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National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

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.

Worst of the Month — December 2015

So for December we have selected the shooting death of Andrew Thomas in Paradise, California.  According to news reports, here’s what happened:  Thomas was seen leaving the parking lot of a bar and his vehicle didn’t have its lights on — even though it was late at night.  Officer Patrick Feaster suspected the driver might be intoxicated and so pursued Thomas to pull him over and investigate further.

No problem so far.  We want police to be alert for impaired drivers who endanger other people.

Next, Thomas did not pull over after Feaster was behind him with his police lights flashing.

Moments later, Thomas’s SUV crashed and his wife was ejected from the vehicle.  She died.

Next, things get even worse.  Officer Feaster is seen on dash-cam video walking toward the crashed SUV.  The video shows Thomas trying to climb out of the overturned SUV.  Feaster draws his sidearm and shoots Thomas in the neck and he falls back into his SUV.

After the shooting, Officer Feaster gets on his radio to report that the driver is refusing his commands to get out of the vehicle.  He does not mention that he shot the driver.  Feaster also reports that a injured woman is unresponsive, but the video shows that he is not checking on her condition or rendering aid.

Other police and responders get to the scene, but ten minutes go by before Feaster says he fired his weapon.  It is very unclear what could be the justification for shooting a man after a vehicle crash in these circumstances.  Officer Feaster says he was not threatened, but that his gun went off accidentally.

On a police body camera, Feaster is heard telling the watch commander that his gun went off, but he didn’t think the driver was hit because he wasn’t aiming his weapon in the driver’s direction.  Thomas initially survived the shot to his neck, but was paralyzed.  He died weeks later.

Despite community outrage, the local prosecutor, Mike Ramsey, declined to file any criminal charges against Officer Feaster because he said he lacked sufficient evidence to prove a crime in court.  That’s very odd.  Prosecutors would typically be relieved to know that the incident was captured on videotape.

View the video for yourself here:

 

 

Chicago Pays Millions to Settle Police Killings

From the New York Times:

The release last month of a 2014 video showing a Chicago police officer fatally shooting another teenager, Laquan McDonald, has upended this city. The police superintendent, Garry F. McCarthy, was forced out despite a reduction in crime citywide. So was the leader of an authority charged with disciplining officers. The Justice Department has opened an investigation into possible civil rights abuses by the Police Department. Demonstrators call nearly every day for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign.

But the Chicago Police Department’s record of brutality began long before Mr. McDonald, 17, lay crumpled on Pulaski Road. For decades — back to violent clashes at the Democratic National Convention in 1968 and the confessions coerced by a “midnight crew” of detectivesaccused of using suffocation, electric shock and Russian roulette on black men in the 1970s and 1980s — the Chicago police have wrestled with allegations of torture, racism, weak oversight and a code of silence….

In Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, officers shot and killed 70 people, most of them black, in a five-year span ending in 2014. That was the most among the nation’s 10 largest cities during the same period, according to the Better Government Association, a nonprofit watchdog organization.

 

Worst of the Month — November

So for the month of November we have selected the case of Roger Carlos, who was severely beaten by officers with the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD).  According to news reports, Mr. Carlos had done nothing wrong.  He was apparently just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Here’s what reportedly happened.  SAPD police were hunting for a suspect on drugs and weapons charges.  In a case of mistaken identity, officers swarmed on poor Mr. Carlos.  And even though Mr. Carlos complied with their commands, they just kept hitting him.

Mr. Carlos’s wife, Ronnie, still can’t believe this has happened.  The couple has three boys under the age of ten–but their father is now paralyzed from the chest down.  Doctors are also concerned he may have difficulty breathing down the road.  The medical bills for multiple surgeries are enormous.

After reviewing the case, a police discipline board recommended 15-day suspensions for three officers involved.  The Police Chief, William McManus, thought that recommendation was wrong.  He shortened each of the suspensions to five days.

 

DOJ Will Now Investigate Chicago Police Department

This morning the Department of Justice announced that it will be launching a broad civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department.  Federal investigators are already conducting their own probe into the shooting death of Laquan McDonald.  Today’s announcement goes well beyond that particular case and will be looking at whether there is a pattern or practice of police misconduct in the City of Chicago.

Civil rights advocates and police reformers typically welcome these announcements from federal authorities.  They believe federal intervention will finally bring about needed reforms.  That view is sadly mistaken.  The scrutiny on the Mayor and City Council is now intense.  There is no better time to overhaul the department. The immediate effect of this announcement is to postpone action.  The opportunity for real change is going to slip by.  Chicago does not need another report and more promises of reform.  It needs an overhaul–and it needs one now.

Related Cato work here.

‘Policing in America’ Conference

This week, Cato hosted an all-day conference, “Policing in America.” We brought together experts with different perspectives to discuss the opportunities and pitfalls facing police organizations today. The video of the event is below and will be available in the Cato event archives.

It was a great event all around. The speakers were able to distill complex problems and incentives into easy-to-understand presentations. Experts and laypersons alike came away with some new information that can be used to frame the policing debate in the months and years ahead. I encourage you to check out each panel and guest speaker in the videos below.

Welcoming Remarks and Panel 1: The Costs and Benefits of Emerging Police Technologies

Remarks by Jonathan Blanks, Cato Institute

Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, American Civil Liberties Union
Alex Rosenblat, Researcher and Technical Writer, Data & Society Research Institute
Lynn Overmann, Senior Policy Advisor to the US Chief Technology Officer at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy
Moderated by Matthew Feeney, Cato Institute

Continue Reading →

Trouble in Chicago

From a New York Times editorial:

The cover-up that began 13 months ago when a Chicago police officer executed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald on a busy street might well have included highly ranked officials who ordered subordinates to conceal information. But the conspiracy of concealment exposed last week when the city, under court order, finally released a video of the shooting could also be seen as a kind of autonomic response from a historically corrupt law enforcement agency that is well versed in the art of hiding misconduct, brutality — and even torture.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel demonstrated a willful ignorance when he talked about the murder charges against the police officer who shot Mr. McDonald, seeking to depict the cop as a rogue officer. He showed a complete lack of comprehension on Tuesday when he explained that he had decided to fire his increasingly unpopular police superintendent, Garry McCarthy, not because he failed in his leadership role, but because he had become “a distraction.”

Mr. Emanuel’s announcement that he had appointed a task force that will review the Police Department’s accountability procedures is too little, too late. The fact is, his administration, the Police Department and the prosecutor’s office have lost credibility on this case.

Still more on cover-up allegations here.