning of the program, the Seattle Police Officer's Guild issued a hasty "cease and desist" letter to the City of Seattle, forcing them to immediately halt testing of the wearable cameras. There are no plans to reinstate the program at this time.

Allowing Americans To Speak Their Minds
Also in Seattle news, Councilman Nick Licata released details today in his newsletter "Urban Politics" about legislation pending before the Public Safety committee that will allow a public comment period or hearing prior to labor negotiations between the Seattle Police Officers Guild and the city's bargaining group about accountability issues the public would like to see addressed during negotiations. We covered that a bit over a month ago, glad to see there's been a little bit of progress there.

Hey, You Politicos
Speaking of politics, I've started research on a piece I plan about the increase of political influence being used by police unions and other LEO organizations, as part of that I've been having problems tracking down the Seattle Police Officer's Guild PAC campaign donation activity as they registered for "mini reporting" (which lets them get by with less stringent reporting about what they do with donations) by stating they only planned on raising less than $3,000 this year but have raised almost 10x that amount, $28,510.88. So, if anyone is good at tracking that sort of thing and wants to help, let me know if you figure out where all their contributions are going.

Now, here are some stories from outside of Seattle:

Bunch of News From Chicago
A Chicago cop has been charged in alleged scheme to plant drugs on an informant's ex-wife and arrest her. The officer now faces charges of perjury, unlawful detention, and other related charges. All this a day after a series of reports ran in Chicago about how hard it is to fire problematic officers, (look at the links at the bottom of that one) and how the city's review board forces the city to hire officers who have problematic histories. (something I covered just a few weeks ago here, it's a problem not unique to Chicago).

Hiring A Molester in Marysville

Maybe those police review boards should read this story about the Marysville Pennsylvania police officer who was hired after being fired from another police department who then went on to allegedly molest 15 young girls. The civil case against the city for failing to investigate claims against the officer was settled today for an undisclosed sum... perhaps if cities would refuse to indemnify members of such boards for civil suits that are the result of their decisions to hire problematic officers they would have second thoughts about doing it.

Yet More Abuses in St. Paul
Finally, while I did some extensive coverage of the systematic abuses that occurred in St. Paul during the Republican National Convention, there are still stories leaking out about abuses that went on even after all the protests and arrests... Of course, I'm talking about how prisoners were abused inside the jails as well. While I did talk about it a bit, I didn't really get the chance yet to give that issue the full accounting that it deserves, but at least others are talking about it, including our good friends over at Western Massachusetts Copwatch and even over at The Stranger where they usually turn a blind eye to detainee abuses, especially the ones that go on right here in Seattle. I plan on doing a comprehensive piece this weekend about it, though writing about jail abuses is a difficult one for me to cover because of my own experiences.

If you have any stories or news items you would like to see covered here, please let me know, and thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Navin Sharma - A Good Cop Who Can't Be A Cop Wins Settlement

(UPDATE: Another suit has been filed against the city of Vancouver in December of 2008 related to this case, more information about this case and the related case can be found here).

Navin Sharma was, by all indications, a good and dedicated police officer with the Vancouver Washington police department. Navin's efforts with the department to develop the Tactical Emergency Medical Support (TEMS-SWAT) Unit was instrumental in saving the lives of numerous fellow officers and citizens alike and his efforts to lead charity drives and events were inspirational.

Navin started with the department in 1997, however things went downhill for him after he testified against senior officers during an internal investigation, that's when the threats and harassment began. Superiors would use crude racial slurs when referring to him, rude notes were left on his cruiser by fellow officers, he would get profane messages on his answering machine constantly.. He filed a suit against the city in the hopes of stopping the harassment and threats in 2001 after officers threatened him during a roll call meeting and he won that suit, but the harassment still continued. All the while, his efforts to stop the harassment failed and his complaints went unheeded while city officials would refer to him as "Sharmageddon" or "the sand nigger who sued the City and won".

Navin was finally forced to resign in 2006 for copying and pasting information for DUI reports, a practice used by many other officers in the department without any consequences. In fact, during the current suit filed against the city it became clear that other officers who did much worse kept their jobs, and his suit prevailed because it was made clear that the city was merely looking for any excuse to get rid of an honest officer who told the truth and the city was punishing him for it.

Navin Sharma won a 1.6 million dollar settlement from the city of Vancouver Washington yesterday, (read the press release here), perhaps the largest ever employment discrimination suit against a city in the state of Washington. But the cause of the disturbing racial abuse wasn't just because Sharma's east Indian race, but the fact that he was brave and ethical enough to not perjure himself when testifying about other police officers. His racial background was merely the tool with which the city's police officers and elected officials used to punish him for telling the truth.

Navin, currently working as a nurse, now says it's unlikely that he can ever work in law enforcement again even though he wishes he could. While part of the settlement forced the city to amend his records to show he resigned in good standing, removes him from the Brady list of officers who can't give testimony, to change state records which canceled Navin's law enforcement certification, issue several commendations, and restore his rights to his pension; he says word of mouth will have more impact on his ability to get another law enforcement job, and even then it appears that his reputation for being honest will keep him out of the career he loved.

Good luck Mr. Sharma, the police desperately need more role models like you... and it's damn shame that they don't want them. Unfortunately, it's another example that shows even police officers can be the victim of police misconduct.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A New Wall Of Silence Around The SPD

The Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) is the internal investigations branch of the Seattle Police Department that is responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct. Part of the role within that department is community relations in order to build trust within the community for the police department and trust in the internal investigative process itself. Two recent reviews of the OPA found, among other things, that the OPA needs to do a better job of communicating with the public… How well have they done since those reports?

First, the OPA is supposed to issue a monthly report each month that details the findings for the previous month and gives a statistical summary of those findings and the number of investigations opened. However, the OPA is currently 3 months behind in issuing those reports with the latest report available being the one for June. Prior to hiring a new director towards the middle of last year, the department had been fairly consistent in issuing those reports but towards the end of last year the department fell behind. While they had appeared to catch up for a while, they have fallen behind again under the leadership of this new director.

The problem is not with the OPA being overburdened as the number of complaints opened has been lower this year than previous years, unfortunately in large part because so few trust the process anymore after several high profile cases of officers escaping discipline.

Also, as I reported here in an exclusive story, the OPA have not even been performing investigations as often as they used to. In fact they have only investigated 40% of allegations this year and instead allowed SPD officers to make summary findings without investigation 60% of the time, in previous years they would investigate an average of 90% of allegations made. Of course, this has impacted the rate at which officers have been found guilty of misconduct, (previously 28%-30% rate, now only 11% of findings are sustained), but it has not appeared to have made them more open with the public, in fact they grown strangely silent instead.

Earlier this year the civilian oversight review component of the OPA, the OPARB, had issued a report to city council that was sharply critical of the OPA process and had warned it was on a track to failure but that report was kept secret due to civil litigation worries on the part of the city who worried it would prompt the police union to sue. Since then the OPARB members have been replaced with other members and has not issued any new reports.

In fact, the last reports issued were from the OPA auditor in April of this year, nearly 5 full months ago. Furthermore, there have been no publicized community outreach meetings by the OPA and, in fact, if you go to the OPA home page and click on their “Community Outreach” link, this is what you get:

Clearly the OPA is no longer interested in reaching out to the public, nor are they interested in increasing transparency into the internal investigation and disciplinary process as was called for by the SCCPAP in their report made to the city council about the OPA process and what was needed to improve relations between the police and the public.

Instead, this new and increased lack of transparency is deeply disturbing because of the apparent drop in the number of cases that the OPA is actually investigating which has led to a drop in the rate of sustained findings. There are clearly problems within the OPA and the Seattle police department itself, and apparently the city seeks to hide that fact behind a new wall of silence.

UPDATE 09/09/08 13:39 - The SPD OPA finally released their monthly report for July shortly after this article was published.

Friday, September 5, 2008

St. Paul - A City Unfettered

The last image recorded on AP photojournalist Matthew Rourke's camera before he was shoved from behind and arrested without warning, as documented here.

The total arrests for this week's Republican National Convention appears to be around 820, at least 28 of those arrested were journalists and several more were legal observers and medical professionals who attempted to aid injured protesters. There were also accounts of innocent bystanders being rounded up with protesters and arrested as well, though no count is available for those numbers.

Reports were also coming out that those who were detained were denied medical care in jail and those that have been released days later were still suffering the effects of chemical agents as they were left untreated and unable to wash themselves off. Some reported witnessing people being dragged off to restraint chairs and then exposed to more chemical agents as punishment for demanding medical care.

Several videos and photographs have still made it out that show police using force against protesters who did not pose any threat to officers, the public, or property. Indiscriminate use of chemical agents, rubber bullets, baton rounds, concussion grenades, and direct use of force were documented on several occasions, some of which appeared to intentionally target members of the press who were documenting the police response to the protests.

(read this chilling account of journalists being sprayed and assaulted by officers)

(Also, this jarring account from a journalist who was arrested and detained)

(Kirk James Murphy MD gathered several different first-hand accounts describing egregious cases of police brutality that was inflicted on protesters and regular civilians alike over at Firedoglake.)

Now, many might expect that the resulting legal costs for the city in the wave of police misconduct and civil rights lawsuits will hold the city and it's police force responsible for such blatant and egregious abuses... Think again.

In a deal made prior to the convention the Republican party bought a $10,000,000 insurance policy to cover the costs of any civil litigation brought against the city for police misconduct or civil rights abuses. The federal government also provided the city with $50,000,000 to cover the expense of bringing in more officers from surrounding cities and the national guard for the convention as well. The city and it's police department will not spend one cent in damages, they will not suffer any consequence whatsoever in fact.

While a police spokesperson insisted that many officers probably didn't know about the deal, it still obviously affected the policies that govern how police use force against the public, under what conditions which types of force could be used, and the permissible targets for that use of force. These policies affected what directives were given to officers about who they may arrest as well, which is clearly demonstrable when we look at the arrests of reporters and other observers, if it were against policy to do that the charges against reporters would have been dropped, but they haven't and government officials are defending the arrests.

It is because the city will not be held accountable for it's actions this week that we've seen such abuses and little concern over the potential consequences of those abuses. No individual officers or officials can be sued because government indemnifies them from civil actions in the course of their duties and the city itself will not pay a dime.

This was the main ingredient in this recipe for abuse, it unfettered the city's police force from any responsibility or civic duty, and now we've seen the result. St. Paul became a city where there were no rights to speak of, and in the end there will be no justice for what happened there this week.

UPDATED: 09/06/08- added more links to just a few of the overwhelmingly numerous stories of abuses that occurred in St. Paul last week.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Losing The Battle Against Police Misconduct

The photo above is of a Kentucky University journalism student, with press badge, being doused with chemical spray before he was arrested. Note that it's clear he, the only one in range with a camera, is being intentionally targeted by the officer. The photo was taken by Matthew Rourke of the Associated Press, who was also arrested shortly after taking this photograph.
-source: The Kentucky Kernel

Slowly, but steadily, we are losing the battle against police misconduct.

The number of cases of misconduct appear to be growing...
Yet efforts to enact accountability reforms are constantly under attack by police organizations and grow more ineffectual each day as new loopholes in current accountability systems are discovered and abused.

Police unions and other organizations designed to increase the influence of the police in the political arena are growing rapidly in number and in strength...
Yet the number of citizen activists and organizations that deal with police misconduct issues are diminishing in number and in ability to talk freely about abuses.

New laws are continually being enacted to protect the police from charges of abuse and to keep the public in the dark about cases of misconduct, yet activists and the press continue to have access to disciplinary information restricted and their voices censored.

If all of this wasn't bad enough, then came St. Paul Minnesota where at least 9 journalists and photographers were detained so far this week while covering the police response to protests and several other journalists and police misconduct activists were detained and/or subjected to "preemptive" raids.

While those who were targeted in those raids have continued to cover police activities as best they can, the implications of these intimidating tactics and the arrest of credentialed journalists have sent a chill over all who try to cover police misconduct issues and act as advocates for victims of police brutality. It appears to signal a new chapter in the story of constant battle to improve accountability, the use of direct police action against critics by the police without any second thought to adverse public perception or civil rights abuse charges.

Even before these ominous actions were undertaken against those who dared to speak out against brutality and report about corruption, many have had to deal with more subtle forms of intimidation and threats by police officials and government agencies which have already taken their toll on the number of people who are willing to stand up and speak out about civil right and human rights abuses in the US.

In fact, several sites and organizations that cover police brutality have grown silent without any explanation in recent months. Most recently, just last month in fact, one of the most outspoken voices against police misconduct, BadCopNews, suddenly went quiet after posting volumes of information and stories of abuses in the US, at an average of at least a dozen stories of misconduct a day since 2001 in fact.

I've counted at least 6 other sites and organizations that have gone quiet this year alone, and I fear the actual number is likely much higher. While we can only speculate about the reasons why these citizen journalists and activists go silent, it's reasonable presumption that it has much to do with the intensive harassment such writers receive from the police, and not just the police departments that they normally cover.

This site itself, in fact, has been harassed by police organizations and officers from across the US, with messages ranging from illegitimate threats of legal action to outright threats of bodily harm and/or death if the site's writer, me, ever came to their town. Sadly, I'm not alone in that as I know of at least 5 other writers that have had to deal with similar threats, one of whom suddenly disappeared without a trace in July.

Things were already looking grim before those events of this week shattered the perception that, perhaps, our best chance at avoiding the possibility of such threats against us being acted on would hinge on us continuing to speak out about abuses, to continue to be seen and visible. It's now clear that this isn't the case as many of the journalists and activists who were arrested haven't even been mentioned in the media and experienced abuses and denials of medical care while imprisoned.

These are frightening times, if any readers wonder why I devoted so many posts to what was happening all the way out in Minnesota, consider this... if the police there can get away with doing that to credentialed members of the press, imagine what police anywhere in the US could get away with doing to one of us.

Don't get me wrong, I don't plan on voluntarily going under, if I am silenced it will be against my will, as I'm sure is true for those brave people still covering the protests in St.Paul as well. But I do want people to think about just how grave what happened in St. Paul this week really is. I want people to understand just how dangerous of a risk it is that the voices raised against police abuses are in danger of being silenced like this...

After all, if none are left to speak out about such abuses, just think how much worse those abuses are going to get.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Reporting On Police Activities Is Under Fire -Updated

interview with Amy Goodman about her arrest

"...I was put into a cell, which I later measured to be about nine by eleven paces. And I was in there with seventeen other—seventeen protesters who had been also arrested that day. Some of them were still soaked with, you know, pepper spray, and their skin was burning, and they were asking for a nurse. But in the time that I was in there with them, they didn’t get to see anybody.
-Nicole Salazar, Producer for

While a lot of attention went towards the arrest of ABC News Producer Asa Eslocker as he was working on a story in Denver at the Democratic National Convention last week, the reporting on what has been happening at the Republican National Convetion has been disturbingly incomplete and isn't capturing how police have been using the cover of stopping anarchists to also intimidate those who would report or record cases police misconduct.

It started with the arrest and searches of several police misconduct activists and videographers prior to the convention along with several reports of police seizing video and photographic equipment from independent journalists there to monitor police activities at the convention. Under cover of raids claimed to target protesters the police suspected of planning illegal activities the police also conducted raids and detentions against members of a New York-based group of videographers who monitor police conduct and who were responsible for overturning hundreds of arrests that occurred during the 2004 RNC. That group, I-Witness, reported in their press release that their host's home was raided and that other members of their team were detained searched elsewhere without charges.

Then the founders of St. Paul-based Communities United Against Police Brutality were also rounded up in a separate raid and while being detained they claim that their garage, where they store files and evidence related to police brutality cases they've covered, was burglarized. However, while the garage contained several valuable pieces of equipment, nothing was stolen. But, disturbingly enough, their files were left in disarray as if they were hurriedly searched, which would seem to suggest that it was the police who opportunistically broke into their property without a warrant.

Then, on Monday, police used the cover of the protests to further intimidate reporters by detaining several journalists and intentionally assaulting others who had clearly identified themselves as credentialed members of the press. The first journalist detained appears to be an Associated Press photographer who was rounded up with several protesters and detained for several hours despite clearing being identified as a journalist. (See the photograph that got AP photographer Matthew Rourke arrested)

Then there were the arrests of two Democracy Now! producers who reportedly were injured while being thrown against a wall by police officers, one injured his elbow and the other sustained head injuries during the violent arrests. This prompted Democracy Now! journalist Amy Goodman to rush to the scene to determine what happened, only to be arrested and manhandled by police herself when she started asking questions. (video of the arrest of producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar will be posted at the Democracy Now! website)

There were also other reported cases of assaults on journalists and third-party legal observers who were monitoring the protests on Monday, including a Seattle journalist, Brendan Kiley from the independent weekly paper The Stranger, who was doused with an entire canister of pepper spray after identifying himself as a member of the press to the police.

The end result of these actions against the press by police is chilling, it shows that police have no regard for the rights of the press and since they are not concerned about violating the rights of a credentialed member of the press, what is there to stop them from harming independent journalists and activists that monitor for police misconduct as citizens?

...and as I predicted previously, intimidating the press into keeping quiet about police abuses was likely the intent all along.

Update: It appears as though a Seattle-based group of videographers who document protests and the policing of protests have also been detained. According to a statement made by a spokesman from that group, some were apparently detained at the same location that Amy Goodman was arrested and still remain jailed.

Update: According to a press release from, St. Paul city attorney has decided to press charges against Amy Goodman and prosecutors are still deciding whether or not to charge two DN producers with felonies associated with their arrests.

Update: Two University of Kentucky journalism students and their advisor have also been arrested and charged with felony counts according to the University of Kentucky's newspaper The Kentucky Kernel. The article also shows a photograph, taken by arrested AP photographer Rourke, of one of the students being peppersprayed prior to arrest.

Update: The St. Paul police department raided the offices of I-Witness Video for a second time yesterday after a reportedly "mistaken claim" by an "undercover officer" that hostages were being held in their building. This caused the building owner to evict the group of videographers from the building and interfered with their ability to document police activities in response to protests at the RNC.

Originally published 9/2/08 11:28, Updated 9/4/08 09:17

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