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National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

More Police Transparency, Not Less

Yesterday, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a piece I wrote about pending legislation in Pennsylvania to anonymize officers under investigation for use of force. The proposed legislation is supposed to increase officer safety. A snippet:

Of course, officer safety is important. But there is scant evidence that specific police officers or their families – in Pennsylvania or elsewhere – have been targeted and harmed by criminals because they were named in use-of-force incidents. (While police officers have been the tragic victims of ambushes, including in Philadelphia, the indications are that officers are, as New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton said in 2014, “targeted for their uniform,” not their actions.)

At best, these bills provide a remedy for something that has not been proven to be a problem. At worst, they protect officers with documented histories of violence and, ironically, give the majority of officers a bad rap.

Internal and criminal investigations are by their nature kept from the public eye, and for good reason. But the community should know if its public servants are under investigation for inappropriate violence and who they are. If one officer out of a thousand does something bad, but no one can say who he is, all officers fall under suspicion because the so-called bad apple is indistinguishable from everyone else.

As we saw in the John Geer shooting in Virginia, when police withhold information from the public about inappropriate uses of force, silence can seem like a cover-up. States and police agencies should look for ways to increase transparency after questionable uses of force, not put up new barriers to information.

Read the whole thing here.

Guilty Plea in John Geer Case

Jury selection was scheduled to start today in the trial of former Fairfax County, Virginia officer Adam Torres for the 2013 shooting death of John Geer. Torres instead pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

As regular readers of policemisconduct.net may recall, Geer was killed while standing inside the front door of his home with his hands up. The Fairfax County police had been called to the home because of a domestic disturbance.

The Washington Post’s  Tom Jackman has been diligently covering this case since the shooting. Fairfax authorities were reluctant to release the name or status of Torres, waiting over a year to do so and eventually fire and charge him in the case. The delays and secrecy surrounding the incident led to a Post editorial headline that declared the case “looks unmistakably like a police coverup.”

Today’s plea agreement included a recommended sentence of 12 months—Torres is currently held in jail without bond—but Judge Robert J. Smith rejected that sentence and ordered a sentencing recommendation memo and a hearing for June 24.

We will continue to follow this case as it moves to the sentencing stage.

Read Jackman’s full write-up of today’s plea and the case history here.

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.

Problems with the Border Patrol

From the New York Times:

By 2011, the sheer number of C.B.P. misconduct cases had become so glaring — an average of one C.B.P. officer was arrested every day between 2005 and 2012, 144 of them for corruption-level offenses — that C.B.P. redefined the way in which misconduct was categorized, Tomsheck said. Certain misconduct cases would be deemed ‘‘mission-compromising’’ and others ‘‘non-mission-compromising’’; only the former would have to be reported to Congress….

In 2010, testifying before a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee, Tom­sheck reported a staggering internal study: 60 percent of a pool of Border Patrol agents and customs inspectors who had been administered polygraph tests were deemed unsuitable for service.

The victims of Border Patrol misconduct are especially vulnerable.  Illegal immigrants can’t get redress in U.S. courts in many situations and many wouldn’t even try–precisely because of their illegal status.

Worst of the Month — February

So for February we have selected the reported misconduct of Officer Matt Rush from Champaign, Illinois.

Last month Precious Jackson filed a lawsuit against Rush and his employer for excessive force when Rush arrested her.  According to the lawsuit, Rush’s actions caused Jackson to lose her unborn baby.  Jackson also says that she begged to be taken to a hospital but that Rush and the other officers on the scene ignored her pleas and took her to the jail instead.

Local news agencies report that the City of Champaign has settled several similar lawsuits involving Rush to the tune of $320,000.  The police chief actually fired Rush for lies in police reports and omitting important details in the incidents he was involved in.

A labor arbitrator overturned the police chief’s discipline and reinstated Rush to his job.

 

 

KVUE’s “Conduct Unbecoming” Part 3

Last week, Austin television station KVUE aired two of their four-part series on police corruption, “Conduct Unbecoming.” Last night, they aired the third installment, which tackles police misconduct’s price tag for taxpayers.

By their estimate, Texas taxpayers have paid out about $54 million in lawsuits related to police misconduct since 2009. In one case they highlight, Austin paid one million dollars to a Carlos Chacon, who was repeatedly tased and suffered lacerations to his face after he called the police at a motel. The judge in the case said, “[T]he worst decision he made that night was to call 911.”

In a separate incident, the same officer who tased Mr. Chacon was suspended 90 days for tasing a suspect twice. He is still an Austin police officer.

You can check out the full piece at KVUE here. You can read our take on part one here, and part two here.

“Conduct Unbecoming” Part 2

On Tuesday, I shared the first part of KVUE’s four-part investigation “Conduct Unbecoming,” tracking police misconduct through the Texas criminal justice system. Part Two on conviction rates aired last night. You can view the video here.

KVUE’s data indicates that police are convicted at a lower rate than the general public, but the data is inconclusive due to the difficulty in obtaining records of the final dispositions. Many times, police officers’ convictions may be expunged after successful completion of probation or other non-carceral sentence. (N.B.: The general public gets these too, but the expungement makes collecting data about their prevalence virtually impossible to track and, thus, compare.)

KVUE also found repeat offenders who demonstrate histories of violence and other misconduct but remain eligible for law enforcement positions for lack of felony conviction:

KVUE’s findings also identified some officers have repeat offenses cleared in court. That includes former Austin Police Officer Leonardo Quintana, who shot and killed 18-year-old Nathaniel Sanders in 2009 while on duty.

A grand jury investigated and declined to indict him. The decision ignited outrage in Austin.

One year later, police arrested Quintana for assaulting his girlfriend. A jury found him not guilty. His records were likely expunged because the Williamson County Clerk’s office no longer has evidence of his arrest, despite numerous media reports of the assault.

A few months later, police arrested Quintana for a DWI. He was given a year probation. Today, he’s a sheriff’s deputy in south Texas.

As regular readers may recall, last February’s NPMRP Worst of the Month was a Texas law enforcement officer who held his family at gunpoint and had a standoff with police. He pled to disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, and was ordered to pay a small fine. Although he was fired from the San Antonio Police Department, the absence of a felony conviction means he is still eligible to be a law enforcement officer in Texas.

Read or watch the KVUE report here.

“Conduct Unbecoming” Part 1

An investigative news team in Austin, Texas is airing a four-part series on police misconduct in the Lone Star State. The first segment aired last night on KVUE. You can watch it here:

Their research uncovered 4,870 Texas law enforcement officers who had been arrested since 2008. Of those, 1,205 were for assault and more than 500 officers were arrested more than once. Only nine percent of all officers arrested ultimately lost their law enforcement licences.  The remaining 91 percent remain eligible for law enforcement jobs. You can read more about KVUE’s investigation here.

While law enforcement licensing and certification can be a useful way to keep the wrong people from becoming law enforcement officers, prosecutors and the criminal justice system have to do their part to hold officers accountable for their actions. The next installment will deal with precisely that issue. It is set to air this Thursday.

 

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.