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National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Points for “Some” Honesty

Countless reports on this website include stories of police officers refusing to enforce the law against family or colleagues when they have committed a crime. Sometimes the offense is a DUI, other times it is drug dealing. Covering up a crime is not only a rules violation but sometimes a crime in itself. Either way, it is police misconduct. Except, apparently, in Methuen, Massachusetts.

The Boston Globe reports that applicants to the Methuen police department were awarded points for saying they would not arrest a family member or fellow officer for DUI. When called to testify about the practice, the officers responsible for reviewing the applications were surprisingly forthcoming.  According to the Globe:

“I’m looking for some bearing, some honesty, and how quickly the person can think on their feet,” Police Lieutenant Michael Pappalardo testified.

But Pappalardo also said he wouldn’t believe anyone who claimed they would arrest their family and friends. And when candidates said they wouldn’t arrest family or fellow officers, the hiring panel noted the person “knows discretion.”

While police officers are granted considerable discretion in how strictly to enforce the laws–such as issuing a verbal warning for speeding instead of issuing a ticket or putting someone in a cab who is drunk instead of booking them for public intoxication–favoritism is an ethical breach of that discretion. Such “professional courtesy” effectively insulates police officers and their families from the law. Put another way, favoritism places them above the law.

Unfortunately, the practice is quite common. The Globe story recounts the findings of a 2008 Civil Service Commission report:

“Every police officer who testified before the commission testified that the routine and customary practice when a stop is made on a fellow police officer, is to show professional courtesy and not call in the stop,” the report said.

Police officers should have more than “some” honesty to maintain the public trust. Read the whole thing here.


National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 07-16-15

Here are the nine reports of police misconduct tracked for Thursday, July 16, 2015:

  • Greenville, Mississippi: An officer was arrested for being an accessory after the fact to a fatal shooting. He allegedly provided a get-away vehicle for the assailant.
  • San Diego County, California: The County will pay $1,000,000 to the family of a man with Down syndrome who was assaulted by a deputy on duty.
  • Burlington, Vermont: An officer was arrested for DUI after a two-car collision that resulted in injuries.
  • Aurora, Colorado: An officer faces grand jury proceedings for the fatal shooting of Naeschylus Vinzant, an unarmed man.
  • Waller County, Texas: The jail is under Texas Ranger investigation after a woman died in custody. Video of her arrest was released.
  • Maypearl, Texas: The police chief is under investigation for solicitation of a minor. He allegedly sent lurid texts to a 16-year-old girl.
  • Update: Eagle County, Colorado (First reported 10-08-14): A deputy pled guilty to third-degree assault and second-degree criminal trespass for sexually assaulting a female motorist in an abandoned warehouse. He will have to register as a sex offender.
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: An officer was suspended for lying about how he was injured in an off-duty shooting. He allegedly conspired with his former brother-in-law to say his current wife shot him.
  • Update: Hudson Falls, New York (First reported 03-12-15): A deputy who was charged with larceny for stealing from police union coffers has resigned.

National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 07-15-15

Here are the eight reports of police misconduct tracked for Wednesday, July 15, 2015:

  • Cleveland (Ohio) Housing Authority: An officer was arrested for stalking and burglary.
  • Barrackville, West Virginia: An officer was arrested for DUI.
  • Gardena, California: The City settled a wrongful death suit for $4,700,000 in the shooting death of Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, who was unarmed.  Against the wishes of the police department, a federal judge ordered the release of the video footage of the shooting.
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: An officer was arrested for domestic violence involving his firearm.
  • Huntsville, Alabama: An officer was arrested for a domestic violence incident with his wife.
  • Hatch, New Mexico: An officer was arrested for battery and false imprisonment. The investigation is ongoing.
  • Altoona, Pennsylvania: A now-former officer who was fired for after an allegation of excessive force will face charges of suppression and battery for the incident.
  • Columbia County, New York: A now-former deputy pled guilty for secretly taking photos of a nude woman and putting the images on the Internet.

WSJ: Police Misconduct Costs Soar

From the Wall Street Journal:

The cost of resolving police-misconduct cases has surged for big U.S. cities in recent years, even before the current wave of scrutiny faced by law-enforcement over tactics.

The 10 cities with the largest police departments paid out $248.7 million last year in settlements and court judgments in police-misconduct cases, up 48% from $168.3 million in 2010, according to data gathered by The Wall Street Journal through public-records requests.

Those cities collectively paid out $1.02 billion over those five years in such cases, which include alleged beatings, shootings and wrongful imprisonment. When claims related to car collisions, property damage and other police incidents are included, the total rose to more than $1.4 billion.

National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 07-14-15

Here are the nine reports of police misconduct tracked for Tuesday, July 14, 2015:

  • Update: New York, New York (First reported 07-18-14): The City settled the wrongful death lawsuit with the family of Eric Garner for $5.9 million. Garner suffered cardiac arrest after an officer used a banned choke-hold on him in Staten Island.
  • Sunrise, Florida: An officer was arrested for a domestic violence incident. He allegedly pulled a gun on his stepson.
  • Phenix City, Alabama: The City settled a lawsuit for $275,000 with a woman who claimed an officer broke her eye socket when he punched her last year during an arrest.
  • Elko County, Nevada: A now-former undersheriff will face a theft charge for putting $3,000 of personal expenses on a county credit card.
  • Chester County, South Carolina: The sheriff’s department is facing a lawsuit from volunteer firefighters who claimed they were unlawfully arrested at an accident scene last year.
  • Update: Alamogordo, New Mexico (First reported 07-07-15): An officer who was arrested for pulling a gun on rental center employees was arrested for the second time in a week. The second arrest was for battery.
  • Phoenix, Arizona: A now-former officer pled guilty to attempted child abuse and sexual conduct with a minor.
  • Windsor, Vermont: An officer pled not guilty to aggravated assault for shooting a suspect multiple times.
  • Update: Madisonville, Texas (First reported 10-17-14): A now-former officer was acquitted of criminal charges in the death of his K9.

National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 07-11-15 to 07-13-15

Here are the nine reports of police misconduct tracked for Saturday, July 11 through Monday, July 13, 2015:

  • Washington Metro Transit Authority (Washington, DC): A police officer was arrested for exposing himself to a teenager.
  • Dothan, Alabama: An officer will not face criminal charges for fatally shooting a man after an altercation at an animal shelter. Mr. Robert Lawrence was apparently trying to turn in a stray animal when he was asked to show identification by a police officer who was present. Mr. Lawrence allegedly refused to show identification and during a subsequent physical struggle, was shot in the stomach and later died at the hospital.
  • Los Angeles County, California: A deputy has been accused of beating his girlfriend and setting her hair on fire.
  • Clare County, Michigan: A deputy resigned after her arrest for DUI. Officers responded to a car in a ditch and found her there.
  • Wilson County, North Carolina: A deputy was fired after his DWI arrest on July 4.
  • Chicago, Illinois: An officer will be allowed to stay on leave until his trial is concluded for beating a man in convenience store. The trial is scheduled for October of this year.
  • Austin, Texas: An officer was placed on leave after shooting a fleeing man.
  • Tuscaloosa, Alabama: The homicide unit is investigating a death in custody of a man who was pepper sprayed for resisting arrest.
  • Update: Lake County, Colorado (First reported 05-15-15): A deputy was sentenced to three years of probation for stealing a gun from evidence and selling it.

National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 07-10-15

Here are the ten reports of police misconduct tracked for Friday, July 10, 2015:

  • Indianapolis, Indiana: An officer was suspended and is being investigated for domestic violence against his wife.
  • Washington Park, Illinois: An officer was charged with official misconduct and stalking for actions on duty against his ex-girlfriend.
  • Ramsey County, Minnesota: A now-former deputy is being investigated for missing evidence. He is thought to have sold evidence to pawn shops.
  • Gloucester County, New Jersey: The county settled a lawsuit with a man who was initially stopped for carrying a video camera. The officers claimed there had been burglaries in the area. According to the report, he refused to turn off the camera and there was a scuffle between him and the officers. He was eventually arrested for drug possession for carrying a bag that contained cracker crumbs. He was acquitted. The settlement was for $35,000.
  • New York, New York: An officer was suspended for throwing semen on a female co-worker.
  • Stonewall, Mississippi: Jonathan Sanders died after an altercation with law enforcement near his property. His family claims that he was choked to death with a flashlight by a deputy. The incident is under state investigation.
  • Maryland State Police: A trooper was arrested for allegedly forcing a woman to perform sex acts at gunpoint.
  • Loudon County, Virginia: A deputy was indicted for embezzling $200,000 from the asset forfeiture fund.
  • Orleans Parish, Louisiana: A deputy was fired after his arrest for assault with a firearm.
  • Campbell County, Wyoming: A deputy will not be charged in the shooting death of Nikki Jo Burtsfield.

A Revolving Door in Colorado

Like many states, Colorado certifies its law enforcement officers. However, the state’s barriers to decertify officers are higher than those in other states. Being dismissed from one law enforcement agency, or even convicted of a crime, does not automatically make an officer ineligible for employment in another jurisdiction. And many police officers in Colorado have done exactly that.

Yesterday, the Denver Post ran a lengthy feature describing a revolving door of dismissed and disgraced police officers within the state of Colorado. Among other things, the Post found:

  • At least six Denver officers who were fired or resigned amid allegations of wrongdoing in the past decade found work at other smaller agencies.
  • Rogue cops can negotiate to keep past transgressions secret. Nadia Gatchell was fired from the Denver police force in 2012 for lies she told superiors during an investigation into abuse of off-duty secondary employment. The officer, who previously had been disciplined in Denver for destroying marijuana evidence, was able to keep the decision to fire her out of her personnel file by agreeing to drop a Civil Service appeal. The city’s safety manager at the time, Alex Martinez, agreed to remove her dismissal letter from her personnel file and have her file reflect that she had resigned.
  • Gatchell, who declined to comment, went on to work at the Elizabeth Police Department for about a year after her firing. Now she’s working as a parole officer for the Department of Corrections, her fourth law enforcement job.
  • Officers who have their certificate for police work revoked often are repeat offenders. Of the nearly 280 officers who have been decertified in the past decade in Colorado, at least 29 had past serious personnel issues or arrests. Many more likely are repeat offenders, but how many could not be determined because many agencies in the state won’t release discipline or personnel files for public review.
  • About a third of those 280 decertified for police work in Colorado had worked at more than one police agency. Seven of those officers had shuffled to four or more police agencies before they ended up with a conviction that brought a final end to their careers in law enforcement.
  • The state’s review panel, the Colorado Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, does not always keep up with those who aren’t employed by a police agency but remain certified for law enforcement work.

According to the article, at least 18 states “require agencies to inform state review panels when an officer is fired or resigns,” but Colorado is not one of them.

The Colorado legislature passed a new law to require police agencies to disclose to any new law enforcement employer if their former officer “sustained violations for making “knowing misrepresentations” during their employment.” While this is an improvement, the new law does not require disclosure of excessive force, destruction of evidence, or other violations unrelated to lying on official documents.

The legislature also tried but failed to expand the number the offenses that trigger decertification in the last session. As a result, officers with convictions for misdemeanor child abuse, second-degree arson, and many other crimes remain eligible to be hired as sworn officers around Colorado.

Colorado is not the only state that has problems with “shuffling” bad police officers. Recall that the officer who shot twelve-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio was deemed unfit for law enforcement by his previous employer due to incompetence with firearms. The CPD did not review that information before hiring the officer.

States should shore-up their reporting requirements and decertification procedures to prevent officers who commit serious misconduct from hopping job-to-job.

There are many more disturbing stories in Post feature here. You can read my testimony on the opacity of police disciplinary files before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights here.

National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 07-09-15

Here are the ten reports of police misconduct tracked for Thursday, July 9, 2015:

  • Minnesota State Police: A trooper was cited for going 94mph in 55mph zone without legal justification.
  • Cincinnati, Ohio: Several officers are being investigated for covering up an auto crash involving one of their own.
  • Update: Saratoga Springs, New York (First reported 06-05-15): An officer who pulled over and pepper sprayed a man who gave him the finger has resigned.
  • Carroll, New York: The police chief was charged with assault for allegedly hitting his wife.
  • Update: Cecil Township, Pennsylvania (First reported 03-19-14): The now-former chief is slated to stand trial in October for gambling $10,000 of DEA fund money at a casino.
  • Tilton, New Hampshire: An officer will not face prosecution for his role in the sale of a stolen gift card. He was suspended and demoted as a result of the investigation, but it is not clear whether this decision will prompt his reinstatement.
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Several officers face an internal investigation for a violent arrest and beating of a man caught on video.
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: An officer was charged with assault, unlawful restraint, and other charges related to domestic violence.
  • Update: Miami Springs, Florida (First reported 05-27-15): An now-former officer pled guilty to extortion in a cocaine trafficking operation that was actually an FBI sting.
  • New Orleans, Louisiana: An officer was arrested for obstruction of justice during the initial arrest of a man who later killed an NOPD officer during his escape from custody.

National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 07-08-15

Here are the nine reports of police misconduct tracked for Wednesday, July 8, 2015:

  • Madison County, Alabama: A lawsuit against the sheriff and two deputies for excessive force was settled out of court.
  • Westlake, Ohio: An officer was indicted for excessive force and lying to federal agents.
  • New Orleans, Louisiana: An officer was fired after using shackles to beat a 16-year-old girl in custody.
  • Lawrence County, Alabama: A grand jury declined to indict a former investigator in the fatal shooting of Shane Watkins.
  • Update: New York, New York (First reported 03-01-13): An officer was convicted of soliciting prostitution twice in two days back in 2013. He faces up to one year in jail.
  • Illinois State Police: A trooper was charged with home invasion and aggravated discharge of a firearm.
  • Macon County, Georgia: A detective pled guilty to stealing more than $100,000 from a federal fund meant for undercover drug buys.
  • San Antonio, Texas: An officer who had been fired for fatally shooting his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend after the officer had been drinking on duty was reinstated by a labor arbitrator.
  • Alcorn County, Mississippi: The sheriff pled not guilty to fraud charges in alleged bid-rigging scheme.

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