As Jeff Sessions Guts Federal Oversight of Policing, It Opens the Door for Long-Needed Local Oversight

By Taylor Pendergrass, Senior Campaign Strategist, ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice

Jeff Sessions

As President Trump spends his time denigrating black NFL players and their allies who are protesting police brutality, racial inequity, and a broken criminal justice system, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is working hard to make these problems even worse.

Earlier this month, Sessions ended a federal police oversight program widely shown to be effective in curbing abusive policing. That follows Sessions’ announcement earlier this year that he was reexamining all Obama-era agreements between the Justice Department and troubled police departments, a move widely expected to result in the termination of these agreements or to render them toothless by refusing to enforce them.

Nearly everyone — from former Justice Department lawyers to law enforcement leaders to academics to activists — has rightly condemned this abdication of federal oversight. For many American cities, when it comes to fixing broken policing, the feds are often the only game in town. But that has to change. Effective oversight of police departments has to be community-based. It’s time to demand that state and local prosecutors step up when it comes to monitoring police actions and practices.

In defending their agreements with police departments, Justice Department leaders in the Obama administration pointed out that the “civil rights division uses its authority wisely, in only a small fraction of the nation’s more than 16,000 law enforcement agencies.” That fact shows the extraordinarily limited capacity of the federal government to rescue local communities from failing police departments.

Over eight years, the Obama Justice Department opened 25 investigations and entered into 14 reform agreements with local law enforcement agencies. There are dozens — if not hundreds —of agencies that need intervention and oversight. The task is well beyond the resources of a Justice Department, even one committed to reform. The remedies must be local. That starts by making locally-elected prosecutors accountable to the communities most affected by police abuse.

Scandal after scandal has revealed that many prosecutors simply turn a blind eye to misconduct by police officers with whom they interact on a daily basis. Conversely, prosecutors who are committed to achieving justice — not just convictions — have extraordinary powers to detect and address police abuse.

Empowered voters can ensure that their local prosecutor will take police misconduct seriously.

Every prosecutor’s office should create civil rights or public integrity units that are dedicated to investigating and prosecuting police misconduct in a fair, transparent, and independent manner. They must take a leadership role in publicly demanding that the police departments they work with fix systemic problems. They should decline to prosecute cases where there are clear patterns of racially biased policing or other abuse. They should refuse to rely on police officers whose records show demonstrated bias, credibility, or the use of excessive force. And they should carefully track police officer misconduct and ensure that assistant prosecutors and defense attorneys have full access to that information in any criminal case.

At the state level, attorneys general should create recommendations and guidelines for local prosecutors to ensure police accountability. They should also be aggressive in opening civil rights investigations of local police departments that are alleged to have engaged in patterns of abuse or other misconduct. If new legislation is required to empower state attorneys general to investigate and remedy patterns of civil rights abuses by police, communities should demand that state legislators pass laws to give AGs that authority.

Finally, voters can play a huge role in reforming the criminal justice system by holding prosecutors accountable. In 2016, voters demonstrated their power by electing reform-minded prosecutors in several cities, many of whom have since taken steps to improve their office’s role in ensuring police accountability.

The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice, in partnership with local ACLU affiliate offices, is committed to providing voters with the information they need to hold their local prosecutors accountable. Our initiatives include the “Meet Your DA” campaign launched by the ACLU of California, the ACLU of Oregon’s “They Report to You” campaign, and the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s effort to send formerly incarcerated individuals to canvass voters in advance of a primary election for district attorney in Philadelphia.

Empowered voters can ensure that their local prosecutor will take police misconduct seriously. That is one of the best ways to fill the accountability vacuum that Sessions’ recent actions have exposed.

 

Taylor Pendergrass, ALCU.com, September 28, 2017, “As Jeff Sessions Guts Federal Oversight of Policing, It Opens the Door for Long-Needed Local Oversight”, https://www.aclu.org/blog/mass-incarceration/smart-justice/jeff-sessions-guts-federal-oversight-policing-it-opens-door
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Nearly 300 Baltimore Criminal Cases Dropped Over Police Misconduct

Hundreds more may still be affected.

Baltimore prosecutors are dropping hundreds of cases due to several separate claims of misconduct by police there.

There are two separate misconduct and corruption issues at play. In one case, eight police officers are being indicted of federal racketeering and fraud charges. They’re accused of detaining and robbing Baltimore residents and filing for false overtime. As a result of those charges, prosecutors have dropped 109 cases.

The second crop involves officers being caught faking body camera footage, either planting evidence of crimes or at least “reenacting” the discovery of evidence and getting caught. The revelation that Baltimore police were abusing their body cameras became a national story, and no wonder: The notion that the cameras can be used to fabricate evidence turns on its head the idea that they would protect against police misconduct.

Baltimore has uncovered three cases of police staging evidence discoveries, and this led to the dismissal of 169 other cases involving those officers.

Hundreds more cases may be dropped by the end of all this, according to CNN. Prosecutors say these two types of misconduct have impacted in some way more than 850 cases. A leading public defender in Baltimore thinks those numbers may be too low.

Complicating matters is some additional body camera footage released in August connected to one of the evidence complaints. The additional footage, released by police, does appear to show that the officer ultimately did not plant evidence on the scene. Rather, he found the evidence, realized his body camera wasn’t on, turned his body camera on, then sort of recreated discovering the evidence. This was all captured by another officer’s body camera.

Nevertheless, police, prosecutors, and the public should see this behavior as a problem. Body cameras have been promoted as a tool of transparency, a way of making sure that police are behaving professionally and of determining whether incidents involving the use of force were appropriate.

It’s bad enough that police across the country are attempting to conceal body camera footage from public view. If the footage itself is not considered trustworthy by the public, that’s certainly not going to help police departments build better ties with their communities.

Settlement reached in alleged 2012 police brutality, cover-up case

(Image: Hawaii News Now/file) (Image: Hawaii News Now/file)
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – The city is preparing to settle a lawsuit over the controversial arrest of a man from more than five years ago.

That’s after two judges suspected the Honolulu Police Department wasn’t forthcoming in what it knew about the case.

Cellphone video obtained by Hawaii News Now captured the arrest of Jonah Kaahu on the North Shore in 2012.

Kaahu was reportedly trying to defend his coworker in Haleiwa who had reportedly been challenged to a fight. But when police arrived, Kaahu ran.

“Someone yelled out, ‘Jonah why are you running? You’re a hero!’ He stopped and got tackled to the ground…and they proceeded to arrest him in a rather brutal way,” said Kaahu’s former attorney Myles Breiner.

Breiner withdrew from Kaahu’s case because of a conflict of interest after representing former HPD Chief Louis Kealoha in a criminal corruption case.

Kaahu was charged with terroristic threatening, assault against a police officer and criminal property damage. But Circuit Court Judge Ed Kubo threw the case out in 2013 because of police misconduct.

“One officer appears to take his handcuffs and uses them as brass knuckles and was beating Mr. Kaahu in the back of his head as he was pounding his head also to the pavement. Another officer was kneeing him in the groin and into his chest, and a third officer took out his pepper spray and emptied it to his face,” Breiner said.

The Hauula man sued the Honolulu Police Department over the use of excessive force and claims the department withheld key evidence that would have kept him out of jail.

Rather than face a potentially expensive trial, both sides reached a settlement Tuesday morning.

Breiner said the case was most likely settled because of a judge’s ruling from last month.

“I’m very happy for the Kaahus. Their attorney did an excellent job. I applaud the effort that he made and more importantly, Judge Gillmor did a superb job in reaching a conclusion that allowed the city and the plaintiffs to reach a reasonable settlement,” said Breiner.

In the ruling, Gillmor said there is evidence the city had knowledge that two of the officers involved in Kaahu’s arrest had a history of inappropriate behavior while on duty.

Judge Kubo was also quoted in Gillmor’s ruling stating: “There’s a smell here, I can’t quite say it stinks, but there’s a smell…I repeatedly asked for information and now I’m surprised that the most important information that should have been given to me I didn’t have the opportunity to see and that includes the videotapes…something stinks.”

Attorney Victor Bakke, who has successfully sued HPD, said settlements aren’t always the best outcome.

“The people don’t get their day in court so to speak…we never get to say those cops were wrong and don’t do it again,” Bakke said. “Unless there’s a trial, it kind of gets swept under the rug.”

City council’s approval on the settlement is scheduled for March 28th. The terms of the settlement are confidential until after that.

Chelsea Davis, Hawaii news now, , “Settlement reached in alleged 2012 police brutality, cover-up case”, http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/37500328/settlement-reached-in-alleged-hpd-police-brutality-and-cover-up-case

National Disgrace “Officer” Scot Peterson Hid like a Little Bitch while Psycho Nikolas Cruz Dropped Bodies

“Officer” Scot Peterson, the armed School Resource Officer who had 1 simple job to do at Marjory Stoneman Douglas school in Parkland, Florida.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The only armed sheriff’s deputy at a Florida high school where 17 people were killed took cover outside rather than charging into the building when the massacre began, the Broward County sheriff said on Thursday. The sheriff also acknowledged that his office received 23 calls related to the suspect going back a decade, including one last year that said he was collecting knives and guns, but may not have adequately followed up.

The deputy, Scot Peterson, resigned on Thursday after being suspended without pay after Sheriff Scott Israel reviewed surveillance video.

“He never went in,” Sheriff Israel said in a news conference. He said the video showed Deputy Peterson doing “nothing.”

“There are no words,” said Sheriff Israel, who described himself as “devastated, sick to my stomach.”

Two other deputies were placed on restricted duty on Thursday because they may have mishandled tips called in to the sheriff’s office over the past two years warning that the suspect, Nikolas Cruz, appeared intent on becoming a school shooter, Sheriff Israel said.

The revelations added to a growing list of failures and missed signs by the authorities that might have helped prevent one of the deadliest school shootings in American history.

The F.B.I. received a tip last month from someone close to Mr. Cruz that he owned a gun and had talked of committing a school shooting, the bureau revealed last week, acknowledging that it had failed to investigate. The tip about Mr. Cruz appeared to be the second in four months, after another person told the bureau about an online comment apparently posted by Mr. Cruz that he wanted to become “a professional school shooter.”

The Florida Department of Children and Families, the state social services agency, looked into Mr. Cruz’s well-being in 2016 after he posted on social media that he was cutting himself, but investigators determined he was not at risk of harming himself or others. The Broward County Public Schools had disciplinary complaints on Mr. Cruz dating back to when he was in middle school, including a long history of fighting.

Sheriff Israel said he informed Deputy Peterson on Thursday that he was being suspended without pay and placed under internal investigation. At 12:37 p.m. on Thursday, sheriff’s office records show, Deputy Peterson, signed his retirement papers, which amounted to a resignation. He had been with the office for more than 32 years.

“The investigation will continue,” Sheriff Israel said.

The surveillance video, which was not released, showed Deputy Peterson remained outside the west side of the building for at least four minutes while the gunman was inside, according to Sheriff Israel. The shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School lasted less than six minutes. The video was corroborated by witness statements, Sheriff Israel said.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that an officer from the Coral Springs Police Department who responded to the shooting had seen Deputy Peterson in a Stoneman Douglas High parking lot. The deputy “was seeking cover behind a concrete column leading to a stairwell,” Officer Tim Burton said.

In the chaos immediately after the shooting, there were other missteps. A 20-minute delay in school surveillance video confused Coral Springs police officers trying to find the gunman, said Chief Tony Pustizzi. By then, the suspect had already left the building.

Chief Pustizzi called it a communications failure. The video system allows for real-time playback

“At first the guys are hearing, ‘Oh, he’s on the second floor.’ Well, it’s not true, ‘cause we have people on the second floor and the people are saying, ‘Well, he’s not on the second floor,’” Chief Pustizzi said, adding that, if anything, the officers were “more expeditious” as they moved through the school under the belief the gunman was still there.

Coral Springs police have said they were the first to respond to the shooting. Sheriff Israel, who defended his office’s response on Wednesday and said his own deputies had not hung back outside the building, said on Thursday that the Coral Springs officers acted “heroically.”

Samantha Fuentes, an 18-year-old senior at Stoneman Douglas High who was shot in both legs, said she never saw Deputy Peterson during the “30 minutes” that passed before SWAT officers arrived at the first-floor classroom in which she and other students had been taking a class.

“He is not someone who has much of a presence” in the school, she said.

Sheriff Israel, flanked by two of his top aides, appeared emotional Thursday during the news conference in which he described Deputy Peterson’s conduct. His eyes appeared to glisten, and his speech was sometimes halting.

The two other deputies placed on restricted duty pending an internal investigation were identified by the sheriff’s office as Edward Eason and Guntis Treijs.

In November 2017, a caller told the authorities that Mr. Cruz had been stockpiling guns and knives. In a summary of the call, the sheriff’s office said the caller, located in Massachusetts, worried that Mr. Cruz “will kill himself one day and believes he could be a school shooter in the making.” A deputy contacted the person who called, but no report was filed. The caller was referred to the sheriff’s office in Palm Beach County, where the caller said Mr. Cruz lived.

In February 2016, the sheriff’s office received what it described as “thirdhand information” that Mr. Cruz “planned to shoot up the school” and had posted a picture on Instagram of a “juvenile with guns.” A deputy determined that Mr. Cruz had knives and a BB gun and forwarded the information to the school resource officer at Stoneman Douglas High. That was Deputy Peterson.

Some of the other calls reveal further details about Mr. Cruz’s troubled childhood. In November 2014, someone reported that a person fitting Mr. Cruz’s description shot a chicken with a possible BB gun. Mr. Cruz was found to own an airsoft rifle, which he admitted to using, but denied he shot chickens.

And in September 2016, a peer counselor at Stoneman Douglas High alerted the school resource officer — likely Deputy Peterson — that Mr. Cruz “possibly ingested gasoline” the week prior “in an attempt to commit suicide and is cutting himself.”

“Mental health counselor advised Cruz did not meet criteria for Baker Act,” the summary said, referring to the Florida law that allows the police to commit the mentally ill against their will.

Stoneman Douglas High initiated a “threat assessment” on Mr. Cruz after the counselor’s report. The Florida Department of Children of Families looked into whether Mr. Cruz was at risk of harming himself or others and concluded he was not because he was living with his mother, attending school and seeing a counselor.

 

Chicago’s pattern of withholding evidence in police misconduct cases keeps getting worse

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It looks like the ongoing scandal involving the city law department’s repeated failure to turn over evidence in police misconduct cases is just getting worse and worse.

Attorneys suing the city are now seeking judicial sanctions in two cases.  In one, which I wrote about here a year ago, the city has already been sanctioned once.

In the other, a 2014 lawsuit by Aretha Simmons and her family alleges that police entered their home illegally and held a 3-year-old girl and her grandmother at gunpoint. The city has admitted it should have turned over “unit files” that included the officers’ disciplinary histories when the court ordered it to produce personnel files.

The case recalls the “street files” story from over 30 years ago, when investigative files with exculpatory evidence were kept secret during the murder trial of a South Side honors student. In the Simmons case, files with relevant discipline records have been hidden.

When U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly ordered the city to turn over personnel files, the law department only produced “benign documents such as paperwork associated with officers’ job applications,” according to Simmons’ attorneys.

The city produced the real personnel files with disciplinary records only after Simmons’ attorneys filed a motion on Feb. 9 seeking sanctions for withholding evidence.  That motion was filed after the city turned over a huge civilian complaint file in a very similar case involving a number of the same officers.

The last-minute disclosures – given long after Simmons’ attorneys had questioned the 11 officers involved in the Simmons case in depositions – showed that seven of the 11 were involved in a 2013 arrest in which they claimed that they got a key for an apartment from someone outside the building and found illegal guns and drugs in the apartment. The officers made the same claim in the Simmons case.

In the 2013 arrest, however, a neighbor’s surveillance camera showed the officers were lying.  Two of the seven were stripped of their police powers, and the Bureau of Internal Affairs recommended they be fired for giving false statements.

According to Simmons’ attorneys, the new information also showed that the two officers lied about their assignments in their depositions, failing to disclose that they’d been stripped of police powers and assigned to the 311 call center.

All of this goes to the crucial issue of the officers’ credibility, to say the least.  The information was disclosed long after the city claimed it had produced all relevant discovery materials.  Simmons’ attorneys are asking Kennelly to enter a default judgment against the city.

“It appears that for many years, when plaintiffs requested personnel files and courts ordered the production of personnel files,” the city has instead been turning over “a sham personnel file,” they wrote in their motion for sanctions.

The implications of this development could be huge for Chicagoans who sue the police for abuse. And it certainly represents a heavy blow to the law department, which has been repeatedly sanctioned by judges – sometimes with very harsh words – for withholding evidence in lawsuits.

Judicial sanction is an extraordinary remedy, and it’s been ordered in nearly a dozen cases since Mayor Rahm Emanuel was elected in 2011.  And it’s now been two years since Emanuel said it’s “not possible” that the law department was part of the police department’s “code of silence,” and promised yet another independent review of the city’s problems in producing evidence.

Yet the judicial sanctions keep coming. Last month, the supervisor of the law department’s civil rights litigation division resigned after a federal judge made it clear the city will be sanctioned for failing to turn over civilian complaints against a sergeant being sued for excessive force in the shooting of 16-year-old Jaquise Evans in 2015. The city settled that lawsuit for an undisclosed sum days before trial.

The month before that, the city agreed to pay $20 million to settle a lawsuit stemming from a deadly drunk-driving crash involving former detective Joseph Frugloi. Frugloi’s previously undisclosed suspension for an alcohol-related infraction surfaced at the last minute.

And the month before that settlement, the city was assessed a $62,500 sanction for giving the “runaround” to an attorney for LaShawnda Young, whose 20-year-old son Divonte was shot and killed by police in 2012.  Attorney H. Candace Gorman had uncovered evidence the city had denied existed, including video of a police interview in which Divonte’s girlfriend was browbeaten and threatened and a follow-up interview with an eyewitness that cast doubt on the police version of events.

Now Gorman is seeking sanctions again, saying city lawyers have disclosed—after initially denying—the existence of an evidence officer’s file.  In its response to Gorman’s motion for sanctions, the city argued that Gorman confused the “evidence technician” with the “evidence coordinator.” But that issue seems entirely irrelevant, since she had requested – and the court ordered to be produced – all investigative and forensic files.

Gorman said she does not believe the city has produced the entire file yet.

It’s certainly crucial information.  Gorman has already received a sketch by the evidence officer of the crime scene, which she said places Divonte’s body in a different location from the one identified in the initial report by the Independent Police Review Authority (now the Civilian Office of Police Accountability). That location, in turn, is different from the location of the body given in the police department’s version of the incident.

The police claim Divonte pointed a gun at them, but no gun was ever recovered from the scene.

Gorman has asked U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall to allow her to depose the law department personnel responsible for responding to discovery requests.  She argues this would provide the critical and objective review that the city has so far been unable to carry out.

The law department declined to comment. But in the past, it has said it takes these issues “very seriously” and promised to improve discovery policies and practices and adjust training “to ensure that any mistakes are not repeated.”

Those promises have been repeated and repeated – and the mistakes have been repeated and repeated.  Something isn’t working here.  And ultimately it’s the mayor who should be held accountable for failing to keep his promise to fix the problem.

Santa Clara Settles Police Misconduct Lawsuit For $6.7M

BREAKING: The settlement with Harmon Burfine — injured when officers came to her residence to arrest her daughter — was reached Thursday.

By NorCal Patch, News Partner | | Updated
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SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CA — The city of Santa Clara has settled a lawsuit alleging that its police department entered a home without a warrant and broke a woman’s ankle while detaining her under questionable circumstances in 2016 for $6.7 million.

Sgt. Gregory Hill and officers Mitchell Barry, Mark Shimada, Peter Stephens and Greg Deger were all named defendants in the suit, which claims that officers kicked down the door of Danielle Harmon Burfine’s home after she refused to let them in without a warrant on April 12, 2016, according to attorneys Michael Haddad and Julia Sherwin.

They were there to arrest Harmon Burfine’s 15-year-old daughter on suspicion of arson in connection with a fire that caused an evacuation and $350,000 in damage at a Santa Clara high school roughly a week earlier on April 4.

After forcing entry into the plaintiff’s home, officers grabbed her and swung her to the ground, smashing her ankle up against a stone wall. She suffered a fracture, and the injury may be permanently disabling, according to her attorneys.

After multiple surgeries Harmon Burfine developed a condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, in which the chronic pain in her injured leg has spread to other limbs.

City attorney Brian Doyle said in a statement that while there was “significant disagreement about the extent of the injury” they do not dispute the claim that Harmon Burfine suffered a broken ankle when police entered her home without a warrant.

“The City’s insurer determined that the most prudent course of action was to pay an amount that would result in a settlement,” Doyle said.

But as a result of the settlement, evidence disputing the injury claim will never be presented at trial, according to the city.

Santa Clara police Chief Michael Sellers called that disappointing in the city’s statement.

“I fully support the police officers who acted in good faith to arrest this arsonist wanted on felony charges,” Sellers said.

During a news conference in Oakland Thursday afternoon, Harmon Burfine’s attorneys called Sellers out for that support.

“When he makes a statement like that he’s sending a message to all of the officers in his department that they should keep breaking the law, they should keep breaking into peoples homes without a warrant and they should keep breaking the bones of innocent women,” Sherwin said.

Sherwin also urged the people of Santa Clara to ask Sellers “what’s wrong with him.”

Sherwin and Haddad said that one of the most troubling aspects of this incident is that it occurred shortly after the City of Santa Clara reached a $500,000 settlement in a similar case filed on behalf of one of their other clients, in which police officers entered the home of two federal agents without a warrant.

“We had hoped that would begin to fix the problem with that department with warrants,” Haddad said. “It didn’t.”

During a statement made at Thursday’s news conference Harmon Burfine, who earned an associate degree in criminal science and was in the process of applying to work as an officer for the San Jose Police Department when she was injured, started out by thanking good cops all across the country.

She also said this could not have been about taking her daughter into custody because she had already made arrangements to surrender the child into police custody the following morning at 8 a.m.

This is about rights, Harmon Burfine said.

“Those can’t be taken away,” she said.

“I have a message, mostly for Chief Sellers, but also for the officers who entered my home without a warrant: You need to think back to that oath, the one you swore to uphold,” Harmon Burfine said.

Haddad and Sherwin had released video of the incident in question from an officer’s bodyworn camera. They told reporters at Thursday’s news conference they’d been forced to take the video down at the insistence of the Santa Clara Police Department – but the video has already been reposted by other accounts on social media.

In the video Harmon Burfine can be heard screaming at length, crying, repeatedly informing officers that her leg had been broken and begging officers to summon medical assistance. At one point she informed officers that she was about to vomit, and subsequently did.

The officers who forced entry into Burfine’s home waited roughly seven minutes before calling medical personnel to the scene. While she was screaming in pain, one of them also threatened her with arrest if she didn’t “calm down.”

 

NorCal Patch, News Partner | , “Santa Clara Settles Police Misconduct Lawsuit For $6.7M”, https://patch.com/california/cupertino/santa-clara-settles-police-misconduct-lawsuit-6-7m

Police Complaint Board to Investigate Charges of Sexual Misconduct

Since its inception a quarter century ago, the independent city agency that investigates allegations of police abuse in New York City has done nothing more with complaints about sexual misconduct than send them to the Police Department. In the 18 months ending last June, 117 such allegations were funneled to the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, where findings remain hidden and any discipline of officers is cloaked in administrative secrecy.

Now, however, as allegations about a wide spectrum of sexual misconduct — from inappropriate comments to workplace coercion to sexual abuse and rape — are roiling the country, the agency, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, has added a layer of oversight to allegations of sexual harassment and abuse in policing.

In a board meeting on Wednesday it adopted a resolution from its staff to immediately investigate certain allegations of sexual misconduct by officers against civilians, such as lewd comments or gestures, snapping unwanted photographs or sexually humiliating or ticketing civilians if they rebuff flirtations like a blown kiss. The vote was unanimous, with three board members appointed by the police commissioner joining seven others appointed by the mayor or City Council.

Later, it hopes to broaden that mandate and select a group of specially trained, senior investigators to handle the most serious allegations, including rape, though not before it builds up a budget and some expertise in helping survivors of traumatic sexual violence by officers.

That next phase must be done carefully, to ensure that, “the procedures we put in place do not negatively impact the complainants and also don’t impact potential criminal investigations,” Jonathan Darche, the executive director of the board, told board members at the meeting.

In a memo outlining its rationale, the staff of the agency said there is little in the arena of abuse by sworn, armed law enforcement officers that “undermines society’s confidence in the police more than an officer who wields the badge as a tool of sexual intimidation and coercion.”

“Unfortunately,” it went on, “the question is not whether such misconduct occurs. Rather, C.C.R.B. must investigate how often it occurs and what can be done to stop it.”

Outside watchdogs of the New York City police immediately embraced the idea as necessary and long overdue. The C.C.R.B. was formed in 1993 with a mandate by the City Charter to investigate four types of misconduct allegations: force; abuse of authority; discourtesy; and offensive language. It said in its memo that allegations of sexual misconduct by officers fall clearly under its power to look into cases of officers abusing their authority, though some cases might also involve discourtesy, offensive language or force.

“If there’s any surprise here, it’s that the C.C.R.B. is only now getting to the point where it recognizes that sexual harassment by N.Y.P.D. officers is something the board has to be dealing with,” Christopher T. Dunn, the associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told the board before its vote, in Lower Manhattan. “But I am glad you are confronting it now.”

For allegations of criminal sexual conduct, the board’s memo called for a new policy allowing the board to notify the appropriate district attorney’s office — a step beyond its current practice of only notifying the Internal Affairs Bureau — though it said the high burden of proof in such cases means prosecutors often cannot or will not pursue them.

Andrew Case, a lawyer who was a spokesman for the review board, said he worries “that if these cases, particularly forcible assaults, fall to C.C.R.B., then that would be a sign that D.A.s are not doing all they can to investigate truly criminal acts.”

New York state law does not explicitly forbid sexual contact between police officers and people in their custody, though it forbids such conduct by correction and parole officers. The New York State Assembly last week passed legislation to prevent police officers from escaping legal consequences of an alleged sexual assault by saying arrestees consented, and the State Senate is now considering the same measure. The New York City Council is also considering legislation that would make it a misdemeanor crime for police officers to have sexual contact with people in custody.

The 117 allegations of sexual misconduct the board referred to the Internal Affairs Bureau between January 2016 and June “included a variety of allegations, from catcalls and sexual propositions to unwanted touching and rape,” the memo said. It summarized three of them to provide a range of cases the board receives.

In one, a woman questioned by a Bronx detective in 2014, at a shooting scene, went on to repeatedly encounter the same man around the neighborhood “and recalled that he would regularly lick his lips and make lewd expressions toward her,” the board’s memo said. In 2016, as she was held in a station house jail cell on a driving charge, the same detective entered her cell and made a profane gesture and a reference to oral sex.

In another, a man alleged that an officer twice squeezed his genitals during a frisk last year that followed a street stop for jaywalking.

The Police Department declined to answer questions about any discipline handed down to officers in the 117 complaints referred to its Internal Affairs Bureau, how the cases were decided or what the complaints alleged. It said it would work with the review board to implement the new procedure.

For all review board referrals to the Internal Affairs Bureau, “a huge issue” is that the police “don’t tell us what happens with any of them,” Mr. Case said. “One of the things this speaks to, a broader issue, is reporting from I.A.B. to C.C.R.B. about all referrals.”

 , “Police Complaint Board to Investigate Charges of Sexual Misconduct”, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/14/nyregion/ccrb-sexual-misconduct-police.html

What It Takes to Actually Convict Police of Misconduct

Officers involved in fatal incidents keep getting acquitted, but a team of Baltimore cops who stole from suspects and taxpayers alike during a years-long criminal spree are facing serious jail time.

A Baltimore Police car passes a mural of Freddie Gray.
A Baltimore Police car passes a mural of Freddie Gray. Steve Ruark / AP
 David A. Graham,
 

Something amazing happened over the course of a recent trial in Baltimore: Witnesses laid out the way that the city’s Gun Trace Task Force acted as a de facto criminal gang, but with the advantages of a police badge and the power of the state. Officers assigned to the unit robbed hundreds of thousands of dollars from drug dealers, pocketing the money. They targeted cars for searches based on makes and models, and stopped adult black men just for carrying backpacks. They drove at groups of men and detained anyone who ran. They bilked taxpayers by charging for fraudulent overtime.

On Monday, something even more amazing happened. Two officers were convicted of racketeering and robbery charges in federal court. They joined six others who had already pleaded guilty. Stories of police misconduct have become bracingly common in recent years, but convictions have remained rare. The failure to convict any Baltimore officer in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray is the obvious contrast, but similar cases all over the country, from Tamir Rice to Eric Garner to Daniel Shaver, have also ended without convictions.

What lessons do the convictions in Baltimore teach about policing the police? The glaring answer is that the American justice system sometimes puts property ahead of humanity. Steal a black life and you can get off in court; steal a couple hundred grand and the long arm of the law will come for you. It’s hard to argue with this explanation, but there are more complex takeaways as well.

One difference is that in the case of the Gun Trace Task Force, there was no plausible way for the defendants to argue that what they were doing was part of police work. When people are killed in incidents with officers, officers are rarely charged. When they are charged, they are rarely convicted. Juries and judges tend to grant police wide leeway in their actions, wary of second-guessing split-second decisions made while (ostensibly) guaranteeing public safety. If an officer says that he believed his life was in danger when he shot a suspect, prosecutors and courts have often been loath to conclude otherwise—even when many other people see a clear injustice. Police who are hauled up in court are also often able to claim they were following departmental mores. In the Gray case, for example, officers acknowledged not strapping Gray into a police van, but successfully convinced the court that this was standard operating procedure.

By contrast, it’s tough to construe taking fat stacks of cash out of safes and divvying them up (or in the case of one officer who pleaded guilty and testified against his colleagues, dumping it in the woods out of a guilty conscience) as somehow doing one’s job.

The prosecutor’s work was made easier by the six officers who pleaded guilty, but those pleas are also a sign of the strength of the case against them. Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, who were convicted Monday, will face up to 60 years in prison. The other six face maximum sentences ranging from 20 to 40 years.

Even though the Gun Trace Task Force convictions represent a victory for police accountability where the Gray convictions ended in failure, there is a connection between the two cases. Gray’s death, and the massive, stunning Department of Justice report that followed it, illuminated a pattern of egregious civil-rights violations by the Baltimore Police Department. The Gun Trace Task Force case does the same, showing how the group targeted black men in particular and violated constitutional processes for detention and arrest. The history of rough rides in Baltimore and the task-force racket both stem from the same lack of accountability, lawlessness, and systemic racism, and they both result in the same broken relationship between police and people that plagues Baltimore, as well as many other cities.

Monday’s convictions don’t produce justice for Gray, but they do strike at some of the same root problems. Notably, the convictions came out of a federal prosecution, in contrast to the Gray case, which was handled by the city prosecutor. “Beyond the guilty verdict and prior guilty pleas in this case, it’s time to talk about what comes next for the city of Baltimore,” Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement. “This corruption went on unabated for nearly 10 years and was only brought to light as a result of a federal investigation.”

From the Justice Department report to the Gun Trace Task Force convictions, the federal government has proved an important force in police reform. But under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the department has switched its focus, pulling back from accountability efforts and offering local law enforcement a more sympathetic hand. That probably isn’t a good omen for future cases. If the police in the United States are to be reformed, the question of what crimes produce convictions is important, but so is the question of who is prosecuting the cases.

 

David A. Graham, “What It Takes to Actually Convict Police of Misconduct”, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/02/what-it-takes-to-actually-convict-police-of-misconduct/553163/

Police Brutality in Florida: Immediate Steps a Victim of Excessive Force can take to Preserve Evidence for a Later Civil Rights Case

By the time a victim of police brutality reaches the point of hiring a civil rights lawyer, evidence has often been lost forever. Evidence which may have helped that victim prove their 42 U.S.C. § 1983 case. Often, if just a few steps had been taken by the victim, their family, or their criminal defense attorney, crucial evidence can be preserved. Below, are a few steps a victim or their family can take to ensure crucial evidence is preserved:

  1. Take pictures of the scene or any injuries you may have. If your injuries change over time continue to photograph them.
  2. Write down everything you remember about what happened when you were attacked. Include the names of any officers, witnesses and their contact information, or anyone you know that knows something about anyone involved in the incident. The officers will have their written version, so have yours too. This includes anything you can remember about the specifics of the attack. This includes small details like where you were hit, by who, how many times you were hit in specific places, and other small details. Give these notes to your criminal defense attorney to assist them with your defense. Also, keep the notes for any subsequent civil rights lawsuit.
  3. File an internal affairs complaint. Some agencies call this a professional standards complaint instead of an internal affairs complaint. You should not expect a favorable result from this investigation, but it will always help to have the documentation from any internal affairs investigation later in a civil rights case. Crucial documents and statements can be obtained by the agency conducting the professional standards investigation, which may be useful later. However, if you are going through current criminal proceedings related to the incident of police violence, you need to consult with your criminal defense attorney before doing this as your attorney may have reasons for telling you to hold off on filing a complaint.
  4. Send a letter to the law enforcement agency involved telling them they are to “preserve for later litigation” all documents related to your incident, give them your full name, the location and date of the incident in the letter, and the officers’ names, if you know them. The letter should tell them they are to preserve any 9-1-1 calls, dispatch or radio traffic, any GPS location data for any officer involved or their vehicles, any mobile terminal data for any officer involved, any CAD reports, NCIC/FCIC data, any local warrant search data, and any audio or video recordings, including body cameras, in-car cameras, belt mics, interrogation videos, and jail video camera footage. If you are involved in a criminal case related to the excessive force incident, demand your criminal defense attorney request this information in your criminal case and demand they send the preservation letter. If your attorney does not do it, send the letter yourself. If there is one most important thing you can do for yourself or your loved one, this letter is it.
  5. Take depositions in the criminal case. Tell your criminal defense attorney to take depositions in the case. The officers involved in the incident should be deposed to get their story in testimony as soon as is reasonable in any related criminal proceeding. Prior sworn testimony is worth its weight in gold and prevents an officer’s story from changing to fit a civil rights case.
  6. Contact a civil rights attorney. If a person has been killed or suffered a catastrophic injury because of police brutality, it is helpful to have a civil rights attorney involved soon after the incident. An attorney who specializes in this area can help advise the family on steps to take to help preserve evidence and any civil rights claims related to the tragedy and they may bring resources to bear to help a criminal defense attorney.
  7. Make sure the attorney you are hiring to handle a civil rights claim is experienced in taking excessive force cases. Ask the attorney about their demonstrated success in settlements, at trials, and on appeals. If they don’t go to trial or handle appeals, you should ask serious questions about whether the attorney is a civil rights attorney.
  8. If a loved one has been killed by police violence, get an independent autopsy. The state has their own interests at stake and while we would like to believe a medical examiner is independent from the police, often they are not. That is why it is wise to have an independent autopsy done before your loved one has been cremated or buried.
  9. Finally, be aware that if you are the victim of excessive force, that if there are criminal charges related to the incident that any plea you make may have a negative effect on your potential civil rights case. In some circumstances a plea, even of no contest, can end any future civil rights suit you may have.

Civil rights cases involving police and excessive force are difficult. Having all the evidence you can get is crucial to leveraging your chances of success.

 

, “Police Brutality in Florida: Immediate Steps a Victim of Excessive Force can take to Preserve Evidence for a Later Civil Rights Case”, https://mckenzielawfirm.com/2017/09/26/police-brutality-in-florida-immediate-steps-a-victim-of-excessive-force-can-take-to-preserve-evidence-for-a-later-civil-rights-case/

Cops accused of forcing man to put mouth on urinal

HONOLULU — The FBI is investigating four Honolulu police officers who are accused of forcing a man to place his mouth on a urinal inside a public restroom, according to the police department’s top official.

Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said another officer reported the suspected misconduct after the officers responded to a complaint Sunday afternoon of a person trespassing in the restroom.

“If true, these allegations violate the core values the HPD stands for,” Ballard said. “Our officers are sworn to uphold the right of all persons, and I expect every officer to treat every member of the public fairly and with respect. Personally, I am appalled at the behavior, if it is true, and appropriate action will be taken.”

The department conducted an initial internal investigation and then contacted the FBI on Wednesday. Because the case involves potential abuse of police power, Ballard said the case was referred to the federal agency.

All four officers, who were not identified, have been placed on restricted duty.

The officers have between three and 16 years of law enforcement experience, according to the department. They were all assigned to patrol a district that covers downtown Honolulu.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell commended Ballard’s decision to hand the case to the FBI for review.

“Although these officers are presumed innocent, we need an independent agency to investigate exactly what occurred and whether these officers engaged in civil rights abuses,” Caldwell said in a statement. “Chief Ballard has promised to transform the Honolulu Police Department from a warrior mentality to a guardian mentality, and this is an approach to community policing that I wholeheartedly support.”