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National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 06-03-15

Here are the nine reports of police misconduct tracked for Wednesday, May 3, 2015:

  • New York, New York: An officer was arrested for stealing a credit card from deceased man and buying herself a diamond ring with it.
  • Update: Simpsonville, South Carolina (First reported 02-24-14): A now-former chief and now-former detective had the misconduct charges against them dropped.
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: The City will settle two lawsuits alleging police brutality for $100,000 (combined). Those settlements put the citywide payout for misconduct over $5,000,000 since 2010.
  • Update: Darien, Georgia (First reported 10-21-14): A now-former officer was indicted for stealing $1,500 worth of drugs from the evidence room.
  • Update: Seabrook, New Hampshire (First reported 04-11-14): A now-former officer’s assault case ends in a mistrial. Video showed the officer slamming the victim into a wall. Three other officers were fired or disciplined for the event. According to the report, the foreman said one juror believed marijuana gave a user super-human strength and therefore he refused to convict the officer because the victim had drugs in his possession.
  • Austin, Texas: An officer was arrested for DWI.
  • Update: Washington County, Arkansas (First reported 05-07-15): A deputy resigned after being targeted in a fraud investigation. After he was charged, he pled not guilty to insurance fraud and assault of his ex-wife.
  • Update: Minneapolis, Minnesota (First reported 02-08-13): A now-former officer who lured young girls for sex was re-sentenced to 102 months in prison. The appellate court ruled that his previous sentence of 30 months was not within the permissible scope of downward departure, the mechanism by which a judge may reduce a sentence below normal range for a given crime.
  • Update: Fresno, California (First reported 07-23-12): A now-former officer pled no contest to a rape charge.

NewsFeed Hold

Please know that our NewsFeed will be on hold for a few days.

We expect to resume reporting on Monday, December 15.

As usual, we appreciate it when readers use our submissions page to send us stories they find from around the country.

National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 09-05-12

Here are the 8 reports of police misconduct tracked for Wednesday, September 5, 2012:

  • Youngstown, Ohio: Two deputies have been placed on leave while there is an investigation going on into a deputy that was caught on video beating an inmate. “I was horrified when I seen the film. Somebody’s going to have to pay the consequences of what happened there,” said the Mahoning County Sheriff.
  • Nogales, Arizona: A federal lawsuit has been filed against the police department for allegedly shooting a stun gun at a disabled man in a department store. The man says police used excessive force after he suffered a seizure. The lawsuit claims the man wasn’t fully aware of his surroundings when they used the stun gun. A woman working at the time disagreed with they way officers responded. “They should first investigate what’s wrong with a person because he could’ve died after all shocks they gave him.”
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin: An officer was suspended for 30 days for drunk driving and being involved in a crash while he was off-duty.
  • Jackson, Mississippi: A police officer was indicted for allegedly accepting a bribe in exchange for granting a field release for a suspect. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years behind bars.
  • Union City, California: A police officer resigned from the force after being convicted of a misdemeanor count of lewd or dissolute conduct in public, authorities said. He exposed himself to two women in their home, and they filed a complaint, which led to his arrest.
  • Dartmouth, Massachusetts: A detective was arrested for allegedly blackmailing his 37-year-old stepdaughter into having sex with him.
  • Simi Valley, California: An off-duty officer was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence after crashing a pickup into a utility pole, house, and retaining wall. The truck came to a stop upside-down on the side of the road.
  • Richland County, North Dakota: A lawsuit was filed against the Sheriff’s office claiming two of its deputies used excessive force on three young men during a traffic stop last year.


False Claims of Police Misconduct and Free Speech

Minnesota has a criminal law that punishes complaints of police misconduct that a person knows to be false.  The constitutionality of that law has been challenged and may now be on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here’s some background.  Melissa Crawley complained that an officer forged her signature on a medical release form at a hospital.  Police looked into the matter and concluded that Crawley fed them false information.  Crawley was charged under the Minnesota law and was later convicted by a jury.

On appeal, Crawley’s lawyers argued that the law was unconstitutional because it criminalizes false speech that is critical of the police but not false speech that favors the police.  The appeals court agreed and reversed Crawley’s conviction.

The case then moved to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which overturned the appeals court.

Justice Stras filed a dissenting opinion.  Here’s an excerpt from his opinion:

The point of the foregoing discussion is not to conclusively resolve the historical debate over the primary motivation animating the ratification of the First Amendment, but rather to highlight the indisputable principle that criticism of the government—and those who run it—is at the core of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has recognized as much: “[c]riticism of government is at the very center of the constitutionally protected area of free discussion[, and] [c]riticism of those responsible for government operations must be free, lest criticism of government itself be penalized.” Rosenblatt v. Baer, 383 U.S. 75, 85 (1966). Put differently, “[i]t is vital to our form of government that citizens and press alike be free to discuss and, if they see fit, impugn the motives of public officials.” Janklow v. Newsweek, Inc., 788 F.2d 1300, 1305 (8th Cir. 1986); see also Snyder v. Phelps, __ U.S. __, 131 S. Ct. 1207, 1215 (2011) (“[S]peech concerning public affairs is more than self-expression; it is the essence of self-government.” (citation omitted)). The statute at issue here, Minn. Stat. § 609.505, subd. 2, punishes precisely the type of speech that is at the “very center” of the First Amendment: statements critical of government officials—in this case, peace officers. Cf. Gray v. Udevitz, 656 F.2d 588, 591 (10th Cir. 1981) (collecting cases holding that police officers are considered public officials under the First Amendment).
Because subdivision 2 regulates within an area of core First Amendment expression, it risks chilling valuable speech unless it provides sufficient breathing space to prevent self-censorship or suppression. Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 342 (1974). That is, in order to prevent the chilling of truthful speech on a matter of public concern—police misconduct—subdivision 2 must contain either “[e]xacting proof requirements,” Madigan, 538 U.S. at 620, such as a heightened mens rea, New York Times Co., 376 U.S. 279-80; a showing of specific harm, S.F. Arts & Athletics, Inc. v. U.S. Olympic Comm., 483 U.S. 522, 539-41 (1987); or a showing of materiality, United States v. Lepowitch, 318 U.S. 702, 704 (1943); or contain some other “limitations of context” that help to ensure that “the statute does not allow its threat of . . . criminal punishment to roam at large,” Alvarez, 132 S. Ct. at 2555 (Breyer, J., concurring). Given the breadth and practical application of subdivision 2, the statute fails to provide sufficient breathing space for core First Amendment speech.
The key risk posed by subdivision 2—a criminal statute—is that legitimate, truthful criticism of public officials will be suppressed for fear of unwarranted prosecution. “[E]ven minor punishments can chill protected speech.” Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, 535 U.S. 234, 244 (2002); see also Alexander v. United States, 509 U.S. 544, 565 (1993) (Kennedy, J., dissenting) (“There can be little doubt that regulation and punishment of certain classes of unprotected speech have implications for other speech that is close to the proscribed line, speech which is entitled to the protections of the First Amendment.”). Thus, the mere threat of prosecution may cause some would-be government critics to refrain from voicing their legitimate criticism, “because of doubt whether [their statement] can be proved in court or fear of the expense of having to do so.”

That’s the dissent in the Minnesota Supreme Court.  The majority of the court upheld the statute and Crawley’s conviction.  Crawley’s lawyers are expected to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this dispute.  Stay tuned.

H/T: Constitutional Law Prof Blog

National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 08-04-12 through 08-06-12

Here are the 10 reports of police misconduct tracked for Saturday, August 4, 2012 through Monday, August 6, 2012:
  • Perkasie, Pennsylvania: a Perkasie officer is on leave during an internal investigation for his having allegedly shot an “unarmed young man, in the throes of mental illness” while the suspect was cuffed.
  • Wagner, South Dakota: update: the Wagner, SD police chief charged with misprision of felony last week has been accused of covering for girlfriend’s meth use by storing needles at a department storage unit.
  • Hanover Park, Illinois: four cops have been accused of excessive force in a lawsuit filed in federal court which also claims false arrest and malicious prosecution.
  • Richmond County, GA: a Richmond County deputy has been fired in connection with a tax return scheme. He funneled names, addresses, and Social Security numbers to the group in question.
  • Chicago, Illinois: a former Chicago cop has admitted that he used his badge to steal drugs, guns and money for the Latin Kings. By his own admission, he routinely pulled people over and entered homes using his badge and police-issued equipment: the stops and entrances looked legitimate, but he stole during them, including while on-duty.
  • Edinburg, Texas: a former Hidalgo County deputy has been arrested on felony charges. He’s alleged to have had a romantic relationship with an informant; the sheriff noted that “[he has]” little tolerance when deputies violate policy and no tolerance when they break the law. I hold narcotics officers to a much higher standard because of the trust we place in them.”
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico: a police department instructor who specializes in deadly force training noted to an Appeal Board that an officer’s force was not justified. The officer was fired in 2011.
  • Cincinnati, Ohio: a Cincinnati officer has been accused of having child porn; he was indicted by a federal grand jury.
  • Baltimore, Maryland: the 16th (and final) Baltimore officer has been sentenced in a towing extortion scheme. He, along with others, got paid for every accident victim he directed to an unauthorized towing company.
  • Tacoma, Washington: the police used a Taser on a deaf crime victim. We posted about this here

National Police Misconduct News Feed Daily Recap 08-02-12

Here are the 14 reports of police misconduct tracked for Thursday, August 2, 2012:
  • Birmingham, Alabama: a Birmingham police officer has been indicted for two separate excessive force incidents. “We will prosecute those few who abuse their law enforcement powers and violate the civil rights of others who are in their custody,” noted the U.S. Attorney involved.
  • Lithonia, Georgia: the police chief has been accused of trying to serve his own eviction notice. “He basically provided a sworn statement to the courts that he himself could not be found,” according to a spokesperson for the state agency that voted to revoke him.
  • Wagner, South Dakota: the police chief has been arrested and charged with misprision of felony.
  • Harris County, Texas: a deputy constable has been arrested and accused of aggravated sexual assault of a child.
  • Struthers, Ohio: a police officer has been fired after refusing a breathalyzer test.
  • Baltimore, Maryland: a Lake County, Florida deputy has been suspended without pay after being arrested for indecent exposure.
  • Rogersville, Tennessee: an ex-Hawkins County deputy has pleaded guilty in a missing evidence case.
  • Monroe, North Carolina: a Waxhaw police sergeant has been charged with DWI.
  • Los Angeles, California: the county has paid out nearly $2m to settle excessive force lawsuits involving its deputies.
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: an officer has charged with helping his half-brother and heroin traffickers.
  • Atlantic County, New Jersey: a Philadelphia police officer has been indicted and charged with resisting arrest and aggravated assault on a policeman. She’s also been suspended with intent to dismiss.
  • Troy, Alabama: a former officer has been indicted for multiple sex crimes against a child under the age of 12.
  • New Orleans, Louisiana: an officer has been fired for a hit and run and DWI. A department spokeswoman noted that officers “are expected to conduct themselves in a respectable, appropriate manner–both on and off the clock.”
  • Houston, Texas: two Houston police officers have been arrested and charged with stealing drugs. They’ve also been relieved of duty pending an internal investigation.

National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 07-03-12

Here are the 10 reports of police misconduct tracked for Tuesday, July 3, 2012:

  • Mesa, Arizona police officer, Sgt. Mike Duke, has been indicted on two counts of felony assault, coming out of a road rage incident. Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead said Duke’s conduct the day of the alleged assault “falls far below the standards of the police department and the community.”
  • White Plains, New York man is suing the police department for using excessive force which he claims wound up killing Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., his elderly father. Chamberlain had a heart condition, and he repeatedly told officers through his locked door that he was fine, but they insisted on seeing him, and removed the apartment door. In the following scuffle, Chamberlain was shot and killed. Two months ago, a grand jury found no crime had been committed.
  • The Port Richie, Florida police chief violated state law by not disclosing all of his property assets. He now must either seek a hearing with the Florida Commission on Ethics, or enter into a settlement with the agency.
  • Apollo, Pennsylvania Police Chief Paul Breznican’s suspension without pay was voted on by the Apollo Borough Council, and he will continue to be suspended. There is currently an ongoing criminal investigation about a firearm purchased with federal money that was sold to someone and is now missing. 
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania police are investigating a scuffle that happened at a bar between an officer, Lt. Ray Evans, and employees of the bar. The bartender says that Evans threatened to punch a patron, which is why he leaped over the bar and tackled Evans. Evans denies this claim.
  • Miramar, Florida Police Captain, Juan De Los Rios, has been suspended without pay and faces 2 felony counts of lewd conduct with a child. The 15-yr-old girl said to police that De Los Rios told her she needed to take off her clothing so that he could tell if she had been having sex with the 19-yr-old boy she was with. If he is convicted he faces 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. 
  • Edmund, Oklahoma: A lady was forcibly removed from church and subsequently tased because she was playing her tambourine too loudly, and distracting others, during a service. Witnesses say she was staggering and had slurred speech. 
  • A Bucks County, Pennsylvania former sheriff’s deputy was found guilty of hitting a handcuffed suspect and then lying about it in an arrest and cover up that also cost three fellow officers their jobs. He faces a maximum of two years for the assault. 
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin police officer was charged Monday with a felony. She failed to report information about a homicide that involved the father of her child, also her boyfriend. He told her that his accomplice killed someone, and detailed the entire crime shortly after it happened. She never reported it to anyone.
  • Colwyn, Pennsylvania: Four Colwyn officers and a Darby man filed a federal lawsuit against several Colwyn police officers, including the suspended police chief. The suit alleges a pattern of police misconduct, including “improper charges and arrests,” a coverup, and retaliation against officers who tried to report the misconduct.