So the worst case for February goes to an officer with the San Antonio, Texas Police Department. Daniel Lopez held his wife and children at gunpoint, striking his wife in the head with his gun, and had a 20 minute standoff with police before surrendering. He pled no contest to disorderly conduct. But get this: He was sentenced to just one day of probation and ordered to pay a $100 fine! According to the news report, “The plea deal struck out any reference to a gun or family violence,” and so Lopez will retain his peace officer’s license whether or not the SAPD terminates his employment.
The worst misconduct of September goes to the still-unnamed police officer who shot John Geer last year and the police and federal investigators who have refused to release any information on the case a year after the shooting. Fairfax County police officers responded to a call from Geer’s longtime girlfriend who called 911 because Geer had been drinking and throwing her possessions into the lawn after she told him she was moving out. When officers arrived, they trained their weapons at Geer as they spoke with him in the doorway of his home for almost fifty minutes. Friends and family gathered to watch the situation. One of Geer’s daughters shouted from a neighbor’s home “Don’t you hurt my daddy!” Geer had been speaking calmly and holding his arms above his head, resting them on the doorframe from within, but when he moved his hands down the doorframe to about face-level, one of the officers abruptly fired a shot directly into Geer’s chest, as his best friend, father, and neighbors watched. Geer spun and closed the door before collapsing. The officers then waited an hour while Geer bled to death before sending in assistance. Over four hours later, Geer’s body was still left lying on the floor of his home.
Things haven’t been handled much better in the year since the shooting. Geer’s family and friends still don’t even know the name of the shooting officer—who has been on paid desk duty since—whether the shooting was declared justified or not, or why trained negotiators were not called. State and federal investigators have taken no substantial public action on the case, and the family, which exhibited incredible patience for the better part of a year, has finally had to resort to a lawsuit.
The refusal of the police to disclose even the name of the officer who shot and killed an unarmed man is just another example of the same troubling lack of transparency that we saw in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Police officers are human, and yes they make mistakes, but what possible excuse is there for circling the wagons and denying the public—and worse, the victims’ family and friends—the right to know what their public servants have done and which of them needs to be to held accountable? The resulting feeling among those affected, as Geer’s father described it, is “Frustrating to say the least—not knowing anything and having a feeling of helplessness, sadness, anger. Just wondering what’s going on and why nobody would tell us anything.” This is a case of one man shooting another unarmed man in the chest in front of dozens of witnesses. No complication can justify forcing that feeling of helplessness and anger on John Geer’s friends and family for over a year.
So the worst police misconduct for the month of August goes, unsurprisingly, to the Ferguson police. As the events in Ferguson played out during August, the police department there put on a clinic on how not to police a community. From the withholding of Darren Wilson’s name (He was the officer who shot Michael Brown six times), to brandishing weapons of war against a community expressing its anger and mourning through protest, and blatantly targeting journalists for arrest and assault, the events in Ferguson have shown just how disastrous poor policing can be to a community. If there is any silver lining to the situation, it is that people across the country have been presented with a good look at the consequences of when police misconduct goes unchecked and bad policies, like militarizing local police forces, are allowed to continue. Things were bad enough in Ferguson for them to collectively qualify as the worst police misconduct of August, but the situation will be much worse if the lessons of Ferguson are not learned and the mistakes not corrected in the future—and not just in Ferguson, but in similar towns around the country.
Finally, a not-so-‘honorable mention’ goes to the Denver police officer who tried to get out of his DUI arrest by telling the arresting officer “Bro, I’m a cop.” That he would even attempt this tactic tells us something about the police subculture–where too many law enforcement officers believe that they are above the law. They aren’t, and the arresting officer did the right thing by getting a dangerous drunk driver off the streets—cop or not.
The worst police misconduct of July was the case of Eric Garner, who was killed by New York City police officers using a banned chokehold maneuver. A cell phone video of the incident shows Garner (who stood at least 6’3” and 350+ lbs.) arguing with police officers in an agitated state, then pulling back when officers tried to arrest him. Almost immediately, one of the officers started using an illegal chokehold maneuver to subdue Garner, at which point the 350+ pound asthmatic can be heard saying “I can’t breathe” repeatedly. Garner was pronounced dead a short time later. The medical examiner has ruled the death a homicide.
Garner was accused of and being arrested for selling single, untaxed cigarettes on the street corner.
Chokeholds have been banned since 1994 because they were determined to be too dangerous. Every officer and recruit is trained not to use them. In response to the incident, NYC Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has ordered a top-to-bottom review of use of force training methods, with retraining programs likely to follow. It’s a good step, but it won’t do Eric Garner and his six children any good.
The sexting case from Virginia is too awful and bizarre not to include as a “runner up.”
Recall that 17-year old Trey Sims had been arrested for allegedly sending a video of his erect penis to his girlfriend, also a minor. Prince William County prosecutors charged the teen with two felony charges: for possession of child pornography and manufacturing child pornography. These charges could have landed him in jail until he reached 21 years of age and then put him on the sex offender list, potentially for the remainder of his life. All for ‘sexting’ his girlfriend.
If it wasn’t bad enough already that prosecutors were willing to go forward with such drastic charges—and ones intended to protect children like Trey from adult predators—it gets worse. Manassas city police had already forcibly taken pictures of the teen’s penis when he was arrested, but that, apparently, wasn’t enough. Commonwealth’s attorney Claiborne Richardson told the teen’s lawyer that he either had to plead guilty or they would obtain a search warrant for pictures of his erect penis—which would be obtained by bringing the teen to a hospital and forcing him to take an erection-inducing drug while police officers took pictures of his forcibly-erect penis. Apparently, special software would then be used to compare the penises. When he did not plead guilty, substitute Juvenile Court Judge Jan Roltsch-Anoll granted the search warrant. Thankfully, it was never actually served.
When word got out about what was happening, the government agents backed off a bit. Sims just recently agreed to a year of probation to avoid the more serious charges.
Earning worst of the month for June is police officer Ronald Harris. Recall that he attempted to rob a woman at Memphis International Airport. But this was an extraordinary theft. Harris was trying to steal a bag from an employee of St. Jude Children’s Hospital who was, in turn, delivering the bag to a family. The bag was a gift from the Make-A-Wish Foundation—the organization that grants wishes to terminally-ill children. The bag held several St. Jude t-shirts and a $1500 credit card for the family to use for travel. Harris followed the St. Jude employee into the airport and then struck a member of the family who tried to stop him from stealing their wish away. Harris has been suspended pending an investigation and faces a long list of charges. Police misconduct is never good, but plotting to steal the wish from a terminally-ill child and their family is just really low.
Full story here.
Our choice for May was not difficult–the Georgia police officers who threw a flashbang grenade into an infant’s crib after ramming the door open to look for a drug dealer. The officers were executing a no-knock warrant when they threw the flashbang grenade through the cracked door without looking or knowing who was inside the room. The grenade (sometimes the government uses the euphemism “distraction device”) landed on the 19-month-old’s pillow and exploded, causing severe burns to his face and chest. The child and his relatives, who were also sleeping in the converted garage room, were temporary visitors in the home because theirs had recently burned down. The person the police were looking for was not there. Hmm.
The officers involved expressed regret, and said that they had no idea there was a child present and that if they had, they would have done things differently. The police chief said the incident is going to make them “double question” next time. Hmm. First, why would anyone not already “double question” before blindly tossing a grenade into a room? Second, is the indication that a child is present really the only reason not to go full-Rambo on a house where human beings live? Think about it. Even if the police had solid proof that an adult was selling marijuana, meth, or cocaine from his home, is a flash bang grenade on his pillow a legit police tactic? A legit risk?
Cases like this one not only underscore the brutal collateral damage of the drug war, but also the lack of adequate oversight over police raids like this one. Yes, there will be a lawsuit, but that’s an insufficient response.
Check out the Cato raid map for more police raids that went awry.
The worst misconduct for the month of April is the story of the five Chicago police officers who each took the witness stand to testify about how evidence was obtained in connection with a drug case. Each officer got up on the witness stand and told the same story, but not one of them was telling the truth. Video evidence offered by the defense contradicted the coordinated falsehood that the police agents offered up. This practice (called “testilying” by some) is a serious flaw in the U.S. justice system. Every now and then, like here, the veil is pulled back—this time thanks to video evidence. Was this the very first time that these officers committed perjury? How many cases like this are out there?
So for March it was the case of the soon-to-be-former Philadelphia police officer, Kevin Corcoran. Mr. Corcoran was driving the wrong way down a one-way street near a group of individuals when one of them pointed out that the officer had made an illegal turn. The officer got out and aggressively approached the individuals, who readied their cell phone cameras to capture the incident. The footage (warning: graphic language) shows Corcoran accosting one of the persons filming, an Iraq war veteran, and shouting “Don’t fucking touch me!” before slapping the vet’s phone out of his hand, throwing him up against his police vehicle, arresting him, and driving off. Another of the cameras showed the vet with his hands up in a defensive posture, retreating from the officer. When the vet asked why he had been arrested, Corcoran said it was for public intoxication. Corcoran later cooled off and, after finding out the individual was a veteran, let him off without charges.
Corcoran has a history of alleged misconduct, including allegations in 2008 that he entered a home without a warrant (and then administered a beating), allegations in 2009 that he falsely accused a man of assault and possession of a controlled substance (after administering a beating), and other similar situations. In each case, the defendants ended up being acquitted of the charges.
Civil suits over Corcoran’s abuse of authority have been settled out of court in the past, but thanks to the quick cameras of the individuals he encountered here, Corcoran faces charges of false imprisonment, obstructing the administration of law, and official oppression—along with a suspension with intent to dismiss. This incident shows the importance of the right to film police behavior.
So for February, it was the case from Towson, Maryland, where the local police seem to think they can suspend the First Amendment.
A young man was recording a late night altercation involving arrests in downtown Towson when Baltimore County police noticed him recording, roughed him up, and threatened him with arrest if he continued to record the ongoing arrests. When the man cited the First Amendment right to record the police (which Baltimore County Police policy fully recognizes), the officer accosted him and shouted “You have no rights!”
Earlier in the recording, another officer tries to justify ordering the man to leave the scene, shouting “you diverted my attention from that… LEAVE!” Then the officer immediately resorted to physical force to push the video recorder away from the scene. The video shows multiple officers on the scene reacting violently to being recorded. The fact that they are flouting the law and their department policy so willfully, while knowing they are being recorded, makes these Baltimore County police officers our prime candidates for the worst police misconduct for February.
For additional background, go here.
The worst police misconduct incident for January was the case of a Boiling Springs Lake, NC officer who callously shot a 90-pound, mentally-ill teenager while two other officers held the teen down. Keith Vidal’s parents called the police because their son was having a schizophrenic episode and they needed assistance subduing him. Keith had a small screwdriver in his hand when the first police unit arrived. The officers tased Keith and were holding him down when an officer from the second unit, which had arrived about a minute later, shot between the two officers holding Keith down, saying, “We don’t have time for this.” The officer claimed he was defending the life of one of the officers holding Keith down because Keith still had the tiny screwdriver in his hand. The family had recently lost a daughter in a car accident, and not had to watch their son die in front of them, shot heartlessly by one of the very people they had called for help.