How to Survive a Police Shooting When You’re Black
Leon Ford, center, in a wheelchair, is surrounded by friends and colleagues in Pittsburgh. Emmai Alaquiva

Pittsburgh activist Leon Ford explains in his new book, Untold, how to get lifted up, and how to lift a city up, even after being shot by its police.

Leon Ford @LeonFordSpeaks

When you get shot by a police officer 5 times–and docs say that you will ever walk but your son says keep pushing 💪🏾💪🏾💪🏾 Untold 11•11•17

CityLab spoke with Ford about his new book on improving policing, and being a change agent for his city:

How do you talk to your son about the police, particularly given what you’ve been through?

I’m basically preparing a platform right now for him to decide what he wants to do with it later, because one thing that I don’t want to do is put too much emphasis on “the talk”—like, preparing my son to get pulled over by a police officer. My mom and my dad did that for me, and I did everything they told me to do. But I still ended up shot. It doesn’t work. “The talk” is not strength-based, it’s really just a fear talk. I’m not trying to put fear in my son’s heart. This is why I do the work that I do and this is why I’m not opposed to building relationships with police officers and people who are in positions of power. I’m working towards preparing the world for my son.

“The talk” should be more about: What does a prosperous community look like to you? When we continue to have these conversations around fear, then people will continue to run away from each other and step on each other. I don’t want to build a community where people are stepping on each other. That’s not a healthy community.

You did the photo shoot for your book cover at the site where police shot you. How difficult is it for you revisit that space?

It used to be a painful reminder, but now I just view my life differently. I’ve had that paradigm shift where, before, even thinking about the day that I was shot, that used to be super emotional. But now it’s like a celebration because I could’ve lost my life on that block. However, I survived and so I view my life like a vessel to make people aware, to educate, and to inspire. And that’s really empowering.

What’s your relationship with Pittsburgh police like today?

I’m still going through my healing process, and there’s certain things that were done even after I was shot that I’m still dealing with psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Just the way that the city handled my case—I was fighting for six years and it’s like being in the belly of the beast of a system that was designed to destroy me. It made me feel like I wasn’t an American. The laws, the Constitution, and these documents that Americans praise—it felt like they didn’t work for me.

What kind of documents do you mean?

Like the Declaration of Independence, you know, those type of documents. These are good ideas, but [this ordeal] made me question who they were written for. What I went through, it made me feel like America was this house, and, I felt like the dog in the backyard that’s chained up all the time. You know? And kids come and pick on me and tease me and I get rained on—that’s how I felt, you know what I mean? Being a young man feeling like that, it’s like finally you get let out, they let you off the leash and you almost want to bite somebody. But gratefully, regardless of my circumstances, I realized that I was stronger than that, and just because someone else’s moral compass was pointing in the wrong direction, that didn’t mean that mine had to also.

Leon Ford (Emmai Alaquiva)

Is it hard pushing a message of compassion and forgiveness in such a suffocating climate for discussions around police and racism?

My message is to channel that anger into educating yourself. Educate yourself about the history of this country, and different policies at the local, state and federal levels. We’re behind the ball because these people are changing policies and stripping our rights away every single day. If we let our emotions get the best of us, before we know it we ain’t going to have any rights and they’ll continue to do whatever that they want to us. But the more we educate ourselves, the more we can use the system that has been working against us, to make it work for us.

I encourage young people to run for office. I meet a lot of young people who are fed up with police officers and go to college and don’t know what they want to do in life. Well, if you don’t want to go to work delivering furniture or working at Panera Bread, or you just don’t like your job, then become a police officer. I think that’s where activism meets mentorship, especially in our communities. I had a few football coaches growing up who were police officers, but I never viewed them as police officers because they were mentors in the community.

What are your plans now for creating the kind of change you want to see in the city of Pittsburgh?

I’m getting involved with real estate development and leveraging my platform and resources to provide affordable housing for people here in Pittsburgh. One of the problems that I see, especially here in Pittsburgh is access. A lot of young African-American men and women don’t have access to resources to capital. There’s a lot of great things happening in Pittsburgh, but if you go to [the neighborhoods of] Larimer, or Homewood, or East liberty and Garfield, they don’t even know or understand what’s happening. There’s a disconnect there. So, I’m in a unique position right now to leverage my platform to give other people access so that they can understand things like: What does it really mean for Amazon to come to Pittsburgh?

I’m wondering as an entrepreneur, if Amazon is going to bring a lot of money to Pittsburgh, or, as an activist, what does that look like for the average household given what we’ve seen in Oakland, California and San Francisco? The average apartment rent has gone up to $2,500-$3,000 [in those cities] and that has the potential to happen in Pittsburgh. So, how are people going to afford to live within the city?

Navigating the city from your vantage point now, what do you think Pittsburgh should prioritize for change?

Affordable housing policy. Also, accessibility. I love Pittsburgh, however Pittsburgh isn’t as accessible as I want it to be. There are still buildings within the city that aren’t really that handicap accessible.

Also police training. There’s really an accountability issue. I think police officers should have to live within the city. That’s a policy they recently changed that I think is just asinine. If you can drive an hour to go to work then you don’t have to be a part of any of the repercussions from people living in a neighborhood where you’re policing at. You don’t really have a heart for the people.

I believe that [the police] should have mental health evaluations. A lot of them come from the Army, and being a police officer, you’re sitting in a car for the majority of the day, not getting a lot of sleep because of the shifts that they put them. So police officers have very poor health, and there needs to be some changes within that structure. If police officers could be happier and healthier and more culturally competent that may help with some of these issues that we’re having as well.

Brentin Mock ,, “How to Survive a Police Shooting When You’re Black”,


How a Supreme Court Ruling Could Embolden Police Retaliation Against Political Speech

By Jacob J. Hutt, William J. Brennan Fellow, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project

December 29, 2017 | 12:00 PM


Update, June 19, 2018: On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that in some cases, retaliatory arrest lawsuits against the police can proceed even where the police had probable cause to arrest the individual. The court limited its decision to circumstances where arrestees alleges that “high-level” city policymakers adopted an official policy to retaliate against them by ordering his arrest. It did not decide whether probable cause is an obstacle to cases involving on-the-spot arrests. This decision is a positive first step toward allowing critics of government to sue when the police retaliate against them due to their speech  even if the police had some other reason for their arrest. Probable cause for an unrelated offense should not give law enforcement officers free rein to shut down speech they don’t like.

Earlier this year, a photojournalist headed to a Black Lives Matter protest in Times Square against the New York Police Department, and took out his camera to film it. As he approached a crowd of protesters, he heard a police supervisor instruct his officers to “just take somebody and put them in handcuffs.”

An officer stopped the journalist and placed him under arrest for failure to comply with an order to disperse. He was soon released, and sued the NYPD for arresting him in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights. He pointed out the NYPD supervisor’s explicit order to make an arbitrary arrest, and proved that police barricades were positioned to block people from dispersing, making compliance with the dispersal order physically impossible. In all, the evidence of retaliation was strong.

Yet the court not only ruled against the journalist, but told him he was barred from bringing the lawsuit in the first place. Even though the dispersal order may have been faulty, the officer could have had probable cause to arrest him for a separate pedestrian traffic violation, which automatically rendered irrelevant any evidence of retaliation.

The court was relying on what’s called the “no probable cause” rule, which has the force of law in New York. The rule states that in order for an individual to sue for retaliatory arrest, she must prove at the outset that the officer had no probable cause to arrest her for any crime — even one the officer hadn’t thought of at the time of the arrest. The Supreme Court will soon decide whether to make that rule the law nationwide.

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The Supreme Court will specifically consider the case of a Florida man, Fane Lozman, who alleges that his arrest for disorderly conduct at a Riviera Beach city council meeting was made in retaliation for his vocal opposition to a municipal redevelopment plan and for his accusations of corruption on the council. In an amicus brief filed today, the ACLU and the First Amendment Foundation have urged the court to allow his claim. If the court endorses the “no probable cause” rule, it  will effectively immunize governmental officials from liability even when they engage in clear-cut retaliation.

There are several reasons why this rule is both unconstitutional and bad policy. First, it allows law enforcement to use an “arrest now, justify later” strategy in which an arresting officer can use a probable cause theory that was not even on the officer’s mind or communicated to the plaintiff at the time of arrest.

This rule would bar retaliatory arrest lawsuits even when there is overwhelming evidence of a retaliatory motive. The enormity of the criminal code, and the ease of mistakenly violating it, practically guarantees this result. Are you carrying a sign attached to a stick thicker than 3/4 inch during a protest? You may have committed a crime, which the police could use against you in defending against a lawsuit for retaliatory arrest. That’s true even if, say, a police officer told a group of racial justice protesters that the real reason for their arrest was his disdain for Black Lives Matter. If the rule stands, this evidence would be useless in a lawsuit against the officer if he had probable cause to arrest the protesters for any crime.

If the probable cause rule becomes law nationwide, retaliatory arrest lawsuits — a primary tool for deterring police misconduct — will become much harder to win. As a result, police officers who wish to silence political speech will be emboldened and First Amendment rights will be chilled.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that “the law is settled that as a general matter the First Amendment prohibits government officials from subjecting an individual to retaliatory actions.” Let’s hope the court doesn’t cripple an important tool for enforcing this principle.

Jacob J. Hutt, William J. Brennan Fellow, ACLU Speech, December 29, 2017, “How a Supreme Court Ruling Could Embolden Police Retaliation Against Political Speech”,

Here Are a Bunch of Other Recent Miami PD Brutality Cases

| May 6, 2018


The City of Miami Police Department is back in the news for embarrassing reasons. This past Thursday, Facebook user Lisa Harrell posted footage of MPD Officer Mario Figueroa taking a running start and attempting to kick a handcuffed black man, David V. Suazo, directly in the face. Miami PD claims in an arrest report that Suazo stole a Jeep, drove it into a wall, fled cops, and then tried to fight the officers, but some details in MPD’s account of the events don’t add up — and the official police report doesn’t mention the face-punting incident.

Chief Jorge Colina suspended Figueroa (with pay) Thursday, but the case has ignited yet another round of discussions about Miami PD’s record on policy misconduct. The department is currently being monitored by the U.S. Department of Justice after the DOJ issued a scathing report in 2013 stating that the department shot and killed way too many people of color. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez on Friday told New Times that, in the wake of the kicking incident, he wants to make it easier to suspend cops without pay when there is clear video or photographic evidence of misconduct.

However, this is far from the only recent allegation of police misconduct levied against MPD. In fact, numerous complaints and lawsuits have been filed against the department in the last 12 months alone — most of which would have gone completely unreported in the local press had New Times not covered the allegations. Here’s a primer on the most egregious cases:

1. Miami Cops Broke State Law by Forcing a Woman’s Pants Down in Wynwood, Panel Says

The strip search played out in broad daylight on a sidewalk near Mana Wynwood: As Wendy Matute screamed for help on the ground, two male Miami Police officers held her arms down while a female officer held her legs apart. Another female officer, Annette Delgado, unzipped Matute’s shorts, pulled them partway down, and reached inside to grab three baggies of suspected drugs.

The invasive search by three street cops violated both Florida law and Miami Police Department rules, which require a supervising officer to sign off and forbid male officers from being involved. Yet the agency’s internal affairs unit cleared Delgado and the other officers, ruling Delgado “felt she needed to retrieve the narcotics before transporting Ms. Matute because, if not, Ms. Matute would tamper and destroy the narcotics.”

But the independent Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP) says that reasoning is nonsense because Matute was handcuffed and in no position to destroy the drugs in her pants. “Ms. Matute could have been transported to either the police station or [the county jail] by two officers in order for her actions to be monitored,” CIP staff wrote in a report.

2. Miami Cops Accused of Choking Innocent Youth Mentor After Already Catching the Real Burglary Suspect Next Door

Around 1:30 a.m. January 16, 2016, the Miami Police Department received a call from a security service warning that a black man dressed conspicuously in a “teal long-sleeve shirt with pattern pants” used an ax to break into a Family Dollar store on NW 17th Street in Allapattah.

Yet within the hour, somehow two cops had placed Lyndon Gray — a music teacher wearing a black T-shirt and jeans — into a chokehold and thrown him into a police cruiser. The teacher for at-risk kids is now suing the department, saying MPD officers nearly killed him — all, he alleges, because he was black and in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“The only thing Gray had in common with the suspect was that he was an African-American male,” Gray’s suit reads. “In fact, forty-seven percent of the population in the area is African-American.”

Astoundingly, Gray contends in his suit that MPD had already caught the teal-clad burglar — a man named Timothy Dorch — and were waiting to review the store’s security footage to match his ID when cops allegedly assaulted Gray and tossed him in the back of a squad car for two hours. Gray’s lawyer, Faudlin Pierre, tells New Times that he and Gray didn’t learn about Dorch until Pierre filed a records request nearly a year after the incident. He says his jaw dropped when he realized MPD had arrested two people for committing one crime.

“We later confirmed through surveillance video that my client was not involved in the crime,” Pierre says. “They arrested him just because he asked for help.”

3. Ex-Police Union President and Active Cop Javier Ortiz Suspended for Harassing, Doxxing Citizen

Miami Police Lt. Javier Ortiz, the outspoken head of the city’s cop union, has been temporarily reassigned to desk duty and stripped of his gun, New Times has confirmed. The move came after a judge granted a restraining order to a woman Ortiz allegedly harassed and doxxed online.

Robert Buschel, a Fraternal Order of Police attorney, says Ortiz will fight the restraining order.

“[The woman’s] latest allegation… is false,” Buschel says. “There will be at least one high-ranking police official who will testify on the record that he acted as a gentleman at all times.”

Ortiz, who has repeatedly made national news by defending police shootings and criticizing celebrities such as Beyoncé, landed in hot water after a Tuesday meeting of the Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP), an independent group that considers complaints against Miami Police officers.

The board heard from Claudia Castillo, a Miami woman who said she was was harassed and doxxed on Facebook by Ortiz last February after she reported a speeding cop in 2016. Ortiz posted her personal cell phone number and photos and encouraged his followers to call and disparage her. This past Tuesday, the CIP reprimanded Ortiz and said he’d broken department policy by posting her personal information.

After testifying, Castillo said she was worried for her safety and asked for an escort out of the building. Danny Suarez, a former CIP member and city commission candidate, walked her to the lobby. Suarez says Ortiz followed and then peered through several windows to watch Castillo leave.

“She had big concerns that he would follow her, and she didn’t want him to know what kind of car she drove,” Suarez says.

Ortiz was later placed back on street duty after the restraining order was lifted. He was then promoted from lieutenant to captain.

4. Miami Cops Sued Over Fatal High-Speed Chase That Severed Bystander’s Legs

Since the 1990s, police departments across the nation have reevaluated when to chase suspects. If someone flees, cops’ first instinct is to follow; thousands of TV episodes, back to Miami Vice and Starsky and Hutch, have trained the public that a cop’s number one job is to chase down perpetrators, with no apparent concern for public property or consequences. But in 1990, the U.S. Department of Justice called police chases “the most dangerous of all ordinary police activities,” and a 2015 USA Today investigation showed that high-speed pursuits have killed more than 5,000 innocent bystanders since 1979.

A new Miami lawsuit suggests exactly why police need to display caution when chasing down suspects: The complaint filed June 23 accuses undercover City of Miami cops of engaging in a high-speed pursuit that violated departmental policy and ultimately claimed the lives of a 21-year-old who was fleeing police and an innocent 44-year-old who suffered gruesome injuries and died on the scene.

Worse yet, the family of the bystander, Javier Muñoz, claims that because the cops were undercover, the department has not named the officers involved in the chase in the two years since the crash. (The City of Miami does not comment on active litigation.)

The accident was so gruesome it made local TV headlines two years ago. On November 9, 2015, police originally said they caught a black Infiniti “speeding” through Model City late that night and that the car was registered as stolen. They claim the driver, 21-year-old Lionel Dorilas, sped away southbound on NW 12th Avenue. But at NW 54th Street, cops claim, Dorilas lost control of the car, clipped Muñoz, who was biking on the sidewalk and talking on his cell phone, and dragged him until the car hit a tree and burst into flames.

5. Unarmed Man Shot Through Neck by Cop Outside Marlins Game Sues City

While the Brewers walloped the Marlins on a steamy June evening, a Miami Police officer working crowd control outside the team’s Little Havana stadium pulled over a speeding silver Pontiac. The cop soon realized that the driver, 32-year-old Emmanuel Reyes, was wanted for previous traffic offenses. But when the officer tried to cuff him, he resisted. Her partner tasered the man during the scuffle, but that didn’t work. And when Reyes reached below his seat, she pulled her gun and fired twice, hitting Reyes in the neck and stomach.

Reyes fell to the ground, screaming “You just killed me!” as blood spurted from a severed artery.

Reyes was wrong about that — he miraculously survived the shooting that night on June 12, 2013 — but four years later, he says he still suffers permanent physical and mental disabilities from that traffic stop gone wrong. Reyes, who didn’t have a weapon in his car, is now suing the City of Miami, the cop who shot him, and her partner.

The city, though, denies the officers did anything wrong. And Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle’s office has cleared the two officers involved, ruling they were within their rights to shoot Reyes because he grabbed a small tin box during the tussle as the officers tried to arrest him.

6. Miami Sued After Cop Kills Unarmed Homeless Man in Front of 50 Kids in Park

Fritz Severe’s family believes police had no need to shoot him dead June 11, 2015. Severe was homeless, unarmed, and not posing much of a threat to anyone. He was standing in a park outside the Culmer/Overtown Branch Library and holding a three-foot-long metal pipe. According to the Miami Herald, a park worker called 911 to complain that Severe might have been bothering nearby children attending summer camp. But other witnesses said Severe was in the park every day and always carried his “little stick.”

Rather than usher Severe away from the group of children, Miami Police Officer Antonio Torres rolled up and fired five shots into Severe’s body, killing him in front of more than 50 horrified kids. Multiple witnesses told the Herald that Severe never swung the pipe at the cop. Witnesses said Severe visited the park every single day, and they questioned why the cop didn’t taser or try to subdue Severe before killing him.

Now Severe’s family is suing the City of Miami and the police officer in federal court.

“This has a permanent scarring effect on young kids who witnessed something they shouldn’t have,” the family’s lawyer, Richard Diaz, himself a former cop, tells New Times. “The collateral damage is, I think in some ways, even greater than the shooting itself.”

The Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office cleared Torres of any wrongdoing in March 2016; he’s still employed as a cop.

Correction: This story originally misstated the status of prosecutors’ investigation into the Fritz Severe police shooting.

| May 6, 2018, Miami New Times, “Here Are a Bunch of Other Recent Miami PD Brutality Cases”,

Corrections officer charged with rape, misconduct

Dec 27, 2017

A Lakeview corrections officer has been arrested by New York State Police on rape and misconduct charges.

Credit New York State Police

James Beam Jr., 41 of Silver Creek, had been a corrections officer at Lakeview Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility, located in Brocton. State prison officials said Beam, an 18-year veteran, resigned Tuesday.

He was charged with rape in the third degree and several counts of official misconduct following an investigation into an unlawful personal relationship with an inmate.

The Chautauqua County District Attorney’s Office has issued an appearance ticket, ordering Beam to appear in Portland town court in January.

The Lakeview facility confines both male and female inmates who have been convicted of non-violent offenses in separate minimum-security units. It gets its name from the boot-camp like nature of the facility, that is meant to shock an offender into changing poor behavioral patterns.

The State Police investigation was assisted by the State Department of Corrections and the Community Supervision Office of Special Investigations.

Dec 27, 2017, WBFO, “Corrections officer charged with rape, misconduct”,

Baltimore OKs $9M settlement to man wrongly convicted of murder, sparking clash between council president, FOP

Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun, May 2, 2018

Baltimore’s spending panel approved a $9 million settlement on Wednesday with a man who was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent 20 years in prison before DNA evidence cleared his name a decade ago.

The amount agreed to be paid to James Owens is the largest settlement from the city in a case involving alleged police misconduct, officials said.

“Anyone who spends 21 years in jail unfairly deserves compensation,” said Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, who controls a majority of votes on the Board of Estimates, which voted unanimously for the payment.

At a news conference in downtown Baltimore, lawyers representing Owens passed out a statement that said the settlement “brings to a close a long and painful chapter in Mr. Owens’ life.”

Owens did not appear at the news conference and, through his lawyers, declined to comment, except to say that “no amount of money can give me back the time that I lost.”

The settlement sparked harsh words between City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and the city’s police union. In approving the funds, Young railed against the amount of money taxpayers are paying out over police lawsuits, and he suggested that the union should pick up some of the costs.

“I’m not happy about it,” Young said.

He cited the $6.4 million settlement in the death of Freddie Gray and argued that police are costing the city too much money.

“I’m not saying [Owens] shouldn’t get some money, but I do think FOP should be party to this settlement,” Young said. “That money should come out of their funds. I’m tired of all these funds coming out of the taxpayers of Baltimore City. Nine million dollars could go a long way toward rec centers, towards jobs for our youth. I’m tired of it.”

The Baltimore police union responded to Young’s comments Wednesday, criticizing him as someone who “does not support the work done by the men and women of the Baltimore Police Department.”

“While we agree with President Young that $9M is a lot of money, we have never been able to fathom why the City Board of Estimates continues to pay these exorbitant settlements,” the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3 wrote on Twitter.

Owens was charged in the 1987 robbery, rape and murder of Colleen Williar, a 24-year-old phone company employee and college student, in her Southeast Baltimore home.

According to court records, Owens came under suspicion when a neighbor of Williar’s, James Thompson, told police he found a knife outside Williar’s apartment and retrieved it on behalf of Owens, a friend.

Police found no physical evidence to link Owens to the crime but charged him on the basis of Thompson’s statement. Owens, now 57, was convicted of murder in 1988 and had spent 21 years in custody before he was freed in 2008.

He sued the city three years later, alleging that investigators pressured a key witness and that police and prosecutors intentionally suppressed information that might have helped him defend himself.

Lawyers representing Owens alleged that the Baltimore Police Department homicide detectives who investigated the murder failed to disclose such so-called exculpatory evidence. The suit named as defendants the city, the police department and the State’s Attorney’s Office. It also named individual police officers Gary Dunnigan, Jay Landsman and Thomas Pellegrini and prosecutor Marvin Brave.

Thompson changed his story about the crime several times, and detectives continued to interrogate Thompson until he settled on a story that involved him watching Owens rape and murder Williar, according to Owens’ lawyers.

A sample of semen saved from the case was tested for DNA in 2006, winning Owens a new trial. Prosecutors eventually dropped the charges against him.

“The American system of justice only works when police reveal all the evidence, even evidence that contradicts their belief regarding who committed a crime,” said Andrew D. Freeman, one of Owens’ lawyers. “This settlement should remind all law enforcement officers of the consequences of failing to turn over exculpatory information.”

City lawyers said that even though they were settling the case “the Baltimore City Police Department and the detectives who have been sued in this action dispute virtually all of the material facts alleged by Mr. Owens.”

Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun, May 2, 2018, “Baltimore OKs $9M settlement to man wrongly convicted of murder, sparking clash between council president, FOP”,

Ex-trooper charged in teen’s ATV stun gun death had previous Taser misconduct

DETROIT — Michigan State Police tried but failed to suspend a trooper for his use of a stun gun months before he fired a Taser at a teenager who crashed an all-terrain vehicle and died, according to records obtained by The Associated Press. Mark Bessner is charged with murder in the death of Damon Grimes, but it wasn’t his only incident involving a Taser. Details are in personnel documents released to the AP through a public records request.

State police wanted to suspend Bessner for 10 days for firing his Taser twice at a handcuffed man who was running away in 2016. But an arbitrator said there was no “just cause” for discipline.

In 2014, Bessner fired his Taser at a suspect who was handcuffed. He agreed to a five-day suspension, records show, but four days were eventually dropped. It apparently was his first case of misconduct.

Bessner, 43, now faces serious legal trouble. He was charged last week with second-degree murder in the August death of Damon Grimes of Detroit, who was joyriding on an all-terrain vehicle when the trooper fired his stun gun. The 15-year-old crashed and died.

Bessner, who quit the state police after the teenager’s death, has pleaded not guilty and is being held on $1 million bond. Prosecutor Kym Worthy said there was no reason for him to fire his Taser — especially from a moving patrol car.

“His behavior was criminal. We’re not trying to pull the rug over anyone’s eyes,” a state police spokesman, Lt. Mike Shaw, said Tuesday.

Just two months earlier, an arbitrator had cleared Bessner of misconduct in how he used his Taser while chasing a crime suspect. The man was handcuffed during a traffic stop in Detroit but suddenly sprinted away and was able to clear fences.

Bessner said he believed the man must have slipped out of the cuffs so he used his Taser twice to subdue him. It was a wrong assumption. It’s generally against state policy to use a stun gun on a handcuffed person who’s in custody.

Arbitrator Steven Lett, however, found technical distinctions. He said the man was “no longer in custody” as soon as he ran away.

“The question is whether the officer’s actions are objectively reasonable in light of all the facts and circumstances,” Lett said, quoting a training guide from the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards.

If the 10-day suspension had been affirmed, it would have triggered an additional four days from the 2014 incident that were being held in abeyance, Shaw said.

Bessner’s personnel file shows he faced a third misconduct allegation in March. State police said he was driving at high speed without emergency lights or sirens. The case apparently wasn’t resolved before he quit last fall.

Bessner’s file also includes praise for his work. He was recognized by the department for saving a woman who had overdosed on heroin. “Best wishes for continued success,” Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue wrote in February 2017.

cbs news, , “Ex-trooper charged in teen’s ATV stun gun death had previous Taser misconduct”,

Law Enforcement Misconduct Statute 42 U.S.C. § 14141

Conduct of Law Enforcement Agencies

§ 14141. Cause of action (re-codified at 34 U.S.C. 12601)

(a) Unlawful conduct

It shall be unlawful for any governmental authority, or any agent thereof, or any person acting on behalf of a governmental authority, to engage in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers or by officials or employees of any governmental agency with responsibility for the administration of juvenile justice or the incarceration of juveniles that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.

(b) Civil action by Attorney General

Whenever the Attorney General has reasonable cause to believe that a violation of paragraph (1) has occurred, the Attorney General, for or in the name of the United States, may in a civil action obtain appropriate equitable and declaratory relief to eliminate the pattern or practice.

Alleged victims of police brutality have a powerful new tool in court, top N.J. defense attorneys say

The Force Report is a continuing investigation of police use of force in New Jersey. Read more from the series or search your local police department and officers in the full the database.

Defense attorneys and the state Public Defender’s Office say the unprecedented release of police use-of-force data in New Jersey could significantly bolster the rights of defendants who for years have had the odds stacked against them in court.

In the wake of The Force Report, a 16-month investigation of police use of force by NJ Advance Media for, the attorneys said they have been strategizing over how they could use the data to gain more access to police personnel records in their cases.

“Until (NJ Advance Media) published (its) work, there was no resource like this available,” said Sharon Bittner Kean, president of the Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys of New Jersey. “We’re delighted to have a tool that could bolster the rights of defendants.”

The investigation found that while the majority of police officers in the state barely used force at all, many departments had individuals who did so far more than their peers. The data revealed that multiple officers who were charged with brutalizing suspects and other types of misconduct would have raised red flags had a system been in place to track use of force trends.

The entire database is now available to the public at

The attorneys said that accessing police records can be difficult during discovery. They said cannot request a police officer’s entire disciplinary record when they can’t present proof that there’s anything relevant to the case in it. With the newly released data, they said they may now have a basis to request and receive more documentation.

“A lot of people think we can just go into court, ask and a prosecutor just hands it over. That’s not how it works,” said Jennifer Sellitti, director of training and communications for the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender. “Now we can use statistics to support our argument. We can say we know this exists. That gives us something we can put into a motion.”

Search officers in your town

Bittner-Kean said the defense attorney association plans to discuss The Force Report at its next board meeting and brainstorm how to use it in court. Sellitti said attorneys working for the Public Defender’s office already have been combing through the database, and the office has been crackling with excitement at the possibilities it presents.

“This is something we’ve been discussing for a long time, and (NJ Advance Media) just stepped on the accelerator for everyone,” she said.

Sellitti also believes the newly released use-of-force data could prove valuable in other aspects of criminal litigation, such as reinforcing the prosecution’s requirement to turn over evidence that may be favorable to the defense.

“It adds some teeth to what we’re asking prosecutors for,” she said.

Matthew Troiano, a defense attorney who spent years as a prosecutor for Hudson and Morris counties, said the database removed barriers to learning about an officer’s history.

That could especially impact cases where an officer’s testimony conflicted with the testimony of someone he or she had arrested, Troiano said, because the differing accounts could be more easily compared to that cop’s past arrests.

“In that type of situation, it’d be extremely helpful,” Troiano said.

To build The Force Report, reporters filed 506 public records requests, collected 72,609 paper records and spent more than $30,000 to create the most comprehensive statewide database of police force in the United States. The records — spanning 2012 through 2016, the most recent year available — cover every municipal police department and the State Police

Terence Jones, a civil rights investigator, said he hopes The Force Report will prompt state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to push for more transparency in policing data and enact reforms that will allow for greater accountability.

“I think it’s an embarrassment that you have to have a news organization do the work of these agencies,” he said. “The police have proved they cannot police themselves. And right now, you have county prosecutors acting as if they are the personal lawyers of the police. The state is supposed to represent the people.”

Hours after the project was released, Grewal called it “nothing short of incredible” and promised to propose changes to the system. On Wednesday, he issued a rare joint statement with every leading law enforcement official in the state conceding they had failed to accurately track police force and setting forth reforms, including standardized electronic reporting.

We are continuing to make this dataset better. The numbers in this story were last updated Dec. 12, 2018.

Stephen Stirling | NJ Advance Media, , 2018, “Alleged victims of police brutality have a powerful new tool in court, top N.J. defense attorneys say”

Criminal Cops: Tracking Crimes Committed by Police Officers

by Christopher Zoukis

Police officers are sworn to uphold the law. When the uniform goes on, they become arbiters and enforcers of right and wrong. But a new police crime database reveals an important and often overlooked aspect of the job: Police officers are people first, cops second. And people sometimes commit crimes.

The database, compiled by Philip Stinson, tracks how often police officers are arrested. Stinson, a former cop and now an associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, gathered data on arrests of police officers from 2005 to 2012. Stinson’s data are limited to 2,830 state, local, and special law enforcement agencies out of about 18,000 across the country, but nevertheless provide valuable insights. Police crime is not as rare as the average person might think.

According to Vice News, Stinson’s data show 8,006 arrest incidents resulting in 13,623 charges involving 6,596 police officers from 2005 through 2012. Nearly half of the incidents were violent. Because Stinson’s data cover fewer than 20 percent of all law enforcement agencies and just a fraction of the 1.1 million sworn officers in the U.S., the actual number of arrests is undoubtedly much higher.

Without efforts by researchers such as Stinson, however, we might never know. That’s because the federal government does not collect this kind of data. Were the government to track crimes committed by police officers, it would rely heavily on self-reporting by police agencies. James Lynch, a former director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics and now professor at the University of Maryland, told Vice News that there would be an obvious problem with that method.

“You’re asking the police to tell you about the sins of their workplace,” said Lynch. “I suspect that they wouldn’t expect high levels of compliance. The data quality would not be good.”

Stinson and his team avoid this problem by gathering data from media reports and court records. Google alerts lead researchers to new incidents and help them track the status of existing arrests. It is not a foolproof system, acknowledged Lynch, but it is “legitimate.” Jonathan Blanks, who heads the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project, told Vice News that Stinson’s methods would not collect all misconduct by police, but that it was an important step forward.

“While imperfect, tracking misconduct like this is a public service to try to hold police accountable to the public they serve,” said Blanks.

Stinson’s methodology is evolving, but as it currently stands, the data show about 1,000 officer arrests per year. The most common arrest was for simple assault, with driving while intoxicated a close second. Other charges in the top 10 include drug violations, aggravated assault, and forcible rape. Rookie cops were arrested more often than veterans, and over 10 percent of the officers in the dataset were arrested more than once.

Stinson also tracked whether arrested officers lost their jobs. Of those determined to have been convicted, 91 percent were fired. But for all arrested officers, Stinson concluded that they lost their jobs just over half of the time. Stinson told Vice News that he was taken aback by these numbers.

“I always assumed that if an officer gets arrested, their career was over,” said Stinson. “What we’re seeing is that this is not the case. Many of these officers don’t get convicted, and many of them who actually leave their job, lose it, or quit, end up working as police officers elsewhere. So there’s a sort of officer shuffle that goes on.”

One major shortcoming, acknowledged by Stinson himself, is that as a measure of the number of crimes committed by cops, the data are necessarily incomplete. That’s because police officers provide each other with “professional courtesy” in many interactions. Norm Stamper, a former Seattle police chief and longtime San Diego police officer, agreed that this has been a problem in police departments for many years, but he believes that professional courtesy is going the way of the dinosaur.

“It [has been] understood that when you stopped a police officer off-duty, if you rolled up to his home on a domestic violence call, you would extend professional courtesy,” Stamper told Vice News. “Over time many police departments have corrected that; they’ve come to the realization that it doesn’t just look bad—it is bad.”

Stinson told Vice News that his intention was not to criticize law enforcement. Instead, he hoped to highlight police misconduct as a serious, systemic problem that is not uncommon and demands attention.

“What [people] don’t realize is that this shit is happening in communities across the country every day,” Stinson said.

In Chicago, more than $20 million in police misconduct settlements paid out in eight weeks

The city of Chicago has paid out $20.3 million in settlements for police misconduct cases in the first eight weeks of 2018. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The city of Chicago paid more than $20 million in settlements for police-involved lawsuits in the first two months of the year, WBBM-TV reported Tuesday, and there could be millions of dollars more paid out in the near future.

What’s the story?

On Monday, the city paid $4.6 million to settle numerous police misconduct cases. On Feb. 9, the city paid $9.3 million in a reversed conviction case.

In 2016, Chicago paid $2.2 million for related cases in the first eight weeks of the year. In 2017, that number was $6.1 million; still nowhere near the $20.3 million that came out of the city’s budget in the first eight weeks of 2018.

Of that $20.3 million, about half of that money is for excessive force, false arrest and illegal search and seizure cases.

Also, there are currently 460 civil rights cases against the city that are under review, according to the Chicago Department of Law.

Need for reform?

Jon Loevy is a Chicago civil rights attorney who is involved in many of these cases. He said the city is essentially wasting money by settling all these cases and not addressing the issues that cause them.

“From an economic standpoint, dollars and cents, it would be cheaper to solve the problem than to keep paying out on lawsuits,” Loevy told WBBM. “We’ve heard rhetoric lately that it is time to make a change and time will tell if that’s going to happen.

“Our goal is that they put us out of business,” Loevy said.

An old problem

Last year, the Justice Department published a 164-page report following an investigation into misuse of force by Chicago officers.

From a Chicago Tribune editorial:

Here is what the Justice Department found in Chicago: The Police Department inadequately trains officers to fight crime in a violent city and then fails to properly monitor their use of force or punish wrongdoing. The result is ‘a culture in which officers expect to use force and not be questioned about the need for or propriety of that use.’ Boiled down to the essence, Chicago cops abuse citizens because nobody tells them they can’t.

Aaron Colen, , the,  “In Chicago, more than $20 million in police misconduct settlements paid out in eight weeks”,