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Worst of the Month — February

So for February, we’ve selected Pima County, Arizona for the conduct of (the now former) Sheriff Christopher Radtke and the very peculiar leniency shown to him by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Federal prosecutors charged Radtke with several felonies for money laundering and theft.  According to the newspaper accounts, Radtke admitted that for years he made it appear as if his office was donating seized cash and assets from criminal suspects to a sheriff’s auxiliary fund when that wasn’t the case at all.

Ordinary citizens go to prison for embezzlement, but not Radtke.  No prison time and a very generous pension.

Here’s an excerpt from one report:

The plea bargain dismisses all felonies, with Radtke admitting to three misdemeanor theft counts. He agreed to not seek employment as a law-enforcement officer or with Pima County government. In return, prosecutors will request one year of probation without incarceration and will not prosecute Radtke for other offenses.

The deal allows Radtke to receive an $82,800 annual pension from the state Public Safety Personnel Retirement System and a one-time $505,000 payment from the system’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan, according to the retirement system’s records. Within six years, Radtke will receive more than $1 million in state retirement benefits.

Had Radtke been convicted of any of the felony charges against him, he would have been required by law to forfeit his state pension because the crime was committed in the course of his role as a public official for a government employer.

The plea was accepted by Magistrate Judge Eric Markovich. Sentencing is scheduled for April 7 in U.S. District Court in Tucson.

Remarkable.

Hundreds Protest the Actions of an Off-Duty Cop in California

From the Washington Post:

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Anaheim, Calif., for a sprawling protest Wednesday night that was sparked by video footage showing an off-duty Los Angeles police officer firing his gun during a confrontation with teenagers a day earlier.

No one was hurt during the shooting, but the episode was recorded and widely shared across social media, sparking anger in the area and leading to a standoff on Anaheim’s streets between demonstrators and police. The officer involved has been placed on leave, while two teenagers were arrested after the incident.

Authorities have not identified the officer involved, but promise a thorough and impartial investigation into the incident.

Worst of the Month — January

So for January we have selected the case of Philippe Holland, who was an innocent man shot by Philadelphia police.

According to news reports, here is what happened: Holland was a college student who worked part-time delivering take-out food.  Two  years ago, he was delivering a cheeseburger to a house when two officers in plain clothes responded to the area because of a report about gunshots.  Holland says he thought he was about to get robbed because the officers approached him without identifying themselves.  Frightened, Holland jumped in his car and tried to drive away quickly.  The police officers opened fire and Holland now has a permanent seizure disorder and has bullet fragments in his brain.

Last month, the city agreed to pay $4.4 million to settle a lawsuit brought by Holland, reportedly the largest settlement for a police shooting in the city’s history.

The officers involved in the shooting–Kevin Hanvey and Mitchell Farrell– claim that they feared for their lives and thus had to shoot.  They were not prosecuted.  Even after the passage of two years the department says their discipline is yet “to be determined.”  Hmm.

Worst of the Month — December

For December we’ve selected two former police officers from East Point, Georgia, who were found guilty of criminal charges last month in relation to the killing of Gregory Towns.

Here’s the background: Two police officers, Marcus Eberhart and Howard Weems, were responding to a domestic disturbance call.  When they arrived on the scene, Gregory Towns tried to flee on foot.  The police caught him and placed him in handcuffs.  When the officers ordered Towns to stand up and walk to the police car, he said he was exhausted and too tired to walk.  Frustrated, the police responded by tasing Towns so that he would comply with their commands.  Towns was tased several times and he died.

At their criminal trial, the officers told the jury, via their legal counsel, that Towns died from an illness unrelated to the tasing, but if they did not believe that, the jury should understand that the tasing was the only way to get Towns to the police car.

AP Report on Misuse of Police Databases

This morning, the Associated Press published results of their investigation into the unauthorized access of law enforcement databases by police officers. Unsurprising to regular readers of PoliceMisconduct.net, they found egregious abuses including stalking, harassment, and selling of personal information.

Unspecified discipline was imposed in more than 90 instances reviewed by AP. In many other cases, it wasn’t clear from the records if punishment was given at all. The number of violations was surely far higher since records provided were spotty at best, and many cases go unnoticed.

Among those punished: an Ohio officer who pleaded guilty to stalking an ex-girlfriend and who looked up information on her; a Michigan officer who looked up home addresses of women he found attractive; and two Miami-Dade officers who ran checks on a journalist after he aired unflattering stories about the department.

“It’s personal. It’s your address. It’s all your information, it’s your Social Security number, it’s everything about you,” said Alexis Dekany, the Ohio woman whose ex-boyfriend, a former Akron officer, pleaded guilty last year to stalking her. “And when they use it for ill purposes to commit crimes against you — to stalk you, to follow you, to harass you … it just becomes so dangerous.”

Law enforcement discipline and self-monitoring is notoriously opaque and varies jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so it is impossible to know how often these abuses happen. While it would be unfair to say that most police officers violate these laws and rules, it is unfortunately not uncommon either. Police departments should regularly audit the logins and access to sensitive personal data to protect the privacy of individuals and maintain the integrity of their own agencies.

You can read the whole AP story here. You can scroll through many of the cases we found that document the phenomenon on Twitter here. And if you don’t follow us on Twitter already, check us out at @NPMRP.

Some (Heavy) Monday Morning Reading

The findings of two new reports may be of interest to NPMRP readers.

The first is tangential to police misconduct, but nevertheless big news in the criminal justice world: The 2015 Uniform Crime Report. The findings show an increase in violent crime and murder and a continued decrease in many property crimes. A mixed bag, to be sure, but it is important to remember that we’re still near historic lows in violent crime as other crimes continue to trend downward.  While crime rate increases are reasonable cause for concern, people should not be swayed to believing that everything is going terribly. It’s still very safe for most people in the United States and new policies based on overreaction are the last thing we need.

More directly related to our typical slate of work at NPMRP is a new report on the ATF’s ‘stash-house’ sting program. For those unfamiliar, the ATF would find people and entice them to rob a drug dealer’s stash house with the promise of a big payday. The drug house doesn’t actually exist but the people duped into joining the heist are then prosecuted and give heavy sentences for a crime that never happened. The practice has faced strong public criticism because it preys on the poor and particularly minorities. A new study confirms the findings of an earlier USA Today investigation that showed that racial minorities were targeted to be set up by the ATF at an astonishingly high rate. According to the news report:

The new report, prepared by Columbia Law School professor Jeffrey Fagan, found only a 0.1% chance that agents could have selected so many minorities by chance, even if they were targeting only people with criminal records that suggested they were likely to be part of a robbery crew, as ATF policies require. Those results, Fagan wrote, show that “the ATF is discriminating on the basis of race” in choosing targets for the stings.

The full UCR report can be downloaded here. The Fagan report is here.

Tulsa Officer Charged with Manslaughter for Killing Terence Crutcher

Late Thursday afternoon, the Tulsa County, Oklahoma district attorney announced that he filed a charge of first-degree manslaughter against Officer Betty Shelby for fatally shooting Terence Crutcher.

The shooting has garnered national attention as it was captured on both dashcam and police helicopter film. Despite the video evidence, the case is hardly open-and-shut win for the prosecution here. The law is generally on the side of the police officers, as I explained earlier this week at Timeline:

Despite repeated public outcry in highly publicized cases like this one, data shows that police officers are in fact very rarely charged or successfully prosecuted for on-duty shootings or other uses of force. According to aWashington Post investigation, between 2005 and 2015, just 54 officers were prosecuted for shootings. Assuming that the almost 1,000 police shooting deaths recorded in 2015 wasn’t a statistical outlier, that’s 54 cases out of nearly 10,000 fatal shootings.

[…]

Put simply, a fearful police officer is a very dangerous one. If he can articulate a plausible narrative that he believed he or his life was in danger — often involving the suspect making a “sudden” or “furtive movement,” or “reaching for his waistband” as if for a gun — any lack of actual danger or dangerous weapon is not relevant to the officer’s legal culpability.

The prosecutor apparently feels confident that he can win or, perhaps, that the political consequences of a tried and failed prosecution outweigh not bringing charges at all. As the nation saw in the trials of the officers who killed Freddie Gray in Baltimore, simply bringing charges is no guarantee of a conviction.

We’ll keep an eye on this case, as well as the developing stories in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina.

You can read the whole Timeline piece here.

 

Worst of the Month — August

So for August we have selected the Baltimore Police Department (BPD).  Although the misconduct has been festering for many years, our selection is based upon the investigative findings of the Department of Justice, which were published in a report last month.

Here are a few of those findings:

  • The BPD engages in a pattern or practice of making unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests;
  • The BPD engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force;
  • The BPD engages in a pattern or practice of retaliating against people engaging in constitutionally-protected speech;
  • The BPD has allowed violations of policy to go unaddressed even when they are widespread or involve serious misconduct;
  • The BPD has failed to take action against offenders known to engage in repeated misconduct.

Because the problems run deep, it would be a mistake to focus all of our attention on the police department itself.  The political establishment of Baltimore knew there were problems, but failed to address them.  It remains to be seen whether the reform rhetoric we have been hearing will be followed by real action.