VA Police Brutality: Victim Gets Settlement In Excessive Force Lawsuit

The Phoenix VA Medical Center settled an excessive force lawsuit with one veteran who was the victim of VA police brutality caught on video.

The veteran, Errick Hathaway, served multiple tours in Kosovo but received a bad conduct discharge in 2005. That discharge resulted in Hathaway being ineligible for mental health care he needed in 2015 when attacked by VA police at Phoenix VA Medical Center.

Just last year, lawmakers changed the preclusion allowing veterans like Hathaway to receive some mental health care. The US Armed Forces frequently discharged service-members suffering from PTSD without diagnosis using bad conduct discharges as a means to evade taxpayer accountability through disability benefits and health care, later.

Hathaway occasionally sought care from Phoenix VA for his mental health, which he sometimes received based on humanitarian grounds decided by local clinicians or administrators.

Hathaway VA Police Brutality

So, when he tried to get care at Phoenix VA on September 9, 2015, his presence at the medical center was not unusual. As covered by The Intercept, what followed appears to be par for the course for many veterans nationwide.

One hospital staffer accused the veteran of trespassing at the medical center dedicated to serving veterans. Three VA police officers were alerted to the accusation and attempted to arrest Hathaway, who resisted.

Resisting arrest is not great. In fact, it is illegal and likely will result in additional charges beyond what a person is already going to get charged with following an arrest, such as what followed.

In the ensuing scuffle, Hathaway allegedly kicked the officers and bit the thumb of one, which could be a consequence of untreated mental illness.

Once handcuffed, the three officers in an apparent rage continued the altercation, much of which was caught on video.

The veteran was forced into a wheelchair while handcuffed.

He was then hauled into a holding cell at the hospital where two officers slammed his body and head into a wall and then the floor. Hathaway says one of the officers then tried to strangle him leaving a red mark around his neck.

RELATED: Did VA Police Beating Cause Veteran’s Death?

The body slamming and strangulation, if true, are examples of police brutality.

The video does not clearly show the strangulation, but images of Hathaway’s injuries are undeniable. He suffered a two-inch gash on his forehead after being restrained and possible strangulation marks on his neck.

The agency filed five criminal charges against the veteran who was convicted of felony aggravated assault of a police officer.

Hathaway served 16 months in prison following his conviction.

RELATED: VA Shuts Down Longterm PTSD Therapy Program

Once released from prison, Hathaway reportedly filed a lawsuit against the VA for use of excessive force in the altercation aka police brutality. The agency ultimately settled for $25,000 without admitting fault according to the veteran’s lawyer, Charles Piccuta.

Again, resisting arrest is a poor idea, generally speaking. However, attacking any person once they are fully restrained, as Hathaway was, is also illegal. VA police officers should avoid this practice, too.

Excessive Force

In case you are wondering what the legal definition is of “excessive force” and how it might apply to your situation, I grabbed the definition from USLegal:

Excessive force by a law enforcement officer(s) is a violation of a person’s constitutional rights. The term ‘excessive force’ is not precisely defined; however, the use of force greater than that which a reasonable and prudent law enforcement officer would use under the circumstances is generally considered to be excessive. In most cases, the minimum amount force required to achieve a safe and effective outcome during law enforcement procedures is recommended.

Police brutality is a violation of the law. “Cruel and unusual punishments” by the state (police) are prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment provides further protection to individuals, prohibiting the state from depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”.

Police brutality is a form of misconduct where a police officer uses excessive force meaning force that is “greater than that which a reasonable and prudent law enforcement officer would use under the circumstances”.

Did the VA police use excessive force, here? Based on the allegations, they most certainly did by physically abusing the restrained veteran while he was detained in a cell.

In this instance, the agency settled the lawsuit without admitting fault.

It seems possible, and even likely, that the agency settled to avoid any embarrassing exposure as to how leadership handled the physical abuse of the restrained veteran given that it was captured on video.

But for the video, you can rest assured VA likely would not have settled the matter.

The agency generally preserves video for at least a few days. If an incident occurs, veterans would be well served to request copies of area video immediately using FOIA before the recordings are deleted or recorded over.

Previous VA Police Brutality

The Hathaway incident was not the first rodeo for at least one of the officers that may have occurred under the leadership of the “Queen of cover-ups” Kathleen Fogarty who headed VISN 18 following exposure of the Phoenix VA wait time debacle.

Monday, I wrote about Fogarty’s cover-up of a subsequent battery at the hands of VA police at Kansas City VA resulting in the death of that elderly veteran in 2018.

RELATED: Elderly Veteran Death By VA Police Obfuscated By ‘Queen Of Cover-Ups’

A couple of months before the Hathaway incident, back in 2015, a VA whistleblower reported having witnessed the same officer allegedly choking Hathaway choke a different patient. In that instance, the veteran was a patient who said he was suicidal but “wasn’t being disruptive” or behaving in a violent manner justifying strangulation.

The whistleblower, a former VA police officer himself, said, “His eyeballs were popping out of his head; he was turning another color.”

Is strangling suicidal veterans an approved suicide prevention technique?

RELATED: VA Pays $300k In Sepsis Death

The incident of police brutality was reported to VA OIG that failed to interview the whistleblower who reported the attack. When asked by The Intercept for comment, OIG refused to even admit it investigated the matter, as if the investigation itself is some national secret.

Meanwhile, the officers implicated in Hathaway’s VA police excessive force incident still work for the agency.

The Intercept covered Hathaway’s story and those of other veterans who were body slammed by VA police over the years. VA admits it lacks adequate training and staffing for VA police that is at least partly to blame for the poor treatment of veterans.

RELATED: VA Executives Cover-up Deadly Bacteria At Hospital

Fogarty is now implicated in another incident of possible VA police brutality

Disruptive Behavior Committee

I’ve been covering Disruptive Behavior Committees for some years, and it seems the agency is not backing down on its treatment of veterans in those circumstances.

Rather than improve training, the agency is apparently running the other way, at least when it comes to body slamming veterans.

Therapeutic Containment

It is worth noting VA’s use of “therapeutic containment” against veterans supposedly deemed threats to themselves or others at medical centers.

RELATED: VA Paints Veterans As Crazed Psychos

Yes, that’s a thing.

Medical Records

For those of you who are new to the concept of Disruptive Behavior Committees, here is some information to make you aware of “disruptive behavior” according to VA.

DOWNLOAD: VA – Prevention & Management Of Disruptive Behavior

The following is straight from a Word document published by the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System – – this is the same VA system that erroneously told veterans that their smartphones were banned items along with weapons like guns and knives.

Yes, that also happened, and VA later rescinded the ban once we exposed it here.

VA Bans iPhones

What Is Disruptive Behavior?

The following excerpt in italics is a quote from VA:

Definition of Disruptive Behavior: Any unacceptable behavior that causes the routine operations of the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System (ECHCS) to be interrupted, impeded, or result in an unsafe environment.

• All threatening and/or inappropriate behavior 
• Verbal or non-verbal
• With or without an intent to inflict harm
• Use of physical force to violate, damage, or 
abuse another person or property
• Use of weapons or other instruments to threaten or inflict bodily harm
• Can take the form of sarcasm, profanity, threats, loud & belligerent verbalizations, refusal to follow reasonable requests or the use of physical force or violence

Sarcasm? Reasonable Requests?

Some on this list seem obvious but the last bullet on the list seems excessive. It seems VA wants practically any display of emotion while in a bad mood to be a punishable offense.

But “sarcasm”? How about “refusal to follow reasonable requests”?

Would Jerry Seinfeld be banned from VA for biting sarcasm? Maybe not Jerry, but definitely Newman.

How about farting or making fart noises? Is farting sufficiently disruptive to deserve a patient flag? I guess it depends on who decides.

Do we not have a Constitution that allows sarcasm as protected speech? Who decides what a “reasonable” request might be? Does a veteran not have a right to refuse such a request since we are Americans?

Did we somehow lose our rights as citizens when we became soldiers?

In that Word document, VA says it has zero tolerance for disruptive, threatening or violent behavior.

Veterans who exhibit any of the above “disruptive” behaviors will immediately be investigated. “Clinical, administrative, and possibly, legal action will be taken as warranted.”

Is this the United States of America?

Victims Excessive Force, Police Brutality

Veterans willing to talk about their experience with VA police and excessive force should comment below. By creating a record that VA OIG cannot obfuscate, we begin to paint a picture that better resembles the truth rather than what the agency tells Congress and the news media.

Also, the Hathaway story gives us some insight into how the agency is handling excessive force allegations when caught on tape.

Your take away should be two-fold.

Make a recording of your interactions with VA police so long as the recording is legal if you believe you are in danger. If you are the victim of a battery, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the agency for your injuries.

Be sure to request copies of VA video if the incident occurs in a commons area like a lobby or outside main entrances. If you can see a camera, VA likely was recording, but the agency does not keep recordings indefinitely unless a formal incident is under investigation.

Problems faced by VA Police and veterans interacting with them are now front and center in the policy arena. Reforms to how the agency trains and recruits its police officers should result but do not hold your breath just yet.

 

Benjamin Krause, July 10, 2019, “VA Police Brutality: Victim Gets Settlement In Excessive Force Lawsuit”, https://www.disabledveterans.org/2019/07/10/excessive-force-victim-va-police-brutality-settlement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=excessive-force-victim-va-police-brutality-settlement

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ABUSING THOSE WHO SERVED

Veterans Affairs Police Are Supposed to “Protect Those Who Served.” They Have a Shocking Record of Brutality and Impunity.

Marine veteran Derrick Hathaway sits for a portrait on June 19, 2019, in Chandler, Ariz. Photo: Caitlin O’Hara for The Intercept

DERRICK HATHAWAY SERVED multiple tours in Kosovo, contributing to a NATO peacekeeping mission aimed at preventing ethnic cleansing. While Hathaway envisioned his Marine mission as a humanitarian one, he soon became ashamed of his work. In the course of mapping safe routes for NATO forces, Hathaway’s platoon would perform no-knock home raids to search for weapons or contraband, leading to tense confrontations with frightened families.

“It was martial law,” Hathaway said. “That left a nasty taste in my mouth. All we were doing was feeding a new form of hate.”

Still, Hathaway followed orders and earned a number of awards for his military service, including the Good Conduct Medal, which is given to recognize “good behavior and faithful service.” But after half a decade in uniform, Hathaway was given a bad conduct discharge in February 2005. He got the boot after failing a Department of Defense drug test administered shortly after a rowdy weekend in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Among other things, this denied him access to mental health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

For years, veterans advocates and policymakers have worked to open the VA to the half-million so-called bad paper veterans like Hathaway. Last year, Congress directed the VA to offer more mental health care benefits to this neglected population. For Hathaway, however, it was too little and too late.

“The military threw me to the wolves,” Hathaway told The Intercept. “I couldn’t get counseling. I was abandoned by them.” Desperate for help, Hathaway visited his local VA hospital in Phoenix and would occasionally receive care on humanitarian grounds.

It was September 9, 2015, at around 10:30 a.m. when Hathaway, then 34, entered the hospital looking somewhat disheveled. The temperature outside had already hit 93 degrees Fahrenheit and would continue to climb. He was wearing a whimsical green T-shirt emblazoned with the Tootsie Pop slogan, “How many licks does it take?”

A hospital staffer quickly recognized Hathaway from a previous visit, deemed him a trespasser, and alerted the Veterans Affairs Police of his presence. According to a police report, three officers quickly showed up and tried to arrest Hathaway, who resisted. In the scuffle, Hathaway allegedly kicked officers and bit one’s right thumb.

Once handcuffed, Hathaway was forced into a wheelchair and hauled to a cramped holding cell in the hospital. First, two officers grabbed him by the shirt, rammed his face and body into the back wall of the cell, then threw him to the ground, according to a lawsuit Hathaway filed later. Grainy video surveillance appears to corroborate this account, and it shows that three officers proceeded to pile on top of him. Hathaway alleged that in this pile-on, Sgt. Joshua Fister strangled him. (Though the video footage itself appears inconclusive on this point, police photos taken after the incident show red marks around Hathaway’s neck). Hathaway was ultimately left sprawled out on the floor, bruised and bleeding from a 2-inch gash on his head. At some point during the melee, one of the officers stepped in a puddle of Hathaway’s blood, which he tracked into an exterior hallway.

The hospital visit resulted in five criminal charges against Hathaway, including felony aggravated assault of a police officer. The assault charge stuck, and he served 16 months in prison, which upended his life and recovery.

After he got out of prison, the husky former Marine filed his suit against the VA, alleging that its officers used excessive force. Late last year, the VA settled with Hathaway for $25,000, according to his lawyer, Charles Piccuta. (A spokesperson for the Phoenix VA noted that the settlement “included no admission of liability or fault on the VA’s part.”)

Fister, the cop who allegedly choked Hathaway, has also faced a previous allegation of excessive force: A former VA police officer in Phoenix said that two months before Hathaway’s arrest he witnessed Fister choke a different veteran patient who, just prior to the incident, was expressing suicidal intent but “wasn’t being disruptive” or violent in any way.

“His eyeballs were popping out of his head; he was turning another color,” said the officer, an Army veteran who remains in law enforcement and requested anonymity to avoid adverse professional consequences.

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These images of Derrick Hathaway were included in a police report produced after his arrest in September 2015.Photos: Phoenix Veterans Affairs Police Department

The officer said he reported the incident to his deputy chief and the hospital director. Correspondence reviewed by The Intercept shows that he also informed the FBI. While the VA Office of Inspector General launched an inquiry, the whistleblowing officer said he was never interviewed. (When asked for comment, the VA OIG provided a statement saying that it does not comment on “investigations it may or may not have completed involving an individual.”) After news of the officer’s complaints leaked into the lower ranks of the department, other cops harassed the whistleblower, threatened him, and keyed his car.

“It comes down to the thin blue line: Officers don’t want to tell on other officers,” said the whistleblower, who left the department in December 2016.

Piccuta told The Intercept that all five officers accused of causing Hathaway’s injuries, including Fister, remain on the VA police force. In response to a detailed list of questions, a spokesperson at the Phoenix VA provided a statement emphasizing Hathaway’s behavior and subsequent assault conviction. The spokesperson did not make Fister available for comment, and messages left at voice mailboxes and email addresses associated with his name were not returned.

Shocking reports of police violence against elderly patients at VA facilities have emerged in recent years.

The allegations against Fister do not appear to be exceptional. Shocking reports of excessive violence against veteran patients, many of them elderly, have emerged in recent years. They include then-71-year-old Vietnam veteran Jose Olivia, who in 2016 was tackled to the ground and arrested by VA police in El Paso after setting off a metal detector. The attack, captured on a surveillance camera, resulted in shoulder and throat injuries that required surgery. The same year, Marine veteran Danny Ralph and his service dog were both slammed to the ground by VA policein Spokane, Washington. Police charged Ralph, then 60, with disorderly conduct, contending that he refused to keep his dog outside the facility despite repeated requests.

Violent incidents like these can have fatal consequences. In 2014, the VA paid out a $500,000 settlement to the family of Jonathan Montano, a veteran who died following a physical altercation with police at the VA hospital in Loma Linda, California. Police ruptured Montano’s carotid artery, which resulted in blood clotting and a stroke. Last May, a 66-year-old veteran named Dale Farhner died following a physical struggle with VA police in Kansas City, Missouri. Police detained Farhner because he was apparently driving the wrong way down one of the hospital’s driveways, according to the Kansas City Star. One year later, the VA still has not released any information on Farhner’s death despite requests from the Star, Missouri’s U.S. Senate delegation, and Farhner’s family.

FILE- In this March 31, 2015, file photo, the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs Medical Center is shown in Portland, Ore. An assessment by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs concluded that more than 12 percent of callers to its Portland call center get tired of waiting for someone to answer and hang up. The VA also gave poor grades to Oregon's three VA hospitals. The Portland facility rated only two out of five starts when it was assessed last December, while Roseburg's got two stars in June and White City's received a single star both in last December and in June. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, File)

The Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Portland, Ore., on March 31, 2015. According to internal reports, two veteran patients suffered injuries at the hands of multiple officers at the facility in 2017. Officials determined that the officers acted appropriately.

Photo: Don Ryan/AP

Protecting Those Who Served

Today, nearly 4,200 Veterans Affairs police officers are stationed at 139 VA medical centers across the country. These cops are tasked with keeping order on VA grounds and overseeing a patient population that includes many highly trained ex-military members with psychological trauma. The force’s motto is “Protecting Those Who Served.” Yet for Hathaway and scores of other veterans, that maxim hasn’t matched the reality on the ground.

After reviewing internal police reports, legal documents, and local news reports spanning the past 10 years, The Intercept has identified dozens of credible allegations that VA cops in every corner of the United States have neglected standard police procedures, violated patients’ constitutional rights, or broken the law. In the course of their duties, they have beaten veterans, bungled sensitive investigations, falsified arrest reports, conducted improper searches, and ignored basic procedures, like reading citizens their Miranda rights.

It’s impossible at present to determine the prevalence of misconduct among VA police and how that might compare to other law enforcement agencies — largely because of the department’s own failures. According to a sweeping December report from the VA’s Office of Inspector General, the VA “did not have adequate and coordinated governance over its police program to ensure effective management and oversight for its approximately 4,000-strong police officer workforce.” The OIG found that forces at roughly three out of every four facilities were not receiving timely inspections. Further, the sparse data collected on police activities was not tracked or assessed in any systematic or rigorous way.

In other words, even if it’s unclear how prevalent misconduct is among VA police, it does seem apparent that the department’s lack of oversight structures stacks the deck against accountability and in favor of impunity.

While the VA police force was formally classified as a federal law enforcement body in 1991, its officers were not issued firearms for nearly a decade. But the VA soon provided its cops with the tools of modern American policing, partnering with the Pentagon as part of its highly controversial 1033 program, which provides military-grade equipment to police departments across the county. Between 2005 and 2014, VA police departments acquired millions of dollars’ worth of body armor, chemical agents, night vision equipment, and other weapons and tactical gear.

VA police in every corner of the U.S. have neglected standard procedures, violated patients’ constitutional rights, or broken the law.

Despite this windfall, VA police face critical staffing shortages and are often unable to uphold their basic mission of ensuring security on hospital grounds. (As of late last year, 40 percent of all VA police departments had an officer vacancy rate above 20 percent.) In the past year, the OIG has identified a half-dozen facilities where police failure to carry out required safety procedures “resulted in a lack of assurance of a safe environment for patients and staff.” In one typical example from an inspection of a VA hospital in Marion, Illinois, investigators found that police weren’t remedying problems with the hospital’s panic alarm system. They also had not addressed longstanding security deficiencies at the hospital’s pharmacy, which put it “at risk for potential loss or theft of medications.”

The officers themselves appear to receive as little scrutiny as the security issues they’re supposed to monitor: Oversight of the cops is sparse, decentralized, and split between local hospital leaders and a dysfunctional, Washington-based body called the Office of Security and Law Enforcement. The December OIG report identified significant internal confusion regarding OS&LE, with VA officials believing it to be the agency’s police watchdog despite the fact that the office lacks authority to hold departments “accountable for adhering to police program policies.”

One of the office’s main responsibilities is inspecting departments. Yet the OIG found that beginning in 2014, OS&LE had just six full-time staffers tasked with inspections and oversight of VA police. By 2017, three of these employees had been diverted to other roles. (Since the OIG released its report, the department has provided OS&LE with 10 additional staffers.) Because of staffing constraints, OS&LE did not provide timely inspections for 74 percent of VA medical facilities.

In response to The Intercept’s inquiries, a department spokesperson said that the VA police force is currently undergoing reforms based on the OIG’s findings. Specifically, the department has hired a senior security officer and 18 regional security managers to identify challenges, review inspection reports, and promote hiring and retention. The department will also soon pilot new software designed to continuously assess the state of physical security at department hospitals and recommend improvements. The spokesperson added that inspection times have improved, in large part because OS&LE has hired additional staffers.

The OIG’s 2018 report was the latest in a string of embarrassing inquiries dating back to the late 1980s. Some of the most shocking findings came in a 2011 Government Accountability Office report that found that many of the nearly 300 sexual assault allegations reported to the VA police since January 2007 were not passed on to the OIG — in violation of departmental regulations — or to VA leadership.

Last winter’s report was spurred, in part, by a wave of police complaints pouring into congressional offices. Earlier this year, Congress directed the Government Accountability Office to further investigate the VA police, and two weeks ago, lawmakers on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs grilled VA officials on police misconduct in their districts.

“It’s hard for me to sit here and answer questions after hearing the stories that you’re talking about,” Renee Oshinski, an acting deputy under secretary at the VA, told lawmakers. “We have to go back and question whether or not the things that we are doing are being effective.”

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The Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Washington, D.C., on June 16, 2019. Only a few miles away, staff at the local VA Medical Center allege that pervasive police misconduct festered unaddressed.

Photo: Michael A. McCoy for The Intercept

Corruption in the Capital

In April 2017, shortly after Tony Hebert became the Washington D.C. VA’s new acting police chief, he held a meeting with his officers in a conference room near the hospital’s dental clinic. Many hoped that he would conduct a much-needed cleaning of their dirty department: Two years earlier, two dozen current and former cops had taken the extraordinary step of suing their then-chief Jerry Brown on the grounds that he had secretly installed surveillance equipment, including in changing rooms used by men and women, and snooped on staffers. According to the complaint, Brown “conspired” to spy on staff with the VA Medical Center’s then-director, Brian Hawkins, whose tenure at the hospital was scarred by a damning OIG report that found hospital leaders were upholding a “culture of complacency” that led to serious lapses in the quality of care. (An attorney representing Brown and Hawkins did not respond to requests for comment.)

The reform-minded officers’ optimism was short-lived. In his introductory remarks, Hebert made clear that if anyone on the force interfered with his leadership, he would “roll the fuck over us,” according to a complaint later submitted by Officer Jeremy Balzan to the Department of Justice. According to an administrative complaint submitted by Capt. Luis Rodriguez, during multiple meetings, Hebert slammed his badge on a table and yelled, “I am the fucking chief of police! I have a gold badge; you have silver badges. You will do what I say, or I will fucking fire your asses!”

One of Hebert’s first acts as police chief was hiring a man he later described as his “best friend,” according to Rodriguez’s complaint. Alfred Coburn was hired as one of three new captains at the time, but job postings appear to indicate that only two of those positions were publicly listed. If Hebert hired Coburn for an unlisted position, as Balzan suggested in a formal grievance, it could mean that he violated federal hiring rules. (In an interview with The Intercept, Hebert categorically denied this and all other allegations against him.)

VA police in Washington, D.C., allege that they were repeatedly ordered to falsify training records, dispatch journals, and police reports.

But crony hiring is just one of the many allegations of misconduct that have since dogged Hebert. Balzan, Rodriguez, and two other VA cops who requested anonymity for fear of adverse professional consequences told The Intercept that Hebert repeatedly ordered officers to falsify training records, dispatch journals, and police reports, often in order to make charges less severe and to suggest that criminal activity had been curtailed on his watch. Specific incidents are documented in Balzan’s complaint, which alleges that Coburn also ordered changes to a police report in one instance and falsified reports himself in others.

The OS&LE later documented a plethora of bookkeeping irregularities in the D.C. department, from late and illegible firearms and ammunition records to training sheets that were filled out before said training had occurred. It also found that the department’s investigative reports frequently left out key details and suggested the police work was often not thorough enough to “determine whether a crime has been committed.” At least one report cited a witness statement that was never produced. Two reports of sexual assault made against D.C. staffers were not appropriately investigated by VA police. In one of those instances, the survivor was never even interviewed.

Balzan claims that one day while he was monitoring closed-circuit surveillance footage in October 2017, he witnessed Coburn visiting the department on his day off with a woman the DOJ complaint identified as his girlfriend. After parking illegally on the emergency room ramp, he entered the hospital, had an employee print an incident report from weeks prior, and filed a revised report. In addition to restructuring narrative details, Coburn also added felony charges against the subject of the report, who had stated his desire to file a complaint against Coburn, according to the statement Balzan submitted to the DOJ.

Ironically enough, Balzan and another VA police officer said they witnessed closed-circuit footage of Coburn using excessive force on a government employee over a parking violation just one month after his own unorthodox parking job. The individual allegedly parked at the VA while going to pick up his mother at a nearby clinic. After Coburn and another officer approached the individual, he fled and was eventually taken down by the officers. The department’s subsequent use of force review faulted Coburn’s actions as “in violation of the subject’s Fourth Amendment rights.”  (In the review, Coburn claimed that the subject tripped.)

Finding little recourse to address misconduct internally, Balzan organized nine cops and administrative staffers to sign onto his DOJ complaint. His efforts came on the heels of an August 2017 OS&LE inspection that found the D.C. department was “not operating in a satisfactory manner.”

Under fire and with the specter of accountability on the horizon, Hebert made good on his inaugural promise to punish the police who had gone against him, according to the four officers who spoke to The Intercept. Balzan said he filed his first grievance after Hebert removed him from his detective position and put him on dispatch duty on the grounds that he had failed a firearms test — despite the fact that other cops who performed at a similar level were given additional training and testing and allowed to stay in their positions. Balzan said his pay was reduced by at least $5,000 as a result of the reassignment. He continued to file complaints and said he received threats from Hebert, as well as an anonymous email that stated, “Resign while you can before you get fired.”

CPT Luis Rodriguez of the Veteran Affairs police department sits outside of his office in Washington, DC, on June 16, 2019. Rodriguez faced retaliation from his superiors after he attempted to file a formal complaint to report corruption within the Veteran Affairs police department.

Capt. Luis Rodriguez of the Veterans Affairs police department sits outside of the VA facility in Washington, D.C., on June 16, 2019.

Photo: Michael A. McCoy for The Intercept

Rodriguez, meanwhile, shared concerns with a union official that Hebert was targeting whistleblowing cops in order to remove or demote them, and he wrote a statement for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in support of Balzan. In December 2017, Rodriguez received a letter from the hospital director proposing his termination on the vague grounds of “failure to meet conditions of employment.”

“There’s no way we can do our jobs when they keep us underneath their thumbs,” Rodriguez said. “It feels like VA leaders are untouchable.”

Coburn and Hebert, meanwhile, remained essentially unscathed. Last summer, they moved to new positions at a VA police department in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. While Coburn is still on the force, Hebert recently left the VA. According to LinkedIn, Hebert had a short stint at a private security company that does business with the VA and is now the Virginia director of security solutions for another private firm, Bri-Bet Group, according to its website.

A spokesperson for the D.C. VA said that a new permanent police chief and hospital director are putting the facility “on a new path” and remediating the problems identified by the OS&LE. The spokesperson declined to address specific allegations against Hebert and Coburn without their consent. In a brief phone call, Coburn declined to speak about his VA work. “You can print whatever the hell you want,” he told The Intercept. “I don’t really care what happens.”

In an interview, Hebert said he was a “very successful chief” who earned outstanding performance evaluations, though he declined to provide them to The Intercept. He said he was targeted for being a white chief in a mostly black department.

Death by a Thousand Cuts

The retaliation alleged in D.C. is not uncommon. Last summer, the GAOfound that VA whistleblowers are 10 times more likely to be disciplined than their peers. Two months before the report, the Daily Caller published a story highlighting the plight of four VA police whistleblowers. These cops and others who spoke with The Intercept say their actions spurred specious counterinvestigations, relegation to desk duty, unfair annual evaluations, and other retaliatory actions that jeopardized their jobs or made promotions impossible. Three cops from different departments told The Intercept that administrators illegally accessed their medical files in attempts to uncover dirt and write blackmail.

At the VA hospital in Saginaw, Michigan, Air Force veteran and VA Officer Mary Baker told The Intercept that she brought forth allegations that cops on the force were routinely making blatantly racist remarks and having casual conversations about rape. While her allegations were largely affirmed following an internal investigation — which found that “Police Service Leadership supported a culture of allowing inappropriate behavior (public simulated sex acts, racial slurs, etc.)” — Baker said the findings were disregarded, and the offending officers even continued to receive promotions. As one of two women on the force, Baker said her qualifications are consistently questioned, and she continues to face sexist behavior.

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Air Force veteran and VA police Officer Mary Baker in May 2019.

Photo: Courtesy of Mary Baker

“It sickens me to see these people in leadership roles,” Baker told The Intercept. “Meanwhile, I feel like I’m a contestant on ‘Survivor’ or ‘Big Brother’; people are trying to get a reaction or a response out of me. They want to point the finger at me, make me look unstable, unfit, emotional. They have put so much pressure on me.”In a statement provided to The Intercept, a VA spokesperson in Saginaw said, “The allegations were investigated, processes were followed, and appropriate action has been taken.” She confirmed that three of the five cops who Baker claimed engaged in inappropriate behavior remain VA officers.

Officer Tim Petoskey, who spoke with both the Daily Caller and The Intercept, alleged that police leaders at the Seattle VA engaged in gross mismanagement, rampant discrimination, and illegal searches of veteran patients. Petoskey’s specific allegations, which were later corroborated in a 2015 internal investigation, included instances of cops referring to black VA employees with the “N-word” or describing them as “fucking monkeys.” Cops were found to have engaged in a litany of additional misconduct, from sloppy budgeting and unfair hiring practices to misplacing hundreds of police reports.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts,” Petoskey told The Intercept. “My pay is messed up. My work orders for equipment get lost. I’ve been passed up for promotions. More troubling, our major forms of redress … are taking VA’s cartoonish excuses for this retaliatory behavior as valid.”

In response to The Intercept’s inquiries, a department spokesperson said the hospital “thoroughly investigated” the allegations and “fixed all of the identified issues.”

“As a result of that investigation, four officers — none of whom still work for VA — left the VA Puget Sound police before any discipline could be administered,” the spokesperson said.

CPT Luis Rodriguez patrols the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Washington, DC on June 16, 2019. Rodriguez is responsible for patrolling the various locations in the Washington, DC area and another VA facility located 55 miles away in Quantico, VA. Due to limited staffing and resources the department is unable to fulfill its mission due to a job vacancy rate above 20 percent. (Michael A. McCoy for The Intercept)

Capt. Luis Rodriguez patrols the VA Medical Center by car in Washington, D.C., on June 16, 2019.

Photo: Michael A. McCoy for The Intercept

Qualified to Serve?

The VA police force has long struggled to recruit and retain clean, qualified cops. In 1988, the VA’s inspector general found that 57 percent of department officers surveyed were unqualified, unsuited, or both, including 21 police officers who did not disclose prior criminal convictions on their applications for VA employment. In 1989, the VA created the OS&LE in part to address this shortcoming.

Today, prospective VA police are required to submit to a criminal history check, a drug test, and a medical examination. But because the department is desperate to fill its many vacancies, it seems to many on the force that some qualifications are requirements in name only. In September 2017, the department issued a policy advisory that allows police to be given interim credentials before a background investigation by the Office of Personnel Management is completed. (In response to questions about officer vacancy rates and retention, a VA spokesperson told The Intercept that the department has added a net total of 402 officers since 2014.)

At least one officer with serious professional blemishes has risen quite high in the force: the D.C. VA’s deputy chief, Roger Lindsay, who, according to court documents, was indicted by a grand jury in 2004 on charges of intimidating and threatening witnesses to extract statements for a murder investigation while working as a municipal police officer in Brazil, Indiana. (The charge was dismissed on appeal due to the statute of limitations.) Lindsay also purchased a fake MBA degree and submitted it as part of an application to be a police chief at a department in Florida. The OS&LE’s report on D.C. police noted that when Lindsay was under consideration for a job, the VA did not exhaustively examine his previous five years in law enforcement, per departmental requirements. (A spokesperson for the D.C. VA said the hospital is “conducting a top-to-bottom review of Lindsay’s hiring,” which was made under Hebert’s direction; through the spokesperson, Lindsay declined to be interviewed.)

The department’s centralized training academy in Little Rock, Arkansas, is its primary attempt to professionalize its police. Yet the standardized training for VA cops today lasts just 400 hours, which falls significantly below training requirements for many local cops, which vary by jurisdiction. Massachusetts, for example, requires 900 hours of training to become an officer. And despite the unique challenges that VA officers face in dealing with veteran patients, the curriculum focuses little on how to police in this environment.

The academy dedicates only two hours total to “veteran-centered policing,” one hour to “crisis intervention,” and one hour to “post-traumatic stress disorder.” Despite a recent series of shocking suicides on hospital grounds, would-be VA cops are given just one three-hour lecture on “suicide awareness and prevention,” according to the 2019 training curriculum, which was obtained by The Intercept in a public records request.

“When I came out of the academy, I was stupider than when I went in.”

The training is held in uniformly low esteem by the officers who spoke to The Intercept. Charles Harrington, a VA police officer out of Bay Pines, Florida, said a lot of his colleagues “do not have the appropriate legal foundation” to serve, while Officer Ghassan Ghannoum of the West Los Angeles VA bluntly said, “When I came out of the academy, I was stupider than when I went in.”

In response to The Intercept’s inquiries, a spokesperson for the VA pointed to the academy’s accreditation by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Accreditation Board and claimed that it has a “reputation for excellence” among other federal law enforcement agencies that hold trainings there.

Inadequate training may account for the lackluster execution of much day-to-day police work. One troubling finding highlighted in the OIG’s winter report was that officers at the Chicago VA were not consistently advising suspects of their constitutional rights during arrest.

VA police officers across the country have been found to repeatedly issue federal charges with scant evidence for minor violations, a practice that can cause legal headaches and significant bills. The VA police force in Pittsburgh, for instance, has charged hospital employees with disorderly conduct, receiving stolen property, tampering with evidence, and invasion of privacy — charges that were later withdrawn or dismissed in Allegheny County District Court. In 2017, Tampa Bay’s NPR station WUSF found that VA police were taking veteran patients to federal court over small infractions, from parking tickets to spitting.

A VA police detective in Seattle acknowledged to OIG investigators that shoddy police work led to legitimate cases being dropped. Lawyers said that police routinely wrote poor reports that misstated statutes and didn’t properly justify probable cause for actions. One staffer inside the local U.S. Attorney’s Office simply described the Seattle department as a “hot mess.”

juan-victoria-1561150024

Navy veteran and VA nurse Juan Victoria in June 2019.

Photo: Courtesy of Juan Victoria

The Big, Powerful Men

In October 2017, Navy veteran Juan Victoria, a nurse at the VA hospital in Fayetteville, Arkansas, was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after expressing his intention to report improper behavior by a VA police officer.

Victoria said an officer named Jeff Eye came into the hospital’s triage room, told a patient that his car was parked illegally, and demanded that he move it immediately. Victoria, who was the nursing supervisor that night, told Eye that his actions had violated various laws and regulations, including the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, which guarantees patients uninterrupted access to emergency care.

“I was advocating for the patient and the VA,” Victoria told The Intercept. “If the patient had left the triage room before being evaluated by a physician and experienced a serious medical event, we would have had no justification for why the patient was taken out of the ER. We would have been held liable.”

Victoria said his words angered Eye, and a scuffle ensued. In a statement Victoria drafted and sent to VA administrators hours later, he said Eye and another VA cop “took hold of my arms and forcefully took me to the ground, hitting the left side of my forehead and my right knee while also damaging my glasses and phone. … One of the officers put what felt like his knee on my back and neck.” Victoria was arrested, placed in a holding cell, and charged. According to local union officials, his arrest was the second violent incident between VA cops and nursing staff in two months and a violation of the police’s code of conduct.

 

A spokesperson at the facility provided the following statement on behalf of the VA: “The incident at the center of this inquiry involved an employee who improperly intervened in a police matter and refused to comply with a police officer’s instructions despite repeated warnings. The Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks investigated this incident thoroughly and found that the officer’s use of force was appropriate.” Attempts to reach Eye by phone and email were unsuccessful.

Nevertheless, after Victoria’s congressperson, Republican Steve Womack, intervened with an inquiry on his constituent’s behalf, all of Victoria’s charges were quickly dropped.

“Every time I see that cop now, he smiles at me,” Victoria told The Intercept. “In his mind he thinks he’s taught me a lesson — not to mess with the big, powerful men: the cops.”

 

Jasper Craven, July 8 2019, “ABUSING THOSE WHO SERVED”, https://theintercept.com/2019/07/08/veterans-affairs-police-va/

Police officer charged with assault after allegedly using leg to slam suspect’s head into sidewalk

Maryland police investigating ‘excessive’ force arrest incident
Montgomery County police are investigating after a video showed an officer using the bottom part of his leg to force a man’s head into the ground. (@zxjustin_/Twitter)

July 9 at 11:41 AM

A Montgomery County police officer was criminally charged Tuesday with assault and misconduct after cellphone videos surfaced that appear to show him using his shin to force a man’s head onto a concrete sidewalk during an arrest.

The officer, Kevin Moris, faces one count each of second-degree assault and misconduct in office, according to a criminal information complaint filed by county prosecutors. Montgomery’s acting police chief, Marcus Jones, said the videos showed “troubling evidence” that excessive force was used during the encounter, which began inside a McDonald’s restaurant.

“The excessiveness of the officer, Officer Moris, actually slamming the individual’s head to the pavement — this gave me grave concern,” Jones said at a news conference Tuesday.

Videos of the July 3 altercation went viral on social media. In one 45-second clip, a group of Montgomery officers is seen standing over Arnaldo Andres Pesoa, 19, who was suspected of trying to sell psilocybin mushrooms in the area. Pesoa is seen lying facedown on the pavement, handcuffed, just outside the McDonald’s as he yells obscenities.

Moris can be seen leaning over Pesoa, who lifts his head, prompting Moris to use his right hand to grab a patch of Pesoa’s hair while thrusting his right shin into the back of Pesoa’s neck. The video shows Pesoa’s head striking the sidewalk.

While the video appears to show Pesoa resisting, it does not seem to present him as an imminent threat when Moris jabs him with his shin. “I felt like the officers did have that situation under control,” Jones said.

After hitting the concrete, Pesoa turns his head and yells that he has spit on the officer’s foot. At that point, Pesoa is told to “stop spitting” as Moris pulls the suspect’s shirt over his face.

“Mr. Pesoa did require medical attention on the scene as a result of injuries he sustained during the course of his apprehension,” said Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy.

Efforts to reach Moris or learn whether he has retained an attorney were not successful Tuesday. A person who answered a phone number linked to him declined to comment and hung up. Online court records did not show whether he has hired an attorney.

Moris is a seven-year veteran of the department, most recently assigned to a plainclothes unit in the county’s Wheaton police district, according to police officials.

The union that represents county officers, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, declined to comment Tuesday on the specifics of the case.

“Without knowing anything more than what has been shown in the viral videos posted, the FOP will not make a statement without knowing all the facts,” the union said in a statement. “Officer Moris, like all U.S. citizens, is innocent until proven guilty and has a right to due process under law.”

The charges come amid mounting criticism of the incident from local officials and activists. Late last week, the president and vice president of the Montgomery County Council issued a statement condemning the officer’s actions.

“We are outraged and deeply saddened to watch the videos that show a young man being apprehended by Montgomery County Police officers using what appears to be excessive force,” wrote President Nancy Navarro (D-District 4) and Vice President Sidney Katz (D-District 3), who also chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee.

On Tuesday afternoon, Navarro praised the swift action taken by Jones and McCarthy and commended the rank and file of the department.

“It is important to reiterate that the Montgomery County Police Department is made up of men and women of integrity who pride themselves on high standards as they keep our county safe,” she wrote. “However, effective accountability and oversight are essential to develop and maintain trust between the police and our community.”

Several days ago, the local chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice announced that it would hold a rally and news conference Tuesday night demanding that Moris be charged. Attendees were encouraged to bring signs with suggested slogans. Among them: “Stop Police Brutality,” “Not in My County” and “We Demand Accountability.”

The group gave an update on its Facebook page Tuesday.

“Tonight’s protest is on,” it said. “We demand systemic changes to MCPD.”

The charges were brought relatively swiftly and reflected the stern tone taken by police administrators after the incident. They suspended Moris of his police powers, moved him to administrative duties and launched a criminal investigation.

Jones and McCarthy stayed in regular contact over the past few days, according to McCarthy. On Tuesday, McCarthy’s office filed charges by way of a “criminal information” submission, meaning prosecutors made the decision without showing the matter to a grand jury.

The altercation outside the McDonald’s stemmed from an undercover operation into alleged sales of psilocybin mushrooms in the Aspen Hill area. Officers had identified Pesoa as a suspect, found him inside the McDonald’s and tried to arrest him.

“Pesoa became disorderly with the officers inside the restaurant and resisted the arrest,” police said in a statement. “Officers eventually removed Pesoa from the restaurant. While outside the restaurant, Pesoa continued to act in a disorderly manner and resist arrest.”

Pesoa was taken to jail and charged with drug possession, attempted drug distribution, resisting arrest and second-degree assault, police said. He was released after posting a $5,000 bond, according to police.

 

 

Springfield City Council approves $450,000 for police brutality settlement

6/17/19 - SPRINGFIELD - City Solicitor Ed Pikula.

6/17/19 – SPRINGFIELD – City Solicitor Ed Pikula.

SPRINGFIELD — The City Council on Monday approved spending $450,000 to resolve a police brutality case in which a jury previously ruled the city was “deliberately indifferent to the civil rights of its citizens.”

The payment to Lee Hutchins Sr. follows a successful lawsuit in U.S. District Court in which he accused police of using excessive force during a domestic disturbance. The Boston jury awarded $250,000 to Hutchins in February, and he filed a subsequent claim for more than $200,000 in attorneys’ fees and trial-related costs.

Springfield City Solicitor Edward Pikula said the settlement was negotiated after the judgment. The city faced a potential payment of $600,000 when considering the judgment, interest on the judgment, attorney fees and other costs.

The suit was initially filed in U.S. District Court in Springfield, but was transferred to Boston.

The Springfield City Council recently met in private with the Law Department to discuss the proposed settlement, but did not discuss the specifics in public until Monday. Funds for the settlement were transferred from the city’s fiscal 2018 budget surplus, known as its “free cash” account.

Hutchins claimed three officers used excessive force again him when he was pepper sprayed and struck with a baton at his home on Jan. 20, 2013.

The jury found one officer, Thomas Hervieux, used excessive force. The verdict slip from the jury said the city “was deliberately indifferent to the civil rights of its citizens through a policy or custom of inadequately supervising or disciplining its police officers.”

Lawyers for Hutchins said the city was to blame for the rising cost of the lawsuit by dragging out the case rather than reaching a settlement. They said the prolonged case led to more than 500 hours of work on Hutchins’ behalf.

“In short, the City never made any serious effort to resolve the litigation,” wrote Northampton attorney Luke Ryan, one of the lawyers representing Hutchins.

Councilors have been critical of police misconduct lawsuits and city funds needed to settle them.

Council President Justin Hurst, in previously commenting on the judgment, said, “Unfortunately, this case is just the tip of the iceberg that last year cost taxpayers over a million dollars in settlements, and if this case is any indication, citizens will be paying even more money this year.”

The vote was 10-2 in favor of the settlement, with Councilors Orlando Ramos and Adam Gomez opposed, and Councilor Tracye Whitfield absent.

Pikula said judgments must be paid if not successfully appealed or settled.

On Oct. 1, 2018, the City Council approved a settlement of $885,000 to four men who claimed they were beaten by off-duty police officers in 2015 outside Nathan Bill’s Bar & Restaurant. Of that amount, $750,000 was awarded to Herman Paul Cumby, who suffered a concussion, fractured ankle and damaged teeth in the attack, according to a lawsuit he filed against the city.

In April, 13 current and former Springfield police officers were arraigned in Hampden Superior Court on allegations that they either participated in or helped cover up the beating.

 

“Springfield City Council approves $450,000 for police brutality settlement”, https://www.masslive.com/news/2019/06/springfield-city-council-approves-450000-for-police-brutality-settlement.html

Phoenix Mayor Apologizes After Police Draw Guns on Family Over Report of Stolen Doll

Police officers in Phoenix stopping a family after getting a report that a 4-year-old girl had left a store with a doll without paying for it. The city’s mayor condemned the officers’ response.Creditvia Twitter

CreditCreditvia Twitter

By Mihir Zaveri and Sandra E. Garcia

The mayor of Phoenix apologized on Saturday after videos showed that police officers in the city who had been responding to a report of a shoplifting had drawn their weapons, shouted expletives, and threatened to shoot a man in the face in front of his young children.

 

The mayor, Kate Gallego, said in a statement that she was “sick” over what she had seen in the videos.

“It was completely inappropriate and clearly unprofessional,” she said. “There is no situation in which this behavior is ever close to acceptable. As a mother myself, seeing these children placed in such a terrifying situation is beyond upsetting.”

The episode has drawn widespread attention as police encounters with civilians have faced heightened scrutiny, which is increasingly augmented by videos captured by bystanders on cellphones or by officers’ body cameras.

“We want and expect law enforcement to protect and respect, not target and intimidate,” she said. “We need stronger, independent police oversight and bias training, to root out and prevent abuses.”

The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the union that represents officers, did not respond to emails on Sunday.

Dravon Ames, Iesha Harper and their two children were driving to a babysitter after shopping at a Family Dollar store when a police car pulled them over.Creditvia Twitter
Creditvia Twitter

No charges were filed in connection with the episode, which started at a Family Dollar store. What preceded the events is in dispute. Neither side could even agree on when it had happened: The notice of claim said it had been May 29, and the police officers said it had been May 27.

[Read how Phoenix officials were blaming residents for the high number of police-involved shootings last year.]

Two videos of the encounter show officers yelling. Shouting expletives, they tell Mr. Ames to get his hands up. An officer can be heard saying that he’s going to “put a cap” in Mr. Ames’s head. As Mr. Ames exits the vehicle, an officer presses him against the pavement and handcuffs him, then pushes him against a police vehicle.

The footage shows another officer pointing his firearm toward the car as the couple’s 4-year-old daughter exits the car from the back seat, followed by Ms. Harper, who is carrying her 1-year-old daughter in one arm. An officer yells at her to put the child on the ground and then grabs her arm.

The Police Department said on Facebook that the episode had begun after a store manager had alerted an officer to a possible shoplifting occurrence and had said that those being sought were getting into a car. The department said officers had found the couple’s car a mile away from the store.

The department said Mr. Ames had admitted he had stolen a package of underwear that he had thrown out of the car window and had said that he was also driving with a suspended license.

Mr. Horne disputed the police account and said officers had been alerted by an “anonymous alleged witness” that the couple had been shoplifting, and had followed them to the apartment complex without their patrol car sirens on.

The notice of claim said the couple had not realized until they were back at their car that their 4-year-old daughter had walked out of the store with a doll.

The couple had been driving to their babysitter’s home when a police car pulled in behind them, according to the notice. Once the couple was in the parking lot, an officer had walked up to the driver’s side with a gun drawn, Mr. Horne wrote, adding that the officer then opened the door and began to shout at Mr. Ames.

A second officer pointed a gun at Ms. Harper, who had been sitting in the back seat on the driver’s side and who was “pregnant, which was obvious from her appearance,” Mr. Horne wrote.

The door to the car was malfunctioning and the couple could not get out of the car, the notice said. The officer walked around the car with his gun drawn and dragged Ms. Harper and her daughters out of the car by the neck, according to the notice.

The store did not press charges, Mr. Horne said. An employee at the store declined to comment on Sunday, and said a manager was unavailable.

Mr. Horne said Mr. Ames had denied telling the police officers that he had stolen underwear.

The mayor said she was calling for a community meeting on June 18 in which the police chief was expected to answer questions from the public.

Correction: 

An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misstated the name of the store where the family was shopping. It was Family Dollar, not Dollar General.

 

Mihir Zaveri and Sandra E. Garcia, Phoenix Mayor Apologizes After Police Draw Guns on Family Over Report of Stolen Doll”, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/16/us/phoenix-police-brutality-lawsuit.html.

Parents say Phoenix cops pointed guns at them after 4-year-old daughter took doll from store

A couple has filed a $10 million lawsuit against the Phoenix Police Department alleging civil rights violations and police brutality after an officer allegedly pulled their guns on the family. Unbeknownst to Dravon Ames and Lesha Harper, their 4-year-old daughter had taken a doll from a Family Dollar Store, CBS affiliate KPHO-TV reported.

The family claims they weren’t aware their daughter had taken the doll until they were in their car and on their way to a nearby apartment complex where their babysitter lived. That’s when they said a police car silently pulled up behind them and an officer went up to Ames and allegedly pointed a gun at him.

According to the suit, Ames was pulled out of the car, kicked in the right leg and punched in the back — all while Harper, who is pregnant, and her 4-year-old and 1-year-old daughter remained in the car. The officer reportedly also pointed his gun at Harper and her children.

“We’re talking about a little doll that’s worth maybe $5 and the horrors that came from the overreaction to that,” former Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, who is representing the family.

Ames and Harper said they were threatened and handcuffed. They said the incident occurred May 29, though police contend it happened on May 27.

The Phoenix Police Department said it was opening an investigation after partial footageof the incident was released by a bystander. The family says the video does not include the first five to 10 minutes of the encounter. No arrests were made nor were charges filed, though Ames says his car was impounded and that the injuries he sustained have made him unable to work.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego issued a statement calling the officer’s conduct as seen in the footage “completely inappropriate and clearly unprofessional.” Gallego has scheduled a community meeting to take place Tuesday.

Mayor Kate Gallego

@MayorGallego

My statement on the May 27th Phoenix Police incident:

1,986 people are talking about this

“After this, me and my daughters will never be the same anymore or feel the same for police because it seems like every police is out for blood or something. We wasn’t really doing anything,” Harper said during a press conference.

The Family Dollar Store declined to press charges after the doll was returned. Officers were reportedly at the store to investigate an unrelated shoplifting incident.

 

 / CBS NEWS, “Parents say Phoenix cops pointed guns at them after 4-year-old daughter took doll from store”, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/parents-say-phoenix-officers-pointed-guns-at-them-after-4-year-old-took-doll-from-store-2019-06-15/

Video shows police repeatedly punching New Jersey teen in the head during arrest

The video spurred a 50-person protest on Sunday evening, where people demanded answers from the New Jersey’s town police department about what happened.

 

Ben Kesslen, “Video shows police repeatedly punching New Jersey teen in the head during arrest”, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/video-shows-police-repeatedly-punching-new-jersey-teen-head-during-n1007641

Bridgeport man’s charges dismissed in police misconduct case

Updated 

BRIDGEPORT – Criminal charges were dismissed Tuesday against a city man whose October 2017 arrest during a pre-Halloween party led to disciplinary action against 17 police officers accused of using excessive force and lying on police reports.

“After a year and a half, I finally got justice and it feels great,” said Carmelo Mendez, as he left the Golden Hill Street courthouse. “I said all along that the police were the aggressors and now a court has seen it, too.”

Superior Court Judge Frank Iannotti dismissed the charges of interfering with police and breach of peace pending against Mendez as the case was about to go to trial. Prosecutors had entered a nolle in the case in which they were discontinuing the prosecution without comment and the judge then granted a motion to dismiss the charges from Mendez’s lawyer, Robert Berke.

The dismissal now sets up a lawsuit against the city and the Police Department.

City spokeswoman Rowena White said late Tuesday that the City Attorney’s office was unaware of the dismissal.

“Mr. Mendez has filed a lawsuit, and so we cannot comment on pending litigation,” she said.

Berke confirmed later that he will be filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and Police Department but declined further comment.

“I’m going to sue the city,” Mendez said. “I need to get justice for what they did to me.”

He said he suffers from permanent eye damage as a result of the incident.

Mendez and his sister were arrested on Oct. 21, 2017, after police responded to a noise complaint at the sister’s home on Colorado Avenue. Eventually, 45 officers responded to the scene.

A report by the city’s Office of Internal Affairs, obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, found that 17 officers involved in the case violated police rules and regulations including using excessive force on Mendez who had been taking video of the police response.

The OIA report states that video from the party shows Officer Michael Stanitis strike Mendez multiple times in the side of the head with the butt of his flashlight as Mendez was held on the ground by other officers. “Officer Stanitis stated he did not see any injuries on Mr. Mendez, offering that he was unable to ‘even see him at all.’” The report states that Mendez had an “S” imprint on his face consistent with the butt end of the flashlight carried by the officer.

Mendez and his sister, Wanda Mendez, were arrested. His sister was charged with assault on a public safety officer, interfering with police, inciting a riot and breach of peace. Her case is still pending.

Last week, the city’s Board of Police Commissioners began closed hearings against each of the accused officers in the case.

At his last court hearing, Carmelo Mendez told the judge he wanted a trial and Berke filed a motion for a speedy trial. Jury selection in the case was to begin Tuesday.

Last month, Carmelo Mendez sued the police department on behalf of his 8-year-old son and 13-year-old niece who he claims witnessed officers beating him up.

“They both were traumatized as they stood by and watched police beating me up,” Mendez said. “My son didn’t want to celebrate Halloween again after what happened.”

 

‘I Can’t Breathe’: 5 Years After Eric Garner’s Death, an Officer Faces Trial

Disciplinary proceedings against Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is accused of using a chokehold to subdue Mr. Garner, could lead to his firing.

Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, at a protest in 2015 outside the Manhattan office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.CreditMark Kauzlarich/The New York Times
Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, at a protest in 2015 outside the Manhattan office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.CreditCreditMark Kauzlarich/The New York Times

By Ashley Southall

The last words Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, uttered on a New York City sidewalk in 2014 instantly became a national rallying cry against police brutality. “I can’t breathe,’’ Mr. Garner pleaded 11 times after a police officer in plain clothes placed his arm across his neck and pulled him to the ground while other officers handcuffed him.

The encounter was captured on a video that ricocheted around the world, set off protests and prompted calls for the officers to be fired and criminally charged.

Mr. Garner’s death was part of a succession of police killings across the country that became part of a wrenching conversation about how officers treat people in predominantly poor and minority communities.

Now, the officer who wrapped his arm around Mr. Garner’s neck, Daniel Pantaleo, 33, faces a public trial that could lead to his firing. Officer Pantaleo has denied wrongdoing and his lawyer argues that he did not apply a chokehold.

The trial, scheduled to start Monday at Police Department headquarters, has been long-awaited by the Garner family, whose campaign to hold the police accountable for what they say is an unjustified use of force took on greater significance after Mr. Garner’s daughter, Erica Garner, died in 2017.

The city paid $5.9 million to settle a lawsuit with the family after a grand jury declined to bring criminal charges.

But Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has fought and delayed the family’s efforts to have all the police officers involved in the encounter punished.

“It was at least a dozen more who just did nothing, or either they pounced on him, they choked him, they filed false reports,” Mr. Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said in an interview. “It’s about all of those officers who committed an injustice that day and they all need to stand accountable.”

Officer Pantaleo faces charges of reckless use of a chokehold and intentional restriction of breathing. His lawyer says that Officer Pantaleo did not use a chokehold, but a different technique that is taught to officers in training and is known as a seatbelt.

So the trial will have to settle two questions at the heart of the case: Was the maneuver Officer Pantaleo used a chokehold? And, if so, was the officer justified in using it to subdue an unarmed man during a low-level arrest?

On Thursday, the Police Department judge overseeing the trial said that prosecutors must prove that Officer Pantaleo’s actions went beyond a violation of departmental rules and constituted a crime — an unusually high bar.

Video of the fatal encounter was recorded by Ramsey Orta, a friend of Mr. Garner’s who is expected to testify at Officer Pantaleo’s trial. It captured Mr. Garner telling officers in street clothes to leave him alone after they approached him outside a beauty supply store on July 17, 2014, not far from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.

Mr. Garner had repeated encounters with the police and believed that he was being harassed.

“This stops today,” he told the officers before they moved to arrest him over accusations that he was selling untaxed cigarettes. As one officer tried to grab Mr. Garner’s hand, he slipped free. Then Officer Pantaleo slid one arm around Mr. Garner’s neck and another under his left arm and dragged him to the ground. On the pavement, he begged for air.

The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide and said he died from a chokehold and the compression of his chest from lying prone. The findings are a crucial issue in the trial and Officer Pantaleo’s defense lawyer plans to dispute them.

Stuart London, the police union lawyer representing Officer Pantaleo, said the technique his client used was the seatbelt maneuver taught in the Police Academy, not a chokehold. He plans to argue that Mr. Garner, who was overweight and severely asthmatic, died because of poor health.

“Those who have been able to not come to a rushed judgment, but have looked at the video in explicit detail, see Pantaleo’s intent and objective was to take him down pursuant to how he was taught by NYPD, control him when they got on the ground, and then have him cuffed,” Mr. London said in an interview. “There was never any intent for him to exert pressure on his neck and choke him out the way the case has been portrayed.”

Demonstrators protesting a decision by a grand jury not to bring criminal charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo in December 2014.CreditVictor J. Blue for The New York Times
Demonstrators protesting a decision by a grand jury not to bring criminal charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo in December 2014.CreditVictor J. Blue for The New York Times

The Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent city agency that investigates allegations of police misconduct, is prosecuting the case against Officer Pantaleo and is seeking his termination.

But the ruling on Thursday by the judge, Rosemarie Maldonado, the deputy police commissioner in charge of trials, denied Mr. London’s motion to dismiss the case. But her ruling means that prosecutors need to prove that Officer Pantaleo’s actions rose to the crimes of assault and strangulation in order to avoid the state’s prohibition on bringing misconduct charges more than 18 months after occurrence.

Colleen Roache, a spokeswoman for the review board, said prosecutors understood their obligation when they served Officer Pantaleo with the charges last July.

But critics have said the review board’s failure to file charges sooner had made the prosecutors’ case significantly harder to prove.

The Police Department banned chokeholds in 1993 amid concern about a rising number of civilian deaths in police custody. In 2016, the department added an exception to its chokehold ban under certain circumstances, which critics said made it easier for officers to justify its use.

After Mr. Garner’s death, the Police Department spent $35 million to retrain officers not to use chokeholds, but they continue to use the maneuver and rarely face punishment.

The trial is expected to last two weeks, with testimony from about two dozen witnesses. Officer Pantaleo has not decided whether he will testify, Mr. London said.

When the trial ends, Deputy Commissioner Maldonado, will decide if Officer Pantaleo is guilty. If guilt is determined, she will recommend a penalty to Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill, who will make the final decision.

Short of firing, any discipline of Officer Pantaleo, a 13-year veteran, may never become public because of a state law that shields police disciplinary records from public disclosure.

The delays and secrecy surrounding officer discipline are part of the reason that police reform advocates say the public has lost trust in the city’s process for assessing complaints against officers.

The de Blasio administration fought to keep prior abuse complaints against Officer Pantaleo secret, including one stemming from a car stop in which the occupants said he strip-searched them on the street.

The records were eventually leaked, but the administration won several court rulings broadening the scope of the secrecy law.

“It’s been de Blasio and his administration who’ve been blocking the whole time that I’ve been trying to get the officers fired,” Ms. Carr said.

Despite Eric Garner and ‘I Can’t Breathe,’ Chokeholds Still Used

Beyond the Chokehold: The Path to Eric Garner’s Death

The trial will revisit a painful chapter marked by months of protests with marchers chanting Mr. Garner’s final words.

Not long after a Staten Island grand jury in December 2014 decided not to charge Officer Pantaleo with a crime, two officers were ambushed and killed by a gunman while sitting in their patrol car.

To Mr. Garner’s family and their supporters, his death discredited a crime-fighting strategy that the police and mayors have cited repeatedly as helping to drive crime rates to their lowest level in recent history. The strategy relies on targeting lower-level offenses that the police believe create the environment for more violent crime.

But critics say it has resulted in racial profiling, targeting mostly black and Latino men in poorer neighborhoods.

The Police Department delayed disciplinary proceedings against Officer Pantaleo for years because of an ongoing federal investigation. But with prosecutors in the Department of Justice divided over whether to bring charges, police officials decided to allow the disciplinary process to move forward.

Officer Pantaleo and Sergeant Kizzy Adonis, who was the first supervisor to arrive on the scene where the police were confronting Mr. Garner, were stripped of their guns and placed on desk jobs. Sergeant Adonis, who has since been restored to full duty, has been administratively charged with failing to properly oversee officers, but a date for her disciplinary trial has not been set.

A state judge recently denied Officer Pantaleo’s motion to have the civilian review board removed from the case. He argued that the agency lacked jurisdiction because the person who filed the complaint was not involved or an eyewitness.

“It’s time for Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, the rest of the Garner family, and the people of the City of New York to have closure,” Fred Davie, the chairman of the civilian review board, said in a statement.

On the stretch of Bay Street where Mr. Garner died, the type of behavior that drew police attention five years ago persists. People peddle loose cigarettes and a sign affixed to a door outside an apartment building warns against selling heroin on a stoop.

“It’s a hustle block,” Christopher Sweat, a retired chef, said. “It’s a regular mood until the cops get called.”

Nearby, a plaque memorializes Mr. Garner’s death as a murder, adding, “May his soul rest in peace.” Passers-by on a recent afternoon were unanimous in their belief that Officer Pantaleo deserved to be fired.

“It was a blatant chokehold,” said Keenen Hill, 46, a maintenance man who lives in the neighborhood. “Stevie Wonder saw that.”

Laura Dimon and Ali Winston contributed reporting.

Ashley Southallm, “‘I Can’t Breathe’: 5 Years After Eric Garner’s Death, an Officer Faces Trial”, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/12/nyregion/eric-garner-death-daniel-pantaleo-chokehold.html

Claims of excessive force by Paterson, NJ police

PATERSON, New Jersey (WABC) — A 7 On Your Side investigation into the Paterson Police Department finds that many alleged excessive force cases are being swept under the rug with millions in settlements and an Internal Affairs Department that rarely substantiate abuse cases.

“We don’t see officers being removed from the force,” said attorney Nancy Lucianna, who has represented dozens of people in abuse cases against Paterson police. “We don’t see officers being suspended, being re-trained. They’re put right back there right on the street to offend and keep doing what they’re doing.”

Our investigation has found that since 2013, Paterson has paid out more than $2 million in settlements, much of that to people claiming police abuse.

“You see fractures with surgery, pins, plates, open-reduction surgeries on arms and legs and shoulders,” said attorney Shelley Strangler, who has won numerous settlements for her clients in abuse cases against Paterson police.

She says despite six officers being caught up in an FBI corruption probe, the abuse cases out of Paterson just keep coming.

“It’s all about discipline,” she said. “If you’re not disciplined for the use of force or for improper behavior, then you are spreading the message to all of your officers that it’s OK to engage in misconduct.”

Dennis Deluccia got an $85,000 settlement after two Paterson police officers broke his leg when he asked police if they had a warrant to search his house.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you guys just leave? Nobody called the cops here,’ and I got jumped in my own house,” he said. “And I got my leg snapped when they jumped me.”

And earlier this year, a former Paterson police officer who was caught on camera brutally assaulting a suicidal man in a hospital was sentenced to six years in prison. The officer who recorded the attack and concealed the evidence was sentenced to six months.

7 On Your Side Investigates obtained data through Open Records Requests that show there is virtually no chance of a victim of alleged abuse having their complaint substantiated by Paterson Police Internal Affairs investigators.

From 2014 through 2018, there were 183 complaints of excessive force or improper arrest investigated by Internal Affairs — and only ONE complaint was substantiated.

“The Internal Affairs function is not effective enough to properly discipline and reprimand officers,” Strangler said. “And therefore, there is this toleration, so to speak, toleration of misconduct, because the officers know that they are not going to be disciplined.”

The Paterson Police Department has ignored our emails and phone calls seeking a response to this report. However, Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh earlier this year called for a top-to-bottom audit of the department, saying, “I demand accountability and transparency.”