National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Police Unions Lobby for Special Legal Protections

From the New York Times:

As Justice Department officials began meeting with community leaders in Baltimore this week in the early stages of their civil rights inquiry into the death of Freddie Gray, they heard repeated complaints about a state law that gives special legal protections to police officers suspected of abusing their power.

The law is similar to at least a dozen across the country, commonly known as police officers’ bills of rights. But Maryland’s, enacted in the early 1970s, was the first and goes the furthest in offering layers of legal protection to police officers. Among its provisions is one that gives officers 10 days before they have to talk to investigators….

The United States Supreme Court in 1967 determined that because police officers had in some instances been deprived of their constitutional right against self-incrimination, officers could not be compelled to give evidence against themselves, including as part of administrative investigations.

Since then, the extra layer of legal protection for officers has expanded, in large part because of the power of police unions, which have had similar rules inserted in union contracts and have frequently paid for television advertisements that label politicians who disagree with them as antipolice. In Maryland, law enforcement unions have donated tens of thousands of dollars to state and local elected officials, including to Ms. Rawlings-Blake.

New York Considers Reform Proposals

From the Times Union:

As Baltimore smoldered following the death of an unarmed man in police custody, Gov. Andrew Cuomo offered lawmakers a choice about future oversight of similar controversial cases in New York state.

If lawmakers don’t approve his call for an independent monitor to oversee legal proceedings that follow such deaths, Cuomo will use his executive powers to go even farther and create a special prosecutor who would have the power to pursue charges against officers….

Calls for greater scrutiny and oversight following the deaths of unarmed civilians emerged after Garner’s death and a grand jury’s decision not to indict any of the officers involved. But they haven’t gained traction in the full Legislature.

Senate Democrats have pushed for a creation of a special investigator within the Attorney General’s Office to investigate unarmed deaths, but Republicans who control the majority haven’t moved it forward.

The creation of a special prosecutor is opposed by many district attorneys and police unions around the state.

 

Fraternal Order of Police Opposes Bad Cops

James Pasco, executive director of the National FOP, as quoted in today’s Wall Street Journal:

The fact of the matter is no self-respecting member of the law enforcement community holds any brief for a bad cop.

Of course.  It would be news if Mr. Pasco would have said the opposite.  Yet, too often police unions lobby against measures that would bring greater accountability to the bad cops.

 

Freddie Gray Funeral

From the Baltimore Sun:

In a funeral service Monday that was both personal and political, family, friends and strangers alike said farewell on Monday to Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man whose death from injuries sustained in police custody has sparked a national furor…

[S]peaker after speaker drew both cheers and tears.

“The eyes of the country are all on us,” former judge and Gray family attorney William “Billy” Murphy told the crowd. “They want to see if we have the stuff to get this right.”

Murphy denounced “the blue wall” that he said protects police from accountability.

“Let’s don’t kid ourselves. We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for video cameras,” he said of the cellphone recordings made by bystanders of Gray’s arrest on April 12. “Instead of one cover-up behind that blue wall after another cover-up behind that blue wall … and one lie after another lie, now we see the truth as never before. It’s not a pretty picture.”

Gray was transported in a van to the Western District police station, emerging with what turned out to be a severed spinal cord and crushed voicebox, dying a week later.

Here is a Cato Institute podcast interview with Billy Murphy about police tactics, minorities, and constitutional rights.

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 Laquan McDonald Case

From New York Times editorial:

 

[T]he [City] Council awarded $5 million to the family of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager who was shot 16 times by a police officer in October. The shooting spawned a federal investigation, rattled public trust and raised troubling accusations of a police cover-up. The Council’s decision to pay was made before a lawsuit was filed, but this cannot be the end of the case. The city needs to release a police dash-cam video of the shooting that it has withheld on grounds that releasing it might interfere with the federal investigation….

Over the last seven years, Chicago police have killed more 120 people. Mr. Emanuel described the reparations plan as a way to bring a dark chapter of the city’s history to a close. But, even as he spoke, federal and state investigators were combing the city for information about the McDonald shooting.

Last October, a spokesman for the police union said that officers shot the teenager because he refused drop a knife he was carrying. Witnesses have said that he was moving away from the officers and was shot while lying on the ground.

A lawyer for the family who had viewed a police video taken at the scene told the Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell last week that Mr. McDonald was not menacing the officers or running when he was shot and that the officer continued to fire once the young man had fallen. He further asserted that 86 minutes of surveillance video taken by security cameras at a Burger King restaurant near the scene of the shooting had gone missing and that Chicago detectives had visited the restaurant.

Hmm.

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.

Few Police Prosecutions in Shooting Cases

Over the weekend, the Washington Post ran a front-page story on the rarity of prosecutions of police officers for on duty shootings. They teamed up with researchers at Bowling Green State University to look at the few cases in which charges were brought against officers. Since 2005, they found 54 criminal cases against police officers filed for police-involved shootings:

In half the criminal cases­ identified by The Post and researchers at Bowling Green, prosecutors cited forensics and autopsy reports that showed this very thing: unarmed suspects who had been shot in the back.

In a third of the cases­ where officers faced charges, prosecutors introduced videos into evidence, saying they showed the slain suspects had posed no threat at the moment they were killed. The videos were often shot from cameras mounted on the dashboards of patrol cars, standard equipment for most police departments.

In nearly a quarter of the cases, an officer’s colleagues turned on him, giving statements or testifying that the officer opened fire even though the suspect posed no danger at the time.

And in 10 cases, or about a fifth of the time, prosecutors alleged that officers either planted or destroyed evidence in an attempt to exonerate themselves — a strong indication, prosecutors said, that the officers themselves recognized the shooting was unjustified.

While 19 of the 54 cases they found are still pending, 21 officers were acquitted of charges and only 11 officers were convicted.

It is important to note that untold thousands of people were killed in police-involved shootings during that period. Just in Los Angeles County, California, there have been at least 409 police-involved shootings since 2010—and yet there hasn’t been a single prosecution for one since 2001.

As my colleague Matthew Feeney noted, the cell phone footage of Walter Scott’s death was integral to the officer’s firing and criminal charge. Without it, South Carolina authorities may not have filed any charges, let alone murder. Indeed, even with the video, conviction is not certain.

Read the whole Washington Post piece here.

Cross-posted at Cato at Liberty

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.