National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Worst of the Month — June 2014

Earning worst of the month for June is police officer Ronald Harris.   Recall that he attempted to rob a woman at Memphis International Airport.  But this was an extraordinary theft.  Harris was trying to steal a bag from an employee of St. Jude Children’s Hospital who was, in turn, delivering the bag to a family. The bag was a gift from the Make-A-Wish Foundation—the organization that grants wishes to terminally-ill children.  The bag held several St. Jude t-shirts and a $1500 credit card for the family to use for travel.  Harris followed the St. Jude employee into the airport and then struck a member of the family who tried to stop him from stealing their wish away.  Harris has been suspended pending an investigation and faces a long list of charges. Police misconduct is never good, but plotting to steal the wish from a terminally-ill child and their family is just really low.

Full story here.

Worst of the Month — May 2014

Our choice for May was not difficult–the Georgia police officers who threw a flashbang grenade into an infant’s crib after ramming the door open to look for a drug dealer.  The officers were executing a no-knock warrant when they threw the flashbang grenade through the cracked door without looking or knowing who was inside the room.  The grenade (sometimes the government uses the euphemism “distraction device”) landed on the 19-month-old’s pillow and exploded, causing severe burns to his face and chest.  The child and his relatives, who were also sleeping in the converted garage room, were temporary visitors in the home because theirs had recently burned down.  The person the police were looking for was not there.  Hmm.

The officers involved expressed regret, and said that they had no idea there was a child present and that if they had, they would have done things differently.  The police chief said the incident is going to make them “double question” next time.  Hmm.  First, why would anyone not already “double question” before blindly tossing a grenade into a room?  Second, is the indication that a child is present really the only reason not to go full-Rambo on a house where human beings live?  Think about it.  Even if the police had solid proof that an adult was selling marijuana, meth, or cocaine from his home, is a flash bang grenade on his pillow a legit police tactic?  A legit risk?

Cases like this one not only underscore the brutal collateral damage of the drug war, but also the lack of adequate oversight over police raids like this one.   Yes, there will be a lawsuit, but that’s an insufficient response.

Check out the Cato raid map for more police raids that went awry.

Two Year Anniversary

It’s now been two years since we launched — so here’s a brief update on our efforts.   We still consider the project a work-in-progress.   We’re pleased with what we have thus far produced and with the steadily increasing queries we receive from academics, university students, reporters, local activists, lawyers, and victims of police misconduct.  We also know that we are not catching all of the misconduct stories out there (much less the actual number of (the unreported) misconduct incidents).  Thanks to folks who send us stories–especially those who do it on a regular basis!  We will keep working to improve our reporting.

A simple and easy way you can help us out is to spread the word about our web site with social media.  So if you haven’t blasted one of our stories/posts to all of your friends lately, now would be good time to do so.   Thanks for your support.

Worst of the Month — April 2014

The worst misconduct for the month of April is the story of the five Chicago police officers who each took the witness stand to testify about how evidence was obtained in connection with a drug case. Each officer got up on the witness stand and told the same story, but not one of them was telling the truth.  Video evidence offered by the defense contradicted the coordinated falsehood that the police agents offered up.  This practice (called “testilying” by some) is  a serious flaw in the U.S. justice system.  Every now and then, like here, the veil is pulled back—this time thanks to video evidence.   Was this the very first time that these officers committed perjury?  How many cases like this are out there?

From Our Mailbox

From the mailbox:

Twenty-two years ago I was a cop in Loudoun County, Virginia.  I testified that the Commonwealth’s Attorney and a Sheriff’s Office captain had withheld exculpatory evidence that led to the conviction of a man for attempted murder.  An almost twelve year career with a spotless record, commendations, Criminal Investigator of the Year in 1986, all meant nothing.  My reputation, character and integrity was attacked by corrupt officials including the sheriff.  It was a living hell for a year.  Thank God that I had an honest judge who after hearing my testimony believed me over the Commonwealth’s Attorney and the Sheriff’s Captain and released the man from jail and ordered a new trial (which he was later found not guilty.)   My point is the system, then and today, does nothing to protect honest cops who speak out against misconduct and corruption.  I lost my career because all I did was tell the truth.  If it was not for the local and national news media my story would have been lost in the pages of another sad statistic of someone who did the right thing and paid for it. 

About ten years ago I was lecturing at a police ethics class on what happened to me.  All the officers agreed that I did the right thing.  What was sad was that most of them told me if they were confronted with the same incident they probably would not have pushed the issue.  That, my friends, is very sad.  When I wore a badge it was a symbol of public trust. I lived by that standard all my professional career and years since.  I still pay the price for doing what is right.

More background here.

Two points worth repeating:

(1) The judge in the case listened to Mr. Poppa, the prosecutor’s denial, and then concluded that Mr. Poppa’s account was credible.

(2) The sheriff said Mr. Poppa’s reassignment and discipline were not related to his testimony.   Hmm.

Worst of the Month — March 2014

So for March it was the case of the soon-to-be-former Philadelphia police officer, Kevin Corcoran.  Mr.  Corcoran was driving the wrong way down a one-way street near a group of individuals when one of them pointed out that the officer had made an illegal turn. The officer got out and aggressively approached the individuals, who readied their cell phone cameras to capture the incident.  The footage (warning: graphic language) shows Corcoran accosting one of the persons filming, an Iraq war veteran, and shouting “Don’t fucking touch me!” before slapping the vet’s phone out of his hand, throwing him up against his police vehicle, arresting him, and driving off.   Another of the cameras showed the vet with his hands up in a defensive posture, retreating from the officer.  When the vet asked why he had been arrested, Corcoran said it was for public intoxication.  Corcoran later cooled off and, after finding out the individual was a veteran, let him off without charges. 

Corcoran has a history of alleged misconduct, including allegations in 2008 that he entered a home without a warrant (and then administered a beating), allegations in 2009 that he falsely accused a man of assault and possession of a controlled substance (after administering a beating), and other similar situations.  In each case, the defendants ended up being acquitted of the charges.

Civil suits over Corcoran’s abuse of authority have been settled out of court in the past, but thanks to the quick cameras of the individuals he encountered here, Corcoran faces charges of false imprisonment, obstructing the administration of law, and official oppression—along with a suspension with intent to dismiss.  This incident shows the importance of the right to film police behavior.

Worst of the Month — January 2014

The worst police misconduct incident for January was the case of a Boiling Springs Lake, NC officer who callously shot a 90-pound, mentally-ill teenager while two other officers held the teen down. Keith Vidal’s parents called the police because their son was having a schizophrenic episode and they needed assistance subduing him. Keith had a small screwdriver in his hand when the first police unit arrived. The officers tased Keith and were holding him down when an officer from the second unit, which had arrived about a minute later, shot between the two officers holding Keith down, saying, “We don’t have time for this.” The officer claimed he was defending the life of one of the officers holding Keith down because Keith still had the tiny screwdriver in his hand. The family had recently lost a daughter in a car accident, and not had to watch their son die in front of them, shot heartlessly by one of the very people they had called for help.

Worst of the Month — December 2013

The worst misconduct incident for December was the case of Eric Crinnian, a Kansas City man who was threatened by police for refusing them warrantless entry into his home.  When Crinnian, a lawyer, refused to let officers search his home in the middle of the night without a warrant, he says an officer told him, “If we have to get a warrant, we’re going to come back when you’re not expecting it, we’re going to park in front of your house, where all your neighbors can see, we’re gonna bust in your door with a battering ram, we’re gonna shoot and kill your dogs, who are my family, and then we’re going to ransack your house looking for these people.”

That kind of conduct shows a clear contempt for the Constitution, which is supposed to be the law of the land.

Worst of the Month — November 2013

For November, it had to be the repeated, forced, anal rape-search of young men—in two separate occurrences—in New Mexico.  The first victim, David Eckert, was pulled over and detained for not making a complete stop at a stop sign.  After a judge gave the arresting officers a warrant for a body cavity search because the officers said the victim appeared to be “clenching his buttocks,” the officers took him to a local hospital.  After a doctor at the first hospital denied the agents’ demands, they took Eckert to another hospital, where the officers demanded he be subject to forced, repeated anal penetration.

First, the doctors took an x-ray of Eckert’s abdomen, which showed no hidden narcotics.  Next, the doctors forcibly probed Eckert’s anus with their fingers, which uncovered no hidden narcotics.  Undeterred, the doctors penetrated Eckert once again to insert an enema and force Eckert to defecate in front of the officers: no drugs.  Eckert was given two additional enemas and forced to defecate so the officers could watch a few more times.  No drugs were found. Another x-ray was taken: no drugs.  To cap off Eckert’s torture-rape-search, the officers had the doctors sedate Eckert and give him a colonoscopy, penetrating his anus, colon, rectum, and large intestines.  No drugs found.  All of this was done against Eckert’s protest, in a county not covered by the search warrant, with part of the search done after the warrant had expired.

Timothy Young was brutalized in the same manner after failing to put his blinker on before a turn.  He was taken to the same hospital and subjected to similar searching methods against his protests.  In both cases, the police officers used the same uncertified K-9 to get a positive alert for marijuana to justify the warrants.

This website often reports instances of police rape and sexual misconduct, but in these cases, the offending officers typically do not contend that they have the right to abuse their victims’ bodies and are typically punished for their crime, even if often more lightly than others would be punished.  Cases like this are entirely different.  These cases show that officers can drum up warrants—for a dog’s bark and a perceived “clench”—to repeatedly and forcefully penetrate the depths of the human body for hours on end, and still think they have the power and lawful authority to repeat the process.  Even worse, the futile, repeated nature of the searches seriously calls into doubt whether the officers were actually searching for drugs or just torturing the victims under the banner of law enforcement.