Broward County Deputies Assaulted a Black Teen. But ‘Accountability’ Is Not Enough.

Video still from footage of a Broward County Sheriff's deputy assaulting a black teenager, April 2019.

Video still from footage of a Broward County Sheriff’s deputy assaulting a black teenager, April 2019. Photo: Screenshot via Broward County Sheriff’s Office

The sheriff’s office in Broward County, Florida, has promised to investigate two of its deputies for assaulting a black 15 year old on Thursday. An 18-second video shows the officials — Christopher Krickovich and Sergeant Greg LaCerra — pepper-spraying the teen in the face, banging his forehead against concrete, and punching him on the side of his head. (The teen’s name has not been disclosed in news reports, but he has been identified on social media as “Lucca.”) Footage of the incident has circulated nationally, prompting outraged responses from celebrities and lawmakers alike. Sheriff Gregory Tony tried to assuage the concerns of local black civic leaders by vowing a “tactful” investigation. “That’s the most electrifying and dangerous situation for a law enforcement administrator to handle,” Tony, the county’s first black sheriff, said on Saturday, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “Any time a white deputy is involved in contact with using force on a black youth, this thing blows up.”

That such a thing might “blow up” is appropriate. Years of activism and reporting have demonstrated the racism with which law enforcement is applied across the United States. In Broward County, its impact on black youth has been a point of special focus. A 2013 initiative led by Robert Runcie, superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, sought to eliminate disparities in the rates at which black students were suspended and arrested for in-school misconduct compared to their white peers. (During the 2011-2012 school year, black students were roughly two-thirds of those suspended, mostly for minor incidents — like using profanity or disrupting class — despite being 40 percent of the student body, according to the American Prospect.) Runcie partnered with local advocates and law enforcement to implement alternatives to suspension and prohibit arrests — 71 percent of which were for misdemeanors — in some cases where they had been allowed before. (Officers were, however, allowed to override some of these prohibitions: “I wanted to make sure deputies always had discretion,” then-Sheriff Scott Israel told the Prospect.)

The effect was almost immediate. By the end of 2013, suspensions had dropped 40 percent and arrests of students had fallen 66 percent. A more humane tint began to color how local law enforcement treated black children for whom youthful mistakes often meant years of condemnation as criminals. But Thursday’s incident proves that progress on one front does not constitute a sea change any more than it precludes regression. After 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last February, criticism of how Broward County Sheriff’s deputies handled the shooting — including their failure to immediately enter the school when gunshots were reported — prompted an emphasis on meeting perceived threats with swift violence, according to the Washington Post. Deputies have since been re-trained on how to subdue subjects in what one sheriff’s union official described to the Post as a “Fight Club atmosphere.” Some participants have suffered injuries in the process, ranging from fractured bones to a detached retina to brain bleeding.

So when dispatchers on Thursday received calls that a group of teenagers had gathered in a McDonald’s parking lot in Tamarac — a popular hangout for local high schoolers — and that some of them were fighting, they applied the kind of immediate and decisive force that many wished they had wielded against Cruz. Among the differences was that such force is used traditionally against black youth with no such justification — as examples ranging from the 2015 police assault on a black girl in Richland County, South Carolina, to the February police beating of a black girl in Chicago illustrate. For these victims, the misapplication of brutal police training was their lot well before Parkland. That the 15 year old on Thursday committed no clear infraction, let alone a crime, highlights the absurdity of continuing to apply it after. In effect, the training changes in Broward County seek to level against men like Cruz a degree of violence that, for many unarmed black children, was already a danger. Such are the wages of a culture that looks to atrocities like Parkland to shape law enforcement policy, but seems unable or unwilling to ensure that officers do not greet innocent people with the same violence.

Accordingly, Krickovich, who wrote the police report about Thursday’s incident, seemed to inflate Thursday’s threat to justify his response. In his telling, he was arresting another teen for trespassing when Lucca bent down to pick up the boy’s cell phone. “While I was dealing with the male on the ground, I observed his phone slide to the right of me and then behind me,” Krickovich wrote, according to the Sun Sentinel. “I observed a teen [Lucca] wearing a red tank top reach down and attempt to grab the male student’s phone.” In the video, another deputy — identified by the Sun Sentinel as LaCerra — is seen shoving Lucca, after which Lucca appears to object verbally. In the report, Krickovich wrote that Lucca “took an aggressive stance” toward LaCerra, “bladed his body and began clenching his fists.” (The video shows no such clear aggression.) LaCerra then pepper-sprayed Lucca in the face and threw him to the ground. Claiming that he feared for his safety, Krickovich “jumped on [Lucca],” grabbed the prone teen by both sides of his head, slammed his forehead against the concrete, and punched him before another deputy helped him apply handcuffs.

Whether the deputies were actually afraid is less knowable — and arguably less telling — than their confidence that claiming they were would exonerate them of wrongdoing. Racism shapes this expectation. Outlandish scenarios arise from police accounts of the dangers that young black men allegedly pose. Officer Darren Wilson equated Michael Brown to a “demon” during his testimony about the 2014 shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, that sparked protests and riots. “[He] had the most intense, aggressive face,” Wilson told a grand jury. “The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon.” If one accepts that Brown was “like a demon,” claims that he barreled toward a police officer through a hail of bullets become palatable. (No criminal charges were filed against Wilson.) If one concedes that Lucca was similarly endowed, assertions that the unarmed teen posed a threat to gun-toting sheriff’s deputies — despite video evidence to the contrary — is plausible enough for Krickovich to gamble on investigators siding with him.

In a sense, Thursday was a predictable outcome of asking an institution whose job is violence to escalate. Lucca and Cruz — or Lucca and anyone who seeks to harm police officers, really — exist on polar ends of most realistic threat spectra, but separating them is of secondary concern to those convinced that safety means reflexively treating more people like the latter. Krickovich banked on this ambiguity. Racism likely helped rationalize his response, despite it transpiring in a community whose administrators, in the past, sought to reduce disparities. Indeed, it is hard to believe that he and LaCerra would have treated a white child the same way they did Lucca. But when an assault like Thursday’s is permissible as long as officers claim they are afraid — and can convince investigators that their response was consistent with what others would have done in their place — then the bigger issue is more fundamental than whether they were white and the victim black. The problem, one of many, is the public and institutional instinct to let the worst set the standard rather than remain outliers. Humane rules of engagement evaporate where every suspect is a demon. And whatever the outcome of the department’s investigation, it is worth asking if that is a reasonable price to pay for feeling safe.

 

Zak Cheney-Rice, NYMag., “Broward County Deputies Assaulted a Black Teen. But ‘Accountability’ Is Not Enough.”, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/04/broward-county-deputy-beats-black-teen.html
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SWAT Team Takes Children after Parents Disagree with Doctor.

DIANNA M. NÁÑEZ | ARIZONA REPUBLIC

Updated 1:12 p.m. EDT Mar. 25, 2019
Police breaking down door to check on child
A Chandler father provided home-security video of Chandler police breaking down the door of a family’s home for a DCS-requested welfare check of a child with a spiking fever, after parents refused to give police permission to enter their home, saying their toddler son was fine.
COURTESY OF CHANDLER FATHER

After police officers busted down the door of a Chandler home to take a toddler with a spiking fever from his parents, advocates and a state legislator are questioning if a new law intended to protect families’ rights is failing.

Officers pointing guns forced their way into the family’s home in the middle of the night last month after the Arizona Department of Child Safety called police for a welfare check on a child with a 100 degree-plus fever and no vaccinations.

The parents had ignored a doctor’s recommendation to take their 2-year-old to the hospital, saying their son’s fever had decreased.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who helped craft legislation requiring DCS to obtain a warrant before removing a child from their parents or guardians in non-emergency circumstances, said she was outraged by the response of police and DCS officials in the case.

“It was not the intent (of the law) that the level of force after obtaining a warrant was to bring in a SWAT team,” Townsend said. “The imagery is horrifying. What has our country become that we can tear down the doorway of a family who has a child with a high fever that disagrees with their doctor?”

DCS officials did not respond to The Arizona Republic’s questions about their policies for child-welfare checks and warrants, or whether their handling of this family’s case was in line with those policies.

Townsend said she wants lawmakers to review warrant procedures that led to police using force, left a family traumatized and placed three children in state custody. The fact that DCS obtained a court-approved warrant shows this wasn’t an emergency that threatened the child’s life or safety so there wasn’t time to file with the court, she said.

Child-welfare workers used to be able to remove children without warrants. But under a law that took effect in July Arizona lawmakers designated limited circumstances for removing a child from their parent without a warrant: DCS must have probable cause to believe a child is at imminent risk of harm and there’s no less-intrusive alternative to removal, or DCS must have probable cause to believe a child is a victim of sexual or physical abuse that can only be evaluated by trained medical personnel.

“What about parents’ rights to decide what’s best for their child?” Townsend said. “Parents felt the child was fine. Next thing we know, the Gestapo is at their door.”

The case has made its way to a juvenile court room and sparked conversation over the balance between parental rights to care for their children versus the power of DCS and doctors.

It could take months of hearings and DCS-mandated instructions before the parents regain custody of their children. Or maybe they never will.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, attended a juvenile hearing to see if the Department of Child Safety violated the rights of a Mesa mother and father when taking custody of their child.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, attended a juvenile hearing to see if the Department of Child Safety violated the rights of a Mesa mother and father … Show more 

DIANNA M. NÁÑEZ

Child-welfare warrants were supposed to protect parental rights

Lawmakers and family-rights’ advocates hoped the new law would reduce the number of children being removed by DCS. Child-welfare lawsuits in Arizona and across the nation, citing the First and Fourteenth amendment, argued for due process and protections against illegal search and seizure.

In 2016, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that removing a child without court approval violates parents’ constitutional rights.

You get your day in court for most crimes, advocates said, why wouldn’t the same apply when removing a child because of accusations of neglect or abuse?

By the time Arizona lawmakers approved a child-welfare warrant law in 2017, critics said it had too many loopholes and wouldn’t reduce unjust removals.

In fact, the total number of child removals has declined since the law took effect, but only slightly, and it’s unclear what role the new law played in the decline.

Despite lawmakers approving the warrant law to require greater transparency and address constitutional rights, DCS says it doesn’t track data for when children have been removed due to emergency situations without a warrant. And total removals include a variety of situations, including when parents voluntarily surrender their child, where the court — not DCS — orders the removal request and when a child is in the juvenile-justice system.

DCS placed 4,649 children into the foster-care system in the six-month period that ended December 2018, according to DCS data. In the six-month period prior to the July law, DCS removed 4,887 children.

That’s down from a high mark of 6,815 in fall 2015, when nearly 19,000 children were in the foster-care system and families and child-welfare advocates began pushing for a warrant law.

Concern over DCS abusing loopholes in the system prompted a second round of legislation in 2018. The restrictions designated “exigent circumstances” when DCS may remove children without a warrant. Removing the child must be so dire that there’s no time to use the electronic system to gain authorization from a judge who’s on call 24/7.

Family advocates calling themselves the Arizona DCS Oversight Group argue what happened to a Chandler family on the night of Feb. 25 is evidence the state is abusing its power and the rights of parents.

“If they can do this to one family they can do it to anyone,” said Lori Ford, a member of the self-appointed public watchdog group. “DCS took their kids and treated these parents like they were criminals.”

A fever, a doctor’s order, a parent’s right to choose medical care for their child

It started with a visit to the doctor for a fever.

On February 25, the mother took her 2-year-old boy to the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine clinic in Tempe, according to Chandler police records.

It was dinner time. But the toddler’s fever had spiked to over 100 degrees.

The doctor asked if the child had his vaccinations.

The mother said no.

Concerned that a lethargic child with a fever and lacking vaccinations could have meningitis, the doctor instructed the mother to take the child to the emergency department at Banner Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa, according to attorneys at a March 7 court hearing following the removal of the children.

The Republic knows the names of the parents and child but it does not typically identify children in the child-welfare system.

The doctor contacted Banner physicians who recommended the child be “taken to the emergency room as soon as possible,” according to police records. The doctor told the mother that meningitis can be life-threatening and said the hospital would contact her when the mother arrived.

After they left the doctor’s office, the child was laughing and playing with his siblings. The mother took the child’s temperature again. It was near normal.

Shortly after 6:30 p.m., the mother called the doctor and told her that her toddler no longer had a fever so she wasn’t taking him to the emergency room.

The mother also said she was worried about getting in trouble with DCS because her child did not have vaccinations.

The doctor said the mother would not get in trouble. The mother again agreed to take her child to the hospital, according to police records.

In Arizona, a parent may decline vaccinations for their child based on personal, religious or medical exemptions.

About three hours later, the hospital contacted the doctor to advise her that the child had not shown up and the mother wasn’t answering her phone, according to police records. The doctor contacted DCS.

A DCS caseworker called Chandler Police and “requested officers to check the welfare of a two year old infant,” according to police records. A caseworker said he was on his way to the house.

Officers with ‘lethal coverage’ kick down door, enter home with DCS worker

Chandler police forced their way into a family's home for a DCS welfare check on a child with a spiking fever

Chandler police forced their way into a family’s home for a DCS welfare check on a child with a spiking fever
COURTESY OF FAMILY

It was about 10:30 p.m. when two police officers knocked on the family’s door. The officers heard someone coughing.

Officer Tyler Cascio wrote in a police report that he knocked on the door several times but no one answered.

A neighbor approached the officers and police explained the situation. The woman said she knew her neighbor and that “she was a good mother.” At the request of officers, the neighbor called the mother and said police wanted to speak with her.

The DCS caseworker arrived and updated police on the toddler’s fever and the mother choosing not to take her child to the hospital. The officer called the family’s doctor, who repeated her recommendation that the mother take the child to the hospital.

Police dispatch told the officers that a man at the home had called requesting that they call him. They called, and the man identified himself as the sick boy’s father.

The officer said they told the father they needed to enter the home for DCS to check on the child. The father refused, explaining that his son’s “fever broke and he was fine,” according to police records.

Officers tried to call the parents again, but no one answered. They told the caseworker the parents refused to open their door.

At about 11:30 p.m., the caseworker informed officers that DCS planned to obtain a “temporary custody notice” from a judge to remove the child for emergency medical aid.

The caseworker “advised they obtained a court order for temporary custody in order to take (redacted) to the hospital.” The order was signed at 12:04 a.m. by Judge Tracy Nadzieja, according to police records.

Cascio wrote that officers consulted with the police criminal investigations bureau and SWAT.

“Based upon the court order, the intent of DCS to serve the order, and exigency to ensure the health and welfare of the child, the decision was made to force entry to the home if the parents refused to respond to verbal requests,” according to police records. Police knocked, saying they had a court order and would force entry if needed, according to police records.

The Republic has requested the police-worn body-camera footage.

It was after 1 a.m. when officers kicked down the family’s door. One officer carried a shield, while another was described as having “lethal coverage.” Officers pointing guns yelled, “Chandler Police Department,” and entered the house.

The father came to the door. Officers placed him in handcuffs and took him and the mother outside. Inside, they found a juvenile who said she was sick and had thrown up in her bed.

Officers said the home was “messy” with clothing piles and concrete floors. In the parent’s room, a shotgun lay next to the bed, according to police records.

The caseworker spoke with two of the children without their parents present. He told officers it was “necessary to obtain a temporary custody order” for the parents’ two other children, according to police records.

Since there was no “criminal incident” and because the mother refused, no photos were taken inside the home, according to the police records.

Neither of the parents was arrested.

Officials took the parents’ three children to Banner Cardon Medical Center.

Inside a Mesa courtroom, the parents fight for their children to be returned

Families attend child-welfare hearings at Maricopa County Juvenile Court in Mesa.

Families attend child-welfare hearings at Maricopa County Juvenile Court in Mesa.
DIANNA M. NÁÑEZ/THE REPUBLIC

At a Mesa juvenile court hearing 10 days later, the parents got their first chance before a judge to fight for their children to be returned.

Each parent had an attorney. The parents had raised a family together but weren’t legally married.

The father’s parents sat on a bench next to a friend of the mother. Ford and Christina Lawler, with Arizona DCS Oversight Group, sat quietly listening and taking notes. Townsend, the state lawmaker, sat near the grandparents. She wanted to see whether the family’s rights had been violated.

A lawyer for the state Attorney General’s Office, representing DCS, asked the judge to close the hearing to the public.

In Arizona, we like our courts to be open, Judge Jennifer Green said. After listening to the lawyer’s reasoning — the attorney said members of the news media were in the courtroom and the family had spoken with the news media about the case, which he said wasn’t in the best interest of the children.

Attorneys for the parents said they hadn’t known of any restrictions on them speaking with media.

Green denied the request to close the hearing, but warned everyone that they could be held in contempt of court if they revealed personally-identifiable information about the children or any others mentioned in the hearing.

Attorneys for the parents said the children hadn’t seen each other since being taken from their parents’ home. The parents had only had one visit with their older children. DCS officials told the parents the toddler couldn’t make that visit because he was at a medical appointment.

The state’s attorney argued that the children shouldn’t be returned to their parents yet because they’d been hostile to DCS workers and weren’t cooperating. He said the parents had attended a DCS visit with members of Arizona DCS Oversight Group who were combative toward DCS workers. He said the grandfather had tried to videotape a meeting with DCS, and recording is not allowed to protect the privacy of the children.

DCS wanted the parents to undergo psychological evaluations.

Attorneys for the parents argued such evaluations were for people who had a history of mental-health issues, which neither parent had. They said the parents weren’t hostile, but they were living a nightmare that started with a child’s fever. They were woken up in the middle of the night, police busted down their door, brandishing guns and their three children were taken from them, attorneys said. The grandfather did what most people would think they had the right to do — record government officials.

The father had agreed to drug testing and the grandparents had agreed to background checks in hopes of becoming temporary caretakers for their grandchildren. Everyone was cooperating, the father’s attorney said.

A court-appointed guardian ad litem, who’s assigned to look after the best interests of the children, said he had one primary concern: Each child was still in a separate foster-care placement. Not only were the children separated from their parents, but this was also the first time they’d been separated from each other.

The judge asked the parties to attend an expedited hearing that afternoon.

After the hearing, in the courthouse hallway, the father held the mother in his arms. She cried and rested her hand on her pregnant belly.

Townsend spoke with the father about the road to getting his kids back.

“Why do they make it so hard?” he said with tears in his eyes. She tried to comfort him.

A lawmaker discusses parental rights

Outside the courthouse, Townsend said she didn’t know the parents personally but was disturbed by the case.

“It was brought to my attention that these parents may have been targeted by the medical community because they hadn’t vaccinated their children,” she said.

Townsend said parents who don’t vaccinate their children because of medical concerns aren’t criminals and shouldn’t be treated as such. She worried physicians were using it as a reason to refer parents to DCS.

“I think if DCS decides to use this as a factor they would be violating a parent’s right to have a personal exemption, a religious exemption and perhaps a medical exemption,” she said.

Townsend said the hearing opened her eyes to issues she will raise with fellow lawmakers. She questioned why the state’s attorney and DCS used the parent’s frustration with DCS to label the family as hostile and argue they weren’t cooperating with DCS.

“It doesn’t say anywhere that after your kids are taken, after police bust down your door, that you have to be nice to DCS to get your kids back,” she said.

A judge decides a family’s future

It was just before 2 p.m. when the parents walked back into the courtroom.

A DCS investigator, a former police officer, took the stand. She said upon visiting the hospital, doctors found the toddler had RSV, a respiratory virus that can cause serious illness in young children. She said the parents weren’t complying with DCS’ request to provide medical records for the children. She said they also weren’t following steps to regain custody of their children.

One of the parent’s attorneys asked the DCS investigator to outline specific steps the parents must follow to get their children back. The caseworker said she couldn’t remember any of them.

Attorneys for the parents claimed DCS was angry at the parents for speaking with the media and as retribution DCS officials were making it more difficult for the family to regain custody of their children. They said the child’s fever had gone down, as evidenced in medical reports.

The judge asked what was delaying placing three children with their grandparents. The state’s attorney said the grandparents still needed a home-safety check.

Green asked if that check could be expedited. The state’s attorney said DCS contracts with a company to conduct safety reviews and has no control over timelines but that it could take up to 30 days.

The guardian ad litem, representing the best interest of the children, told the judge he didn’t see why the children couldn’t be cared for by their grandparents while their parents worked with DCS to regain custody.

The judge said the removal was warranted, citing the mother’s refusal to follow the doctor’s orders. She said records showed the family had a history of domestic violence, noting an incident in which the father punched a wall.

She approved psychological evaluations for both parents, saying it would help identify the best services for the parents. She ordered DCS to complete a safety check of the grandparents’ home within four days. And she ordered the father to continue drug and alcohol testing.

She reminded the grandparents and parents that they were no longer in control of the children’s medical and health decisions. If a doctor orders treatment, the family must follow those directions, she said.

Then, she told the parents to remember that the state had them on a family-reunification plan and wants them to regain custody of their children.

After they left the courtroom, father and mother, both in tears, embraced.

The parents declined an interview with The Republic. They said they were afraid saying anything might upset DCS officials and hurt their efforts to regain custody of their children.

From left to right: Steven Isham, Karla Johnson, Lori Ford, Malinda Sherwyn, and David Watson are members of a group called Arizona DCS Oversight.

From left to right: Steven Isham, Karla Johnson, Lori Ford, Malinda Sherwyn, and David Watson are members of a group called Arizona DCS Oversight.
NICK OZA/THE REPUBLIC

Ford, with the DCS watchdog group, said this is how it goes.

“They (DCS) had no right to bust into this family’s home and take their kids,” she said in the courthouse parking lot. “But now, they (DCS) have control of this family. These children are traumatized, and all over a fever that wasn’t even a fever anymore when they went the hospital—just like the parents had said.”

She was upset with Townsend and other Arizona lawmakers who talk about holding DCS accountable but never do. Meanwhile, children and their families suffer, she said.

“They hold the purse strings, if they wanted to force DCS to make changes that would protect family’s rights they’d stop funding them,” she said.

Townsend hopes this case is an outlier, but the only way to know for sure is to review DCS child-welfare check policies, medical providers’ power over families and the DCS warrant process for removing children.

This case is more than enough reason to be concerned, she said.

“The fact that they got the warrant shows it wasn’t a matter of exigency by definition — it wasn’t something that they were rescuing this child from imminent death,” she said. “The expectation of child welfare is we’re thinking about the children in the family. We’re not talking cartels holding someone who’s been kidnapped, we’re not talking about a drug bust, we’re not talking about a flight risk. We’re not talking about any of that. This was a family with a child who has a fever. … We used a SWAT team on a family with a child with a high fever.”

The parents say they wonder if they’ll be a family again: ‘We love our children’

On March 15, the father told The Republic that DCS had placed their three children with his parents.

“We get to see them again,” he said. “Thank God.”

He still can’t shake the night police kicked down their door and entered his home with guns drawn. He still can’t believe they took all three of their children.

He said he has asked DCS why the caseworker never presented himself and showed a warrant for removal, but he hasn’t received a clear answer.

“I know people have the right not to let the police into their home,” he said. “But if the caseworker had called me or knocked, and shown me their warrant, I would’ve let them in.”

He said home security video showed police had stated they had a DCS warrant for removal, but the family didn’t hear them because they were sleeping in the back bedrooms with their sick children.

The judge’s approval of DCS’ request for psychological evaluations has created another barrier to regaining custody of their children, he said. The wait for an evaluation is months, he said.

The father sent The Republic a statement. His family is scared, he said, but they feel compelled to warn other families:

We have been through a very traumatic experience with our encounter with DCS. We would like other parents out there to know and realize the amount of power DCS has over the welfare of your children. Even though we remain confident in our innocence through our case, it is immediately an uphill struggle of what to do or not to do. Even if you do not agree with them or the process in which they follow. We thought they did not have the right to check on our children because they were getting better, from what they last heard about from us. We were in our home tending to our sick kids and did not want to be bothered in this tough time of illness.  With multiple children it is difficult to keep up their needs while they are ill, and to be bothered in the middle of the night by DCS was not something we were ready to tackle. No matter what we though was right, it turned tragic with the removal of all of our children. The process of removal in our opinion was uncalled for and we would like to see the laws/process change when dealing with expedited removal of children. Our children have sure been through a traumatizing experience and hope they have not been harmed psychologically or emotionally as we are a very happy family who love each other and would do anything for each other. We hope to see a positive outcome for our trial, but worry about what the kids have been though. We would like to see some sort of public service announcement by DCS to inform other parents out there that this could happen to them, because nobody, especially children should have to go through what we are going through. We love our children and are doing everything possible to get them back to us.

Reporter Mary Jo Pitzl contributed to this story.

 

DIANNA M. NÁÑEZ | ARIZONA REPUBLIC, Updated 1:12 p.m. EDT Mar. 25, 2019, “A couple decided not to take their feverish child to the hospital. Hours later police kicked down their door”, https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-child-welfare/2019/03/25/questions-due-process-rise-after-police-break-down-door-check-feverish-toddler/3223829002/

8 Shotgun Wielding Cops Dispatched to Confront College Student Cleaning his Front Yard.

BRLDF: Recently released video shows an intense confrontation initiated by Boulder, Colorado police with an individual cleaning his front yard. Despite the entirely pedestrian nature of this activity, the primary officer believed this to be suspicious enough to warrant an investigation. When the resident naturally became agitated, this officer requested backup, identifying the trash picker pole held by the man as a “blunt object”.  Despite the approximately 20 foot distance between them, this officer wielded a drawn handgun, and rather than retreat (as would seem appropriate if someone believed they were in real physical danger),  repeatedly closed the distance and approached the resident ordering him to “sit down”.

Over the course of the confrontation, which was initiated, provoked and escalated by the Boulder Police, additional Officers arrived, some bearing shotguns, and surrounded the resident. This is an example of “Command and Control” policing, wherein an adversarial dynamic is established between law enforcement & the public. Describing a flimsy maintenance tool as a “blunt object”, repeatedly approaching an agitated individual doing nothing wrong with gun drawn, and ordering him to “sit down”, this cop was establishing legal use of force justification in the event this exchange resulted in violence, or death (to the “suspect”).

This is an example of a police officer abusing his power, more concerned that this totally unjustified investigation did not receive immediate and complete submission. Plainly, this cop felt that his Authority was disrespected, and was determined to show this citizen that he was the boss.

An outrageous violation of the Fourth Amendment, something no American should tolerate, and the exact reason BRLDF was founded.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The city of Boulder should be embarrassed, and unless they’re looking to repeat the Philip Brailsford / Daniel Shaver incident in Mesa, Arizona, this police officer should be removed from active duty as he clearly lacks the maturity to interact with the general public in a sensible manner.

Police in Boulder, Colo., are investigating a March 1 confrontation between officers and a black man picking up trash.

March 7

The Boulder, Colo., police department is conducting an internal investigation after video surfaced of an officer questioning a student who was picking up garbage in front of his residence. The officer has been placed on administrative leave until the investigation is complete.

On March 1, an officer approached the man as he was sitting in an area behind a private property sign and asked him if he had permission to be there, according to a department release. The Daily Camera reported that the man is a student at Naropa University in Boulder, and the building is listed as a school residence. Police have not publicly named the man or the officer.

The man gave the officer his school identification card and said he both worked and lived in the building. However, the officer continued to investigate and called for backup, “indicating that the person was uncooperative and unwilling to put down a blunt object.”

In the 16-minute video, which appears to have been taken by a friend and fellow building resident after the encounter began, the man can be seen holding a bucket and a trash picker.

“You’re on my property with a gun in your hand threatening to shoot me because I’m picking up trash?” the man with the trash picker says.

The man being questioned repeatedly says of the officer, “He’s got a gun!”

“Just relax, man,” the officer responds as sirens are heard and more officers arrive and surround him.

Though a police spokeswoman would not release the number of officers involved, citing the ongoing investigation, at one point the man can be heard saying there are eight officers “with guns drawn.” The video appears to show at least one officer, on the far left, holding a gun before putting it away.

Police chief Greg Testa rebutted these particular claims made in the video at a city council meeting on Tuesday, saying “Body-worn camera video indicates that only one officer had a handgun out and it was pointed in the ground.”

The man who was stopped by police and the person taking the video repeatedly assert to the officers that the man lived there and was only picking up garbage.

An officer can be heard assuring the man, who is agitated by the encounter, that “my plan is not to shoot you.” The encounter continues for several minutes until an officer says “we’ve decided we’re going to end things at this point.”

“Officers ultimately determined that the man had a legal right to be on the property and returned the man’s school identification card,” the Boulder police department release states. “All officers left the area and no further action was taken.”

“We began looking into the incident on Friday, shortly after it occurred, and quickly made the decision that we needed to launch an internal affairs investigation,” Boulder police spokeswoman Shannon Aulabaugh said in an emailed statement.

“Our internal affairs investigation will include a review of all body worn camera video, interviews of everyone involved which includes both officers and community members, reports and all other related information,” she said.

Testa said in a prepared statement before the city council that “this is an extremely concerning issue and one that we are taking very seriously.” Members of the public who attended the hearing carried signs and trash pickers, the Daily Camera reported.

“While it appears that the officers responding to the requests for backup followed standard procedures given the information they heard over the radio, all aspects of this incident, specifically the actions of the initial officer, are being investigated,” he said.

“I am not aware of any information that the man did anything unlawful or wrong,” Testa said.

Charles Lief, president of Naropa University, also spoke at the hearing. “I do not want to underestimate the amount of trauma that was experienced by our student, who was the victim in this situation,” he said. He noted that he spoke to the man’s mother and “she has made clear that her son is not interested in becoming a symbol for any issue that we have to deal with in this city.”

“The incident that impacted him is going to be one that’s going to take him a long time to deal with,” Lief said. “The city can’t wait that long for us to talk about the broader issues that we have to address.”

One of six officers who fired at Willie McCoy had killed unarmed man in 2018

Vallejo officer Ryan McMahon, among officers in shooting at Taco Bell, faces lawsuit in earlier killing

Willie McCoy was shot at a Taco Bell after officers woke him up inside his car.
 Willie McCoy was shot at a Taco Bell after officers woke him up inside his car. Photograph: Courtesy David Harrison

One of the six California police officers who fired a barrage of bullets at Willie McCoy at a Vallejo Taco Bell had previously shot and killed an unarmed man and is the subject of an ongoing excessive force lawsuit. A second officer had been sued by the family of a Vallejo teenager in a police brutality case.

The Vallejo officer Ryan McMahon and five other policemen fired at McCoy, a 20-year-old aspiring rapper, after officers woke him up inside his car at a fast-food drive through earlier this month. McCoy died at the scene.

The McCoy family’s attorney, who recently viewed the young man’s body, said he was hit by what appeared to be roughly 25 shots, including in his face, throat, chest, ear and arms. His loved ones have called the death an “execution by a firing squad” and have accused police of racial profiling.

The department released the names of the six officers on Wednesday night in response to a Bay Area News Group records request. They were Ryan McMahon, Collin Eaton, Bryan Glick, Jordon Patzer, Anthony Romero-Cano and Mark Thompson.

Officer McMahon, who has been on the force for more than seven yearsshot an unarmed black father of two just last year. On 13 February 2018, McMahon stopped Ronnell Foster, 32, who was riding his bike in downtown Vallejo. Foster fled toward an alley, prompting McMahon to chase after him and strike him over the head with a flashlight, according to a federal complaint. McMahon eventually shot Foster several times in the back and the back of his head.

The department claimed McMahon fired the fatal shots after Foster took the officer’s flashlight and raised it in a threatening manner, but an eyewitness disputed that account. The complaint noted there was no evidence that the officer was injured in any way, and when he called in the shooting to dispatch, his only statement was that Foster had fled from him.

It is unclear why McMahon followed or stopped Foster in the first place.

Foster left behind two children, now ages six and 14.

A troubled history

The police department in Vallejo, 30 miles north-east of San Francisco, has a troubled history of excessive force claims and controversial killings. McMahon is not the first officer in the department to be implicated in multiple shootings. One officer killed three men in a five-month period – and was subsequently promoted.

“Over and over and over, we have these cases in Vallejo, and we never have any discipline or re-training,” said Melissa Nold, a civil rights attorney who is representing McCoy’s family. “That is why people keep dying … It’s pretty disturbing.”

Nold’s law firm also represents the relatives of Foster, whose civil lawsuit against McMahon and the city of Vallejo continues.

“It’s rare for any police officer to use deadly force in the course of their career,” said Adante Pointer, an attorney for Foster’s family, noting that it was particularly rare for police to kill multiple people. “It is alarming … that he would be placed in a position where he can harm and kill citizens again while there is still ongoing litigation about the lawfulness of his use of force.”

Despite a continuing stream of deaths, Vallejo officials did not seem interested in trying to reduce the use of deadly force, said Nold: “How are you training officers if they are repeatedly taking lives?” The attorney said McCoy’s body was one of the most disturbing examples of police brutality and gun violence she had ever seen in her career.

Officer Thompson was sued in 2013 by the family of Anton Barrett and his teenage son. Barrett was unarmed when he was was shot by Vallejo police the year before. Thompson was not involved in the shooting, but was accused of directing his police dog to repeatedly “maul” Barrett’s 19-year-old son after the teen was handcuffed, according to the complaint. The officer was also accused of threatening to kill the son and calling him the n-word. The teenager ended up in the the hospital with bites to his face and legs.

The city denied the allegations and the case was eventually settled. Thompson was never criminally charged.

Vallejo police did not respond to a request for comment, and McMahon and Thompson could not immediately be reached.

‘We are being slaughtered in the streets’

The 9 February killing of McCoy has sparked national outrage, and a witness video, filmed from a distance, revealed that after the group of officers riddled him with lethal shots, they shouted a series of commands at him.

Police have alleged that McCoy had a handgun in his lap and had “moved his hands downward” when he was wakened. The department has not released body-camera footage.

Taco Bell had called 911 to report a man who appeared to be unconscious.

David Harrison, one of McCoy’s cousins who helped raise him, said Thursday he was not surprised to hear that one of the officers who shot his loved one had previously killed a man.

“It’s not shocking to me, because these guys are trained to do that,” Harrison, 48, told the Guardian. “We are just helpless. We are like sheep being led off to slaughter, and we are being slaughtered in the streets.”

Harrison said he wished McMahon had faced accountability after the first killing, but noted that his cousin would probably still be dead, given the involvement of five other officers.

“It’s a bigger problem than just that one officer,” he said. “This has just been going on for so long … It’s not just Willie. I want people to know that this could also be your child.”

 

Sam Levin, “One of six officers who fired at Willie McCoy had killed unarmed man in 2018”, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/feb/21/willie-mccoy-police-shooting-taco-bell

More Police Misconduct in Delaware

by Delaware Dem, 

A video of a Delaware trooper pulling a gun on a man named Mack Buckley during a traffic stop was recently posted on social media. This is the second arrest video to surface in a week questioning police tactics. The first video concerns two New Castle County Police repeatedly punching a boy who was being arrested during a marijuana investigation. The videos, provided via the News Journal, are embedded below:

https://uw-media.delawareonline.com/embed/video/2921056002?placement=snow-embed
https://uw-media.delawareonline.com/embed/video/2901635002?placement=snow-embed

Erica Marshall, Manager of the Delaware Campaign for Smart Justice, had this response to the beating video: “The ACLU of Delaware and the Delaware Campaign for Smart Justice commend the Attorney General for opening an investigation into the beating of Roger Brown by New Castle County law enforcement officers.

We urge the New Castle County Police Department to suspend the officer involved in the attack pending the thorough and complete investigation by the AG’s office. We await the result of the investigation, but it is difficult to imagine circumstances that justify multiple officers pinning down a 16-year-old boy and punching him repeatedly in the face.

This incident also highlights the urgent need for more accountability and transparency on the part of law enforcement in Delaware. Police agencies across the state have a frayed relationship with many of the people they police. Repairing that relationship is essential to making our communities safe and just, and it will require holding officers accountable when they do wrong. Improving trust between officers and the people they serve also means providing enough transparency to judge whether such accountability exists.

Finally, we applaud Roger’s friend Jaiden for continuing to record this situation despite attempts by officers to get him to leave the scene. Recording the police is a First Amendment right.”

I haven’t any ACLU statement concerning the Mack Buckley video yet, but will update this post if one is released. The Delaware Attorney General’s Office said it will review the arrest of a 16-year-old boy by New Castle County police. AG Kathy Jennings said the AG’s Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust has initiated an investigation in the incident.

 

Delaware Dem, “More Police Misconduct in Delaware”, https://bluedelaware.com/2019/02/20/more-police-misconduct-in-delaware/

Federal trial underway in Boston on Springfield police brutality lawsuit

Springfield Police K-9 Officer Daniel McKay is shown here with his K-9 partner Chase in a 2015 promotional photo. McKay is among the defendants in a civil lawsuit alleging excessive force. (Submitted photo)
Springfield Police K-9 Officer Daniel McKay is shown here with his K-9 partner Chase in a 2015 promotional photo. McKay is among the defendants in a civil lawsuit alleging excessive force. (Submitted photo)
By Buffy Spencer

BOSTON — Opening statements were held Tuesday in U.S. District Court here in a lawsuit alleging police brutality filed against three Springfield police officers and the city of Springfield.

Lee Hutchins of Springfield sued officers Daniel J. McKay, Felix Romero and Thomas Hervieux, alleging the three used excessive force against him on Jan. 20, 2013.

Hutchins claimed police pepper-sprayed his eyes and beat him with batons while he was trying to defuse a domestic melee.

The disturbance involved Hutchins’ two adult sons, Lee Jr. and Keith Hutchins, who were living at his home, according to the complaint. Just after midnight, the mother of Lee Hutchins Jr.’s 2-year-old arrived at the house, demanding to take the child back, the court record states.

“During the ensuing altercation, Hutchins attempted to assist the police in taking his two sons in custody in the hopes this would de-escalate the situation,” the complaint said.

McKay pepper-sprayed Hutchins in the face, according to the complaint. The use of pepper spray on Hutchins was “unjustified” and caused him pain and temporary blindness, said his lawyer, Luke Ryan.

The complaint added that Hervieux unnecessarily thumped Hutchins with a police baton.

“Despite the fact that plaintiff was suffering the effects of the pepper spray and posed no threat to any of the officers, defendant Hervieux struck plaintiff twice with his baton, knocking plaintiff to the ground,” it states.

Hutchins alleges McKay drafted a police report which resulted in charges against him for disorderly conduct, assault and battery on a police officer and resisting arrest. The suit says McKay falsified the allegations.

According to the suit, Hutchins was acquitted of all charges after a Springfield District Court trial.

Other allegations in the suit are: unlawful entry, false arrest, failure to discipline and train officers, assault and battery (against McKay and Hervieux), false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and abuse of process.

Hutchins is seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages, interest and costs of the suit, attorneys’ fees and any other relief the court deems “just and proper.”

Springfield man brings $500K excessive force lawsuit against police for alleged pepper spraying, baton beating

Springfield man brings $500K excessive force lawsuit against police for alleged pepper spraying, baton beating

Lee Hutchins Sr. of Daytona Street in Springfield has said police pepper-sprayed and hit him with a baton while he was trying to break up a fight between officers and his sons that arose from a domestic dispute in 2013. Hutchins has filed a lawsuit in federal court.

In an answer to the complaint filed in court records on behalf of the three officers, lawyer Kevin B. Coyle said the defendants denied the excessive force and other allegations. Coyle said the court lacks jurisdiction, the officers are entitled to immunity to the claims, and the complaint was filed late.

, 2019, masslive.com, “Federal trial underway in Boston on Springfield police brutality lawsuit”, https://www.masslive.com/springfield/2019/01/federal-trial-underway-in-boston-on-springfield-police-brutality-lawsuit.html

Trial for Rochester police officer charged in brutality case to be held in March

Howard Thompson, Posted: Jan 15, 2019 01:42 PM ES

ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) – The case against a Rochester police officer facing an assault charge in a reported case of police brutality will head to trial, a judge ruled on Tuesday.

A judge denied a motion Tuesday to dismiss charges against Officer Michael Sippel, who is accused of assault in the third degree in the attack of Christopher Pate.

The trial for Sippel is now set to start on March 25.

Pate says he was beat up by Officer Sippel and another Rochester officer after being mistaken for a wanted man during a traffic stop on Fulton Avenue last May. The police department said last year that, even after Pate provided documents to prove his identity, Sippel and the other officer persisted with the arrest, during which Pate was beaten and tased.

As a result of the incident, Pate suffered fractures to his jaw and skull.

Pate was initially charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. However, charges were later dropped by the district attorney’s office.

After the body camera footage of the incident was reviewed, the police department suspended both officers without pay. However, a grand jury only brought charges against Officer Sippel.

The brutality case became an impetus behind the push for a new police accountability board, which is now being considered by city leaders.

Howard Thompson, Jan 15, 2019, Rochesterfirst.com, “Trial for Rochester police officer charged in brutality case to be held in March”, https://www.rochesterfirst.com/news/local-news/trial-for-rochester-police-officer-charged-in-brutality-case-to-be-held-in-march/1703250995

Pomona agrees to $700,000 settlement to resolve lawsuit over police beating

It will be the third settlement the city has paid in recent years to resolve police misconduct cases

 

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

The city of Pomona has reached a settlement agreement to pay three brothers $700,000 to resolve a federal civil rights lawsuit that claimed Pomona police officers violently and unlawfully arrested them in 2015.

When it receives final approval, it will be the third settlement the city has paid in the past several years in cases in which Pomona police officers were accused of misconduct, the most memorable, a $500,000 settlement paid to Christian Aguilar, a teenager who was beaten and arrested at the Los Angeles County Fair in 2015.

In the lawsuit at the center of the agreement reached Wednesday, Jan. 9, Jesus, Victor and Jose Pelayo detailed an assault at the hands of four police officers that left Jose Pelayo hospitalized with head injuries.

The brothers recalled watching as an officer struck Jose on the head with a flashlight. While Jose lay unconscious on the ground, other officers continued to beat him, the lawsuit said.

“The settlement reached before trial was a successful resolution for my clients, victims of police brutality, who were attacked and arrested in front of their homes while getting ready to go to work, and then were false accused of crimes they never committed,” said Narine Mkrtchyan, a Pasadena civil rights attorney who represented the brothers.

City officials declined to discuss why they agreed to the settlement.

“While an agreement in principle has been reached, it has not been formally signed nor executed,” Deputy City Manager Mark Gluba said in a statement. “As such, the City views this matter as ongoing litigation and will not comment further at this time.”

Mkrtchyan said Wednesday’s settlement was, in part, the city’s attempt to limit further exposure.

“If we proved our case to the jury, which I am confident we would, the city could have faced a lot more in judgment and attorneys’ fees,” she said.

Members of the defense team, which included attorneys from three different Southern California area firms, did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls seeking comment.

The four officers have denied any wrongdoing or civil rights violations.

In court documents, they said there was “probable cause and/or reasonable suspicion” to detain the brothers. To address allegations of assault and injury, the officers said they used force “in self-defense and/or in defense of others,” and were responding to the brothers, who had refused to obey orders and were resisting arrest.

Before the settlement was reached, the judge who oversaw the case said there was not enough evidence to place responsibility on the city or then-Police Chief Paul Capraro, who retired in Dec. 2017.

If the case had moved forward to a jury trial, only the four police officers would have been tried, court records said. The city would have not been tried as an entity. Though if the officers were found guilty, the city would still have had to pay.

When the settlement is final, all claims of wrongdoing will be dismissed.

In a summary judgment, Federal District Court Judge Philip S. Gutierrez outlined the facts of the 2015 arrest based on testimony and evidence from both the brothers and officers.

At about 3 a.m. Oct. 6, 2015,  Jesus and Victor Pelayo were sitting inside their car outside their Pomona apartment, waiting for Jose Pelayo, who was using the bathroom and looking for his work boots. They had a 4 a.m. shift at a Mira Loma furniture warehouse.

Officers Frank Sacca and Austin Dossey, who were on a foot patrol, had been watching the brothers. After two minutes, the officers approached the car with guns drawn. Without identifying themselves as police officers, Dossey shined his flashlight into the car, in the faces of Jesus and Victor, according to the judgment.

Dossey noticed Jesus Pelayo’s Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap, which Dossey said was commonly worn by gang members in the area.

This detail was a key part of Dossey’s defense. He also told the court that the area was a “high crime/gang area.”

Several residents from the area testified that they had never been victims of any crimes, one of them telling the court that the area was “always quiet.”

Jesus Pelayo testified that he was not aware of any connection between his baseball cap and gangs in the area.

“Whether a reasonable officer would believe that Jesus’s Pittsburgh Pirates hat signified gang membership is also a disputed factual question that must be determined at trial,” Gutierrez wrote in the summary judgment.

Confused and agitated by the bright light from Dossey’s flashlight, Jesus Pelayo walked out of the car, yelling “Get that [expletive] light out of my face!” The officers ordered both men to the ground, dragging Victor Pelayo out of the car.

Jose Pelayo, who was leaving his apartment, noticed the unfolding incident. He walked toward the officers asking, “What’s going on?” with his arms extended to his sides.

“Get down to the ground!” one of the officers yelled. Jose Pelayo claimed he did not know the man was a police officer and kept walking forward.

Dossey ran over to Jose Pelayo, hitting him twice in the head with a flashlight, the brothers recalled. Officers Prince Hutchinson and Timothy Dorn, who also were on foot patrol, ran over to Jose and continued to “use force” against Jose as he lay unconscious on the ground, according to court records.

The three brothers were arrested with no explanation.

In their police report, the officers wrote that Jose Pelayo had punched Dossey in the stomach. The brothers claimed this was false. Based on the police report, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filed misdemeanor charges for resisting arrest and battery on a peace officer.

The brothers did not have a prior criminal record, Mkrtchyan said.

In July 2017, the DA asked the court to dismiss the case after learning that Dossey had been fired and was the subject of an FBI investigation, the lawsuit said.

Why Dossey was fired was not known, but court records show he had been a defendant in five other lawsuits accusing him of misconduct and civil rights violations during arrests. One of the cases stemmed from his time as a Rialto police officer.

In September 2018, another lawsuit was filed against Dossey and Pomona and remains ongoing. An additional lawsuit against Dossey was settled by the city in November 2018 for an undisclosed amount.

Dossey, along with Dorn and Hutchinson, were also tied to the highly publicized arrest of 16-year-old Christian Aguilar at the fair. That took place one month before the arrest of the Pelayo brothers.

A bystander captured the county fair incident on a video that showed several Pomona police officers strike and tackle Aguilar.

I 2016, Aguilar and his father, Ignacio Aguilar — who was arrested under suspicion of public intoxication — filed a civil rights lawsuit against Pomona, its police department, and several officers, including Dossey, Dorn and Hutchinson.

The lawsuit accused Dossey and Dorn of unlawfully arresting Ignacio Aguilar and trying to cover it up with false police reports.

Hutchinson was accused of violating the Christian Aguilar’s civil rights for arresting the teen and later trying to cover it up by also writing a false police report and giving false testimony in court. In 2017, the city agreed to pay Christian and Ignacio Aguilar $500,000 in a settlement.

A few months later, federal prosecutors indicted three Pomona police officers in a new criminal case related to the 2015 county fair arrest. Hutchinson was among the three. He currently faces falsified records and obstruction of justice charges and is set to be retried Monday, Jan. 15, after a mistrial last fall.

On Oct. 4, 2017, Mkrtchyan filed the civil rights lawsuit against the city, the police chief, and the four officers, on behalf of the Pelayo brothers.

Hutchinson has been on paid leave since he was indicted in 2017.  Dorn and Sacca are still active employees of the police department.

Aggressive cops are ‘out of control’ in this N.J. city, insiders say, costing taxpayers millions

Between 2007 and 2014, the Atlantic City department faced 570 excessive force complaints. Only two — or about 0.35 percent — were sustained by department investigators.
Between 2007 and 2014, the Atlantic City department faced 570 excessive force complaints. Only two — or about 0.35 percent — were sustained by department investigators.

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.

In the early hours of Feb. 28, 2012, Julius Adams left the Trump Plaza Casino and started down the Boardwalk Hall tunnel in Atlantic City. After a night of gambling and drinking, it was time to go home.

A few blocks away from the casino, he found himself surrounded by a group of Atlantic City police officers.

Adams claims in a federal lawsuit he was detained, beaten and held at gunpoint by the officers. While he was handcuffed, he alleges, officers sicced two police dogs on him.

As Adams bled profusely and begged for medical treatment, one officer allegedly said, “Let that n—– bleed out.”

Adams claims the attack, which left him “incapacitated” for a month and with permanent injuries, was payback for an internal affairs complaint he filed a year earlier against an officer. He filed another complaint after the 2012 incident, but the department said his claim of excessive force was unfounded. Adams eventually pleaded guilty to inflicting harm on a law enforcement animal.

The incident, which will be at the center of a civil trial set for January, came as Atlantic City’s use-of-force rate was soaring above every department in the state.

Atlantic City police officers used painful holds, punches, kicks and other types of force to subdue suspects 2,854 times from 2012 through 2016, according to The Force Report, a 16-month investigation by NJ Advance Media for NJ.com. The investigation found New Jersey’s system for tracking police force is broken, with no statewide collection or analysis of data, little oversight by state officials and no standard practices among local departments.

The news organization collected 72,677 use-of-force reports covering every municipal police department and the State Police. The results, available at NJ.com/force, revealed police across the state used force in about 3 percent of all arrests. Officers in Atlantic City, where 40 percent of residents live in poverty amid the 30 million visitors to its casinos and beaches every year, used force in 11 percent of arrests.

The department’s total number of uses of force dropped significantly in 2014 to 529, when a report from the state Attorney General’s Office found a small number of officers accounted for an unusually high number of incidents. The report was initiated by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office after several high-profile incidents of force, including a K-9 attack on a young man.

An NJ Advance Media review of lawsuits, court documents and depositions of police officials, as well as interviews with a half-dozen current and former officers, points to a department that often seemed indifferent to officers with violent tendencies, leaving them on the street without repercussions. Many were promoted or appointed to prestigious roles.

“The message (police officers) weren’t getting is whether anyone cared,” said Jennifer Bonjean, an attorney who has represented clients in four excessive force lawsuits against Atlantic City. “They certainly knew they were beating the f— out of people.”

When the trove of public records is reviewed alongside data in The Force Report, a series of numbers reveals how much more inclined officers in Atlantic City are to use force. Among the findings:

  • About 11 percent of officers used force 21 or more times, more than five times the statewide average. Only 252 officers in the entire state used that much force. So Atlantic City, with about 1.4 percent of all New Jersey officers on its force, accounted for 14 percent of the officers statewide using force the most.
  • One Atlantic City officer, Scott Sendrick, reported using force 62 times in five years, the most in the state during that period among 17,369 officers who appear in The Force Report.
  • Between 2007 and 2014, the department faced 570 excessive force complaints. Only two — or about 0.35 percent — were sustained by department investigators. The average number of cases found to have merit for departments the size of Atlantic City is 12 percent, according to U.S. Justice Department data.
  • Atlantic City officers have been named in at least 24 excessive force lawsuits over the past decade, costing taxpayers nearly $6.5 million. And one officer named in excessive force lawsuits that resulted in $4.5 million in settlements never had an excessive force complaint against him sustained and never was disciplined until he was arrested by federal authorities in October.

How did these numbers climb so high? Why did no one do anything to bring officers back in line? Who was keeping track?

The only insight into what top authorities were thinking is found in depositions filed when the department was sued.

The police chief declined to comment for this story. So did police union president Matt Rogers. The city’s mayor did not return messages seeking comment. Neither did city council president Marty Small. No one in a position of authority within the department or city would comment on these findings.

A city like no other

Atlantic City is a town of dreams and of destitution. Walk a block or two from the gleaming, sky-high casinos lining the shoreline and you find a city wracked with poverty.

In a state where about 10.7 percent of residents live below the poverty line, 40.6 percent of Atlantic City residents do the same, according to the Census Bureau.

The poverty level, which has climbed in recent years, coincides with an economic collapse in the city. In 2006, gross gaming revenues in the city’s casino declined “significantly,” according to a 2018 report conducted by special counsel Jim Johnson on behalf of Gov. Phil Murphy.

The city’s taxable base, propped up mostly by casinos, plummeted from $20.6 billion in 2010 to $7.3 billion in 2015. The city narrowly avoided going bankrupt in 2015 by relying on a significant increase in state aid and deferring payment to the state’s pension and health benefit plans, according to the Johnson report.

By 2016, then-Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill to place crumbling cities under state supervision until they are stabilized.

Today, Atlantic City finds itself in an increasingly complex situation. How does the city help residents while also revving up the casino industry, its economic engine?

While politicians see promise with two recent casino openings and Stockton University’s new campus, a walk down Atlantic City’s ravaged business district and through its hidden neighborhoods shows much of the city still waiting for a rebirth.

Add in millions of tourists a year who can make or lose a fortune at any minute of the day and you’ve got a combination of factors that makes Atlantic City like no other town in New Jersey, and few in the United States.

“Policing in Atlantic City is unlike any other city,” said a confidential report prepared by the attorney general’s Office of Law Enforcement Professional Standards. “In addition to the concerns of most urban police departments – poverty, drugs, prostitution, property crime, and violence – the Atlantic City Police Department is also required to service the needs of a tourist population that eclipses the city’s total population.”

While that 2014 report on the department’s force rate explained the challenges facing officers in Atlantic City, it didn’t say whether the patterns it studied were inappropriate. That was up to the department to decide.

Change in tactics

The “watershed moment” for the Atlantic City police department came after a 2013 K-9 attack and the ensuing excessive force lawsuit the city settled for $3 million, said former Sgt. Steve Cupani, who retired in 2014.

The settlement pressured officers to scale back aggressive tactics, Cupani said. It also played a role in the attorney general’s office analyzing the department’s use of force.

The year of that attack, Atlantic City officers were on track to use force more than any other in the five years for which NJ Advance Media collected data. The number of incidents where police reported using force on suspects peaked at 825, declining steadily to 318 in 2016.

But during that time, the number of arrests the department reported to the FBI also dropped 55 percent. While the overall number of uses of force plummeted, the rate at which officers used it didn’t change much. In 2013, officers reported using force 825 times and used it in about 13.6 percent of all arrests. In 2016, overall uses of force fell to 316, but because of the drop in arrests, officers still used force in 11.1 percent of all arrests.

Even at its lowest, Atlantic City officers were still using force at a rate three times the state average. The department used force at the second-highest rate of any municipal police department in the state, behind only Maplewood.

The department’s use-of-force rate doesn’t tell the full story, but it’s a starting point, said Matthew J. Hickman, an associate professor and chair of Seattle University’s Criminal Justice Department. He described the resort town’s numbers as striking.

“These figures are useful and meaningful,” he said. “The shining light at the end of the tunnel is that it will push police agencies and the state to start collecting better data.”

Police officials credited the decline in force incidents to a “revamped” internal affairs unit and the use of body cameras, two changes that occurred when Henry White became the department’s chief in 2013, according to a deposition. White had been deputy chief for eight years.

“The things that I have put together for the entire department has protected our citizens of Atlantic City from rogue (officers) and misconduct from the Atlantic City police department,” White said in the 2016 deposition.

One change was a functioning electronic early warning system. Though New Jersey doesn’t require police departments to have a system to track use-of-force trends, a national accreditation process does.

The department in 2010 and 2012 revised its internal affairs policy during the accreditation process to say it used an electronic early warning system, but it didn’t implement it until 2015. The now-up-and-running system has a “process in place that involves the officer, his chain of command, our internal affairs, professional standards, to address and to look at trends,” White said in his deposition.

Though the department failed to swiftly implement the electronic system, White said in his deposition, it previously used a manual early warning system, filling out index cards and placing them in a file. Yet multiple officers said under oath they weren’t notified when they triggered a system meant to alert bosses to potential problems. Not until years later did they learn they were flagged — repeatedly.

Officer Michael Oldroyd used force 50 times from 2012 to 2016. But he wasn’t told about his high rate until February 2014, he said in a deposition. His command staff told him they did not give credence to internal affairs complaints against him and to continue policing how he was. Oldroyd tallied 91 internal affairs complaints — 46 of which were for excessive force — in a 14-year stretch on the job.

White said in the 2016 deposition he didn’t “focus in on individual officers,” instead focusing on the department as a whole in an effort to “get the trust back from the community.”

That approach is “completely incorrect as management practice,” said Jon Shane, a retired Newark police captain who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and was previously hired by a plaintiff in an excessive force lawsuit to analyze Atlantic City’s internal affairs unit.

Deeply embedded troubles

Atlantic City’s problems aren’t new.

An NJ Advance Media review of court files and other public records found officers over the past two decades have been criminally accused of assault, stealing from suspects and in one case dognapping a puppy.

Because of a protect-the-shield mentality, the department gets “away with abuse of power, misconduct, domestic violence, failure on drug test and everything else,” a police officer wrote to Attorney General Gurbir Grewal earlier this year. NJ Advance Media obtained a copy of the letter from a community activist.

“It’s out of control,” the officer wrote.

Richard Rivera, a former West New York officer and police expert who was hired by the plaintiff in an excessive force lawsuit to review Atlantic City’s police practices, said a good internal affairs unit serves as the “eyes and ears” of a department, identifying officers with performance troubles before they bubble over into excessive force complaints and lawsuits.

For years, Rivera said, Atlantic City’s internal investigators purposefully ignored problems, finding merit in less than 0.5 percent of excessive force complaints.

In one lawsuit, Rivera examined 83 internal affairs files of Sgt. Frank Timek and officer Sterling Wheaten, and determined investigators had “crafted their investigation and findings” to be more favorable to officers.

Timek, a nearly 20-year veteran, accumulated 63 internal affairs complaints — 43 of them for excessive force — between May 2001 and August 2014, as well as being named in 11 excessive force lawsuits, according to court documents. During this time period, he became a K-9 handler and then was promoted to sergeant, just three months after he allegedly sicced his dog on Julius Adams.

Wheaten, who accumulated 33 internal affairs complaints — 23 of which were for excessive force or assault — in the first seven years of his career, never had a complaint sustained by internal affairs investigators. Excessive force lawsuits naming him have cost taxpayers $4.5 million, yet he was never disciplined by the police department until federal authorities arrested him in October for his role in the 2013 K-9 attack that left a Linwood man with 200 stitches. (Atlantic City and the officers involved in those lawsuits never admitted wrongdoing.)

“If somebody goes to prison, whether state prison or federal prison, they are going to have Internal Affairs to thank for that for not correcting these things earlier,” Shane said.

After being indicted for his role in the attack, Wheaten is now suspended without pay.

“The culture created by Atlantic City’s insufficient policies, procedures, and customs actively endangered the community,” Rivera wrote in his analysis of an excessive force lawsuit that ended in a $225,000 settlement. “Officers Timek and Wheaten believed they could assault citizens with impunity as a result.”

Rivera found internal affairs investigators frequently failed to follow attorney general guidelines. In 21 cases of excessive force complaints naming Wheaten, he was never interviewed by internal investigators.

“Internal affairs only answers to the police chief,” Rivera said recently. “So at the end of that process, whatever the investigation is, how flawed those investigations are, how defective they are and how those investigators are not doing their job, they are directly answerable to the police chief. It is a lack of leadership.”

During a 2016 deposition, White said that the internal affairs numbers “didn’t look good.” Still, he said, he had not investigated why so few cases were substantiated and acknowledged the low sustain rate may have led the public to believe the police department was not taking internal affairs complaints seriously.

Multiple police experts and attorneys said one reason for Atlantic City’s dramatic drop in excessive force complaints could be attributed to the 0.35 percent sustain rate from 2007 to 2014. Residents don’t want to file complaints if they don’t think they’ll be taken seriously, they said.

In a lawsuit filed in October against White and the police department, former deputy chief William Mazur alleges he was not put in charge of the internal affairs unit because White wanted to be able to “continue to influence the decision-making of the internal affairs division to protect his friends, and political allies on the police force.”

“It is not an internal affairs that is searching for truth,” said one officer, who requested anonymity because the department policy forbids officers from speaking publicly. “It is an internal affairs that is trying protect a class of dirty officers within the system.”

Joe Atmonavage, , 2018, nj.com, “Aggressive cops are ‘out of control’ in this N.J. city, insiders say, costing taxpayers millions“, https://www.nj.com/news/2018/12/this-police-force-is-one-of-the-most-aggressive-in-nj-its-out-of-control-cop-says.html

Jury awards Syracuse man $1.5 million: Cops used excessive force in bloody arrest

A jury awarded 57-year-old Alonzo Grant and his family more than $1.5 million over a bloody arrest by Syracuse cops in 2014. (Provided Photo)

A jury awarded 57-year-old Alonzo Grant and his family more than $1.5 million over a bloody arrest by Syracuse cops in 2014. (Provided Photo)

UTICA, N.Y. — The jury in a Syracuse police brutality trial has sided with a man beaten in a bloody arrest, awarding him and his family more than $1.5 million.

Alonzo Grant, 57, sued the city of Syracuse and police officers Damon Lockett and Paul Montalto alleging they used excessive force and falsely arrested him in June 2014.

After a two-week trial and about two days of deliberations a jury of six people sided with Grant on nearly all of his claims, according to Grant’s attorney Charles Bonner.

The jury found Lockett and Montalto used excessive force, falsely arrest Grant, and assaulted him during the arrest.

A jury found that officers Damon Lockett (left) and Paul Montalto (right) used excessive force and falsely arrested Alonzo Grant in 2014.

A jury found that officers Damon Lockett (left) and Paul Montalto (right) used excessive force and falsely arrested Alonzo Grant in 2014.

Grant’s attorneys attempted to prove a pattern of excessive force and a lack of discipline as part of their case. The jury declined to hold the city liable for those claims.

The jury awarded Grant $1,130,000. It awarded his wife Stephanie $450,000.

“This is a huge day for the Constitution,” Bonner said. “It’s good for the people, in Syracuse and across the U.S.”

Asked how the Grants were feeling, Bonner said Alonzo was vindicated once again. He noted District Attorney William Fitzpatrick cleared Grant of the disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges lodged by Lockett and Montalto.

“As DA Fitzpatrick said, Alonzo did nothing wrong,” Bonner said. “The jury found the same: He did nothing wrong.”

Over the telephone, Alonzo could be heard saying he felt great.

“Beautiful,” he said in the background of the call.

Grant was arrested on June 28, 2014 after he called 911 for help with a family dispute. He wanted his daughter, who was pregnant and yelling outside, to leave his house.

When police arrived, Grant’s daughter was gone, but the officers continued to investigate.

They claimed Grant was “highly agitated” and punched a screen door, giving them probable cause to make an arrest. The officers argued they were justified in their actions, including using force such as punches and knee strikes.

When an officer tried to grab Grant, a physical altercation ensued, leaving Grant with multiple injuries, including a broken nose and a busted lip. He spent the night in jail and appeared before a judge the next day.

Grant had never been arrested or charged with a crime prior to the June arrest.

DA William Fitzpatrick and Syracuse police chief Frank Fowler both testified as part of the two-week trial before U.S. District Court Judge David Hurd.

Bonner said he and the rest of Grant’s legal team will hold a press conference Wednesday at 1 p.m. in front of City Hall.

In a emailed statement about two hours after the verdict, the city’s top lawyer said she was disappointed in the jury’s decision.

“We continue to believe our officers acted properly in what was a very difficult situation,” Corporation Counsel Kristen Smith said in the written statement. “We’re going to review the verdict and consider our options for appeal.”

Jeff Piedmonte, the head of the Syracuse police union who was present for several days of the trial, said he believes jurors was prejudiced by evidence the judge allowed them to hear regarding the Citizen Review Board.

The CRB investigates allegations of police misconduct, and found the officers in this case used excessive force and lied in their police reports. The jury heard about multiple CRB cases, almost all of which did not involve these officers.

“It just isn’t appropriate that a court is allowing CRB findings to be used against the officers that have nothing to do with them,” Piedmonte said.

The Syracuse Police Benevolent Association president said he’d heard from other officers who wondered what the verdict meant for them.

“It makes people nervous to go out and do their job,” Piedmonte said. He said he had spoken with Montalto and Lockett, and both were very upset about the verdict.

“They both know they didn’t do anything wrong,” Piedmonte said.

 

Julie McMahon, “Jury awards Syracuse man $1.5 million: Cops used excessive force in bloody arrest”, https://www.syracuse.com/crime/2018/10/jury_awards_syracuse_man_15_million_finds_cops_beat_him_in_violent_arrest.html