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National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Worst of the Month — August

So for August we have selected the Baltimore Police Department (BPD).  Although the misconduct has been festering for many years, our selection is based upon the investigative findings of the Department of Justice, which were published in a report last month.

Here are a few of those findings:

  • The BPD engages in a pattern or practice of making unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests;
  • The BPD engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force;
  • The BPD engages in a pattern or practice of retaliating against people engaging in constitutionally-protected speech;
  • The BPD has allowed violations of policy to go unaddressed even when they are widespread or involve serious misconduct;
  • The BPD has failed to take action against offenders known to engage in repeated misconduct.

Because the problems run deep, it would be a mistake to focus all of our attention on the police department itself.  The political establishment of Baltimore knew there were problems, but failed to address them.  It remains to be seen whether the reform rhetoric we have been hearing will be followed by real action.

Worst of the Month — July

So for July we’ve chosen the case from Berrien County, Tennessee where the former sheriff pled guilty to beating up prisoners in-custody.  These prisoners were in handcuffs and were not resisting or threatening anyone.  Here’s an excerpt from the local news:

According to Heath’s guilty plea, on Jan. 12, 2012, Heath and deputies from the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office were engaged in a foot chase of an individual identified only as M.V., who had been banned from traveling through the county. During the chase, Heath saw M.V. and called out to him, “You better not run or I will beat your a**,” or words to that effect, according to the justice department. M.V. reportedly responded by running into a nearby wooded area.

Heath and deputies followed M.V. into the woods, where a deputy eventually saw M.V. and arrested him without incident. When a deputy reported that M.V. was in custody, Heath reportedly ordered deputies to wait and hold M.V. in the woods. When Heath arrived, M.V. was lying face down on the ground, with his hands handcuffed behind his back and was not resisting arrest, according to the press release.

Heath kicked M.V. in the ribs, punched him in the head with a closed fist multiple times and forcefully kneed him in the ribs multiple times, causing M.V. to experience pain and have difficulty breathing, according to the justice department.

Read the whole thing.  The former sheriff, Anthony Heath, is facing two counts of violating civil rights under the color of law.  Each count carries a maximum sentence of ten years, but the actual sentence is expected to be far less.

We are of course aware of several officer-involved shootings last month that received national and international attention.  Alton Sterling was killed in Baton Rouge; Philando Castile was killed in Minnesota;  Paul O’Neal was killed in Chicago; and Charles Kinsey was shot and wounded in North Miami.  The investigations into these incidents are underway and we will, as usual, be posting updates.

Worst of the Month — April

James King was minding his own business when he was confronted by two menacing men.   King didn’t know these men and he wanted to get away from them, but they chased him and beat him up.

Turns out the men were police officers working on a fugitive task force.  They thought King was one of their fugitives, but they were mistaken about that.  They were out of uniform when they confronted King and, according to King’s lawsuit, they did not identify themselves as police officers.  Worried about his own safety, King ran away from them.

One of the officers put King in a chokehold till he lost consciousness.  When King came to, he again feared for his own safety and bit the arm of one of the officers in a gambit to get away from them.  The bite infuriated the officer, who then unleashed a torrent of punches on King’s face and head.

Bystanders were alarmed by what they were witnessing and they called 911.  The responding officer, for his part, told the witnesses to delete the cell phone videos of the incident.  He was worried about the safety of the officers, who had undercover jobs.  They shouldn’t be recorded.

When things settled down, and the police realized their mistake, they decided to arrest King anyway.  He fought back during his arrest–that’s a crime.

Prosecutors evidently agreed that King needed to be punished–so they charged him with three felonies.

King declined to plea bargain and insisted on a jury trial.  The jury acquitted him of all charges.

A civil lawsuit is now pending.   There’s no indication of any discipline for the officers involved.  They’re apparently still out there policing.

Chicago’s Police Accountability Task Force

Last December Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel formed a task force to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the Chicago Police Department.  That move followed calls for Emanuel’s resignation in the wake of the video release of the Laquan McDonald shooting.

The Task Force released its report yesterday.  Here is an excerpt:

The public has lost faith in the oversight system. Every stage of investigations and discipline is plagued by serious structural and procedural flaws that make real accountability nearly impossible. The collective bargaining agreements provide an unfair advantage to officers, and the investigating agencies—IPRA and CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs—are under-resourced, lack true independence and are not heldaccountable for their work. Even where misconduct is found to have occurred, officers are frequently able to avoid meaningful consequences due to an opaque, drawn out and unscrutinized disciplinary process… Any one of these metrics in isolation is troubling, but taken together, the only conclusion that can be reached is that there is no serious embrace by CPD leadership of the need to make accountability a core value. These statistics give real credibility to the widespread perception that there is a deeply entrenched code of silence supported not just by individual officers, but by the very institution itself….Simply put, there is no ownership of the issue within CPD leadership or elsewhere, and thus there have been no substantive efforts to address these problems which continue to cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars each year.

The full report is close to 200 pages and we have not yet studied the whole thing.  Most of the criticism is directed at the police department itself–and it is damning.  The executive summary says little about Mayor Emanuel or his culpability.  Hmm.

Washington Post Tallies Fatal Shootings Where Officers Are Not Identified

From the Washington Post:

Nationwide, 210 people were fatally shot last year by police officers who have not been publicly identified by their departments.

In 2015, police in the United States shot and killed 990 people, according to a Washington Post database of fatal police shootings. The vast majority of those killed by police were armed with guns or had attacked or threatened officers or civilians. The Post is continuing to track fatal shootings in 2016, recording more than 250 through March. The Post is also filing open-records requests seeking additional information about each shooting, including information about the officers involved, data that is not tracked by any federal agency.

For 2015, reporters obtained the names of officers responsible for 780 of the 990 shootings. In about 600 shootings, officers’ names were disclosed by police departments in news reports. In a handful of cases, names came to light through lawsuits or leaks to the news media. Where the names remained unknown, The Post contacted the departments and requested the officers’ identities.

In 145 fatal shootings, the departments declined to release the names to The Post, citing pending investigations, state or federal records laws, agreements with police unions or department policies. In another 65 fatal shootings, the departments did not respond to multiple requests for information.

Former Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey is interviewed and he notes that a double standard is often employed.  When the shooting death is deemed heroic, the officer is identified.  When the shooting is questionable, the officer is not identified.  Read the whole thing.

For additional background on transparency and policing, go here.

Police Code of Silence

From ABC News:

For more than a year after an officer shot and killed a black teen named Laquan McDonald, the Chicago Police Department had video footage that raised serious doubts about whether other officers at the scene tried in their reports to cover up what prosecutors now contend was murder.

Not until 15 months later was one of those officers and a detective who concluded the shooting was justified put on desk duty. At least eight other officers failed to recount the same scene that unfolded on the video. All of them remain on the street, according to the department.

The lack of swift action illustrates the difficulty of confronting the “code of silence” that has long been associated with police in Chicago and elsewhere. The obstacles include disciplinary practices that prevent the police chief himself from firing problem officers and a labor contract that prevents officers from being held accountable if a video surfaces that contradicts their testimony.

“If they are not going to analyze officers’ reports and compare them to objective evidence like the video, why would the officers ever stop lying?” asked Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor.

 

Worst of the Month — January 2016

So for January, it was the case from Suffolk County, New York, involving now former police officer, Scott Greene.  He was convicted of repeated instances of theft.

According to the evidence introduced at his criminal trial, Greene would target Hispanic drivers, pull them over, order them to surrender their wallets, or invent a reason to search their vehicles and then steal cash located inside.  By stealing from persons he thought were illegal immigrants, Greene thought his victims would not come forward to file any complaint.  And he would enrich himself by using his police powers.  Prosecutor Tom Spota called Greene a “thief with a badge” and says he will be seeking the maximum possible prison sentence–about four years.

Alas, there are problems in the Suffolk department even beyond Greene.  The recently departed chief, James Burke, has been indicted for abusing a suspect and then coercing his subordinate officers to cover up his crime.  Local community activists say the department is so corrupt that they want a federal takeover.  Stay tuned about that.

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:

 

 

Chicago Pays Millions to Settle Police Killings

From the New York Times:

The release last month of a 2014 video showing a Chicago police officer fatally shooting another teenager, Laquan McDonald, has upended this city. The police superintendent, Garry F. McCarthy, was forced out despite a reduction in crime citywide. So was the leader of an authority charged with disciplining officers. The Justice Department has opened an investigation into possible civil rights abuses by the Police Department. Demonstrators call nearly every day for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign.

But the Chicago Police Department’s record of brutality began long before Mr. McDonald, 17, lay crumpled on Pulaski Road. For decades — back to violent clashes at the Democratic National Convention in 1968 and the confessions coerced by a “midnight crew” of detectivesaccused of using suffocation, electric shock and Russian roulette on black men in the 1970s and 1980s — the Chicago police have wrestled with allegations of torture, racism, weak oversight and a code of silence….

In Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, officers shot and killed 70 people, most of them black, in a five-year span ending in 2014. That was the most among the nation’s 10 largest cities during the same period, according to the Better Government Association, a nonprofit watchdog organization.

 

Worst of the Month — November

So for the month of November we have selected the case of Roger Carlos, who was severely beaten by officers with the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD).  According to news reports, Mr. Carlos had done nothing wrong.  He was apparently just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Here’s what reportedly happened.  SAPD police were hunting for a suspect on drugs and weapons charges.  In a case of mistaken identity, officers swarmed on poor Mr. Carlos.  And even though Mr. Carlos complied with their commands, they just kept hitting him.

Mr. Carlos’s wife, Ronnie, still can’t believe this has happened.  The couple has three boys under the age of ten–but their father is now paralyzed from the chest down.  Doctors are also concerned he may have difficulty breathing down the road.  The medical bills for multiple surgeries are enormous.

After reviewing the case, a police discipline board recommended 15-day suspensions for three officers involved.  The Police Chief, William McManus, thought that recommendation was wrong.  He shortened each of the suspensions to five days.