Video shows Fantasy Fest preacher’s cord being cut as he warns passersby of sinning
A Key West bar owner was cited by police for criminal mischief after he took a pair of scissors and cut the cord to an amplifier being used by religious extremists who visit Fantasy Fest each year to tell various people that they are bound for hell.
The city of Key West is prepared to settle a lawsuit by paying $100,000 to a man who accused a police officer of brutality during the 2013 Fantasy Fest.
Raymond Berthiaume, of Fort Lauderdale, said Lt. David T. Smith knocked him to the ground and arrested him on a domestic battery charge without enough evidence. The charge didn’t make it to court.
The incident happened during Fantasy Fest 2013, which Berthiaume attended with friends.
According to police, Berthiaume was downtown and frustrated as his friends argued over whether to go home, when Smith arrested him for a domestic battery that Berthiaume denies.
Berthiaume sued in federal court in January 2015, accusing Smith of trying to frame him for the battery by forcing one of his friends to lie about what happened. He also said he had to have surgeries on his jaw and wrist due to the injuries caused by Smith.
But after a three-day trial in May 2016 at U.S. District Court in Key West before Judge James Lawrence King, a jury ruled Smith didn’t violate any of Berthiaume’s rights Oct. 27, 2013, nor did he make a false arrest.
After the city won at trial in 2016, an appellate court ordered a new trial, finding that prospective jurors weren’t asked whether they have a bias against gays.
“The district court here asked the jurors multiple questions about any biases or prejudices they might have against law enforcement,” reads the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. “But the district court refused to ask any questions at all about prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation. Therefore, we have no way to discern whether the jury was biased against [the plaintiff] for that reason.”
Although the city has already won once at trial in this case, nothing guarantees a second favorable jury verdict, city attorneys say.
The city’s private attorney, Michael Burke, estimated a loss at trial could result in a jury award of up to $250,000. Insurance will cover the payment, Burke said. Even if the city won at trial, the cost of attorney’s fees and bringing Smith down from Tallahassee, where he now lives, would be significant.
The settlement — which Berthiaume has already signed — will be on the agenda when the City Commission meets on Nov. 7 at 6 p.m. Berthiaume will be required to spend the $100,000 on medical expenses, Burke said.
City Attorney Shawn Smith said he believes the now-retired Lt. Smith did nothing wrong but reasoned the settlement is in the best interest of the city.
“This is purely a financial decision driven by our insurer, and the entire sum will be paid by the city’s excess insurer,” he wrote.
Also on the agenda is another recommendation by city attorneys to settle for $100,000 a couple’s lawsuit over a woman having broken her ankle due to a cracked sidewalk in 2015. Sandra and Giacomo Avanzato have signed the settlement.
Police Officer Joseph Moloney, left, arrived at State Supreme Court in Brooklyn on Tuesday. He pleaded not guilty to perjury charges. CreditSam Hodgson for The New York Times
By Joseph Goldstein, March 27, 2018
A New York police officer was arraigned on Tuesday on perjury charges after prosecutors said he repeatedly lied about how the police found a gun in a Brooklyn apartment.
The officer, Joseph Moloney, 27, is accused of providing several false stories, under oath, about how the police discovered a gun in an apartment in the Red Hook Houses complex in South Brooklyn in 2016. Officer Moloney initially claimed that he had found the gun when it was another officer — a sergeant — who had discovered it, prosecutors said. Ultimately, he came clean, but that did not help him. Prosecutors charged him in a 24-count indictment that includes perjury in the first degree and official misconduct.
He pleaded not guilty Tuesday to the charges before Justice Danny K. Chun in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn. Officer Moloney’s lawyer, John Tynan, declined to comment on the charges.
“Our police officers are expected to be truthful and honest at all times because people’s fates and the integrity of the justice system depend on that,” said Eric Gonzalez, the Brooklyn district attorney. “We allege that the officer in this case failed to do that and instead repeatedly gave false testimony under oath. Such conduct diminishes public trust and is, in fact, criminal. We intend to now hold the defendant accountable.”
Even as Officer Moloney was arraigned, prosecutors offered little explanation about why they believe he lied. They also did not say if they suspect it had been his idea to lie or if he been instructed to lie by superiors. At the time of the gun arrest, Officer Moloney had been a police officer for three years. As contradictions in his account were exposed, Officer Moloney cited his inexperience as the reason for the error, prosecutors said.
The charges against Officer Moloney stem from an arrest he and other officers made on May 6, 2016, in the public housing apartment building where they had been seeking to arrest a man on a warrant for low-level charges. The officers knocked on the door of an apartment and arrested the man when he answered the door, prosecutors said.
Because it was early in the morning, the man was not properly dressed. The officers followed him into a bedroom to allow him to put on clothes. Officer Moloney and a second officer left with the man to process the arrest, prosecutors said, but about 15 minutes later a sergeant who had stayed behind told the officers to come back.
Inside the apartment was an open black box containing a gun as well as a few bags of marijuana, prosecutors said. At that point, the sergeant told Officer Moloney to go get a search warrant. But when Officer Moloney went to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office to apply for the warrant, he claimed that he — not the sergeant — discovered the gun.
He also insinuated that the arrested man had tried to hide the gun.
“As I was assisting Mr. [redacted] to get dressed, Mr. [redacted] kicked a black plastic box under the bed where the baby was sleeping. I then opened the black plastic box and observed a silver pistol inside the box,” Officer Moloney wrote in a search warrant affidavit, according to the indictment.
He repeated this account, with some variations, to a grand jury, and at court proceedings, prosecutors said.
His story came under scrutiny when photographs from the apartment showed that the bed was set on the floor. At that point, Officer Moloney said the suspect had been trying to push the box away from the bed — rather than toward it, prosecutors said.
“When we were getting him dressed we’re noticing he’s pushing the box away from the actual bed and we realize that it’s open a little and we see that there’s also a firearm in the box,” Officer Moloney testified on Feb. 1. in a family court hearing.
Asked about the discrepancy, Officer Moloney said it was an error based on a lack of experience. It was, he said in Supreme Court, a “mistake on my part, being my first search warrant that I’d sworn out alone, and just a rookie mistake.”
But in July 2017 Officer Moloney admitted that he had not been the one to open the black box, prosecutors said. He also said that he did not observe the moment that the box was being opened, prosecutors said.
“I want to come clean to you,” he told officials, according to the indictment. “I did not open the black plastic box. I did not see the box being opened by someone else. I wasn’t in the room.”
Based on this, prosecutors dismissed the gun charges against the man, whom prosecutors did not identify. The Brooklyn district attorney’s office referred the matter to the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, which led to perjury charges being filed against Officer Moloney.
Guyger was charged with manslaughter and was later released on bond.
Carrie Pommerening, September 18, 2018
Dallas police officer Amber Guyger’s story sounds like a dark plot of a Saturday Night Live skit, and it contradicts what the neighbors claimed to have heard.
On Sept. 6, Guyger, 30, shot and killed Botham Jean, 26, in his own apartment at South Side Flats.
Guyger claims to have mistaken his apartment for her own, and that the door to the apartment was already open when she tried to insert the key. This made her suspicious. According to Guyger, she didn’t know she was in the wrong apartment until she turned the lights on after shooting Jean from across the room.
According to Lee Merritt, the attorney for Jean’s family, two neighbors heard someone knocking on the door before the shooting. One witness says they heard someone shout “Let me in! Let me in!” Another claims to have heard Jean yell out “Oh my God! Why did you do that?” after hearing shots fired.
It’s sickening to think of the possible reasons why Guyger would want to kill Jean. Family and friends of Jean have spoken highly of his character to the news. Alyssa Kinsey, a neighbor of Jean’s, told CNN that he was a “quiet, friendly and super chill” neighbor. She also said they would “talk about life together, smiling and laughing. He had a huge smile.”
The police wasted no time in trying to find ways to smear this friendly character. According to an article from Fox News, within hours of Jean getting shot, the police asked a judge for a search warrant to search his apartment for drugs and other things. On Thursday, Sept. 13, the results of the search warrant were released. Investigators had found 10.4 grams of marijuana and a marijuana grinder.
Seems like the new way to investigate murder is to criminalize the victim.
This trend of victim-blaming has plagued the justice system. Most of the black men killed by police officers have been criminalized in some way. Back in 2014, the Ferguson police tried to criminalize Michael Brown after he was shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson. According to the New York Times, they claimed that he had stolen cigarettes, and even punched Wilson before being shot. The reports from witnesses say otherwise. How dare victims like Michael Brown get shot? Police only protect and serve, and they never do anything wrong.
How dare Jean get shot in his own home.
The only right thing the police have done in this case was arrest Guyger. If only this didn’t happen three days after the shooting or in another county. This is probably why we haven’t heard about the investigation of claims that Guyger and Jean were previously in a relationship. Even if they start investigating that, they’ll likely point the finger at Jean somehow. Until then, Jean’s family does not know what happened that night, or why Guyger killed their loved one.
By Christian Sheckler South Bend Tribune and Ken Armstrong ProPublica,
Two Elkhart police officers who punched a handcuffed man in the face more than 10 times will face criminal charges — 11 months after the fact, and only after the South Bend Tribune requested video of the incident as part of an ongoing investigation with ProPublica.
The two officers, Cory Newland and Joshua Titus, will be charged with misdemeanor counts of battery, the police department announced Friday. Both have been placed on administrative leave pending the case’s outcome, department spokesman Sgt. Travis Snider said.
The department also released video of the beating after 5 p.m. Friday — more than three weeks after The Tribune requested a copy.
Five months ago, the two officers were disciplined for this incident. But they received only reprimands rather than suspensions or possible termination.
Speaking to the city’s civilian oversight commission in June, Police Chief Ed Windbigler said the officers used “a little more force than needed” with a suspect in custody, and “just went a little overboard when they took him to the ground.” But Windbigler offered no other details, saying nothing of the two officers punching the man in the face.
The video was recorded in the police station’s detention area after the Jan. 12 arrest of Mario Guerrero Ledesma, who was 28 at the time. The footage shows Ledesma, in handcuffs, sitting in a chair while Newland, Titus and two other officers stand nearby. At one point, Ledesma prepares to spit at Newland, and the officer warns him not to.
As Ledesma spits, Newland and Titus immediately tackle him, and the back of his head strikes the concrete floor. The two officers then jump on him and punch him in the face repeatedly while one calls him an expletive.
Video: Video: Elkhart cops repeatedly punch handcuffed man in station
The two other officers walk up casually as the punches are being thrown. “Stop,” one can be heard saying, as the beating ends.
Ledesma pleaded guilty in July to charges of domestic battery and resisting law enforcement, and he was sentenced to a year in jail, with 133 days suspended.
The Tribune and the nonprofit news organization ProPublica have been investigating criminal justice in Elkhart County, looking at police accountability, among other issues.
A Tribune reporter requested the Ledesma video after noting a disparity between Windbigler’s public description to the Police Merit Commission — the city panel that exercises civilian oversight — and what the chief wrote in personnel records.
In a June 12 letter of reprimand to Newland, Windbigler wrote: “I completely understand defending yourself during an altercation. However, striking a handcuffed subject in the face is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. We cannot let our emotions direct our reactions or over-reactions to situations such as this.”
Windbigler ended his disciplinary letters, to both Newland and Titus, on an upbeat note: “I consider this matter closed!”
At the June 25 meeting of the Police Merit Commission, chairman James Rieckhoff asked Windbigler if anyone had been injured in this incident.
“No,” Windbigler said.
Windbigler, explaining why he opted for only reprimands, told the commission that Titus “had no previous complaints.” He said of Newland: “Here, again, he had no other incidents in his file, so this is his first incident of any type of force.”
“Any questions on this one?” Rieckhoff asked the commission’s other members.
“Just a comment,” commissioner Thomas Barber said. “I like how you police your own.”
“Yes, sir,” Windbigler said.
On Friday, The Tribune requested an interview with the chief. But Snider, the police spokesman, said the department would have no further comment beyond its announcement of the pending charges. Neither Newland nor Titus immediately returned messages left at their department phone lines. Attempts to reach them at other phone numbers were unsuccessful.
History of misconduct
For Newland, the reprimand was not his first disciplinary incident. It was his ninth, according to personnel records gathered by The Tribune and ProPublica.
After being hired in 2008, Newland was suspended six times and reprimanded twice in his first five years.
In 2009, Newland was “very rude and unprofessional,” using profanity toward a member of the public while responding to a call, personnel records say. The police chief at the time, Dale Pflibsen, suspended Newland for one day. “You have been employed for just over one year and this is not the first allegation of you verbally loosing (sic) control towards the public,” Pflibsen wrote to Newland.
“I want to emphasize we will not tolerate this behavior from you towards anyone,” Pflibsen added. “If you plan on continuing your career at the Elkhart Police Department I suggest you seek counseling for anger management.”
The next year, in 2010, Newland was suspended one day for causing a car crash.
In 2011, Newland received a three-day suspension for conduct unbecoming an officer. After arresting a woman for public nudity — she and her boyfriend were having sex in their car, in
Elkhart’s McNaughton park — Newland sent her a friend request on Facebook and seven text messages, asking to “hang out.”
“Needless to say you attempting to establish a relationship with this female, a defendant in a criminal case, is unprofessional,” Pflibsen wrote to Newland. “This type of conduct will not be tolerated by you or anyone else.”
One year later, in February 2012, Newland was suspended again, this time for one day. Newland, while off duty, flipped off another driver — who, it turned out, was a jail officer in St. Joseph County, according to a disciplinary letter. Newland also drove recklessly, “brake checking” the other driver, according to disciplinary records.
“Should there be another sustained allegation of this type of misconduct on or off duty I will seriously consider your termination from the Elkhart Police Department,” Chief Pflibsen wrote to Newland.
Exactly one week later, still in February, Newland received a three-day suspension for not turning on his video-audio recording equipment “while on numerous calls and traffic stops,” a disciplinary notice says.
Newland’s last suspension — and his longest, for 35 days — came in the summer of 2013. Newland failed to investigate a woman’s complaint of domestic violence, then lied about it to his superiors, according to disciplinary records.
When asked directly by supervisors if the woman had said her husband hit her, Newland “indicated that she had not made any such statement, and only that there was some pushing involved,” a disciplinary letter said. But “within minutes of the end of the interview,” Newland “returned and informed his supervisors that the victim had, in fact, reported being hit by her husband.”
An audio recording captured the woman telling Newland she had been hit, and that her husband did so in front of her children, a disciplinary letter says.
Newland’s failure to be truthful did more than violate department policy, Chief Pflibsen wrote to the civilian oversight board. If a police officer testifies as a witness, authorities must disclose if the officer “has been dishonest in his or her official capacity,” Pflibsen wrote, adding: “This incident has been referred to the Prosecutor’s Office and may have a significant detrimental impact on their ability to prosecute this case.”
Melissa Highsmith always wanted to be a police officer.
The 30-year-old Cleveland resident earned her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and even applied for a job at a local police department.
“You’re supposed to trust them,” Highsmith said. “You’re taught when you’re little, police officers are there to help you.
“But now, it’s like completely opposite,” she said. “That’s the last place I want to go if I need anything.”
On March 6, 2017, Highsmith expected a quiet night.
Around 6 p.m., she drove to Euclid to meet her friend, Shanell Gist, at Gist’s apartment.
The long-time friends planned to celebrate Gist’s final semester of graduate school.
First, they spent a few moments in the parking lot. Gist wanted to show Highsmith her new car.
Highsmith said they didn’t see or hear anyone.
“We were outside for a couple minutes,” Highsmith said. “Went back upstairs, locked her door, getting settled in.”
They opened the bottle of champagne Highsmith brought as Gist’s 2-year-old daughter played in another room.
Then, without warning, a man kicked down the front door and burst into the apartment.
Highsmith was scared. She was also confused.
The man who had used a knife to break the lock and enter the apartment was Euclid Police Officer Daniel Ferritto.
Highsmith said Ferritto screamed at her and Gist, repeatedly claiming they ran from him when they were outside.
“He said, ‘You don’t run from the f**king police,’” she said. “That’s when I started verbalizing, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. I would never run from police. I want to be a police officer.’”
The next thing she knew, she said, Ferritto grabbed both sides of her shirt and dragged her to the cement patio outside the apartment.
“He picked me up and just slammed me onto the ground,” Highsmith said. “I was slammed on my head, like bleeding from the back of my head. Bleeding on my knees from being thrown on the cement.”
She said Ferritto placed her in handcuffs facedown on the ground but refused to explain why he arrested her.
“I was terrified of what was going to happen next…nothing made sense,” she said. “A person like that should not get to hold the position that he holds. It’s scary.”
In his incident report, Ferritto said he demanded the women stop after hearing Highsmith and Gist yelling racial slurs in the parking lot. He also said they had an open container of alcohol in the car.
“The two females fled on foot from police and one of the females resisted,” according to Ferritto’s narrative. “The other female [Gist] endangered her two-year-old child by leaving her home alone.”
Highsmith was charged with open container in a motor vehicle, resisting arrest and obstructing justice.
Gist was charged with child endangerment.
The charges against both women were eventually dismissed.
“[That tells me] that I did nothing wrong,” Highsmith said. “And they [Euclid Police] did everything wrong. And they know it.”
She and Gist have since filed a federal lawsuit against Ferritto and the City of Euclid for civil rights violations.
The incident is among the hundreds of use of force reports 5 On Your Side Investigators reviewed as part of our exclusive investigation.
We uncovered a broken system that leaves innocent civilians injured and allows problem officers to continue patrolling the streets – in many cases, with little or no accountability.
For example, Ferritto was never investigated related to Highsmith’s incident, even after the lawsuit was filed, and remains on the force.
When a Euclid Police officer uses force during an incident, he or she must report what happened in what’s called a resistance/response form, per department policy .
We spent six months examining all of the 273 forms filed by officers between January 2016 and June 2018.
Immediately, a troubling pattern emerged: only a handful of officers were involved in the majority of incidents involving uses of force, including punches, takedowns and Tasers.
Our data analysis found less than 20 percent of Euclid Police officers were involved in more than 80 percent of the use of force incidents.
“When that happens, that is a red flag for the organization,” said Jim Buerrmann, president of the Police Foundation, a non-partisan research group dedicated to improving policing practices.
“Clearly, when a small number of people are responsible for the lion’s share of the use of force, somebody needs to be taking a very hard look at that,” he said.
In addition, we found Amiott’s partner during the arrest, Shane Rivera, was involved in more use of force incidents than almost any other officer during the time period we reviewed.
“The things they have done, the way they handle people, they just [need to] redo their whole force,” 37-year-old Lamar Wright said.
Wright has also filed a federal lawsuit alleging civil rights violations by Euclid Police officers.
On Nov. 4, 2016, he pulled into a driveway of an acquaintance on East 212th Street in Euclid to call his girlfriend.
Seconds later, two men wearing dark clothing appeared at his car doors, guns drawn.
He thought he was being carjacked by robbers.
Instead, it turned out the two men were Euclid Police officers Kyle Flagg and Vashon Williams, who were doing surveillance on a nearby home.
It was surveillance that had nothing to do with Wright.
Flagg’s body camera video shows the officers demand Wright show them his hands and get on the ground.
WARNING: The video below contains graphic content.
For a brief moment, Wright struggled to raise his arms.
He had recently had stomach surgery. A colostomy bag was still attached to his right side.
“I was in bad shape,” he said. “My stomach was still open from the staples.”
Wright said Flagg then grabbed and twisted his left arm and pulled him to the ground. In the video, you can hear Wright repeatedly say Flagg is hurting him. Flagg then deployed his Taser. Williams used his pepper spray.
The officers accused Wright of “reaching,” appearing as if he was grabbing a weapon.
Wright said he was lifting up the arm rest around his colostomy bag to cooperate with officers’ orders. Police did not find a gun in his car.
“I mean, you just don’t treat people like that,” Wright said. “I just wish this doesn’t happen to anybody else.”
Wright’s lawsuit alleges Flagg and Williams filed false police reports about the incident.
They charged Wright with resisting arrest and traffic violations. Those charges were dismissed.
The officers remain on patrol.
“It’s crazy – like they’re almost getting away with it,” Wright said.
Even more troubling, we found Flagg was involved in 35 use of force incidents alone – more than any other officer.
“You need to find out why this officer has many times more use of force cases than other officers,” Buerrmann said. “The best practices in policing today indicate that you should take a look at what’s going on with that officer’s experience.”
Like Rivera, Ferritto, who’s accused of attacking Highsmith, was involved in multiple incidents. Specifically, his name is mentioned on 24 response/resistance forms.
Between Flagg, Ferritto and Rivera, the three officers account for 30 percent of the department’s use of force response/resistance forms.
“It’s obligation of the leadership of that organization to try to find out why that’s occurring and then make a decision about helping that officer, removing them from the context or removing them from the organizations…[and] protect the people of that community.” Buerrmann said.
“Sometimes, it is the assignment the officer gets…sometimes there’s personal issues going on. Frequently, it is that latter case,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s because they lack certain training.”
Trouble with training
The department’s use of force training has come under fire in the six federal lawsuits filed against the City of Euclid over police brutality during the last two years.
In a recent lawsuit filed by Euclid resident Shajuan Gray, the complaint referred to a use of force PowerPoint presentation utilized by the department for training purposes.
The first slide, part of the department’s 2017 winter in-service “Defensive Tactics Training,” shows the image of an officer in what appears to be riot gear striking a person lying on the ground with their hands in the air. A caption next to the image reads, “serving and protecting the poop out of you.”
Gray, 46, said on March 27, 2017, Officer James Aoki knocked on her door about a noise complaint that she was playing her music too loud. She was in the shower at the time and answered her door in a bath wrap.
Gray alleged Aoki forced his way into her apartment and assaulted her in her kitchen, leaving her with bruises on her body.
“As he’s slamming me and pushing me against the freezer and refrigerator, he’s twisting my arms up in an uncomfortable position,” she said. “I’m telling him then, ‘You’re hurting me. Why are you doing this to me? Please stop.’”
In the lawsuit, Gray said her bath wrap fell off while Aoki allegedly assaulted her, exposing her chest. She said he refused to let her to get dressed before he took her to the police department.
Aoki, who has been involved in 14 other incidents involving the use of force since 2016, did not have a body camera on during the incident.
Later, an assisting officer arrived, who was wearing a body camera. His video showed Gray walking down the stairs of her apartment in handcuffs wearing only her bath wrap. She can be heard asking to be allowed to put on clothes and telling officers they’re hurting her.
WARNING: The video below contains graphic content.
In an incident report, Aoki said Gray refused to provide her name, tried to shut the door on the officer and resisted arrest.
She was acquitted of the charges filed against her after the incident, which included resisting arrest, obstruction of official business and noise violation charges.
Gray’s lawsuit wasn’t the only one that highlighted problems with Euclid’s use of force training presentation.
Luke Stewart was shot and killed by Officer Matthew Rhodes in March of 2017.
According to his family’s complaint , Stewart was asleep in his car and unarmed when Rhodes approached him. After waking Stewart, a struggle ensued when Stewart began to drive his car.
Rhodes then shot him.
U.S. District Judge James Gwin ruled Rhodes was justified when he shot Stewart, but, in an unusual move for a judge, he sharply criticized the Euclid Police Department.
In his ruling , Gwin wrote the training presentation shows the department displays a “cavalier indifference” to use of force training.
Along with the cartoon of an officer beating an unarmed individual, the presentation also featured a skit by comedian Chris Rock, titled, “How to not get your ass kicked by the police!”
“Have you ever been face-to-face with a police officer?” asks the comedian. “If you have to give a friend a ride, get a white friend. A white friend can be the difference between getting a ticket or getting a bullet in your a**.”
Gwin described the comedy video as “grossly inappropriate” to show officers as part of formal training.
He also criticized the department for giving officers the same “barebones” test each year on its use of force policies and Chief Scott Meyer’s failure to create a training committee as mandated by the department’s policy manual.
We made multiple requests via phone and email for a sit-down interview with Meyer. He did not respond, so we went to a recent city council meeting to share our findings and ask him about his department’s use of force.
When asked whether he believes the police department’s training materials are appropriate, Meyer said yes. When specifically asked about the Chris Rock video, he did not respond.
We also asked Meyer why 20 percent of his officers account for more than 80 percent of use of force response/resistance form.
“That’s something we could talk about at a later time,” Meyer said.
We asked if our findings indicate a red flag regarding the officers’ conduct. He told Investigator Sarah Buduson, “Didn’t I just tell you? It’s not that I don’t have a comment. I don’t have a comment for you.”
“Leadership in police matters,” Buerrmann said. “The police chief or the sheriff is very similar to the captain of the ship. What he or she says to the organization, or doesn’t say, sends a very clear message about what’s acceptable. Any statement, or lack thereof by any police leader, can potentially be problematic.”
“There’s a clear problem with their training,” Highsmith added. “I think they need to kind of revamp their entire police department.”
Hours after our investigation published online, Euclid Mayor Kirsten Holzheimer Gail responded to News 5’s reporting via email and said the city and police are “committed to providing a safe community and to treating all residents justly and with dignity and respect.”
She said the city has contacted the U.S. Department of Justice to implement a procedural justice training program for its officers. You can read her full statement below:
RE: Mayor Gail Response to Red Flags
The City of Euclid and the Euclid Police Department remain committed to providing a safe community and to treating all residents justly and with dignity and respect. The incidents in this report occurred in 2016 and 2017. Our goal remains to continuously upgrade and improve the Euclid Police Department. To that end, we have implemented new programs such as a multi-department use of force review committee. We reached out to the Department of Justice to implement a Procedural Justice Training Program, the very first of its kind in Ohio. We have and will continue to far exceed state training requirements and have enhanced training in areas including community relations, de-escalation techniques, and defensive tactics. EPD use of force incidents remain well below the national average*. We will continue to work with the Euclid Police Department, residents, and community partners to ensure Euclid remains a community where we all can be proud to live, work and visit.
A day after News 5 published this report, the Euclid FOP Lodge 18 responded by calling the investigation a “witch hunt,” and providing a statement which reads, in part:
The officers mentioned are some of the most decorated in the department and are probably responsible for taking more guns, drugs and violent criminals off the streets than the rest of the department combined. Some are even assigned to a Community Response Unit, which is tasked with addressing severe crime in the community. Some have saved almost as many overdose victims with Narcan, as times they’ve used force.
Mark Rotert, head of the conviction integrity unit of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, spoke to reporters after a judge in Chicago threw out the convictions of 15 men in 2017.CreditTeresa Crawford/Associated Press
By Christine Hauser, Feb. 13, 2019
In 2012, a Chicago police sergeant and an officer were arrested in an undercover operation for stealing $5,200 from a person carrying what they thought was cash for drug dealers. The officers eventually entered plea deals, but the arrests led to scrutiny of the tactics they and their team had used while making drug arrests at the Ida B. Wells housing complex on Chicago’s South Side for years.
This week, 14 men with drug convictions related to those cases were exonerated — four of them on Wednesday and 10 on Monday. With those exonerations, 63 men and women have had their cases vacated because of the involvement of Sgt. Ronald Watts and Officer Kallatt Mohammed, lawyers for the 14 men said.
“It is a stain on the city,” said Joshua Tepfer, a lawyer with the University of Chicago Law School’s Exoneration Project, which has represented 47 of the 63 people exonerated.
“One thing that goes without saying is the reason they were covered up is they were viewed as a disposable people who live in the housing projects,” he said. “Nobody cared. Nobody believed them.”
Robert Foley, a spokesman for the Cook County state’s attorney, said on Tuesday in an email that the State’s Attorney’s Office would continue to review the matters on a case-by-case basis.
The two officers took the money, and then paid the informant $400 “for allowing them to steal the drug proceeds” in 2011, the statement said. “Who always takes care of you?” Sergeant Watts told the informant, according to the statement.
After their arrests, Sergeant Watts and Officer Mohammed were charged with theft of government funds. Officer Mohammed entered a plea agreement in 2012 and was sentenced to 18 months, and Sergeant Watts pleaded guilty in 2013 and was sentenced to 22 months, according to Joseph Fitzpatrick, an assistant United States attorney for the Northern District.
A lawyer for former Sergeant Watts and representatives for the Civilian Office of Police Accountability were not immediately available for comment on Wednesday; the Chicago Police Department and a lawyer for former Officer Mohammed declined to comment.
Ronald Watts leaving court after being sentenced to 22 months of prison in 2013.CreditPhil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune, via Associated Press
But people who had been arrested by Sergeant Watts and Officer Mohammed took note. They petitioned to vacate the convictions that had resulted from Sergeant Watts and his team’s arrests years before.
“A lot of those convictions then fell by the wayside,” said James A. Graham, a lawyer who represented Officer Mohammed at the time he took the plea deal.
The Exoneration Project and another Chicago-area lawyer, Joel Flaxman, worked to vet cases of convicted men and women who said they were innocent of the charges imposed on them by members of the team led by Sergeant Watts and who had filed misconduct complaints against the officers.
Once vetted, their cases are turned over to Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. In November 2017, the State’s Attorney’s Office said it filed the first of its motions to vacate the convictions of people based on concerns regarding allegations of misconduct of the arresting officers, including Sergeant Watts. In subsequent statements on exonerations, Kimberly M. Foxx, the state’s attorney, linked additional exonerations to “the misconduct” of the officers.
“We found a pattern of misconduct by Watts and other officers in these cases, which caused our office to lose confidence in the initial arrests and validity of these convictions,” Ms. Foxx said last year.“May the defendants, who we now believe were victims, find a path forward in healing and justice.”
Leonard Gipson, whose convictions were among the first vacated in 2017, said in an interview on Wednesday that he had spent time incarcerated in 2003 and in 2007 after being charged with delivering crack and heroin.
“The biggest impact was it took a lot of time away from my kids growing up,” he said, speaking of his children, who are now 18 and 16. “I missed out on so much time in their life. And I don’t think it is really possible to make up that time.”
On Monday and Wednesday, Judge LeRoy K. Martin Jr. of Cook County, during a hearing in Chicago, granted further motions and vacated the convictions of the 10 men. Two of the four were in court on Wednesday, said Mr. Flaxman, who represented the four in court.
“The floodgates opened of people coming out of the woodwork and saying, ‘Hey, it happened to us,’” Mr. Flaxman said.
It is not clear how many more convictions will be challenged. Some people sought exonerations after their sentences had been served, while others are still in prison, Mr. Tepfer said. About 15 police officers who had worked on Sergeant Watts’s team were put on desk duty, but the Chicago Police Department declined to comment on Wednesday.
“There is a ton to unpack,” he said. “We are going to be doing this for years.”
New Jersey stands nearly alone in the nation for refusing to ban bad cops. The state fails to track officers with known histories of bias or lies.
Andrew Ford, Asbury Park Press
Published 5:00 a.m. ET Sept. 20, 2018 | Updated 2:59 p.m. ET Sept. 21, 2018
Eileen Cassidy, a Spring Lake Heights mother of three, spent 22 days in jail because New Jersey hid a State Police sergeant’s misconduct for nearly a year, her attorney argued.
She pleaded guilty in 2016 to a drunken driving charge without knowing that the breath-testing machine used in her case was unreliable, her attorney claimed in a brief filed in June before the state Supreme Court.
A State Police sergeant responsible for certifying breath-testing machines as accurate was indicted by a state grand jury on charges he falsified documents to show a machine had been properly tested when he had actually skipped a step Cassidy’s attorney called “extremely vital” in his brief. The sergeant pleaded not guilty and his case is pending.
The alleged fabrication throws into doubt the validity of breath samples in more than 20,000 DWI cases involving machines certified by the sergeant – including Cassidy’s. The state attorney general’s office knew about the skipped steps but failed to tell Cassidy and others about the problem for 11 months before Cassidy pleaded guilty, Cassidy’s lawyer claims. The state has argued that the step improves confidence in the tests, but doesn’t affect scientific reliability.
The breath testing machine debacle highlights the damage done to cases involving thousands of defendants when New Jersey fails to catch police misconduct or tell the public about bad officers.
In most other states, an officer who breaks a rule can be banned from wearing a badge, some even without a criminal conviction.
But New Jersey is different. It stands nearly alone in the nation for its lack of state oversight of police officers.
New Jersey is one of just four states that does not license police officers, a basic safeguard used nationwide to ensure bad cops don’t skirt the rules or move from town to town. Licensing is a practice common to dozens of other professions, from doctors to massage therapists, and even other public employees, such as municipal finance officers. Licensing helps ensure professional standards are uniform, upheld and bad actors are banned.
Yet in New Jersey, the police oversight system is in such disarray that officials cannot track a wayward officer’s untoward conduct. Moreover, the state has no clear rules for when – or even if – a problem cop’s past has to be disclosed to those he or she arrests.
Next time you’re in a traffic stop, a cop previously accused of dishonesty can arrest you, but there will likely be no way to know about his past, the Asbury Park Press and USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey found.
WATCH: Exclusive interview with NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal Tanya Breen and Andrew Ford, Asbury Park Press
Network reviewed thousands of pages of police records and court documents to find:
Dozens arrested by a cop a prosecutor’s office thought to be on desk duty – At least 43 people have been arrested by a Manchester officer after his town fired him – though he was later reinstated – and Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office told a court he would “undermine confidence” in prosecutions. A court, however, brushed off the prosecutor’s claim and found in favor of the officer in all but one issue. Top officials in the prosecutor’s office said they thought the officer was not on patrol until the Network showed them he was making arrests.
$1.9 million in police salaries keeps 20 questionable cops on duty – Eight cops known to have been untruthful, a cop who made bigoted social media posts and another accused of trying to fix a ticket for his cousin are among 20 officers still on duty and collecting salaries and benefits.
$1.6 million to settle claim after beating and cover-up – In June, Bloomfield agreed to a $1.6 million settlement of allegations related to an incident in which a man was beaten during a 2012 traffic stop and two cops falsified police reports. Former officers Sean Courter and Orlando Trinidad are still in prison serving a five-year sentence after they were convicted of crimes connected to that incident. Claims of police abuse cost New Jersey taxpayers more than $51 million since 2010, the Network found in a review of lawsuit settlements. That includes 24 deaths and 136 injuries.
NJ’s bad cop blind spots
No licensing for NJ cops
New Jersey can’t ban a bad officer in the way a rogue lawyer is disbarred. Officers in Pennsylvania and Florida, for example, can lose their licenses for less than criminal activity, like lying on an application. Lists of officers banned from serving in those two states are publicly accessible.
The Garden State is now one of four without a way to ban bad cops – Hawaii passed a police oversight overhaul in July.
“There’s a lot of professions that are licensed to a minimum standard and I think law enforcement officers should be held to a minimum standard of conduct and job performance,” Hawaii Rep. Scott Y. Nishimoto said.
One of the nation’s top police standards groups – run by cops for cops – recommends police officers be certified and tracked the same way New Jersey licenses dozens of other professions. The International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training based in Idaho maintains a national database of more than 25,000 officer decertifications, intended to stop bad officers from jumping state lines to find new jobs in policing. With no system to ban bad cops, New Jersey can’t contribute to that list.
“Many times when they don’t license and don’t decertify officers, a bad officer that has committed serious misconduct seems to bounce from agency to agency and continue that misconduct,” Executive Director Michael Becar said. “That’s what we’re trying to prevent.”
The Network found that while state law bans convicted criminals from wearing a badge, cops who faced allegations in court as serious as official misconduct and witness tampering were able to secure deals that kept them on duty. In one case, a cop who agreed as part of a court sentence to never again work police or fire jobs then served as a volunteer firefighter and elected fire commissioner.
No standard for disclosing an officer’s checkered past
Based on a series of court decisions over decades, prosecutors have a duty to tell defense attorneys if a police officer has a tainted past – a lie here, a bad report there. That way, the logic goes, a defense lawyer can point out to a jury if an officer has a history of being untruthful. It’s sometimes called “Brady” material, named after a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
New Jersey has no clear rules, however, that outline what prosecutors need to give up about an officer’s checkered past. A Network review of all 21 counties found that 17 don’t have a policy addressing the issue. Nineteen have no list of troubled officers.
Failing to make the right disclosures undermines a defendant’s right to fair treatment in court and can lead to complicated appeals.
The best available data on police employment histories is limited and flawed.
Seventy-one working officers were previously removed from public safety jobs due to discipline, according to a review of New Jersey’s Civil Service Commission public employee records.
But the data only cover about a quarter of the public employees in the state. And in at least 22 cases, the Network found the data conflicted with municipal employment records or information about an officer’s employment history provided by police officers or chiefs.
In at least one case, sloppy coding was the cause for conflicting employment records. In another case, an officer’s history wasn’t accurately reflected in the data and applications filed by the officer revealed he didn’t disclose a past firing to one employer.
None of the 71 officers appear in Brady materials provided to the Network, calling into question whether prosecutors knew about those past issues or disclosed them to defendants.
Two law professors said the significance of a firing in court would depend on what the officer was fired for, but detailed records of an officer’s discipline history are hidden, by law, from public view.
Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office couldn’t say if they’ve told defense attorneys about an Asbury Park cop with past issues. Before he was hired in 2001, he was fired as an Ocean County security guard, subject to one “force resignation” as a Lakewood police dispatcher, and once charged with criminal sexual contact, though the 1998 charge was dismissed, according to his employment application.
That officer’s background hasn’t affected the prosecution of any cases, prosecutor’s spokesman Charlie Webster wrote in an email. Webster declined to say whether the officer’s background will be disclosed to defendants in cases he is involved with, but said generally “information about police officers is routinely disclosed in court.”
Grappling with ‘dishonesty’ claims
At least 43 people have been arrested since 2015 by a cop whose testimony a top official in the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office told the Network in May the office would never base a prosecution on.
The prosecutor’s office argued in court in 2014 that Manchester Patrolman Ryan Saul should remain fired following internal charges including “dishonesty.” Judges took Saul’s side and put him back on duty.
Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato brought up his office’s involvement in Saul’s litigation in an interview about police accountability practices with the Network in May, saying “I don’t think he’s out on patrol.”
Coronato’s second-in-command, First Assistant Prosecutor John R. Corson Jr., also said in that May interview the office “would never base a prosecution on the testimony of that particular officer.”
“…I’m inclined to believe… that he’s in a position with the department now which would not require him to interact with the public or ever become involved in a criminal matter or municipal court matter which would compel this officer’s testimony,” Corson said in the May interview. “I believe he’s probably riding a desk somewhere.”
Saul is not on desk duty. Saul is on patrol. Saul made an arrest as recently as June, according to police records.
At least four people arrested by Saul have pleaded guilty in Superior Court to crimes like theft, hindering apprehension and prowling to obtain drugs, according to court documents.
Ocean County Prosecutor’s officials are now in the position the office once called “untenable” in a brief to appellate judges. The office is relying on a police officer who it claimed would “undermine confidence” in the integrity of prosecutions.
Saul and another officer used force to make an arrest after responding to a domestic argument in September 2010, court records show.
A Manchester internal affairs report filed in court documents alleged Saul’s version of events that night didn’t match the accounts of a fellow officer and civilian witnesses.
The report stated Saul claimed he was tackled by the suspect the officers arrested. Two witnesses and Saul’s fellow officer said this didn’t happen, the report shows.
The report also raised other concerns with Saul’s past behavior, including an incident in which Saul “admitted that he lied…” about statements he made during a police response.
Saul’s department accused him of 20 internal charges, court documents show, in part connected to his account of that arrest.
Saul was examined by at least three psychologists, a court document shows. Two found him unfit for duty and one reported that he was fit to serve.
The township fired Saul, then Saul challenged the firing in Superior Court.
The judge acknowledged differing accounts of the arrest, but found Saul’s account to be consistent over time and consistent with his fellow officer.
Superior Court Judge Mark A. Troncone, who sits in Toms River, found charges that Saul was dishonest about the arrest to be “completely without merit.” He found the township didn’t meet its burden to prove 19 of the 20 claims of wrongdoing, finding only that Saul violated the department code of conduct by not immediately reporting a knee injury he suffered during the arrest. Troncone called the three psychologists’ findings about Saul’s fitness “inconclusive” and reinstated Saul in 2014.
Appellate judges upheld Troncone’s ruling. The township filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court, but settled with Saul for $190,000 in a 2016 taxpayer-funded settlement. The town agreed to leave adverse findings out of Saul’s internal file, aside from the reprimand for not reporting the knee injury.
In 2017, Saul was paid more than $133,000 as a patrolman, township records show.
Saul’s attorney, Peter Paris, sent an email to the Network threatening legal action, underscoring that a judge “exonerated” his client of allegations relating to dishonesty. Paris said in an email the prosecutor’s office statements about not basing a prosecution on Saul’s testimony and about Saul not being on patrol are “patently false.” Paris stated that Saul has never been untruthful on the job and described the incident in which Saul admitted “I lied” as “bull—.”
“Ryan performs his job the same way he always has: with integrity, diligence, intelligence, and appropriate restraint,” Paris wrote. “The false allegations against him from years ago have no bearing on Ryan’s performance as a police officer.”
Manchester Police Chief Lisa Parker told the Network in a letter that Saul “is an officer currently in good standing” with the department.
Should defendants know about Saul?
Courts have established that prosecutors must turn over information helpful to the defense, including material on issues with a police officer’s credibility.
But a prosecutor’s duty to help the defense remains a murky legal area.
“Different offices will make different determinations about how far that goes,” Thomas Schmid, an assistant prosecutor in Morris County, said of Brady requirements.
The Network found at least 17 county prosecutor’s offices had no policy addressing the issue, including Ocean County.
Presented with the fact that Saul was making arrests, prosecutor’s spokesman Al Della Fave wrote in a text message that “we never claimed to know exactly in what capacity he is being utilized.”
The office had no records of making “Brady” notifications related to Saul.
Della Fave said the office won’t tell defendants about Saul’s background going forward.
“The way we read it, the court has determined he is truthful,” Della Fave said.
Asked about Saul’s participation in Superior Court criminal prosecutions, Della Fave said in August “it would be taken on a case-by-case basis, depending upon what the case is, the facts of the case,” and as of that time, there hasn’t been “a single situation where we had to deal with that issue.”
Della Fave said in September that every case a police officer testifies in – not just Saul’s – is reviewed for anything that would impact the case. Della Fave said Saul may be called to testify in a criminal case.
In a statement issued by the prosecutor’s office after this story published online, Coronato stated that “Every time OCPO evaluates a potential criminal matter, the office considers whether and how to employ the testimony of law enforcement officers; no officer is the subject of a blanket determination as to the credibility of his testimony.”
Corson didn’t respond to a September request for further comment.
Saul’s past does qualify as material that should be turned over to defendants, according to four legal experts including two law professors and the director of training and communications for the state public defender’s office, which she estimated handles roughly 85 percent of the criminal cases in New Jersey superior courts.
“Well, no one can be 100% certain in the nether world of Brady but the fact that the prosecutor thought the officer would bring disrespect on the entire department is enough for me,” Rutgers law professor George Thomas wrote in an email.
While Saul’s past might not be admissible at trial, defense attorneys should know about it, according to Alex Shalom, senior staff attorney for the ACLU in New Jersey.
“The bottom line is that the (prosecutor’s office) told a court that they believed this officer was unreliable,” Shalom said in an email. “It is unfair to allow them to now tell a jury to trust that same officer without at least notifying defense counsel of that critical inconsistency.”
‘Brady’ cops on duty
Troubled cops stay on duty in New Jersey – even when a disclaimer on their credibility follows them to court.
In two cases, conflicting authorities have left police chiefs hamstrung at taxpayer expense – stuck with cops they can’t fire but they can’t use to make arrests. Both officers earn six-figure salaries.
Edison Officer David Pedana remains on the job after he faced administrative charges “relating to the fact that he made numerous statements to others demonstrating racial and other bias,” according to a 2014 letter from Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office to Edison Police Chief Thomas Bryan.
The prosecutor’s office letter states the office is “compelled to dismiss any and all cases” that would rely on Pedana, the letter shows.
But chief Bryan told the Network in September a departmental hearing officer determined Pedana shouldn’t be terminated from employment.
Bryan wasn’t able to discuss what allegations the hearing officer sustained about Pedana’s conduct, but said in September the hearing officer did have a copy of the letter the prosecutor’s office issued about Pedana. The hearing officer determined termination was “too harsh” a penalty for Pedana’s conduct, according to Bryan. But, Bryan said, he can’t put Pedana out on the road, in a position to make an arrest.
So Pedana is assigned to the records bureau and paid a $126,740 salary, pension records show.
“I’m in a precarious situation…” Bryan told the Network.
Bryan said he didn’t have to create a position for Pedana and Pedana does a good job.
The Network used public records to identify 20 working New Jersey police officers with documented credibility issues based on requests sent to all the county prosecutor’s offices and hundreds of municipal police departments. The issues with these officers have to be disclosed when they go to court. The Network contacted the departments for each of these officers, one officer and an attorney for another said they shouldn’t be on their county prosecutor’s office Brady list.
Four of those officers are still making arrests, their departments said.
Twelve of the officers with issues that must be disclosed in court collect six-figure salaries, according to state pension data, including:
$133,370 – Clifton Gauthier, a Rockaway Township officer, was accused of official misconduct and witness tampering after he tried in 2012 to get a DWI ticket against his cousin dismissed. He struck a deal for pre-trial intervention that spared him a criminal conviction in exchange for 25 hours of community service and a year on probation.
$142,709 – Michael LaRosa, a Lodi officer, made “bigoted comments on social media” and “negative comments about Muslims,” according to a letter from the local prosecutor’s office. He was booted from one criminal prosecution and marked by Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office as an officer whose participation in criminal cases would be made “on a case-by-case basis.”
$101,000 – Police Chief Jacquelyn Ferentz of the West Wildwood Police Department was named on the Cape May County Prosecutor’s “Brady” list. Records provided to the Network don’t say why she’s on the list. Ferentz told the Network she had disciplinary charges dismissed, she was reinstated in good standing and she won a whistleblower lawsuitin 2017. She won a $1.7 million judgment in that suit, a court document shows. Ferentz said she should not be on the list, but in a follow-up call a captain in the prosecutor’s office said that the Brady list is accurate.
Brady gap statewide
There’s no state requirement to track Brady officers with records sometimes known as “Brady lists.” Nineteen of the 21 county prosecutors didn’t have a Brady list, the Network found.
The lack of record keeping on troubled officers can leave a prosecutor’s staff at a loss.
Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer Lipp wrote in response to a records request that the prosecutor’s office didn’t make a Brady notification during her three years in her current role.
Before that time, Lipp wrote of notifications: “there is no way for me to know – there is no way to research that.”
Existing state policy calls for police departments to tell prosecutors about credibility issues with an officer. Prosecutors aren’t obligated to actively scrutinize the background of an arresting officer.
“When a case comes in, nobody says, ‘wait a minute, this is a police officer, let me go back and take a look to see exactly what this guy’s history in the office (is),’” Ocean County Prosecutor Coronato said. “Nobody ever does that.”
Across New Jersey’s border, however, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is proactive in keeping track of Brady records.
The office is working with the city’s police department to create a database of officers whose background requires disclosure to defense attorneys, according to Patricia Cummings, supervisor for a unit in the office that examines convictions.
“It goes to the very core of the integrity of our criminal justice system,” Cummings said.
She said New Jersey prosecutors should track those troubled officers.
“Absolutely they should,” she said. “I think they’ve got an obligation to do so.”
The USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey reveals three gaps in the state’s police oversight system and how it affects you. Andrew Ford, @AndrewFordNews
New Jersey needs more change
Following the Network’s January investigation into gaps in New Jersey police accountability, state lawmakers moved in May to impanel a task force to review training – and the state certification process – for cops and corrections officer.
In a statement Wednesday in response to the Network’s findings, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal pointed to his three directives this year, which followed Network reporting on police accountability: random drug testing for all police officers, a police early warning system, and an order to release video recordings of police using deadly force.
Grewal announced in September the creation of a unit in his office to combat public corruption that will handle internal affairs investigations and “allegations of civil rights violations involving law enforcement officers and agencies.”
In a May interview, Grewal said his office is reviewing the state’s guidelines for police internal affairs investigations and looking at the “viability” of a statewide plan to improve Brady disclosures.
But he stopped short of a licensing program.
“I think we have a fairly established regime here with the certification process that we have in place,” he said. Grewal said he didn’t think a central repository for officer history housed in his office was “called for.”
There is a secret database maintained by the state police – that was withheld in response to a 2015 request by the Network – that lists New Jersey cops who failed drug tests.
Could a similar list be made of officers otherwise deemed unfit to serve?
“I have not looked into that,” Grewal said in May. “That’s not on the drawing board right now. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be on the drawing board at some point.”
Grewal said law enforcement wants to root out “bad apples.”
“We want to get to the bottom of these problems,” he said. “We want to make the profession better.”
Joe Szydlowski and Chelcey Adami, Salinas Californian, Nov. 2, 2018
The Salinas Police Department is initiating an internal investigation of an arrest last spring, after a complaint was filed and video of the man’s arrest became public this week.
On Tuesday, someone posted a video to YouTube depicting body-camera footage from an April arrest.
In the footage, more than a half-dozen officers are seen chasing a man identified on YouTube as Jeffrey Mackay. The man tries to scale a fence but falls after officers use two stun guns on him.
Jeffrey Tyler Mackay, 27, was arrested late on the night of April 23 after two car chases, according to Monterey County Superior Court documents.
Officers spotted him running a stop sign in a 1998 silver Honda Civic at about 11:07 p.m. at San Vicente Avenue and West Acacia Street, documents show.
When he sped away, they chased him for a short time. Officers abandoned the chase as he went the wrong way on a one-way street, documents show. A short time later officers spotted him again and chased him to an apartment complex on Archer Street, where Mackay left his car, which then rolled into another vehicle.
After a foot chase, several officers eventually stopped him using the stun guns, punches and kicks, which appear to be shown in the YouTube video.
The person who posted the video, who goes by the name “Jack and Hennessy” and was identified as Mackay’s fiance in other news reports, wrote that the videos were released last week after Mackay was sentenced.
He had pleaded no contest to driving the wrong way on a street while fleeing from an officer, a felony, and misdemeanor resisting arrest, court records show. Charges of assault with a deadly weapon, evading police and hit-and-run were dismissed.
He was sentenced to four years in prison with credit for 341 days, the records show.
The video, which begins as the man is being Tasered, appears to have been spliced together from several different body cameras.
“We are investigating the actions of the officers to make sure that they followed policy based on the allegations that were brought forward,” said Salinas Police Assistant Chief Roberto B. Filice. “We hold our officers at a high standard because that’s what’s expected by our community and our officers have no issues with that. To be fair to the public and the officers, we need to investigate it.”
Filice said “the video that has been out there has been altered,” and that the same actions are played over and over “so that it appears it’s ongoing.”
The person who posted the videos wrote: “I have full original videos. They are simply cropped together to see both angles from different cameras at once.”
The department opens internal investigations when it receives a complaint, and one was received regarding this specific incident within the last few days, Filice said.
Alleging brutality, the person who posted the video writes that the footage “shows the helpless victim being tased, punched, and kicked multiple times, even after being fully incapacitated. All cries for mercy were ignored.”
The video was viewed nearly 1,800 times as of Friday morning.
In Mackay’s mugshot from that night, he has a black eye and some scrapes on his face. He is now incarcerated at North Kern State Prison, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
He also suffered “a ruptured eardrum that will likely lead to permanent hearing loss,” Mackay’s attorney wrote in a Monterey County Superior Court document seeking police records on officers’ conduct.
Attorney Roland L. Soltesz, who also represented Mackay, viewed the body camera footage, he said in a court filing.
“Mackay was submitting to the arrest following being Tasered and falling to the ground,” Soltesz said. “Though the officer reports claim that Mr. Mackay was continually resisting arrest by tensing his arm, placing his hands under his stomach and refusing to listen to commands, the (body camera) footage shows Mr. Mackay immediately said, ‘I’m done… I’m not resisting’ upon falling to the ground.”
When an officer placed a handcuff on one of Mackay’s hands, his “hair became tangled in the handcuff,” Soletsz said.
“Mackay was trying to cooperate with the officers but was instead beaten until his eardrum ruptured,” Soletsz said.
Mackay’s attorney had asked for any police misconduct records involving officers Jordy Urrutia, Robert Hernandez, David Puckett, Edgar Garcia, Cameron Mitchell, Ryan Keating, Froyland Aranda, Jose Luis Fletes Jr. and Clifton Smith.
Fletes originally tried to pull Mackay over, while Garcia and Puckett used their Tasers on Mackay, court documents show.
Urrutia, Aranda and Mitchell also struggled with Mackay after he was taken to the ground. Keating had spotted Mackay after he escaped police during the first chase.
Hernandez patted down the suspect, noting in his report “it took… four officers on each side in an attempt to retrieve the suspect’s arms” that he allegedly was keeping under his stomach.
Smith’s role in the struggle, if any, isn’t clear. The defense filing included some but not all police reports related to the arrest.
Rhonda Combs, senior deputy city attorney for the city of Salinas, objected to disclosing records of the officers’ conduct in a June 15 filing.
Combs did, however, acknowledge the body camera footage showed Mackay’s “long hair was tangled into a cuff or something and that is why he was refusing to cooperate,” she said.
“He would have had to pull his own hair to tender his left hand (for) officers to cuff,” she said.
Officers used a “kick to the shoulder and closed-fist hits” to finish handcuffing him, she wrote.
Nonetheless, Combs added that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that excessive force accusations must be viewed from the vantage of the moment it happened.
“Officers are often forced to make split second judgments — in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving — about the amount of force necessary,” she said.
She also noted that Mackay had led officers on two car chases and then ran away from them after 11 p.m.
“He is doing his time for his mistakes that night,” the person who posted the video wrote on YouTube. “This video is only to bring to light the other side of the story. I am a strong supporter of police but they need to be held accountable as well.”
In the lead-up to the struggle, Salinas police officers noted Mackay had repeatedly reached for his waistband while running in the dimly lit apartment complex, the police reports show.
After two officers used the stun guns on him, Mackay, lying face down, wouldn’t remove his hands from underneath his stomach, the reports say.
Officers said they feared he was trying to access a weapon in his waistband or front pockets, so they began striking him until he said “OK. I’m done. I’ll stop,” police said.
After they handcuffed him, Mackay was evaluated by paramedics before being taken to the jail. Officers reported injuries from the struggle, including one officer whose left middle finger “was bent backwards,” according to the reports.
The reports did not mention the handcuff snaring some of Mackay’s hair.
Mackay has had many encounters with law enforcement, some of them violent, Monterey County Superior Court records show.
In April 2016, he was accused of resisting arrest and seriously injuring Monterey County Sheriff’s deputy Brandon Smith.
The more serious charge was dismissed after he pleaded no contest to resisting or obstructing an officer. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years of formal probation.
In January 2011, Mackay was charged with resisting arrest. He pleaded no contest to the charge and was sentenced to three years probation, according to court records.
A year before, he’d been charged with felony battery on a peace officer and pleaded no contest, court records show.
He also was accused of felony DUI in 2010, to which he pleaded no contest, which led to the suspension of his driver’s license.
On April 22, the day before Salinas police allegedly used excessive force, Mackay was caught by Marina police on suspicion of driving on a suspended license. Court records show that charge was later dismissed.
Filice said after a formal complaint is received, the case is assigned to the police department’s internal investigations sergeant. He or she then conducts interviews with all involved and gets as much information as possible to compile a report.
That report is given to the chief of police and executive staff to review whether policy violations took place, Filice said. If a violation is found, action is taken, he said.
Internal investigations may take months to complete.
“Obviously we try to address complaints as expeditiously as possible but we can’t say how long it will take because we do not know,” Filice said.
The chief will make the final determination on what information from the investigation will be shared with the public, he said.
“One of the things that I’d like for people to consider is that the video has been altered and what they are depicting there is not what happened,” Filice said. “Unfortunately, since we have an internal investigation going, we can’t share any videos we have at this time … I would ask people to keep an open mind.”
Filice added that the police department has seen increased trust with the community and the police chief’s goal is to be “as transparent as possible.”
“We ask the public to be patient and let us go through the process of investigating the incident and then the chief will be able to share the facts once we know all the facts,” he said. “But we do want to thank the community for all the support we have received.”
Filice said Friday the police department has not been served with any notice that a civil lawsuit has been filed in this case.
The Metro Council approved a substantial settlement Tuesday over an allegation of police misconduct. It’s one of the larger payouts in nearly a decade, mainly because the woman arrested fought every step of the way.
Early one August morning in 2011, Andrea Miller was driving home from working a night shift at a Wilson Sporting Goods warehouse. As she turned down her street in North Nashville, she noticed a police car driving the other direction. “And next thing I see, he puts on his lights and makes a U-turn,” Miller recalls.
Miller, just a few hundred feet from her home, pulled into her driveway. That’s when the Metro officer named Woodston Maddox got out of his patrol car, approached her vehicle and ordered Miller out.
“So I get out the car, he tells me turn around and he puts me in cuffs,” Miller says. “So I ask, ‘Why are you arresting me?’ And he says, ‘I am arresting you for running that stop sign.'”
Officer Maddox also claimed Miller was speeding and said he smelled marijuana in her car. No drugs were found.
Miller says Maddox never asked for her license and registration and that the entire incident, from the moment she pulled into her driveway until she was handcuffed, unfolded in less than two minutes.
Miller was charged with resisting arrest and reckless driving. And as her case made its slow crawl through the courts, she did something that defendants in these types of cases rarely do: She stood by her innocence claim, refusing to take a plea deal.
As Miller’s lawyer, Kyle Mothershead, dug into the case, he found evidence that officer Maddox had made false statements. Most notably: The stop sign Miller allegedly ran was out of view of the officer. Another was the claim that Miller was so unruly that three officers were needed to take her into custody.
“But the records show,” Mothershead said, “that one of the officers never came at all. And that the third officer came after she was in custody.”
After two years, the criminal case was eventually dismissed. That’s when Miller decided to file a federal civil rights lawsuit. And Metro Legal fought it tooth-and-nail. Citing a specific legal argument, the city claimed that, because Miller was indicted by a grand jury, she couldn’t sue — no matter how the facts shook out. They even appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. It declined.
Seven years later, with a trial date set for this month, Mothershead and Miller had a mediation conference with Metro Legal. Surprisingly, after years of litigation, the city offered to settle for $130,000, hitting Nashville’s $50,000 cap for police misconduct cases and paying another $80,000 in legal fees.
In a council committe meeting on Monday, Metro’s law director, Jon Cooper, said the decision is a prudent one for the city because there’s a good chance Miller could come out on top in court.
“The plaintiff would make a very good witness, would be a very sympathetic witness, and so we think that certainly from a business standpoint this is the best approach for the city,” Cooper said.
All these years later, the settlement does give Miller a sense of closure. But she still struggles with what happened that night. She decided to move out of Davidson County, wanting to start fresh with a new home and a different police department.
After five years with Meteo Police, Maddox retired from the department in 2015.
Miller says her experiences with police prior to the incident were always cordial. Never before had she sparred with law enforcement. But now, she worries.
“I just worry about potentially being victimized again,” Miller said. “In the same way but maybe worse.”