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Worst of the Month — February

So for February we have selected the reported misconduct of Officer Matt Rush from Champaign, Illinois.

Last month Precious Jackson filed a lawsuit against Rush and his employer for excessive force when Rush arrested her.  According to the lawsuit, Rush’s actions caused Jackson to lose her unborn baby.  Jackson also says that she begged to be taken to a hospital but that Rush and the other officers on the scene ignored her pleas and took her to the jail instead.

Local news agencies report that the City of Champaign has settled several similar lawsuits involving Rush to the tune of $320,000.  The police chief actually fired Rush for lies in police reports and omitting important details in the incidents he was involved in.

A labor arbitrator overturned the police chief’s discipline and reinstated Rush to his job.

 

 

KVUE’s “Conduct Unbecoming” Part 3

Last week, Austin television station KVUE aired two of their four-part series on police corruption, “Conduct Unbecoming.” Last night, they aired the third installment, which tackles police misconduct’s price tag for taxpayers.

By their estimate, Texas taxpayers have paid out about $54 million in lawsuits related to police misconduct since 2009. In one case they highlight, Austin paid one million dollars to a Carlos Chacon, who was repeatedly tased and suffered lacerations to his face after he called the police at a motel. The judge in the case said, “[T]he worst decision he made that night was to call 911.”

In a separate incident, the same officer who tased Mr. Chacon was suspended 90 days for tasing a suspect twice. He is still an Austin police officer.

You can check out the full piece at KVUE here. You can read our take on part one here, and part two here.

Judge Denies First Amendment Right to Record Police

As my colleague Adam Bates noted over at Cato at Liberty, Radley Balko details a strange decision in Pennsylvania that runs counter to the most common understandings of First Amendment protections.

A federal judge ruled that there is no First Amendment right to record the police unless the person affirmatively declares their right to do so. An excerpt:

“[U.S. District Court Judge] Kearney unconvincingly compares the act of recording the police without some clear articulation that you’re doing so for the purpose of protest or expression to refusing to move along when a police officer is trying to clear a sidewalk or roadway.

Judge Yohn’s cogent and exhaustive analysis in Montgomery v. Killingsworth applies a similar test for assessing conduct protected by the First Amendment. As Judge Yohn observed last year, “Peaceful criticism of a police officer performing his duties in a public place is a protected activity under the First Amendment.” Judge Yohn noted, “this protection, however, is not absolute.” Quoting the Supreme Court in Colten v. Kentucky, and as it relates to Fields, Judge Yohn found “conduct in refusing to move on after being directed to do so was not, without more, protected by the First Amendment. “

Balko continues, “[I]t’s a pretty dangerous thing to say that you must explicitly declare your rights in order to have them respected.” Unfortunately, that danger is not entirely unprecedented. The good news is that recent First Amendment jurisprudence supports the photographers who will appeal and, hopefully, win.

For more on this case, read Adam’s post here and First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh here. For more on the importance of recording police, check out this short Cato video.

For a broader discussion about the dos and don’ts of recording police misconduct, watch the event below featuring retired U.S. Marshal Matthew Fogg, Flex Your Rights founder Steve Silverman, and me.

Fullerton to Pay $4.9m to Family of Kelly Thomas

As longtime readers of this blog may remember, the Fullerton, California police violently beat Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old mentally ill homeless man, who died from his injuries. The arrest was recorded, and Thomas could be heard calling for his father as the officers relentlessly beat him into a coma.

Kelly ThomasTwo officers were fired for the incident but ultimately acquitted of criminal charges in the case. As opening arguments were set to begin in the wrongful death suit, the City of Fullerton agreed to pay the Thomas family $4.9 million as a settlement.

Ron Thomas said at a news conference that while the city acknowledged no wrongdoing in the settlement, it was a clear indication to him of its liability and guilt in the death of his 37-year-old son Kelly Thomas. Thomas said he feels vindicated by the settlement.

It is not uncommon for municipalities to disavow any culpability in settlements like this. But lawsuits are important nonetheless because they bring some measure of closure to the families who do not find justice in the criminal courts and incentivize governments to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.

On Tuesday, December 1, Cato will host “Policing in America,” an all-day conference dedicated to discussing the policies and impacts of law enforcement around the country. The event will be live-streamed on the Cato website.

The Donald Gates Case

From the Washington Post:

THE DISTRICT of Columbia’s agreement to pay $16.65 million to settle the federal civil rights lawsuit of a man who spent 27 years in prison for a crime he did not commit should not be the end of this troubling case. That a jury found there to be egregious police misconduct demands rigorous review of other cases handled by the detectives involved, to ensure there haven’t been similar miscarriages of justice. Also needed is resolve by prosecutors and others in the criminal justice system to tackle the systemic issues that contribute to wrongful convictions.

Last week, Federal Judge Alex Kozinski was here at Cato to debate problems in our criminal justice system, including the problems that contribute to wrongful convictions.  That event can be viewed here.

New York Law Hides Police Misconduct

From New York Times editorial:

The uniquely restrictive New York State law that is used to conceal the disciplinary histories of police officers — even some who have committed crimes — reared its head again last week in misconduct proceedings against the officer who brutalized the retired tennis player James Blake during a mistaken arrest in Manhattan last month.

The public has the right to be kept informed of police misconduct cases, especially at a time of heightened concern over police brutality. But when the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board substantiated excessive force charges against James Frascatore, the officer who attacked Mr. Blake, it was allowed to release its findings to Mr. Blake’s lawyer but was barred from making them available to the public. Had Mr. Blake’s attorney not released the information, the public would still be in the dark.

The state law on officers’ histories is the only one of its kind in the nation. It was enacted in 1976 to prevent criminal defense lawyers from using freedom-of-information laws to gain access to personnel records for information to use against officers in trials.

The law says an officer’s personnel record cannot be publicly released or cited in court without a judge’s approval. But municipalities and courts have since broadened the definition of “personnel record” to shield almost any information.

For additional background, go here.

Worst of the Month — September

So for September we have chosen the Chicago Police Department, particularly, the officers who were responsible for arresting George Roberts.

CBS Chicago reports on a lawsuit filed by Roberts against the Chicago Police Department.  According to Roberts, he was falsely arrested and roughed up by police following a traffic stop.  Here’s the thing: Roberts investigates police misconduct for the Independent Police Review Authority.  And it was when the police discovered that fact that the abuse of power began.  Mysteriously, several police cameras on the scene were turned off:

It is against policy in both Chicago and Illinois for a police officer to turn off his dashboard camera, CBS Chicago reports.

Vehicles belonging to two other officers on the scene were equipped with audio recording devices, though no audio of the encounter was saved, according to the lawsuit.

Roberts said in the lawsuit, which was filed on Sept. 15, that the camera was shut off after officers realized he worked for the Independent Police Review Authority — or IPRA — the agency responsible for investigating police misconduct.

Roberts said he was initially stopped for a minor traffic violation, but was then pushed in the back by one of the officers and forced to the ground. He said in the lawsuit that an officer shouted, “Don’t make me [expletive] shoot you.”

But “when the (officers) turned off the dash camera, things got worse,” his attorneys write in the lawsuit.

Roberts, who was handcuffed and placed in the back of a police vehicle, complained that the handcuffs were too tight, according to the lawsuit. The 6-foot-3, 315 pound man says that, instead, it would have have been appropriate for officers to use multiple handcuffs strung together for someone of his size.

He says in the lawsuit that one of the officers responded to his complaints: “What are you going to tell me next, you can’t breathe?” — an apparent reference to Eric Garner, a New York City man who died in 2014 as a result of a police choke hold.

Roberts also says he was told “that’s your fault,” when he pointed out that his weight made the single set of handcuffs painful.

Read the whole thing.  Roberts was suspended from his job while charges were pending.  Following his acquittal, he returned to work.

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.

Boston Pays $36 Million to Settle Police Lawsuits

From the Boston Globe:

The City of Boston has spent more than $36 million to resolve 2,000 legal claims and lawsuits against the Boston Police Department over the past decade, with most of the money going for cases alleging wrongful convictions or police misconduct.

The bulk of the payouts, $31 million, went for 22 cases worth $100,000 or more, including nine awards for well over $1 million apiece, according to data provided by the mayor’s office in response to a public records request filed by the Globe….

Some of the biggest payouts in Boston went to the families of victims who died after encounters with police during celebrations of major sports victories in Boston over the years.

In one high-profile case, Boston paid $5 million to the family of Victoria Snelgrove after the 21-year-old college student died when police fired pepper-pellet guns into a crowd reveling in the Red Sox pennant victory in 2004 outside Fenway Park.

Snelgrove was hit in the eye by one of the projectiles as police tried to disperse the revelers.

Dept of Justice to Investigate Baltimore

Attorney General Loretta Lynch has just announced a federal “pattern and practice” investigation of the Baltimore Police Department.   This is a mistake.  We already know serious problems exist there.  A report is unnecessary.  Baltimore’s elected officials should be taking bold steps right now to overhaul the police department.  Governor Hogan should also be more engaged to propose and move on necessary reforms.  A federal investigation will result in unnecessary delay.  More here later…