National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Rodney King, George Holliday, and Police Misconduct

Rodney King died today.  For the younger readers, some quick background: In March 1991, several Los Angeles police officers beat and tasered King when he would not obey their verbal commands to lay down, put his hands behind his back, etc.  (more details here). The police response was excessive, brutal, illegal, and ugly.   King received much of the attention, but we ought to remember the role played by the lesser known George Holliday, the white bystander who was appalled by what he was witnessing and had the presence of mind to videotape the event.   It turned out to be powerful evidence and a  pivotal moment in the history of police misconduct in the United States.  Replayed over and over again on network television, the scales suddenly fell (or started to) from the eyes of middle-class America.   Without Holliday’s video, the event would have been buried in the LAPD files–‘the subject in question, R. King,  resisted arrest and was eventually subdued by officers on the scene.’   With the video, a very different story.  King received several million dollars and the officers involved were held accountable for their actions–prosecuted for crimes.  That was just the start of the fallout.  There were riots and then a blue ribbon commission to study problems in the police department.  The long time police chief, Daryl Gates, eventually lost his job.

Capturing police misconduct on tape is happening with greater frequency–thanks to smart phones–and that is making the problem harder to ignore.

For additional background, go here, here, here, and here.

Officers Accused of Breaking Laws–Trespass, Perjury–to Make Cases

From the Tampa Bay Times:

LARGO — Hydroponic marijuana has cast a disturbing haze over Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s election campaign.

Narcotics detectives pursuing indoor pot farmers have been put on leave, accused of breaking the law and lying to judges. Prosecutors have had to drop charges.

Former Sheriff Everett Rice, who wants his old job back, has said this issue is one reason Gualtieri should be tossed from office.

Yet Rice had similar problems during his administration.

One detective from the Rice era (1988-2004) gathered evidence illegally then lied about it under oath. He also justified a search warrant by calling in his own “anonymous tip” that pot farming was afoot.

In another case, deputies secured a search warrant without revealing that a key tipster had an axe to grind: His wife was having an affair with the suspect.

Three Pinellas judges wiped out grow house cases because Rice’s detectives seriously distorted facts. One detective was prosecuted for perjury.

“We’ve been seeing this go on for decades,” said Largo lawyer John Trevena, who has defended pot growers under both sheriffs.

Rice came into office as a reformer, vowing to clean up corruption complaints against his predecessor. ….

Current allegations involve detectives who obtained search warrants by telling judges they stood on public sidewalks or in neighbors’ yards and detected the scent of indoor pot farms.

Defense lawyers theorized that deputies actually gathered evidence by illegally trespassing. One grower said his surveillance camera images of a narcotics sergeant vaulting his fence were seized, then erased.

Suspicions gathered steam after the Tampa Bay Times reported that one narcotics detective had refused to answer under oath when asked if his colleagues ever trespassed.

Gualtieri has put four deputies on leave while investigating and prosecutors have dropped 18 pending cases, compared with three during Rice’s time in office.

Problems within Gualtieri’s department are not limited to grow house warrants, Rice noted, citing reports about slipshod internal affairs investigations, deputies loafing on the job and possible theft.

Police Use Taser on 80-year old Woman

From CBS Charlotte:

Police in Dorchester County, S.C., used a Taser on a nude 80-year-old woman after she allegedly attempted to attack police with her walking stick. WCSC reports that when police answered a complaint of someone making loud noises in the area, they were met by an elderly woman wearing no clothes on her porch.



Chicago Police Misconduct Cases Drag on for Years

From the Chicago Tribune:

A Chicago police officer cracked Greg Larkins’ head open with a baton back in 2006, requiring him to be stitched up at a hospital.

Within a few days, several relatives of Larkins who said they witnessed the allegedly unprovoked attack gave statements to an investigator for the city. His mother also handed over photos of his injuries.

Yet more than five years passed before the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates allegations of wrongdoing against police, filed charges of excessive force against Officer Bruce Askew and called for his firing.

But the long delay proved costly. Late last month, the Chicago Police Board, which decides the most serious disciplinary cases, dismissed the charge not based on the evidence, but because by state law, the disciplinary action had to be filed before a five-year statute of limitations ran out.

“It just went on and on,” Larkins’ mother, Alice, 71, said of the investigation into her son’s alleged beating.

National Registry of Exonerations

From the McClatchy-Tribune (Washington Post, June 10):

WASHINGTON — Obie Anthony served hard time in California prisons for a crime he didn’t commit.

 He’s not alone, and he’s not forgotten. Anthony is one of nearly 900 exonerated former prisoners whose wrenching stories are wrapped into a new database. The National Registry of Exonerations, being formally unveiled Monday, is the largest of its kind, and it will get bigger over time.

“This is useful, because if we want to prevent false convictions, we have to learn how we make mistakes,” Samuel Gross, a University of Michigan Law School professor, said in an interview….

Disturbingly, the database also identifies 71 individuals who were exonerated of crimes to which they’d ended up pleading guilty.

The database still captures only a slice of the exonerated population. All told, more than 2,000 exonerations have been identified since 1989. Many of these, totaling 1,170, involved individuals whose names were cleared in “group exonerations” after revelations of police corruption, including the plantings of guns and drugs.

More on problems with plea bargaining here.  Link to the National Registry here.


National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 06-14-12

Here are the 7 reports of police misconduct tracked for Thursday, June 14, 2012:

  • Former Memphis, Tennessee police officer pleaded guilty to federal drug charges.  The officer illegally obtained painkillers from an undercover informant.  He is facing up to five years in prison for his actions.
  • A Las Vegas police officer resigned after being charged with coercion and oppression under the color of office and a misdemeanor lewdness.  These charges are the result of accusations made by several female motorists after being pulled over by the officer.
  • A former Albany, New York police officer is charged with criminal mischief and harassment. He has been sentenced to one year in jail.
  • A Selma, Alabama police officer resigned after being arrested for drug charges.  The officer is accused of smuggling more than 27 pounds of marijuana across state lines.
  • Frederick, Maryland police officer has been charged with a DUI after causing a single vehicle car accident.  The officer’s trial has been scheduled for August.
  • Phoenix, Arizona police officer who resigned last year after being accused of assaulting a handcuffed inmate has pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.  The officer has been sentenced to one day of probation.
  • Former Gardner, Massachusetts police officer will not be reinstated after rape charges against him were dropped. “I would not be considering it (rehiring Mr.Landry),” said Gardner Police Chief Neil C. Erickson. “I couldn’t imagine that I would be considering it at any point.”

More Police Using Videos and Youtube

From Yahoo News:

After a dozen Occupy Minnesota protesters were arrested at a downtown demonstration, the group quickly took to the Internet, posting video that activists said showed police treating them roughly and never warning them to leave.

But Minneapolis police knew warnings had been given. And they had their own video to prove it. So they posted the footage on YouTube, an example of how law enforcement agencies nationwide are embracing online video to cast doubt on false claims and offer their own perspective to the public.

“It certainly frustrates the street officers to see their work being twisted into something that didn’t happen or things being taken out of context,” said Minneapolis police Sgt. Bill Palmer. “Frankly, the use of force, which is what most people want to film, is never going to look good, and the context can easily be twisted.”

After years of seeing officers’ misconduct captured on video, police departments across the nation are trying to use the medium to their advantage, releasing footage of their own to rebut allegations and to build trust within communities. One department even posted video of an officer punching a woman to show why he was fired.

Weeks before the Occupy demonstration in April, Minneapolis police created their own YouTube channel to give officers a venue to tell their own stories.

“We want to be transparent,” Assistant Chief Janee Harteau said. “Here is what we did. You can see for yourself and be your own judge.”


DC Police Treated Iraq Veteran ‘Like Trash’

From the Washington Times’s  Emily Miller:

It all started a bit before midnight on Feb. 2, 2010. Sgt. Corrigan had called the National Veterans Crisis Hotline for advice on coping with nightmares from his year in Iraq hunting for improvised explosive devices. Without his permission, he says, the hotline operator dialed 911 and reported Sgt. Corrigan “has a gun and wants to kill himself.” The drill sergeant told me he said nothing of the kind and his weapons were stowed away to avoid theft.

Around 1 a.m., the police knocked on the door of Tammie Sommons, Sgt. Corrigan’s upstairs neighbor in the row house. Ms. Sommons had lived there since 2008 with her three roommates and, in that time, had become a close friend of Sgt. Corrigan’s. She often walked his dog, Matrix. “One officer told me that Matt called a suicide hotline and was about to kill himself,” she told me in an interview. “I said that was impossible, he wasn’t that kind of guy. I told the police I see him every day and would know if he was suicidal.”

MPD officers told Ms. Sommons that someone had reported the smell of gas coming from Sgt. Corrigan’s apartment. “I told them that there was no gas in his apartment – it was all electric,” she recalled. “I said if they smelled something, it’s just my roommate, who was cooking chicken Parmesan.”

They weren’t interested in the simpler explanation. “The cops said we needed to leave our house because Matt was going to shoot through the ceiling,” Ms. Sommons said. “They painted this picture like Rambo was downstairs and ready to blow up the place.”

At 4 a.m., the SWAT team awoke Sgt. Corrigan by calling his name on a bullhorn. He surrendered outside without incident. He was restrained and forced into a mobile tactical command truck. Without reading him his Miranda rights, he said, officers began questioning the Iraq veteran, trying to get him to admit to owning guns. He remained silent about his two handguns and one rifle, which he had not registered after moving into the city.

A police commander then jumped into the truck and demanded to know where Sgt. Corrigan put his house key. “I’m not giving you the key. I’m not giving consent to enter my house,” Sgt. Corrigan recalled saying. He said the officer responded, “I don’t have time to play this constitutional [game] with you. We’re going to break your door in, and you’re going to have to pay for a new door.”

“Looks like I’m buying a new door,” Sgt. Corrigan replied. His only request was they not hurt his dog.

Sgt. Corrigan was taken to the Veterans Affairs hospital, where, he said, he signed himself in to avoid being admitted involuntarily. “After having all those guns at me, I was broken,” he recalled. “I just wanted to sleep.” The reservist spent two nights in the hospital. When he got out, the police were waiting to charge him formally for the unregistered guns found during the warrantless raid.

Because Sgt. Corrigan had refused to permit a search of his house, the police broke down his door – without bothering to seek a search warrant before doing so, according to court papers. “They were all keyed up because they had been there and ready to go all night,” surmised Sgt. Corrigan’s attorney, Richard Gardiner.

The first to enter the supposedly dangerous apartment was not the bomb squad but a team that secured Matrix and handed him off to animal control, according to police reports. During what the cops called “explosive threat clearing efforts,” they found “hazardous materials,” which included two pistols, a rifle, binoculars, ammunition, fireworks and materials from Sgt. Corrigan’s days in Iraq.

Police Lt. Robert T. Glover was pleased with the seven-hour operation, which resulted in securing items commonly found in millions of homes across the country. He told Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier in his report that there were no recommendations for improvement.

The dry after-action notes give no clue to the property damage done that night. Officers tore apart the 900-square-foot place. Instead luggage being unzipped, knives were used to cut open and destroy the bags. The raiders dumped over bookshelves, emptied closets and threw clothes on the floor, Sgt. Corrigan said.

In the process, they knocked over the feeding mechanism for the tropical fish in the sergeant’s 6-foot-long aquarium. When he finally was released from jail two weeks later, all of his expensive pet fish were dead. The police turned on the electric stove and did not turn it off. They left without securing the broken door.

When Ms. Sommons came back to her home the next day, she looked into Sgt. Corrigan’s apartment. “I was really upset because it was ransacked. It made me lose respect for the police officers involved,” she said. “Here was Matt, who spent a year fighting for our country in Iraq – where these police would never set foot in – and they treat him like trash off the street.”

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