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National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Settlement in Civil Rights Lawsuit

From Reuters:

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved an accord on Tuesday with the U.S. Justice Department to settle findings that the country’s largest sheriff’s department systematically harassed and intimidated low-income minority residents….

The report concluded that county sheriff’s deputies, along with authorities in the towns of Lancaster and Palmdale, routinely targeted blacks and Hispanics in a “pattern and practice” of unlawful traffic stops, raids and excessive force.

The Samantha Ramsey Shooting

From Fox19.com:

The family of Samantha Ramsey filed a federal civil rights and wrongful death suit Wednesday against Boone County Deputy Tyler Brockman and Boone County.

A grand injury declined to indict Deputy Brockman in November of last year in the death of 19-year-old Ramsey.

Attorney Al Gerhardstein, one of the attorneys on the case stated, “This deputy was not indicted or disciplined. He was wrong to jump onto the car; shoot while Samantha was slowing down; and wrong to shoot at this young lady at all before he jumped back off the hood.  Samantha’s shooing and death was completely unnecessary and avoidable.”

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Covington.  The issues raised by the shooting match those raised in numerous other police shootings across the nation where police have killed unarmed civilians, according to a release.

Problems in Oakland Police Department

From Bay City News:

Oakland police officers who are fired for misconduct are reinstated at arbitration hearings 75 percent of the time because department officials and the city attorney’s office do a poor job of handling the cases, a report says.

San Francisco attorney Ed Swanson compiled the report at the request of U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson, who is supervising the Oakland Police Department’s slow progress in complying with a police misconduct lawsuit settlement in 2003 that requires the department to implement 51 reforms in a variety of areas….

Swanson criticized the Oakland City Attorney’s Office for what he said is its “neglect and indifference and handling of police disciplinary cases and arbitration” because it doesn’t prepare well for them. He also said the relationship between the Police Department and the City Attorney’s Office has been “dysfunctional.”

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.