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.

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.

San Bernardino Deputies Filmed From News Helicopter

 

 

From the Los Angeles Times:

Charles “Sid” Heal, retired Los Angeles County sheriff’s commander

Heal, who has testified in dozens of force trials, said that when the man “fell off the horse and lay flat, he is done …. I think I am pretty conservative, given I have been in so many situations that have been misread, but I cannot see any explanation for their conduct here.”

As to the tactics, he said, the deputies exhibit almost none.

“It was like a feeding frenzy. It was like blood in the water with sharks,” Heal said. “The only thing is they thought they could get away with it.”

Adrenaline could be an explanation for the first unnecessary blows, he said.

“But it went on way too long and involved deputies who weren’t there in the initial stage; they took what we call cheap shots,” he said. “They thought they could get away with it.”

Heal said cameras capture everything today, and these deputies seemed to have forgotten that.

Public outrage over the video is shared by other law enforcement officers who believe such actions smear the badge, he said.

“Everybody I know is outraged,” he said. “This sets law enforcement back 20 years. All the things we have been saying basically get thrown out the window.”

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.

Arizona Considers Controversial Law

From the New York Times:

PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey has until Monday to decide whether to sign or veto a bill requiring state agencies to keep confidential for 60 days the identities of law enforcement officers involved in deadly or serious shootings.

The bill, which passed the State Senate by a large margin on Tuesday, follows what supporters said were threats against officers here after two recent shootings as well as concerns raised by events in Ferguson, Mo., where Officer Darren Wilson fled his home after being identified as the officer who shot an unarmed black teenager.

After Ferguson, the issue of officer identification has become “one of the most emotional issues in American policing,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which conducts research on law enforcement policy and convenes meetings of police leaders….

“Police officers have this extraordinary power,” she said, “and when they decide to use their weapon and to shoot, the public has the right to know who the officer was. That kind of transparency provides the strongest form of oversight,” she said.

But without stronger protective rules, law enforcement agencies are sometimes too quick to identify officers, putting them at unnecessary risk, said John Ortolano, a highway patrol officer and president of the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police, which supports the legislation.

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.

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.

Dept of Justice Report Clears Darren Wilson in Shooting Death of Michael Brown

In our view, a prominent case deserves a prominent Update.  Last week, the Department of Justice concluded its investigation into the shooting death of Michael Brown.  Here is the key finding from that report:

[T]he Department has concluded that Darren Wilson’s actions do not constitute prosecutable violations under the applicable federal criminal civil rights statute, 18 U.S.C. § 242, which prohibits uses of deadly force that are “objectively unreasonable,” as defined by the United States Supreme Court. The evidence, when viewed as a whole, does not support the conclusion that Wilson’s uses of deadly force were “objectively unreasonable” under the Supreme Court’s definition. Accordingly, under the governing federal law and relevant standards set forth in the USAM, it is not appropriate to present this matter to a federal grand jury for indictment, and it should therefore be closed without prosecution.
Full report here. More here and here.