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National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

More Police Transparency, Not Less

Yesterday, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a piece I wrote about pending legislation in Pennsylvania to anonymize officers under investigation for use of force. The proposed legislation is supposed to increase officer safety. A snippet:

Of course, officer safety is important. But there is scant evidence that specific police officers or their families – in Pennsylvania or elsewhere – have been targeted and harmed by criminals because they were named in use-of-force incidents. (While police officers have been the tragic victims of ambushes, including in Philadelphia, the indications are that officers are, as New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton said in 2014, “targeted for their uniform,” not their actions.)

At best, these bills provide a remedy for something that has not been proven to be a problem. At worst, they protect officers with documented histories of violence and, ironically, give the majority of officers a bad rap.

Internal and criminal investigations are by their nature kept from the public eye, and for good reason. But the community should know if its public servants are under investigation for inappropriate violence and who they are. If one officer out of a thousand does something bad, but no one can say who he is, all officers fall under suspicion because the so-called bad apple is indistinguishable from everyone else.

As we saw in the John Geer shooting in Virginia, when police withhold information from the public about inappropriate uses of force, silence can seem like a cover-up. States and police agencies should look for ways to increase transparency after questionable uses of force, not put up new barriers to information.

Read the whole thing here.

Guilty Plea in John Geer Case

Jury selection was scheduled to start today in the trial of former Fairfax County, Virginia officer Adam Torres for the 2013 shooting death of John Geer. Torres instead pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

As regular readers of policemisconduct.net may recall, Geer was killed while standing inside the front door of his home with his hands up. The Fairfax County police had been called to the home because of a domestic disturbance.

The Washington Post’s  Tom Jackman has been diligently covering this case since the shooting. Fairfax authorities were reluctant to release the name or status of Torres, waiting over a year to do so and eventually fire and charge him in the case. The delays and secrecy surrounding the incident led to a Post editorial headline that declared the case “looks unmistakably like a police coverup.”

Today’s plea agreement included a recommended sentence of 12 months—Torres is currently held in jail without bond—but Judge Robert J. Smith rejected that sentence and ordered a sentencing recommendation memo and a hearing for June 24.

We will continue to follow this case as it moves to the sentencing stage.

Read Jackman’s full write-up of today’s plea and the case history here.

Washington Post Tallies Fatal Shootings Where Officers Are Not Identified

From the Washington Post:

Nationwide, 210 people were fatally shot last year by police officers who have not been publicly identified by their departments.

In 2015, police in the United States shot and killed 990 people, according to a Washington Post database of fatal police shootings. The vast majority of those killed by police were armed with guns or had attacked or threatened officers or civilians. The Post is continuing to track fatal shootings in 2016, recording more than 250 through March. The Post is also filing open-records requests seeking additional information about each shooting, including information about the officers involved, data that is not tracked by any federal agency.

For 2015, reporters obtained the names of officers responsible for 780 of the 990 shootings. In about 600 shootings, officers’ names were disclosed by police departments in news reports. In a handful of cases, names came to light through lawsuits or leaks to the news media. Where the names remained unknown, The Post contacted the departments and requested the officers’ identities.

In 145 fatal shootings, the departments declined to release the names to The Post, citing pending investigations, state or federal records laws, agreements with police unions or department policies. In another 65 fatal shootings, the departments did not respond to multiple requests for information.

Former Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey is interviewed and he notes that a double standard is often employed.  When the shooting death is deemed heroic, the officer is identified.  When the shooting is questionable, the officer is not identified.  Read the whole thing.

For additional background on transparency and policing, go here.

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.