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National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

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.

Chicago Plans Reparations Fund For Torture Victims

From the New York Times:

[T]he City Council this week began considering a $5.5 million reparations package for scores of victims of abuse and torture by the police here in the 1970s and ’80s under the watch of a notorious police commander, Jon Burge. Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced his support this week for the long-sought reparations, which would include a memorial and a formal apology for the mostly black South Siders who have described being shocked with cattle prods, beaten with phone books and suffocated with plastic bags to compel confessions.

The cases involving Mr. Burge and a group of officers under his command had haunted Chicago and its Police Department for years….

[Mayor Rahm] Emanuel this week described Mr. Burge’s actions as a disgrace, adding, “We stand together as a city to try and right those wrongs and to bring this dark chapter of Chicago’s history to a close.”

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.

The Walter Scott Case

My opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times:

A generation ago, when someone complained of police misconduct, we would learn that a police spokesperson denied the accusation and that was that. Because we were not there and did not know those involved, it was impossible to draw any conclusions. There was also an understandable reluctance to believe that the local department would spread falsehoods. Now more and more incidents are captured in cellphone videos, and that means citizens can judge for themselves whether the police broke the law. Smartphones are providing us with a glimpse of the widespread abuse that policymakers have been ignoring for years and changing the world of American policing….

To a certain extent, the authorities in South Carolina deserve praise for how they handled this incident. They disclosed the identity of the officer and his disciplinary record. They turned the case over to an independent agency to avoid a conflict of interest, and those investigators followed the evidence. Many people will say that the system “worked.” Did it?

Read the whole thing here.

Btw, with this case making national news, it is a good time to blast a note to all your friends and contacts about Cato’s Police Misconduct Reporting Project.  Just a quick note saying something like “check out this website–police misconduct is more common than you may realize.”  And don’t forget to Like us on Facebook.  Thank you for considering.

Worst of the Month — March

For March, it has to be the conspiracy to frame an innocent man, Douglas Dendinger, in Bogalusa, Louisiana.

Mr. Dendinger agreed to take on the task of a “process server.”  That is, he would hand-deliver legal papers to a person who has been sued–putting that person on notice about the legal action.  In this instance, Mr. Dendinger was to serve papers upon a former police officer, Chad Cassard, who was being sued for police brutality.  Mr. Dendinger found Mr. Cassard as he was leaving the local courthouse and made the delivery.  At that moment, Mr. Cassard was in the company of several police officers and prosecutors.  These people became hostile and furious with Mr. Dendinger over what this lawsuit would mean for their friend/colleague.

Then the story takes a bizarre and disturbing turn.  Later that day, the police arrive at Mr. Dendinger’s home and place him under arrest on several charges, including two felonies (1) obstruction of justice and (2) witness intimidation.   Mr. Cassard and a few of his cohorts claimed that Mr. Dendinger had served the papers in a violent fashion.  Mr. Dendinger was in very serious legal trouble.  He was looking at many years in prison.

Fortunately, a cell phone video of the “incident” emerged.  Turns out, Mr. Dendinger did nothing wrong.  All he did was peacefully hand-deliver an envelope to Mr. Cassard.  The charges were then dropped.

But we now know that local police and prosecutors leveled false accusations about what happened that day.   Had the case proceeded to trial, it would have been Mr. Dendinger’s word against several witnesses with law enforcement backgrounds.  A jury would have been hard pressed to disbelieve several witnesses who claimed to see the same thing.  A miscarriage of justice was narrowly averted.

The cell phone video exposes an outrageous criminal conspiracy by officials in Bogalusa.  More here.

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.

The Martese Johnson Case

From the Chicago Tribune:

Virginia’s governor has ordered an investigation into the arrest of a black college student from Chicago seen in photos and video with a bloody face as he was held down by an officer..

Martese Johnson, a 2012 graduate of Kenwood Academy, was charged with obstruction of justice without force and public swearing or intoxication, according to Charlottesville General District Court records.

An attorney for Johnson, Daniel P. Watkins, said Johnson was discharged from the hospital after receiving stitches.

About 1,000 students gathered at the University of Virginia campus Wednesday night to demand justice for Johnson, who attended  the event flanked by classmates.

Quick and prudent move by the governor to have the state police, an independent agency, investigate this incident.

The Natasha McKenna Case

Washington Post editorial:

THE FIGHT went out of Natasha McKenna shortly after she was shot at least four times with a Taser stun gun by sheriff’s deputies at the Fairfax County jail on Feb. 3. She rapidly lost consciousness and, five days later, died.

We have asked Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid whether her office is reviewing its policy on the use of stun guns. She won’t say. We have asked if her office is reassessing the need for crisis intervention training, which, as a candidate for the position she now holds, she dismissed. She won’t say.

Has the sheriff’s office learned any lessons from Ms. McKenna’s death? Sheriff Kincaid won’t say. Has it taken steps to avoid repeating such an incident? The sheriff won’t say. Have the deputies involved been disciplined in any way? Is this really the best the sheriff’s office can do?

So far, the authorities in Fairfax are silent.

Secret Service Agents Under Investigation

From the Washington Post:

The Obama administration is investigating allegations that two senior Secret Service agents, including a top member of the president’s protective detail, drove a government car into White House security barricades after drinking at a late-night party last week, an agency official said Wednesday.

Officers on duty who witnessed the March 4 incident wanted to arrest the agents and conduct sobriety tests, according to a current and a former government official familiar with the incident. But the officers were ordered by a supervisor on duty that night to let the agents go home.

Hmm.

Problems in Cleveland

From Cleveland.com:

The U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report in December, claiming that the Cleveland Police Department routinely violated citizens’ civil rights. But taxpayers already had been paying a heavy price: more than $8.2 million to resolve lawsuits that accused officers of brutality, misconduct or making wrongful arrests….

In a number of cases, the people who alleged brutality were the ones who called police for help in the first place.  [!!]

More than a year ago, The Plain Dealer and Northeast Ohio Media Group submitted public records requests to the city, in an effort to determine how widespread allegations of misconduct were and how much police behavior was costing the city. The records were turned over on the eve of the Justice Department’s release of its report….

Mayor Frank Jackson says the settlements don’t prove any pattern of police conduct. They don’t even mean officers were at fault for wrongdoing, officials have said.
But viewed as a whole, the details show that high-level city officials were, or should have been, on notice about allegations that officers too often used excessive force, escalated confrontations and needlessly disrespected citizens in the community they were hired to serve.