National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Disturbing Report from Chicago

Those of us who follow police misconduct closely know that patterns of abuse can become normalized when tolerated or unchecked by police supervisors. Abuses that went unreported or were unsubstantiated in years past have been exposed by the growing presence of camera phones and other technologies that record police-public interactions. But they can’t catch them all.

The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman has reported a truly disturbing practice in Chicago. The police have established a “black site” area where Americans are held incommunicado to be interrogated. Prisoners are held without charge and in violation of their constitutional rights and without access to legal counsel:

The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights.

Alleged police practices at Homan Square, according to those familiar with the facility who spoke out to the Guardian after its investigation into Chicago police abuse, include:

  • Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases.
  • Beating by police, resulting in head wounds.
  • Shackling for prolonged periods.
  • Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility.
  • Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15.

At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.

Unlike a precinct, no one taken to Homan Square is said to be booked. Witnesses, suspects or other Chicagoans who end up inside do not appear to have a public, searchable record entered into a database indicating where they are, as happens when someone is booked at a precinct. Lawyers and relatives insist there is no way of finding their whereabouts. Those lawyers who have attempted to gain access to Homan Square are most often turned away, even as their clients remain in custody inside.

“It’s sort of an open secret among attorneys that regularly make police station visits, this place – if you can’t find a client in the system, odds are they’re there,” said Chicago lawyer Julia Bartmes.

This is not Chicago’s first brush with systematic abuse of citizens. Just this month, a retired CPD detective was released from prison for covering up the torture and false confessions of over 100 people in the 1970s and ‘80s. He still collects a $4,000 per month pension.

Police transparency is essential to effective policing, but police organizations often protect their officers from outside scrutiny, making it difficult to hold officers accountable for repeated violations of policy. Secretive internal investigations can stonewall public inquiry into disputed officer-related shootings committed in broad daylight. Left unchecked, entire police departments can develop institutional tolerance for constitutional violations in day-to-day policing.

But what Ackerman reports seems to be the ultimate lack of police transparency. If what he reports is true, a full investigation should be launched by government officials outside of the Chicago Police Department to examine such egregious violations of civil and constitutional rights.

Read the whole thing here.

Grandfather Paralyzed by Police

From CNN:

It started out as a morning walk, but ended up with a 57-year-old grandpa laying partially paralyzed in an Alabama hospital bed.

Sureshbhai Patel required spinal fusion surgery to repair damage to his back when his family says police twisted his arm and forced him to the ground.

Video at the CNN link.   When the police department was asked for an explanation, a spokesperson said that Patel reached into his pocket while speaking to the officers on the scene.   Hmm.

Two Philly Cops Charged With Brutality

From Philly.com:

[The arrest] on May 29, 2013, was allegedly so violent that District Attorney Seth Williams on Thursday charged two Philadelphia police officers with aggravated assault, conspiracy and related crimes.

After seeing the blood, [girlfriend] Scannapieco began asking questions.

She eventually found surveillance video, at a barber shop-auto detailing business on the block, that would exonerate Rivera and lead to the arrest of the officers who prosecutors say beat him without provocation and then falsely arrested him.

“This type of behavior has absolutely no place in our city, and I will prosecute these two officers to the fullest extent of the law,” Williams said.

The accused officers, Kevin Robinson and Sean McKnight, turned themselves in to police Thursday.

Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey suspended the officers with intent to dismiss. Before the video of their arrest of Rivera surfaced, the officers’ account of what happened had been accepted as fact, Ramsey said….

Without the video, Rivera would have had little chance challenging the testimony of two police officers.

“So, where does one find the officer safety exception to the Constitution?”

Officer safety is important. Public safety is also important. Police should follow the law and respect the rights of citizens as part of their day-to-day jobs to keep both themselves and the public safer.

Over at Law and Order, a magazine for police management, three experienced leaders in law enforcement training and leadership explain the ethical and professional imperative of constitutional policing:

Federal Constitutional law governs a number of the most critical and often high-risk police actions: use of force, seizures of persons, investigative detentions and arrests, searches of persons, vehicle stops and searches, entry into private premises, and the concepts of reasonable suspicion and probable cause.

Violations of the Federal Constitution can cause evidence suppression in major cases, massive civil liability, career devastation, and even criminal prosecution of law enforcement officers. But avoidance of these horrendous negatives is not the best reason for an officer to follow the Constitution. The best reason is a shining positive: keeping faith with the oath of office.

On the day an officer takes that oath, the Constitution becomes more than a legal obligation. It becomes an ethical duty, a matter of promise keeping—keeping the most solemn promise made in a law enforcement career—to support, uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.   But however lofty that promise, it is hollow—without a thorough understanding of what the Constitution requires of us.

Our training helps provide that understanding by teaching what we can and cannot lawfully do under the United States Constitution. This knowledge is a powerful tool for achieving investigative goals. It also helps us stay out of trouble. Most importantly, it empowers us to attain the ethical standards that we have so ardently pledged, adding meaning and value to our oath of office—the promise made to a community by those who police it, the promise in exchange for which one is allowed to be a police officer.

[…]

Awareness and self-discipline are the first lines of defense. Positive peer pressure must be normative and organizational discipline should enter the picture as necessary.

More demand for accountability and transparency grants us opportunities to build stronger relationships with our communities that enhance officer safety in the most comprehensive sense. This atmosphere expands trust and exposes the true villains in our communities. We are not soldiers fighting a war, but servant leaders striving to find a way to inspire others to be accountable and to participate actively in securing safety and prosperity for all law-abiding community members, including police officers.

You should read the whole thing here.

H/T: Prof. Sean Stoughton

More on the John Geer Shooting

From the Washington Post:

How and why Geer died that afternoon in August 2013 after police responded to a domestic dispute at his home have remained a mystery, as police and prosecutors have declined to comment on the case for 17 months. But Friday night, under a court order obtained by lawyers for the Geer family, Fairfax released more than 11,000 pages of documents that shed new light on the police shooting….

Mike Lieberman, an attorney for the Geer family, said: “If this was a similar situation involving two ordinary citizens, there is little doubt that any individual who shot an unarmed man who was holding his hands up in the air and claiming that he did not want to hurt anyone would have been arrested and charged.

“Within days of the shooting, the police department, at the highest levels, knew of the gross discrepancies between Officer Torres’s version of the events and the accounts provided by every other eyewitness.”

According to the report, the local prosecutor was unable to get information from the police department about the officer who shot Geer.  Why did the police department withhold the information?  Hmm.

Police Arrest Public Defender

San Francisco Public Defender Jami Tillotson was arrested by police officers in the hallway of a courthouse for “resisting arrest.”  The false arrest was captured on tape.  Tillotson made the work of the police inconvenient, but that is not a crime.  Yet,  it is telling that the police think it is.  And if the police are willing to arrest a public defender in a courthouse hallway while being videotaped, what sort of illegal searches, detentions, and arrests occur in the neighborhoods?

More here.

Is President Obama Pushing Anti-Police Hatred?

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani says that President Obama is fomenting anti-police hatred.  Giuliani was not specific about what Obama said or did to support such a claim.

Matthew Yglesias:

The cold-blooded murders of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos have sparked a lot of hot takes, but perhaps none so bold and drastically wrong than the one offered by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who cast the blame squarely on “four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police.” He said black leaders, in particular, have contributed to “an atmosphere of severe, strong anti-police hatred in certain communities.”

Giuliani went out of his way to be clear that he’s not blaming a handful of bad apples. He thinks the culprits are everyone protesting police misconduct everywhere….

Needless to say, neither the president nor any major protest leader has claimed the police are all racist or said anything remotely resembling “everyone should hate the police.”

Police union officials have gone even further than Giuliani.  They claim the Mayor of New York City is partly to blame for the murders.

More here.

Worst of the Month — November 2014

The worst police misconduct in November goes to the Cleveland Police Department.

To begin with, in late November, a Cleveland officer shot and killed 12-year old Tamir Rice.

The press reports based on the police accounts at the time of the incident read:

A rookie Cleveland police officer shot a 12-year-old boy outside a city recreation center late Saturday afternoon after the boy pulled a BB gun from his waistband, police said.

Police were responding to reports of a male with a gun outside Cudell Recreation Center at Detroit Avenue and West Boulevard about 3:30 p.m., Deputy Chief of Field Operations Ed Tomba said.

A rookie officer and a 10-15 year veteran pulled into the parking lot and saw a few people sitting underneath a pavilion next to the center. The rookie officer saw a black gun sitting on the table, and he saw the boy pick up the gun and put it in his waistband, Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association President Jeffrey Follmer said.

The officer got out of the car and told the boy to put his hands up. The boy reached into his waistband, pulled out the gun and the rookie officer fired two shots, Tomba said.

As detailed in this video report by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, the initial reports by the police do not jibe with video evidence in several major respects.

The video shows Rice, alone, playing with his toy gun and also with the snow, as 12 year olds are wont to do. He was not, as the police said, with “a few people” in the pavilion. Other police reports to the press said the shooting officer got out of his car and told Rice three times to put his hands up. The video, unfortunately without audio and recording at the speed of two frames per second, shows the officer shooting Rice within 1.5-2 seconds after exiting the police vehicle.

The officers also waited several minutes before administering CPR to the fallen boy.

The original call that drew the police to the park in the first place said the person with the gun in the park was likely a minor and likely was a toy gun. Apparently, this information was not relayed to the responding officers, who called-in the shooting victim as “possibly 20” years old.

The officer who shot Rice “was specifically faulted for breaking down emotionally while handling a live gun” according to subsequent reporting. The internal memo that informed the report concluded that the officer be “released from the employment of the City of Independence [,Ohio].”

And here’s the thing: The Cleveland Police hired the officer without checking his personnel file from his previous law enforcement job, where he was deemed unfit!

The Department of Justice took a close look at the Cleveland Department and issued a highly critical report:

The Justice Department report on Cleveland cataloged many instances of unjustified force, including officers who assaulted, pepper-sprayed and even Tasered people already being restrained. In one case last year, the police fired two shots at a man wearing only boxer shorts who was fleeing from two armed assailants. In a 2011 case, a man who had been restrained on the ground with his arms and legs spread was then kicked by officers. He was later treated for a broken bone in his face.

The city’s policing problems, [Attorney General] Holder said, stemmed from “systemic deficiencies, including insufficient accountability, inadequate training and equipment, ineffective policies and inadequate engagement with the community.”

NYT on Police Misconduct: Millions of Americans Subjected to Intimidation

New York Times editorial:

The Justice Department report describes the Cleveland Police Department as something far closer to an occupying military force than a legitimate law enforcement agency. The officers, for example, seem to take a casual view of the use of deadly force, shooting at people who pose no threat of harm to the police or others. In one case in 2013, for example, they actually fired at a victim who had been held captive in a house — as he escaped, clad only in boxer shorts.

The report cataloged numerous incidents of wanton violence, with officers beating, pepper-spraying and Tasering people who were unarmed or had already been restrained. Officers escalated encounters with citizens instead of defusing them, making force all but inevitable.

The record in Cleveland is extreme. But aspects of illegal police conduct can be found in cities all over the country, subjecting millions to intimidation and fear that they could be killed for innocent actions.

Subjecting millions to intimidation.  Stop what you’re doing and think about that.

The Eric Garner Case: Time to Open Your Eyes

Harry Siegel in the New York Daily News:

Garner had a heart attack in the ambulance, and died.

As he lay dying, he was treated like a piece of meat. By Pantaleo. By the other cops on the scene. Even by the medical technicians.

Had Garner been treated with basic human dignity after he was violently, and needlessly, taken down, he might not be dead.

I’m no lawyer, but this is section 125.15 of New York’s penal code: “A person is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree when: 1. He recklessly causes the death of another person.”

So I’m stunned, and saddened, by a Staten Island grand jury’s decision to level no charges against Pantaleo.

Anyone unsure why so many people of color are upset with the police, and suspicious of the American justice system, put your politics down, open your eyes and watch the videos.

Regular visitors will recall that we selected the Garner case as the ‘worst of the month’ for July.

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