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Worst of the Month — July

For July, it was the case from Akron, Ohio.  Officer Eric Paull worked as a sergeant for the Akron Police Department.  He also taught a course on criminal justice at the University of Akron.  One of his students was a single mom.  According to news reports, the woman (name withheld) says they started a romantic relationship.  But after a year or so, that relationship turned ugly and violent.  After he beat her up on a Thanksgiving holiday, Paull told her that he was legally “untouchable.”

She believed him–so she did not file a complaint right away.  Instead, she just tried to avoid him.  But Paull stalked her and her boyfriends, using police databases to discover addresses, phone numbers, and vehicle information.  Paull would also text pictures of himself holding his gun.  There were threats to kill the woman and her boyfriend.  The woman did lodge complaints with the police and would later obtain a protective order, but the police department seemed indifferent.  Paull would not stop.

Finally, after months of harassment, Paull was charged with stalking, aggravated menacing, felonious assault, and burglary, among other charges.  His trial is expected to begin in a few weeks.

Paul Hlynsky, the police union leader, says he will try to have Paull back on the police force if he can avoid a felony conviction.

More from the Guardian on Homan Square

For several months, the Guardian (US) has been running an exposé of Homan Square, a virtual domestic “black site” in Chicago. People who have been detained and interrogated there allege improper conditions, illegal treatment, and unconstitutional denial of defense counsel. Today’s installment, by Spencer Ackerman and Zach Stafford, uncovers a dramatic racial disparity in those brought into this facility:

At least 3,500 Americans have been detained inside a Chicago police warehouse described by some of its arrestees as a secretive interrogation facility, newly uncovered records reveal.

Of the thousands held in the facility known as Homan Square over a decade, 82% were black. Only three received documented visits from an attorney, according to a cache of documents obtained when the Guardian sued the police.

Despite repeated denials from the Chicago police department that the warehouse is a secretive, off-the-books anomaly, the Homan Square files begin to show how the city’s most vulnerable people get lost in its criminal justice system.

The Chicago police department has maintained – even as the Guardian reported stories of people being shackled and held for hours or even days, all without legal access – that the warehouse is not a secret facility so much as an undercover police base operating in plain sight.

The numbers, if true, indicate that the lack of access to counsel is standard practice:

Despite the quadruple-digit number of arrestees held at Homan Square, the Chicago police proffered only three arrestees receiving visits from lawyers between 3 September 2004 and 1 July 2015. Two of them occurred on the same day in January 2013.

Unless approximately 3,500 people in custody waived their right to counsel, the revelation complicates – if not contradicts – the police’s March statement that “any individual who wishes to consult a lawyer will not be interrogated until they have an opportunity to do so”.

The piece is well worth reading in full here. Past installments can be found at the Guardian website here.

 

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.

Minneapolis Paid $10.7 Million in Lawsuits

From kare1.com:

When allegations of police misconduct move from the street to the courtroom — more often than not, Minneapolis has to pay.

KARE 11 requested numbers from the City of Minneapolis and found since January 2010, Minneapolis has dealt with 141 “Officer Conduct lawsuits.” The city won 51 of them — either at trial or when a judge dismissed the case.

But the city had to pay money in 90 of those cases — settling 86 times — and losing four trials.

In that time — Minneapolis has paid $10.7 million for officer conduct lawsuits. That includes two years — 2011 and 2013 — when the city had to pay more than $4 million each year….

In 2011, Minneapolis paid nearly $2.2 million to he family of Dominic Felder, who died in 2006 — shot seven times by two officers.

And in 2010, David Smith died after police used a Taser and held him down outside the downtown Minneapolis YMCA. Minneapolis settled with his family in 2013 for nearly $3.1 million.

A key point here:

David Harris said in his research, one alarming thing he’s found is the lawsuits don’t always lead to a change in police department policies.

Apps for Recording the Police

From Wired:

With smartphones, we the citizens have in our pockets the power to hold our government responsible. Apps are cropping up to make it easier to videotape incidents like this. And organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and National Lawyers Guild are working to make sure we, the people with cameras in our hands, know our rights under the law.

First of all, it’s important to state up front that it is completely within a US citizen’s constitutional rights to record interactions with police officers, according to the ACLU. The EFF has created a guide for knowing your legal rights to digital property. Unless you are on private property, you have the right to photograph, film, or record anything in plain sight. Officers are not allowed to confiscate this material—or even search your cell phone—without a warrant. Yet, law enforcement frequently confiscates these recordings, while harassing, detaining, and arresting those who fail to comply.

Fraternal Order of Police Opposes Bad Cops

James Pasco, executive director of the National FOP, as quoted in today’s Wall Street Journal:

The fact of the matter is no self-respecting member of the law enforcement community holds any brief for a bad cop.

Of course.  It would be news if Mr. Pasco would have said the opposite.  Yet, too often police unions lobby against measures that would bring greater accountability to the bad cops.

 

Settlement in Civil Rights Lawsuit

From Reuters:

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved an accord on Tuesday with the U.S. Justice Department to settle findings that the country’s largest sheriff’s department systematically harassed and intimidated low-income minority residents….

The report concluded that county sheriff’s deputies, along with authorities in the towns of Lancaster and Palmdale, routinely targeted blacks and Hispanics in a “pattern and practice” of unlawful traffic stops, raids and excessive force.

Freddie Gray Funeral

From the Baltimore Sun:

In a funeral service Monday that was both personal and political, family, friends and strangers alike said farewell on Monday to Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man whose death from injuries sustained in police custody has sparked a national furor…

[S]peaker after speaker drew both cheers and tears.

“The eyes of the country are all on us,” former judge and Gray family attorney William “Billy” Murphy told the crowd. “They want to see if we have the stuff to get this right.”

Murphy denounced “the blue wall” that he said protects police from accountability.

“Let’s don’t kid ourselves. We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for video cameras,” he said of the cellphone recordings made by bystanders of Gray’s arrest on April 12. “Instead of one cover-up behind that blue wall after another cover-up behind that blue wall … and one lie after another lie, now we see the truth as never before. It’s not a pretty picture.”

Gray was transported in a van to the Western District police station, emerging with what turned out to be a severed spinal cord and crushed voicebox, dying a week later.

Here is a Cato Institute podcast interview with Billy Murphy about police tactics, minorities, and constitutional rights.

Problems in Oakland Police Department

From Bay City News:

Oakland police officers who are fired for misconduct are reinstated at arbitration hearings 75 percent of the time because department officials and the city attorney’s office do a poor job of handling the cases, a report says.

San Francisco attorney Ed Swanson compiled the report at the request of U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson, who is supervising the Oakland Police Department’s slow progress in complying with a police misconduct lawsuit settlement in 2003 that requires the department to implement 51 reforms in a variety of areas….

Swanson criticized the Oakland City Attorney’s Office for what he said is its “neglect and indifference and handling of police disciplinary cases and arbitration” because it doesn’t prepare well for them. He also said the relationship between the Police Department and the City Attorney’s Office has been “dysfunctional.”

The Freddie Gray Case

From CNN:

More than a week after Freddie Gray was arrested in Baltimore, and a day since he died, authorities are still scrambling to find out exactly what happened and why.

“I’ll tell you what I do know, and right now there’s still a lot of questions I don’t know. I know that when Mr. Gray was placed inside that van, he was able to talk. He was upset. And when Mr. Gray was taken out of that van, he could not talk, and he could not breathe,” Baltimore Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez told reporters Monday.

He spoke the same day an autopsy was done on the body of Gray, which showed that he died from a severe injury to his spinal cord. “What we don’t know, and what we need to get to, is how that injury occurred,” Rodriguez said.

The Gray family has retained a great attorney, Billy Murphy.  Go here for a Cato podcast interview with Mr. Murphy about police tactics and constitutional rights.