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Worst of the Month — August 2015

So for August it was the case of Officer Kevin McGowan.  According to news reports, Patrick D’Labik, age 18, admits to running away from the police.  He said he ran because he had some marijuana in his pocket and did not want to go to jail.  Officer McGowan caught up with D’Labik in a convenience store and the encounter was caught on the store’s surveillance tape (video at the link above).  D’Labik has his hands raised in surrender and is in the process of getting on the floor when McGowan kicks him in the face.

When police commanders saw the surveillance tape, they concluded it was unnecessary, excessive force and fired McGowan.

Wait, McGowan is now back on patrol because the city’s Civil Service Board reinstated him.

A Retired Baltimore Police Officer Speaks Out

Michael A. Wood Jr. is a retired Baltimore police officer. This morning, he tweeted a series of troubling, illegal, and disturbing incidents he witnessed while on the force. I have Storified them below. Warning: these tweets contain graphic language. You can follow him on Twitter @MichaelAWoodJr .

PC=probable cause ; CDS=controlled deadly substance (drugs)

Minneapolis Paid $10.7 Million in Lawsuits


When allegations of police misconduct move from the street to the courtroom — more often than not, Minneapolis has to pay.

KARE 11 requested numbers from the City of Minneapolis and found since January 2010, Minneapolis has dealt with 141 “Officer Conduct lawsuits.” The city won 51 of them — either at trial or when a judge dismissed the case.

But the city had to pay money in 90 of those cases — settling 86 times — and losing four trials.

In that time — Minneapolis has paid $10.7 million for officer conduct lawsuits. That includes two years — 2011 and 2013 — when the city had to pay more than $4 million each year….

In 2011, Minneapolis paid nearly $2.2 million to he family of Dominic Felder, who died in 2006 — shot seven times by two officers.

And in 2010, David Smith died after police used a Taser and held him down outside the downtown Minneapolis YMCA. Minneapolis settled with his family in 2013 for nearly $3.1 million.

A key point here:

David Harris said in his research, one alarming thing he’s found is the lawsuits don’t always lead to a change in police department policies.

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.”

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 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.

Will ‘Community Policing’ Help?

From the New Republic:

On January 30, the USCM released a report on strengthening “police-community” relations in American cities. The six-page report came full of recommendations for everything from “youth study circles” to new equipment. The report was completed with the help of a working group of police chiefs, including Philadelphia Commissioner Charles Ramsey, the man appointed by President Obama to chair his Task Force on 21st Century Policing in response to rising unrest around around the issue of police brutality.

Absent from their suggestions, however, was a single mention of officer discipline….

What the #BlackLivesMatter protests made clear is that communities of color are increasingly fed up with the over-policing of our neighborhoods, extrajudicial killings of unarmed black people and the failures of the justice system to hold killer cops accountable. To ignore those complaints and suggest that the issue is merely one of distrust is dishonest, and it evades the very obvious fact that police brutality is a national problem that persists, in part, because cops can get away with it.

I’ve commented before on “community policing,” but it’s worth noting again how troubling that term is. “Community policing” reframes the conversation around police reform from one that addresses police brutality to one that addresses the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color, as though they’re mutually combative. The relationship between the two isn’t the issue. It’s the manner in which law enforcement relates to communities of color that’s proven deadly, time and time again.

Comedian Chris Rock provided an apt analogy for this during his recent New York Magazine interview.

“If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, ‘Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.’ It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner.”

Similarly, ending police brutality isn’t up to the communities that are brutalized.

Read the whole thing.


Judge Beverly J. Woodard

From the Washington Post:

IN PRINCE George’s County, it is now clear that the police, without provocation, can beat an unarmed young student senseless — with impunity. They can blatantly lie about it — with impunity. They can stonewall and cover it up for months — with impunity. They can express no remorse and offer no apology — with impunity.

The agent of this travesty of justice, and this impunity, is Judge Beverly J. Woodard of the Prince George’s County Circuit Court. Ms. Woodard has presided in the case involving John J. McKenna, a young University of Maryland student who was savagely beaten by two baton-wielding Prince George’s cops in March 2010, following a men’s basketball game on the College Park campus.

The beating of Mr. McKenna was videotaped; had it not been, the police, who filed no report and then falsely claimed that he instigated the incident and attacked them, may never have been investigated or charged. Yet despite the fact that a jury convicted one of the police officers, James Harrison Jr., of assault nearly two years ago, Ms. Woodard has now thrown the verdict out and closed the case.

Read the whole thing.



Thousands of New Yorkers Protest

From the New York Times:

Thousands converged on an overcast Saturday at the site of the encounter, the start of a protest march linking Mr. Garner’s death to lethal police actions past and present, from New York City to Ferguson, Mo., where a white officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on Aug. 9.

Signs and slogans touched on details of the deaths as well as broad policies that protesters argued encouraged bad behavior by officers.

“ ‘Broken Windows’ Kills,” a sign read, a reference to the aggressive policing of minor offenses like selling untaxed cigarettes, the crime Mr. Garner had been accused of committing.

Chants of “I can’t breathe” — Mr. Garner’s words as he struggled with officers — mixed with those borrowed from Ferguson: “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

For days, march organizers and Mayor Bill de Blasio emphasized that the demonstration on Staten Island would not devolve into the sort of violent confrontation with police officers that had plagued the protests over the death of the Ferguson teenager, Michael Brown. By late afternoon, the march had ended and the crowds were heading home. The police said all had been quiet and there had been no arrests….

During the demonstration, community affairs officers in royal-blue shirts and baseball hats offered a stark contrast to the militarized posture of police officers in the aftermath of Mr. Brown’s death. Uniformed patrol officers controlled crowds at the ferry terminal and appeared interested to keep a respectful distance from the marchers along the route.