National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

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.”

NYT on Police Misconduct: Millions of Americans Subjected to Intimidation

New York Times editorial:

The Justice Department report describes the Cleveland Police Department as something far closer to an occupying military force than a legitimate law enforcement agency. The officers, for example, seem to take a casual view of the use of deadly force, shooting at people who pose no threat of harm to the police or others. In one case in 2013, for example, they actually fired at a victim who had been held captive in a house — as he escaped, clad only in boxer shorts.

The report cataloged numerous incidents of wanton violence, with officers beating, pepper-spraying and Tasering people who were unarmed or had already been restrained. Officers escalated encounters with citizens instead of defusing them, making force all but inevitable.

The record in Cleveland is extreme. But aspects of illegal police conduct can be found in cities all over the country, subjecting millions to intimidation and fear that they could be killed for innocent actions.

Subjecting millions to intimidation.  Stop what you’re doing and think about that.

The Wire: Police Commanders Discuss Prospects of Grand Jury Indictment for Brutality Case

Does this scene from an HBO show tell us that the outcome in every grand jury case involving police misconduct is preordained?  Of course not.  Do prosecutors exert their power and influence to have grand juries refrain from criminal charges against police officers — even when the available evidence is incriminating?  It happens.

Cato study on grand juries here.

How Many Police Killings Are There Annually?

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a front page story titled, “Hundreds of Police Killings Uncounted in Federal Statistics.”

Here is an excerpt (sorry for no link; there is a paywall):

A Wall Street Journal analysis of the latest data from 105 of the country’s largest police agencies found more than 550 police killings during those years [2007 – 2012] were missing from the national tally or, in a few dozen cases, not attributed to the agency involved. The result: It is nearly impossible to determine how many people are killed by the police each year.

Public demands for transparency on such killings have increased since the August shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Mo. The Ferguson Police Department has reported to the FBI one justifiable homicide by police between 1976 and 2012.

Law-enforcement experts long have lamented the lack of information about killings by police. “When cops are killed, there is a very careful account and there’s a national database,” said Jeffrey Fagan, a law professor at Columbia University. “Why not the other side of the ledger?”

Good question.

However, there is an unstated bias at work here.  It is in the unfortunate title of the Journal article quoted above.  “Uncounted in Federal Statistics.”   But the Journal is hardly alone.  The bias/assumption is that the FBI “oversees” police departments across America.  Thus, it follows that those departments ought to be reporting data to the FBI.   This is incorrect.   Local police do not report to the FBI.   Often departments cooperate with one another.  Cooperation should not be confused with a legal obligation.

To clarify, we should know how many police killings there are.  We should even know more than that.  [If a guy is shot 5 times by an officer and is hospitalized for 8 months and manages to live, but is paralyzed, why should that incident not also be counted? ]    Governors should be responsible for this data-gathering task, not the federal government.   Btw, the article says, “Also missing from the FBI data are killings involving federal officers.”   Good grief.   Let the feds start there.  FBI, DEA, IRS, etc

Kudos to the Wall Street Journal for pressing police agencies around the country for this information.  Good reporting.

Related articles here and here.

The David Hooks Case

A criminal comes on to your property and steals your SUV.  Later, the criminal, perhaps still under the influence of meth, tells the police that he found drugs on your property.  The police proceed to sneak on to your property and, without announcing themselves, break down your back door.  Frightened that the criminals have returned to your home, you retrieve a gun to protect yourself and your spouse.  The police then open fire and you are killed in your own home.  By the police.

According to the Hooks family attorney, that is what happened to his client.  Here is an excerpt from the attorney’s statement:

On Wednesday, September 24th at 9:56 p.m., drug task force agent Chris Brewer made application for a search warrant before Faith Snell a non-attorney Deputy Magistrate of the Laurens County Magistrate Court. The facts submitted to Deputy Magistrate Snell to convince her that probable cause existed to issue the warrant consisted of the statement by Rodney Garrett a confessed burglar, thief, and a meth addict who was under the influence at the time of his arrest that the approximately 20 grams of methamphetamine, a digital scale, and 2 firearms found on him at the time of arrest had been stolen by him out of another vehicle at the Hooks home. Investigator Brewer also stated information he claimed came from an investigation involving Jeff Frazier. That investigation was in August 2009 over 5 years ago. A search warrant was issued at 9:56 p.m. by Judge Snell. This search warrant is invalid on its face as it does not comport with the requirements of the Constitution of State of Georgia nor the United States Constitution. Armed with an invalid search warrant and with less than an hour of preparation, at approximately 10:55 p.m. several members of the Drug Task Force and the Laurens County Sheriff’s Response Team arrived at David and Teresa Hooks home unannounced by emergency lights or sirens. There is no question the Officers were aware the home had been burglarized only two nights earlier.

David and Teresa were under the impression that the burglars were back and that a home invasion was eminent. David armed himself to protect his wife and his home. Despite the fact that the illegal search warrant did not have a “no knock” clause the Drug Task Force and SRT members broke down the back door of the family’s home and entered firing in excess of 16 shots. These shots were from multiple firearms and from both 40 caliber handguns and assault rifles. Several shots were fired through a blind wall at David with the shooters not knowing who or what was on the other side of the wall. The trajectory of the shots, coupled with the number of shots infers a clear intent on behalf of the shooters to kill David Hooks.

From WMAZ:

Lauren’s County Sheriff’s department says they are not making any more statements on this case. They are directing all questions to the GBI. They’ve not responded.

Neither agencies has identified the deputies involved in the raid, said how many of them fired shots, or said how many times Hooks was hit.

Hooks was buried on Tuesday.

Read the whole thing.

False Arrest for Spaghettios

Via Tulsa Channel 8:

GAINESVILLE, Ga. – A woman spent more than a month in jail after deputies confused leftover Spaghetti-Os for drugs.

The Gainesville Times reports, deputies arrested 23-year old Ashley Gabrielle Huff of Gainesville, after they found a spoon covered with a suspicious residue inside the car she was riding in.

Huff was booked into the Hall County Jail and charged with possession of methamphetamine.

She spent more than a month in jail after she could not afford bond, the newspaper reports. She even attempted to go through the drug court program.

When a crime lab analysis report came back, it confirmed the spoon was encrusted with spaghetti sauce, not drugs.

Huff was released after spending nearly 30 days in jail.

Problems with the Border Patrol

From the Washington Post:

FEW FEDERAL government agencies have grown as quickly as U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes the 21,000 agents, double the number in 2004, who patrol the nation’s frontiers with Mexico and Canada. That growth has been accompanied by an alarming number of incidents involving the use of lethal force, particularly along the Mexican border and all too frequently under circumstances that suggest the agency is indifferent or hostile to the most basic standards of restraint, transparency and self-policing.

Reports by news organizations and independent experts — including one report that was suppressed by Customs and Border Protection for more than a year — have finally prompted the agency to address its problems with accountability. The agency’s new commissioner, R. Gil Kerlikowske …has promised that the agency will be more forthcoming about future incidents involving the use of deadly force, which would be a constructive change from its deeply ingrained habit of stonewalling. To that end he is establishing a rapid-reaction force of investigators whose mission will be to gather evidence following incidents and allegations of abuse.

Internal Affairs Investigating Treatment of Pregnant Woman

From NBC New York:

The NYPD says its internal affairs division is investigating after a video was posted over the weekend that appeared to show officers push a pregnant woman to the ground when she tried to intervene as her son was being taken into custody.

The video, which the woman’s attorneys say was captured on Fifth Avenue at 41st Street in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park at around 2:15 a.m. Sunday, shows an officer who was trying to arrest another suspect grabbing Sandra Amezquita, who is five months pregnant, before pushing her belly-first onto the ground and then hopping atop her back.

The video then shows a second, unidentified woman being shoved to the ground in the middle of the street as she comes to help Amezquita.

Amezquita’s attorney, Sanford Rubenstein, told media Wednesday that the 43-year-old woman suffered vaginal bleeding and bruises on her arms and stomach after the encounter. He said she has persisting abdominal pain and showed a photo of bruising on her stomach.

Police Shooting in South Carolina

From NBC News:

A South Carolina state trooper who was fired after being captured on video shooting an unarmed driver during a routine traffic stop was arrested on Wednesday. Lance Corporal Sean M. Groubert was charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature in connection with the shooting in a gas station’s parking lot, which was filmed by a camera in his patrol car.

On Sept. 4, Groubert pulled over Levar Edward Jones for a seatbelt violation in Columbia, South Carolina, and subsequently shot the unarmed man in the hip. In newly released video, Groubert is heard asking Jones for his license. As Jones reaches into his car, the officer is seen moving quickly while pointing his gun and shouting, “Get out of the car!” He then fires four shots at Jones as he falls backwards away from the car with his hands in the air. Groubert cuffs the injured driver, who can be heard asking, “What did I do, sir?”

Chilling video.   To the department’s credit, upon review, the officer was promptly discharged and criminal charges are now pending.  That’s the manner in which one would expect an incident like this to be handled.   Safe to say that the video was the critical factor and that’s why body cameras are needed.

Judge Beverly J. Woodard

From the Washington Post:

IN PRINCE George’s County, it is now clear that the police, without provocation, can beat an unarmed young student senseless — with impunity. They can blatantly lie about it — with impunity. They can stonewall and cover it up for months — with impunity. They can express no remorse and offer no apology — with impunity.

The agent of this travesty of justice, and this impunity, is Judge Beverly J. Woodard of the Prince George’s County Circuit Court. Ms. Woodard has presided in the case involving John J. McKenna, a young University of Maryland student who was savagely beaten by two baton-wielding Prince George’s cops in March 2010, following a men’s basketball game on the College Park campus.

The beating of Mr. McKenna was videotaped; had it not been, the police, who filed no report and then falsely claimed that he instigated the incident and attacked them, may never have been investigated or charged. Yet despite the fact that a jury convicted one of the police officers, James Harrison Jr., of assault nearly two years ago, Ms. Woodard has now thrown the verdict out and closed the case.

Read the whole thing.