New California law tightens rules for police use of force to only when necessary

Eric Garner’s cry of “I can’t breathe” became a battle cry for the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality. USA TODAY

California has adopted one of the nation’s strictest laws regulating police use of force, hoping it will deter shootings by law enforcement agents.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday signed Assembly Bill 392, which changes the standard for police officers’ justified use of deadly force from instances when it’s “reasonable’’ to when it’s “necessary.’’

The law redefines when police can resort to deadly force “based on the totality of the circumstances’’ and encourages the use of de-escalation techniques and crisis-intervention methods.

“We are doing something today that stretches the boundary of possibility and sends a message to people all across this country that they can do more and they can do better to meet this moment,” Newsom said as he stood alongside family members of people killed by police.

Modifications to the previous law, advocated by activist groups like Black Lives Matter, were prompted by officer-involved shootings such as the March 2018 killing of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man gunned down outside his grandparents’ house in the state capital of Sacramento when police mistook his cellphone for a firearm.

Newsom said the new law will reduce the number of lives lost and begin to heal communities.

The measure by Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of San Diego, which initially met fierce resistance from law enforcement organizations, made it through the state Legislature with bipartisan support after it was amended to address police concerns.

The law still contains the strongest language of any state, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which proposed the bill and negotiated the changes.

Weber said the law “changes the culture of policing in California.” It is linked to a pending Senate bill requiring that officers be trained in de-escalating confrontations and finding alternatives to using lethal force.

Newsom’s signature on the new California law comes on the same day the New York Police Department announced the firing of Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who put petty-crime suspect Eric Garner in a chokehold that contributed to his death in July 2014. Garner’s repeated cries of “I can’t breathe’’ as he gasped for air became a rallying cry in the movement against police brutality.

Similarly, Clark’s death at 22 precipitated major protests and demands for changes and a higher level of police accountability. The officers who shot him were ruled to have acted lawfully and were not disciplined.

Joy Johnson, a pastor who leads a faith-based advocacy organization in Sacramento, was among those who commemorated the anniversary of Clark’s death in March while pushing for a legal change.

“We’re trying to raise the public’s consciousness to see that, if you say you followed the law to the letter and the law says it’s justifiable to take the life of an unarmed person, then we believe the law needs reexamining,’’ she said.

On Monday, the law’s reexamination resulted in a significant change.


Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY, Aug. 19, 2019, “New California law tightens rules for police use of force to only when necessary”,



JULY 22, 2019

Calling it “one of the most damaging decisions affecting the public’s right to know that has been issued, and a significant obstacle to holding police departments accountable,” the ACLU of Rhode Island has launched a two-pronged attack on a 2017 Attorney General ruling that allows police to keep secret some of its reports of police misconduct. In simultaneous appeals to the Rhode Island Supreme Court and the Attorney General, ACLU of RI cooperating attorney James Cullen is asking for a reversal of that ruling.

In two major Access to Public Records Act (APRA) lawsuits filed in past years by the ACLU, the R.I. Supreme Court has ruled that the public is entitled to obtain final reports of investigations of police misconduct. Although both cases involved requests for reports involving citizen-generated complaints of misconduct, the court rulings did not propound any distinction between investigations prompted by civilians and those initiated by a police department itself. However, a 2017 APRA advisory opinion by the Attorney General’s office, Piskunov v. Town of Narragansett, approved such a distinction and held in that case that the Narragansett Police Department could withhold their final reports of misconduct investigations if they were initiated internally. Until that ruling, police departments had routinely provided those reports. That quickly changed.

Later that year, the ACLU filed an APRA lawsuit against the Pawtucket Police Department on behalf of Dimitri Lyssikatos, who was stymied from obtaining those internally-generated police misconduct final reports. Lyssikatos is a member of the Rhode Island Accountability Project, a non-partisan organization which promotes governmental accountability and maintains a publicly available database of police misconduct reports. However, Pawtucket police, relying on the Piskunov opinion, refused to turn over 57 separate internal investigatory findings, prompting the ACLU to sue. In March, however, RI Superior Court Judge Melissa Long sided with the police and held that additional hearings were necessary to determine whether those records had to be released under APRA.

In a court brief filed today, the ACLU has asked the R.I. Supreme Court to review and overturn that decision, stating that Long’s ruling “invites public bodies to use unnecessary procedural hurdles to block APRA requests [and]  imposes significant transaction costs that most applicants for the release of records cannot afford.”

Separately, Lyssikatos was denied access to similar records in April by the Woonsocket Police Department, which also relied on Piskunov in rejecting his request for misconduct reports. In response, ACLU attorney Cullen has filed with the Attorney General a formal appeal of that denial, asking that his office overturn its 2017 opinion. Calling the Woonsocket Police Department’s denial “a flagrant breach of Rhode Island’s Access to Public Records Act,” the appeal to the AG argues that it “highlights the faulty and problematic nature” of the 2017 opinion “which has become an increasingly-used tool by police departments to shield themselves from public accountability.”  The formal appeal to the Attorney General concludes:

“The Piskunov opinion has cast a pall over police department accountability and transparency and is being used to hinder the public’s right to know in significant ways. We request that your office take this opportunity to reconsider and reverse that pronouncement, and conclude that the text and intent of the APRA . . . compel the conclusion that internally-generated reports regarding alleged police misconduct, no less than citizen-generated reports, are public records.”

In seeking the records from both Pawtucket and Woonsocket, Lyssikatos agreed, to no avail, to allow personally-identifiable information from the reports to be redacted.

ACLU cooperating attorney Cullen said today: “There is no meaningful distinction between internal affairs reports generated as a result of citizen complaints and internal affairs reports generated without an underlying citizen complaint.  However initiated, these reports of investigations conducted by the internal affairs department shed light on one of the core functions of government – policing.”

Lyssikatos added: “The idea that internally generated investigations demand greater privacy than those initiated by the public only serves to foster the disconnect between the public and law enforcement. The Rhode Island Accountability Project was, and in some cases still is, receiving internally generated reports and feels strongly that their release is essential in maintaining a single standard of investigative integrity. As it stands now, all a law enforcement agency would have to do to withhold an investigation is beat the public to the initiation of the complaint.”
ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown stated: “The 2017 Attorney General opinion is one of the most damaging decisions affecting the public’s right to know that has been issued, and a significant obstacle to holding police departments accountable. We are hopeful that the new Attorney General’s promise of greater transparency will lead to a reversal of that unfortunate opinion.”

Earlier this year, Judge Long upheld thousands of questionable redactions made by the previous Attorney General in releasing records regarding the AG’s expenditure of “Google settlement” funds. Those redactions included the complete blacking out of a two-page memo describing the Attorney General’s purchase of ceremonial lapel pins for the office. After the ACLU appealed that ruling, Attorney General Neronha reexamined the records and released almost all of them in unredacted form.


Report: No Police Misconduct in Hospital Patient’s Arrest

By The Associated Press

CHICAGO — An independent investigator has found no evidence of police misconduct or racial bias in the arrest of a black patient who was accused by a white security officer of stealing equipment when he stepped outside a northern Illinois hospital last month while still attached to an IV stand, according to a report released Wednesday.

In his report for the city of Freeport, Hazel Crest Police Chief Mitchell R. Davis III said he found no evidence that race played any role in the security officer’s decision to stop 24-year-old Shaquille Dukes — who was still wearing his hospital gown — and two other black men as Dukes alleged at the time in a video of the incident that he posted on Facebook.

Instead, the security officer “would have been negligent in his duties had he not stopped to inquire into what Dukes was doing outside,” because he knew that leaving Freeport Health Network still attached to an IV is not allowed, Davis wrote.

In a brief telephone interview, Dukes, who now lives in Chicago, disputed many of the conclusions in Davis’ report and said he still believes that he was a victim of an “overzealous, racist, security officer.”

“When he stopped us he radioed the police and said, ‘I have three black males attempting to steal property from the hospital,'” said Dukes, who added that before the call the first thing the officer asked him was if he was trying to steal the IV stand to sell on eBay.

Dukes said he’s retained an attorney and plans to sue the police department, the city of Freeport, and the hospital where he was being treated for double pneumonia on June 9 when he and the two other men were stopped by the security guard and arrested by police on a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge.

Davis, who was asked by Freeport’s city manager to conduct an independent probe, suggested in his report that Dukes was less than fully cooperative in his investigation, saying that Dukes failed to show up for two scheduled interviews. He said a doctor said he didn’t give Dukes permission to walk outside the hospital attached to an IV stand as Dukes contends.

Dukes acknowledged that he didn’t show up for two interviews, but said the first time was because of a death in his family and the second because one a relative of one of his friends had been shot. He said it was “totally incorrect” that the doctor had not given him permission to go outside.

Also, Davis wrote that he was “unable to substantiate Dukes’ complaint of cruel and unusual punishment.”

Instead, after interviewing the security officer and watching the video, he believes the security officer “genuinely felt fear” for his own safety as Dukes and the other two men became increasingly angry.

Davis suggested that police could have deescalated the tense situation, particularly when Dukes was having trouble breathing.

“I believe … officers present during Dukes’ medical episode should have considered unhandcuffing him while he was in distress,” Davis wrote.


The Associated Press, July 10, 2019, Report: No Police Misconduct in Hospital Patient’s Arrest”,

Fatal Force


people have been shot and killed by police in 2019

Updated July 15 at 1:31 p.m.

995people were fatally shot by police in 2018

As of a week ago, there this year than at the same time last year.

Fatal police shootings by year

Where the 2019 shootings took place

Each  marks the location of a deadly shooting.

Shootings per million people

There are shootings with unverified locations that are not shown on the map.

The Washington Post’s database contains records of every fatal shooting in the United States by a police officer in the line of duty since Jan. 1, 2015.

In 2015, The Post began tracking more than a dozen details about each killing — including the race of the deceased, the circumstances of the shooting, whether the person was armed and whether the person was experiencing a mental-health crisis — by culling local news reports, law enforcement websites and social media, and by monitoring independent databases such as Killed by Police and Fatal Encounters. The Post conducted additional reporting in many cases.

The Post is documenting only those shootings in which a police officer, in the line of duty, shoots and kills a civilian — the circumstances that most closely parallel the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., which began the protest movement culminating in Black Lives Matter and an increased focus on police accountability nationwide. The Post is not tracking deaths of people in police custody, fatal shootings by off-duty officers or non-shooting deaths.

The FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention log fatal shootings by police, but officials acknowledge that their data is incomplete. Since 2015, The Post has documented more than twice as many fatal shootings by police as recorded on average annually.

The Post’s database is updated regularly as fatal shootings are reported and as facts emerge about individual cases. The Post seeks to make the database as comprehensive as possible. To provide information about fatal police shootings since Jan. 1, 2015, send us an email at

Research and Reporting: Julie Tate, Jennifer Jenkins and Steven Rich

Design and development by John Muyskens



“Fatal Force”,

Op-Ed: How Police Brutality Can Function as “Terrorism”

OP-ED – the opinions presented here are those of the author and are not necessarily shared by BRLDF

Photo: @megoconnor13/twitter

Video was made public over the weekend showing Phoenix police officers threatening to shoot members of a black family, which included a child and a toddler. The incident occurred on May 27, when the 4-year-old daughter of Dravon Ames and Iesha Harper allegedly stole a doll from a Family Dollar store. (NPR reports that the child’s parents were unaware of the alleged theft.) Officers followed the family — Ames and Harper, who was pregnant, and their two daughters, ages 4 and 1 — to an apartment complex where the family’s babysitter lived. Officers are seen on cell-phone video shouting at the four to exit their vehicle. One is heard yelling, “Get your fucking hands up” and “I’m gonna put a fucking cap in you,” while another voice — perhaps of the same officer — is heard threatening, “You’re gonna get fucking shot.”

The profane tirades turn physical when one officer handcuffs Ames and another tries to yank the toddler from Harper’s arms. The officer with Ames shoves the 22-year-old father against a police vehicle, kicks his legs until Ames falls to one knee, and thrusts his elbow into Ames’s back. The officer with Harper is seen shouting and pointing in her face and pulling on the arm in which she is carrying her 1-year-old baby. He eventually permits the pregnant woman to hand her children to a bystander before arresting her. None of the family members is armed.

The confrontation has prompted a $10 million civil-rights lawsuit and apologies from Phoenix’s mayor and chief of police. According to the suit, the 1-year-old was injured when the officer tried to wrench her from her mother; the 4-year-old has been experiencing nightmares and wetting the bed out of distress ever since. As far as accountability, Mayor Kate Gallego has scheduled a public forum where residents can voice their concerns about the incident and called for quicker implementation of body cameras across the Phoenix Police Department — an odd solution given that visual evidence was not lacking here. Aside from that, it is possible that no further legal or administrative recourse will be forthcoming. Officers routinely skate for killing people. Why would black Phoenicians expect them to be held accountable for merely threatening to kill?

Official accountability aside, the fear and mistrust sown in black communities via such incidents and the resulting mental-health downsides are well documented. The Phoenix debacle is further evidence that many officers’ interactions with black children in particular are rooted in intimidation and violence, with far-reaching side effects. By most definitions, the brutality applied disproportionately against black people by police across the United States is not “terrorism,” in a technical sense, only because it is permitted by law. That said, it serves a similar end: ensuring that its targets and their communities live in a state of constant stress, mistrust, and fear, practically from the cradle to the grave.

By most measures, Ames and Harper are lucky to be alive. The wealth of instances where similar interactions have ended with an unarmed black person dead at the hands of police hints at how easily the encounter could have turned fatal. The fear generated by this possibility is not a matter of probability. Like most Americans, black people are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, or even violence committed domestically or on the streets than at the hands of a police officer. But the peculiar nature of law enforcement’s relationship to black communities is what makes it so laden with fear. With the exception of Native Americans — who make up a much smaller share of the general population — black people are the most likely racial demographic to be harassed, brutalized, or killed by police in a given year. This can be attributed in part to the relationship’s long-standing function: During the lynching era — roughly the end of Reconstruction to the end of Jim Crow — the primary job of law enforcement, when it came to black Americans, was to contain them at the bottom of the racial hierarchy by enforcing laws designed to criminalize them, while ensuring that white people were not punished for murdering them or robbing them of their land and labor.

When black people fled the South en masse during the Great Migration to escape this treatment, the cities and towns to which they fled in the North, West, and Midwest greeted them with a presumption of innate criminality, a presumption driven in part by crime statistics that reflected the extent to which the most trivial aspects of their lives — including riding an empty freight train or “speaking loudly in the presence of white women” — had been transformed into crimes in the South. Police were used to corral new black residents into ghettos depressed by poverty and molded by desperation and limited avenues for mobility. Yet remarkably, the structural ills that were imposed on the black sections of these municipalities were cast as products of their residents’ own pathologies. To this day, many Americans remain convinced that the harsh policing that dogs black communities is a necessary response to something inherently wrong with black people. For those on the receiving end, the result is a state of terror. Terrorism works by convincing its targets that they are always being hunted — no matter where they are or what they are doing, their lives are out of their hands. Its aim is victory through fear. And what better way to ensure that people live in fear than to demonstrate that even the most minor transgressions — a 4-year-old’s supposed theft of a doll from a Family Dollar store — can result in their public execution?

The psychological fallout is demonstrated in the data: According to a 2014 study conducted by public-health researchers at Harvard and Boston University, incidents of lethal police violence precipitate a spike in what black adult respondents consider to be “poor mental health days” not just among people close to those victimized but their communities more broadly, judging by metrics established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The impact is racially asymmetrical: “Mental health impacts were not observed among white respondents and resulted only from police killings of unarmed black Americans,” the study reads. For black children, such negative interactions can be formative. A 2018 survey of research on the subject compiled in The Future of Children, a journal of the policy-research partnership between Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Brookings Institution, found that many black youth in Chicago view police as “a constant, inescapable, and unwelcome presence” in their lives. Interactions are marked frequently by officers exerting their dominance in the form of offensive questions and degrading directives, causing black children to feel powerless. As a result, by the time they turn 18, many of these youth have a bleak but well-earned outlook on policing: According to a 2014 survey by the Black Youth Project and the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, more than half of black people between ages 18 and 34 have experienced police violence or harassment or know someone who has. (Thirty-three percent of white respondents and 25 percent of Latino respondents had.) Fewer than half of black respondents said they trust the police, compared to 60 percent of Latinos and 72 percent of whites.

It remains incredible, given this documented mistreatment of so many black children by the police, that pundits and politicians continue to attribute negative disparities to some innate black defect — often located in the black family. Broken black homes are blamed for crime in black communities, with scant or ancillary mention of imposed poverty, the ills of segregation, or the role the state plays in rupturing said families using the criminal-justice system. Police violence is dismissed as subordinate to intraracial violence, or “black-on-black” crime — a phenomenon endemic, to varying degrees, within every racial group — as if the two were separate and distinct phenomena rather than twin products of racist policy. If these pundits are correct, then the May 27 incident in Phoenix might be cast as reasonable treatment for a 4-year-old alleged shoplifter, her pregnant mother, father, and 1-year-old sister. But if — as history and the evidence suggest — black families can more accurately be described as victims of violence than its root cause, then the Phoenix police were culpable in not just an overreaction but an act of terror.


“How Police Brutality Can Function as Terrorism”,

Houston Police Shot Man Killed in Fraudulent Drug Raid at Least Eight Times

Dennis Tuttle and his wife, Rhogena Nicholas, who was shot twice, were pronounced dead shortly after police invaded their home based on a “controlled buy” that never happened.


Houston narcotics officers shot Dennis Tuttle at least eight times during the January 28 drug raid that killed him and his wife, Rhogena Nicholas, at their home on Harding Street. The no-knock raid, based on allegations that Tuttle and Nicholas were selling heroin, found no heroin and no evidence of drug dealing. The officer who obtained the warrant, Gerald Goines, reported a “controlled buy” at the house that apparently never happened.

According to an autopsy report dated March 19, Tuttle suffered gunshot wounds in his head and neck, chest, left shoulder, left buttock (which was struck twice), left thigh, left forearm, left hand, right wrist, and right forearm (two graze wounds). The report says the chest injury “may represent a re-entrance wound of a fragmented bullet associated with one of the gunshot wounds of the upper extremities.” The officers reported that they shot Tuttle after he fired at them with a .357 Magnum revolver in response to their armed invasion of his home, during which they killed a dog with a shotgun immediately after crashing through the door.

Another autopsy report, also dated March 19, says Nicholas was shot in the torso and right thigh. Police said they shot her after she moved toward the officer with the shotgun, who had collapsed on a couch after being shot by Tuttle. They said they believed she was trying to take away the shotgun. There is no video of the raid to corroborate that account. Both Tuttle, who was 59, and Nicholas, who was 58, were pronounced dead at 5:15 p.m., shortly after police broke into their home.

The only drugs that police found in the house were 18 grams of marijuana and 1.5 grams of cocaine. Those are also the only drugs detected by the toxicology tests described in the autopsy reports: THC and a THC metabolite in Tuttle’s blood and benzoylecgonine, a cocaine metabolite, in Nicholas’ blood. Notably, the tests found no traces of heroin, fentanyl, or other opioids.

Although Police Chief Art Acevedo has said the affidavit for the search warrant was falsified, he continues to defend the investigation that led to the raid, citing a January 8 call from an unnamed woman who reported that her daughter was using drugs at the house and described Tuttle and Nicholas as armed and dangerous drug dealers. Acevedo also said neighbors had thanked police for raiding the couple’s home, which he said was locally notorious as a “drug house” and a “problem location.”

Those claims are inconsistent with the accounts of neighbors interviewed by Houston news outlets. They said that Tuttle and Nicholas, who had lived in the house for two decades, were perfectly nice people and that they had never noticed any suspicious activity at the house.

KTRK, the ABC station in Houston, reported in February that the woman who called police on January 8 was Nicholas’ mother, who was concerned about her own daughter’s drug use. But that report is inconsistent with Acevedo’s account and with what Nicholas’ mother, Jo Ann Nicholas, has told reporters. “I want her name cleared,” the grieving 84-year-old woman said in a March 25 interview with KTRK.

Four officers, including Goines, were injured by gunfire during the raid, but it is not clear where those rounds came from. It seems implausible that Tuttle, even if he fired all six rounds from the revolver, was able to hit his targets four times in the chaotic circumstances of the raid. Acevedo initially responded indignantly to the suggestion that officers were hit by “friendly fire,” but that question is part of the Houston Police Department’s ongoing investigation. This morning I asked the HPD whether the issue has been resolved but have not heard back yet.

After I requested copies of the autopsy reports on April 1, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan claimed the documents were not subject to disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act. Citing the law’s exception for information that “would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime,” Ryan sought an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who I gather disagreed.

Update, May 7: HPD spokesman Kese Smith said the department is not releasing any information on the “friendly fire” issue until it completes its internal affairs and criminal investigations of the operation. He said those investigations should be completed by mid-May, at which point the department will report its findings to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, which is conducting its own investigation. The FBI is also looking into potential civil rights violations.


| “Houston Police Shot Man Killed in Fraudulent Drug Raid at Least Eight Times”,

Testimony of Michael Sisitzky on Behalf of the New York Civil Liberties Union

Testimony of Michael Sisitzky on Behalf of the New York Civil Liberties Union

Before City Council Committee on Public Safety and Committee on Justice System

Regarding New York City Police Discipline

The New York Civil Liberties Union (“NYCLU”) respectfully submits the following testimony today regarding the New York Police Department (“NYPD”) disciplinary system. The NYCLU, the New York affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, is a not-for-profit, non-partisan organization with eight offices throughout the state and more than 200,000 members and supporters. The NYCLU’s mission is to promote and protect the fundamental rights, principles, and values embodied in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and the New York Constitution.

Defending New Yorkers’ right to be free from discriminatory and abusive policing is a core component of the NYCLU’s mission. Protecting this right requires robust systems for investigating abusive officers and holding them accountable. We also work to ensure that all individuals accused of a crime receive due process and equal protection under the law.  Fundamental to this effort is holding district attorneys and their offices accountable to the public. Our testimony will speak to the need to increase transparency in both the NYPD and prosecutorial systems, including commentary on the specific bills now before the committees.

In brief, the NYCLU expresses our full support for the resolution calling for repeal of New York Civil Rights Law Section 50-a and our qualified support for the remaining seven introductions.  Each introduction has the potential to fill key voids in the public’s understanding of NYPD disciplinary practices and prosecutorial decision-making. We include specific suggestions below to further strengthen these proposals and enhance the public’s access to this critical information.

The NYPD’s Disciplinary System Urgently Needs Reform and Oversight

In June 2018, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill convened a panel of two former U.S. attorneys and a former federal judge to review and make recommendations for improving the Department’s internal disciplinary processes, practices, and policies. The report issued by that panel last week[1] confirms issues within the NYPD that the NYCLU has raised for years, including the lack of transparency in the disciplinary process, the Commissioner’s complete authority to decide outcomes in all disciplinary cases, the vulnerability of key decision makers to inappropriate internal and external influences, and long delays in case processing that deny victims of police misconduct a sense of resolution or closure.

The Panel noted that it “was struck from the outset, and throughout its work by the lack of transparency and plain-English explanations of the NYPD’s disciplinary system and process.”[2] This observation sets the tone for why the measures before the committees today are so essential – and in many cases, need to go further. The public’s trust in police is diminished every time an officer is not brought to justice for misconduct. It is further diminished when departments actively resist sharing even the most basic information about what rules and procedures they have in place to respond to complaints of misconduct and data on what happens once those complaints start winding their way through these opaque systems.

Despite the existence of an independent Civilian Complaint Review Board (“CCRB”) with the power to investigate and prosecute a defined subset of misconduct complaints, New Yorkers are ultimately asked to trust the NYPD to police itself. Decisions about how—and indeed, whether—to discipline officers who violate the public trust are left entirely to the discretion of the NYPD Commissioner. The CCRB and even the NYPD’s own Deputy Commissioner for Trials only have the power to make recommendations to the Commissioner about discipline. State and local laws combine to vest the Commissioner with absolute discretion over the final outcome and to allow the NYPD full control over where disciplinary proceedings take place and who has access to information on how these proceedings are resolved.

To its credit, the CCRB produces detailed reports on the outcomes of cases it investigates and prosecutes. The story told by this data, however, is serious cause for alarm. In 2017, the most recent year for which we have full data, the Police Commissioner imposed penalties weaker than those recommended by the CCRB in the majority of cases.[3] In the most serious cases that went to full administrative trials, the Commissioner imposed discipline consistent with CCRB recommendations in just 27 percent of cases.[4]

The NYPD’s handling of officer disciplinary proceedings demands close scrutiny and comprehensive reform. The bills before the committee today are not enough to eliminate flaws in the NYPD disciplinary system, but they represent a critical first step by adding in long overdue and badly needed mechanisms for oversight. As the de Blasio Administration and the NYPD have manipulated secrecy provisions like New York Civil Rights Law Section 50-a to shield abusive officers from all accountability, the City Council has a public duty to respond by mandating greater transparency. By requiring the NYPD to report on the rules it follows—or purports to follow—regarding discipline, and to release data on what happens with misconduct complaints and investigations, the City Council can help New Yorkers begin to break through the thin blue line protecting those officers who abuse the very people they are supposed to protect and serve.

  • Preconsidered Resolution 2019-3709: Support

The NYCLU strongly supports passage of Preconsidered Resolution 2019-3709, calling on the State Legislature to fully repeal New York Civil Rights Law Section 50-a. Section 50-a cloaks police disciplinary records in secrecy and has been used to shield evidence of law enforcement abuse from the public. Originally passed in 1976 as an attempt to limit defense attorneys’ ability to impeach the credibility of police officers by bringing up unproven allegations of misconduct, Section 50-a is now infamous for the harm it inflicts on victims of police abuse.

Section 50-a permits total state secrecy. It permits police departments to cover up their inaction on past allegations of officer misconduct when confronted with demands for accountability – including from police abuse victims and grieving family members who have lost loved ones to police killings. It has been twisted to justify the withholding of everything from body camera footage[5] to completely anonymized use of force data.[6]

And it has gotten worse. More than any administration in recent memory, the de Blasio administration has made use of 50-a to push vitally important public records down the memory hole. In 2016, the de Blasio administration and the NYPD reversed a 40 year-old practice of releasing “personnel orders,” basic summaries of disciplinary charges and outcomes, claiming for the first time that this practice violated Section 50-a.[7] This robbed the public and the media of one of the only sources of information on whether officers who engage in serious misconduct face any degree of accountability. Astoundingly, in a 2018 letter to the Inspector General for the NYPD, the Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters argued that Section 50-a even bars the release of aggregate, anonymized data on how many use of force incidents were reported in a given precinct.[8] The de Blasio administration also fought the NYCLU’s request for redacted decisions from the NYPD trial room, in which we sought to better understand how disciplinary decisions were made within the NYPD but without seeking any information that would have identified an individual officer. That opposition resulted in a December 2018 decision from the New York Court of Appeals that dealt a severe blow to transparency and good governance. In its decision, the Court of Appeals expanded Section 50-a’s reach so dramatically that now, unlike the other exemptions in the state Freedom of Information Law (under which disclosure of covered records is still permissive and redactions are favored to withholding) Section 50-a stands as a categorical ban on the disclosure of police personnel records.[9]

New York has long been an outlier in elevating police personnel records to the level of state secrets. We are one of just two states to maintain a law specifically making these records secret. California, long part of an ignoble trio alongside New York and Delaware, recently took steps to open the books of certain records of police misconduct,[10] joining a group of 28 states that make police disciplinary records available to the public in at least some cases and leaving New York and Delaware to compete for last place in terms of transparency. Of the 28 states where at least some records are accessible, 13 states—a geographically and politically diverse group including, among others, Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Ohio, and Washington—start from the position that disciplinary records specifically are and should be open to the public.[11]  It’s time for New York to catch up.

The power to repeal Section 50-a obviously rests with the State Legislature but New York City-based actors bear no small part of the responsibility for the provision’s shameful expansion and the attendant weakening in the public’s ability to serve as a check on official misconduct. It is imperative that city lawmakers join in the statewide movement to push back on this anti-democratic provision and that their counterparts in Albany do their part to end police secrecy by heeding the call to repeal 50-a.

  • Introduction 1309: Qualified Support

As important as the underlying records and decisions concerning police discipline are, it is equally important that the public be able to understand and have confidence in the process through which disciplinary decisions are made. To that end, the NYCLU expresses qualified support for Intro. 1309, which will require the NYPD to study the feasibility of instituting and develop a plan for implementing a disciplinary matrix. A disciplinary matrix is a tool setting out presumptive penalties or a range of penalties to ascribe to defined categories of misconduct. While a matrix would not be binding on the NYPD Commissioner, the goal would be to promote more consistent application of the Department’s rules and enhance the public’s understanding of the process.

The NYCLU agrees with the bill sponsor and the Panel Report that the development and implementation of such a matrix are crucial steps for the department to take. It is unnecessary, however, for the department to be asked to first undertake an examination of the “feasibility” of such a model. As the Panel Report notes, disciplinary matrices have been developed and implemented in a number of large police departments across the country, including Los Angeles and Denver.[12]

New Yorkers, the Panel, the NYPD, and members of this Council all know that a disciplinary matrix is doable. Rather than undertake a study of whether the Department can do this, the bill should require the Department to involve the public in planning for how to do so. Instead of starting with a feasibility study, the bill should instead require the NYPD to consult with the Council and directly with communities most impacted by police practices in order to incorporate their input into the design and implementation of a disciplinary matrix. While no disciplinary matrix can, by itself, alter the exclusive authority of the NYPD Commissioner to decide these matters, the public deserves a voice in developing the standards that he should be looking to in reaching those decisions.

  • Preconsidered Introduction 2019-3705: Qualified Support

As the Panel Report made clear, the NYPD must do a better job of tracking and reporting on disciplinary outcomes if the public is to have any confidence that the department is taking officer misconduct seriously. Preconsidered Intro. 2019-3705 is an important first step toward that goal. This bill will shed light on NYPD disciplinary practices and policies in two key ways. First, it will mandate that the NYPD publish its guidelines for determining the types of discipline to be imposed on officers for violations of department rules and regulations or local, state, and federal laws. Second, it will require annual reporting on the number of officers subject to disciplinary action, disaggregated by the type of discipline received and including information on the number and percentage of cases in which the Commissioner deviates from the recommendations of the Deputy Commissioner of Trials or the Civilian Complaint Review Board. It also requires the NYPD to prepare a report that compiles this information on disciplinary actions and outcomes for cases commenced within the preceding three years.

There appears to be some overlap between this bill and Intros. 1309 and 1105, in particular relating to how disciplinary guidelines and violations are defined. The Panel Report stressed how difficult these processes already are even for experts to comprehend and noted a lack of consistent guidelines and definitions within the NYPD itself. To avoid adding to this confusion, the Council should use shared and consistent definitions of disciplinary guidelines, matrices, investigatory and disciplinary findings, and categories of misconduct to better enable the public to make use of information that will be generated.

That said, this bill represents an important step toward providing the public with greater access to information about how the department hands down disciplinary penalties, and it will serve as a useful complement to similar reports from the CCRB regarding cases within that agency’s jurisdiction. The NYCLU looks forward to the role this information will play in better informing the public debate about discipline within the NYPD.

  • Introduction 1105: Qualified Support

The NYCLU supports the concept behind Intro. 1105, but we have concerns about the usefulness of the reporting that it will generate if passed without amendment. This bill will require the NYPD to issue monthly reports on the number of complaints it receives, disaggregated by precinct, and to report on actions taken by the department in response to each complaint. The bill states that these complaints shall include, but not be limited to “misuse of force, harassment, and use of offensive language,” an apparent nod to the types of misconduct over which the CCRB exercises jurisdiction.

This framework serves little real purpose without more rigorous disaggregation requirements. As written, the bill only requires simple numerical reporting: the aggregate number of complaints received by a precinct each month. Despite the explicit inclusion of the above categories of misconduct, there is no requirement to yield data on how many complaints allege misconduct related to use of force, harassment, offensive language, or any other type of misconduct for that matter. To better capture and allow for analysis of patterns in types of misconduct complaints, the bill should require the NYPD to disaggregate the number of complaints by precinct and to further disaggregate that information by the type of misconduct alleged to have occurred. The current language states a non-exclusive list of misconduct categories to be included; the NYCLU suggests striking these examples. These categories are so closely linked to the types of misconduct within the CCRB’s jurisdiction that it may inadvertently suggest that the department is to only report on these specific categories, as opposed to reporting on any and all complaints of misconduct, whether within the CCRB’s or IAB’s jurisdiction.

It is also not clear that requiring monthly reporting on outcomes will have the desired effect unless the bill incorporates a specific requirement for the NYPD to continually monitor and update the status of individual complaints. As written, the bill could be read as only requiring the NYPD to report once on the status of complaints filed within the preceding month, during which time, those complaints will almost uniformly be pending. An ongoing duty to monitor and to update these complaint reports is essential if these reports are to enhance the public’s and the Council’s ability to engage in real oversight of the NYPD.

Lastly, it is not clear the extent to which this bill will require reporting on complaints originally filed with and received by the Civilian Complaint Review Board or another agency like the Inspector General that are subsequently transferred to the NYPD. The bill should be amended to ensure such complaints are included in the Department’s reporting requirements and to also include disaggregation by the origin of the complaint.

  • Preconsidered Introductions 2019-3707 and 2019-3708: Qualified Support

These bills would require the NYPD to report on the numbers of individuals arrested for resisting arrest, assault in the second degree on an officer, or obstructing governmental administration, including demographic information on the arrestee. If intended to cover reporting on whether police are using these provisions inappropriately to target particular groups or communities for offenses sometimes dubbed “contempt of cop,” it should also include reporting on disorderly conduct.

More data on these offenses, including when more than one of these offenses are charged together, can shed light on whether and how officers are misusing these charges. However, data that comes solely from the NYPD will necessarily be devoid of essential context—namely, how prosecutors and courts respond to these charges.  The bill requires reporting on whether a district attorney declines to prosecute, but this requirement is more properly directed toward the district attorney offices themselves, as it may not be information readily available to the NYPD. Nevertheless, data on charging decisions and outcomes are essential for telling a more complete story about what happens with these arrests, and the bill should therefore impose reporting obligations on district attorney offices related to post-arrest charging and outcomes so that the public can better understand these arrest numbers in context.

Lastly, while well-intentioned, the bills’ requirement that the NYPD report on whether the person arrested “is known to identify as transgender” or “is known to identify as non-binary or gender non-conforming” may result in invasive and potentially harassing questioning of transgender and gender nonconforming (“TGNC”) New Yorkers. A 2017 report from the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD found substantial gaps in the Department’s implementation of 2012 Patrol Guide revisions intended to improve interactions between NYPD officers and TGNC New Yorkers, including the fact that not all officers had been trained on LGBTQ and TGNC issues and that the Department had not fully updated all forms and databases to properly account for interactions with TGNC individuals.[13] The long and continuing[14] history of harassment of TGNC communities by police warrants caution before adding such reporting requirements as routine components of police interactions. At minimum, if these provisions are retained, officers should only be recording and reporting this information if self-reported by the arrestee and that officers should not be proactively seeking this information.

  • Preconsidered Introduction 2019-3706: Qualified Support

Preconsidered Intro. 2019-3706 will require the NYPD to provide district attorneys with information on certain types of disciplinary penalties imposed on officers within 24 hours of a district attorney’s request. Records of an officer’s past misconduct can have a profound impact on the course of a district attorney’s prosecution. Documented instances of bad arrests by an officer or lying in official statements may inform a decision not to prosecute, and the earlier that prosecutors obtain relevant evidence, the earlier such records can be shared with defense attorneys.

The bill could be further strengthened to ensure that records of ostensibly lower-level officer misconduct are not falling through the cracks. The bill appears to only cover discipline resulting from charges and specifications, the most severe—and most infrequent—instances of police misconduct. The Council should amend the bill to include a requirement to provide prosecutors with records of any discipline imposed on an officer, whether that discipline resulted from charges and specifications in a formal trial room proceeding or whether that discipline was imposed at the precinct level through command discipline, instructions, or training.

  • Preconsidered Introduction 2019-3704: Qualified Support

District attorneys wield immense power and influence over the trajectory of a defendant’s case. Yet the public generally has no idea about what goes into their decision-making or what standards they use to evaluate their own performance and assess the fairness of outcomes. This information gap is shocking given the outsized importance of these decisions – and the massive number of New Yorkers affected by them. In 2010, 99.6 % of New York City misdemeanor convictions resulted not from trials or evidentiary hearings, but from plea bargains that were crafted by prosecutors.[15] Across the state, less than 4% of felony guilty convictions went to trial in 2016.[16]

We have no way of knowing how individual plea bargains are determined; but the astonishing percentage of plea deals in New York suggest powerful structural incentives to do so. One of the key reasons a person might accept a plea deal is the bail amount that is first recommended by the prosecutor,[17] public data for which is also nonexistent. If a person receives bail at an amount that they cannot afford and is consequently subject to pretrial detention, the person is more likely to accept a plea deal. Without information on how bail recommendations are reached and plea bargains decided, the public lacks a basis for evaluating the integrity of a system in which a majority of criminal defendants waive their rights to trial.

The public also lacks any basis for evaluating whether district attorneys are using their discretion in a fair, unbiased way. In part due to our ongoing work tracking NYPD stops,[18] the NYCLU strongly suspects that the actual commission of crimes is not the most significant factor leading to stark racial disparities in the Rikers population, where nearly 90% of detainees are Black and Latino New Yorkers.[19] The Vera Institute of Justice published a study in 2014 illustrating how race plays a key factor across all prosecutorial decision points in the Manhattan District Attorney Office, shaping case outcomes.[20] The study looked at discretion points—from case acceptance for prosecution, to dismissals, pretrial detention, plea bargaining, and sentencing recommendations—for analyses of case outcomes disaggregated by race. Overall, race was a statistically significant independent factor in most of the discretion points. Blacks and Latinos charged with drug offenses were, for example, more likely to receive more punitive plea offers and custodial sentences than similarly situated whites.[21] Without data from district attorneys to show otherwise, the Council cannot ignore the correlation between the prosecutorial discretion and the disparities in case outcomes.

The nonexistence of prosecutorial data is particularly concerning in light of the city’s recent efforts to drive down the population of Rikers as part of its overall commitment to close the jail. The City Council approved $375.6 million in funding for the five district attorney offices for the 2019 fiscal year, representing a $107,511 increase from than the previous year.[22] Meanwhile district attorneys pursued practices that either assisted or impeded efforts to address the incarceration problems without having to report any data on those practices to the city. Such data would serve a vital purpose in helping the public and policymakers better identify where resources are needed to further the goal of decarceration.

Given the current black box in which district attorneys operate, the NYCLU offers our support for Preconsidered Intro. 2019-3704, which will require our city’s district attorneys to disclose information on criminal case dispositions. The bill will require reporting disaggregated by race, gender, and charge, on the number of cases prosecuted; cases resulting in a conviction; cases referred but declined for prosecution; number of bail, remand, and supervised release requests; cases dismissed for various reasons; cases dismissed at each phase; the average time for a case to be disposed; and the sentences imposed. Such information would no doubt inform the public about how district attorneys use their discretion to affect the liberty interests of thousands of New Yorkers.

Missing from this list, however, is information on plea bargains. We urge the Council to amend the bill to require district attorneys to also report on their plea bargains. Given the sizable percentage of convictions that result from plea bargains, information disclosed on the number and percentage of convictions that result in plea deals that are custodial and noncustodial, disaggregated by race, gender, and charge is necessary. Plea bargaining accounts for an overwhelming number of prosecutorial decision points in cases and must be taken into public account. The addition of plea bargains will further support the meaning and purpose behind this transparency bill and will bolster efforts to hold district attorneys more accountable for how they choose to exercise prosecutorial discretion.


We thank the committees for the opportunity to provide testimony today and for taking the first steps in a long overdue process to bring increased transparency and accountability to the NYPD disciplinary system. The NYCLU looks forward to working with the Council on these and other measures to enhance the public’s understanding of some of the most secretive government actors.

[1] The Report of the Independent Panel on the Disciplinary System of the New York City Police Department, (Jan. 2019), (hereinafter Panel Report).

[2] Id. at 7.

[4] Id. at 35.

[5] Ashley Southall, “New York Police Union Sues to Stop Release of Body Camera Videos,” N.Y. Times, Jan. 9, 2018,

[6] Graham Rayman, “NYPD Refuses to Reveal Precinct Use-of-Force Data, Citing State Law,” N.Y. Daily News, May 10, 2018,

[7] Rocco Parascandola and Graham Rayman, “Exclusive: NYPD Suddenly Stops Sharing Records on Cop Discipline in Move Watchdogs Slam as Anti-Transparency,” N.Y. Daily News, Aug. 24, 2016,

[8] NYPD Response to the Report of the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPP entitled “An Investigation of NYPD’s New Force Reporting System (May 4, 2018), .

[9] Matter of New York Civil Liberties Union v. New York City Police Department, No. 133, 2018 WL 6492733, *5 (N.Y. Dec. 11, 2018)

[10] Liam Dillon and Maya Lau, “Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Landmark Laws that Unwind Decades of Secrecy Surrounding Police Misconduct, Use of Force,” L.A. Times, Sep. 30, 2018,

[11] Robert Lewis, Noah Veltman, and Xander Landen, “Is Police Misconduct a Secret in Your State?” WNYC, Oct. 15, 2015,

[12] Panel Report at 51.

[13] Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD, Review of NYPD’s Implementation of Patrol Guide Procedures Concerning Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People, 5 (Nov. 2017),

[14] New York Civil Liberties Union, “Trans Advocate Sues NYPD for Charging Her with ‘False Personation,’” Jan. 22, 2019,

[16] New York State Violent Felony Offense Processing 2016 Annual Report,….

[17] U.S. Dep’t of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance, Research Summary:  Plea and Charge Bargaining 3 (Jan. 24, 2011), (“Those who are taken into custody are more likely to accept a plea.”)

[18] See generally New York Civil Liberties Union, Stop-and-Frisk Data, undated, (Last checked Feb. 4, 2019).

[19] A More Just New York City 34 (Apr. 2017),;

[20] Vera Institute of Justice, Race and Prosecution in Manhattan, (July 2014),…

[21] Id.

[22] New York City Council Report of the Finance Division on the Fiscal 2019 Preliminary Budget for the District Attorneys and Office of Special Narcotics Prosecutor (Mar. 12, 2018),….

In California, the fight over a secret list of criminal cops


ON JANUARY 8, A LIST OF 12,000 NAMES arrived in the inboxes of Robert Lewis and Jason Paladino, reporters with the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. The reporters had filed public records requests with the state’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training in 2018 for the names of California law enforcement officers and applicants for police jobs who have been convicted of a crime in the past 10 years.

There were many stories in it — the list included current and former officers with serious felonies on their records — but Lewis, Paladino, and their editors weren’t sure what the story was. Three weeks later, when the journalists received a letter from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office, telling them to destroy the records and claiming that possessing them was a criminal offense, they knew what the story would be. The headline, as it ran February 26 in both the East Bay Times and the website for the public radio station KQED: “California keeps a secret list of criminal cops, but says you can’t have it.”

“In some ways, the story is that letter—the fact that the attorney general doesn’t want these records out there,” Paladino says.

Paladino and Lewis are still working with the data, checking names to make sure they’ve identified the right people and looking up individual cases in county courthouses. Thousands of the names on the list don’t belong to police officers, but Paladino and Lewis matched about 3,500 names on the list to officers in state personnel databases, and 2,250 of them have been active within the past five years.

RELATED: The ‘really dangerous’ precedent for reclaiming public records

The letter from Becerra’s office isn’t slowing them down, though they say it is distressing. “I’m very hopeful that this is just sort of an idle threat,” says Lewis, who works for Investigative Studios, a nonprofit production company affiliated with the university program. “I’ve been a reporter for more than 15 years, and I’ve never had anything like this happen on a story.”

The letter, from Deputy Attorney General Michelle Mitchell, makes two core claims. The first is that the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training released the records “inadvertently,” and their release should be effectively undone by the UC Berkeley team destroying the records. (The Golden State’s supreme court ruled in 2016 to protect reclamation of inadvertently released materials; such claims remain rare outside of California.) The records never should have been released, the letter claims, because they were drawn from a confidential law enforcement database of criminal records. Second, Mitchell’s letter warns Lewis and Paladino, “you are hereby on notice that the unauthorized receipt or possession” of the records is a misdemeanor (emphasis in the original letter).

I hold the attorney general’s office in high regard … but I do not know how this letter got out of the AG’s office.

Lewis and Paladino, and their editors and attorneys, dispute both claims. The commission’s release of the records was clearly intentional, they say, pointing to a month of back-and-forth between the reporters and the commission about what records to gather and how long they would take to produce. The reporters made their requests on December 6; at no point, they say, did anyone at the commission suggest the records should be exempt from disclosure. The spreadsheet itself is composed of information that is public, available in federal and state court filings.

The threat of criminal liability for possession of the records appears unfounded in California law. Mitchell’s letter cites a state law that says it is a misdemeanor for an unauthorized person to buy, receive, or possess records or information from the state criminal records database. However, that law has an exemption for anyone covered by the state’s media shield law, including reporters, editors, and anyone “connected with or employed by” a news organization.

ICYMI: A reporter asked for 20 years of lottery winner data. After analyzing the records, he noticed something unusual.

“Given the plain language of the statute, there is no way they can credibly threaten prosecution,” James Wheaton, the founder and senior counsel of the First Amendment Project, says.

“I hold the attorney general’s office in high regard … but I do not know how this letter got out of the AG’s office,” Wheaton, who since this story’s publication has been retained by Paladino, says. “I hate to say it, but it’s a bullying tactic: send a shot across the bow, throw around words like ‘misdemeanor,’ and see if you can scare somebody.”

The attorney general’s office did not make anyone available for an interview. Instead, it provided a statement repeating its position as outlined in the letter. The Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training did not reply to an interview request.

This isn’t Becerra’s only tangle with the media over records of police misconduct. He’s being sued by the First Amendment Coalition for his refusal to turn over records from internal investigations of alleged law enforcement misconduct. Such records have historically been kept secret in California, even from prosecutors and defense attorneys, making it one of the worst statesfor public access to law enforcement records.

A new law that went into effect January 1 changes some of that, requiring the release of records in cases of officer shootings or other major uses of force, as well as proven sexual assaults and dishonesty on the job.

Police unions claim the law should only apply to records created after January 1. Trial courts in the state have come down on both sides, but most courts in the state’s large counties have ruled in favor of releasing the records. Becerra has said in court filings that the law should apply to older records, but his office still refuses to turn over its own pre-2019 files.

“The attorney general has been really disappointing,” John Temple, the director of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, says. “I don’t know the AG, and I’m not trying to cast any aspersions on his character, but I’d say as a leader, when it comes to the public’s right to know, he’s been disappointing at best and terrible at worst.”


“In California, the fight over a secret list of criminal cops”, Tony Biasotti, MARCH 4, 2019,

‘A Stain on the City’: 63 People’s Convictions Tossed in Chicago Police Scandal

Mark Rotert, head of the conviction integrity unit of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, spoke to reporters after a judge in Chicago threw out the convictions of 15 men in 2017.CreditCreditTeresa Crawford/Associated Press

By Christine Hauser, Feb. 13, 2019

In 2012, a Chicago police sergeant and an officer were arrested in an undercover operation for stealing $5,200 from a person carrying what they thought was cash for drug dealers. The officers eventually entered plea deals, but the arrests led to scrutiny of the tactics they and their team had used while making drug arrests at the Ida B. Wells housing complex on Chicago’s South Side for years.

This week, 14 men with drug convictions related to those cases were exonerated — four of them on Wednesday and 10 on Monday. With those exonerations, 63 men and women have had their cases vacated because of the involvement of Sgt. Ronald Watts and Officer Kallatt Mohammed, lawyers for the 14 men said.

“It is a stain on the city,” said Joshua Tepfer, a lawyer with the University of Chicago Law School’s Exoneration Project, which has represented 47 of the 63 people exonerated.

“One thing that goes without saying is the reason they were covered up is they were viewed as a disposable people who live in the housing projects,” he said. “Nobody cared. Nobody believed them.”

Robert Foley, a spokesman for the Cook County state’s attorney, said on Tuesday in an email that the State’s Attorney’s Office would continue to review the matters on a case-by-case basis.

The arrests of Sergeant Watts and Officer Mohammed came after F.B.I. and Chicago Police Department investigators recruited an informant to tell the two law enforcement officers that the informant was carrying the $5,200 for a drug trafficker, a statement from the United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois said at the time of their arrest in 2012.

The two officers took the money, and then paid the informant $400 “for allowing them to steal the drug proceeds” in 2011, the statement said. “Who always takes care of you?” Sergeant Watts told the informant, according to the statement.

After their arrests, Sergeant Watts and Officer Mohammed were charged with theft of government funds. Officer Mohammed entered a plea agreement in 2012 and was sentenced to 18 months, and Sergeant Watts pleaded guilty in 2013 and was sentenced to 22 months, according to Joseph Fitzpatrick, an assistant United States attorney for the Northern District.

A lawyer for former Sergeant Watts and representatives for the Civilian Office of Police Accountability were not immediately available for comment on Wednesday; the Chicago Police Department and a lawyer for former Officer Mohammed declined to comment.

Ronald Watts leaving court after being sentenced to 22 months of prison in 2013.CreditPhil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune, via Associated Press
Ronald Watts leaving court after being sentenced to 22 months of prison in 2013.CreditPhil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune, via Associated Press

But people who had been arrested by Sergeant Watts and Officer Mohammed took note. They petitioned to vacate the convictions that had resulted from Sergeant Watts and his team’s arrests years before.

“A lot of those convictions then fell by the wayside,” said James A. Graham, a lawyer who represented Officer Mohammed at the time he took the plea deal.

The Exoneration Project and another Chicago-area lawyer, Joel Flaxman, worked to vet cases of convicted men and women who said they were innocent of the charges imposed on them by members of the team led by Sergeant Watts and who had filed misconduct complaints against the officers.

Once vetted, their cases are turned over to Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. In November 2017, the State’s Attorney’s Office said it filed the first of its motions to vacate the convictions of people based on concerns regarding allegations of misconduct of the arresting officers, including Sergeant Watts. In subsequent statements on exonerations, Kimberly M. Foxx, the state’s attorney, linked additional exonerations to “the misconduct” of the officers.

“We found a pattern of misconduct by Watts and other officers in these cases, which caused our office to lose confidence in the initial arrests and validity of these convictions,” Ms. Foxx said last year.“May the defendants, who we now believe were victims, find a path forward in healing and justice.”

Leonard Gipson, whose convictions were among the first vacated in 2017, said in an interview on Wednesday that he had spent time incarcerated in 2003 and in 2007 after being charged with delivering crack and heroin.

“The biggest impact was it took a lot of time away from my kids growing up,” he said, speaking of his children, who are now 18 and 16. “I missed out on so much time in their life. And I don’t think it is really possible to make up that time.”

On Monday and Wednesday, Judge LeRoy K. Martin Jr. of Cook County, during a hearing in Chicago, granted further motions and vacated the convictions of the 10 men. Two of the four were in court on Wednesday, said Mr. Flaxman, who represented the four in court.

“The floodgates opened of people coming out of the woodwork and saying, ‘Hey, it happened to us,’” Mr. Flaxman said.

It is not clear how many more convictions will be challenged. Some people sought exonerations after their sentences had been served, while others are still in prison, Mr. Tepfer said. About 15 police officers who had worked on Sergeant Watts’s team were put on desk duty, but the Chicago Police Department declined to comment on Wednesday.

“There is a ton to unpack,” he said. “We are going to be doing this for years.”

Christine Hauser, Feb. 13, 2019, NYTimes, ‘A Stain on the City’: 63 People’s Convictions Tossed in Chicago Police Scandal”,

EXCLUSIVE: Body cam video shows alleged Hamden police misconduct

Cop threatens immigrant with I.C.E.


HAMDEN, Conn. (WTNH) – Last February, Hamden police Officer Andrew Lipford tried to pull over a BMW for a red light violation when the driver allegedly took off.  Cops say Victor Medina led them on a chase, ending in the man’s driveway where Ofc. Lipford threatened to shoot him.

“If you do something that you’re not told you’re gonna get shot!” yelled Lipford.

Attorney Frank Cirillo represents Medina.  “That is shocking to hear and it seems dangerous,” Cirillo said.

But it’s what the sergeant on scene says to Medina’s passenger, which was caught on body cam that has local Hispanic groups outraged.

“Three letters: I-C-E.”

“Using that as an intimidation tactic is a disservice to the community that the police department claims to protect and serve,” said Jesús Morales Sanchez of the group Unidad Latina en Acción.

The apparent reference to Immigration and Customs Enforcement came after police repeatedly accused the passenger of faking his inability to speak English.  Morales Sanchez said the officers’ conduct in the video is unacceptable.

“That just takes away a lot of trust from the police,” Morales Sanchez told us.

Civil rights expert, Attorney John Williams, reviewed the body cam video for News 8 and found multiple constitutional violations.  Williams indicated two specific concerns, including the level of force used on the driver and the alleged unlawful search of the man’s trunk.

Acting Hamden police Chief John Cappiello said he first learned of the video from News 8’s Mario Boone.  The chief released a statement saying, “I only looked at what you pointed out to us in the video and the two specific areas are concerning to me.  I am initiating an internal investigation into this incident,” referring to the shooting threat and ICE comment.

“I’m relieved that the chief is now taking a look at this case.  I think they would be foolish to take this lightly,” Attorney Cirillo said.

Medina was charged with multiple traffic violations, including DUI.  The passenger was released without charges.

On Wednesday morning, Hamden Mayor Curt Balzano Leng issued the following statement in reaction to News 8’s exclusive story:

“Actions taken by some involved were disgraceful, and certainly not representative of Hamden’s values.

I do not expect, and will not tolerate, these types of actions by any of our law enforcement personnel. Acting Chief Cappiello has launched an immediate internal investigation into this incident, and I will work closely with the Chief and the Hamden Police Commission to ensure that that the investigation is as thorough as the situation demands and deserves.

Appropriate action will be taken. As many know, I am a strong supporter of our local law enforcement and respect so many of our public safety men and women that work tirelessly for our community every day. Certain actions taken and words spoken in the video shown today have no business being part of Hamden law enforcement. Period.

Connecticut law clearly dictates our State’s legal policy, which every local law enforcement agency must follow related to detaining an individual based on their immigration status. It makes detaining unlawful, with few and very specific exceptions, such as a violent criminal actions or known gang activity. Our local Police follow this policy; we follow it because it is law, because it increases the safety of all our residents and because it reflect our values.”