As seen in...
The Economist
ABC News
The Atlantic
Washington Post
National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Report: Local Governments Taxing the Poor With Fees, Surcharges

From the New York Times:

In Georgia, three dozen for-profit probation companies operate in hundreds of courts, and there have been similar lawsuits. In one, Randy Miller, 39, an Iraq war veteran who had lost his job, was jailed after failing to make child support payments of $860 a month. In another, Hills McGee, with a monthly income of $243 in veterans benefits, was charged with public drunkenness, assessed $270 by a court and put on probation through a private company. The company added a $15 enrollment fee and $39 in monthly fees. That put his total for a year above $700, which Mr. McGee, 53, struggled to meet before being jailed for failing to pay it all.

“These companies are bill collectors, but they are given the authority to say to someone that if he doesn’t pay, he is going to jail,” said John B. Long, a lawyer in Augusta, Ga., who is taking the issue to a federal appeals court this fall. “There are things like garbage collection where private companies are O.K. No one’s liberty is affected. The closer you get to locking someone up, the closer you get to a constitutional issue.”

The issue of using the courts to produce income has caught the attention of the country’s legal establishment. A recent study by the nonpartisan Conference of State Court Administrators, “Courts Are Not Revenue Centers,” said that in traffic violations, “court leaders face the greatest challenge in ensuring that fines, fees and surcharges are not simply an alternate form of taxation.”

J. Scott Vowell, the presiding judge of Alabama’s 10th Judicial Circuit, said in an interview that his state’s Legislature, like many across the country, was pressuring courts to produce revenue, and that some legislators even believed courts should be financially self-sufficient.

In a 2010 study, the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law examined the fee structure in the 15 states — including California, Florida and Texas — with the largest prison populations. It asserted: “Many states are imposing new and often onerous ‘user fees’ on individuals with criminal convictions. Yet far from being easy money, these fees impose severe — and often hidden — costs on communities, taxpayers and indigent people convicted of crimes. They create new paths to prison for those unable to pay their debts and make it harder to find employment and housing as well as to meet child support obligations.”

Most of those fees are for felonies and do not involve private probation companies, which have so far been limited to chasing those guilty of misdemeanors. A decade or two ago, many states abandoned pursuing misdemeanor fees because it was time-consuming and costly. Companies like Judicial Correction Services saw an opportunity. They charge public authorities nothing and make their money by adding fees onto the bills of the defendants.

Stephen B. Bright, president of the Southern Center for Human Rights, who teaches at Yale Law School, said courts were increasingly using fees “for such things as the retirement funds for various court officials, law enforcement functions such as police training and crime laboratories, victim assistance programs and even the court’s computer system.”

Lawsuit Claims Sheriff’s Deputies Filed False and Misleading Search Warrant Applications, Then Seized Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars

From the Daily Press:

After the Newport News Sheriff’s Office seized hundreds of thousands of dollars from Jayson Mickle and several of his companies last summer, the tobacco shop owner says he didn’t initially have the cash to pay his workers….

Earlier this month, [Mickle] sued Newport News Sheriff Gabe Morgan and eight of his sheriff’s deputies in U.S. District Court in Newport News. He contends the deputies ran roughshod over his rights and that the searches and seizures–of the cash and the store product–were illegal.

The searches and seizures were illegal, Mickle’s suit contends, because deputies included false or misleading statements on affidavits that were submitted to judicial system magistrates in order to get them to sign off on search warrants. Warrants were then issued to search stores and residences, and to confiscate money.

Several of those affidavits, the suit said, stated as a fact that deputies had earlier seized synthetic marijuana from Mickle’s properties. But in fact, the suit says, at the time of those statements the seized product had either not yet been sent to the state lab or the tests had not been performed.

And when the seized product later came back from the Virginia Department of Forensic Science, nearly all the products came back as negative for synthetic marijuana listed in Virginia law.

In several cases, however, the tests came back saying that the product appeared to be synthetic marijuana, but it wasn’t on the state’s list of banned chemicals. “No controlled substances listed in (state law) were identified,” the lab said in several cases. “An unlisted synthetic cannabinoid was indicated but not identified.”

The suit claims that only one package–found in a “dusty suitcase” in a warehouse–tested positive for synthetic marijuana. Mickle said that package was not for sale and was picked up at a trade show in August 2010, well before the new state law went into effect….

Mickle said that he can’t control things “as far as what people are doing” with the product once it’s sold. He said he won’t sell the product to someone who indicates they will smoke it. “But other than that, we can’t not sell the product to someone who wants to buy it legally.”

Gray Broughton, Mickle’s lawyer with the firm of Williams Mullen, said of his client: “He is an entrepreneur, who has started up and is running a number of businesses. He has done everything he could along the way to make sure the goods and services he provides are legal.”

Broughton pointed out that no criminal charges have been filed against Mickle as a result of the sheriff’s investigation. “It’s not some seedy drug-dealing operation under the cover of darkness,” he said. “He’s opened these businesses openly, legally and honestly and doing his best to make sure they succeed.”


NYPD On the Alert For … Citizens With Smart Phones!

From the NY Daily News:

A pair of  Occupy Wall Street lovebirds has been branded “professional agitators” by the NYPD, who have plastered their mugs on flyers the couple says look like wanted posters.

Christina Gonzalez, 25, and Matthew Swaye, 34, of Harlem say they’ve been singled out for simply posting dozens of videos on YouTube of cops conducting stop-and-frisks.

“What we do is not a crime,” said Swaye, adding that the NYPD flyer looks more like a “wanted poster” than a police department advisory.

“It’s more insidious than a wanted poster because it’s undefined,” Swaye said. “People can take their pick: Are we dangerous, criminal, insane?”

Swaye and Gonzalez, who met at a Pace University rally in December and shared their first kiss on New Year’s Eve at the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park, insisted, “There’s nothing radical about us.”

The couple said they first learned they were featured in an NYPD be-on-the-watch poster when they attended a precinct council meeting at the 30th Precinct stationhouse in Harlem on Thursday.

The poster with their mug shots from previous arrests for civil disobedience was taped to a precinct podium.

“Be aware that above subjects are known professional agitators,” read the flyer, warning cops that the “subjects’ MO” is to videotape officers “performing routine stops and post on YouTube.”

“Subjects’ purpose is to portray officers in a negative way,” the poster reads.

Gonzalez said she was shocked when she saw it. “I came in. I’m sitting down. I’m looking around, and all of a sudden I glanced to my left and I just see my face. And I am just like, ‘Oh, my God,’” Gonzalez said.

“My neighbors will look at it and think we are criminals and think we are bad people.”

Posting the couples’ home address too? 

German Bosque ‘Joked About His Record of Misconduct’

From the Miami Herald:

He has been accused of cracking the head of a handcuffed suspect, beating juveniles, hiding drugs in his police car, stealing from suspects, defying direct orders and lying and falsifying police reports. He once called in sick to take a vacation to Cancún and has engaged in a rash of unauthorized police chases, including one in which four people were killed.

Arrested and jailed three times, Bosque, 48, has been fired at least six times. Now under suspension pending yet another investigation into misconduct, Bosque stays home and collects his $60,000-a-year paycheck for doing nothing.

The Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association has successfully fought Bosque’s dismissals.

National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 06-30-12 to 07-02-12

Here are the 9 reports of police misconduct tracked for June 30 – July 2, 2012

  • St Martinville, Louisiana officer, Raymon Calais, was convicted of perjury and malfeasance and sentenced to five years of supervised probation. Judge Paul deMahy said that Calais was “overzealous in his investigation, and when he was caught in the act of being overzealous he attempted to protect himself by lying. He did use his position and status to facilitate the commission of this crime.”
  • DuPage County, Illinois County Sheriff John Zaruba let his high school son ride along with police officers, participate in arrests, and even gave him access to the department’s confidential database. The Better Government Association filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court alleging the sheriff violated state law when he refused to hand over records of database access.Many police officers have been fired in the past for misusing the confidential database.
  • Fayette County, Pennsylvania woman settled her federal lawsuit in regards to five state troopers pepper-spraying and urinating on her while she was handcuffed.
  • An LA police officer was arrested in San Fernando County, California when he was found in a parked car with a 15-year-old girl at 2 a.m. The arrest happened after the girl’s grandmother saw her leave home with a man and the police put out a lookout for the car.
  • Pinellas County, Florida County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says that his agency is beginning a criminal investigation into four former detectives actions that may have used illegal methods to gather evidence. Prosecutors have already dropped 18 pending cases and are reviewing charges against about two dozen others who pleaded guilty, were convicted, or accepted plea deals.
  • A Frederick, Maryland police officer was charged with second-degree assault. His girlfriend called the police to report that a fight had turned physical and that he hit her several times. The officer has been suspended and put on administrative duties.
  • Newark, New Jersey officer falsely reported his vehicle stolen, and was charged with fraudulently collecting insurance money. The insurance company realized this when one of its representatives saw his car parked outside of his house nearly three years later.
  • Hempstead, New York police officer was given 14 hours of community service when he was caught on video surveillance cameras stealing baby food from a supermarket. The court says they will dismiss charges if he stays out of trouble for the rest of the year.
  • Michigan City, Indiana: Eunice Hicks, mother of a 19-year-old boy who was shot by a police officer, said that police didn’t give the correct information about her son’s wound. “I think the police are just covering up their story because they can’t really justify a shooting in the back.” Police originally said that he was shot in the abdomen during a struggle for the officer’s weapon.

National Police Misconduct Newsfeed Daily Recap 6-29-12

Here are the 13 reports of misconduct tracked for Friday, June 29, 2012:

  • Dade City, Florida police department was called to look into an off-duty altercation between Officer Latarsha Taylor and another woman. Taylor resigned this month when she faced termination after the domestic violence investigation.
  • Ulster, New York Chief, Matthew Taggard, was suspended and charged with official misconduct. Authorities say that he knew about sex crimes against underage victims and did nothing about it.
  • Miami Beach, Florida eyewitness recounts his interaction with police when they saw him videotaping a fatal police shooting. “When he noticed me recording, one of the officers jumped in the truck, put a pistol to my head… My phone was smashed – he stepped on it, handcuffed me.”
  • West Chester, Ohio police released a video of officers beating a suspect. Officers said the man, Jeremy Lewis, was drunk and combative. All charges against Lewis have since been dropped.
  • Evansville, Indiana SWAT team broke down the storm door, and tossed flashbang stun grenades into a home. The police were executing a search warrant for computer equipment, which they said was used to make threats against police and their families. The family was inside, watching television, when this happened, and said that no one was hiding there. Ira Milan, the homeowner, said, “I think it was a show of force that they are not going to tolerate [threats]… But what about the residents and what they have to tolerate?” Police refused to release the warrant upon request.
  • Vestal, New York: Robert Leone says he was subjected to hours of beatings and electrical shocks by PA state troopers.  Leone called his mother from police custody, and she recounts what she heard from him: “They put him on the phone and he starts screaming that he has been beaten within an inch of his life.” State Police declined to comment on the case.  Previous coverage here.
  • A Boston, Massachusetts police officer was charged with an OUI, failure to stop, and reckless operation of a motor vehicle 33 days after he crashed his car into the car of Briana O’Neill. She was upset it took so long to indict him: “If it would have been me, I’d be in jail right now.” Says her lawyer of the police officer, “The facts just seem to indicate that he’s being treated a little bit differently.” There are also allegations that he had been drinking.
  • Providence, Rhode Island a police officer was following a SUV after an occupant threw something at his vehicle. While in pursuit, the officer says, the SUV crashed and the occupants ran away. The now suspended officer is being charged with larceny over $500 and solicitation to receive stolen goods after he searched the vehicle and took money from it.
  • Update: Two Massachusetts officers have been fired after being deemed no longer “fit to serve.” One of the officers was fired for a pair of incidents, one of which involved him driving the wrong way down the highway. The other was fired for involvement in a prostitution ring.
  • Two Prince George’s County, Maryland police officers accused of kidnapping, false imprisonment, second-degree assault, and misconduct against teenagers. An attorney for one of the teens said that the officers were off-duty when they apparently tried to scare the teens, who had been accused of stealing alcohol from a party. They handcuffed one teen, another escaped. One teen was beaten.
  • Houston, Texas woman Natalie Plumber was arrested on bogus charges when she was warning drivers of a speed trap. Plumber was walking down the sidewalk with a sign that read “Speed Trap,” when an officer arrested her. They claim that they did it for her safety, but she said, “He couldn’t take me to jail for holding up this sign, or he would have, so all he could do was make up something vague about it.”
  • New Durham, New Hampshire Officer Chris Chesley was arrested and charged with three counts of simple assault. He allegedly pushed and grabbed different women on three separate occasions. Police Chief Shawn Bernier said that police are conducting an internal investigation. He also said, “I think (this) shows that nobody is above the law and everybody is held accountable.”
  • Lafourche Parish, Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy is in custody after admitting to officials he was in a sexual relationship with a 16-yr-old girl. He was terminated upon his arrest, and now faces up to 10 years in prison and/or $5,000 in fines if he is convicted.
  • Kansas City, Kansas former officer was sentenced to federal prison for stealing electronics from houses where his team served search warrants. He pleaded guilty to violating federal civil rights statutes.


The Library Book Caper

From CBS News:

A New Mexico woman who says she doesn’t remember checking out either the “Twilight” book or the two-DVD movie set from the library had to endure her own Twilight saga. 

She was arrested in front of her children and spent a night in jail for not returning the materials to the library.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Lori Teel was arrested and handcuffed at her Portales home in front of her five small children earlier this month for the $36 worth of ‘Twilight’ items that had gone unreturned since 2010.

A summons would have been the appropriate response here.

Creative Commons License
This work by Cato Institute is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.