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Trouble in Chicago

From a New York Times editorial:

The cover-up that began 13 months ago when a Chicago police officer executed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald on a busy street might well have included highly ranked officials who ordered subordinates to conceal information. But the conspiracy of concealment exposed last week when the city, under court order, finally released a video of the shooting could also be seen as a kind of autonomic response from a historically corrupt law enforcement agency that is well versed in the art of hiding misconduct, brutality — and even torture.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel demonstrated a willful ignorance when he talked about the murder charges against the police officer who shot Mr. McDonald, seeking to depict the cop as a rogue officer. He showed a complete lack of comprehension on Tuesday when he explained that he had decided to fire his increasingly unpopular police superintendent, Garry McCarthy, not because he failed in his leadership role, but because he had become “a distraction.”

Mr. Emanuel’s announcement that he had appointed a task force that will review the Police Department’s accountability procedures is too little, too late. The fact is, his administration, the Police Department and the prosecutor’s office have lost credibility on this case.

Still more on cover-up allegations here.

Protests in Chicago: The Laquan McDonald Shooting

From the Chicago Tribune:

Hours after a Chicago police officer was ordered held without bond on a first-degree murder charge, the city released a shocking police dash-cam video that captured the white officer opening fire on an African American teen on a Southwest Side street, striking him 16 times and killing him.

The video is about six minutes long and appears to show 17-year-old Laquan McDonald running down the middle of Pulaski Road near 41st Street when Officer Jason Van Dyke, standing next to his SUV, opens fire….

The case marks the first time a Chicago police officer has been charged with first-degree murder for an on-duty fatality in nearly 35 years. Van Dyke faces a minimum of 20 years in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.

The charge comes less than a week after a Cook County judge ordered the release of a video that Emanuel’s administration had long sought to keep out of public view. As the mayor urged prosecutors to conclude their investigation Monday, he met with community leaders and aldermen to defend his handling of the controversy amid criticism that City Hall has not done enough to address police misconduct.

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.

NYPD: New Use-of-Force Guidelines Issued after Highly Critical Report Released

This morning, the NYPD Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report that found police leadership ignored over 35 percent of sustained excessive force complaints against its officers. This afternoon, New York Police Commissioner William Bratton announced new use-of-force guidelines to improve reporting and responsiveness. The guidelines will require NYPD officers to document and grade each use of force occurrence on duty. They also require officers to intervene if they witness a fellow officer using excessive force.

According to BuzzFeed:

The scathing [OIG] report, the first of its kind prepared by the new regulatory agency, was based on an analysis of 179 cases from 2010 through 2014 in which the Civilian Complaint and Review Board, the independent agency that investigates police misconduct, found that officers had used excessive force. The report also examined internal NYPD records for over 100 of those cases.

Among the Inspector General’s most troubling findings was the fact that top department brass declined to discipline a large portion of officers who were found to have used excess force. In 36% of the cases where independent investigators found evidence of misconduct, the police commissioner, who ultimately decides the fate of police officers accused of wrongdoing, “refused to impose any form of discipline.”

In spite of these revelations, NYPD’s largest union objected to the new reporting requirements. Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolence Association, told BuzzFeed, “more paperwork coupled with a serious shortage of police officers and the continual second-guessing of their actions is a formula for disaster.”

The OIG also found the percentage of sustained force complaints that garnered no discipline is down considerably under Commissioner Bratton’s leadership. This decline indicates that Bratton’s NYPD is serious about addressing these entrenched problems of responsiveness, union objections notwithstanding.

As the nation’s largest police department, the NYPD often sets the operational standard (for good or ill) for many of law enforcement agencies across the country. Police departments and reformers alike will be watching closely as the NYPD implements these new guidelines.

You can read today’s OIG report here. You can read more about the new guidelines from yesterday’s preview in the New York Times. And you can read my testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on the widespread lack of transparency regarding the use of force and officer discipline here.

Worst of the Month — August 2015

So for August it was the case of Officer Kevin McGowan.  According to news reports, Patrick D’Labik, age 18, admits to running away from the police.  He said he ran because he had some marijuana in his pocket and did not want to go to jail.  Officer McGowan caught up with D’Labik in a convenience store and the encounter was caught on the store’s surveillance tape (video at the link above).  D’Labik has his hands raised in surrender and is in the process of getting on the floor when McGowan kicks him in the face.

When police commanders saw the surveillance tape, they concluded it was unnecessary, excessive force and fired McGowan.

Wait, McGowan is now back on patrol because the city’s Civil Service Board reinstated him.

A Retired Baltimore Police Officer Speaks Out

Michael A. Wood Jr. is a retired Baltimore police officer. This morning, he tweeted a series of troubling, illegal, and disturbing incidents he witnessed while on the force. I have Storified them below. Warning: these tweets contain graphic language. You can follow him on Twitter @MichaelAWoodJr .

PC=probable cause ; CDS=controlled deadly substance (drugs)

The Samantha Ramsey Shooting

From Fox19.com:

The family of Samantha Ramsey filed a federal civil rights and wrongful death suit Wednesday against Boone County Deputy Tyler Brockman and Boone County.

A grand injury declined to indict Deputy Brockman in November of last year in the death of 19-year-old Ramsey.

Attorney Al Gerhardstein, one of the attorneys on the case stated, “This deputy was not indicted or disciplined. He was wrong to jump onto the car; shoot while Samantha was slowing down; and wrong to shoot at this young lady at all before he jumped back off the hood.  Samantha’s shooing and death was completely unnecessary and avoidable.”

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Covington.  The issues raised by the shooting match those raised in numerous other police shootings across the nation where police have killed unarmed civilians, according to a release.

The Laquan McDonald Case

From New York Times editorial:

 

[T]he [City] Council awarded $5 million to the family of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager who was shot 16 times by a police officer in October. The shooting spawned a federal investigation, rattled public trust and raised troubling accusations of a police cover-up. The Council’s decision to pay was made before a lawsuit was filed, but this cannot be the end of the case. The city needs to release a police dash-cam video of the shooting that it has withheld on grounds that releasing it might interfere with the federal investigation….

Over the last seven years, Chicago police have killed more 120 people. Mr. Emanuel described the reparations plan as a way to bring a dark chapter of the city’s history to a close. But, even as he spoke, federal and state investigators were combing the city for information about the McDonald shooting.

Last October, a spokesman for the police union said that officers shot the teenager because he refused drop a knife he was carrying. Witnesses have said that he was moving away from the officers and was shot while lying on the ground.

A lawyer for the family who had viewed a police video taken at the scene told the Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell last week that Mr. McDonald was not menacing the officers or running when he was shot and that the officer continued to fire once the young man had fallen. He further asserted that 86 minutes of surveillance video taken by security cameras at a Burger King restaurant near the scene of the shooting had gone missing and that Chicago detectives had visited the restaurant.

Hmm.

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.

Tulsa County Shooting

From the Tulsa World:

Robert Bates, the reserve Tulsa County deputy who fatally shot a man who was in a physical altercation with another deputy last week, has donated thousands of dollars worth of items to the Sheriff’s Office since becoming a reserve deputy in 2008.

Bates, 73, accidentally shot Eric Harris on Thursday, according to Maj. Shannon Clark, after Harris — the subject of an undercover gun and ammunition buy by the Sheriff’s Office’s Violent Crimes Task Force — fled from arrest and then fought with a deputy who tackled him. Bates, Clark said, thought he was holding a stun gun when he pulled the trigger….

First Assistant District Attorney John David Luton said Monday that the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office had not received the case from the Sheriff’s Office but would seek to “move quickly” on a decision on possible charges against the reserve deputy once presented with the case.

Video of the shooting at the link above.