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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Police Misconduct NewsWatch for 01-31-09


Sometimes Public Defenders Are Guilty of Misconduct Too
Felipe Vargas was arrested in November of 2003 under allegations that he molested a child. Three days later that child recanted... but Vargas would still spend over seven months in jail for a crime that never happened... while prosecutors and his public defender knew it.

His lawyer, Thomas Earl, is now disbarred and the US District Court has ruled that he owes Vargas over $3,000,000 for refusing to hire an investigator or pay for a polygraph that Vargas had requested while working under a $500,000 flat-fee annual contract with the county as a public defender... a contract that is illegal for lawyers to enter into in the state of Washington.

Grant County settled a civil rights suit filed against them by Vargas for $250,000 for failing to provide him with effective counsel. While the county paid Vargas, Thomas Earl has filed for bankruptcy protection and canceled his malpractice insurance, which means he probably won't ever repay Vargas for the seven months of his life that he cost him.

Washington Senate Proposes Bill To Let Officers Seek Help Confidentially
Washington State Senate Bill 5131 seeks to allow police officers and other related public employees to seek psychological, drug rehabilitation, and other counseling services confidentially. Sponsors of the bill, including, say that officers often don't seek help when they struggle with stress which leads to problems such as drug dependency and domestic violence, of which police officers experience a higher rate of than the general public.

The sponsors say that officers may be more likely to seek help before a problem becomes serious if they can do so without risking the stigmas associated with seeking professional help, such as being seen as weak or risking advancement within the department by having that on one's record. Thus the need for officers to be able to seek help confidentially.

Detractors say that it risks public safety by keeping such problems secret and by failing to give departments information they need in order to adjust an officer's assignment appropriately when they are found to have problems with drug abuse or violent behaviors like domestic violence or frequent use of excessive force on suspects.

Personally, I do think that it's better to give officers the option to seek help before the problems they have with stress affect others through abuse of their authority or violent behavior...

So I don't personally oppose this, but I do think that there needs to be more done to help officers who have difficulty coping with stress, it's not a perfect solution to this well-known problem.


Police Chief Arrested For Soliciting Sex From Minors Online
Karl at Blue Must Be True has details about a Virginia Commonwealth University Police Chief who was busted for soliciting minors for sex on the internet which has led to a pretty interesting exchange in his comments section. My own thoughts are that if a police chief is doing this sort of thing, lord only knows what the officers underneath him do.

Supreme Court's Herring Decision Wasn't The Only Bad News...
A lot of attention has been given to the recent US Supreme Court ruling that attacks 4th amendment's exclusionary rule. But Scott at Simple Justice tells us that there were other decisions made by the the Supremes that put the screws to the people even tighter than before... but aren't being covered in the news.

Detroit Woman Sues Police For Attacking Her Family In Her Own Home
A Detroit mother of seven is suing the Detroit Police Department over allegations that officers busted into her home without a warrant and demanded that she tell them where she hid drugs and guns while they brutally attacked her, her children, and some friends of the family who were visiting at the time. The allegations go on to suggest that another officer visited the next day and offered bribes of gift certificates, cash, and fur coats to keep the family quiet.

From the article in the Detroit Free Press:
"It was awful; it was a nightmare," she said. "Every time I think about it, I see him punching my kids."

The officers terrorized the 10 people in the house for close to two hours, court documents indicate.

Sandra Flowers, 13, who suffered bruises to her neck and chest, said officers used the N-word during the attack. "I saw them beating on them, stomping on them, kicking," she said."
The department will only say that the matter is being looked into.

Elgin Police Settle Excessive Force Lawsuit Against Off-Duty Officer
The city of Elgin Illinois has settled a police brutality lawsuit for $225,000 over allegations that officers had allowed an off-duty officer who was involved in a brawl to go into a police cruiser holding Kevin Schwartz and let him beat Schwartz while he was handcuffed in the back seat.

The officer accused of beating Schwartz has since resigned after he was convicted of misdemeanor assault charges over the incident which occurred while he was working, off-duty, as security for a local bar.

Iowa Officers Face Lawsuit Over Traffic Stop Beating
Council Bluffs police officers in Iowa are facing legal action after being accused of beating a handcuffed man so badly that the spent eight days in the hospital and underwent surgery to repair his cheekbones and to have a metal plate implanted to support his crushed eye socket.

The man, Matt Peterson, admits that he ran from police when he was stopped for driving with a suspended license, but that it wasn't necessary for officers to stomp on his head and then smash his face open with a blunt object after he was cuffed and laying on the ground. The department claims a dashcam video of the incident exists, but has not specified if the beating itself was recorded.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Visitors Of The Week

Since Five Before Midnight seemed to like my Visitor of the Day post last week... well, maybe "like" isn't the right word... but since she thought it was interesting I decided to make a new one for this week.

First... do you think anyone visited looking for info on how to donate to Oscar Grant's daughter's trust fund?


But, our first visitor of the week "winner" was just one among a few new visitors who apparently wasn't convinced by all the video evidence that Johannes Mehserle was wrong to shoot Oscar Grant, nor was he convinced that Pirone shouldn't have punched him without justification either...

...because nothing else could explain why he came here looking for info on how to give money to Oscar Grant's killer... unless he thinks police indiscriminately shooting people is a good idea, which wouldn't surprise me given some of the comments I've deleted lately.

But, that's just the runner up... Guess who was the most frequent visitor to this site this week...

Nope, it wasn't any of the usual visitors...

That's right, apparently the good ol' boys at BART aren't too busy to take some time out to find out what people are saying about their good pal "Punchy" Pirone.

Do you think sharing my visitor info is just too mean-spirited of me? Or do you think showing what all those nice cops do when they visit should be a regular feature?

Drop me a line and let me know what you feel.

Oscar Grant Shooting Update - Mehserle Granted Bail and More

BART Police Officers Tony Pirone (left) and Johannes Mehserle (right)

As you may have already read, there's been some updates in the Oscar Grant shooting case. This will likely be the last I post about this case for a while, I think regular readers are a bit annoyed that I've devoted so many posts to this case, and I apologize for that.

Mehserle Granted Bail
The BART officer who shot Grant in the back, Johannes Mehserle, was allowed to be released on $3 million bail today by a skeptical judge who indicated he felt the argument advanced by Mehserle's defense attorney didn't match with video evidence or previously released information, but that his hands were tied as to whether or not Mehserle could get out on bail.

I'm tempted to do a comparison between the defense's argument and the available video evidence because it doesn't seem to kosher to me either, but I don't think anyone wants to read more analysis from me.

Trust Fund Established For Oscar Grant's Daughter
A trust fund has been set up for Oscar Grant's daughter, Tatiana. According to witnesses Grant's daughter was top-most in his mind that night has he plead with officers not to shoot him because he had a young daughter at home... so, I think it would be his wish that people do something positive for his daughter in his memory. For those wishing to donate the fund is
Tatiana Grant Trust Fund, account number 3879027641
Wells Fargo Bank
950 Southland Drive
Hayward, CA, 94545

BART Chief Urges His Officers To Give Donations To Mehserle
Of course, while the community supports the victim, officers are supporting the man who shot Oscar Grant instead. Details about a memo given to BART officers from the BART chief of police tells officers how they can put money in Mehserle's jail account so he can get goodies from the jail commissary during his stay there. One would think that officers would want information about how to give donations to the daughter of the man they needlessly shot to death, but apparently one would be mistaken.

Charges Dropped Against Man Who Claimed Mehserle Beat Him
Charges have been dropped against a man who came forward to complain that Mehserle had attacked him and then arrested him for resisting arrest without a supporting charge in December. BART officials admit that the man, Kenneth Carrethers, actually did try to file a complaint with them that might have tipped them off to Mehserle's possible anger management issues, but that the person who takes complaints was on vacation... No wonder their investigation was so flawed, apparently there's only one person there who investigates misconduct.

SF Chronicle Says BART Investigation Was Flawed From The Start
Giving some insight to the BART internal investigation of the Oscar Grant shooting through unnamed sources, it appears as though BART officers at the scene may have attempted to cover up the shooting death of Oscar Grant from the start when they sent a train load of witnesses away and then didn't notify supervisors that there was an officer-involved shooting at the platform.

This would explain why none of the witnesses BART chose to talk to had mentioned Pirone punching Grant despite a video that clearly shows that punch and the crowd's outraged reaction to that punch, which would indicate that there were plenty of people who saw Pirone attack Grant before he was arrested for "resisting" and then shot after Pirone had pinned him in a way that prevented him from complying with demands to put both of his arms behind his back, as my analysis of the video argued on 01/11/09.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Police Misconduct NewsWatch for 01-29-09

Picture taken outside of the US Federal Courthouse in Seattle Washington

First, A Confession...
I've been busy... so busy in fact that the quality of the posts I've been putting up have really been lacking... for that, I apologize. I put them up without really reading over them for a final edit since I'm always rushed, and that doesn't do what I'm trying to do with this site any justice.

So, in an effort to do a better job, I'm asking for your input on how I can do better, just take our poll on the sidebar or send me a note about what else I can do to support victims of misconduct and help reduce police misconduct in Seattle and the US.

...and Some Clarification
I just wanted to make it clear that my intent in this article I posted a few days ago wasn't to boast that I was right all along, but to point out that if I, with my limited time and resources, was able to spot the assault by officer Pirone on Oscar Grant in a video released to the public on 01/06/09 when I did that analysis of that video on 01/11/09... then it is certain that BART PD, Oakland PD, and DA Orloff's investigators had seen that punch as well with all of the enhanced video equipment and man-hours available to them long before I spotted it.

My point in posting that, ultimately, was that you should seriously question the claims made by those officials when they say the only reason that no other officers have been charge is that they didn't know of the abuse that occurred prior to the shooting.

They knew... they just hoped nobody else noticed it.

BART Tries Yet Another PR Ploy
Speaking of BART... BART officials in Oakland announced that they are looking to turn over the internal investigations into their officer's actions during the New Years shooting of Oscar Grant to an outside agency in order to try and repair the public relations disaster they've created by failing to investigate the shooting by officer Mehserle for a week and then failing to investigate the use of force by officer Pirone for almost a full month, despite video evidence of both being widely distributed publicly just days after the shooting.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of an externally run investigation still depends on the information, evidence, and testimony gathered (or ignored/destroyed) by BART officers who claimed they had confiscated several video recording devices that night and gathered witness statements that all, somehow magically, did not corroborate with the video evidence the rest of us have already seen.

Wouldn't honesty and a transparent effort to seek justice be a better solution to all this?

Insights on Pick For Civil Rights Division Head
Fellow Police Misconduct/CopWatch blogger Five Before Midnight has some interesting insight on President Barack Obama's pick to head the Department Of Justice's Civil Rights Division in the comments section for the NewsWatch post I made about that decision. I don't know enough about attorney Tony West to really form an opinion, but I really respect her insights on the matter. Go check it out and see what you think.

Missoury Seeks To Hide Police Misconduct From Public
Legislators in Missouri are pressing for a new law, HB62, that would seal police misconduct investigation records from the public. The bill, sponsors say, is to protect the reputation of officers, especially those that run for public office, who are accused of misconduct.

Opponents to the bill say that keeping such records open would allow officers to clear their names by being able to show the public the truth in cases where accusations ended up being false and that, ultimately, the bill is just a means to keep misconduct under wraps and to protect misbehaving officers from any accountability.

Dallas Police Chief Fires 4 Officers... Some Were fired Before

The police chief in Dallas Texas has fired 58 officers since he started in 2004, and on Thursday he bumped the number up to 62 by firing 4 officers for incidents ranging from working second jobs while collecting worker's comp to ignoring emergency calls while talking with girlfriends.

The problem? Two of the officers had been fired previously, one of which had been fired from the department twice. How'd they get back on? It's a problem we've talked about in the past and one that infuriates chiefs who try to fix misconduct problems... that being the review boards that officers can appeal to in order to get disciplinary actions overturned.

Most review boards are loaded with ex-cops and tend to favor officers, often overturning even egregious cases of misconduct that endangers the public not only by returning bad officers to work, but by proving to them that there are no consequences for bad behavior.

How many times do I have to say it, there are two justice systems in the US, one for cops and one for the rest of us.

NYC Questions Why NYPD Refuses To Prosecute Their Own
As noted previously, complaints against police officers in New York City have risen, but the number of disciplinary actions and prosecutions against those officers have declined. In fact, out of 2,200 complaints only 161 were found substantiated and of those, only 70 were actually followed up on.

City council members are convening hearings to discuss the problem with the NYPD's refusal to pursue cases documented by the Civilian Complaint Review Board and hear arguments from the Civil Liberties Union that a civilian review panel should take over handling of sustained complaints.

New Poll - What Can I Do Better

I put a new poll up, asking readers to let me know what I can do to better help the effort to reduce police misconduct and detainee abuse as well as improving police accountability and transparency.

Lately, I don't think I've been doing a good job of it, not that anyone really can given the difficulty of convincing the public that police misconduct actually happens, let alone that it shouldn't be allowed. So, I suppose now would be a good time to ask for feedback to see how I can improve the site and what it's here for.

So, there's the poll over there, and if you have a reasonable suggestion that isn't listed in the poll, the comments are down there.

Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Slow Ahead

This week is going to be a bit slow with posts, I apologize for that, but my headaches have been getting bad again and my (paying) jobs require more hours from me this week. Things will hopefully be back to normal soon, but in the meantime I have a question for you, the readers, to ponder for me until I have a chance to post again.

You see, I was struck by a post made on the Behind The Blue Wall blog that simply linked to a support site for people who suffer PTSD and their families the other day. Not that there is anything wrong with that, I fully support those support groups, but what struck me is that there are support groups for all sorts it seems.... groups for people who get PTSD from being in combat, people who suffer domestic abuse, people who are victims of violent crimes...

...but, there is no support group for people who suffer PTSD from being a victim of police misconduct. Interesting, isn't it?

As I said, I support those other groups, their work is important and I hope it helps many who suffer PTSD like I do. But, while they get help, people like me can't because we can't afford it and there are no groups for us. What's worse is while PTSD from combat or other terribly traumatic events are difficult to deal with alone, PTSD from being a victim of police misconduct seems worse...


Well, a PTSD sufferer from a combat situation doesn't have to walk down a street and see people in the uniform of the people who harmed them. A PTSD sufferer from a domestic abuse situation can eventually leave their abuser and they have help to do that out there.

But we who suffer PTSD from being hurt by the police are always reminded of that abuse, we have nowhere to turn, and nobody to protect us from further abuse from our abusers. We suffer alone, constantly, and must learn to live with fear and trauma for the rest of our lives... and relive it every time we see a police car, a police officer, or hear a siren coming down the street...

If any sufferer of PTSD needed a support group, it's us... but there will never be one.

Want to hazard a guess as to why?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Oscar Grant Shooting Update - Other Officers Might Finally Be Investigated

As I reported on 01/11/09, my analysis of the publicly available BART shooting videos clearly indicated that a second officer could be seen punching Grant in the head prior to the shooting... we published that analysis a full two weeks ago, and finally it seems as though others are reaching the same conclusion that I did, as KTVU reported yesterday.
Photo of a security officer named Tony Pirone taken in 2004 at California's Lawrence Livermore Labs (pdf) matching the build, facial profile, and hair style of the officer seen in videos punching Grant and kneeling on his neck.

I also argued that it was this same second officer, now identified as officer Tony Pirone by The San Fransisco Chronicle, also appeared to be the same officer who "took a knee" on Grant's neck while he was laying face-down on the platform which would have caused enough pain to make in involuntarily squirm, which would explain what others are describing as a struggle, when it was clear he was cooperative up to that point.

This is why, when Mehserle was charged with murder for shooting Oscar Grant on 01/14/09, I argued that Mehserle should not be the only BART officer facing criminal charges. Now others are starting to agree as well and have forced BART officials to make a statement that they will order BART police to investigate the other officers who were there that night.

While it is encouraging that the media is finally taking notice to what the video evidence is showing and the BART authority has claimed it will investigate these "new revelations"... it's disturbing that, prior to today, the BART authority and the prosecuting attorney reviewing the case had indicated that they were not going to investigate any other officers up to this point.

I believe this clearly indicates the unwillingness of the investigating agencies to pursue this case, and here's why.

Let us assume that BART was being truthful when they claimed that officers at the scene of the shooting had confiscated numerous video recordings from passengers who had recorded the incident that night.

Let's also assume that even if those videos were merely taken to keep the evidence from going public and was erased, that BART authorities and others were able to review the videos that did go public... after all, they were publicly available.

Finally, let's assume that they at least had available to them the same technology I did when I reviewed the video evidence and had officers who were trained to analyze such evidence reviewing it.

If we make these very reasonable assumptions it becomes difficult to reconcile that BART officials have only just now indicated that the BART police department will now perform an internal investigation into Pirone's use of force that night and that, up to this point, District Attorney Orloff has indicated that he will not be investigating any other officers for criminal charges related to that night's events.

So, how is it that, up to today, Pirone has not been charged and was not being internally investigated by the BART PD for misconduct when the evidence released to the public clearly showed a case of excessive force? After all, if I was able to identify the actions of Pirone from analyzing the meager two videos that had been released to the public and the media was able to see it in their analysis later on, you can be certain that professional analysts and police officers who are trained to observe details would have seen it in their analysis of all the video evidence they professed to have collected that night...

Unless they merely collected that video evidence in order to cover it up.

Even then, even if they had disposed of all the evidence they had collected from other passengers that night and ignored witness testimony that most definitely would have indicated that officer Pirone had punched Grant prior to the shooting (in the video you can hear clear reactions from witnesses when Pirone punches Grant), there is still the publicly released videos that show the same story, that Pirone had used excessive force on Grant.

So, if the prosecutor and the BART PD had seen the same evidence that we've seen, the same evidence that had led me, the media, and several legal professionals to the conclusion that Pirone used excessive force, why is it that BART has just now pledged to look into allegations that Pirone used excessive force and why is it that the prosecutor is now refusing to comment on the investigation when he made it clear last week that he was not investigating the activity of any other officers who took part in that arrest and shooting?

Because BART and the city of Oakland are still unwilling to hold their officers accountable for their actions. There is simply no other explanation.

Given this... we can only wonder at all the other instances of abuse that have gone unpunished up to this point, and wonder how many more will be covered up in the future since BART and the city of Oakland have made it clear that they are unwilling to persue cases of misconduct to the best of their abilities in the absence of intense public pressure and scrutiny.

Worst of all, we must wonder at the chances for a successful prosecution of Mehserle when the prosecutor is clearly unwilling to fully investigate what and who ultimately caused the shooting death of Oscar Grant that night and hold those individuals accountable in the absence of public pressure to do so.

I fear, given the evidence at hand, that Mehserle will not be held accountable, and this will only serve to show other officers that they too can get away with murder even when their actions have been shown to the world.

Sadly, it just serves as more evidence that there are two justice systems in America, a fake system for the police, and a completely different one for the rest of us...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Police Misconduct NewsWatch for 01-24-09

Local News

Initiative 100 Puts Seattle Jail Issue To A Vote

Tim at Apesma's Lament reports that a group called "Citizens for Efficiency and Fairness in Public Safety" have filed an initiative to force the city of Seattle to allow the citizens of Seattle to vote on whether or not to build a new jail and to force the city to study the use of alternatives to incarceration in order to save money and reduce recidivism.

Previous criticisms of Seattle's attempt to build their own jail are here and at Blogging Georgetown. The group, and others, are holding a public forum on the issue at Seattle University's Pigott Auditorium on January 28th from 6:30 to 8:30pm.

National News

Leading By Example?
Stoughton Massachusetts police chief Manuel Cachopa has been found guilty in a felony corruption trial as an accessory after the fact in relation to an extortion attempt he made on a complainant in order to protect one of his officers from a misconduct complaint.

He is currently free pending sentencing while Stoughton's board decides whether or not to fire him while he also stands to lose his $139,000 per year pension. He's also been ordered to stay away from jurors and witnesses in the case as his wife was caught rifling through jury questionnaires that had juror addresses on them (she may face charges too) and his supporters, (police officers), have been accused of threatening jurors and witnesses.

Who Polices The Police's Police?
In Oakland California, the FBI is currently investigating allegations that the Oakland Police Department's head of Internal Affairs had beaten a suspect who died a month later from the injuries he received and being denied medical care while in jail and then ordered subordinate officers to lie about the beating.

As a result the Oakland PD has suspended the head of it's IA department, with pay, for the duration of the investigation leading many to wonder how much misconduct went unpunished if this is who they put in charge of policing the police... and who thought it was a good idea to have the Oakland PD investigate the BART shooting of Oscar Grant.

This investigation is just one part of a wide-ranging FBI probe covering several high-profile incidents of misconduct, all of this is occurring as the department is still under scrutiny by a US District Court judge as part of a settlement agreement stemming from the infamous Oakland PD "Riders" scandal from 2001.

Another Review Of BART Shooting Videos Raise New Questions
Speaking of Oakland and the Oscar Grant shooting... Seems as though others have been reviewing the videos of Johannes Mehserle shooting an unarmed Oscar Grant in the back and are agreeing with my analysis of the video a few weeks ago, that the officer who punched Grant in the head prior to the shooting and who took a knee on Grant's neck is complicit in that shooting death, or at the very least he's guilty of violating Grant's civil rights by his use of excessive force.

While Mehserle is facing murder charges in that death, there have been no additional arrests even though the video clearly shows a second officer used excessive force on Grant and that escalation of force by that officer directly led to Mehserle's use of deadly force... and the prosecutor refuses to say whether there will be any additional arrests in that case, which means there likely won't be given that the corrupt Oakland PD (see above) is investigating it.

California Attorney Named To Head US DOJ Civil Rights Division
...and yet again, from Oakland... President Obama has appointed Oakland attorney Tony West as head of the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division which is responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases of police corruption and misconduct as well as jails accused of violating the rights of detainees among other things.

West seems a bit unqualified given that most of his experience with issues of civil rights violations appears to come from his stint as a California Special Assistant AG who was assigned to review the 1999 shooting death of Tyisha Miller by four Riverside Police officers. However, he seems at least worthy of giving a chance before determining how well he'll do look into cases of misconduct and abuse given this opinion piece (pdf) he wrote for the Mercury News in 2007 in response to California's decision to keep police misconduct records hidden from the public.

Chicago Officer Pleads Guilty To Beating Man Shackled To Wheelchair In Hospital
Chicago Illinois police officer William Cozzi plead guilty to federal criminal civil rights charges over the videotaped beating of Randle Miles. Miles' arms and legs were shackled to a wheelchair by Cozzi in a Chicago hospital when he became belligerent while seeking treatment for a stab wound when officer Cozzi began hitting him in the head with a "sap". A security camera captured the beating and Cozzi was indicted in 2007 for the beating that occurred in 2005.

...And Yet More Violent Cops In Chicago
Also in Chicago, in what the Sun times is calling a rare move, the Chicago Police Board has fired two police officers for misconduct. The first officer was found to have had a relationship with a felon while he was being investigated.

The other officer, Larry Guy, was fired for beating a teenage suspect in the head while his hands were cuffed behind his back. Guy would have likely gotten away with it if it weren't for the Target store's surveillance cameras which caught the beating...

So, of course, he was found guilty of trying to erase those tapes of the beating and was criminally charged with obstruction, battery, and official misconduct. Of course, as usual, he plead down to a misdemeanor battery charge and got 18 months of probation... and people wonder why I took it seriously when Chicago cops threatened to shoot me for what I write here?

NJ State Trooper Sentenced For Drug Dealing
New Jersey State Trooper Brian Holmes has been sentenced to 17 years in prison for official misconduct, drug possession, and drug distribution in relation to charges that he and his fellow trooper Moises Hernandez had skimmed 56 kilos of cocaine from a drug bust, laundered money, and alerted Columbian dealers when they were being investigated.

Fight Club At NY Jail Was Run By Corrections Officers
Scott at Simple Justice talks about "The Program" at the Rikers Island detention center in New York where three corrections officers have been charged with establishing a fight club by that name where they controlled a group of detainees who beat prisoners and ran an extortion racket.

Scott suggests that prosecutors should be required to spend time in the jails they help send people to in order to fully understand exactly what they subject the accused to when they impose impossible-to-pay bail amounts. Being the victim of detainee abuse myself, I fully agree with that idea.

Ever Wonder Who Stole Your Bike?
Maybe it was the cops... Three people have been indicted in connection with an alleged chop-shop operation after pieces of a stolen motorcycle were discovered in an Andrews, South Carolina garage. Interestingly, one of those charged with possession of a stolen vehicle happens to be an Andrews Police officer and another is a corrections officer in the Georgetown County Jail.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Seattle PI - Bringing Us The Good News And The Bad

It's been reported today that the Seattle Post Intelligencer won the 2009 Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award in the series category from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York for their "Strong Arm Of The Law" series of reports that ran in January and February of 2008.

That outstanding series, written by investigative reporters Eric Nalder, Lewis Kamb, and Daniel Lathrop, reported on the Seattle Police Department's use stand-alone obstruction of justice charges to cover for excessive force cases and the inability of the Seattle Police Department to discipline officers for misconduct and brutality.

The Seattle PI has a long history of hard-hitting investigative journalism that critically examined both the Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff's Department as exemplified by their Strong Arm of the Law series and their 2005 "Conduct Unbecoming" series that examined extensive corruption in the King County Sheriff's Department that included cases of alleged child molestation, rampant and unchecked misconduct, as well as stories of witnesses being arrested for reporting misconduct.

Both of these series of investigative reports led to reforms being recommended due to public outcry and pressure on public officials who would have never done anything otherwise. Sadly, though, while some of the recommended reforms were implemented in the Seattle Police Department, the King County Sheriff's Department ultimately failed to implement most of their reforms due to budget problems. Albeit, if it weren't for the Seattle PI, a public discussion about these abuses that led to some changes would never have taken place, and Seattle would be even worse than it currently is for that.

Sadly, though, this well-deserved award comes right after the news was released that the Seattle PI will likely be shut down soon as the paper's owner, Hearst Corp., has put the paper up for sale with the provision that if nobody buys it in 60 days the paper will be shut down and the entire staff will be laid off. There have been rumors that it may become an online-only news agency, but even that is a long shot and would likely not include the kinds of resources that such in-depth investigative reports would require.

The loss of the PI would be devastating to the efforts to improve police accountability and transparency in Seattle, Washington as the PI is the only mainstream news agency that was willing to take on the powerful Seattle Police Officer's Guild as well as the other police unions and politicians who would rather have kept these reports out of the public's view.

Seattle's other main paper, The Seattle Times, is more conservative leaning and tends to give biased reports that mainly repeat official press releases when allegations of abuse break in the news and otherwise doesn't report on police misconduct itself.

Seattle's alternative press doesn't give us much hope either as The Seattle Weekly, while breaking the story of abuses in the King County Jail that led to the well-publicized investigation by the DOJ, generally ignores police abuses. The Stranger, Seattle's other alternative weekly paper who used to have a fairly good record of reporting on police brutality cases, has recently grown rather friendly with the department and has turned to giving police beat reports instead of any investigative looks into police misconduct.

Seattle's television news stations also don't give us much hope. While two of the stations, King 5 and KOMO 4, have done some reporting on specific instances of police brutality when those cases came with video proof, otherwise they have missed several cases that have been covered in the Seattle PI.

This loss would also affect advocates and citizen reporters alike as we don't have the kind of resources and inside sources that a major news organization like the PI has. We too rely on organizations like the PI to inform us, as well as the general public, when cases of misconduct we would not have heard about occur and when these cases actually form a pattern of abuses that indicate a deeper case of corruption instead of isolated cases of abuse.

The loss of the Seattle Post Intelligencer will be a devastating blow to those of us who try to bring official corruption and misconduct to light and improve our city by encouraging political leaders to implement reforms that bring much needed accountability and transparency to our police agencies.

The Seattle Post Intelligencer was an invaluable ally in the fight for a better police department in Seattle and King county and their absence will leave an impact on all our lives, not just because of the loss of such excellence in journalism, but also because the absence of an organization to keep the city honest about abuses will bring about a return to unaccountability to our police agencies and, in turn, will result in more cases of brutality and misconduct that we will all have to pay a price for.

The loss of the Seattle Post Intelligencer will be felt by Seattle long after that last paper is printed.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Police Misconduct NewsWatch for 01-22-09

Seattle Police Department's "Command Vehicle", complete with telescoping boom mounted surveillance cameras, stationed outside of an Inauguration Day rally at Seattle's Westlake Center.

Local Blogger Wonders If Seattle Is Becoming A Police State
Apesma's Lament, a local Seattle blog by activist Tim Harris, wonders if Seattle may be turning into a police state given the overwhelming presence of Seattle Police at a local rally during Inauguration Day in which different independent reporters claimed it appeared as though there were more police than attendants at the rally organized by Seattle Community College students in Seattle's Westlake Center.

Family Sues Pierce County Jail For Failing To Prevent Suicide
The family of Ralph Close is suing the Pierce County Jail in Tacoma Washington for failing to prevent Close's suicide when he was arrested on suspicion of robbery. Close was found dead in his cell after he hanged himself with his bedsheet despite officers warning guards on intake forms that Close had a history of mental problems and suicide attempts.

Economic Woes Good News For Drug Law Reformists?
The Seattle Weekly says that the flailing economy is a good thing for drug law reformers. While most politicians who were previously against reforms have grown silent about opposition to the relaxation of jail time for drug offenses  in the face of the savings that could be had by not jailing low-level drug offenders there are a few, like Seattle city attorney Tom Carr, that still insist that it's better to punish rather than rehabilitate.

National News

A Victim's Perspective Of Overzealous Police Officers
From the Western Massachusetts CopWatch site, a link to a blog post that is tongue-in-cheek about one person's experience with an officer that also illustrates just how powerless any of us feel when we are wrongfully accused by an officer who is sure they can do no wrong.

Updates On The Ryan Frederick Trial
Radley Balko at The Agitator brings everyone up to date on the trial of Ryan Frederick in Virginia who is facing murder charges for killing a police officer during a grow operation drug raid where the only thing growing were Japanese Maples and the warrant depended on testimony from informants who burglarized his home, but didn't give police any evidence of the supposed grow operation. Frederick has claimed all along that he thought the burglars had returned and didn't realize that the people busting down his door that night were police when he opened fire.

BART Cop Gets High-Priced Lawyer For Free
Johannes Mehserle, the BART police officer in Oakland California who is facing murder charges for shooting Oscar Grant to death while Grant was laying face-down on a mass-transit platform, is replacing his current lawyer with a lawyer with a reputation for representing the worst of the worst and getting them off scott-free... a lawyer Mehserle would never have gotten if it weren't for the state-wide police fund that pays for such lawyers. Yet another example of how cops aren't treated like the rest of us, they never have to pay for their own defense.

Harvard Paper Calls For Police Reforms After Oscar Grant Shooting
Meanwhile, Harvard University's The Harvard Crimson asks that the murder of Oscar Grant be used as an argument for a more restrained police force in the US. Seems that they also came to the same conclusion that I did in that it was the over-aggressive behavior of BART officers towards the people they detained that ultimately led to the shooting death of Oscar Grant by Johannes Mehserle on New Years Day.

Peoria Police Contemplate New Use-Of-Force Policies After Lawsuit
The Peoria police department is looking into a policy change that will automatically initiate the review of dahscam footage whenever a use of force report is filed in response to a lawsuit filed by Bryce Scott who claims officers peppersprayed, tasered, kicked, and beat him when he surrendered to them after he fled police and then stopped on his own to surrender, but never filed a formal complaint with the department.

As you may know, we recommend against filing complaints since police departments just cannot be trusted to investigate themselves. This is even true in cities like Seattle who have civilian review boards since those boards have been neutered and aren't even allowed to review investigations, let alone discuss them or their findings in a transparent manner. In the end, all internal investigations are meant to do is prepare a defense against civil litigation, not find the truth and discipline officers who participate in misconduct.

NYPD Officers Arrested For Framing Drug-Buy Suspects
Two NYPD officers have been indicted on numerous charges over an undercover drug-buy operation where the officers purchased three bags of cocaine from a dealer, only reported purchasing one bag, then used the other two unreported bags to frame another man and his brother. One of the officers later went back to the bar where the bust occurred in order to copy security camera footage that showed the two officers never interacted with the people they framed.

A Convoluted Tale Of A Cop Retiring With Benefits While Standing Accused
My head hurts today, so if you can make sense of this story about stained police union carpets, search warrants, and a demoted Connecticut cop who stands accused of sexual misconduct being allowed to retire with full benefits... let me know.

Officer Wins Lawsuit Against Another Officer Who's Police Report Led To Murder Charges
An ex Detroit Michigan police officer once accused of murder has won $500,000 in a civil lawsuit against the Michigan State Trooper who filed the police report that caused the officer's arrest and trial. The officer was later acquitted of second degree murder involving the shooting death of a homeless man named Eric Williams.

The trooper blamed an inaccurate police report filed by the Detroit officer was responsible for him being charged with murder in that death.

International News

Inquiry Underway In Robert Dziekanski Taser Death
The inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski in a Vancouver British Columbia, Canada airport has begun. A video of officers repeatedly tasering Dziekanski after he appeared to be non-threatening at the time sparked recriminations when no criminal charges were brought against the officers involved.

While the inquiry won't result in any criminal charges if it determines the officers were in the wrong, it can result in officers being found guilty of misconduct.

British Columbia Cops Arrested For Robbery And Assault
Meanwhile, in a nearby Vancouver suburb, three off-duty Canadian police officers were arrested for allegations of robbery and assault. The three officers, all from different area departments, are accused of beating and then robbing a newspaper delivery person after he stopped and asked for directions outside of a Hyatt hotel. No charges have been filed yet as police claim they are still interviewing witnesses and the officers who were involved in the incident.

Is Turkey Getting Better On Human Rights Than The US?
60 people, including police officers, prison guards, and soldiers are facing trial in Turkey over the brutal beating death of 29 year old Engin Ceber who was protesting against police brutality last year.

Human rights groups say Ceber was beaten by officers when he was taken into custody and then beaten again by guards in jail before he died in October of a brain hemorrhage. In regards to the case, the Turkish justice minister issued an appology to the man's family and admitted that Ceber suffered mistreatment.

One thing is for certain, US prosecutors never file charges against that many officers  when similar abuses occur here and no government official would ever admit it happened and apologize for such abuse.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Building Bridges To Today

I grew up in Ohio during the 1970s while neighborhoods were still somewhat segregated and some still showed scars from riots that occurred just a few years prior to my birth. Since my parents were separated I would spend time between them in some very separate worlds. My mother, who came over to the US from a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea called Mykonos as a small girl, lived with her mother in a very mixed neighborhood while my father lived in an almost exclusively white suburban neighborhood with his parents.

It was an odd existence for me, at least in the terms of race relations, since I never really grew up having any real prejudices that I can think of. I had friends of all different backgrounds from the time I spent with my mom, but when I lived with my father my friends there were all white… at least until Tim moved in a few blocks away from my father's house. Tim, as it was, happened to be part of one of the two sole African American families in my father’s town.

I never really thought much of it, Tim and I hit it off pretty well from the start for some reason and I spent a lot of time over his house, but he never really came over to visit me except for once, and never came over again… I wasn’t allowed to bring him into the house even though my other friends were welcomed there. But that didn't really seem to change our relationship, even though my father's and grandparent's attitudes confused and upset me at the time.

Tim was a good kid and his parents were always warm and welcoming to me, despite how my family might have treated him, I was always welcomed at his house and would spend the night from time to time even. I never really thought much of the arrangement back then, but I marvel at it now that I'm older, that they would welcome me even when they themselves weren't welcomed.

Tim, his older brother, and his parents would take me to the stores they go to on the side of town I never really knew about. The store was much different than the one my parents went to, and the neighborhood was much more similar to the one where my mother lived than my father’s… and I was the only lighter colored person there.

Same thing at the church where Tim’s family took me once, one of those Baptist churches, that more resembled a warehouse filled with folding chairs than anything else. It was one of those churches where everyone sang and jumped up to dance and shout at the drop of a hat, eager to bear witness loudly to their faith, and much different than the tame churches my mother would take me to from time to time.

Still, everyone was very nice and they did their best to make sure I understood what I was seeing and made me feel comfortable about joining in a bit… something hard for a shy kid like me to do back then. It’s one of the very few memories of my childhood that I’ve held onto all these years, one of the warmest ones among all those times that Tim and his family made me feel welcomed while my family would do their best to make Tim feel unwelcome.

Today, now, I’m watching as President elect Barack Obama is about to be inaugurated as president and I wonder what Tim is doing at this moment and what he thinks of all this. I lost contact with him many years ago after we both moved pretty far away…

But, I can’t help think of how his family sought to bring people together even while others still made efforts to push them apart… and I can’t help but think that, perhaps, this historical day is the result of people like Tim’s family, who quietly built bridges where those bridges weren’t wanted, and connected with people even when they didn’t want to be connected, and showed grace and forgiveness in the face of adversity and outright racism.

It’s easy to be angry in response to anger, respond to hate with more hate, and respond to racism with more racism. But they showed me that responding instead with reason, understanding, patience, and forgiveness, in the long run, bears much sweeter fruit… and that it is better to build bridges than to burn them down.

As I watch our new president being sworn in, I can't help think that a day like today is proof of that... proof of the bridges that people like Tim and his family built to today.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Visitor Of The Day

As do most "bloggers", I use tracking services to monitor the site traffic and these services give me information about how people found the site, what they did while they were here, and other sundry details that help me figure out if the site is communicating its message well.

These services also help me find out which police department any death threats or various harassing messages were sent from... not that I can do anything about it, but at least I know where not to visit.

Every now and then, though, we get an... er... interesting visit that makes me just scratch my head. Like visits from the US Dept. of State or visits that come in with really bizarre search terms.

Anyway, today we were visited by this hapless guest and I thought I would share... because sharing is caring.

..and in case you didn't feel like clicking it to see if full size, this visitor came to us via a Google search which queried:
"I need information on going to another police department after being fired for offduty misconduct/dishonesty"

While I'd like to say I hope this gentle-person finds what they're looking for... I really don't, so I won't.

But don't say I didn't warn you to keep an eye out for any new police officers transferring in to a location near you.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Police Misconduct NewsWatch for 01-18-09

A Photograph of the Olympia Washington Anti-Police Brutality march on 01/16/09.

Police Brutality Protesters Violently March Against Police Violence
A small protest in Olympia, Washington Friday, against police brutality and the shooting death of Jose Ramirez-Jiminez last year, took a violent turn after protesters were herded towards a police substation by Olympia police. The group of about 40 protesters began lobbing torches and road flares at the police station.

Police say about 20 of the protesters were detained and 3 were brought up on misdemeanor charges that may be changed to charges of felony attempted arson.

Jose Ramirez-Jimenez was shot several times in the back while in his car after a police chase that ended with his car blocked in. That shooting was declared justified last year by an investigation by police agencies from the surrounding area but some police accountability groups in Olympia claim the investigation was biased.

I know this won't endear me to anyone who reads this blog, whether they are for or against police brutality, but I have an opinion on this...

Now, I'm not going to go into whether or not I think the shooting or the protest were valid, that's up to the people in Olympia to decide as they should know better than I do whether their police can be trusted to investigate such incidents. But, I do want to address whether or not I think using violence as a means to protest acts of police violence is productive or not.

First, it seems counter-intuitive to me for people to declare that they are against police brutality but do so by resorting to violent acts themselves. After all, how can you suggest that one group should not break the law while you do?

Next, I think it causes more harm than good. Confidence and trust in the police among the US population in general is still incredibly high, last suggested at 73% in fact. So if you want popular support, which is what you need in order to enact police accountability changes, you first need to change some minds with information and persuasion. Resorting to violence only plays into the hands of police and police-friendly media by making police accountability a fringe issue instead of a mainstream one.

Ultimately. all the rioting and death threats do is give the police an excuse to use violence again and gives them leverage to enact new laws that increase secrecy in the name of protecting police from a "violent public". It ultimately makes it harder to fight police brutality by allowing police departments to keep it secret from the public by law instead of by underhanded tactics.

The fight against police misconduct is a battle of public perception, and so far the police have been winning by being able to convince politicians and the public that the rights of police officers outweigh the rights of citizens, and they use the actions of violent protesters as an effective weapon in that fight.

So, when you organize a protest or a march against police brutality, make sure you do it in a way that doesn't give the police any more weapons than they already have to use against us in the process.

That's my opinion at least...

Is The Oakland PD Reaching For Accountability Or Resorting To Scapegoating?
The Oakland PD in California is looking into the possibility of firing 11 of their officers who are in the midst of a search warrant scandal in which 18 officers were accused of lying on warrant requests by stating that substances purchased in buy-bust operations had been tested when they weren't.

That scandal resulted in 12 cases being dismissed in several others being re-investigated, two federal civil rights suits, and may result in the department being found in violation of the settlement reached involving the legendary Riders scandal.

Lawyers representing the cops say they were trained to do this and are being used as scapegoats to deflect the legal threats resulting in the warrant flap and the department initially stood by the officers by saying that the mistakes were a result of insufficient training.

Both parties are likely right, while the officers should have known better than to commit material falsehoods on police reports and warrant requests, their commanders probably encouraged the practice until they got caught doing it.

Canada Allows Accused To Review Police Disciplinary Records, The US Still Keeps Records Secret
The Canadian Supreme Court decided that defendants facing criminal charges have the right to access police disciplinary records. This is, of course, not the same as the court saying these records should be public information, but it's more than the US allows currently where putting officers on a "Brady list" which is distributed to defense lawyers to indicate problems with misconduct is a voluntary action by police departments and local prosecutors.

But no, I still don't want to go to Canada since they've been having just as much a problem with misconduct as we've got down here... They still do try hard to be like us up there these days.

Cops Found To Have Used Excessive Force Despite "Broken" Cameras
From The Agitator, Prince George's County police officers in Maryland were found to have used excessive force when they detained a reporter who was investigating improper use of government resources. The reporter won $5,000 in the case for shoulder injuries that occurred when she was ordered out of her car at gunpoint and her arm was yanked behind her back.

Unsurprisingly, all of the officers who responded reported that their dashboard cameras weren't working that day... yeah, riiiight.

Kansas Prosecutor Insists He Was Right To Distribute Photos Of Naked Teens
An Anderson County prosecutor in Kansas thought it was a good idea to show pictures of local teenagers having sex at a party to area parents in order to raise awareness about teen drinking...

The prosecutor announced his plan to show the photos from a party where teens were caught drinking to parents of the teens who were there in a local paper. In response to the article the mother of one teenager called Campbell and told him not to share the photos with anyone because she claimed her daughter, depicted half-naked while having sex in one photo, was the victim of sexual assault that night, not consensual sex.

According to the court ruling, the prosecutor challenged the mother, saying he did not need her permission. He then sent letters to parents of 12 teens, inviting them to observe the photos and five families showed up to view the pictures with the prosecutor.

Ultimately the prosecutor was re-elected despite being suspended by a disciplinary board over the incident and now the Kansas Supreme Court has decided that the suspension was insufficient and doubled it, but the prosecutor will still continue on since he can't be removed from office and still defends his tactics.

I guess government officials are the only ones allowed to distribute child pornography...

Colorado Officer Faces Trial For Stalking Ex-Girlfriend
A Lafayette Colorado police officer has plead not-guilty to charges of stalking his ex girlfriend, harassment, official misconduct, and criminal mischief domestic violence.

The officer is currently on unpaid leave and faces charges over accusations that he kept following his ex and her new boyfriend, sent her text messages saying she was being watched, text-messaged her when he pulled her boyfriend over and ticketed him, attempted to have her fired from work, and damaged her car during an argument.

Georgia Officer Commits Suicide After Being Accused Of Sexual Assault
Sadly, a Dalton police officer decided to take his own life shortly after the Dalton police department began investigating accusations, made via a 911 call, that Sparks had sexually assaulted a woman while responding to a "disturbance call".

The report, while not revealing whether the officer left behind any family, does describe that fateful 911 call:
"He said a girl was “picked up at the Oyster Pub and brought to (the Guest Inn) by a Dalton cop, and she was molested by that cop.” He asked for an officer to be sent to Room 128. When the dispatcher asked for a name or badge number of the officer, the caller said, “No, ma’am, but she said she could recognize him.” A female is heard sobbing during the call."
The department and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation are still investigating the allegations and the officer's resultant suicide. Yes, what the officer was accused of doing is a really bad thing, but it was his response to being caught by taking the easy way out that multiplied the harm done by his misconduct.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Police Misconduct NewsWatch for 01-16-09

A review of police misconduct and jail abuse stories making the headlines

Site News
The first annual 2008 worst police misconduct video of the year reader's poll has ended, expect results from that poll to be posted later along with additional information about the stories behind those videos. To see the candidates again, read here.

In Local News

A Year In King County Jail For A Crime He Didn't Commit
21-year old Glenn Proctor was released from King County Jail today after spending a year there for a crime he never committed. King County Prosecutors built their case mostly around eyewitness testimony but a video tape taken from security cameras was analyzed by an expert who concluded Proctor was not the shooter shown on that surveillance tape.

Ex-Cop Lawmaker Wants GPS Devices Surgically Implanted In Sex Offenders
Washington state legislator and ex-Seattle police officer Al O'Brien is proposing legislation to have GPS devices surgically implanted in sex offenders in Washington State.

The proposal stems from news reports of three offenders cutting off their GPS bracelets last year, two of which did so after probation officers ordered them to sleep under bridges when they failed to find housing for them after release from prison.

O'Brien claims he intends to only have the devices implanted in what he considers to be the worst of the worst and is proposing funding for a study to be performed by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, a political lobbyist group representing several different police unions across the state, in order to determine if implants would work better than bracelets.

In National News

Tennessee Officer Indicted For Sexually Assaulting A Minor
A Hamilton County deputy, James Spates, in Tennessee has been indicted for two counts of sexual battery by an officer and a count of official misconduct for allegations that he pulled off the road and then performed an inappropriate strip search on a juvenile female suspect and then gave her his name and number in hopes for a date.

Iowa Cop Charged With Assaulting A Woman Who Said No
A Poweshiek County deputy in Iowa has been charged with assault after attempting to sexually assault a woman in October. Apparently the deputy, who has since resigned, tackled a woman after she refused his advances.
I know it's a hard thing for some officers to understand, but no still means no even if you're a cop.

Witnesses Claim Police In West Virginia Brutally Beat Mentally Ill Teen
The mother of 19 year old Calvin Wilkerson and at least two other unrelated witnesses are claiming that officers from different agencies in Williamson West Virginia used racial slurs as they beat, kicked, and then released a police dog on her son when she had called for them to detain him on a mental health warrant because she ran out of his medicine.

From the article in the Williamson Daily News:
"The alleged witness had a different story regarding the scene. He said he watched Calvin hobble out of the back door, but was unable to run because of injuries to his leg. He said he watched as close to eight officers from all three law enforcement agencies in Mingo County allegedly beat and kicked the young man while the dog was let loose on him once again.

“They kept yelling, ‘Why don’t you run now, you black SOB?” the witness said he heard.

Another witness, who also asked to remain anonymous, said he drove upon the scene and saw something completely different than described in the criminal complaint.

The witness said when he first saw the commotion he thought it was a training session – until he heard the screams. When he heard the man writhing on the ground and screaming while officers kicked him and the dog bit him, he realized it was real, but said he still found it hard to believe it was happening.

“This only happens in movies,” he said. “Not here at my home.”"

Two Nevada Officers Arrested For Slapping Handcuffed Detainee And Lying About It
Two North Las Vegas police officers in Nevada have been arrested on charges of official misconduct after they allegedly attempted to goad a bar patron, Luis Enrique Vargas, into fighting them. One of the officers is accused of repeatedly striking the man after he was handcuffed and both are accused of filing a false police report in the case when surveillance video contradicted their reports.

From an article in the Las Vegas Journal:
"At one point, Miles told Vargas to stand up. Vargas tried to comply and answered, "I'll sit down. I'll sit down for you homie," the report states. Miles then slapped Vargas and said, "I'm not your homie."

Miles then put his face in Vargas' face and said "what-don't-you-get," -- slapping his face four times to punctuate each word -- "I'm not your homie," according to the report.

Later, when Balelo told Vargas he was under arrest for assault with a deadly weapon, Vargas remarked that the officers were "some crooked (expletives)."

Miles replied, "Oh (expletive) dude, what did you say?"

Vargas replied, "Crooked."

Miles then said, "We're some crooked (expletives)," and grabbed Vargas, who was on his knees, by his handcuffed wrists. He slammed Vargas to the ground face-first, according to the report."

Massachusetts Judge Hears Case In Battle Over Redacted Police Files
A judge in Worcester MA heard arguments today in a case between the city of Worcester and The Telegram & Gazette, a local paper there, over how much public records can be redacted by police.

The paper issued a request for internal investigation histories for an officer with a history of complaints and, in return, the paper got 764 completely blacked-out pages.Lawyers for the police union and city argue it's to protect the officer's privacy and the privacy of complainants but the paper says the redacting hid complete cases, not just identifiable information. The judge says he may issue a ruling at a later date.

Ultimately, in this case, it's a question of how much misconduct the police can keep hidden from the public... generally the answer ends up being quite a lot.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Johannes Mehserle Charged With Murdering Oscar Grant - But More Questions Remain

Alameda Country District Attorney Tom Orloff announced that his office has charged Johannes Mehserle with murder in the shooting death of Oscar Grant on New Years Day. Orloff, according to the Press-Enterprise, went on to say that "At this point, what I feel the evidence indicates, is an unlawful killing done by an intentional act and from the evidence we have there's nothing that would mitigate that to something lower than a murder..."

Mehserle was arrested on a fugitive warrant for those charges yesterday evening in Nevada and is to be transported back to Alameda County, California some time before Friday after he waived his rights to an extradition hearing today in a Nevada court.

While the attorney representing Grant's family said the news of these charges was "terrific" and "consistent with the evidence I have seen". The rapid turn-around from previous delay tactics used by the BART authority and the District Attorney's office leaves some questions unanswered.

First, if the evidence of intentional murder gathered by the BART authorities and DA's office in this case were so conclusive, why is it that in previous news conferences the BART authority stated that, despite confiscating numerous cell phone cameras and other video evidence from several witnesses that night, the videos they had collected were too inconclusive to draw any conclusions?

Those previous statements either evidence an attempted cover-up by BART officials that should be investigated as aiding and abetting a murder suspect, or these statements indicate that officers who confiscated evidence of a crime that night had tampered with evidence of a murder and must be investigated.

Either way, the contrast between the DA's charge that the evidence was conclusive and BART's previous statements that it was inconclusive demands answers.

Next, there has been no word on whether other officers are being investigated for their participation in the murder of Oscar Grant. As our analysis of the video evidence that was released to the public by witnesses showed, another officer had punched Oscar Grant before he was taken to the ground, restrained, and then shot in the back by BART officer Mehserle.

This alone would make that officer an accessory to murder if it wasn't also for his assistance in holding Grant down with his knee on Grant's neck when he was shot. As our analysis showed, that second officer watched as Mehserle started to draw his service weapon and shifted his hold on Grant in order to move out of the line of fire while still restraining Grant when he was shot.

Clearly this would evidence that the other officer was aware that Mehserle was about to shoot Oscar Grant and that his actions to continue to hold Grant on the floor of the station while Mehserle fired would make him an accessory to murder. Since this is the case, the silence about whether other parties might face charges in this case is equally disturbing as the disparity of statements between BART and the District Attorney's announcement today.

The arrest of Mehserle gives us more questions than answers, and those questions demand further investigation and transparency, not more silence and inaction.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

BART Officer Johannes Mehserle Arrested In Nevada

Ex-BART Officer Johannes Mehserle's booking photograph: via KOLO TV in Nevada

Updated: 10:41 01-15-09
Updated post available here. - 13:00 01/15/09 

According to The Mercury News, Johannes Mehserle was arrested Tuesday night by Douglas County sheriff's deputies in northwest Nevada on a no-bail warrant reportedly related to the Fruitvale BART station shooting death of Oscar Grant on January 1.

While confirming the arrest, Alameda County DA Tom Orloff's office refuses to discuss the case until a press conference to be held sometime on Wednesday. However, according to a press release issued by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, they were notified Tuesday morning that an arrest warrant for homicide from the Alameda County Superior Court was pending against Mehserle and that Mehserle surrendered to police after his lawyer was notified of the warrant.

Mehserle waived his right to extradition hearings at a 9:15 am hearing in court while wearing leg and wrist shackles Wednesday and California authorities have until Friday to take custody of him and return him to Alameda County.

Mehserle's lawyer has refused to comment on the arrest, as he has for all other aspects of the case, but the lawyer representing Grant's family in a civil case against the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency over the shooting applauded the arrest.

You can read our analysis of the video which shows why Mehserle and at least one of his fellow officers should be charged in this case here. Also, you can find an analysis of why we shouldn't get our hopes up quite yet that Mehserle will face any real accountability for his actions that took Grant's life just a few hours into the new year in this NewsWatch issue.

*personal note - Some newer readers may wonder why I'm covering this case so closely. First, while it's common to hear allegations of unwarranted shootings by police officers, it's rare that such a shooting is captured on video and even rarer still that such a video makes it out into the public domain like this one has.

While certainly saddening and upsetting to see such a video, and it may sound strange to think it, but I hope that something positive comes from his seemingly senseless death.

I say this not just for his family, for whom my heart goes out to... and not just for the residents of the Oakland California area either... but that it may get people across the nation to consider that police accountability, transparency, and a serious look at racism in police agencies is something that we all need to push for.

Ultimately I hope this convinces people that we should all do what we can to ensure that what happened to Oscar Grant doesn't happen to anyone else, anywhere, ever again. That's why I've been covering this case... because any of us could could have been Oscar Grant, or may yet be.

Updated: 10:41 01-15-09

Police Misconduct NewsWatch for 01-13-09

The "Worst Police Misconduct Video of 2008" reader's poll is ending tomorrow... Sure, they are all bad, but the worst ones will get their own story when voting ends. So pick which one you think exemplifies the worst example of police misconduct that was captured on video in 2008.

In Local News

Police Officer Fired For His Beliefs Rehired After Winning Settlement
A Mountlake Terrace police officer, Jonathan Wender, who was fired for allegedly lying about a call he received about a small pot growing operation has won a suit against that department worth $812,500 of back pay and he got his job back too...

In this case, however, it seems he didn't deserve to be fired as the officer had a reputation for being exceptionally honest and was actually fired because he was an outspoken member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition that argued that police spend too many resources in the war on drugs which could be spent in better ways to achieve better results and some of his fellow officers didn't like that and had him drummed out of the force.

The settlement presumably proved he didn't lie as he was accused of doing and that he was instead targeted for his stated beliefs, not his actions. Wender currently teaches criminal justice courses at a local university and says he would like to resume active duty as a police officer again soon.

King County Jail Deal With DOJ Made Official
The King County council has approved of a deal made between the US DOJ and the King County Executive Ron Sims to implement reforms at the infamous King County Jail that would improve conditions, improve medical care, and decrease incidents of detainee physical and sexual abuse by guards. The reforms are expected to cost $2,000,000 up front and will be monitored by a third party for compliance to the agreement under threat of a federal lawsuit filed by the DOJ.

Man Jailed For Crime That May Never Have Happened Wins Settlement
Grant County Washington has settled a lawsuit with a man they kept imprisoned for 7 months for a crime that never happened. The man, Felipe Vargas was accused of molesting his girlfriend's daughter in 2003, but the girl later recanted and said she made up the story because she resented him. The man still has another suit pending against his first public defender.

National News

The Long Fall From Hero Cop To Alleged Felon
The Ogden Utah police officer who was once called a hero for his off-duty actions to stop a shooter at a local mall has resigned over allegations of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and a police brutality claim as well. Some rumors are swirling around this case that suggest there were other cases, but that he used his status as a hero in the press to keep the department from doing anything about the complaints.

NYPD Bar Fight Cops Plead Down To Getting $75 Tickets
Two NYPD officers involved in a bar fight two years ago have made plead guilty to disorderly conduct, simple violations, in order to avoid trial for misdemeanor official misconduct charges.

The officers were accused of attempting to cover up the involvement of other officers in that fight which resulted in a Yonkers man being severely injured. Three other officers are still facing charges of third degree assault, a misdemeanor.

Another Victim Of Transit Cops On New Years
A Long Island New York man is claiming that transit police at Penn Station attacked and beat him to the point where he required hospitalization on New Years. He also claims that officers humiliated him by parading him around and cheering that he was the first arrest of the New Year.

The man claims the beating and arrest stem from him accidentally bumping into an MTA officer.

Laredo Texas Family Claims Police Brutality, Police Claim They Injured Themselves
A Laredo Texas family is accusing the Laredo police department of brutalizing them and then filing false charges against them as they claim that an overly aggressive cop came on a noise complaint when they were setting up for a daughter's birthday and then escalated things way beyond what they should have been.

Officers, however, claim that the people who were injured were hurt due to self inflicted injuries and that they maced and tasered others because they, the armed officers, were attacked by the family for no reason.

Hmm... let's see, which is more likely? An over-zealous cop losing his temper or a whole family, including kids, attacking armed officers for no reason?... uh huh.

South Elgin Police Officer Resigns To Avoid Answering Internal Affairs Investigation
A South Elgin Illinois police officer resigned before allowing himself to be interviewed over misconduct allegations. The department refuses to answer any questions over what the misconduct charges are, but if the officer resigned and lawyered up in order to avoid answering any questions about it, it's probably fairly serious.

I don't know if it frightens you that there might be a serious crime that happened which the department is keeping secret from the public like that to protect the privacy of an officer who already quit, but it worries me.

BART Shooting Updates
So, the BART police department completed it's internal probe of itself in the Oscar Grant shooting by one of it's own officers and forwarded it on to Alameda County DA Tom Orloff without recommending criminal charges, that DA is still unsure if he's even going to bother pressing charges in that case. The BART council appointed it's own members to a police oversight committee, of itself, to look at the issue and calls it civilian oversight. And the DOJ is sending mediators to help BART with it's community relations issues, but it's not looking at any possible civil rights violations performed by the department or officers in question...

So, in other words, nothing has actually happened and nothing is happening to actually address this needless killing. Same frustrating story as always I suppose. In response to the BART Police Department's internal probe not recommending criminal charges Oscar Grant's family lawyer, John Burris, has roundly condemned the internal investigation. Meanwhile, more demonstrations are planned, and rightfully so.

Our additional coverage of the Oscar Grant shooting is here, here, and here.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Police Misconduct NewsWatch for 01-12-09

A review of police misconduct and jail abuse stories making the headlines

Youth Manager In Juvi-Jail Accused Of Sexually Abusing a Minor
A "youth manager" at the Marion County Juvenile Detention Center in Indiana is accused of forcing a 16 year old detainee into performing sexual acts for him on Christmas Eve. That same facility was the subject of a damning sexual abuse investigation just a few years ago.

The man is facing felony counts of child seduction and sexual misconduct and said he only spent a couple minutes alone with the boy when video cameras recorded him escorting the boy into his office where he stayed for nearly an hour with the blinds shut where he allegedly demanded that the boy perform oral sex on him.

$45 Million Lawsuit Filed For Repeated Incidents Of Civil Rights Abuses in MD
Salisbury MD is facing a $45 million lawsuit alleging that at least nine of the Salisbury police department's officers repeatedly brutalized and harassed Ceasar Bernard Savage. The first attack was in Jan 07 when officers attacked him after searching his car without his permission as part of an alleged burglary and/or drug investigation after they found evidence of neither. Savage was beaten so badly he awoke in the hospital with a broken jaw and missing teeth. But it didn't end there, read the story to find out what else they did to this poor guy, all without ever finding any evidence of a crime.

Federal Suit Against NY District Attorney For Protecting Homophobic Cops Dismissed
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the Monroe County DA in NY that alleged that he conspired with the Rochester police union to ensure that cops accused of shouting homophobic slurs and beating a group of gay men would not face criminal indictments in that case in exchange for the union's powerful endorsement during re-election.

A separate civil lawsuit against the city of Rochester for the officers conduct during the incident in question is still moving ahead.

Criminal Case Against Cops Accused Of Kicking HANDCUFFED Man Hinges on Whether Man Had Knife?
A bizarre excessive force case in Cape May County New Jersey has two Wildwood cops facing charges of excessive force for kicking a suspect in the head while he was handcuffed... but it appears the case hinges on the testimony of the cops there who seem to all have different stories about whether the suspect had a knife and, if he did, who found it...

Of course... not clear on how that matters considering the guy was kicked while he was handcuffed.

Officer Suspended After Refusing To Cooperate With Internal Investigation Also Faces Criminal Investigation
One time "officer of the year" with the Yonkers NY PD has been suspended without pay after refusing to answer questions during an internal investigations probe into allegations that the had robbed a suspected drug dealer at gunpoint.

While he is now also the subject of a criminal investigation by the US DOJ in this case, he has initiated a lawsuit against the Yonkers PD for suspending him and is attempting to retire from the force with his full benefits.

High Ranking Police Officer Suspended For Issuing Threats Over Radio
A Gloucester Mass police lieutenant has been suspended for only five days for issuing threatening statements over police radio. It appears that his radio was on while he was having a heated exchange over the phone where he threatened to hire someone to wreck his daughter-in-law's car.

Many petitioned for stronger sanctions because the episode was also aired on local news stations, but the department said it wanted to issue punishment that the union wouldn't appeal against. The high ranking officer will also have to attend anger management classes.

Sheriff Asks For Some Time Off For Personal Matters
Guadalupe NM is looking for a new sheriff since their old one has requested a leave of absence to attend to personal matters... the personal matter? He was arrested for driving drunk.

Wonder How Badly The Other Officers Behave When The Chief Misuses His Authority To Protect Bad Cops?
A Shoughton Ma police chief trial is scheduled to start today on charges that he misused his authority as a chief of police to threaten a businessman who filed a complaint against one of his officers to drop his complaint and for attempting to coerce that man into settling his civil claim against that officer.

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