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National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

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

State Trooper Kills Woman in DUI Crash

Prosecutors have charged a Pennsylvania State Trooper with homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence of alcohol.

Searfoss was coming from an annual charity golf outing at Five Ponds Golf Course in Warminster, which began around 11:30 a.m., the affidavit says. The “Bump and Run Golf Event” was a fundraiser for youth scholarships in honor of Phoebe Blessington, who was killed by a drunk driver in 1997.

The off-duty officer was traveling about 70 mph when his vehicle slammed into the car of 21-year-old Robin Taneisha Williams.  A witness said a fire engulfed Williams’s car, killing her.

National Police MIsconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 08-14-12

Here are the 13 reports of Police Misconduct tracked for Tuesday, August 14, 2012:

  • Columbia, Wisconsin: A former police officer who lost his job after a holding cell altercation has been charged. The prosecuting attorney, appointed as a special prosecutor in the case, charged him with misdemeanor third-degree assault.
  • Reeds Spring, Kansas: A civil suit has been filed accusing a deputy of excessive force. The suit says that Seth Fagan was sitting on a guardrail near a bridge, texting on his cell phone for a ride home, when the officer told him to get off his phone and drop it to the ground. The officer then stepped on it, breaking it and arrested Fagan. The suit further says that the officer then put his knee to Fagan’s throat until he passed out.
  • Jackson, Mississippi: A federal jury awarded a resident more than $93,000 in a lawsuit against three police officers for excessive force and for violating his constitutional rights. They pepper-sprayed and body-slammed him when he complained that officers cars lights were shining into his home at night, where they routinely conducted a speed trap.
  • Greenville, North Carolina: A high speed chase that reached speeds of over 100mph ended with a crash. The chase began because the driver was texting.
  • Flint, Michigan: A deputy drove through a red light at a high rate of speed without his lights, flashers or sirens on. He caused a five car crash and seriously injured a 13-year old girl. The family is now filing suit.
  • Los Angeles, California: A sheriff pleaded no contest to charges of a sexual act with a minor. He is apparently serving no jail time for the felony offense.
  • Sacramento, California: A 17-year veteran officer was arrested on suspicion of a DUI after he hit another car.
  • Miami, Florida: A man says that a police officer broke his arm and falsely prosecuted him after he refused an undercover officer’s prostitution offer.
  • Kansas City, Kansas: A police officer resigned from the police department and has pleaded guilty to battery.
  • Concord, California: A man has sued the city and its police department, claiming an officer used excessive force by shooting him with Taser darts after a traffic stop. He is suing for damages, injuries, wage loss and medical expenses, claiming he is the victim of battery, assault, false arrest and illegal imprisonment.
  • New York, New York: An NYPD Detective was arrested for allegedly beating up other officers who pulled him over for a suspected DWI.
  • Amarillo, Texas: An officer, who is now the defendant in a lawsuit against him, shot and killed Ruben Flores, who was driving a stolen ice cream truck. The lawsuit says: “The shooter defendant attempted to put himself in harm’s way in front of Flores’ vehicle, but Flores maneuvered around him in an effort to avoid harming the shooter defendant…[he] then, without any legitimate fear of imminent bodily harm to himself or others, shot Flores through the passenger side door which was open, striking Flores in the chest and killing him. Flores was unarmed and posed no threat to anyone during the incident.”
  • Honolulu, Hawaii: Four officers were charged with falsifying DUI arrest reports so that officers not present would qualify for overtime. There is no indication that they have lost their jobs with the department.



Behold … a Real Mayor at Work!

When a  false arrest came to his attention, the Mayor sprang into action and ordered a full review so that it will not happen again.

From the Colorado Springs Gazette:

James Sorensen told the Gazette that he was on his way back to his vehicle from PrideFest when he was asked to leave the park by police. When he asked the officer for his identification, he was detained. In a posted on YouTube, Sorensen is seen asking police several times if he can leave and is told he can’t. Police told him that he was being held because he wasn’t allowed to carry a gun in the park.  Sorensen was arrested and said he was held in a cell for about an hour and then given a ticket.

A real mayor will impartially take each situation as it comes and act justly.  Policymakers act unjustly when they reflexively take sides in police-citizen disputes.

Police and Prosecutorial Misconduct in New York

Michael Powell:

[I]n 70 known cases of prosecutorial mistakes and misbehavior in Queens over about a decade, the district attorney, Richard A. Brown, has disciplined just one lawyer.

In Brooklyn, the district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, promoted and gave an award to Mr. Vecchione.

Three years ago, the State Bar Association created a task force that studied 53 cases of wrongful conviction. It found that prosecutorial and police misconduct accounted for over half the cases.



National Police Misconduct Daily Recap 08-11-12 to 08-13-12

Here are the 11 reports of police misconduct tracked for Saturday August 11 to Monday August 13, 2012:

  • Arlington, Texas: A video that shows an officer body-slamming a 15-yr-old girl has prompted the police dept. to start an investigation into the incident.
  • Ladue, Missouri: An officer has been charged with third-degree domestic assault.
  • St. Paul, Minnesota: After breaking down doors and shooting the family dog, a drug task force agents forced handcuffed children “to sit next to the carcass of their dead and bloody pet for more than an hour,” and kept searching even after they knew they were raiding the wrong house, the family claims in federal court. (Note: We tweeted this yesterday as Minneapolis, Minnesota – that is actually where the news article was published)
  • Santa Maria, California: A teenager has sued the city of Santa Maria, claiming she was repeatedly raped by a police officer who was shot and killed by a fellow officer after a struggle to avoid arrest.
  • Rindge, New Hampshire: An officer was charged with trying to sexually assault a girl under the age of sixteen.
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: An officer was arrested for stealing from Comcast, which ended up costing that firm $2.4 million. He tried to justify it, saying that people were still paying, just a little less: “Granted, technically it is stealing but in the grand scheme of things, the way things are going, people are just paying cable a little less money. Comcast is still getting paid regardless, but yes, they are not getting paid what they should be paid,” said the officer. The district attorney disagreed, saying, “When you steal from somebody else you are nothing but a common thief.”
  • Laurel, Maryland: A $3 million dollar excessive force lawsuit was filed against an officer who struck a handcuffed man. The video of the incident shows one officer escorting a handcuffed man when another officer approaches from the other side and strikes the man several times in the face.
  • Houston, Texas: The officer who shot an unarmed man will not face charges. The family, who had nicknamed the man ‘gentle giant,’ is questioning the grand jury’s decision. “The grand jury heard one side of the story,” said the family’s attorney. “They called zero witnesses and, to no surprise of anyone familiar with officer involved shootings in the city of Houston, a no true bill was issued.”
  • Jacksonville, Florida: An officer pleaded guilty to two sex counts involving one girl under 18, and one under 12.
  • Forrest City, Arkansas: A man says he was pushed around, maced, and then tased after he was arrested for warrants that had already been served to him. He tried to tell the officers that the warrants had been served, but the dept records were inaccurate so the police did not believe him.
  • Punta Gorda, Florida: A police officer was fired after he violated 10 different department policies in the course of a single evening. The violations included allowing a female passenger, whom he was trying to impress, to carry his firearm.


‘An attempt at vandalism’ ?

Two teenagers are cited for using chalk to draw a whale and sea turtles on the pavement of a parking lot.

Local police chief says it’s ‘an attempt at vandalism‘ and so the teens now face  fines that will be determined by a judge.

Let’s hope the teens are discharged with the Court’s apologies and that the chief is ordered to write a 1000 word essay on how his department can use its time more constructively.

The Man was ‘Belligerent’ About His Innocence


[Colby Taylor] was taken to the county jail where he tried to explain the two warrants had already been served.

In fact he was telling the truth. But through a computer error jailers had not been notified.

That’s when he claims he was pushed around and maced by someone in uniform. Taylor said “He went on this side first and then he made sure he got this side and then after he did that, the man just started choking me, choking me. I could feel somebody was tasing me and tasing me.”

Minnesota Wrong Door Raid

Mike Riggs:

A St. Paul, Minnesota family claims in a lawsuit that police officers who conducted a wrong-door raid on their home shot their dog, and then forced their three handcuffed children to sit near the dead pet while officers ransacked the home. The lawsuit, which names Ramsey County, the Dakota County Drug Task Force, and the DEA, and asks for $30 million in civil rights violations and punitive damages after a wrong-door raid, also claims that the officers kicked the children and deprived one of them of her diabetes medication.

The suit also alleges that one of the lead officers with the task force “provided false information” in order to get a warrant to raid the Franco family’s home. (That information being the Franco family’s address, and not that of their supposedly criminal neighbor Rafael Ybarra.)

And an off-duty cop says he can reach over the fence and pepper spray his neighbor’s barking dog.

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