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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.

More from the Guardian on Homan Square

For several months, the Guardian (US) has been running an exposé of Homan Square, a virtual domestic “black site” in Chicago. People who have been detained and interrogated there allege improper conditions, illegal treatment, and unconstitutional denial of defense counsel. Today’s installment, by Spencer Ackerman and Zach Stafford, uncovers a dramatic racial disparity in those brought into this facility:

At least 3,500 Americans have been detained inside a Chicago police warehouse described by some of its arrestees as a secretive interrogation facility, newly uncovered records reveal.

Of the thousands held in the facility known as Homan Square over a decade, 82% were black. Only three received documented visits from an attorney, according to a cache of documents obtained when the Guardian sued the police.

Despite repeated denials from the Chicago police department that the warehouse is a secretive, off-the-books anomaly, the Homan Square files begin to show how the city’s most vulnerable people get lost in its criminal justice system.

The Chicago police department has maintained – even as the Guardian reported stories of people being shackled and held for hours or even days, all without legal access – that the warehouse is not a secret facility so much as an undercover police base operating in plain sight.

The numbers, if true, indicate that the lack of access to counsel is standard practice:

Despite the quadruple-digit number of arrestees held at Homan Square, the Chicago police proffered only three arrestees receiving visits from lawyers between 3 September 2004 and 1 July 2015. Two of them occurred on the same day in January 2013.

Unless approximately 3,500 people in custody waived their right to counsel, the revelation complicates – if not contradicts – the police’s March statement that “any individual who wishes to consult a lawyer will not be interrogated until they have an opportunity to do so”.

The piece is well worth reading in full here. Past installments can be found at the Guardian website here.

 

A Revolving Door in Colorado

Like many states, Colorado certifies its law enforcement officers. However, the state’s barriers to decertify officers are higher than those in other states. Being dismissed from one law enforcement agency, or even convicted of a crime, does not automatically make an officer ineligible for employment in another jurisdiction. And many police officers in Colorado have done exactly that.

Yesterday, the Denver Post ran a lengthy feature describing a revolving door of dismissed and disgraced police officers within the state of Colorado. Among other things, the Post found:

  • At least six Denver officers who were fired or resigned amid allegations of wrongdoing in the past decade found work at other smaller agencies.
  • Rogue cops can negotiate to keep past transgressions secret. Nadia Gatchell was fired from the Denver police force in 2012 for lies she told superiors during an investigation into abuse of off-duty secondary employment. The officer, who previously had been disciplined in Denver for destroying marijuana evidence, was able to keep the decision to fire her out of her personnel file by agreeing to drop a Civil Service appeal. The city’s safety manager at the time, Alex Martinez, agreed to remove her dismissal letter from her personnel file and have her file reflect that she had resigned.
  • Gatchell, who declined to comment, went on to work at the Elizabeth Police Department for about a year after her firing. Now she’s working as a parole officer for the Department of Corrections, her fourth law enforcement job.
  • Officers who have their certificate for police work revoked often are repeat offenders. Of the nearly 280 officers who have been decertified in the past decade in Colorado, at least 29 had past serious personnel issues or arrests. Many more likely are repeat offenders, but how many could not be determined because many agencies in the state won’t release discipline or personnel files for public review.
  • About a third of those 280 decertified for police work in Colorado had worked at more than one police agency. Seven of those officers had shuffled to four or more police agencies before they ended up with a conviction that brought a final end to their careers in law enforcement.
  • The state’s review panel, the Colorado Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, does not always keep up with those who aren’t employed by a police agency but remain certified for law enforcement work.

According to the article, at least 18 states “require agencies to inform state review panels when an officer is fired or resigns,” but Colorado is not one of them.

The Colorado legislature passed a new law to require police agencies to disclose to any new law enforcement employer if their former officer “sustained violations for making “knowing misrepresentations” during their employment.” While this is an improvement, the new law does not require disclosure of excessive force, destruction of evidence, or other violations unrelated to lying on official documents.

The legislature also tried but failed to expand the number the offenses that trigger decertification in the last session. As a result, officers with convictions for misdemeanor child abuse, second-degree arson, and many other crimes remain eligible to be hired as sworn officers around Colorado.

Colorado is not the only state that has problems with “shuffling” bad police officers. Recall that the officer who shot twelve-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio was deemed unfit for law enforcement by his previous employer due to incompetence with firearms. The CPD did not review that information before hiring the officer.

States should shore-up their reporting requirements and decertification procedures to prevent officers who commit serious misconduct from hopping job-to-job.

There are many more disturbing stories in Post feature here. You can read my testimony on the opacity of police disciplinary files before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights here.

Police Unions Lobby for Special Legal Protections

From the New York Times:

As Justice Department officials began meeting with community leaders in Baltimore this week in the early stages of their civil rights inquiry into the death of Freddie Gray, they heard repeated complaints about a state law that gives special legal protections to police officers suspected of abusing their power.

The law is similar to at least a dozen across the country, commonly known as police officers’ bills of rights. But Maryland’s, enacted in the early 1970s, was the first and goes the furthest in offering layers of legal protection to police officers. Among its provisions is one that gives officers 10 days before they have to talk to investigators….

The United States Supreme Court in 1967 determined that because police officers had in some instances been deprived of their constitutional right against self-incrimination, officers could not be compelled to give evidence against themselves, including as part of administrative investigations.

Since then, the extra layer of legal protection for officers has expanded, in large part because of the power of police unions, which have had similar rules inserted in union contracts and have frequently paid for television advertisements that label politicians who disagree with them as antipolice. In Maryland, law enforcement unions have donated tens of thousands of dollars to state and local elected officials, including to Ms. Rawlings-Blake.

Fraternal Order of Police Opposes Bad Cops

James Pasco, executive director of the National FOP, as quoted in today’s Wall Street Journal:

The fact of the matter is no self-respecting member of the law enforcement community holds any brief for a bad cop.

Of course.  It would be news if Mr. Pasco would have said the opposite.  Yet, too often police unions lobby against measures that would bring greater accountability to the bad cops.

 

Freddie Gray Funeral

From the Baltimore Sun:

In a funeral service Monday that was both personal and political, family, friends and strangers alike said farewell on Monday to Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man whose death from injuries sustained in police custody has sparked a national furor…

[S]peaker after speaker drew both cheers and tears.

“The eyes of the country are all on us,” former judge and Gray family attorney William “Billy” Murphy told the crowd. “They want to see if we have the stuff to get this right.”

Murphy denounced “the blue wall” that he said protects police from accountability.

“Let’s don’t kid ourselves. We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for video cameras,” he said of the cellphone recordings made by bystanders of Gray’s arrest on April 12. “Instead of one cover-up behind that blue wall after another cover-up behind that blue wall … and one lie after another lie, now we see the truth as never before. It’s not a pretty picture.”

Gray was transported in a van to the Western District police station, emerging with what turned out to be a severed spinal cord and crushed voicebox, dying a week later.

Here is a Cato Institute podcast interview with Billy Murphy about police tactics, minorities, and constitutional rights.

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.

Problems at U.S. Border Patrol

One of the greatest challenges to resolving police misconduct allegations is the opaqueness of internal investigations in any police department or agency. This is true at the local, state, and federal levels.

Today, the Los Angeles Times has a report on the backlog of use-of-force cases, particularly fatal shootings, at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. There is an added wrinkle here, due to bureaucratic overlaps, that other agencies in the Department of Homeland Security share responsibility for oversight and have been unable to further these investigations.

Nearly a year after the Obama administration vowed to crack down on Border Patrol agents who use excessive force, no shooting cases have been resolved, no agents have been disciplined, a review panel has yet to issue recommendations, and the top two jobs in internal affairs are vacant.

The response suggests the difficulties of reforming the nation’s largest federal law enforcement force despite complaints in Congress and from advocacy groups that Border Patrol agents have shot and killed two dozen people on the Southwest border in the last five years but have faced no criminal prosecutions or disciplinary actions.

Customs and Border Protection, which has more than 60,000 agents and officers, saw most of its abuse investigations outsourced to a sister agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and to the Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. Internal affairs instead conducted lie detector tests, did performance reviews, and dealt with questions from outside agencies.

Read the whole thing here.

You should also check out this Cato Policy Analysis calling for the abolition of DHS.