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National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 08-18-12 to 08-20-12

Here are the 9 reports of police misconduct tracked for Saturday, August 18 to Monday, August 20, 2012:

  • Lawrence County, Alabama: The chief deputy was indicted by a grand jury. He was indicted on two counts of fraudulent use of the law enforcement tactical system (L.E.T.S.), which is a felony, and two counts of fraudulent use of the national crime information center (N.C.I.C) system, which is a misdemeanor.
  • Pensacola Florida: An officer was fired after a routine review of his patrol vehicle’s camera revealed he used unnecessary force in making a recent arrest. He was arrested and charged with battery. “This type of behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” said the police chief.
  • Battle Creek, Michigan: Two officers were disciplined after a drunken driving incident. The lieutenant was demoted, and the other officer suspended.
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico: An officer was charged with misdemeanor counts of battery and aggravated battery and two other officers remain under investigation. He could be in prison for 18 months. The officers broke into a home without a warrant and tased a man. They then chased down a man and beat him.
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma: The city is paying $25,000 to a man who filed an excessive force suit. The police shot him with pepper balls while he was naked and unarmed.
  • Hempstead, New York: An officer pleaded guilty to charges of selling opiate based prescription painkillers. The District Attorney said that the officer “chose to disgrace the uniform rather than honor what is stands for. Instead of protecting and serving, this police officer made our neighborhoods more dangerous.”
  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida: A man is being paid $30,000 after a video surveillance tape proved that officers reports were contradictory to what actually happened when the man was arrested.
  • Greenville, South Carolina: A mentally ill man’s family is filing suit against the police department. The suit says that officers used “excessive force” when trying to mentally commit the man, who suffered from schizophrenia. The man died after police used a taser on him.
  • Seattle, Washington: An officer, who was removed as a leader in the city’s police reform plan after his arrest in a domestic violence case, is under criminal investigation for allegedly being in the company of his wife, the purported victim, despite a judge’s no-contact order.



Remember Ruby Ridge

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Ruby Ridge scandal.

Here is an article that I wrote on the case ten years ago:

“Ruby Ridge” used to refer to a geographical location in the state of Idaho, but after an incident that took place there 10 years ago on Aug. 21, the phrase has come to refer to a scandalous series of events that opened the eyes of many people to the inner workings of the federal government, including the vaunted Federal Bureau of Investigation. Now that 10 years have passed, the feds will accelerate their ongoing effort to “move forward” and have the scandal declared “ancient history.” But the Ruby Ridge episode should not be soon forgotten.

On August 21, 1992 a paramilitary unit of the U.S. Marshals Service ventured onto the 20-acre property known as Ruby Ridge. A man named Randy Weaver owned the land and he lived there with his wife, children, and a family friend, Kevin Harris. There was an outstanding warrant for Weaver’s arrest for a firearms offense and the marshals were surveilling the premises. When the family dog noticed the marshals sneaking around in the woods, it began to bark wildly. Weaver’s 14-year-old boy, Sammy, and Kevin Harris proceeded to grab their rifles because they thought the dog had come upon a wild animal.

A firefight erupted when a marshal shot and killed the dog. Enraged that the family pet had been cut down for no good reason, Sammy shot into the woods at the unidentified trespasser. Within a few minutes, two human beings were shot dead: Sammy Weaver and a marshal. Harris and the Weaver family retreated to their cabin and the marshals retreated from the mountain and called the FBI for assistance.

During the night, FBI snipers took positions around the Weaver cabin. There is no dispute about the fact that the snipers were given illegal “shoot to kill” orders. Under the law, police agents can use deadly force to defend themselves and others from imminent attack, but these snipers were instructed to shoot any adult who was armed and outside the cabin, regardless of whether the adult posed a threat or not. The next morning, an FBI agent shot and wounded Randy Weaver. A few moments later, the same agent shot Weaver’s wife in the head as she was standing in the doorway of her home holding a baby in her arms. The FBI snipers had not yet announced their presence and had not given the Weavers an opportunity to peacefully surrender.

After an 11-day standoff, Weaver agreed to surrender. The FBI told the world that it had apprehended a band of dangerous racists. The New York Times was duped into describing a family (two parents, three children) and one adult friend as “an armed separatist brigade.” The Department of Justice proceeded to take over the case, charging Weaver and Harris with conspiracy to commit “murder.” Federal prosecutors asked an Idaho jury to impose the death penalty. Instead, the jury acquitted Weaver and Harris of all of the serious criminal charges.

Embarrassed by the outcome, FBI officials told the world that there would be a thorough review of the case, but the Bureau closed ranks and covered up the mess. FBI director Louis Freeh went so far as to promote one of the agents involved, Larry Potts, to the Bureau’s number-two position.

When Weaver sued the federal government for the wrongful death of his wife and son, the government that had tried to kill him twice now sought an out-of-court settlement. In August 1995 the U.S. government paid the Weaver family $3.1 million. On the condition that his name not be used in an article, one Department of Justice official told the Washington Post that if Weaver’s suit had gone to trial in Idaho, he probably would have been awarded $200 million.

With the intervening events at Waco, more and more people began to question the veracity of Department of Justice and FBI accounts and whether the federal government had the capacity to hold its own agents accountable for criminal misconduct. Like the Watergate scandal, however, the response to the initial illegality turned out to be even more shocking and disturbing.

When an FBI supervisor, Michael Kahoe, admitted to destroying evidence and obstructing justice, he was eventually prosecuted but only after being kept on the FBI payroll until his 50th birthday — so that he would be eligible for his retirement pension. And when Larry Potts was finally forced into retirement, FBI officials flew into Washington from around the country for his going-away bash. Those officials claimed to be on “official business” so they billed the taxpayers for the trip. After the fraud was leaked to the press by some anonymous and apparently sickened FBI agent, the merry band of partygoers were not discharged from service. Instead, a letter was placed in their personnel file, chiding them with “inattention to detail.”

An Idaho prosecutor did bring manslaughter charges against the FBI sniper who shot Vicki Weaver. That move really outraged the feds because they insisted that they were capable of policing their own — so long as they did not have any outside “interference.”

The Department of Justice was so disturbed by the indictment of its agent that they dispatched the solicitor general to a federal appellate court to argue that the charges should be dismissed. (The solicitor general ordinarily only makes oral arguments to the Supreme Court). The solicitor general told the judicial panel that even if the evidence supported the charges, the case should be thrown out because “federal law enforcement agents are privileged to do what would otherwise be unlawful if done by a private citizen.” The appeals court rejected that sweeping argument for a license to kill, but by the time that ruling came down last June, a new local prosecutor was in office in Boundary County, Idaho, and he announced that it was time to put this whole unpleasant episode behind us and to “move on.” Thus, the criminal case against the sniper was dropped.

A new generation of young people who have never heard of Ruby Ridge are now emerging from the public school system and are heading off to college and will thereafter begin their careers in business, education, journalism, government and other fields. This generation will find it hard to fathom that the federal government could have killed a boy and an unarmed woman and then tried to deceive everyone about what had actually occurred and, in some instances, rationalize what did occur. That is why it is important to remember Ruby Ridge. Someone needs to remind the young people (and everyone else) that it really did happen — and that it will happen again if the government is not kept on a short leash. No one will learn about the incident when they tour the FBI facility in Washington. It goes unmentioned for some reason.

Much has been written about Ruby Ridge–some of it good, some of it bad.  For those interested in reading more, go here, here, and here (pdf).

This mini-documentary about the Ruby Ridge scandal is also well done.

Observation: When liberals find police misconduct at the local level, they tend to turn too quickly to the federal authorities to remedy the problem–as if the feds always come riding to the rescue.  Not so.   As noted, their hands are not so clean.  Please remember that.


National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 08-17-12

Here are the 14 reports of Police Misconduct tracked for Friday, August 17, 2012:

  • Boulder, Colorado: A police officer accused of telling his roommate he planned to kill his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend has resigned, just before an internal affairs review panel found he violated department rules.
  • Update: New Haven, Connecticut: A police sergeant has been suspended for 15 days for using excessive force outside of a nightclub. Video taken by witnesses captured the officer putting his foot on the neck of a man during the arrest.
  • Houston, Texas: A police officer crashed into a motorcyclist, and then admitting he was typing on his patrol car’s computer when the accident happened. There is dash-camera video showing the incident.
  • Saginaw, Michigan: A pastor said that more people will feel outrage after seeing video footage of police shooting and killing.
  • Hunterdon, New Jersey: An officer was involved in a one-car accident while off duty and has been charged with driving while under the influence.
  • New Orleans, Louisiana: A state grand jury gave an indictment charging a police officer with one count of manslaughter after a fatal shooting during a raid inside a Gentilly home.
  • Bayonne, New Jersey: A Bayonne man who called 911 because his car was on fire charges in a lawsuit that he was pepper-sprayed, knocked out, and arrested by police for no reason. He also says there is videotape from a neighbor to prove it.
  • San Bernardino, California: Two deputies have been charged with misdemeanors after one allegedly assaulted a man and the other falsely impersonated another deputy, according to the criminal complaint.
  • Greenville, South Carolina: A state trooper is going to prison after he was found possessing child pornography. He also took pictures of young girls on the beach without their knowledge.
  • Lexington, Kentucky: A man is suing the city of Lexington, and the University of Kentucky. He alleges that officer used excessive force and violated his constitutional rights during a traffic stop.
  • Franklin County, North Carolina: The sheriff pleaded guilty to stealing more than $220,000 that was meant for undercover drug operations and from his office’s evidence room.
  • Columbus, Ohio: An officer was indicted by a federal grand jury with two counts of trying to coerce a minor to make sexually explicit videos.
  • Update: San Francisco, California: The Sheriff was found guilty of official misconduct. He was suspended after pleading guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment in a domestic violence case involving his wife.
  • Watsonville, California: A fired officer was charged with neglecting a second dog. The dog had to be euthanized. He was fired during an investigation into possible neglect of another dog before.

Jason Rios Files Brutality Lawsuit

In the video the police take three steps to conceal their actions from impartial bystanders/witnesses: (1) “Go inside with the camera,” orders one; (2) the fire truck is moved to block the view of the people watching across the street; (3) next, after noticing that the bystanders can still see Rios from another angle, police move the squad car so they can no longer see Rios.

Lawsuit: ‘They fired me for doing the right thing’

From the Chicago Tribune:

A former Des Plaines deputy police chief has sued the city and its former and current top officials, claiming he was forced to retire as retaliation for reporting the alleged misconduct of a police officer.

In the recently filed federal lawsuit, Richard Rozkuszka, 54, claims that he reported to former police Chief James Prandini five separate instances of misconduct by police Officer John Bueno, and that he was told each time by Prandini to “drop it.”

National Police Misconduct Daily NewsFeed Recap 08-16-12

Here are the 9 stories of police misconduct tracked for Thursday, August 16, 2012:

  • Brevard, Colorado: A deputy faces charges of grand theft and dealing in stolen property after he was found with paintball equipment that was reported stolen in March. Investigators said they found two rooms full of paintball equipment, masks, guns, and other supplies in his home.
  • Update: Bogota, NJ: A judge recommended that suspended police officer Regina Tasca be dismissed from the department. She faces charges from two incidents, including failure to perform the duties of her rank, conduct unbecoming, and failure to assist other officers. “The failure of Officer Tasca to cooperate during both the incidents was paramount,” the Judge wrote. “She did not assist Officer Fowler and she interfered with Sergeant Rella.” Tasca was suspended without pay in May 2011 after a psychological examination found her unfit for duty.
  • Delray, Florida: David Chin, a member of the police department’s Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit, went to great lengths to falsify reports so he could hide text messages outlining his romantic interest in a woman he arrested.
  • Nashville, Tennessee: An officer was charged with aggravated trespassing and public intoxication and fired. He had graduated from the police academy just two weeks prior.
  • Orlando, Florida: An 87-year-old war veteran says an officer used an excessive take-down technique on him and broke his neck. Two key witnesses testified in the trial, including a retired police chief. The chief was hired to evaluate the use of excessive force, and said the take down maneuver was “uncontrolled” and that a more thorough, in-depth investigation should have been conducted by the Orlando police department.
  • Union City, New Jersey: An officer was charged with assault and disorderly conduct. She was suspended, with pay, for one day for the incident.
  • Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Police say that Officer Robert Lee Baker has been charged with two counts of obtaining property by false pretense.
  • Kansas City, Kansas: A police officer was charged with child endangerment. She left her 4-year-old daughter in a running car near the county jail on a 100 degree day.
  • St. Charles Township, Illinois: A former Elgin police officer pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence in a 2011 robbery case. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, 24 months of probation, 200 hours of community service and given a $1000 fine.


More Coverage for the Crime of Video Recording

From the New York Times:

Q.  It seems like photographing in public is becoming a crime.
A.  Literally every day, someone is being arrested for doing nothing more than taking a photograph in a public place. It makes no sense to me. Photography is an expression of free speech.

Since 9/11, there’s been an incredible number of incidents where photographers are being interfered with and arrested for doing nothing other than taking pictures or recording video in public places.

It’s not just news photographers who should be concerned with this. I think every citizen should be concerned. Tourists taking pictures are being told by police, security guards and sometimes other citizens, “Sorry, you can’t take a picture here.” When asked why, they say, “Well, don’t you remember 9/11?”

I remember it quite well, but what does that have do to with taking a picture in public? It seems like the war on terrorism has somehow morphed into an assault on photography.

For related Cato work, go here.

National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 08-15-12

Here are the 8 reports of police misconduct tracked for Wednesday, August 15, 2012:

  • Seattle, Washington: A Seattle police officer caught on video kicking a handcuffed suspect in the head has been suspended for 10 days, but won’t have to serve the suspension as long as he stays out of trouble.
  • Gary, Indiana: An officer was arrested and is facing prison time on federal drug and weapons charges. “The vast majority of the men and women of the Gary Police Department are honest and hardworking people. This arrest should be a reminder to any officer who decides to cross the line and break the law that they will be arrested and prosecuted,” said Gary Chief Wade Ingram.
  • Westminster, South Carolina: Officials have asked the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to investigate the city’s police department in connection with suspected criminal actions discovered in a departmental review.
  • Montgomery County, Pennsylvania: An 11-year veteran State Trooper faces charges that he drove drunk and hit another car while off-duty. The accident killed Robin Taneisha Williams, age 21, on the PA turnpike.
  • McHenry County, Illinois: A sheriff’s deputy was arrested for allegedly taking a 10-year-old boy to Wisconsin to sexually abuse him and produce child pornography, which he then transmitted through the internet.
  • Merrillville, Indiana: A state trooper was arrested for simple assault and has been reassigned to administrative duty.
  • Lexington, Kentucky: An officer has been charged with misconduct for allegedly receiving sexual favors from a woman and failing to charge her with a crime after finding drug paraphernalia in her purse.
  • Update: Lincoln, Rhode Island: The police officer who was found guilty of felony assault on a handcuffed woman outside a slot parlor resigned.


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

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