Police ‘Code of Silence’ Is on Trial After Murder by Chicago Officer

 
Three Chicago police officers — from left, David March, Thomas Gaffney and Joseph Walsh — are accused of covering up what had really happened when a white police officer shot Laquan McDonald, a black teenager.CreditCreditPool photo by Zbigniew Bzdak

By Monica Davey

 

CHICAGO — Inside a cramped and worn courtroom, three white police officers are on trial in connection with the fatal shooting of a black teenager, Laquan McDonald. But these officers never fired their guns. Their crime, prosecutors say, was concocting a story to cover up for a colleague who did.

As prosecutors tell it, Chicago police officers shooed away eyewitnesses after the shooting on Oct. 20, 2014, and then made up a narrative to justify the shooting. They said in official reports that the teenager had tried to stab three officers, and that he had tried to get up from the ground as 16 shots were being fired into him.

The only hitch? Dashcam video footage of the encounter contradicted their account.

Patricia Brown Holmes, a special prosecutor trying the three officers on charges of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice, told a judge last week: “Instead of serving and protecting all citizens of Chicago, the defendants tried to protect only one — Jason Van Dyke,” the police officer who was convicted this fall of second-degree murder in the shooting.

On trial along with the officers is the “code of silence” that police officers across the country have been accused of operating under. In Chicago, the issue has been around for decades, bubbling up in recent years in cases involving a drunk-driving officer, an off-duty officer’s beating of a bartender and a lawsuit by two police officers who said they faced retaliation after breaking the code.

“Every police officer has seen the code of silence in action,” said Lorenzo Davis, a former Chicago officer who rose through the ranks to commander over a career of more than two decades. He was later an investigator for an oversight agency of the police department, and was awarded $2.8 million by a jury this year after suing the city, saying he had been fired from the agency because he refused to change his findings concerning police shootings that he deemed unjustified.

By Mr. Davis’s description, the code of silence can be subtle. An officer, even one who was close by, may say that he didn’t see what happened at a crucial moment. And the penalties can be frightening: colleagues may not arrive as quickly to help an officer in danger who is considered a snitch.

“The code of silence works a lot like a family situation,” Mr. Davis said. “You cannot tell on your family members. You just know that. No one has to tell you that. If you have a partner, you’re going to back up your partner.”

The president of the police union in Chicago, Kevin Graham, said through a spokesman that no such code of silence exists, calling the claim nonsense. “How the special prosecutor can construe a ‘code of silence’ theory defies belief,” Mr. Graham said after the charges against the three officers were announced.

And Eddie Johnson, the superintendent of the Chicago Police and a 30-year veteran of the force, said this year — in a sworn deposition related to a separate police shooting lawsuit — that he was unaware of any such code. Through a spokesman, Superintendent Johnson declined to elaborate on the matter this week, citing limits on speaking with reporters that were set by the judge in the trial of the three officers.

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel has acknowledged the existence of a code. In late 2015, in the days after Chicagoans first saw damning video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald — video that the city had fought to keep out of public view — the mayor called for major changes in policing in a speech at City Hall. Facing demands for his resignation, Mr. Emanuel condemned what he said was sometimes called a “code of silence” or “a thin blue line.”

“It is the tendency to ignore, it is a tendency to deny, it is a tendency in some cases to cover up the bad actions of a colleague or colleagues,” Mr. Emanuel said in the emotional speech.

Mr. Emanuel’s remarks joined a series of disclosures, court findings and report conclusions in recent years that have drawn attention to a code of silence in Chicago, and, some say, have set off a gradual process of dismantling it.

In 2012, a federal jury awarded $850,000 to Karolina Obrycka, a bartender who was beaten by an off-duty Chicago police officer, Anthony Abbate, in an incident that was caught on security video. Ms. Obrycka asserted in her lawsuit that a broad code of silence in Chicago had emboldened Mr. Abbate’s behavior.

The city reached a $2 million settlement in 2016 with two officers — Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria — who said they experienced retaliation after exposing a fellow officer who was accused of shaking down drug dealers and of framing people who would not go along with other crimes.

And in 2017, the Department of Justice issued a scathing report on the Chicago police that found, in part, that a code of silence was getting in the way of holding officers accountable for misconduct.

For all the attention, though, the attitude that officers back one another up has yet to change, according to Terry Ekl, a lawyer who represented Ms. Obrycka in her suit. “The fact of the matter is that a code of silence exists,” he said. “As long as you and I are alive, it’s going to be there. It would take the leadership at the top stating that we’re not going to tolerate this any longer, and if you do this, you’ll be fired.”

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In the case playing out now in a Chicago courtroom, the three officers — David March, Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney — have denied that they covered up for the officer who shot Laquan McDonald and tried to make the shooting appear justified.

Mr. March, who has resigned from the department, was the detective assigned to investigate the shooting. James McKay, a lawyer for Mr. March, told Cook County Associate Judge Domenica Stephenson that Mr. March merely carried out his duties. “He wrote down what the witnesses told him,” Mr. McKay said, adding that Mr. March was not assigned to be a “judge and jury” of what the officers reported had happened.

Mr. Walsh has also resigned from the department. He was the partner of Mr. Van Dyke, the officer who fired all the shots, on the night of the shooting. Mr. Walsh’s lawyer, Todd Pugh, said Mr. Walsh had only worked with Mr. Van Dyke once before, suggesting that his client had little reason to cover up for Mr. Van Dyke. If the video footage of the shooting conflicted with the way Mr. Walsh had described the events in reports, it was a matter of different perceptions of the same information based on one’s viewpoint, Mr. Pugh said.

Mr. Gaffney was one of the officers who first confronted Laquan McDonald on the evening of the shooting, after police got a report of a man breaking into trucks on the city’s Southwest Side. Mr. Gaffney and other officers had followed the teenager, who was carrying a knife and ignoring orders to stop, for several blocks. William Fahy, Mr. Gaffney’s lawyer, told the judge that Mr. Gaffney had showed appropriate restraint on the night of the shooting, but was now being charged because the authorities “disagree with the report that he wrote.” Mr. Fahy described the notion of a conspiracy among the officers to protect Mr. Van Dyke as “complete and utter nonsense.”

For some, the case has raised another question: Why are only three officers on trial?

Nine officers were at the scene when Officer Van Dyke shot Laquan McDonald, and police officials moved to fire seven officers who they said gave questionable accounts of the shooting. Grand jurors indicted three officers but declined to indict any others.

“You have to wonder, where is the brass in all this — where are the top bosses?” said Ms. Spalding, one of the officers who sued and received a settlement from the city in 2016.

Ms. Spalding described the trial now underway as a “puppet show for the public,” to create the appearance that someone was being held accountable for false accounts after Laquan McDonald’s death. “You’re putting a couple officers on trial,” she said. “But don’t think for one minute that everyone didn’t know.”

Monica Davey, The New York Times, “Police ‘Code of Silence’ Is on Trial After Murder by Chicago Officer

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After Fatally Shooting Man in His Apartment, Ex-Dallas Cop Indicted for Murder

by Tribune News Service | December 3, 2018 AT 10:30 AM

By Nichole Manna

A former Dallas police officer who walked into an unarmed man’s apartment on Sept. 6 and shot him while wearing her police uniform has been indicted on a charge of murder.

The Dallas County grand jury began hearing the case against Amber Guyger, 30, on Monday. Guyger was originally charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of 26-year-old Botham Shem Jean. She was released from jail on a $300,000 bond about an hour after turning herself in.

District Attorney Faith Johnson said that by 3 p.m., Guyger had turned herself back in on the murder charge. Her bond was transferred and she has been released.

Asked why the grand jury indicted Guyger on a murder charge, Johnson said, “We presented the evidence and explained the law.” She added that the law prohibits her from talking about the evidence presented to the grand jury.

She said her office had a “very spirited conversation” with the Texas Rangers, the lead investigators in the case, back in September.

“They chose to file this case as manslaughter,” she said. “We did our own investigation.”

She said that prosecutors talked to more than 300 witnesses.

Guyger has said she mistook Jean’s apartment at the South Side Flats for hers that night after getting off a long work shift, Dallas police said. Court documents have varied on the story of how Guyger got Jean’s door open.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, along with several other media outlets, have requested copies of the 911 call Guyger made after the shooting, along with body camera footage worn by the officers who responded. The Dallas Police Department has declined to release that information and sent the open records requests to the attorney general for final determination.

Guyger was not wearing a body camera. The department said officers leave their body cameras at work after their shift.

Johnson, who was voted out of office in the Nov. 6 election, will not see the case through to a trial and said Friday that she “trusts the DA-elect will continue to represent this family (and all of Dallas County) as he seeks justice for victims.”

Johnson also spoke about why it took her office two months to bring the case in front of a grand jury. She said she wanted to make sure the jury had everything they needed to “make the right choice.”

“We thought it was murder all along,” she said. “But we didn’t file this case … but we did what we had to do get this case ready for the grand jury. Justice is never too long.”

Moving forward, it could be more than a year before Guyger sits in front of a judge and jury. It took 16 months, Johnson said, for the case against former cop Roy Oliver to go to trial. Oliver shot and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards while on duty as a Balch Springs police officer. He was found guilty of murder.

Jean was a native of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. After graduating from college in Arkansas, he moved to Dallas to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Jean’s family filed a lawsuit against the City of Dallas and its Police Department in late October.

Jean’s family says in the suit that Guyger had a history of violence and used excessive force against Jean that fateful night in September, resulting in his wrongful death.

The family also says the Dallas Police Department “has a pattern, practice, history and custom of using excessive force against minorities,” and accuses it of not providing proper training or discipline for Guyger in the use of deadly force.

“By simply following proper police procedures and the best police practices and not the protocol of the DPD to ‘shoot first and ask questions later,’ Defendant Guyger would have not shot Jean,” the lawsuit states. “Essentially, Officer Guyger was ill-trained, and as a result, defaulted to the defective DPD policy: to use deadly force even when there exists no immediate threat of harm to themselves or others.

By Nichole Manna, Tribune News Service | December 3, 2018, “After Fatally Shooting Man in His Apartment, Ex-Dallas Cop Indicted for Murder”, http://www.governing.com/topics/public-justice-safety/tns-dallas-police-murder-trial.html

Sadism in the St. Louis Police Department

Jim Young / Reuters
Last year, former police officer Jason Stockley was on trial in St. Louis, Missouri, for the shooting death of a black motorist named Anthony Smith.He was acquitted, sparking street protests.

The St. Louis police activated what it calls its Civil Disobedience Team. Among the cops assigned to it were Dustin Boone, Randy Hays, and Christopher Myers, who sent texts to one another expressing their excitement and glee at the prospect of brutalizing protesters, according to federal prosecutors who reviewed their communications.

“Let’s whoop some ass,” Myers allegedly texted.

“The more the merrier!!!” Boone allegedly replied. “It’s gonna get IGNORANT tonight!! But it’s gonna be a lot of fun beating the hell out of those shitheads once the sun goes down and nobody can tell us apart!!!!” He went on to describe a fellow police officer as “a BIG OL black dude” who is “hands on,” and who is “basically a thug that’s on our side. It’s he and I that just grab fuckers and toss em around.” Later he described cops loading protesters onto prison buses while saying “Our streets,” in unison, mocking their chant. He added, “Did everyone see the protesters getting FUCKED UP in the galleria????? That was awesome.”

Hays allegedly explained, “It’s extremely frustrating, but you’ll eat yourself up inside if you don’t just let it go and deal with it when it comes. And this one is easy because we both are good, going rogue does feel good, but I’ve been elected to be the driver of a Tahoe, so if I get involved tonight, shit has hit the fan.” He added, “Remember we are in south city. They support us but also cameras. So make sure you have an old white dude as a witness.”

On September 17, 2017, these men put their sadistic language into practice, according to an indictment filed against them last week.

“The defendants threw L.H. to the ground and then kicked and struck L.H. while he was compliant and not posing a physical threat to anyone,” it states. “This offense resulted in bodily injury to L.H. and included the use of a dangerous weapon, that is: shod feet and a riot baton.”

They most likely would still be on the street, with their badges, their guns, and the ability to inflict lethal force, if not for the fact that L.H. happened to be an undercover police officer. “We’ve had several incidents of protesters and activists being the victims of excessive use of force and police abusing their authority without ever seeing charges like this,” Rev. Darryl Gray, a protest organizer, told The Washington Post.

An attorney who filed brutality lawsuits on behalf of 23 protesters told AP, “The text messages confirm our suspicions that these officers were using the anonymity of their SWAT uniforms and face masks after removing their name tags so that they could beat citizens with impunity.”

Now four officers await an early December court date, where they are expected to plead not guilty. According to the indictment, Myers “did knowingly destroy and mutilate L.H.’s cellular phone, a tangible object used to record and preserve information.” All three men allegedly conspired to influence the testimony of potential witnesses. One fellow officer, Bailey Colletta, was indicted for lying about the incident.

“St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said that her office has dismissed 91 criminal cases associated with four St. Louis police officers,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, adding this striking detail:

Gardner stopped accepting cases from the four officers in question, “When we learned these officers were under investigation and the reason for the investigation,” spokeswoman Susan Ryan said Friday. “That was in late August, early September,” she said. A source told the Post-Dispatch that those cases had been issued between 2016 and this year.

Several were issued after the alleged assault on Hall took place, and well into the federal investigation into the incident, according to a source. That means the accused officers were on duty, actively making arrests and building cases while they were the subjects of a federal criminal investigation. It is not clear whether they were ever disciplined internally or put on administrative duty during the investigation.

St. Louis prosecutors seem to have all sorts of problems with St. Louis police officers––they keep a list of the ones they won’t work with, but won’t reveal those names to the public and the cops remain on the job.

Additional information about police misconduct during the Stockley protests may emerge as more than a dozen federal lawsuits filed against the police department make their way through the courts.“The suits claim police violated the arrestees’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from unlawful seizure and their First Amendment rights to assemble in public and express their views free from retaliation,” the PostDispatch reports. “The suits also say police conspired to deprive them of their civil rights and that the city failed to properly train officers to avoid violating the rights of protesters or others.”

 

Springfield Police officer suspended, pleads not guilty to 9 criminal charges

According to State Attorney General Maura Healey’s Office, 54-year old Jose Diaz was released without bail after pleading not guilty at his arraignment.

City of Springfield to pay over $1-million to settle four lawsuits

Diaz is facing four counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, one count of assault and battery causing serious bodily injury, three counts of assault and battery and one conspiracy charge.

These charges come from an off-duty incident that took place nearly four years ago. Four men allege they were assaulted by off-duty Springfield police officers, including Diaz.

VIDEO: Sarno denies cover-up in police beating case

The Hampden County District Attorney’s office declined to file any criminal charges in February of last year, saying the charges would depend on a positive identification of the assailant or assailants, and “no such identification has been made”. But the State Attorney General’s office brought the charges against Diaz and said this is an active and ongoing investigation.

Springfield Police Spokesman Ryan Walsh told 22News Diaz was been suspended without pay for five days, and will be placed on administrative leave.  In a statement, Walsh said, “this is very troubling, as our police officers are sworn to enforce our laws, not break them.”

Full statement below:

In a statement to 22News, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said:

Again this is very troubling, as our police officers are sworn to enforce our laws, not break them. Any officer that breaches the public trust should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law – ‘let the chips fall where they may’. From the beginning of this incident Commissioner Barbieri, City Solicitor Ed Pikula, Labor Relations Director Bill Mahoney and I have worked with all outside authorities to pursue this case, even bringing in independent counsel and retired Judge Bertha Josephson to hear this case before our citizens Community Police Hearing Board (CPHB). This reflects unfairly on the vast majority of our brave and dedicated police officers, who put their lives on the line protecting our citizens, day in and day out. Whether on-duty or off-duty our police officers must wear their badge not only with courage but just as important with honor, integrity, and professionalism. The reform efforts initiated by Commissioner Barbieri are ongoing and will continue in order to maintain the public’s faith and trust.

“I feel like Springfield cops have been pretty good as far as not getting in trouble, but people are people,” said Edward Gearing, a Springfield resident. “There’s always one or two bad apples. Always”

A conviction on even just one of the most serious of these charges in district court could result in a maximum of two and a half years in jail.

The State Attorney General’s office and the FBI are still investigating the incident.

Diaz is due back in court February 8.

Nancy Asiamah, Hayley Crombleholme, Nov 29, 2018, wwlp.com, “Springfield Police officer suspended, pleads not guilty to 9 criminal charges”, https://www.wwlp.com/news/crime/springfield-police-officer-suspended-pleads-not-guilty-to-9-criminal-charges/1627655930

Indiana Police Face Allegations Of Police Brutality

NPR’s Steve Inskeep speaks with reporters Christian Sheckler of the South Bend Tribune and Ken Armstrong of ProPublica about systemic corruption in the police department of Elkhart, Ind.

 

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Elkhart, Ind., is being forced to confront allegations of brutality on its police force. Elkhart is an industrial city famous for making RVs and musical instruments, and now it’s known for this. The mayor acknowledged this week that he suspended the police chief amid an investigation of police shootings and beatings.

Two journalists obtained video of police punching a handcuffed suspect, and that was just the beginning of the story we hear from Christian Sheckler of the South Bend Tribune and Ken Armstrong of ProPublica, who worked on this story together. Gentlemen, good morning.

KEN ARMSTRONG: Good morning, Steve.

CHRISTIAN SHECKLER: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So, Christian, what does this video show?

SHECKLER: A man named Mario Guerrero Ledesma, handcuffed with his hands behind his back, sitting in a chair in a detention area of the Elkhart Police Department. There are four police officers standing nearby. At one point, Mario Guerrero Ledesma appears to be preparing to spit. One of the officers standing closest to him, Corporal Cory Newland, warns him…

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CORY NEWLAND: Don’t spit.

SHECKLER: …Don’t spit. Ledesma spits toward Newland, and both Corporal Newland and another officer, Joshua Titus, grab Ledesma, push him backwards onto the floor, while he’s still seated…

(SOUNDBITE OF SCUFFLE)

SHECKLER: …His head strikes the floor, and both officers jump on top of him and punch him in the face repeatedly.

INSKEEP: When did this happen?

SHECKLER: This happened on January 12 of this year.

INSKEEP: And how did this incident come to your attention? And how did the video come to your attention?

SHECKLER: The South Bend Tribune was investigating disciplinary matters in the Elkhart Police Department, in partnership with ProPublica. There are not many disciplinary cases that have been brought forward to the city’s civilian oversight board, but this was one of them. We noticed it from looking at minutes of the meetings of the civilian oversight board, that, in June, the police chief, Ed Windbigler, had brought forward written reprimands for two officers for a violation of the department’s policy for use of necessary force.

INSKEEP: Oh, this is a case where the police department did see an abuse and did discipline the officers, but then the question arises whether reprimands were enough for actually beating a suspect in handcuffs at the time.

SHECKLER: That’s correct. There are also questions about how accurately the police chief described what had happened when he went before the civilian oversight board.

INSKEEP: What do you mean? Didn’t he say that the police punched a suspect?

SHECKLER: No, he didn’t. The police chief described what had happened as these two officers having gone a little overboard.

INSKEEP: So you have this incident where there was a euphemism that essentially became an alleged cover-up of a beating. And let’s bring in Ken Armstrong of ProPublica. How does this fit in with the broader record of the Elkhart, Ind., Police Department when you began looking into that?

ARMSTRONG: Well, what we discovered is that under the current police chief, disciplinary actions have plummeted. In the 10 years before the current police chief took office, the prior police chiefs brought an average of 20 disciplinary actions a year to the civilian oversight board. In the first year under the current police chief, the number of disciplinary actions brought to the board was zero.

INSKEEP: Is it remotely possible that the number of disciplinary cases went down drastically because the police department behaved better?

ARMSTRONG: I think that video would argue otherwise.

INSKEEP: This video shows a man who ultimately had to be carried away on a stretcher. Are there many cases that you found where someone was seriously hurt?

SHECKLER: This is certainly the only case that we’ve seen under the current chief where officers were disciplined over an allegation of excessive force. We don’t know if there are more. The mayor of Elkhart actually reached out to the Indiana State Police to ask them to investigate his police department. The state police declined and said that that would be more appropriate for the U.S. Department of Justice.

ARMSTRONG: And, Steve, as we started looking at the department’s history, we discovered that there were a disproportionate number of fatal shootings by police officers in Elkhart. There were six people shot and killed by police officers in a five-year period. If you compare that to New York City, the numbers are pretty extraordinary. In those same five years, New York City had seven times the shootings with 160 times the people.

INSKEEP: Oh, so if I’m living in Elkhart, Ind., statistically speaking, I’m way more likely to be shot by a police officer than in New York.

ARMSTRONG: The numbers would say so, yes.

INSKEEP: So the person who is willing to look into this at the moment is the mayor of Elkhart. In this video that you published, one of the four officers who’s in the room is identified as the mayor’s son. He’s not one of the people who throws a punch, but he’s there. How would you say the mayor has done under the pressure of your reporting in this story?

SHECKLER: Well, the mayor now said that he has suspended the police chief for 30 days without pay. The two officers who actually threw the punches are currently on administrative leave, with pay, pending the ongoing criminal case that has been filed against them. But the two other officers who were in that same room when the beating took place – including the mayor’s son, who is a sergeant on the police force – to our knowledge, have not been disciplined.

INSKEEP: You have described concerns about police abuse and the futility of finding anyone to investigate them. Theoretically, the police should investigate themselves. It’s alleged that didn’t happen here or didn’t happen seriously. But you say there was also this outside civilian review board, which is really normal. Is that outside review board completely powerless to investigate on its own, and is that normal across the country?

SHECKLER: It seems that the amount of questioning and investigating that these boards do is determined by what they would like to do.

ARMSTRONG: And what also we’ve found is that, nationally, it appears that the trend with civilian oversight is greater independence from the police department. Elkhart, in the last couple of years, has gone the opposite direction.

INSKEEP: We’ve been listening to Christian Sheckler of the South Bend Tribune and Ken Armstrong of ProPublica. Both worked on this story about the Elkhart, Ind., Police Department. Thank you, gentlemen.

ARMSTRONG: Thank you, Steve.

SHECKLER: Thank you, Steve.

 

Morning Edition, “Indiana Police Face Allegations Of Police Brutality”, https://www.npr.org/2018/11/29/671799943/indiana-police-face-allegations-of-police-brutality

4 St. Louis Police Officers Indicted for Violating Civil Rights of Police Shooting Protesters

A 2017 protest against the acquittal of a St. Louis police officer for killing an African-American generated some more police misconduct. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

During the latter stages of the struggle to end Jim Crow and beyond, federal civil rights laws often proved essential in seeking justice for African-Americans when local law enforcement officials (or in some cases, juries) refused to take action against violent racists.

It’s another matter altogether, though, when the alleged violent racists are themselves local law enforcement agents. That’s why this news from St. Louis (as reported by HuffPost’s Ryan J. Reilly) is significant:

Four St. Louis police officers were indicted on federal civil rights charges Thursday in connection with their actions during an unconstitutional crackdown on a protest last year.

A federal grand jury indicted St. Louis Metropolitan Police officers Dustin Boone, 35, Bailey Colletta, 25, Randy Hays, 31, and Christopher Myers, 27, on felony charges that included deprivation of constitutional rights, conspiracy to obstruct justice, destruction of evidence, and obstruction of justice.

The charges stemmed from an incident during September 2017 protests against the acquittal of former St. Louis policeman Jason Stockley on murder charges in connection with his 2011 killing of an African-American, Anthony Lamar Smith, after a high-speed chase subsequent to an alleged drug deal. At the time of the protests, police officers were observed behaving in an angry, confrontational manner, serious enough that a federal judge later admonished them for seeking to violate protesters’ First Amendment rights. More recently evidence emerged that three of the officers present during the protests went way over the line and later (along with a fourth officer) lied about it. That’s what led to the current indictment:

The indictment alleges that at least three of the defendants “expressed disdain for the Stockley protesters and excitement about using unjustified force against them and going undetected while doing so.” It features text messages between three of the defendants in which they joked about using force against protesters demonstrating against the Stockley verdict.

“let’s whoop some ass,” [Christopher] Myers wrote.

“it’s gonna be a lot of fun beating the hell out of these shitheads once the sun goes down and nobody can tell us apart” wrote [Dustin] Boone. “We really need these fuckers to start acting up so we can have some fun.”

Boone later wrote that it was a “blast beating people that deserve it” and bragged about chanting “OUR STREETS” with other cops after they locked “fools up on prison busses.”

The “our streets” chant was a mocking reference to one of the slogans of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. That’s rather questionable conduct from members of what was called the SLPD’s Civil Disobedience Team, deployed to keep things calm.

Their big mistake, the indictment suggests, was beating up an unarmed undercover cop who was in a pretty good position to testify against them, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes:

After learning that the person they attacked was an undercover officer, the three male officers lied about the arrest, claiming he resisted arrest and was not compliant, the indictment says. They also tried to contact the undercover officer to dissuade him from pursuing disciplinary or legal action, the indictment says.

A fourth officer, a woman, allegedly helped cover it all up.

So all in all, the four officers were indicted by a federal grand jury “on felony charges that included deprivation of constitutional rights, conspiracy to obstruct justice, destruction of evidence, and obstruction of justice.”

Questions remain as to whether these actions, if proven, represented rogue police misconduct or a more pervasive pattern. In St. Louis, the latter is a real possibility.

, nymag.com, “4 St. Louis Police Officers Indicted for Violating Civil Rights of Police Shooting Protesters”, http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/11/st-louis-police-officers-hit-with-civil-rights-charges.html

See how often police in your town punch, kick or use other force, and how they compare to others

Carla Astudillo, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com, November 29, 2018, “See how often police in your town punch, kick or use other force, and how they compare to others”, https://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2018/11/see_how_often_nj_police_punch_kick_or_use_other_fo.html

For Framing Innocent Black Men, Former Florida Police Chief Gets 3 Years in Prison

by Tribune News Service | November 28, 2018 By Jay Weaver And David Ovalle

Raimundo Atesiano, the former Biscayne Park police chief who directed his officers to frame innocent black men for a series of unsolved burglaries, admitted he wanted to appease community leaders and polish the village’s property crimes record.

Even in a small village of about 3,000 residents, the pressure was just too much, he said.

“When I took the job, I was not prepared,” Atesiano told a federal judge on Tuesday. “I made some very, very bad decisions.”

His apologies did not sway U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore, who on Tuesday sentenced the 53-year-old former cop to three years in prison. He allowed Atesiano to remain free for two weeks before surrendering so he can care for his mother, who is dying of leukemia.

In September, Atesiano pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge of depriving the three suspects of their civil rights because he and the officers charged them without a legal basis. Atesiano’s conspiracy conviction carried up to 10 years in prison.

Atesiano resigned from the Biscayne Park force in 2014 and previously worked as an officer for Sunny Isles Beach, Hialeah and Miami-Dade County Corrections.

Atesiano’s sentencing ended an ugly chapter in Biscayne Park’s recent history, where allegations of racism — the three men falsely charged are black — tainted the police department’s culture of law enforcement in the mostly white community.

Village leaders, including Police Chief Luis Cabrera, a former veteran officer in Miami, say they have reformed the department.

Over the summer, three former Biscayne Park police officers who had worked under Atesiano while he was the chief in 2013 and 2014 pleaded guilty to civil rights violations stemming from the false arrests of the three suspects. All three ex-cops cooperated with the FBI and prosecutors Harry Wallace, Donald Tunnage and Trent Reichling in the hope of reducing their prison time.

In August, Officers Charlie Dayoub, 38, and Raul Fernandez, 62, pleaded guilty to falsifying the arrest affidavits for a 16-year-old black suspect for four unsolved break-ins in June 2013. That was just a month before then-police chief Atesiano touted the town’s 100 percent burglary clearance record at a village commission meeting. In October, Judge Moore sent each to prison for a maximum one-year term.

The charges against the teen were eventually dropped after the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office noticed the four arrest affidavits all used similar vague language — that the “investigation revealed” T.D. employed the same “M.O.” and the homes had a “rear door pried open.”

A third Biscayne Park police officer admitted falsifying arrest warrants for two men at the direction of Atesiano during 2013 and 2014. Those men were in their 30s at the time. Guillermo Ravelo pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge that he violated the rights of the two falsely accused black men. and used excessive force on a Hispanic man during a traffic stop. A different federal judge, Cecilia Altonaga, sentenced Ravelo, 37, to two years and three months in prison.

In January 2013, Atesiano ordered Ravelo and Dayoub to arrest Clarence Desrouleaux on charges of breaking into a pair of homes in Biscayne Park, according to a factual statement filed with the ex-chief’s plea agreement. Atesiano told the officers to take Desrouleaux into custody because “there was reliable information that [he] had forged and cashed a check stolen during the course of” a third home burglary, according to the statement.

Desrouleaux, 35, pleaded guilty and ended up getting sentenced to five years in prison. He was deported to Haiti. In light of new evidence about his false arrest, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office threw out his wrongful conviction.

Also, in February 2014, Atesiano told Ravelo that he wanted him to arrest Erasmus Banmah, 31, for five unsolved vehicle burglaries, despite knowing there was “no evidence” that he had committed the crimes, prosecutors said in court records. A couple of days later, Ravelo filled out five arrest forms falsely accusing Banmah of the vehicle burglaries at five different street locations in Biscayne Park.

The admissions of the three Biscayne Park officers to the false police arrests magnified the evidence against Atesiano, exposing not only his leading role in the civil-rights conspiracy but also his lies to the town’s leaders. The police department reported clearing 29 of 30 burglary cases during Atesiano’s tenure as chief, but at least 11 of those cases were based on false arrest reports, according to federal authorities.

In the aftermath of Atesiano’s indictment in June, the Miami Herald obtained internal public records suggesting that during his tenure as chief, the command staff pressured some Biscayne Park officers into targeting random black people to clear cases.

“If they have burglaries that are open cases that are not solved yet, if you see anybody black walking through our streets and they have somewhat of a record, arrest them so we can pin them for all the burglaries,” one cop said in an internal probe ordered in 2014. “They were basically doing this to have a 100% clearance rate for the city.”

In a report from that probe, four officers — a third of the small force — told an outside investigator they were under marching orders to file the bogus charges to improve the department’s crime stats. While only one officer specifically mentioned targeting blacks, former Biscayne Park village manager Heidi Shafran, who ordered the investigation after receiving a string of letters from disgruntled officers, said the message seemed clear for cops on the street.

In the continuing fallout from the scandal, Miami-Dade prosecutors are reviewing old criminal arrests in Biscayne Park during Atesiano’s tenure in 2013-2014. The Miami-Dade Public Defender’s office has been examining scores of cases going back to 2010, when Atesiano was a patrol cop there, hoping to clear records of anyone who was wrongfully arrested.

“He fabricated evidence. He damaged lives. Even before he was chief, Atesiano issued 2,200 traffic tickets himself in one year, fabricated cases, and wrongfully arrested innocent individuals,” Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos Martinez said. “He created a culture of corruption that has further eroded public trust in the criminal justice system. Just as appalling is the damage Atesiano has done to law-abiding, hardworking, police officers and chiefs.”

Atesiano was not charged with violating anyone’s civil rights because of their race. His lawyers called into question “any notion that random people were targeted for arrests or that race played any factor in the arrests of any individuals.”

“Quite the contrary,” Atesiano’s defense attorney Richard Docobo wrote in court papers seeking a two-year prison sentence. He said the three men falsely arrested in 2013 and 2014 had a history of criminal activity in the suburban town north of Miami.

“They were no saints,” Dacobo told the judge on Tuesday.

The judge still gave Atesiano 36 months in prison — three more than what the government had asked for.

(c)2018 Miami Herald

 

By Jay Weaver And David Ovalle, November 28, 2018 , Tribune News Service, “For Framing Innocent Black Men, Former Florida Police Chief Gets 3 Years in Prison”, http://www.governing.com/topics/public-justice-safety/tns-police-chief-misconduct.html

ACLU sues Pawtucket police over denying requests for misconduct reports

The ACLU of Rhode Island filed suit in state court Monday against the Pawtucket police, arguing that the department is violating the state’s open-records law by denying requests for reports on police misconduct.

Exeter resident and transparency advocate Jennifer Cox tried to get the last 10 completed Internal Affairs reports from the Pawtucket Police Department back in April, but the department withheld six of those reports on what she considers “disingenuous” grounds.

“It is our experience that the City of Pawtucket consistently manufactures specious arguments to deny the release of reports that would shed light on the performance of the Professional Standards division and maintain the integrity of the department,” Cox, a member of the Rhode Island Accountability Project, said in a written statement. “We view these disingenuous denials as a concerted effort to maintain a secret report policy in violation of the access to public records act.”

It’s the second time in a little over a year that the state ACLU has taken the Pawtucket Police Department to court on claims that the city is improperly denying access to public records under the state’s Access to Public Records Act, known as APRA.

In a lawsuit filed in August 2017, the Rhode Island Accountability Project and the ACLU said the Pawtucket police had refused to release reports that were generated internally, only handing over reports that civilians had prompted.

The law doesn’t make any distinction, the ACLU argued: Internal Affairs reports are public records, even if they have to be redacted. That lawsuit is still pending.

In the case filed Monday, the ACLU of Rhode Island said city solicitor Frank Milos refused to release six of the reports on improper grounds, such as ones in which the civilian who filed the report decided not to pursue complaints.

In two other cases, Milos denied the requests because they were made by “citizens who are known to the police and who are suspected of suffering from mental illness,” the suit said. Milos also rejected one request because the identities of the officers were “known to the APRA Watch.”

Those are improper reasons to reject records requests, the ACLU and Cox argued. ACLU cooperating attorney James Cullen is representing Cox.

Det. Sgt. Timothy Graham of the Pawtucket Police Department said in a statement late Monday that the department had already turned over hundreds of pages to the Accountability Project in the past, and that if the court disagreed with its interpretation of an “unclear” area of state law, the department would change its procedures.

“We understand and respect the role of the ACLU,” Graham said. “The Pawtucket Police Department values both transparency and privacy. We work every single day to effectively balance both while remaining consistent with existing case law and decisions rendered by the Office of the Attorney General.”

The Rhode Island Accountability Project posts the results of its records requests online.

 

“ACLU sues Pawtucket police over denying requests for misconduct reports”, https://www.providencejournal.com/news/20181126/aclu-sues-pawtucket-police-over-denying-requests-for-misconduct-reports

Are civilian oversight agencies actually holding police accountable?

July 19, 2018, Olugbenga Ajilore

Within 24 hours after the shooting of Harith Augustus by Chicago police on July 14, the Chicago Police Department released body camera footage of the incident to the public. The video is less than a minute long and lacks sound, but the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, a civilian oversight agency for the Chicago Police Department that coordinated the release, said it would release the full video within 60 days, as is required.

The quick release of the edited footage is a good step toward transparency and best practices regarding body cameras. Before the 60-day policy went into effect in 2016, the Chicago police took more than a year to release footage of the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald. The civilian oversight agency at the time, the Independent Police Review Authority, lacked the independence and influence to ensure the video’s timely release.

These incidents demonstrate the important role civilian oversight agencies can play in holding police accountable and incorporating community voices in policing.

What are civilian oversight agencies?

Civilian oversight agencies are typically established after an incident of police misconduct and when a community identifies a need for such an agency. After a series of police shootings in Pittsburgh in the 1990s, the US Department of Justice issued a consent decree to establish the city’s Citizen Police Review Board (CPRB) in 1997.

The National Association of Civilian Oversight in Law Enforcement (NACOLE) says there are around 150 oversight agencies across the country. Although there is no strict definition of what encompasses an oversight agency, NACOLE breaks them into three categories:

  1. Investigation focused. These agencies, like the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, conduct independent investigations of complaints against police officers.
  2. Review focused. These agencies review the operations of police departments and aim to provide community input to internal investigations and procedures.
  3. Auditor or monitor focused. These agencies are typically started out of decrees from the federal government, with a focus on large-scale and systemic reforms.

What makes a successful civilian oversight agency?

Experts say that investigation-focused agencies are typically more successful at holding police forces accountable for wrongdoing or misbehavior because they focus on individual complaints. For any oversight agency to succeed, however, three factors are necessary:

  1. Independence. A civilian oversight agency should be independent from the police department so that recommendations can be trusted.
  2. Resources. Investigating complaints and issuing reports can be time consuming and expensive. A successful civilian oversight agency needs adequate funding to function.
  3. Power. Civilian oversight agencies need some teeth so that law enforcement can’t simply ignore recommendations from reports or investigations.

Independence is particularly important because civilian oversight agencies aim to improve the operations of police departments and correct mistakes. Without independence, it’s impossible to form nonbiased recommendations and implement reforms.

For example, the Police Complaints Board in Washington, DC, seeks to establish independence by requiring four of the five members to have no existing connection to the Metropolitan Police Department. These individuals are often retired police officers, while the fifth member must be a current member of the Metropolitan Police Department.

Striking a balance between those with policing experience and those with no ties to the police department can be difficult. What mix of expertise and independence can best support a civilian oversight agency? To find the answer, we need more research.

We need to know more about civilian oversight agencies

Many questions surround civilian oversight agencies, the answers to which research could illuminate. Are agencies with stronger enforcement abilities more effective? The recent homicide charges brought against Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosenfeld, who shot Antwan Rose on June 19, provides an interesting case along these lines, especially considering that officers are rarely arrested after a shooting. Could the arrest be attributed to the work of the city’s CPRB?

On the other hand, Rosenfeld was hired despite previous incidents of excessive force at the University of Pittsburgh. Was the CPRB involved in his hiring decision? A study by the Washington Post found that 451 officers of 1,881 officers who were fired from 37 of the nation’s largest police departments were later rehired. What role might oversight agencies play in these decisions?

Civilian oversight agencies help communities have a say in how they are policed, but we need to know more about them and variations in their structure, reach, and effectiveness to enhance law enforcement accountability and reduce police misconduct.

Olugbenga Ajilore, July 19, 2018, , Urban.org, “Are civilian oversight agencies actually holding police accountable?”, https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/are-civilian-oversight-agencies-actually-holding-police-accountable