By MICHAEL BALSAMO, MICHAEL R. SISAK, COLLEEN LONG and TOM HAYS
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Gwen Carr, mother of chokehold victim Eric Garner, left, speaks outside the U.S. Attorney’s office, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, as Garner’s widow Esaw Snipes listens at right, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. Federal prosecutors won’t bring civil rights charges against New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo, in the 2014 chokehold death of Garner, a decision made by Attorney General William Barr and announced one day before the five-year anniversary of his death, officials said. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
NEW YORK (AP) — After years of silence, federal prosecutors said Tuesday that they won’t bring criminal charges against a white New York City police officer in the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner, a black man whose dying words — “I can’t breathe” — became a national rallying cry against police brutality.
The decision to end a yearslong civil rights investigation without charges was made by Attorney General William Barr and was announced the day before the five-year anniversary of the deadly Staten Island encounter, just as the statute of limitations was set to expire.
Civil rights prosecutors in Washington had favored filing criminal charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo, but ultimately Barr sided with other federal prosecutors based in Brooklyn who said evidence, including a bystander’s widely viewed cellphone video, wasn’t sufficient to make a case, a Justice Department official told The Associated Press.
Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, said at a news conference that while Garner’s death was tragic, there was insufficient evidence to prove that Pantaleo or any other officers involved in the confrontation on a Staten Island sidewalk had willfully violated his civil rights.
“Even if we could prove that Officer Pantaleo’s hold of Mr. Garner constituted unreasonable force, we would still have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Pantaleo acted willfully in violation of the law,” Donoghue said.
Garner’s family was incensed by the decision, the latest from a Justice Department under President Donald Trump that has scaled-back use of consent decrees aimed at improving local police departments found to have violated civil rights.
“This should have been taken care of years ago,” said Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, a vocal police reform advocate since her son’s death. “This should have been taken care of under the Obama administration. Then we would have had a fairer playing ground.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton renewed his calls for the New York Police Department to fire the 34-year-old Pantaleo, who’s been on desk duty since Garner’s death and is awaiting the results of a disciplinary hearing that could lead to his firing. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office said it expects a decision by Aug. 31.
“Five years ago, Eric Garner was choked to death,” Sharpton said. “Today, the federal government choked Lady Justice, and that is why we were outraged.”
Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, said the officer “is gratified that the Justice Department took the time to carefully review the actual evidence in this case rather than the lies and inaccuracies which followed this case from its inception.”
Pantaleo’s union president, Pat Lynch, said: “scapegoating a good and honorable officer, who was doing his job in the manner he was taught, will not heal the wounds this case has caused for our entire city.”
Garner’s death — after he refused to be handcuffed for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes — came at a time of a growing public outcry over police killings of unarmed black men that gave impetus to the national Black Lives Matter movement. Just weeks later, protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.
When a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on state charges in December 2014, demonstrations flared in New York and several other cities.
Amid those demonstrations, a man angry about the Garner and Brown cases ambushed and fatally shot two New York City police officers as they sat in their cruiser, further shocking the city and leading to the creation of the pro-police Blue Lives Matter movement.
Prosecutors in Brooklyn repeatedly watched video of the confrontation between Garner and police, Donoghue said, but weren’t convinced Pantaleo willfully violated the law in using a chokehold, which is banned under police department policy.
Pantaleo initially tried to use two approved restraint tactics on Garner, much larger at 6-foot-2 and about 400 pounds, but ended up wrapping his arm around Garner’s neck “in what was, in effect, a chokehold” for about seven seconds as they struggled against a glass storefront window and fell to the sidewalk, Donoghue said.
“Significantly, Officer Pantaleo was not engaged in a chokehold on Mr. Garner when he said he could not breathe, and neither Officer Pantaleo nor any other officer applied a chokehold to Mr. Garner after he first said he could not breathe,” Donoghue said.
Garner could be heard on bystander video crying out “I can’t breathe” at least 11 times before he fell unconscious. The medical examiner’s office said a chokehold contributed to Garner’s death.
The federal probe resulted in two sets of recommendations.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn recommended no charges, while civil rights prosecutors in Washington recommended charging the officer. Barr, who watched the video himself and got several briefings, made the ultimate decision, a senior Justice Department official said.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations and investigative matters.
Donoghue announced the decision not to charge Pantaleo after meeting with Garner’s family, but the news was reported in the media beforehand, angering advocates.
At the news conference, Donoghue said he expressed his and Barr’s condolences. He said Garner’s death was a tragedy and that “for anyone to die under circumstances like these is a tremendous loss.” He also apologized for the length of the investigation, calling the delay “entirely inappropriate and unacceptable.”
In the years since Garner’s death, the NYPD has made a series of sweeping changes on how it relates to the communities it serves, ditching a policy of putting rookie officers in higher-crime precincts in favor of a neighborhood policing model that revolves around community officers tasked with getting to know New Yorkers.
De Blasio, who is touting his leadership on police-community relations on the presidential campaign trail, said the city is not the same as it was five years ago.
People pass the sidewalk area where Eric Garner was apprehended by the police in the Staten Island borough of New York, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
“Reforms over the last five years have improved relations between our police and our communities,” de Blasio said in a statement, adding that crime was at record lows and 150,000 fewer people were arrested last year than the year before he took office.
But some activists, including Garner’s family and relatives of others killed by police, have argued the changes aren’t enough.
De Blasio also said that it was a mistake for the city to wait for federal prosecutors to finish investigating Garner’s death before the police department began disciplinary proceedings. But there is no rule requiring the NYPD to do so.
Police reform advocates said the decision not to charge Pantaleo was upsetting but to be expected.
Joo Hyun-Kang, the director of Communities United for Police Reform, said it was “outrageous but not shocking.” Hawk Newsome, the head of the New York area Black Lives Matter chapter said, “It’s America, man.”
“As a black man in America I have no expectation that we will receive justice in court without radical change in this country,” Newsome said.
Balsamo and Long reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Karen Matthews and Ali Swenson in New York contributed to this report.
It’s likely the largest records disclosure in department history.
Max Marin and Ryan Briggs Today, 6:00 a.m.
As Philadelphia police leadership deals with fallout over the Facebook scandal, WHYY and Billy Penn have obtained an unprecedented release of disciplinary records linked to hundreds of officers whose social media posts have come under fire.
The newly released records detail civilian complaint histories for 309 of the 323 active-duty Philadelphia officers who also appeared in a database of racist or otherwise offensive Facebook posts.
Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, spokesman for the PPD, said the latest release of disciplinary records is the largest such disclosure in departmental history.
“As best as I can determine, we have not released this volume of [civilian complaint] numbers pursuant to a singular request,” Kinebrew said.
The records were obtained through an information request filed by WHYY and Billy Penn. They show that 153 of the officers who appeared in the Facebook database, compiled by a group called the Plain View Project, accrued at least one civilian complaint since 2015. Some of the officers have been previously identified for their extensive complaint histories.
In total, civilians lodged 338 complaints against this group of officers in the past five years. They alleged misconduct ranging from minor departmental violations to purportedly criminal acts.
However, 160 other officers named in the Facebook database had not received any civilian complaints at all. The department did not release records for 14 other officers, asserting that they could not be located.
Of those cited in the latest release, 12th District Officer Marc B. Marchetti tops the list. The patrolman has been named in 16 different civilian complaints since 2015 — about one complaint every three to four months. In that same period, the vast majority of PPD officers received zero or one complaint, according to a WHYY analysis of complaint data.
Grievances aimed at Marchetti include multiple physical abuse and harassment allegations, including several involving juveniles. Internal Affairs ordered training and counseling for Marchetti in three cases for violating lesser departmental guidelines.
Marchetti appears in the Facebook database for a 2015 comment he made on a post about a woman reportedly fending off home invaders with a firearm.
“Would have been better to see at least one guy shot in the head,” Marchetti wrote.
Police officials have condemned many of the more vitriolic posts cited in the database, while downplaying the severity of others. The head of the police union defended much of the content as merely “cops being cops and venting.” However, Commissioner Richard Ross has placed 72 officers on desk duty while their social media histories are under investigation.
Ross also promised that some of those benched officers, who remain unnamed, would be fired in an attempt to restore public trust in the scandal-rocked department. Spokesman Kinebrew declined to say if police brass are reviewing each officer’s disciplinary history in conjunction with their social media posts.
Despite swift backlash from departmental leadership, it is unclear if officers’ social media accounts were ever monitored for red flags. But the department does profess to monitor civilian complaints for warning signs of officers who may be unfit for street duty. It has also drawn criticism in the past for the failures of its internal disciplinary system, which rarely results in serious consequences, even in the few instances in which Internal Affairs sustains a civilian’s complaint.
Complaints and Facebook posts could impact criminal cases
There is no clear correlation between the volume of offensive Facebook posts an officer made and the volume of complaints they received.
Top complaint-getter Marchetti, for example, was flagged for just one comment by the Plain View Project, while some of his colleagues with no civilian complaints were among the most aggressive online posters.
Overall, police whose social media habits are now under intense scrutiny were more likely to be accused of misconduct. Of the officers that appeared in the Plain View Project database, 48% received one or more civilian complaint in five years, compared to 38% for the department as a whole.
Attorneys say the combination of these disciplinary records and social media posts will have a major impact on future criminal proceedings in which these officers are key witnesses.
“All of those officers are now vulnerable in court, they’re vulnerable in the DA’s office, they’re vulnerable with every criminal investigation they’re involved with,” said criminal defense lawyer Troy Wilson.
Officer Justin Donohue of the 35th District was one of the officers cited in the Facebook database. Working on the streets of North Philadelphia, he has been named in nine complaints lodged by civilians since 2015. That total makes him a significant outlier in a department where fewer than 2% of all officers receive as many complaints, according to a WHYY/Billy Penn analysis.
The department found Donahue guilty of verbally abusing a civilian in one case, as well as breaking unspecified departmental policy in three others. He was assigned training and counseling. Internal investigators dismissed four other complaints against him involving physical abuse and harassment.
The details of these allegations were recently scrubbed from the city’s public records. However, they won’t be hidden for long if Donahue ends up on the witness stand.
The North Philly district Donohue patrols is home to numerous mosques and a large Muslim community. In his Facebook posts, the patrolman urged a ban on face coverings for Muslim women. In 2012, he shared an article about protests in Iraq after a former U.S. Marine struck a lenient plea deal over his involvement in the 2005 Haditha massacre of Iraqi civilians.
“Who gives a flying F*** if the iraqi’s [sic] are pissed. F*** them and their country,” Donohue wrote. “They should take all the iraqi’s that were at the court hearing and piss on them outside the court room and broadcast it nationaly and tell the rest of the world who is mad to also go F*** them selves.”
To Wilson, the defense lawyer, these Facebook posts alone could have an impact on Donohue’s testimony in any criminal case in which the defendant is Arab or Muslim.
Add the pile of disciplinary priors to the mix, and the officer becomes a liability for the prosecution, Wilson said. Defense attorneys like himself will subpoena the grisly details of an officer’s complaints and introduce them as evidence alongside the Facebook posts.
“If my client is Muslim, I’m going to subpoena that officer’s disciplinary file with the City of Philadelphia, and I’m going to get the Facebook information, and I’m going to cross-examine that officer about his feelings about Muslims,” Wilson said. “If you’re the DA, good luck with winning that case against me.”
Kinebrew, the police spokesman, declined to make officers available for interviews.
Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice — Ben Crump is trying to turn a protest movement into a legal crusade.
By John H. Richardson,
Civil-rights attorney Ben Crump. Photo: Nigel Parry
In the lobby of a luxury hotel in Atlanta, Ben Crump is meeting a new client for the first time. His face is round and somber as a war mask. He’s wearing a dark suit, a crisp white shirt with French cuffs, gold cuff links, a heavy gold watch, and a thick gold wedding ring. On his left lapel, a gold Eagle of Justice spreads its wings.
Like many of the lawsuits Crump takes on, this one seems destined to make national headlines. But unlike the explosive battles that made him famous — he represented the families of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown Jr., Tamir Rice, Alesia Thomas, and Terence Crutcher and has worked on many, many less notorious Black Lives Matter cases — this one doesn’t involve a grieving relative, police violence, or a dead child. The man seated across from him is a successful financial-services executive, dressed with casual elegance in a dark blazer and knit shirt, who was educated at a prestigious HBCU and is accompanied by an old friend who happens to be a former state representative. His trouble started, he says, when he went into the wrong bank to cash a $2,000 check and the teller told him to wait while he checked with the branch manager. “I asked him if there was a problem, and he told me, ‘No, it’ll just be a second,’ ” the executive says. “Then a policewoman comes up and says, ‘I’m here for you.’ ” He laughs. “I thought she was just being friendly! Maybe she’s a client, you know.”
“Because you’ve never been arrested,” Crump says.
“I don’t get arrested,” he scoffs.
“And at some point she said, ‘Don’t run’?”
“When she was handcuffing me,” the executive answers. “She said, ‘I can tell you want to run. Don’t run.’ ” Looking freshly astonished, he asks, “Run where? And why?”
The check was a distribution from his 401(k), so it had two bank names on top. One was his home bank’s, the other that of the bank that managed his company’s 401(k) fund, and he thought he could cash it at either one. A vice-president did call to apologize a few days later, but the bank must not have told the police it was a mistake, because the charges haven’t been dropped. The executive isn’t sure he wants to raise a fuss — in his business, “arrested for bank fraud” isn’t the best thing to have at the top of your Google search. He’s only here because the former state representative called Crump and set up the meeting.
Crump sits still, coaxing out the details in a soft voice that mixes legal terminology with phrases like “how they done you.” The executive tells him the bank’s official story, which is that a branch manager called a fraud line and got the wrong information. But he’s not sure he believes it. He was on his way home from the gym, still wearing his workout clothes, and the bank was in Cobb County.
The former state representative explains: In black neighborhoods, people say Cobb is short for “Count on Being Busted.” It’s the richest and whitest part of Atlanta, home to Newt Gingrich and Bob Barr.
Pulling out his phone, Crump shows the executive a video he’s already put together from the security-cam footage. The title, superimposed over the entire clip, is “Banking While Black.” He wants to set up a press conference in the morning and release it to the media.
“Let’s talk about that,” the executive says nervously.
“How did you feel in the back of that police car?” Crump asks.
“Obviously, I went through a variety of feelings,” the executive says, then changes the subject.
Crump lets it go. But after a few minutes, the executive suddenly pops out an answer. “You asked how I felt? I was terrified. Because, the day before, I watched the Sandra Bland movie. And I just kept thinking, This is how it happens. This is how it happens.”
That triggers the executive’s memory — the four hours he spent in a little room with no windows, the fear he felt of getting raped or beaten, the inmate who noticed how nervous he was and said, “Relax, it’s not who you know, it’s who you blow.” He was there half the night before the police let him make a phone call. Nobody knew where he was. But the hardest part was losing his voice. From the time he walked into the bank to the moment he got out of jail, nobody would listen to anything he said. “That to me is what really happened,” he says. “Because I’m a person who’s able to explain what’s going on, and you’re always taught if you can just explain and you’re in the right, then it’s supposed to go okay.”
The truth, Crump admits, is that the bank would settle this case in a heartbeat. But the executive could also choose not to settle. “I think this video is going to go viral, and I think it’s gonna be a teachable moment for America. But, more importantly, it’s probably gonna save a lot of regular black folks from having to go to jail.”
The executive mulls it over.
“This is your Rosa Parks moment,” the state representative tells him.
“You don’t even have to say anything if you don’t want to — the video will speak for itself,” Crump says.
“Don’t you think we could still get accomplished what we need to get accomplished without — ”
“If you want to make an impact — ” Crump begins.
The executive jumps in: “What if you just wanna be a selfish ass?”
Photo: Nigel Parry
Five years ago, sitting in the lobby of a hotel in St.Louis, I asked Crump why he became a lawyer. It was the day of Michael Brown Jr.’s memorial service. Thousands of people had gathered in the street outside, their faces contorted by grief and rage, tears streaming down their cheeks, chanting “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and “No Justice, No Peace.” He told me about growing up in a little North Carolina town called Lumberton, about his mother working in the tobacco fields, about watching one of his uncles get beat up by a policeman for the crime of getting into a white college: “I guess he wanted to let him know that no matter where he went, he was always going to be black.”
Some of his stories seemed honed through retelling to an unbelievable perfection, like parables from the Bible, and a phrase he often used to introduce them — “I’ll never forget” — was tinged with the reverence of an oath. He’d never forget his great-grandmother, who raised at least a dozen grandchildren while their parents worked, some not even family. If you said you were too sick to go to school, she’d hold up a switch and say, “Are you gonna die? No? Then you can go to school.” His mother taught him about unions and working-class solidarity. When he won first prize in an essay contest, and her supervisor at the Converse factory wouldn’t let her take the day off to go to the ceremony, she said, “I don’t care what you do. I’m gonna be there to support my son.” When she got back, he fired her. So she cleaned hotel rooms and worked in the tobacco fields. And he was born in 1969 — this wasn’t ancient days.
Many of his stories centered on the railroad tracks that ran through the middle of Lumberton. The white people lived north of them, the black people on the south side. The only hospital was on the north side, the only library was on the north side. But when he was going into fifth grade, his mother told him the white kids and the black kids were going to start going to school together because of a lawyer named Thurgood Marshall and a case called Brown v. Board of Education. September came and the school bus took them across the tracks. “And I’ll never forget,” he said, “there was this little white girl who had a hundred-dollar bill. My mother would have had to work a whole week — maybe two weeks — to get a hundred-dollar bill. I was like, ‘Who gave you that?’ She’s like, ‘My parents gave it to me, and I can do what I want with it!’ ”
You had to cross the tracks to play on Lumberton’s youth football team too, so Crump’s uncle Jesse — the only person he knew who had a car — used to drive him and his friends to practice, six or seven of them packed in like beans in a jar. Then the city issued a rule that all football players had to have a phone at home. “That pretty much ruled out most of the black kids,” Crump said. But Uncle Jesse had a phone, and he told the recreation lady, “These are my boys, call me.” She said, “Jesse, you trying to tell me that all of these are your children?” “Yes, they’re all my boys,” he said again, trying avoid a direct lie. “No way are all of these your biological sons,” she insisted, and Uncle Jesse got stubborn. “Yes, they are,” he said. “They’re all my boys.” So they all got to play football that year.
By the time he left that town, at 13, Crump knew what he wanted to do. He got his law degree from Florida State University in 1995 and started a two-man firm in Tallahassee with a classmate, Daryl Parks, splitting time between bread-and-butter work like personal-injury cases and “trumped-up charges against black people.”
Crump and Parks won some impressive settlements — $10 million for a man whose face was burned off by a gas explosion, $13 million for the family of a mother and child who were killed in a plane crash, $5 million for the family of a preacher who was killed by a drunk driver. Crump had a way of selling a vision that was more like a political rainmaker than like another courtroom lawyer, a settlement counselor named Fernandez Anderson told me, giving the example of a difficult negotiation with an Avis executive who was nickel-and-diming them over the payout for a man who’d been paralyzed for life by an Avis car. “It was right before Christmas, and Ben does something only Ben can do — he appealed to the humanity of the guy. He said, ‘Don’t you want to go home and tell your son you did something good for Christmas?’ It had nothing to do with the law, nothing to do with facts, it was just one person talking to another person. And we walked out of there with the deal done.”
In the case that put him on the road to national fame, he sued the Florida state government over the death of a 14-year-old boy named Martin Lee Anderson in one of its “boot camps” for troubled teenagers and came away with $10 million. Even better, Florida shut down all its teen boot camps.
But seven guards had beaten Anderson for more than 30 minutes, then held him down and forced him to inhale ammonia until he suffocated. Still, the coroner said he died from a blood disorder. Without the protests and media uproar, Crump says, they’d be beating black kids in boot camps right now. And despite all that, the jury that sat in judgment of the guards a year later — an all-white jury — brought back a “not guilty” verdict. When it comes to the police-violence cases, Crump’s track record is not as impressive as he wants it to be. That’s not because he doesn’t win — he’s fought about 250 so far and won cash settlements in almost all of them. But the killing goes on. “I used to think that if we made a city pay $5 million or $10 million every time they shot black or brown people, they would stop doing it,” he says, “but as we’ve seen, the only way they’re going to stop doing it is if they go to jail.”
The Trayvon Martin case set the pattern for everything that Crump is doing today. The family heard about him through a relative, a Florida lawyer who had followed his career. He showed up within days of the shooting and brought on a local lawyer and a publicity specialist, and soon protests started bubbling up across the state. Then kids on the internet started putting out memes like the faceless hoodie, which launched the Million Hoodie March — “The image of that hoodie changed more minds than a thousand court cases,” Crump says — and President Obama kicked the story into hyperdrive with his famous remark that Martin could have been his own son. Grieving relatives began calling Crump from all over the country — he says he gets as many as 50 calls a day now — and he became a fixture on TV news.
Two years later, he got a call from Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, who told him, “Ben, they need you in St. Louis!” Crump turned on the television, saw Mike Brown Jr. lying facedown in the street. Soon, he was making headlines all over the world with incendiary quotes like “Their baby was executed in broad daylight.” Far-right websites like People’s Pundit Daily and The Daily Stormer have called him a “race hustler” who should be disbarred for inciting the Ferguson riots. Crump offers no apology: “They’re killing our children and they tell us not to make a disturbance? We try to disturb.”
In the years that followed, Crump became a perpetual-motion media machine, investigating the death of Tupac Shakur in a five-part A&E documentary, hosting a documentary series about wrongful convictions for TV One, and even acting — he made a cameo appearance as the young lawyer who joins forces with Thurgood Marshall in the last scene of Marshall. Last fall, he started his own production company, which is now making two documentary series for Netflix. “I don’t think there’s anyone else like him,” says Kenneth Mack, a professor of law at Harvard. “It’s actually hard to keep track of all the things he’s done.”
This strategy of showmanship and vilification worries even some who are sympathetic to the cause. “We black people make race the central theme in a discussion of crime, policing, and punishment in this country at our peril,” Glenn Loury, a professor of social sciences at Brown University, wrote in 2015. “My fear is that a discourse which readily cites the race of a citizen and the race of a cop as the touchstone of moral outrage — ‘Yet another unarmed black teenager is accosted by yet another white cop!’ — invites a counter-discourse in which the race of the perpetrators and victims of everyday street crimes comes to be accepted as a legitimate topic of public argument.” This is exactly what happened when “White Lives Matter” became a slogan on the right. It can backfire in other ways, too — the state prosecutors who brought charges against Trayvon Martin’s killer failed to get a conviction, and it’s possible that the publicity Crump stirred up was partly to blame, pushing them to overreach with a second-degree-murder charge. “Would I approve of every use of the media he’s engaged in?” Mack says. “No. But as long as there have been civil-rights lawyers, all the way back to Thurgood Marshall, they’ve tried to publicize their cases and garner support. It’s simply part of the job.”
Crump frames his response in legal terms: “We get the opportunity to at least put America on notice, and notice is two-thirds of the law. When you see that policeman shooting bullet after bullet into Laquan McDonald, or Philando Castile’s girlfriend crying in the next seat while he bleeds to death, or Mike Brown lying there in the street for four hours with all those black people cursing and fussing behind the police tape, you see what black people have known forever.”
Advocating for Trayvon Martin in 2012. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
The morning after the “Banking While Black” meeting, Crump calls me with bad news — the executive decided he needed more time to think, so the press conference is on hold.
I ask him what he’ll do next. This is the schedule he gives me:
Sunday: Tallahassee. Going to church with his wife and daughter.
Monday: Birmingham. Meeting with the parents of Emantic “E.J.” Bradford, a 21-year-old who was killed in a suburban mall by a police officer.
Tuesday: Little Rock. Interviewing victims of a series of “no knock” police raids.
Wednesday: Sacramento. Holding a press conference with the family of Stephon Clark, who was killed in his grandmother’s backyard by two police officers who thought the cell phone in his hand was a gun.
Thursday: Atlanta. Meeting a woman who can’t get a murder conviction off her police record even though she was declared innocent ten years ago. Also the “Banking While Black” press conference, he hopes. And Tallahassee, to get some clothes and attend a protest at city hall for the right of felons to vote, which the citizens of Florida restored in a referendum the Republican legislature is trying to reverse.
Friday: Memphis. Giving a speech to a group of black law students.
Saturday: Lumberton. Gathering evidence for a lawsuit against the international conglomerate that owns the railroad tracks. Also, Chapel Hill, to —
I stop him there. “You’re going to Lumberton?” He sketches out the story, which is also outlined in a class-action suit for which he’s hoping to recruit additional claimants. A multibillion-dollar international conglomerate called CSX owns the tracks at the center of town now, he says, and it ignored the official state studies that show a significant risk of a catastrophic flood coming through a railroad underpass on the Lumber River levee. Then Hurricane Matthew arrived, causing $250 million in damage. Crump rushed up from Tallahassee in a panic. Uncle Jesse was going through chemotherapy, and he had diabetes, too; how was he going to survive a flood? When he finally pulled up to the house, he saw his uncle crying in the street, his home destroyed by a wall of water six feet high. “He said something so deep,” Crump tells me. “He said, ‘It’s all gone, it’s all gone, everything.’ And he said, ‘We need you to make them do right by us.’ ”
After that, the city started planning a flood-control system, but CSX refused to attend the meetings. Two years later, as Hurricane Florence started roaring up the coast, the city tried to organize a sandbag brigade, but CSX refused to give it permission to step on its land. The governor finally issued an emergency order for CSX to back down, but by then the rain was already falling.
This time, fortunately, Uncle Jesse was in a FEMA house on higher ground. But two years later, after his fifth heart attack, he’s still living in that FEMA house. His friends and relatives have scattered, and the life he built is gone forever. So, yes, he’s going to sue the railroad company. “It’s a burden on me,” Crump says. “Can I get it done before he leaves this Earth?”
With the parents of Michael Brown in 2014. Photo: Jeff Roberson Photo/AP
Crump is the most ferocious networker I’ve ever seen. Shaquille O’Neill, Jesse Jackson, and Michael Jordan are just members of Omega Psi Phi, the largest international black fraternity in the world. Crump is its Grand Counselor. He was the president of the National Bar Association. He’s on the boards of the Innocence Project and the National Black Justice Coalition. He’s been to the White House with Oprah Winfrey and spent quality time with Beyoncé and Jay-Z, who produced his documentary on Tupac Shakur — names he’s not shy about dropping, though he does it with a tone of wonder and immediately follows with a promise never to forget the little black boy who grew up in the projects of Lumberton. The high moral purpose he projects draws more people to his cause. Why did Al Sharpton show up at Ferguson? “Because Crump called,” Sharpton told me. “There are people I make money with, but it’s all about the money,” Fernandez Anderson told me. “With Ben, you feel like you’re doing something for a higher cause.”
In Tallahassee at Sunday dinner, I sit next to his mother. “Did he tell you about the letter to President Carter?” she asks.
When her son was in fourth grade, she says, he sent a letter informing the president of the United States of the racial divisions in Lumberton. Even the schools were fancier on the north side, he said, with big American flags flying outside. Would Carter please give his school an American flag?
Carter sent the flag.
And oh, how her son loved the microphone, she says. He’d get up in church at Christmas and Easter and give speeches that lasted for hours, and everybody would applaud.
When Crump drops her off at home, they stop in front of a picture of a dark woman with a face like a gravestone. It’s his great-grandmother, Mittie. “Tell the saying that she always told you,” his mother commands. “ ‘We’ve done so much with so little …’ ”
Smiling, Crump obeys: “ ‘Black people have done so much with so little, we’re qualified to do almost anything with almost nothing.’ ”
Tell the story about the newspaper, she says.
Crump’s expression gets almost dreamy. Mittie couldn’t read, he says, but when he was in first or second grade, she took out a newspaper subscription and they started sounding out the words together. He learned about Mother Teresa and Margaret Thatcher, the fights over affirmative action and the war in Iran. That showed him there was a world beyond Lumberton. She made him promise not to smoke or drink, too, and he’s never had a cigarette or let alcohol touch his lips. She would tell him, “You’re gonna be the one. You’re going to make it better for our people.”
After kissing his mother goodbye, Crump hurries to his office to go over his pending cases with his new partner, Scott Carruthers — two years ago, Carruthers approached Crump and Parks with the idea of starting a national firm. Crump wanted to do it and Parks did not. Now Crump and Carruthers take on giant companies like Johnson & Johnson and Gilead Sciences over allegedly defective products that disproportionately affected black communities.
They start with the Stephon Clark case in Sacramento. “What do you want to put in the press release?” Carruthers asks.
“I want to keep it real simple,” Crump says. “There’s a video that shows they killed him when he was running away, they let him lie on the ground — no first aid, no effort to save his life — and what I always tell the families: We can’t control what the DA does in criminal court, but we can hold the city of Sacramento accountable in civil court.”
He’s feeling good about Birmingham. Yes, the attorney general took the Bradford case out of the hands of the black district attorney and black mayor, whose city has a majority-black population. And yes, this is the same attorney general who once sued the previous black mayor for covering a Confederate monument. And yes, the AG is still refusing to release videos of Bradford’s killing, claiming they don’t tell the whole story. But Crump sees hope in that. In the Laquan McDonald case in Chicago, the DA kept the video under wraps for more than a year because one look was enough to tell you the officer was guilty of coldblooded murder — he shot a 17-year-old 16 times while he was walking away. If the AG keeps stonewalling, and Crump raises enough of a public outcry, he might get the video the DA in Birmingham showed him of the killer fist-bumping with his partner over E.J.’s body. That would go viral for sure, and he’d filed a lawsuit to get it released.
As the meeting ends, Crump brings up a new case. Just a few months ago, a woman came up to him after a speech and said, “I know Trayvon was big, but this is going to be your biggest case. Can you meet with me for 30 minutes?” It turned out her great-great-great-grandfather, a first-generation slave, had been photographed by a Harvard professor who was trying to prove that pure-blooded Africans are biologically inferior, closer to apes than human beings — this was in 1850. She wanted those pictures. Harvard refused to give them to her. And Harvard had used the photographs in discussions about universities’ facing their history with slavery — can you believe that?
At a memorial for E.J. Bradford Jr. in 2018. Photo: Shauna A. Stuart/The Birmingham News/Al.com
Monday morning, Crump flies to Birmingham for his press conference with the Bradford family. One TV crew shows up. With grim faces, Bradford’s parents tell the camera their story — the police “vilified” their son’s character on TV and didn’t admit they shot the wrong man until the next night. But Crump’s statement is what makes the news. “The video will be the same today as it was on November 22, the night E.J. was killed,” he says. “And the same as it will be at the time of trial, unless somebody alters it. The video is the video is the video.”
Afterward, Bradford’s parents meet Crump in another hotel lobby. “They didn’t even cover him up,” E.J. Sr. fumes. “They kept him laying out there like a piece of meat.”
“Like he didn’t belong to anyone,” says Bradford’s mother, April Pipkins.
“Like didn’t nobody love this child.”
The hatred they saw on social media enrages them too. “Somebody said, ‘All he did was rob and steal.’ My son is dead, and you posting this stuff on Facebook?”
“Say he shot somebody’s house.”
“Say he was a thug.”
Taken in isolation, the death of their son had a familiar Rorschach-test quality. Shots rang out in the mall in Hoover, the richest and whitest suburb of Birmingham. Two people were wounded, and the policeman saw him with a gun in his hand and made what some people would consider the obvious assumption. This argument enrages E.J. Sr., who was a policeman himself for 20 years. The officer who killed his son didn’t shout “Police!” or “Drop the gun!” He pulled the trigger five seconds after the first burst of gunfire. “That’s not a justifiable shooting,” he says. “Especially when your first shot is in his head and, as they’re falling, you put two more in them.”
The police didn’t even call them to say their son was dead.The AG hasn’t talked to them once. He refuses to release the name of the officer who fired the shots. And the mall reopened the next day. E.J. Sr. glances at the black faces around the table. “But Hoover’s got their own set of rules, as we all know.” he says, his voice dripping with bitter fury.
With the family of Markeis McGlockton in 2018. Photo: Douglas R. Clifford Photo/AP
After the meeting, Crump’s office calls. A storm front is heading south, one so large the airport might have to close. Instead of canceling his meeting in Little Rock and hunkering down in a nice hotel, Crump recruits the nearest person with a car. He wants to drive to Atlanta and catch a plane there.
On the way out of town, he remembers he hasn’t eaten and spots a Chick-fil-A. In the parking lot a few minutes later, he prays over his takeout bag: “Dear God, please watch over E.J. Bradford and Stephon Clark and …” Eight or ten names later, he wraps up with a personal request: “Lord, please put an angel on every corner of this car.”
On the highway, he returns to his obsessions: There’s no way the Alabama AG is going to bring charges against that police officer, he says. He knows it, Bradford’s parents know it, anybody who’s black in America knows it. He’s unyielding on this point. When I tell him that if I were a cop who saw a kid running through a crowded mall with a gun in his hand seconds after a shooting, I probably would have shot him too, he fires off an indignant rebuttal. Police officers killed Tamir Rice within seconds of seeing him with a gun, just like Bradford, then we find out he was 12 years old and the gun was just a toy, and they still get off. Dylann Roof goes into a black church and kills nine people, and they bring him Burger King. Latandra Ellington wrote a note to her aunt saying a prison guard threatened to “beat me to death and mess me like a dog,” the aunt called the prison, and ten days later they found Latandra dead in her cell —
His phone rings. It’s one of his agents in Hollywood. “Hey, Cam, I heard you had an awesome trip,” he begins, schmoozing the guy like he was born in the William Morris mail room. Then he gets down to business. “Netflix said 350, but we can’t say the deal isn’t exclusive …”
Hanging up, he launches back into his litany of wrongful deaths. He won’t debate the specifics of each case. To him, the real problem is the “default assumption” that the black person might be guilty. If you consider the radical racial disparity in drug convictions in America, his point is unassailable. But if you look at the specifics of each crime, the Rorschach test kicks in — is this particular police officer guilty? His phone rings again. This time, it’s his PR person, calling about the press release for “Banking While Black,” which might go out on Thursday. “I want to be sly about how we put it out,” he tells her. “I’m worried they’ll drop the charges when they find out I’m involved.”
When he hangs up, he tells me about a call he just got from a new pair of grieving parents. Their son was a college student in Maryland. His name was Richard Collins. He was a week away from graduating. The leaders of his ROTC program called him “a model cadet,” “a young man who did everything he was supposed to do.” He was standing at a bus stop when a student named Sean Urbanski allegedly came up and stabbed him in the chest. The police later found out he was a member of a Facebook group called Alt-Reich Nation. One of his classmates posted, “Fuck yeah, Sean!!!!! That’s what happens when niggers get frosty with an OG!”
He wants to take the case. He really does. But he doesn’t know whom to sue. The killer’s parents? The University? America? Whom do you sue to make this stop?
His phone rings. It’s Carruthers calling about the Stephon Clark case. “Let me grab this real quick,” he says.
He’s still saying hello when the phone rings again. It’s another call from his agent. “One sec,” he tells Carruthers. “That’s outstanding,” Crump says. “We’ll pull the trigger in the morning.”
Back to Carruthers. “Okay, I’m ready, let’s talk strategy.”
With the grandmother of Stephon Clark in 2018. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli Photo/AP
Crump scrambles his schedule again on Tuesday. The rain canceled his trip to Little Rock, and the “Banking While Black” executive is wavering again. That afternoon, he meets a legal consultant at the Commerce Club in Atlanta to talk over some cases. He stayed up until three in the morning studying case law, but his shirt is freshly ironed and his suit doesn’t have a single wrinkle. The Eagle of Justice is pinned to its left lapel. Everyone seems to know him. A man who owns a security firm comes over to give him a business card, telling him to call if he ever needs a bodyguard.
He spends Wednesday largely in his hotel room, preparing his cases and making phone calls. He meets with the woman who can’t get the murder conviction off her record. On Thursday, he flies down to Tallahassee to get a fresh suit and give a speech on the steps of the state capital. One in every five black men in Florida is a felon, he tells the crowd. He calls it “killing them softly,” because then nobody will question anything the police want to do to you. “Once you get a felony conviction, you’re the walking dead. You just haven’t gotten your death certificate yet.”
On Friday, he heads to Memphis to give his speech to the black law students. When that’s over, he finally catches the plane to North Carolina. Twelve more hours and he’ll be back in Lumberton. But first he has to make a quick stop in Virginia, where he’ll meet with Richard Collins’s parents in the airport and get right back on the plane.
Announcing a lawsuit against Harvard University in 2019. Photo: Kevin Hagen/Getty Images
Lumberton looks like any other small town, with its library, courthouse, and few grand homes, the others more modest but mostly well tended. “This is the north side,” Crump says.
Then we cross the railroad tracks. A cluster of squat brick buildings with the institutional look of a low-security prison is the first thing we see. We pass a sign that says turner terrace and park in one of the driveways. Crump gets out of the car and stares up at a second-floor window, silent for a moment. “This was home,” he says.
He takes out his phone: “Hey, Ma, guess where we at? 107 Holly Street.”
She asks about their old church. Are they rebuilding yet?
“Our church is never coming back,” he tells her.
“They’re tearing down all the history,” she says.
“We’re going to represent them, Mama,” he promises.
He stops by Uncle Jesse’s FEMA house, a two-story condo in a planned development that could be Anywhere, U.S.A. Uncle Jesse sits in an easy chair, round and smiling. “It’s our way to take the Lord with you every day,” he tells me. “That’s what I tell all my nephews and nieces — learn your Scripture and take a little time out with the Lord.”
Crump sits on the edge of an armchair with a loving gaze. “Every time I go to trial, I call him and we go through the Scriptures I need to say seven times a day.”
Uncle Jesse gives a satisfied nod, his eyes down and his thoughts inward. “When you really serve God and stay in that book,” he tells me, “you come to the conclusion that everything we do, he loves it.”
We drive to a small white church. Inside, every pew is full. The men are wearing blazers and business shirts, the women dresses. Crump thanks the pastor for the use of his church and tells them he’s here to fight for them. He talks about Uncle Jesse crying outside his house, saying he lost everything. “And by everything,” Crump says, “he meant the pictures of his wedding and their newborn babies, the family Bibles passed down from his great-great-grandmother with birth dates and death dates of their ancestors written in the back.” Indignation rises in his voice. “Now, the CSX lawyers are going to say that house wasn’t worth more than $35,000 or $40,000, but man, that claim is worth so much more. Uncle Jesse worked his whole life to make those mortgage payments. He was going to leave those Bibles for his children.”
In the pews, heads nod.
Crump spots a familiar face in the audience. “Ms. Bensie, you’ve been to his house many times.” She nods again, and others nod with her. This is why he went to law school, he says. A multibillion-dollar corporation could have done the right thing, but instead they decided that this community didn’t matter, that our lives don’t matter, that those black and brown people from South Lumberton weren’t going to amount to anything anyway. “But we’re not gonna let them devalue or trivialize our community and our houses and our family legacies,” he promises. “We’re not going to let them say our lives don’t matter.” He paraphrases a famous quote from Marshall. “The basis of the American Constitution is simply this — that a black baby born to the most impoverished black mother, like my mama from Turner’s Terrace, has the same exact rights as the most affluent white mother, by simply drawing its first breath as an American.” That’s not the case in America today, he says, but it’s a goal worth fighting for. By standing up for Lumberton, he says, they can make America live up to its ideals and finally become the shining city that the Founders promised — they can make America be America for all Americans.
When he finishes, hands shoot up all over the room. Will they pay off the loan you took to fix your house? Will they pay the doctor’s bills you ran up because of the stress? What about the computers at the community center? What about the insurance bills that keep going up and up? And what about the PTSD — every time it rains, people get crazy. He tells them to gather all the documents they can, every bill and receipt. He tells them that God is looking down on the injustice they suffered and that God will smile on them because he loves justice. “Y’all from Lumberton,” he says. “You know the saying: ‘A closed mouth won’t get fed.’ Well, we ain’t gonna be closed-mouthed. We’re going to try to make them see there’s a heaven above and a hell below.”
In the months that followed, the attorney general of Alabama announced his decision: The officer who shot E.J. Bradford followed procedure. The prosecutor in Sacramento also declined to press charges against the officers who shot Stephon Clark. The executive in the “Banking While Black” case decided to pass on his Rosa Parks moment — he couldn’t face the public glare — and traded a nondisclosure agreement for a settlement. The heirs of the racist Harvard professor joined Crump’s cause, asking Harvard to give the family the photos, but Harvard is still mulling it over. “It’s kind of funny when you think about it,” Crump says. “Black people in America are like domestic-violence victims — no matter how many times we’re bruised, no matter how many times America breaks our heart, we still want to believe there’s going to be justice and equality for all.”
He pauses. “But that’s why we fight. You have to properly diagnose the problem before you can cure a problem. So I believe we’re gonna cure this disease of racism. Just like we’re in a battle against cancer, we’re in a battle against racism, and I believe we’re gonna win that battle and find the cure for cancer, and I believe we’re gonna somehow find a cure for racism.
You’ve gotta believe it. It’s the only thing that can make you keep going.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
July 8 2019, 7:00 a.m.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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)
By Dan Morse
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.
A city watchdog found that complaints were not taken seriously, and recommended expanding the definition of bias to include racial, ethnic and L.G.B.T.Q. slurs.
There have been about 2,500 formal complaints of officer bias lodged since 2014. Not one was substantiated by the Police Department.CreditMike Segar/Reuters
By Ali Watkins, June 26, 2019
About 2,500 people have lodged formal complaints in the last four and a half years with the New York Police Department, reporting that officers acted with bias toward them.
Not a single allegation has been substantiated by the Police Department.
In a report issued on Wednesday, a city watchdog agency found the investigations of these complaints against the police lacking, and recommended changes to how the department classifies and handles bias allegations.
Often, allegations were listed as unsubstantiated or unfounded, and closed, according to the report by the city’s Department of Investigation.
In some cases officers misclassified complaints or failed to interview people involved. The report also concluded that police officials did not take bias allegations as seriously as they do other kinds of police misconduct.
“Establishing effective and fair processes for the investigation of biased policing allegations is a fundamental component of the Police Department’s relationship with the public, helping to build trust and confidence,” Margaret Garnett, the D.O.I. commissioner, said in a statement.
In 2014, the Police Department created a way for residents to report incidents of bias by officers as a separate class of complaints and started investigating them.
At the time, senior commanders were wrestling with the fallout over the department’s “stop-and-frisk” policy, under which thousands of mostly black and Hispanic men were searched on what a federal judge determined were questionable constitutional grounds.
Judge Rejects New York’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy
The intent was to give city residents a direct way to make complaints to the police about sensitive issues like racial profiling or the role of prejudice in arrest decisions. In the five years since the program was unveiled, 2,495 complaints have poured in for the department to investigate.
But in the report, Philip K. Eure, the city’s inspector general for the Police Department, recommended an overhaul of how the police investigate bias complaints, including better training for officers and more transparency about the allegations. The department currently offers no public accounting of bias incidents or complaints.
The police should also redefine what is considered a bias incident, the report said. Under current department policy, the report said, the use of racial, ethnic or L.G.B.T.Q.-based slurs is not considered evidence of bias.
Mr. Eure also recommended the department require officers to report incidents of bias involving colleagues.
Allegations of police bias are investigated by the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau. The Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent agency that also investigates reports of police misconduct, also refers complaints about biased policing to the Internal Affairs Bureau.
The inspector general reviewed 888 bias incidents investigated by the Internal Affairs Bureau and found that 68 percent accused the police of racial bias.
In several incidents, the report said, investigating officers failed to pursue the case properly or filed it incorrectly, which hindered the case from being handled appropriately.
Often, the report said, officers cited guilty pleas or convictions as evidence that the bias claims were unfounded and simply closed the case.
In one complaint, a woman reported that her husband, who is black, was targeted by officers because of his race. The officers boxed in her husband’s car and said his disability placard seemed invalid because he “looked fine,” the report said. The woman said officers then cited her husband for littering after they spotted a discarded cigarette on the sidewalk.
Another woman reported that her son was arrested and taken to the police station, where an officer was heard saying, “You know what I do with Gypsies? I put all Gypsies in jail.”
Proving that such claims stem from bias is difficult, the inspector general acknowledged, because investigators must demonstrate the officer’s motive was linked to prejudice.
Still, the report concluded there is significant room for improvement in the department’s methods.
Most critically, the report found, the department does not consider slurs or offensive language to be evidence of “biased policing.” Such incidents are only investigated if the slur is accompanied by another action, like an arrest, use of force or refusing to take a complaint.
The report also recommended that the police grant the civilian complaint board the authority to investigate bias complaints that it receives, instead of sending the cases to internal affairs investigators.
The department acknowledged in a statement that it could improve, but pointed out that the number of bias incidents being reported by civilians had decreased by a third in the first five months of the year, compared to the same period last year. It also noted that the inspector general had not identified any cases where a complaint should have been substantiated.
“Even with the positive changes already made, and the full context of this report, the N.Y.P.D. knows there is more to do,” the Police Department said in a statement.
By ANITA CHABRIA JUN 28, 2019 |3:25 PM |SACRAMENTO
Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies heard a voice on a wiretap in 2009 that they believed was one of their own — a narcotics officer caught on the wrong side of the law.
For the next decade, the department would pursue a case against Det. Carlos Arellano through investigations, courts and civil service hearings. They had little luck. Arellano prevailed at nearly every turn, and the department exhausted its legal avenues last year when the stateSupreme Court refused to review the case.
Now the matter has made its way to the state Legislature in a bill that has advanced quietly but could substantially expand how wiretaps are used in California.
The proposed law seems written with Arellano in mind, leaving some concerned that an effort to further the collection of evidence in police misconduct investigations could have broad privacy implications — diminishing protections against government surveillance.
“It greatly … expands the reach of wiretapping,” said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which opposes the bill. “We don’t really understand what’s going on.”
The bill’s author, state Sen. Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana) defended the legislation. He said the state’s existing law includes enough privacy protections to ensure that wiretaps aren’t improperly used, but he supports wiretap evidence being available in civil service hearings. A former federal and military prosecutor, Umberg said he is backing the bill as a public safety measure.
It’s “a tool to investigate and prosecute those who do violate the law,” he said. “Peace officers, anybody.”
The proposal, Senate Bill 439, would allow law enforcement to use intercepted phone calls, emails, Facebook Messenger chats and other electronic communications to build cases for a wide swath of crimes that current state law deems ineligible for such surveillance. The broadened list of crimes includes felonies such as attempted kidnapping and rape of an unconscious person, as well as making criminal threats and firing a weapon from a car.
The bill wouldn’t change what crimes could receive a judge’s approval for a wiretap. But it would expand the kinds of prosecutions that could go forward with overheard evidence, if law enforcement happened to gather it during a legally approved wiretap.
State wiretapping laws, which largely follow federal rules, are meant to prevent undue invasions of privacy and keep law enforcement from using such surveillance to fish for crimes that aren’t deemed the most serious. Wiretap orders are reserved for crimes such as murder, drug and gang conspiracies and violent felonies. If law enforcement officials listening on a legal wiretap hear evidence of another crime — one that a judge wouldn’t sign a wiretap order for — they are often unable to use or share that information.
Sponsored by Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, the bill also contains a narrow provision that applies only to law enforcement officers. It would make overheard evidence of any criminal conduct by a peace officer admissible in the administrative hearings used to discipline and fire officers.
Lacey, who has been criticized for being soft on police misconduct, citedArellano in a letter to the Legislature advocating for the measure. Her office declined an interview request about the legislation but offered a written statement on her behalf. The statement said that the bill’s purpose was “much broader” than the Arellano case but that it was “one example of a deficiency in the existing law in regards to law enforcement misconduct.”
The San Francisco public defender’s office, which opposes the measure, argued in a letter that obtaining a wiretap is “easy enough as is” — and more often than not doesn’t reveal criminal activity.
In 2018, there were 387 applications for wiretaps resulting in 465 arrests in California, mostly on gang and narcotics charges, according to the state attorney general’s office. The wiretaps resulted in 53 convictions, though some cases may be ongoing.
In Los Angeles, there were 181 wiretap applications resulting in 49 arrests and two convictions that year. In one case cited by the attorney general, L.A. County investigators used wiretaps to seize more than 165 kilograms of methamphetamine, 193 kilograms of cocaine, 33 kilograms of heroin and more than $3.42 million.
But law enforcement also used wiretaps to listen in on thousands of people who didn’t commit crimes, involving hundreds of thousands of calls and messages, said San Francisco Public Defender Manohar Raju in his letter. In one instance, an L.A. wiretap operation in a 2018 murder investigation intercepted more than 43,000 communications from 920 people, with 1% of the interceptions providing incriminating information, according to the state report.
In Arellano’s case, court records say he was heard on the wiretap discussing his involvement with an illegal marijuana grow, arranging for drug payments and offering advice to suspected drug dealers on how to avoid police. Arellano was identified on the wiretap by a voice comparison made by five Spanish-language linguists, according to court records, though Arellano’s lawyer, Elizabeth Gibbons, said it was never proven to be Arellano on tape, and he has maintained his innocence.
The Drug Enforcement Administration and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department asked a judge to allow the conversations to be used by internal investigators within the Sheriff’s Department. The judge granted the request, but criminal charges were never filed against Arellano because marijuana violations were beyond the scope of the serious crimes included under wiretap law.
The department fired Arellano in 2011 largely based on the wiretap.
Arellano fought the county, arguing that the intercepted conversations should not have been allowed in the civil service administrative hearing that led to his dismissal because that disclosure was beyond the scope of the judicial order that authorized their use by Sheriff’s Department investigators. A judge and a three-person panel of the appellate courtagreed, and Arellano was reinstated. The Sheriff’s Department declined to provide Arellano’s current status, referring the question to the California Public Records Act process, though he was on paid administrative leave for a time.
The appellate court in its decision in August suggested that state lawmakers needed to settle the question of whether such wiretap evidence should be admissible in administrative hearings.
But the proposed legislation’s carve-out on peace officers goes beyond a clarification, said Ed Obayashi, a legal advisor and trainer for law enforcement agencies. That’s because, he said, it allows wiretap evidence of any crime by peace officers to be used in administrative hearings — even if there are no criminal proceedings or if that evidence can’t be used in court.
Gibbons, Arellano’s lawyer and a specialist in representing law enforcement officers, said the bill may not be legal because it reduces the rights of officers below those of average citizens.
“They are reducing the constitutional rights of police officers and opening them up for … prosecution based on information that nobody else could be prosecuted for,” Gibbons said.
The bill has cleared the Senate and will next be heard July 9 by the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
Police chiefs are often forced to put officers fired for misconduct back on the streets
By Kimbriell Kelly, Wesley Lowery and Steven Rich
Aug. 3, 2017
Since 2006, the nation’s largest police departments have fired at least 1,881 officers for misconduct that betrayed the public’s trust, from cheating on overtime to unjustified shootings. But The Washington Post has found that departments have been forced to reinstate more than 450 officers after appeals required by union contracts.
Most of the officers regained their jobs when police chiefs were overruled by arbitrators, typically lawyers hired to review the process. In many cases, the underlying misconduct was undisputed, but arbitrators often concluded that the firings were unjustified because departments had been too harsh, missed deadlines, lacked sufficient evidence or failed to interview witnesses.
The chiefs say the appeals process leaves little margin for error. Yet police agencies sometimes sabotage their own attempts to shed troubled officers by making procedural mistakes. The result is that police chiefs have booted hundreds of officers they have deemed unfit to be in their ranks, only to be compelled to take them back and return them to the streets with guns and badges.
“It’s demoralizing, but not just to the chief,” said Charles H. Ramsey, former police commissioner in Philadelphia and chief in the District. Philadelphia and the District together have had to rehire 80 fired officers since 2006, three of them twice.
“It’s demoralizing to the rank and file who really don’t want to have those kinds of people in their ranks,” Ramsey said. “It causes a tremendous amount of anxiety in the public. Our credibility is shot whenever these things happen.”
(Video by Dalton Bennett)
The Post’s findings illustrate the obstacles local police agencies face in holding their own accountable at a critical moment for policing: President Trump’s administration has indicated that the federal government will curtail the strategy of federal intervention in departments confronted with allegations of systemic officer misconduct, even as controversial police shootings continue to undermine public confidence.
Nationwide, the reinstatement of fired officers has not been comprehensively studied or tracked. No national database logs terminations. Some firings receive local publicity, but many go unreported. Some states shield police personnel records — including firings — from public disclosure.
To investigate how often fired officers were returned to their jobs, The Post filed open records requests with the nation’s 55 largest municipal and county police forces. Thirty-seven departments complied with the request, disclosing that they had fired a combined 1,881 officers since 2006. Of those officers, 451 successfully appealed and won their jobs back.
Police departments disclosed the reasons why they reinstated officers in about one-half of the 451 cases.
Fired, not rehired
The officers’ names and details were available in about half of the reinstatement cases: 151 of the officers had been fired for conduct unbecoming, and 88 had been terminated for dishonesty, according to a review of internal police documents, appeals records, court files and news reports.
At least 33 of the officers had been charged with crimes. Of these, 17 had been convicted, most of misdemeanors.
Eight officers were fired and rehired by their departments more than once.
“To overturn a police chief’s decision, except in cases of fact errors, is a disservice to the good order of the department,” said San Antonio Police Chief William McManus, who in February was ordered to reinstate Officer Matthew Belver for a second time. “It also undermines a chief’s authority and ignores the chief’s understanding of what serves the best interest of the community and the department.”
In the District, arbitrators have ordered the city to rehire 39 officers since 2006, more than half of them because arbitrators concluded that the department missed deadlines to complete its internal investigations. One officer, convicted of assault after he was caught on video attacking a shoe store employee, was fired in 2015 and reinstated in 2016 after an arbitrator concluded that police had missed the deadline by seven days, arbitration records show.
D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said he disagreed with the arbitrators’ conclusions on when the clock started in those cases. “The public has to suffer because somebody violated an administrative rule,” Newsham said, adding that two-thirds of the officers reinstated because of missed investigative deadlines are no longer on the D.C. force.
Police unions argue that the right to appeal terminations through arbitration protects officers from arbitrary punishment or being second-guessed for their split-second decisions. Unions contend that police chiefs are prone to overreach, especially when there is public or political pressure to fire officers. In interviews, local and national union officials said some of the 451 reinstated officers should never have been fired in the first place.
“They’re held to a higher standard,” said James Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police. “Their work is constantly scrutinized to a far higher degree. You very seldom see any phone-cam indictments of trash collectors or utility workers.”
Local police departments have often been criticized in recent years as not holding their officers accountable in fatal shootings, or in cases of brutality and corruption. To address the outcry from the public, the Department of Justice has employed its authority to investigate police departments for civil rights violations and to force reforms. Under President Barack Obama, Justice launched dozens of these investigations. The tactic was used, for example, in the aftermath of the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
About this story
This article was produced in partnership with the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University. Students Teaganne Finn, Josephine Peterson, Matt Hanan, Taylor Hartz, Jordan Houston and Shaun Courtney contributed reporting to this article.
Dalton Bennett and Alice Crites also contributed to this report.
The Trump administration, however, has indicated that local officials should take the lead in policing their own departments. “I think there’s concern that good police officers and good departments can be sued by the Department of Justice when you just have individuals within a department who have done wrong,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said during his Senate confirmation hearing this year.
Justice Department officials recently told The Post that the department will be more judicious in launching civil rights investigations.
“The Attorney General has explicitly said that ‘police officers who abuse their sacred trust are made to answer for their misconduct’ and that ‘the Department of Justice will hold accountable any law enforcement officer who violates the civil rights of our citizens by using excessive force.’ Any assertion to the contrary is flat out wrong and incredibly irresponsible,” said Ian D. Prior, a Department of Justice spokesman, in a written statement.
“What the Attorney General does not believe, however, is that the unconstitutional actions of one police officer should result in onerous and ineffective agreements between the Department of Justice and local police departments that prevent law enforcement from reducing violent crime and protecting the public,’ ” Prior said in the statement.
But in a speech to law enforcement officers recently, President Trump made comments that were widely interpreted as condoning police violence against “thugs” who are taken into custody. He told officers: “[P]lease don’t be too nice.”
“When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head. … I said, you can take the hand away, okay?” Trump said.
The White House later said the president had been joking.
The 37 departments that complied with the The Post’s request for records employ nearly 91,000 officers. The nearly 1,900 firings and the 451 rehirings show both how rare it is for departments to fire officers and how difficult it is to keep many of those from returning.
“It’s the frustrating part of my job,” said Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans, who has been compelled to rehire four officers. “Most of the people we terminate [it] is clearly for good reason.”
In case after case, arbitrators have required police chiefs to take back officers the chiefs no longer want in their ranks.
“He is being paid to protect and serve us as citizens. But he takes my child’s life,” Sheila McNeil, the mother of the man who was killed by the officer in Florida, said at a public meeting in 2015. “I don’t understand how he can still be out here on the street. What fairness is that?”
The 37 departments that reported rehiring officers have one commonality: a police union contract that guarantees an appeal of disciplinary measures.
Police unionization began around the turn of the 20th century and spread rapidly in the 1960s and ’70s as states passed laws allowing collective bargaining by public workers. Today, most public employees, including police officers, have some form of collective-bargaining rights.
On most police forces, officers accused of wrongdoing are subject to internal affairs investigations to determine whether they violated department policies. If the officers are found to have breached department policies, police chiefs, superintendents or police boards can discipline them.
The multiyear contracts negotiated by police unions ensure that discipline may be appealed — typically through arbitration, a process that brings in outside parties, often lawyers who specialize in labor law, to review the punishments and rule on the appeals.
That is how police Sgt. John Blumenthal returned to work in Oklahoma City.
On July 7, 2007, a man was lying handcuffed on the ground when Blumenthal ran up and kicked him in the head, according to several other officers. Blumenthal’s fellow officers reported the incident to internal affairs, and months later Blumenthal was fired and convicted of misdemeanor assault and battery.
Two years later, an arbitrator ordered the department to return Blumenthal to work. The reasons are unclear, because the records of the proceedings are not public. Today, Blumenthal, who did not respond to requests for comment, is a motorcycle officer.
“The message is huge,” said Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty, who said he loses about 80 percent of arbitration cases. “Officers know all they have to do is grieve it, arbitrate it and get their jobs back.”
One of the primary determinations an arbitrator makes is whether a department adhered to the rules when disciplining an officer.
“Were all of the correct investigative steps followed?” said Arnold Zack, a former president of the National Academy of Arbitrators who teaches labor law at Harvard University. “And was there a violation of any policy, and if so, what should the discipline be?”
Zack said that police chiefs often bemoan arbitration but that many cases fall apart because the departments fail to properly investigate the allegations. In one Florida case, a sheriff’s deputy who was fired after being accused by prosecutors of trafficking in pain pills was reinstated because the arbitrator found that the department did not adequately investigate the allegations before firing him.
Many of the arbitrators who handled the cases examined by The Post declined to be interviewed about their decisions, saying that they do not discuss their rulings.
In Chicago, union officials say the appeals process saved the job of an officer who was unfairly fired for failing to pay his parking tickets.
In October 2015, Bill Caro, at the time an officer with 28 years’ service in the Chicago Police Department, was terminated after he failed to pay nine parking tickets totaling $1,471. The department had warned him to pay the unpaid fines and had given him a deadline that he missed.
Caro eventually paid the tickets, but the department fired him anyway, records show.
He appealed, and in August 2016, a local judge who served as arbitrator in the case deemed the punishment “excessive” and ordered that Caro be returned to the force. His firing was reduced to a five-year suspension without pay, meaning he will not report to work until 2020. Caro could not be reached for comment.
For 239 officers in The Post’s study whose firings were made public, the majority had their terminations reduced to suspensions; at least 43 received no discipline at all. Most of the reinstated officers were awarded back pay for the time they were off the force, which can stretch to several years.
“The arbitrator is bound by the contract language just as much as the department,” Zack said. “If the contract says you have five days to investigate, and you take six days, then the firing has to be overturned.
“Does that mean some bad guys will get away with some things? Yes.”
Select a case to read more
His cousin is a fugitive. He’s patrolling Boston.
SUSPENDED THEN FIRED
A truck is shot up, and a limo is pulled over.
THE EIGHT-YEAR FIRING
The officer is convicted of sexually abusing a young woman.
A CHALLENGE TO FIGHT
An officer is fired twice and put back on the force twice.
An arbitrator disagrees that a shooting wasn’t justified.
D.C. police take six days too long to fire an officer.
NO DUE PROCESS
A department fails to investigate an officer’s arrest.
A RUSH TO JUDGMENT
An officer is fired quickly after a strike goes viral.
His cousin is a fugitive. He’s patrolling Boston.
In 2012, the Boston Police Department was forced to rehire Baltazar “Tate” DaRosa two years after stripping him of his police powers for what the department said was his role in a murder.
One year after he joined the department, DaRosa was asked to help investigate the 2003 killing of his cousin, who was ambushed by a masked gunman as he sat in a car with his girlfriend. DaRosa, then 25, and his cousin had relatives in Cape Verde, a group of islands off the coast of West Africa. Frustrated at their inability to generate leads in the tightknit Cape Verdean community, detectives asked DaRosa to help.
“[The detective] sent me around asking family members and Cape Verdeans, but being a police officer, no one really told me” anything about the case, DaRosa later told investigators, according to internal affairs records and arbitration documents.
On a cold night in January 2005, DaRosa was off duty at the Copa Grande Oasis, a nightclub outside Boston, records show.
DaRosa was supposed to have been working but had called in sick from his overnight police shift. He and Carlos DePina — the brother of DaRosa’s murdered cousin — were at the club together. Also at the club that night was a man named Jose Lopes, a known gang member who eventually would be identified as a suspect in the killing of DaRosa’s cousin.
The officer, his cousin DePina and two friends drank and danced until the club lights came on about 1:45 a.m., signaling closing time. DaRosa headed out to his car and popped in a CD as he waited for DePina to return.
Boston police officer Baltazar DaRosa, center, is brought into Norfolk Superior Court in Dedham, Mass., in July 2005 for arraignment on a charge of accessory to murder after the fact in the January 2005 shooting of Jose Lopes. (George Rizer/Boston Globe/Getty Images)
Early New Year’s Day, 2007, Fort Worth police officer Jesus “Jesse” Banda Jr. sat in his car outside an all-night party where his ex-girlfriend was with another man. Banda called a dispatcher and ran a check of the license plate of the truck the man was driving to determine his address. Days later, the truck was found blasted with nearly a dozen rounds from a shotgun.
Banda, who had seven years’ service at the time, told investigators he knew nothing about the damage to the truck, according to internal affairs and arbitration documents. In the end, police could not tie Banda to the shooting, but the department concluded that he had lied about why he had called in the license plate.
Then-Police Chief Ralph Mendoza put the officer on restricted duty, ultimately suspending him indefinitely — the same as firing him — in June 2007 for being untruthful and violating the department’s ethical standards. Banda was told not to represent himself as a police officer while internal affairs investigated the matter.
During that time, Banda was a passenger in a limousine pulled over by a Fort Worth officer. The officer said he saw the vehicle and, as he watched, the driver passed a Bud Light to passengers in the back. The officer said that when he asked Banda to get out of the vehicle, Banda handed the officer his police credentials.
The department opened a second internal affairs investigation.
The officer is convicted of sexually abusing a young woman.
In the District, the Metropolitan Police Department fired officer Michael Blaise Sugg-Edwards after he was convicted of misdemeanor sex abuse over an incident with a teenager in his police car.
Eight years later, the department is still fighting to keep the 35-year-old off the force after the agency in 2015 was ordered to rehire him.
Sugg-Edwards, who was born and raised in the District, joined the department in 2005. He was nominated to be rookie officer of the year and to receive an achievement medal for stopping an armed rape.
On Nov. 16, 2007, Sugg-Edwards was on patrol when he saw a 19-year-old woman dressed all in white walking alone near Love, a now-closed warehouse nightclub off New York Avenue in Northeast, court records show.
The woman was there to celebrate her 19th birthday with friends but had to go back to a friend’s car because she needed her identification to enter the club.
Sugg-Edwards pulled up in his marked patrol car. He allegedly told the woman that a club supervisor had sent him to escort her safely to her friend’s car and invited her to get into the patrol car, according to court records.
She said that once she was in his vehicle, he drove to a gas station and parked between two tractor trailers. Sugg-Edwards asked her, “What are you trying to do to get into the club?” she told police, adding that he began touching her thigh, genitals and breasts.
She said she pushed him away, got out of the car and reported the sexual assault to two off-duty officers at the nightclub. She was seen on video from outside the club getting out of the squad car, and officers reported that she was crying when she approached them.
An officer is fired twice and put back on the force twice.
On Dec. 3, 2015, an official with the criminal division of the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office in Texas was concerned about the dashboard-camera video of a recent arrest by a San Antonio police officer.
“Can you take a look at this video?” the official asked in an email to the city attorney’s office. “The officer has the suspect handcuffed, in custody and challenges him to fight while unhandcuffing him.”
Soon, the police department’s internal affairs unit launched an investigation into the officer involved: Matthew Belver, then 43 and with nine years’ service in the department. Belver also worked part time as a security guard at a local church. The video was eventually made public under pressure from the local media.
The video depicted the August 2015 arrest of then-48-year-old Eloy Leal, who told internal affairs investigators that he had gone outside to investigate after someone had been injured during a shooting in his neighborhood. Leal said that he saw bullet casings on the street near the scene and that he pointed them out to Belver, who was one of the responding officers, according to internal affairs and arbitration documents.
Then, Leal said, he criticized Belver for missing the casings and announced that he was walking home to get a camera to document the evidence. As Leal began walking away, Belver arrested him, records show.
The next 17 minutes were captured on the camera mounted on Belver’s dashboard. Belver was recorded telling Leal, who was handcuffed in the back seat of the squad car, that he could go free if he was willing to fight.
(Video By Dalton Bennett and Danielle Kunitz)
“If you beat my a–, don’t f—ing kill me,” Leal pleaded as Belver uncuffed him.
“Naw, as soon as they come off, I’m going to beat your a–,” Belver responded.
An arbitrator disagrees that a shooting wasn’t justified.
On Feb. 10, 2011, in Miami, police detective Reynaldo Goyos was working with a dozen undercover officers taking part in a sting at a local strip club known to be frequented by gang members.
Shortly after 11 p.m., one of the undercover officers spotted what she described as two intoxicated men being ejected from the club. Travis McNeil and his cousin Kareem Williams stumbled across the parking lot and climbed into a burgundy Kia Sorrento. As they drove off, a half-dozen officers, including Goyos, followed them, worried that the men would come back and cause a disturbance, according to an arbitrator’s account that was based on witness statements and internal police files.
Reynaldo Goyos (City of Miami Police Department)
“We get three or four blocks from the club, and all of a sudden police was surrounding us,” Williams told The Washington Post.
Goyos drew his gun and got out of the passenger seat of an unmarked Chevrolet Suburban. “Show me your hands!” he yelled.
“I looked at the driver,” Goyos would later tell police internal affairs investigators. “He was staring right at me. He looked like he wasn’t paying attention, like he’s very incoherent. [He] was disobeying my . . . commands.”
Goyos told internal affairs that as he approached the driver’s side door he could see that both men had their hands in their laps. But then McNeil, in the driver’s seat, reached toward his waistband and then toward the floorboard of the vehicle, according to the officer.
D.C. police take six days too long to fire an officer.
The nine-year effort to fire D.C. police officer Daxzaneous Banks began in March 2008 when a court employee asked why the undercover officer had signed in as having attended a criminal trial that had been rescheduled. Banks had been paid for being available to testify, although the trial had not occurred.
Internal affairs began to investigate and found that on at least 10 occasions, he had allegedly forged the signatures of several prosecutors on his time sheets, records show.
“You affixed these signatures knowing them to be improper and fraudulent,” according to an account of the case filed in court by the D.C. Attorney General’s Office.
Banks’s conduct forced prosecutors to abandon charges against a suspected cocaine dealer because the officer was the sole witness to the alleged drug transaction, according to the records. The accusations of forgery, prosecutors told internal affairs, raised “serious veracity issues” about his potential testimony in criminal cases, according to their account.
Police investigators concluded that Banks had violated four policies: being involved in the commission of an act that would constitute a crime; conduct unbecoming an officer; inefficiency; and fraud.
A department fails to investigate an officer’s arrest.
Broward Sheriff’s Sgt. John Goodbread was in his doctor’s office in Florida for a routine physical sometime in 2003 or 2004 when he felt the pain in his lower back.
“He had me do one of these exercises as part of the physical, bend over type of thing, touch your toes, see what your range of motion,” Goodbread would later tell police. “As I was bending over, I stopped because the lower back just seized up.”
The doctor issued Goodbread a prescription for hydrocodone. It was the first of many pain prescriptions from several doctors that would ultimately result in a criminal case against Goodbread.
In March 2011, a detective in Palm Beach County got a tip suggesting that Goodbread and his then-wife, Heather Goodbread, “may be involved in doctor shopping” — a practice in which someone seeks the same or similar prescriptions from multiple doctors, according to a summary of the case later included in the arbitrator’s ruling.
Criminal investigators began looking into the allegations that Goodbread and his wife had obtained prescriptions for the pain medications from four doctors’ offices, court records show.
(Video by Dalton Bennett)
On April 8, 2011, Goodbread and his wife were arrested and eventually charged in state court with trafficking Oxycodone and withholding information from a practitioner, both felonies. The couple’s arrest made local headlines, and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office suspended Goodbread without pay.
“I was completely caught off guard,” Goodbread, a former narcotics officer who has consistently maintained his innocence, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Somebody else had used my name to get those ’scripts. I had nothing to do with anything.”
In April 2012, his wife pleaded guilty to withholding information from a practitioner and was put on probation under an agreement that withheld an adjudication of guilt. She would later testify during her husband’s arbitration hearing that she was the one who had called in prescriptions in her husband’s name and that he had not been aware of her scheme. She eventually completed her probation, court records show. Neither she nor her attorney could be reached for comment.
In January 2013, Goodbread pleaded no contest to one count of withholding information from a practitioner under an agreement that deferred criminal prosecution. He was ordered into a pretrial intervention program, which he completed in a matter of months, and the case was dismissed.
The Broward Sheriff’s office fired him.
Sgt. John Goodbread (Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office)
An officer is fired quickly after a strike goes viral.
In Philadelphia, Aida Guzman cradled a bottle of beer in one hand and clutched a can of Silly String in the other as she bounced along with the music playing after the city’s annual Puerto Rican Day Parade on Sept. 30, 2012.
A few feet away, Lt. Jonathan Josey of the Philadelphia Police Department’s highway patrol unit was one of more than a dozen officers dealing with a vehicle doing doughnut turns nearby.
In the next few seconds, what transpired between Josey and Guzman would become a criminal matter. One thing is undisputed: Josey’s hand connected with Guzman’s face.
(Video By Dalton Bennett and Danielle Kunitz)
A bystander captured the encounter on video. Guzman was walking from the street toward the sidewalk, and then Josey approached. The officer swung with an open hand — striking Guzman in the face and knocking her to the ground. Guzman, bleeding from the mouth, was arrested and cited for disorderly conduct.
Josey would later tell investigators that he felt himself get hit with liquid and Silly String, prompting him to turn around, see Guzman and approach her.
The video of Josey smacking Guzman quickly went viral, and then-Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey acted quickly. He reviewed the video and the use-of-force report filled out by Josey, in which the officer said he had been trying to knock the beer out of Guzman’s hand and accidentally hit her in the face, according to a summary of the case later compiled by the city.
For this story, The Washington Post sent open records requests to the 55 municipal and county police departments that employ the most sworn officers, according to the latest employment data from the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Reporters requested the names of officers who were terminated and those who were reinstated after they contested their firings through arbitration or other appeals since 2006.
In some cases, departments disclosed only the total number of officers they had fired or rehired. Some departments also provided data that covered only some of the years requested.
Where departments disclosed officers’ names, reporters requested corresponding internal affairs records and records of the termination appeals. Some departments declined to provide additional information; others disclosed a wide range of documents.
Reporters, working with students at American University, culled information from thousands of pages of records to create a database of officers who had been reinstated, which was the basis of The Post’s analysis.
Design and development by Matthew Callahan, Joe Moore and Aaron Williams
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.
Federal jury awards $250,000 in Springfield police brutality case
Attorney Luke Ryan said the U.S. District Court jury found that Officer Thomasa Hervieux, one of three officers named in the complaint, was the only one who used excessive force.
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.