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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.

 

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.

Protests in Chicago: The Laquan McDonald Shooting

From the Chicago Tribune:

Hours after a Chicago police officer was ordered held without bond on a first-degree murder charge, the city released a shocking police dash-cam video that captured the white officer opening fire on an African American teen on a Southwest Side street, striking him 16 times and killing him.

The video is about six minutes long and appears to show 17-year-old Laquan McDonald running down the middle of Pulaski Road near 41st Street when Officer Jason Van Dyke, standing next to his SUV, opens fire….

The case marks the first time a Chicago police officer has been charged with first-degree murder for an on-duty fatality in nearly 35 years. Van Dyke faces a minimum of 20 years in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.

The charge comes less than a week after a Cook County judge ordered the release of a video that Emanuel’s administration had long sought to keep out of public view. As the mayor urged prosecutors to conclude their investigation Monday, he met with community leaders and aldermen to defend his handling of the controversy amid criticism that City Hall has not done enough to address police misconduct.

Fairfax Officer Charged w/Murder

From the Washington Post:

A former Fairfax County police officer was charged with second-degree murder Monday, nearly two years after he shot and killed an unarmed Springfield man who stood with his hands raised in the doorway of his home.

The indictment of Adam D. Torres in the killing of 46-year-old John Geer, who had a holstered gun at his feet when he was shot, marks the first time in the 75-year history of the Fairfax County Police Department that an officer has faced criminal prosecution in connection with an on-duty shooting.

Geer’s slaying in August 2013 sparked protests, shook trust in law enforcement and prompted county officials to begin a broad review of the department’s use of force and the way it communicates with the public about police shootings.

Reporter Tom Jackman with the Post has been following this case from the beginning and has done excellent work.

Update on the John Geer Case

Today, former Fairfax County, Virginia officer Adam Torres was indicted for second-degree murder for fatally shooting John Geer.

According to the statements of several other law enforcement officials at the scene, Geer was unarmed at the time of the shooting and had his hands up. However, that information took 17 months to be released and Torres wasn’t terminated until last month, just shy of the two-year anniversary of Geer’s death. The Washington Post and others repeatedly excoriated the Fairfax County government for the unexplained delays and secrecy surrounding the case.

According to today’s Post story, Torres is the first officer from Fairfax County to be criminally charged for a shooting on duty in the department’s 75-year history.

You can read our past coverage of the Geer case here. As always, we will be tracking this and other cases here, on our Facebook page, and our Twitter feed.

2015 Police Shootings

Yesterday, on the anniversary of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the Washington Post ran a lengthy article about its tracking of fatal police shootings this year.

Excerpt:

So far this year, 24 unarmed black men have been shot and killed by police – one every nine days, according to a Washington Post database of fatal police shootings. During a single two-week period in April, three unarmed black men were shot and killed. All three shootings were either captured on video or, in one case, broadcast live on local TV.

Those 24 cases constitute a surprisingly small fraction of the 585 people shot and killed by police through Friday evening, according to The Post database. Most of those killed were white or Hispanic, and the vast majority of victims of all races were armed.

However, black men accounted for 40 percent of the 60 unarmed deaths, even though they make up just 6 percent of the U.S. population. The Post’s analysis shows that black men were seven times more likely than white men to die by police gunfire while unarmed.

Check out the Cato event from last year, Lessons from Ferguson.

Murder Indictment for U. of C. Officer who Shot Sam Dubose

The Hamilton County, Ohio prosecutor, Joe Deters, announced the indictment of University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing in the shooting death of motorist Sam Dubose. Tensing was charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.

The Washington Post has a write-up here. A snippet,

“This office has probably reviewed upwards of hundreds of police shootings, and this is the first time that we’ve thought this is without question a murder,” [Deters] said.

While a university police report stated that Tensing said he had been dragged by the car before shooting, Deters said that the officer not dragged. Rather, Tensing fell backwards after shooting Dubose in the head, Deters said.

Deters called the situation “a pretty chicken-crap stop.”

Dubose was shot in the head after no violent action or involvement with Tensing. Without the video evidence from Tensing’s body camera, and no living witnesses to the shooting to counter Tensing’s initial statement, it is likely that these charges would never have been brought.

For more on police use of body cameras, check out our explainer written by Matthew Feeney here.

Washington Post Tracking Police Shooting Fatalities

On Sunday, the Washington Post ran a lengthy story about police shootings in the USA thus far this year.  Fatalities are now 385, about twice a day–and those are only the fatalities (if someone is shot and is crippled or is on life support, that’s not part of this tally).

Excerpt:

The most troubling ­cases began with a cry for help.

About half the shootings occurred after family members, neighbors or strangers sought help from police because someone was suicidal, behaving erratically or threatening violence.

Take Shane Watkins, a 39-year-old white man, who died in his mother’s driveway in Moulton, Ala.

Watkins had never been violent, and family members were not afraid for their safety when they called Lawrence County sheriff’s deputies in March. But Watkins, who suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, was off his medication. Days earlier, he had declared himself the “god of the fifth element” and demanded whiskey and beer so he could “cleanse the earth with it,” said his sister, Yvonne Cote.

Then he started threatening to shoot himself and his dog, Slayer. His mother called Cote, who called 911. Cote got back on the phone with her mother, who watched Watkins walk onto the driveway holding a box cutter to his chest. A patrol car pulled up, and Cote heard her mother yell: “Don’t shoot! He doesn’t have a gun!”

“Then I heard the gunshots,” Cote said.

Lawrence County sheriff’s officials declined to comment and have refused to release documents related to the case.

Read the whole thing.  Excellent reporting.

Note that it’s a private institution that’s gathered this important information together, not the government itself.

The Jermaine McBean Case

From the New York Times:

OAKLAND PARK, Fla. — The witnesses who saw a Broward County deputy sheriff kill a man who had strolled through his apartment complex with an unloaded air rifle propped on his shoulders agreed: Just before he was gunned down, Jermaine McBean had ignored the officers who stood behind him shouting for him to drop his weapon.

Nothing, the officer swore under oath, prevented Mr. McBean from hearing the screaming officers.

Newly obtained photographic evidence in the July 2013 shooting of Mr. McBean, a 33-year-old computer-networking engineer, shows that contrary to repeated assertions by the Broward Sheriff’s Office, he was wearing earbuds when he was shot, suggesting that he was listening to music and did not hear the officers. The earphones somehow wound up in the dead man’s pocket, records show.

Repeat: Somehow those earphones wound up in Mr. McBean’s pocket.

Hmm.