As seen in...
Washington Post
Frontline
The Economist
The Atlantic
ABC News
National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Worst of the Month — July

For July, it was the case from Akron, Ohio.  Officer Eric Paull worked as a sergeant for the Akron Police Department.  He also taught a course on criminal justice at the University of Akron.  One of his students was a single mom.  According to news reports, the woman (name withheld) says they started a romantic relationship.  But after a year or so, that relationship turned ugly and violent.  After he beat her up on a Thanksgiving holiday, Paull told her that he was legally “untouchable.”

She believed him–so she did not file a complaint right away.  Instead, she just tried to avoid him.  But Paull stalked her and her boyfriends, using police databases to discover addresses, phone numbers, and vehicle information.  Paull would also text pictures of himself holding his gun.  There were threats to kill the woman and her boyfriend.  The woman did lodge complaints with the police and would later obtain a protective order, but the police department seemed indifferent.  Paull would not stop.

Finally, after months of harassment, Paull was charged with stalking, aggravated menacing, felonious assault, and burglary, among other charges.  His trial is expected to begin in a few weeks.

Paul Hlynsky, the police union leader, says he will try to have Paull back on the police force if he can avoid a felony conviction.

Worst of the Month — June

So the worst case for June goes to the police department in Carrollton, Kentucky.

Adam Horine was a homeless person who arrested for some petty offense.  He then appeared before Judge Elizabeth Chandler.  Horine wanted to represent himself in the case and he gave the judge some rambling answers to her questions.  Horine indicated that he had problems and did not seem angry when the judge ordered that he be sent to a hospital for a mental health evaluation.

This is when things took a bizzare turn.  Instead of following the judge’s order, the local police chief, Michael Willhoite, had one of his deputies put Horine, against his wishes, on a 28 hour bus ride to Florida.  No one accompanied Horine on the bus and no one was expected to meet him when the bus trip ended in Florida.  The idea seemed to be to push their problem prisoner on someone else.  One wonders whether this was the first time that this “police technique” was used.

Even though the police put the mentally distressed Horine on the bus, they would later charge Horine with a new crime, “escape from custody.”

 

 

Worst of the Month — May 2015

So the worst case for May was the death of Matthew Ajibade.  Ajibade’s girlfriend called the police because he was having a bipolar episode.  Georgia deputies arrested Ajibade but then took him to the jail instead of a hospital.  At the jail, he was placed in a restraint chair.  Deputies reportedly fired stun guns at him while he was restrained in the chair and then left him unattended in an isolation cell.  Ajibade, 22, died and the coroner now says it was homicide.  Nine deputies were fired over the incident and a criminal investigation is on-going.

_____________________________________________

Note: We were so busy in early May following the criminal charges leveled at the 6 Baltimore police officers that we neglected to do a “Worst of the Month” for April.   It was the death of Freddie Gray.

Worst of the Month — March

For March, it has to be the conspiracy to frame an innocent man, Douglas Dendinger, in Bogalusa, Louisiana.

Mr. Dendinger agreed to take on the task of a “process server.”  That is, he would hand-deliver legal papers to a person who has been sued–putting that person on notice about the legal action.  In this instance, Mr. Dendinger was to serve papers upon a former police officer, Chad Cassard, who was being sued for police brutality.  Mr. Dendinger found Mr. Cassard as he was leaving the local courthouse and made the delivery.  At that moment, Mr. Cassard was in the company of several police officers and prosecutors.  These people became hostile and furious with Mr. Dendinger over what this lawsuit would mean for their friend/colleague.

Then the story takes a bizarre and disturbing turn.  Later that day, the police arrive at Mr. Dendinger’s home and place him under arrest on several charges, including two felonies (1) obstruction of justice and (2) witness intimidation.   Mr. Cassard and a few of his cohorts claimed that Mr. Dendinger had served the papers in a violent fashion.  Mr. Dendinger was in very serious legal trouble.  He was looking at many years in prison.

Fortunately, a cell phone video of the “incident” emerged.  Turns out, Mr. Dendinger did nothing wrong.  All he did was peacefully hand-deliver an envelope to Mr. Cassard.  The charges were then dropped.

But we now know that local police and prosecutors leveled false accusations about what happened that day.   Had the case proceeded to trial, it would have been Mr. Dendinger’s word against several witnesses with law enforcement backgrounds.  A jury would have been hard pressed to disbelieve several witnesses who claimed to see the same thing.  A miscarriage of justice was narrowly averted.

The cell phone video exposes an outrageous criminal conspiracy by officials in Bogalusa.  More here.

Worst of the Month — February 2015

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.

Worst of the Month — September 2014

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.

Worst of the Month — August 2014

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.

Next week, Cato will be hosting two events related to Ferguson.  More info here and here.

For additional Ferguson-related posts, go here, here, here, and here.

____________________________________________________________________

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.

Worst of the Month — July 2014

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.

 

 

Worst of the Month — June 2014

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.

Worst of the Month — May 2014

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.