Chicago cop who fatally shot 2 in 2015 under investigation for bar fight

Dan Hinkel, Chicago Tribune, January 5, 2018

Chicago police are investigating allegations that the officer who fatally shot two people in an on-duty incident in 2015 got into an early morning bar fight last month, a department spokesman confirmed Friday.

Officer Robert Rialmo is alleged to have hit two men in the face with a closed fist about 2:45 a.m. on Dec. 17 at Moretti’s Ristorante & Pizzeria, a sprawling restaurant and bar in the Edison Park neighborhood on the far Northwest Side, according to department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi as well as a police report. One victim suffered bruises, the report said.

By the time police arrived, Rialmo was gone, Guglielmi said.

Days after the alleged incident, department officials stripped Rialmo of his police powers, Guglielmi said. He had already been on paid desk duty because of the investigation into the fatal shooting of Quintonio LeGrier, 19, who was clutching a baseball bat, and Bettie Jones, 55, an innocent bystander, the day after Christmas in 2015.

Rialmo had not been arrested or charged in the alleged bar fight as of Friday evening.

Meanwhile, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which investigates police misconduct allegations, is looking into whether Rialmo might have violated department policy, according to agency records.

The disciplinary agency recently presented evidence in the case to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office before referring the matter to the Police Department, which began an investigation less than a week ago, Guglielmi said.

Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office, declined to comment.

Rialmo’s attorney, Joel Brodsky, called the off-duty incident a “shoving match,” saying two men tried to take Rialmo’s coat at closing time.

A “fair investigation” should result in no charges, Brodsky said in a written statement.

“Nobody requested medical attention, there were no injuries, the men refused to cooperate with the police, and no charges were brought,” Brodsky wrote. “Without complaining witnesses, there is no reason for any criminal investigation.”

Rialmo, a five-year department veteran, could not be reached for comment.

The alleged bar fight came five days before disciplinary authorities ruled that Rialmo unjustifiably shot LeGrier and Jones while responding to a domestic disturbance on the West Side. After LeGrier came at officers with an aluminum baseball bat in his hand, Rialmo shot the teen and accidentally hit Jones, a neighbor standing nearby.

But COPA cast doubt on Rialmo’s account of those events and determined that the evidence indicated that LeGrier did not swing the bat at the officer, as Rialmo said. Investigators also concluded that LeGrier likely was further away from from Rialmo when he opened fire than the officer has said.

COPA has recommended that Rialmo be fired for the shooting, and Superintendent Eddie Johnson has about three months to decide what, if any, discipline he might seek from the Chicago Police Board.

Brodsky has said the facts support his client’s statements that he fired in fear for his life because LeGrier could have hit him with the bat, whether or not he swung it. The COPA ruling was politically motivated, Brodsky contends.

Rialmo’s union, the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, has also decried the ruling and instructed its attorneys to explore a legal challenge, according to a statement.

Union President Kevin Graham told the Tribune on Friday he does not believe COPA is capable of fairly investigating officers and that it is using the alleged bar fight to support its recommended firing of Rialmo for the fatal shooting.

“This is a move to put pressure on the Police Department and specifically Superintendent Eddie Johnson to have an unfavorable ruling on Officer Rialmo” for the shooting, Graham said.

COPA officials could not be reached for comment.

The alleged bar fight adds another unexpected twist to the aftermath of a shooting that has been marked by unusual litigation and embarrassing blunders by the city.

The shooting attracted wide notice in part because it was the first fatal police shooting after the court-ordered release of video of a white officer, Jason Van Dyke, shooting African-American teen Laquan McDonald 16 times. The video’s release in November 2015 sparked calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s resignation, and black Chicagoans aired volumes of complaints about their treatment by police. Efforts to overhaul the department continue more than two years later.

About 4:30 a.m. on the day after Christmas 2015, Rialmo and his partner responded to 911 calls about a domestic disturbance at the apartment in the 4700 block of West Erie Street, where LeGrier was staying with his father. LeGrier had behaved strangely as a student at Northern Illinois University and had altercations with other students and run-ins with police, records show. LeGrier’s apparent mental health problems have been a key issue in the litigation that followed his death.

Jones, who lived downstairs, answered the door and pointed police to the second floor. LeGrier then came down the stairs with a bat, according to an analysis released in February by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office, which declined to bring criminal charges against Rialmo. The officers started to move backward onto the front landing as LeGrier came at them with the bat, prosecutors wrote. As Rialmo backed down the stairs, he fired eight times, hitting LeGrier six times, according to prosecutors. Jones, who stood behind the teen during the incident, was shot once in the chest, prosecutors wrote.

Brodsky has said his client was justified in firing in self-defense, but COPA investigators voiced doubts about Rialmo’s sometimes conflicting accounts. COPA found that no one corroborated the officer’s contention that LeGrier swung the bat, while investigators concluded that the evidence suggested that Rialmo was several feet further from the teen when he opened fire than the officer had said he was.

Numerous lawsuits are pending. The survivors of both LeGrier and Jones sued Rialmo and the city. Rialmo took the unusual step of suing the city, alleging in part that he was inadequately trained. Rialmo is also suing LeGrier’s estate, blaming him for the shooting and contending it emotionally traumatized the officer.

Then, three weeks ago, the city’s lawyers filed a lawsuit that sought to shift blame and some financial liability for Jones’ death from the city onto LeGrier’s estate. The Tribune reported on the lawsuit a few hours after it was filed. The city’s lawyers quickly dropped the suit, and Emanuel apologized, saying he did not know of the litigation beforehand but found it “callous.”

Dan Hinkel, Chicago Tribune, January 5, 2018, “Chicago cop who fatally shot 2 in 2015 under investigation for bar fight”, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-chicago-cop-robert-rialmo-bar-fight-20180104-story.html

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Richmond police captain will appeal his firing in misconduct case

A Richmond police captain with more than two decades on the force was fired a day before Thanksgiving in connection with a misconduct investigation.

The termination of Capt. Mark Gagan on Nov. 22 reportedly came after Councilman Eduardo Martinez complained of a leaked police report that became the subject of an KGO-TV story questioning Martinez’s sobriety during a reported robbery.

The television report in November 2016 said that a Richmond Police Department report suggested Martinez “may have been under the influence of alcohol when he drove a city vehicle from the crime scene to a nearby hotel.”

Martinez, who was coming from a Chamber of Commerce event, said in the TV report that while he drank alcohol the night he was robbed, he “was not incoherent.”

The councilman said he lost his phone during the incident and drove a city car to the nearest place to call police. Martinez did not return calls from The Chronicle.

The department investigated the alleged leak of the police report to the television station. Gagan was accused of lying during questioning.

“I told the truth. I’ve told the truth in all the interviews, and I have not lied,” Gagan said Friday. “For me to be accused of that is devastating. I’m so sure that when this is reviewed by an objective body, it will be overturned.”

Gagan’s attorney, Paul Bird, would not comment on the investigation so as not to “jeopardize the appeals process,” but said he and Gagan “strongly deny” any allegations that led to Gagan’s firing.

“He’s a 23-year veteran. He loved his job,” Bird said. “We’re going to fight to get his job back.”

Bird said they will present their case to the city and appeal the termination decision.

Neither the city nor the Police Department would confirm the details or the origin of the investigation.

“The investigation is still open, and due to the nature of it being a personnel matter, we cannot discuss it,” Lt. Felix Tan, a department spokesman, wrote in an email.

The Chronicle obtained a copy of the city’s termination letter sent to Gagan on Nov. 22.

Gagan and his attorney met with Police Chief Allwyn Brown Nov. 7 to present Gagan’s side, according to the letter.

Brown “determined that the proposed termination of employment is appropriate,” the letter read.

The robbery reportedly tied to the misconduct investigation occurred Oct. 26, 2016. Police initially reported a “member of the Richmond City Council” met with officers shortly after 9:45 p.m. after he was robbed by someone with a pistol.

Officers later tracked down the suspect, whose name was not released. He was charged in connection with the incident five days later.

Jenna Lyons,, sfgate,com, “Richmond police captain will appeal his firing in misconduct case”, https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Richmond-police-captain-will-appeal-his-firing-in-12477671.php

Busted! Cop Caught On Video Sucker Punching Unarmed Black Man Lied On Police Report

A video showing an apparently unprovoked Florida cop sucker-punching an unarmed Black man earlier this month was more than just shocking; it also served as proof that the on-duty officer lied about the violent confrontation.

The fictional version told by Officer Adriel Dominguez began to unravel when a fellow officer breached the blue wall of silence by giving the Miami Herald footage of the encounter on Dec. 3. Dominguez was relieved of patrol duties while the police department was conducting an internal investigation and state prosecutors reviewed the case that left Lowell Poitier unconscious, the Herald reported on Wednesday.

See Also: Video Catches Louisville Police Beating Black Driver For No Apparent Reason

Meanwhile, the officer who came forward with the video, Frederick Dominguez, who’s not related to Adriel Dominguez, has demanded whistle-blower protection from his fellow officers.

On that fateful date, police officers responded to a call about a disruptive man at a South Beach restaurant. On a police report, Adriel Dominguez wrote that Poitier, 35, clenched his fist and took a fighting stance in the encounter. Fearing for his life, the officer said he punched Poitier.

However, the video didn’t show any of that. It instead appeared to show the officer grabbing Poitier and knocking him out. The Black man, who suffered a cut lip and other minor injuries, ended up being charged with misdemeanor assault on a police officer, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s outrageous behavior. It’s an assault in broad daylight. He clearly did not take a fighting stance or clench his fist to fight the officer like it says in the report,” stated Michael Pizzi, the attorney representing Frederick Dominguez.

The police report claimed that Poitier called the officers “crackers” and appeared defiant. He allegedly said, “what, what,” and made a fist, as he got ready to assault Dominguez. But the officer, obviously lying, said he struck first in self-defense.

After obtaining a copy of the video, Frederick Dominguez noticed the clear contradictions between what appeared in the footage and what Adriel Dominguez alleged in his report.

The investigation could reach high up the law enforcement ladder. Police commanders should have known about the incident but failed to act. Officers are required to submit their body cameras at the end of each shift, Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates said. Senior officers must review any footage that includes the use of force, yet they remained silent if they saw it. Oates claimed that he was made aware of the video on Wednesday morning, more than a week after Poitier was assaulted.

“This is obviously a very serious matter,” Oates said.

Still, the powerful police union has the back of Officer Adriel Dominguez and other any officer in the line of fire. It remained to be seen if any of them will ultimately get punished.

December 13, 2018, newsone.com, “Busted! Cop Caught On Video Sucker Punching Unarmed Black Man Lied On Police Report”, https://newsone.com/3840303/sucker-punch-video-miami-police/

EDITORIAL: High cost of police misconduct is financially breaking our city

 

Stanley Wrice leaves the Cook County Juvenile Court on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times

Stanley Wrice leaves the Cook County Juvenile Court on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times

The hundreds of millions of dollars that Chicago continues to pay out to settle police misconduct claims is stunning in a city already burdened by a mountain of pension debt.

The question is what the next mayor — and the union that represents police officers — intend to do about it.

From May 2011 through June 30 of this year, the City of Chicago paid $418.3 million in settlements and judgments to plaintiffs filing lawsuits and claims against the city alleging police abuse. And the number keeps growing: The City Council Finance Committee will consider another $11.7 million in legal settlements on Tuesday.

EDITORIAL

Add in the city’s practice of financing settlements by selling bonds, with their attendant fees and interest charges, and the overall cost can easily double. And the money comes right out of taxpayers’ pockets, not from some insurance company, because the city is self-insured.

Also adding to the cost is the city’s practice of hiring outside lawyers to handle many of the cases. Through October, the city has paid more than $30 million just to lawyers handling complaints related to disgraced former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge. The outside legal fees in just the case of Stanley Wrice, who alleges Burge’s crew tortured him into falsely confessing to a 1982 rape, have reached $1.6 million and will continue to climb.

As for the settlements and judgements themselves, earlier this year the Burge-related cases were estimated to be $120 million and growing.

One way to reduce the cost of police misconduct would be to revise the city’s police contract. As reform groups have pointed out, the next police contract should be rewritten to make it easier to dismiss the relatively few problem cops who drive up the costs of settlements.

Among those proposed reforms:

• Don’t make people who want to make a complaint file a sworn affidavit or have their name turned over before an officer can be questioned about an allegation. The current system deters people who fear retaliation.

• Eliminate the rule that allows police officers to wait 24 hours before providing statements after police-involved shootings, and don’t let officers amend their statements after reviewing video or audio evidence.

RELATED: Another $9.3 million settlement added to mountain of Burge torture claims

• Dump the ban on rewards for police officer whistleblowers. And eliminate a provision that requires the destruction of police misconduct records after five years. Limitations on what interrogators can ask of officers when they are investigating police misconduct also should be stricken from the contract.

Police misconduct leaves a wake of distrust in communities and is shattering to the victims. Chicago’s ranking as the city that probably spends the most on police misconduct is one we should be in a hurry to lose.

Sun-Times Editorial Board, 12/10/2018, Chicago Sun Times, “EDITORIAL: High cost of police misconduct is financially breaking our city”, https://chicago.suntimes.com/crime/chicago-high-cost-police-misconduct/

City Settles Cop Code Of Silence Case After Failing To Cough Up Report

CHICAGO (CBS) — Just before it was supposed to be considered by a jury, the city of Chicago moved to settle a major police misconduct case in which it failed to produce a critical disciplinary report involving the officer until the middle of the trial – years after such documents were first requested, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

The families of two men sued the city and ex-Chicago cop Joseph Frugoli, who was driving drunk when he was involved in a fiery crash in 2009 on the Dan Ryan Expressway, killing Fausto Manzera, 21, and Andrew Cazares, 23.

The families contended that Frugoli thought he could drink and drive with impunity since he was protected by the “code of silence” within the police department.

“He drank and he drove, all the while knowing he’d be shielded by the CPD if he were pulled over,” Tim Cavanagh, an attorney for the Cazares family, said during his closing argument, before city lawyers interjected to ask U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall for a sidebar.

Minutes later, the settlement was announced.

Family attorneys declined to release the settlement terms pending its approval by City Council.

“In all cases, we consider many factors, including the likelihood of an adverse judgment, when choosing to recommend a settlement to the City Council,” city Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said. “This lawsuit is no different, and we will recommend that it is in the best interests of the taxpayers that the case be settled.”

In his closing, Cavanagh continually hammered the city for withholding the “smoking gun” documents in the case — evidence that only came to light four days ago.

Those documents describe how Frugoli was suspended for five days in 1992 after he allegedly punched two people at the First Base Tavern in Bridgeport, grabbed one by the throat, threw them on a pool table and hit them with pool cues. He also allegedly threw glasses and broke two bar stools.

The off-duty cop later admitted he’d been drinking but “was not intoxicated.” A sergeant would testify that she’d reached the same conclusion. But Frugoli was never given a field sobriety test or Breathalyzer, records show. And he was allowed to drive away from the scene.

“We never got those critical documents before trial,” Cavanagh told jurors. “It’s obvious. These documents prove our case.”

The bar fight put Frugoli on a “path of destruction” up to the fatal crash. Frugoli was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2012 for driving drunk and killing the men.

His testimony last week triggered the discovery of the new evidence when the imprisoned ex-cop testified about being disciplined after the bar fight. He got away with a five-day suspension.

“I think the code of silence is so deep, so entrenched, that Joe Frugoli tried to help the city out in this case, and thought it would be helpful to say that he had been suspended in the past,” Cavanagh told reporters after the settlement was reached.

That testimony instead opened a “big can of worms” for the city, Cavanagh said, leading to the documents that attorneys for the families had asked for years ago.

“They proved what we had been saying for the last eight years: There’s a code of silence with alcohol-related incidents in the city of Chicago, and city cops gave Joe Frugoli a couple of passes, and that led to this horrible crash on April 10, 2009,” Cavanagh said.

Kevin Conway, an attorney for the Manzera family, said afterward that there had been no discussion of a settlement until the past two days, after the new documents came to light.

“The Manzera and Cazares families have suffered a tremendous amount,” Conway said. Family members huddled together in the lobby of the Dirksen Federal Building declined to speak with reporters.

The city has repeatedly found itself in hot water for failing to turn over evidence in police misconduct cases. Cavanagh said he didn’t think city lawyers intentionally withheld the 116 pages of Frugoli’s disciplinary reports.

“It’s something that the judge, quite frankly, she’ll still have jurisdiction to look at and see why were these critical documents not turned over during the case. It prejudiced our ability to get all the facts in front of the jury,” he said.

The attorneys declined to say if any sanctions against the city were included in the terms of the settlement.

Asked if the code of silence exists, Cavanagh said there “can’t be any doubt about it.”

“This family has been victimized by it, and it’s time for the city to take responsibility and get rid of it,” he said.

Frugoli is scheduled for release from prison in April 2019.

 

State trooper sidelined for defending police brutality

RALEIGH, N.C.— A North Carolina state trooper has been placed on administrative duty over an Instagram post that said police beatings are deserved.

State Highway Patrol Sgt. Michael Baker tells the News and Observer that the agency is investigating Sgt. Jonathan K. Whitley, who’s been a trooper since 1996. The post by Instagram user “jkwhitley2608” says people beaten by police shouldn’t “get on TV in hopes of getting your check. The police already gave you what you deserved.”

The writer of the post also says he hates the public education system and “indoctrination centers known as college campuses.” It says he would never vote for a Democrat and “can’t wait” to vote for President Donald Trump again. It also says he didn’t own a slave and doesn’t owe anyone low-income housing assistance.

Associated Press, December 7, 2018, New York Post, “State trooper sidelined for defending police brutality”, https://nypost.com/2018/12/07/state-trooper-sidelined-for-defending-police-brutality/

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

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

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