For the worst of March, we look to the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department scandal that has finally come to a close. Now-former Sheriff Lee Baca was found guilty of obstruction of justice for trying to hide various civil rights violations that were happening at the jail and within his department. Ten other officers, including Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, were convicted and sentenced to prison terms for beatings of inmates, general jail conditions, and hiding information from the federal government.
Before this scandal came to light several years ago, other LASD deputies were tried and convicted for sexually abusing inmates and other civil rights violations.
While some officers we cover are certainly bad apples, some departments create and maintain cultures of impunity for abusive officers. This allows misbehavior to become commonplace and even an integral part of how a department manages itself. This is a sad chapter in LASD’s history and hopefully the department can move on and regain the trust of the community it serves.
So for July we’ve chosen the case from Berrien County, Tennessee where the former sheriff pled guilty to beating up prisoners in-custody. These prisoners were in handcuffs and were not resisting or threatening anyone. Here’s an excerpt from the local news:
According to Heath’s guilty plea, on Jan. 12, 2012, Heath and deputies from the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office were engaged in a foot chase of an individual identified only as M.V., who had been banned from traveling through the county. During the chase, Heath saw M.V. and called out to him, “You better not run or I will beat your a**,” or words to that effect, according to the justice department. M.V. reportedly responded by running into a nearby wooded area.
Heath and deputies followed M.V. into the woods, where a deputy eventually saw M.V. and arrested him without incident. When a deputy reported that M.V. was in custody, Heath reportedly ordered deputies to wait and hold M.V. in the woods. When Heath arrived, M.V. was lying face down on the ground, with his hands handcuffed behind his back and was not resisting arrest, according to the press release.
Heath kicked M.V. in the ribs, punched him in the head with a closed fist multiple times and forcefully kneed him in the ribs multiple times, causing M.V. to experience pain and have difficulty breathing, according to the justice department.
Read the whole thing. The former sheriff, Anthony Heath, is facing two counts of violating civil rights under the color of law. Each count carries a maximum sentence of ten years, but the actual sentence is expected to be far less.
We are of course aware of several officer-involved shootings last month that received national and international attention. Alton Sterling was killed in Baton Rouge; Philando Castile was killed in Minnesota; Paul O’Neal was killed in Chicago; and Charles Kinsey was shot and wounded in North Miami. The investigations into these incidents are underway and we will, as usual, be posting updates.
Several police officers from different departments are now under investigation after a news helicopter filmed them beating a man after a high speed chase that started in Massachusetts and ended in Nashua, New Hampshire. The video appears to show the driver following police commands to get down on the pavement so he can be handcuffed and taken into custody, but then the beating begins. More here.
Last December Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel formed a task force to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the Chicago Police Department. That move followed calls for Emanuel’s resignation in the wake of the video release of the Laquan McDonald shooting.
The Task Force released its report yesterday. Here is an excerpt:
The public has lost faith in the oversight system. Every stage of investigations and discipline is plagued by serious structural and procedural flaws that make real accountability nearly impossible. The collective bargaining agreements provide an unfair advantage to officers, and the investigating agencies—IPRA and CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs—are under-resourced, lack true independence and are not heldaccountable for their work. Even where misconduct is found to have occurred, officers are frequently able to avoid meaningful consequences due to an opaque, drawn out and unscrutinized disciplinary process… Any one of these metrics in isolation is troubling, but taken together, the only conclusion that can be reached is that there is no serious embrace by CPD leadership of the need to make accountability a core value. These statistics give real credibility to the widespread perception that there is a deeply entrenched code of silence supported not just by individual officers, but by the very institution itself….Simply put, there is no ownership of the issue within CPD leadership or elsewhere, and thus there have been no substantive efforts to address these problems which continue to cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars each year.
The full report is close to 200 pages and we have not yet studied the whole thing. Most of the criticism is directed at the police department itself–and it is damning. The executive summary says little about Mayor Emanuel or his culpability. Hmm.
So for the month of November we have selected the case of Roger Carlos, who was severely beaten by officers with the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD). According to news reports, Mr. Carlos had done nothing wrong. He was apparently just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Here’s what reportedly happened. SAPD police were hunting for a suspect on drugs and weapons charges. In a case of mistaken identity, officers swarmed on poor Mr. Carlos. And even though Mr. Carlos complied with their commands, they just kept hitting him.
Mr. Carlos’s wife, Ronnie, still can’t believe this has happened. The couple has three boys under the age of ten–but their father is now paralyzed from the chest down. Doctors are also concerned he may have difficulty breathing down the road. The medical bills for multiple surgeries are enormous.
After reviewing the case, a police discipline board recommended 15-day suspensions for three officers involved. The Police Chief, William McManus, thought that recommendation was wrong. He shortened each of the suspensions to five days.
So for August it was the case of Officer Kevin McGowan. According to news reports, Patrick D’Labik, age 18, admits to running away from the police. He said he ran because he had some marijuana in his pocket and did not want to go to jail. Officer McGowan caught up with D’Labik in a convenience store and the encounter was caught on the store’s surveillance tape (video at the link above). D’Labik has his hands raised in surrender and is in the process of getting on the floor when McGowan kicks him in the face.
When police commanders saw the surveillance tape, they concluded it was unnecessary, excessive force and fired McGowan.
Wait, McGowan is now back on patrol because the city’s Civil Service Board reinstated him.
Michael A. Wood Jr. is a retired Baltimore police officer. This morning, he tweeted a series of troubling, illegal, and disturbing incidents he witnessed while on the force. I have Storified them below. Warning: these tweets contain graphic language. You can follow him on Twitter @MichaelAWoodJr .
PC=probable cause ; CDS=controlled deadly substance (drugs)
When allegations of police misconduct move from the street to the courtroom — more often than not, Minneapolis has to pay.
KARE 11 requested numbers from the City of Minneapolis and found since January 2010, Minneapolis has dealt with 141 “Officer Conduct lawsuits.” The city won 51 of them — either at trial or when a judge dismissed the case.
But the city had to pay money in 90 of those cases — settling 86 times — and losing four trials.
In that time — Minneapolis has paid $10.7 million for officer conduct lawsuits. That includes two years — 2011 and 2013 — when the city had to pay more than $4 million each year….
In 2011, Minneapolis paid nearly $2.2 million to he family of Dominic Felder, who died in 2006 — shot seven times by two officers.
And in 2010, David Smith died after police used a Taser and held him down outside the downtown Minneapolis YMCA. Minneapolis settled with his family in 2013 for nearly $3.1 million.
A key point here:
David Harris said in his research, one alarming thing he’s found is the lawsuits don’t always lead to a change in police department policies.
More than a week after Freddie Gray was arrested in Baltimore, and a day since he died, authorities are still scrambling to find out exactly what happened and why.
“I’ll tell you what I do know, and right now there’s still a lot of questions I don’t know. I know that when Mr. Gray was placed inside that van, he was able to talk. He was upset. And when Mr. Gray was taken out of that van, he could not talk, and he could not breathe,” Baltimore Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez told reporters Monday.
He spoke the same day an autopsy was done on the body of Gray, which showed that he died from a severe injury to his spinal cord. “What we don’t know, and what we need to get to, is how that injury occurred,” Rodriguez said.
The Gray family has retained a great attorney, Billy Murphy. Go here for a Cato podcast interview with Mr. Murphy about police tactics and constitutional rights.
[T]he City Council this week began considering a $5.5 million reparations package for scores of victims of abuse and torture by the police here in the 1970s and ’80s under the watch of a notorious police commander, Jon Burge. Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced his support this week for the long-sought reparations, which would include a memorial and a formal apology for the mostly black South Siders who have described being shocked with cattle prods, beaten with phone books and suffocated with plastic bags to compel confessions.
The cases involving Mr. Burge and a group of officers under his command had haunted Chicago and its Police Department for years….
[Mayor Rahm] Emanuel this week described Mr. Burge’s actions as a disgrace, adding, “We stand together as a city to try and right those wrongs and to bring this dark chapter of Chicago’s history to a close.”