UPDATE: “Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said he asked the FBI to get involved after learning that one of two phones seized from witnesses had no footage on it.” Hmm.
Since this web site is all about police misconduct, we cannot let the twentieth anniversary of the Waco incident pass without comment.
April 19, 1993 marks the worst police action in modern American history. Here are the main things to know:
- 76 people, including 27 children, died that day. That loss of life is a sufficient explanation as to why this incident is important and worth remembering.
- The federal police operation did not involve a handful of “rogue” agents. The incident is disturbing because it supposedly involved the best units of the ATF and the FBI. And much of the decision-making was done by the top people at headquarters facilities in Washington, DC.
- Make no mistake, crimes were committed by federal agents at Waco. And those crimes were covered-up.
- If the feds can successfully cover-up the worst police action in modern American history–an event that was highly publicized and that eventually brought extensive congressional hearings and the appointment of a special prosecutor– it is frightening to consider what police agencies would be able to get away in instances where there is no media scrutiny or legislative oversight.
For those interested in the details, read this paper that we published in 2001 (I also recommend the documentary film, Waco: The Rules of Engagement, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1997). For today, let me just highlight some facts for all the people who do not have the time or inclination to study the details.
- When the Branch Davidian residence burned to the ground and it became apparent that the FBI tank assault on April 19 backfired–resulting in almost everyone losing their lives, Attorney General Janet Reno told the media that the reason she ordered the assault was because “babies were being beaten” – so the feds had no choice–they just had to move in. About a week later, Reno testified before Congress. Under oath, she admitted she had no evidence that babies were being beaten! What!?
- The FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team kept saying they were there to save lives and that they were especially concerned about the safety of the children in the residence. But their tanks drove into the side of buildings even as the agents admitted they did not know the whereabouts of the children.
- Some of the Branch Davidians survived the inferno of April 19. They were arrested and charged with “murdering ATF agents.” In a stinging rebuke to the federal prosectors, the jury acquitted the Davidians of those very serious charges.
- One of the primary reasons the cover-up was successful was that government officials kept deflecting attention away from their actions to the Branch Davidian leader, David Koresh. And, later, the feds would deflect attention by pointing out the crimes of the Oklahoma City bombers. The feds seemed to taunt everyone with the question, “Who are you going to side with? Koresh? McVeigh and Nicols?” That was always a false choice. One can, for example, condemn excessive force against a shoplifter without “siding with” shoplifting.
- There are, to be sure, some wild conspiracy theories out there about the feds and Waco. But the existence of a conspiracy theorist(s) does not make all government conduct lawful and ethical, at least in logic.
What’s the takeaway from all this? First, recognize that this awful incident really did happen. Crimes were committed and then the government tried to deceive everyone about what actually happened there. Second, when it comes to government power, especially police power and the use of deadly force, be impartial, ask questions, and follow the evidence. We must remember that, in a free society, police agents may not use the “color of their office” to commit crimes.
Update: Podcast interview here.
From the Associated Press:
Although Fry testified he only remembered stunning Boucher three times, information downloaded from the device showed he used it six times in a 75-second span.
A third officer, Bradley Walker, testified that when he arrived at the scene, he saw McCormick hit a motionless Boucher with the baton about five times and saw Fry use his stun gun on him.
The officers handcuffed Boucher, patted him down and turned him over, only to find that he wasn’t breathing and his face was covered in blood. Boucher was dead minutes later despite attempts to revive him.
Ethan Saylor had Down syndrome. He was in a movie theatre and Zero Dark Thirty had just ended. Saylor wanted to watch the film all over again. A theatre employee said he either had to buy another ticket or leave. When Saylor didn’t budge, they called security, which turned out to be some off-duty sheriff’s deputies working security in the mall. The deputies claim Saylor resisted arrest and died while being restrained. The coroner has now ruled Saylor’s death a homicide.
According to a story in today’s Washington Post, Saylor idolized the police and loved to watch police TV shows. Here’s an excerpt:
When Foss learned of Saylor’s death, he said, he informed about 60 members of the church that night. The following Sunday, they brought bouquets to fill Saylor’s empty chair. The flowers overflowed onto the floor and an adjoining seat.
Cam Overs has a son Saylor’s age and has been friends with his family for 30 years. He remembered how Saylor would run curiously toward whatever caught his eye and was a pro at hide and seek because he had the endurance to stay in the same spot until he was found.
Saylor would get breakfast with Overs every Sunday at McDonald’s. Both scoffed at change, and so their orders were always the same: a No. 1 for Overs and a No. 7 for Saylor.
“Now I don’t have my buddy for breakfast every Sunday morning,” Overs said. “There’s a void that nobody expected.”
Overs said Saylor knew how to spell “satellite” because of his fascination with satellite photos and was thrilled when Overs’s son Jonathan, who is in the military, brought him a Kevlar vest. Overs said Saylor didn’t understand that he could call a non-emergency number for the police and dialed 911 so often that he was known to members of the law enforcement community.
On the day of Saylor’s funeral, two law enforcement officers sent a text that was read aloud; it said they, too, would miss him.
“What a fitting memorial it would be if a training module was created in his name,” Overs said, “so no other family or police force would have to suffer this pain.”
A spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s office says “We’re taking it very seriously.” The deputies involved in the incident, however, have thus far declined to speak with investigators.
One would think that such noncooperation would be unacceptable under the circumstances. Can’t the Sheriff call them in and say, “A young man lost his life in your custody. I want to know what happened and why. If you decline to answer, surrender your badge and gun.”
That sounds like a sensible response to me, but the law is perverted. There is a Supreme Court precedent on the books by the name of Garrity v. New Jersey–and that case says the above procedure would violate a police officer’s right against self-incrimination. The reasoning was lousy. If the officers accused of wrongdoing want to remain silent and speak to a lawyer–that is their right, just the same as everyone else. What they cannot do is remain silent and also demand to keep exercising police powers in the community. If the police commanders determine that a sworn officer’s conduct is egregious or criminal, the culprit should be given his walking papers.
Garrity is an obstacle to police accountability and should be overturned. In 1967, the year it was decided, four Supreme Court justices thought it was a mistake. Here is an excerpt from their dissenting opinion:
It can hardly be denied that New Jersey is permitted by the Constitution to establish reasonable qualifications and standards of conduct for its public employees. Nor can it be said that it is arbitrary or unreasonable for New Jersey to insist that its employees furnish the appropriate authorities with information pertinent to their employment. Cf. Beilan v. Board of Education, 357 U.S. 399 ; Slochower v. Board of Education, 350 U.S. 551 . Finally, it is surely plain that New Jersey may in particular require its employees to assist in the prevention and detection of unlawful activities by officers of the state government. The urgency of these requirements is the more obvious here, where the conduct in question is that of officials directly entrusted with the administration of justice. The importance for our systems of justice [385 U.S. 493, 508] of the integrity of local police forces can scarcely be exaggerated. Thus, it need only be recalled that this Court itself has often intervened in state criminal prosecutions precisely on the ground that this might encourage high standards of police behavior. See, e. g., Ashcraft v. Tennessee, 322 U.S. 143 ; Miranda v. Arizona, supra. It must be concluded, therefore, that the sanction at issue here is reasonably calculated to serve the most basic interests of the citizens of New Jersey.
Garrity came down in the heyday of the liberal Warren Court. Today’s Supreme Court is much more conservative–and it is highly doubtful that Justice William O. Douglas’s fanciful interpretation of the self-incrimination clause would find the support of five justices. Here’s the thing: In order to get the Supreme Court to reconsider Garrity, the precedent has to be challenged. Right now, police chiefs around the country abide the current rule with a shrug, “Can’t do anything about this situation.”
What we need is a good test case. Maybe this Saylor incident is the case, maybe it isn’t. But where the evidence of police wrongdoing is strong and the culprits invoke their “Garrity rights” and decline to tell investigators what happened, we need a police chief to fire them. Let the discharged officers appeal their case to the Supreme Court so that the justices can overturn Garrity.
From the Washington Post:
Other Maryland students were roughed up and badly injured by the police after the basketball game. At least three were knocked unconscious; two of them required medical care. Nine students (in addition to Mr. McKenna) received a total of $1.6 million in settlements from the county stemming from police violence.
In the absence of video evidence in those cases, the officers who used Maryland students as punching bags faced no disciplinary consequences. Amazingly, the police department’s internal affairs division, which handled the abuse complaints, did not even interview most of the students who were injured. It follows that if no video had surfaced of Mr. McKenna’s beating, that too would have been swept under the rug of police impunity and official indifference.
Read the whole thing. You really should do it.
From the Washington Post:
IF A WITNESS hadn’t shot video of two Prince George’s County police officers savagely beating John McKenna, a University of Maryland student, after a March 2010 men’s basketball game, that would probably have been the end of it. The officers didn’t file a report, as required, on their use of force. When initially questioned about the beating, they lied. And when they filled out the initial paperwork on the incident, police said Mr. McKenna had sustained his injuries, including a concussion, from being kicked by a police horse.
Yes, a real eye-opener. Consider: If there was no video, the cover-up would have succeeded. Even with compelling videotaped evidence of wrongdoing, just a slap on the writs–just enough to say, “something was done about it.”
13 officers fire 137 rounds and kill Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.
Police say they fired in self-defense.
Russell ended up on a dead-end access road to an East Cleveland middle school, where the officers from various jurisdictions converged with the 13 Cleveland officers.
They surrounded the Malibu, and some officers were out of their cars when Russell rammed another police car, Gardner said.
Police are trained to use deadly force to stop a suspect from using a vehicle as a weapon. They opened fire.
The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office is running gunshot-residue tests on Russell’s and Williams’ hands to determine if either fired a gun. The results should be in before week’s end.
No gun was found in Russell’s car or along the chase route. No bullet or casing was found outside the Justice Center.
Pathologists at the Medical Examiner’s Office removed 20 rounds from Russell’s body and 16 from Williams’ body. They both had additional wounds from bullets that entered and exited their bodies — Russell had 30 wounds, Williams had 20, an investigator said.
Video from California Highway Patrol here.
So much wrong here. The entire encounter with the police seems dubious. The use of the taser was unnecessary and excessive.
Some like to point out that the prisons are not filled with marijuana users. True, but what’s hard to see are the countless injustices that go on because marijuana is illegal. Ms. Jones was fearful of a search of her purse, which contained some marijuana. If marijuana were legal, she would not have been concerned and this tragic incident would not have happened.
Recall that the rationale behind the criminalization of marijuana is to protect people: keep them healthy and safe. More and more people are recognizing that the war on drugs makes things worse, not better.
From the Chicago Tribune:
Obrycka was working at a Northwest Side tavern when Abbate, after an afternoon of heavy drinking, staggered behind the bar. She tried to stop him; he threw her to the floor and repeatedly punched her in the face and head, pressing his foot against her body for leverage as he swung his fists. When other patrons intervened, he left the tavern. She called 911.
Rather than investigate her claims fully and arrest Abbate, responding officers left crucial information off their reports, according to her lawsuit. They did not include Abbate’s last name, even though she wrote down how she thought it was spelled. The officers were told that a security camera recorded the beating, but they didn’t mention it in their account, or ask to view it. Obrycka says she told them the offender was a police officer. That detail? Also missing.
Obrycka was the lady bartender beaten by off-duty Chicago cop, Abbate. Previous coverage here.