National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Dept of Justice to Investigate Baltimore

Attorney General Loretta Lynch has just announced a federal “pattern and practice” investigation of the Baltimore Police Department.   This is a mistake.  We already know serious problems exist there.  A report is unnecessary.  Baltimore’s elected officials should be taking bold steps right now to overhaul the police department.  Governor Hogan should also be more engaged to propose and move on necessary reforms.  A federal investigation will result in unnecessary delay.  More here later…

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.

 

Philadelphia Police Shootings

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Roughly once a week, 390 times over the past eight years, Philadelphia police officers opened fire at a suspect. The shootings involved 454 officers, most of them on patrol. Almost always, the suspects were black. Often, the officers were, too.

Fifty-nine suspects were unarmed. Officers frequently said they thought the men — and they were almost always men — were reaching for a weapon, when they were actually doing something like holding a cellphone.

The statistics were laid out in a Justice Department report on Monday, which does not allege racial discrimination but offers an unusually deep look at the use of lethal force inside a major city police department, including information on the race of officers and suspects. It is the kind of data that has been nearly absent from the debate over police tactics that began last summer with a deadly shooting in Ferguson, Mo.

Only a handful of major departments regularly publish statistics on police shootings, and those that do are not always consistent. That makes comparing the records of police departments difficult. But even with such spotty figures, Philadelphia stands out when compared with the public data in other cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. In many years, Philadelphia saw more police shootings than New York, a city with five times the number of residents and officers.

“I want to express regrets for all who have been shot and killed in Philadelphia — civilian and police officers,” Mayor Michael A. Nutter said at a news conference Monday.

Dept of Justice Report Clears Darren Wilson in Shooting Death of Michael Brown

In our view, a prominent case deserves a prominent Update.  Last week, the Department of Justice concluded its investigation into the shooting death of Michael Brown.  Here is the key finding from that report:

[T]he Department has concluded that Darren Wilson’s actions do not constitute prosecutable violations under the applicable federal criminal civil rights statute, 18 U.S.C. § 242, which prohibits uses of deadly force that are “objectively unreasonable,” as defined by the United States Supreme Court. The evidence, when viewed as a whole, does not support the conclusion that Wilson’s uses of deadly force were “objectively unreasonable” under the Supreme Court’s definition. Accordingly, under the governing federal law and relevant standards set forth in the USAM, it is not appropriate to present this matter to a federal grand jury for indictment, and it should therefore be closed without prosecution.
Full report here. More here and here.

Worst of the Month – December 2014

It goes to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Seven now-former deputies conspired to hide a career criminal from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI was investigating allegations of abuse and poor conditions in the L.A. County Jail, and the inmate in question was apparently willing to testify against the sheriff’s department. To protect themselves, the deputies effectively kidnapped the prisoner to obstruct the federal investigation. According to the news report, the prisoner’s “name was changed, his records jacket was hidden and computer records were altered to make it appear that [he] had been released from LASD custody.”  The last of the former deputies was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his role in the cover-up in December. The other six former deputies involved were also convicted and sentenced.

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.”

Feds to the Rescue?

James Bovard on Attorney General Eric Holder’s record:

Attorney General Eric Holder arrives today in Ferguson, Missouri, in response to the unrest after a local policeman shot 18-year-old Mike Brown. Holder assured the people of Missouri: “Our investigation into this matter will be full, it will be fair, and it will be independent.”

But Holder’s own record belies his lofty promise. As the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia from 1993 to 1997, Holder was in charge of policing the local police. When police violence spiraled out of control, he did little to protect Washington residents from rampaging lawmen…

There was such a dearth of oversight from Holder’s office that Washington police failed to count almost a third of the people killed by their officers between 1994 and 1997. Even when police review boards ruled that shootings were unjustified or found contradictions in officers’ testimony, police were not prosecuted. In one case, a police officer shot a suspect four times in the back when he was unarmed and lying on the ground. But Holder’s office never bothered interviewing the shooter….

As the smoke clears in Ferguson, Missouri, Americans have no reason to presume that either the local police or the feds have the market cornered on truth or justice.

Read the whole thing.

Problems in Newark, NJ

From the New York Times:

A three-year federal investigation has found that the Newark Police Department engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional practices, chiefly in its use of stop-and-frisk tactics, unwarranted stops and arrests, and discriminatory police actions, officials said on Tuesday.

The inquiry by the Justice Department, which found that the Police Department’s practices “have eroded the community’s trust,” said that about 75 percent of pedestrian stops documented by the police did not provide a sufficient basis for the stop. Also, it found that Newark police officers stopped black people at a considerably higher rate than white people and underreported the use of force by officers, said Paul J. Fishman, the United States attorney for New Jersey. Officials also said there was a pattern of theft of citizens’ property, mostly by officers working in the narcotics, gangs and prisoner processing units.

Note this:

Chief Campos said it was unclear if officers who took part in the unconstitutional behavior cited in the Justice Department report would face consequences.

Unclear?  Hmm.

Thieves with Badges

From Philly.com:

TWO CRIMINAL investigators, part of an FBI-led task force, came to Juan Collado’s bodega in 2009 to hear his story.

Collado struggled to explain in English how a narcotics squad had barreled into his Tioga store, cut wires to his video-surveillance system and – once the cameras went dark – stole almost $10,000 and cartons of Marlboro Lights.

He asked them for a Spanish interpreter and they promised to return with one. They never did.

Now it’s too late.

Last week, news broke that federal prosecutors had decided not to file criminal charges against the officers. And the five-year statute of limitations has run out, not just in Collado’s case but for nearly two dozen other merchants with similar allegations.

“They played the clock game. They let time run out,” said Danilo Burgos, the former head of the 300-member Dominican Grocers Association

H/T: Overlawyered

Albuquerque Police: There is a Pattern of Excessive Force

CNN:

Albuquerque, New Mexico, police officers killed a 19-year-old as he “lay motionless on his back,” an unarmed drugstore robber who was walking away from officers and a 25-year-old veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who threatened to shoot himself in the head.

So says the U.S. Justice Department, which on Thursday issued a report lambasting the Albuquerque Police Department for a longstanding history of police brutality and unnecessary deadly force….

“For too long, Albuquerque officers have faced little scrutiny from their superiors in carrying out this fundamental responsibility,” the report says. “Despite the efforts of many committed individuals, external oversight is broken and has allowed the department to remain unaccountable to the communities it serves.”

To conduct its review, the Justice Department “reviewed thousands of pages of documents, including written policies and procedures, internal reports, data, video footage, and investigative files,” the report says. It also interviewed command staff, rank-and-file officers and community members, and held four community meetings where residents “provided their accounts of encounters with officers.”