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Worst of the Month — December 2015

So for December we have selected the shooting death of Andrew Thomas in Paradise, California.  According to news reports, here’s what happened:  Thomas was seen leaving the parking lot of a bar and his vehicle didn’t have its lights on — even though it was late at night.  Officer Patrick Feaster suspected the driver might be intoxicated and so pursued Thomas to pull him over and investigate further.

No problem so far.  We want police to be alert for impaired drivers who endanger other people.

Next, Thomas did not pull over after Feaster was behind him with his police lights flashing.

Moments later, Thomas’s SUV crashed and his wife was ejected from the vehicle.  She died.

Next, things get even worse.  Officer Feaster is seen on dash-cam video walking toward the crashed SUV.  The video shows Thomas trying to climb out of the overturned SUV.  Feaster draws his sidearm and shoots Thomas in the neck and he falls back into his SUV.

After the shooting, Officer Feaster gets on his radio to report that the driver is refusing his commands to get out of the vehicle.  He does not mention that he shot the driver.  Feaster also reports that a injured woman is unresponsive, but the video shows that he is not checking on her condition or rendering aid.

Other police and responders get to the scene, but ten minutes go by before Feaster says he fired his weapon.  It is very unclear what could be the justification for shooting a man after a vehicle crash in these circumstances.  Officer Feaster says he was not threatened, but that his gun went off accidentally.

On a police body camera, Feaster is heard telling the watch commander that his gun went off, but he didn’t think the driver was hit because he wasn’t aiming his weapon in the driver’s direction.  Thomas initially survived the shot to his neck, but was paralyzed.  He died weeks later.

Despite community outrage, the local prosecutor, Mike Ramsey, declined to file any criminal charges against Officer Feaster because he said he lacked sufficient evidence to prove a crime in court.  That’s very odd.  Prosecutors would typically be relieved to know that the incident was captured on videotape.

View the video for yourself here:

 

 

Secret Service Agents Under Investigation

From the Washington Post:

The Obama administration is investigating allegations that two senior Secret Service agents, including a top member of the president’s protective detail, drove a government car into White House security barricades after drinking at a late-night party last week, an agency official said Wednesday.

Officers on duty who witnessed the March 4 incident wanted to arrest the agents and conduct sobriety tests, according to a current and a former government official familiar with the incident. But the officers were ordered by a supervisor on duty that night to let the agents go home.

Hmm.

Boston Globe Looks at Police DUI Cases

From the Boston Globe:

Simpkins is one of at least 30 Massachusetts law enforcement officials who have been charged with drunken driving while off-duty since the start of 2012, a Globe review has found. The crashes collectively killed three people and injured more than a half-dozen others.

Though some officers resigned or were placed on unpaid leave after the charges, a majority kept their jobs, sometimes after a short suspension.

The drunken driving tally is almost certainly low because not every arrest is widely reported and officers sometimes let their peers off the hook, a practice known as “professional courtesy.” …

The Globe also found the vast majority of officers, like Simpkins, refused to take a breath test, making it harder to prosecute them criminally for drunken driving. And departments frequently went out of their way to accommodate them — keeping officers on the payroll even after they temporarily lost their licenses for refusing the test and could no longer do their regular duties….

The Globe’s findings saddened Ron Bersani of Marshfield, whose 13-year-old granddaughter was killed by a drunk driver in 2003, inspiring “Melanie’s Law” to combat drunken driving.

“I think people in public service should be held to a higher standard, but that is apparently not the case,” said Bersani, grandfather of Melanie Powell. “It is enormously frustrating.”

Dana Holmes Files Lawsuit for Illegal Strip Search

Police arrested Dana Holmes on a DUI charge.

The controversy concerns what they did to her later at the police station.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Dana Holmes was drunk, naked and being recorded on video.

The 33-year-old was facedown on the floor of a LaSalle County jail cell while cameras captured images of her nude body on the facility’s video system. Minutes earlier, four deputies — three men and a woman — had pulled her to the ground and carried her into the cell, where they quickly and forcibly stripped Holmes and walked out with her clothes.

“There was no excuse or anything to give them a reason to put their hands on me,” said Holmes, who filed a federal lawsuit against LaSalle County authorities Monday. “I was just scared. I didn’t want them to have any reason to come back inside.”

Holmes, whose blood-alcohol level registered nearly three times the legal limit when she was arrested for drunken driving earlier in the night, said she lay on the floor crying. After a few minutes, the cell door opened, and a deputy tossed in a pile of blankets and what authorities describe as a “padded suit.”

More than an hour later, when deputies fingerprinted and photographed Holmes, she was covered only in one of the blankets wrapped around her body, the jail video showed. It was provided to the Tribune by Holmes’ attorneys. The images show several male officers entering the room as a still-inebriated Holmes struggles to keep the blanket around her shoulders while being fingerprinted.

Holmes, who lives in Coal City and works at a local convenience store, alleges the LaSalle County sheriff’s department and four deputies violated her civil rights after her May arrest and caused her emotional harm by stripping her naked without legal justification for such a search.

Her lawyer, Terry Ekl, said he planned to seek a meeting with the LaSalle County state’s attorney to contend the officers committed official misconduct by deliberately strip-searching Holmes without justification.

“It’s not only a violation of her civil rights. It’s also a crime,” said Ekl, who provided the Tribune with copies of the video as well as written reports filed by sheriff’s officers and Marseilles police. The lawyer said the video and documents were produced by authorities in court as part of her DUI case….

Sheriff’s officers did not note any justification for removing her clothes, nor did they note any suspicion that she was hiding a weapon or drugs. She had already been searched by Marseilles police officers who arrested her, according to their report. She also was monitored by a female Marseilles officer while she used the bathroom at the police station there.

Under Illinois law, a strip-search is permitted only when officers have a “reasonable belief” that the subject is hiding a weapon or a controlled substance on their body. The law also requires that the strip-search be done by an officer of the same sex as the subject and cannot be observed by people not conducting the search.

An expert on criminal procedure said it was hard to see what legal justification sheriff’s officers may have believed they had for a strip-search, regardless of Holmes’ demeanor.

“Nothing in the statute says resisting arrest is justification for a strip-search,” said Len Cavise, who teaches criminal law at the DePaul University College of Law.

How Many DUIs Will It Take?

From Jacksonville.com:

A 40-year-old Jacksonville police officer with a history of DUIs since her 2004 hire was charged Tuesday with five counts of driving under the influence causing damage as well as multiple hit-and-runs, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Diana Laura Jones, who was off duty, also was cited with reckless driving after officers found her in her truck eating a hamburger after three cars were hit in an Atlantic Boulevard parking lot and another on Hodges Boulevard, according to her arrest report.

Undersheriff Dwain Senterfitt said he had fired Jones after a DUI investigation in 2011, but an arbitrator reinstated her. Senterfitt said he is frustrated she was rehired and is now under investigation a third time

 

Trooper of the Year

From the New York Times:

Ms. Steed pulled over Julie Tapia for speeding as she was driving home. Ms. Tapia was giving a ride to her ex-husband, who had been drinking, but Ms. Tapia herself does not drink, the suit said.

Ms. Steed claimed Ms. Tapia failed a field sobriety test and arrested her. But blood tests showed no presence of impairing drugs or alcohol in her system, according to the suit. The charges were ultimately dismissed.

Michael Studebaker, another lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said that he believes there are at least hundreds of additional tainted arrests involving Ms. Steed. “The 40 or so individuals that have contacted us have to be the tip of the iceberg because Steed arrested many other people,” he said. “Her actions are so blatant, that it is probable that she acted like this in an untold number of cases.”

Wake up, put uniform on, smear some innocent people with false charges, then call it a day.   She was thriving — Trooper of the Year!  Promotions seemed “inevitable.”   If the evidence turns out to be as damning as it seems, her exposure is so much more than a “bad apple.”  It exposes  a dangerously dysfunctional system.

 

Grandmother Struck and Killed by Drunk Driving NY Officer

From the Village Voice:

A former NYPD detective — whose BAC was more than three times the legal limit when he plowed into a Bronx grandmother with a cop car — was convicted of manslaughter yesterday.

Former Detective Kevin Spellman, however, beat the rap on the most serious charges against him (aggravated vehicular homicide and first-degree vehicular manslaughter) in the death of 66-year-old Drane Nikac, who was struck by the tipsy former detective on October 30, 2009, as she was walking near the intersection of West 232nd St. and Kingsbridge Avenue in the Bronx.

Following the accident, Spellman refused a breathalyzer test, and his BAC wasn’t tested until five hours after he slammed into the Bronx grandmother while driving erratically in his NYPD-owned Chevy Impala.

The article says that Spellman retired.  If there is a pension, how about we cancel that, or divert it to the Nikac estate?

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.