Exclusive: Philly police release hundreds of disciplinary records for ‘Facebook cops’

It’s likely the largest records disclosure in department history.

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MIGUEL MARTINEZ / BILLY PENN
Max Marin and Ryan Briggs Today, 6:00 a.m.
As Philadelphia police leadership deals with fallout over the Facebook scandal, WHYY and Billy Penn have obtained an unprecedented release of disciplinary records linked to hundreds of officers whose social media posts have come under fire.

The newly released records detail civilian complaint histories for 309 of the 323 active-duty Philadelphia officers who also appeared in a database of racist or otherwise offensive Facebook posts.

The database, published last month, spurred nationwide outrage and led to dozens of officers being taken off street duty. District Attorney Larry Krasner warned that an unknown number of police could end up being barred from testifying at criminal trials.

Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, spokesman for the PPD, said the latest release of disciplinary records is the largest such disclosure in departmental history.

“As best as I can determine, we have not released this volume of [civilian complaint] numbers pursuant to a singular request,” Kinebrew said.

The records were obtained through an information request filed by WHYY and Billy Penn. They show that 153 of the officers who appeared in the Facebook database, compiled by a group called the Plain View Project, accrued at least one civilian complaint since 2015. Some of the officers have been previously identified for their extensive complaint histories.

In total, civilians lodged 338 complaints against this group of officers in the past five years. They alleged misconduct ranging from minor departmental violations to purportedly criminal acts.

However, 160 other officers named in the Facebook database had not received any civilian complaints at all. The department did not release records for 14 other officers, asserting that they could not be located.

Of those cited in the latest release, 12th District Officer Marc B. Marchetti tops the list. The patrolman has been named in 16 different civilian complaints since 2015 — about one complaint every three to four months. In that same period, the vast majority of PPD officers received zero or one complaint, according to a WHYY analysis of complaint data.

Grievances aimed at Marchetti include multiple physical abuse and harassment allegations, including several involving juveniles. Internal Affairs ordered training and counseling for Marchetti in three cases for violating lesser departmental guidelines.

Marchetti appears in the Facebook database for a 2015 comment he made on a post about a woman reportedly fending off home invaders with a firearm.

“Would have been better to see at least one guy shot in the head,” Marchetti wrote.

Police officials have condemned many of the more vitriolic posts cited in the database, while downplaying the severity of others. The head of the police union defended much of the content as merely “cops being cops and venting.” However, Commissioner Richard Ross has placed 72 officers on desk duty while their social media histories are under investigation.

Ross also promised that some of those benched officers, who remain unnamed, would be fired in an attempt to restore public trust in the scandal-rocked department. Spokesman Kinebrew declined to say if police brass are reviewing each officer’s disciplinary history in conjunction with their social media posts.

Despite swift backlash from departmental leadership, it is unclear if officers’ social media accounts were ever monitored for red flags. But the department does profess to monitor civilian complaints for warning signs of officers who may be unfit for street duty. It has also drawn criticism in the past for the failures of its internal disciplinary system, which rarely results in serious consequences, even in the few instances in which Internal Affairs sustains a civilian’s complaint.

Complaints and Facebook posts could impact criminal cases

There is no clear correlation between the volume of offensive Facebook posts an officer made and the volume of complaints they received.

Top complaint-getter Marchetti, for example, was flagged for just one comment by the Plain View Project, while some of his colleagues with no civilian complaints were among the most aggressive online posters.

Overall, police whose social media habits are now under intense scrutiny were more likely to be accused of misconduct. Of the officers that appeared in the Plain View Project database, 48% received one or more civilian complaint in five years, compared to 38% for the department as a whole.

Attorneys say the combination of these disciplinary records and social media posts will have a major impact on future criminal proceedings in which these officers are key witnesses.

“All of those officers are now vulnerable in court, they’re vulnerable in the DA’s office, they’re vulnerable with every criminal investigation they’re involved with,” said criminal defense lawyer Troy Wilson.

Officer Justin Donohue of the 35th District was one of the officers cited in the Facebook database. Working on the streets of North Philadelphia, he has been named in nine complaints lodged by civilians since 2015. That total makes him a significant outlier in a department where fewer than 2% of all officers receive as many complaints, according to a WHYY/Billy Penn analysis.

The department found Donahue guilty of verbally abusing a civilian in one case, as well as breaking unspecified departmental policy in three others. He was assigned training and counseling. Internal investigators dismissed four other complaints against him involving physical abuse and harassment.

The details of these allegations were recently scrubbed from the city’s public records. However, they won’t be hidden for long if Donahue ends up on the witness stand.

The North Philly district Donohue patrols is home to numerous mosques and a large Muslim community. In his Facebook posts, the patrolman urged a ban on face coverings for Muslim women. In 2012, he shared an article about protests in Iraq after a former U.S. Marine struck a lenient plea deal over his involvement in the 2005 Haditha massacre of Iraqi civilians.

“Who gives a flying F*** if the iraqi’s [sic] are pissed. F*** them and their country,” Donohue wrote. “They should take all the iraqi’s that were at the court hearing and piss on them outside the court room and broadcast it nationaly and tell the rest of the world who is mad to also go F*** them selves.”

To Wilson, the defense lawyer, these Facebook posts alone could have an impact on Donohue’s testimony in any criminal case in which the defendant is Arab or Muslim.

Add the pile of disciplinary priors to the mix, and the officer becomes a liability for the prosecution, Wilson said. Defense attorneys like himself will subpoena the grisly details of an officer’s complaints and introduce them as evidence alongside the Facebook posts.

“If my client is Muslim, I’m going to subpoena that officer’s disciplinary file with the City of Philadelphia, and I’m going to get the Facebook information, and I’m going to cross-examine that officer about his feelings about Muslims,” Wilson said. “If you’re the DA, good luck with winning that case against me.”

Kinebrew, the police spokesman, declined to make officers available for interviews.

 

Max Marin and Ryan Briggs, https://billypenn.com/2019/07/16/philly-police-release-hundreds-of-disciplinary-records-for-facebook-cops/

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ABUSING THOSE WHO SERVED

Veterans Affairs Police Are Supposed to “Protect Those Who Served.” They Have a Shocking Record of Brutality and Impunity.

Marine veteran Derrick Hathaway sits for a portrait on June 19, 2019, in Chandler, Ariz. Photo: Caitlin O’Hara for The Intercept

DERRICK HATHAWAY SERVED multiple tours in Kosovo, contributing to a NATO peacekeeping mission aimed at preventing ethnic cleansing. While Hathaway envisioned his Marine mission as a humanitarian one, he soon became ashamed of his work. In the course of mapping safe routes for NATO forces, Hathaway’s platoon would perform no-knock home raids to search for weapons or contraband, leading to tense confrontations with frightened families.

“It was martial law,” Hathaway said. “That left a nasty taste in my mouth. All we were doing was feeding a new form of hate.”

Still, Hathaway followed orders and earned a number of awards for his military service, including the Good Conduct Medal, which is given to recognize “good behavior and faithful service.” But after half a decade in uniform, Hathaway was given a bad conduct discharge in February 2005. He got the boot after failing a Department of Defense drug test administered shortly after a rowdy weekend in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Among other things, this denied him access to mental health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

For years, veterans advocates and policymakers have worked to open the VA to the half-million so-called bad paper veterans like Hathaway. Last year, Congress directed the VA to offer more mental health care benefits to this neglected population. For Hathaway, however, it was too little and too late.

“The military threw me to the wolves,” Hathaway told The Intercept. “I couldn’t get counseling. I was abandoned by them.” Desperate for help, Hathaway visited his local VA hospital in Phoenix and would occasionally receive care on humanitarian grounds.

It was September 9, 2015, at around 10:30 a.m. when Hathaway, then 34, entered the hospital looking somewhat disheveled. The temperature outside had already hit 93 degrees Fahrenheit and would continue to climb. He was wearing a whimsical green T-shirt emblazoned with the Tootsie Pop slogan, “How many licks does it take?”

A hospital staffer quickly recognized Hathaway from a previous visit, deemed him a trespasser, and alerted the Veterans Affairs Police of his presence. According to a police report, three officers quickly showed up and tried to arrest Hathaway, who resisted. In the scuffle, Hathaway allegedly kicked officers and bit one’s right thumb.

Once handcuffed, Hathaway was forced into a wheelchair and hauled to a cramped holding cell in the hospital. First, two officers grabbed him by the shirt, rammed his face and body into the back wall of the cell, then threw him to the ground, according to a lawsuit Hathaway filed later. Grainy video surveillance appears to corroborate this account, and it shows that three officers proceeded to pile on top of him. Hathaway alleged that in this pile-on, Sgt. Joshua Fister strangled him. (Though the video footage itself appears inconclusive on this point, police photos taken after the incident show red marks around Hathaway’s neck). Hathaway was ultimately left sprawled out on the floor, bruised and bleeding from a 2-inch gash on his head. At some point during the melee, one of the officers stepped in a puddle of Hathaway’s blood, which he tracked into an exterior hallway.

The hospital visit resulted in five criminal charges against Hathaway, including felony aggravated assault of a police officer. The assault charge stuck, and he served 16 months in prison, which upended his life and recovery.

After he got out of prison, the husky former Marine filed his suit against the VA, alleging that its officers used excessive force. Late last year, the VA settled with Hathaway for $25,000, according to his lawyer, Charles Piccuta. (A spokesperson for the Phoenix VA noted that the settlement “included no admission of liability or fault on the VA’s part.”)

Fister, the cop who allegedly choked Hathaway, has also faced a previous allegation of excessive force: A former VA police officer in Phoenix said that two months before Hathaway’s arrest he witnessed Fister choke a different veteran patient who, just prior to the incident, was expressing suicidal intent but “wasn’t being disruptive” or violent in any way.

“His eyeballs were popping out of his head; he was turning another color,” said the officer, an Army veteran who remains in law enforcement and requested anonymity to avoid adverse professional consequences.

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These images of Derrick Hathaway were included in a police report produced after his arrest in September 2015.Photos: Phoenix Veterans Affairs Police Department

The officer said he reported the incident to his deputy chief and the hospital director. Correspondence reviewed by The Intercept shows that he also informed the FBI. While the VA Office of Inspector General launched an inquiry, the whistleblowing officer said he was never interviewed. (When asked for comment, the VA OIG provided a statement saying that it does not comment on “investigations it may or may not have completed involving an individual.”) After news of the officer’s complaints leaked into the lower ranks of the department, other cops harassed the whistleblower, threatened him, and keyed his car.

“It comes down to the thin blue line: Officers don’t want to tell on other officers,” said the whistleblower, who left the department in December 2016.

Piccuta told The Intercept that all five officers accused of causing Hathaway’s injuries, including Fister, remain on the VA police force. In response to a detailed list of questions, a spokesperson at the Phoenix VA provided a statement emphasizing Hathaway’s behavior and subsequent assault conviction. The spokesperson did not make Fister available for comment, and messages left at voice mailboxes and email addresses associated with his name were not returned.

Shocking reports of police violence against elderly patients at VA facilities have emerged in recent years.

The allegations against Fister do not appear to be exceptional. Shocking reports of excessive violence against veteran patients, many of them elderly, have emerged in recent years. They include then-71-year-old Vietnam veteran Jose Olivia, who in 2016 was tackled to the ground and arrested by VA police in El Paso after setting off a metal detector. The attack, captured on a surveillance camera, resulted in shoulder and throat injuries that required surgery. The same year, Marine veteran Danny Ralph and his service dog were both slammed to the ground by VA policein Spokane, Washington. Police charged Ralph, then 60, with disorderly conduct, contending that he refused to keep his dog outside the facility despite repeated requests.

Violent incidents like these can have fatal consequences. In 2014, the VA paid out a $500,000 settlement to the family of Jonathan Montano, a veteran who died following a physical altercation with police at the VA hospital in Loma Linda, California. Police ruptured Montano’s carotid artery, which resulted in blood clotting and a stroke. Last May, a 66-year-old veteran named Dale Farhner died following a physical struggle with VA police in Kansas City, Missouri. Police detained Farhner because he was apparently driving the wrong way down one of the hospital’s driveways, according to the Kansas City Star. One year later, the VA still has not released any information on Farhner’s death despite requests from the Star, Missouri’s U.S. Senate delegation, and Farhner’s family.

FILE- In this March 31, 2015, file photo, the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs Medical Center is shown in Portland, Ore. An assessment by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs concluded that more than 12 percent of callers to its Portland call center get tired of waiting for someone to answer and hang up. The VA also gave poor grades to Oregon's three VA hospitals. The Portland facility rated only two out of five starts when it was assessed last December, while Roseburg's got two stars in June and White City's received a single star both in last December and in June. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, File)

The Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Portland, Ore., on March 31, 2015. According to internal reports, two veteran patients suffered injuries at the hands of multiple officers at the facility in 2017. Officials determined that the officers acted appropriately.

Photo: Don Ryan/AP

Protecting Those Who Served

Today, nearly 4,200 Veterans Affairs police officers are stationed at 139 VA medical centers across the country. These cops are tasked with keeping order on VA grounds and overseeing a patient population that includes many highly trained ex-military members with psychological trauma. The force’s motto is “Protecting Those Who Served.” Yet for Hathaway and scores of other veterans, that maxim hasn’t matched the reality on the ground.

After reviewing internal police reports, legal documents, and local news reports spanning the past 10 years, The Intercept has identified dozens of credible allegations that VA cops in every corner of the United States have neglected standard police procedures, violated patients’ constitutional rights, or broken the law. In the course of their duties, they have beaten veterans, bungled sensitive investigations, falsified arrest reports, conducted improper searches, and ignored basic procedures, like reading citizens their Miranda rights.

It’s impossible at present to determine the prevalence of misconduct among VA police and how that might compare to other law enforcement agencies — largely because of the department’s own failures. According to a sweeping December report from the VA’s Office of Inspector General, the VA “did not have adequate and coordinated governance over its police program to ensure effective management and oversight for its approximately 4,000-strong police officer workforce.” The OIG found that forces at roughly three out of every four facilities were not receiving timely inspections. Further, the sparse data collected on police activities was not tracked or assessed in any systematic or rigorous way.

In other words, even if it’s unclear how prevalent misconduct is among VA police, it does seem apparent that the department’s lack of oversight structures stacks the deck against accountability and in favor of impunity.

While the VA police force was formally classified as a federal law enforcement body in 1991, its officers were not issued firearms for nearly a decade. But the VA soon provided its cops with the tools of modern American policing, partnering with the Pentagon as part of its highly controversial 1033 program, which provides military-grade equipment to police departments across the county. Between 2005 and 2014, VA police departments acquired millions of dollars’ worth of body armor, chemical agents, night vision equipment, and other weapons and tactical gear.

VA police in every corner of the U.S. have neglected standard procedures, violated patients’ constitutional rights, or broken the law.

Despite this windfall, VA police face critical staffing shortages and are often unable to uphold their basic mission of ensuring security on hospital grounds. (As of late last year, 40 percent of all VA police departments had an officer vacancy rate above 20 percent.) In the past year, the OIG has identified a half-dozen facilities where police failure to carry out required safety procedures “resulted in a lack of assurance of a safe environment for patients and staff.” In one typical example from an inspection of a VA hospital in Marion, Illinois, investigators found that police weren’t remedying problems with the hospital’s panic alarm system. They also had not addressed longstanding security deficiencies at the hospital’s pharmacy, which put it “at risk for potential loss or theft of medications.”

The officers themselves appear to receive as little scrutiny as the security issues they’re supposed to monitor: Oversight of the cops is sparse, decentralized, and split between local hospital leaders and a dysfunctional, Washington-based body called the Office of Security and Law Enforcement. The December OIG report identified significant internal confusion regarding OS&LE, with VA officials believing it to be the agency’s police watchdog despite the fact that the office lacks authority to hold departments “accountable for adhering to police program policies.”

One of the office’s main responsibilities is inspecting departments. Yet the OIG found that beginning in 2014, OS&LE had just six full-time staffers tasked with inspections and oversight of VA police. By 2017, three of these employees had been diverted to other roles. (Since the OIG released its report, the department has provided OS&LE with 10 additional staffers.) Because of staffing constraints, OS&LE did not provide timely inspections for 74 percent of VA medical facilities.

In response to The Intercept’s inquiries, a department spokesperson said that the VA police force is currently undergoing reforms based on the OIG’s findings. Specifically, the department has hired a senior security officer and 18 regional security managers to identify challenges, review inspection reports, and promote hiring and retention. The department will also soon pilot new software designed to continuously assess the state of physical security at department hospitals and recommend improvements. The spokesperson added that inspection times have improved, in large part because OS&LE has hired additional staffers.

The OIG’s 2018 report was the latest in a string of embarrassing inquiries dating back to the late 1980s. Some of the most shocking findings came in a 2011 Government Accountability Office report that found that many of the nearly 300 sexual assault allegations reported to the VA police since January 2007 were not passed on to the OIG — in violation of departmental regulations — or to VA leadership.

Last winter’s report was spurred, in part, by a wave of police complaints pouring into congressional offices. Earlier this year, Congress directed the Government Accountability Office to further investigate the VA police, and two weeks ago, lawmakers on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs grilled VA officials on police misconduct in their districts.

“It’s hard for me to sit here and answer questions after hearing the stories that you’re talking about,” Renee Oshinski, an acting deputy under secretary at the VA, told lawmakers. “We have to go back and question whether or not the things that we are doing are being effective.”

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The Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Washington, D.C., on June 16, 2019. Only a few miles away, staff at the local VA Medical Center allege that pervasive police misconduct festered unaddressed.

Photo: Michael A. McCoy for The Intercept

Corruption in the Capital

In April 2017, shortly after Tony Hebert became the Washington D.C. VA’s new acting police chief, he held a meeting with his officers in a conference room near the hospital’s dental clinic. Many hoped that he would conduct a much-needed cleaning of their dirty department: Two years earlier, two dozen current and former cops had taken the extraordinary step of suing their then-chief Jerry Brown on the grounds that he had secretly installed surveillance equipment, including in changing rooms used by men and women, and snooped on staffers. According to the complaint, Brown “conspired” to spy on staff with the VA Medical Center’s then-director, Brian Hawkins, whose tenure at the hospital was scarred by a damning OIG report that found hospital leaders were upholding a “culture of complacency” that led to serious lapses in the quality of care. (An attorney representing Brown and Hawkins did not respond to requests for comment.)

The reform-minded officers’ optimism was short-lived. In his introductory remarks, Hebert made clear that if anyone on the force interfered with his leadership, he would “roll the fuck over us,” according to a complaint later submitted by Officer Jeremy Balzan to the Department of Justice. According to an administrative complaint submitted by Capt. Luis Rodriguez, during multiple meetings, Hebert slammed his badge on a table and yelled, “I am the fucking chief of police! I have a gold badge; you have silver badges. You will do what I say, or I will fucking fire your asses!”

One of Hebert’s first acts as police chief was hiring a man he later described as his “best friend,” according to Rodriguez’s complaint. Alfred Coburn was hired as one of three new captains at the time, but job postings appear to indicate that only two of those positions were publicly listed. If Hebert hired Coburn for an unlisted position, as Balzan suggested in a formal grievance, it could mean that he violated federal hiring rules. (In an interview with The Intercept, Hebert categorically denied this and all other allegations against him.)

VA police in Washington, D.C., allege that they were repeatedly ordered to falsify training records, dispatch journals, and police reports.

But crony hiring is just one of the many allegations of misconduct that have since dogged Hebert. Balzan, Rodriguez, and two other VA cops who requested anonymity for fear of adverse professional consequences told The Intercept that Hebert repeatedly ordered officers to falsify training records, dispatch journals, and police reports, often in order to make charges less severe and to suggest that criminal activity had been curtailed on his watch. Specific incidents are documented in Balzan’s complaint, which alleges that Coburn also ordered changes to a police report in one instance and falsified reports himself in others.

The OS&LE later documented a plethora of bookkeeping irregularities in the D.C. department, from late and illegible firearms and ammunition records to training sheets that were filled out before said training had occurred. It also found that the department’s investigative reports frequently left out key details and suggested the police work was often not thorough enough to “determine whether a crime has been committed.” At least one report cited a witness statement that was never produced. Two reports of sexual assault made against D.C. staffers were not appropriately investigated by VA police. In one of those instances, the survivor was never even interviewed.

Balzan claims that one day while he was monitoring closed-circuit surveillance footage in October 2017, he witnessed Coburn visiting the department on his day off with a woman the DOJ complaint identified as his girlfriend. After parking illegally on the emergency room ramp, he entered the hospital, had an employee print an incident report from weeks prior, and filed a revised report. In addition to restructuring narrative details, Coburn also added felony charges against the subject of the report, who had stated his desire to file a complaint against Coburn, according to the statement Balzan submitted to the DOJ.

Ironically enough, Balzan and another VA police officer said they witnessed closed-circuit footage of Coburn using excessive force on a government employee over a parking violation just one month after his own unorthodox parking job. The individual allegedly parked at the VA while going to pick up his mother at a nearby clinic. After Coburn and another officer approached the individual, he fled and was eventually taken down by the officers. The department’s subsequent use of force review faulted Coburn’s actions as “in violation of the subject’s Fourth Amendment rights.”  (In the review, Coburn claimed that the subject tripped.)

Finding little recourse to address misconduct internally, Balzan organized nine cops and administrative staffers to sign onto his DOJ complaint. His efforts came on the heels of an August 2017 OS&LE inspection that found the D.C. department was “not operating in a satisfactory manner.”

Under fire and with the specter of accountability on the horizon, Hebert made good on his inaugural promise to punish the police who had gone against him, according to the four officers who spoke to The Intercept. Balzan said he filed his first grievance after Hebert removed him from his detective position and put him on dispatch duty on the grounds that he had failed a firearms test — despite the fact that other cops who performed at a similar level were given additional training and testing and allowed to stay in their positions. Balzan said his pay was reduced by at least $5,000 as a result of the reassignment. He continued to file complaints and said he received threats from Hebert, as well as an anonymous email that stated, “Resign while you can before you get fired.”

CPT Luis Rodriguez of the Veteran Affairs police department sits outside of his office in Washington, DC, on June 16, 2019. Rodriguez faced retaliation from his superiors after he attempted to file a formal complaint to report corruption within the Veteran Affairs police department.

Capt. Luis Rodriguez of the Veterans Affairs police department sits outside of the VA facility in Washington, D.C., on June 16, 2019.

Photo: Michael A. McCoy for The Intercept

Rodriguez, meanwhile, shared concerns with a union official that Hebert was targeting whistleblowing cops in order to remove or demote them, and he wrote a statement for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in support of Balzan. In December 2017, Rodriguez received a letter from the hospital director proposing his termination on the vague grounds of “failure to meet conditions of employment.”

“There’s no way we can do our jobs when they keep us underneath their thumbs,” Rodriguez said. “It feels like VA leaders are untouchable.”

Coburn and Hebert, meanwhile, remained essentially unscathed. Last summer, they moved to new positions at a VA police department in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. While Coburn is still on the force, Hebert recently left the VA. According to LinkedIn, Hebert had a short stint at a private security company that does business with the VA and is now the Virginia director of security solutions for another private firm, Bri-Bet Group, according to its website.

A spokesperson for the D.C. VA said that a new permanent police chief and hospital director are putting the facility “on a new path” and remediating the problems identified by the OS&LE. The spokesperson declined to address specific allegations against Hebert and Coburn without their consent. In a brief phone call, Coburn declined to speak about his VA work. “You can print whatever the hell you want,” he told The Intercept. “I don’t really care what happens.”

In an interview, Hebert said he was a “very successful chief” who earned outstanding performance evaluations, though he declined to provide them to The Intercept. He said he was targeted for being a white chief in a mostly black department.

Death by a Thousand Cuts

The retaliation alleged in D.C. is not uncommon. Last summer, the GAOfound that VA whistleblowers are 10 times more likely to be disciplined than their peers. Two months before the report, the Daily Caller published a story highlighting the plight of four VA police whistleblowers. These cops and others who spoke with The Intercept say their actions spurred specious counterinvestigations, relegation to desk duty, unfair annual evaluations, and other retaliatory actions that jeopardized their jobs or made promotions impossible. Three cops from different departments told The Intercept that administrators illegally accessed their medical files in attempts to uncover dirt and write blackmail.

At the VA hospital in Saginaw, Michigan, Air Force veteran and VA Officer Mary Baker told The Intercept that she brought forth allegations that cops on the force were routinely making blatantly racist remarks and having casual conversations about rape. While her allegations were largely affirmed following an internal investigation — which found that “Police Service Leadership supported a culture of allowing inappropriate behavior (public simulated sex acts, racial slurs, etc.)” — Baker said the findings were disregarded, and the offending officers even continued to receive promotions. As one of two women on the force, Baker said her qualifications are consistently questioned, and she continues to face sexist behavior.

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Air Force veteran and VA police Officer Mary Baker in May 2019.

Photo: Courtesy of Mary Baker

“It sickens me to see these people in leadership roles,” Baker told The Intercept. “Meanwhile, I feel like I’m a contestant on ‘Survivor’ or ‘Big Brother’; people are trying to get a reaction or a response out of me. They want to point the finger at me, make me look unstable, unfit, emotional. They have put so much pressure on me.”In a statement provided to The Intercept, a VA spokesperson in Saginaw said, “The allegations were investigated, processes were followed, and appropriate action has been taken.” She confirmed that three of the five cops who Baker claimed engaged in inappropriate behavior remain VA officers.

Officer Tim Petoskey, who spoke with both the Daily Caller and The Intercept, alleged that police leaders at the Seattle VA engaged in gross mismanagement, rampant discrimination, and illegal searches of veteran patients. Petoskey’s specific allegations, which were later corroborated in a 2015 internal investigation, included instances of cops referring to black VA employees with the “N-word” or describing them as “fucking monkeys.” Cops were found to have engaged in a litany of additional misconduct, from sloppy budgeting and unfair hiring practices to misplacing hundreds of police reports.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts,” Petoskey told The Intercept. “My pay is messed up. My work orders for equipment get lost. I’ve been passed up for promotions. More troubling, our major forms of redress … are taking VA’s cartoonish excuses for this retaliatory behavior as valid.”

In response to The Intercept’s inquiries, a department spokesperson said the hospital “thoroughly investigated” the allegations and “fixed all of the identified issues.”

“As a result of that investigation, four officers — none of whom still work for VA — left the VA Puget Sound police before any discipline could be administered,” the spokesperson said.

CPT Luis Rodriguez patrols the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Washington, DC on June 16, 2019. Rodriguez is responsible for patrolling the various locations in the Washington, DC area and another VA facility located 55 miles away in Quantico, VA. Due to limited staffing and resources the department is unable to fulfill its mission due to a job vacancy rate above 20 percent. (Michael A. McCoy for The Intercept)

Capt. Luis Rodriguez patrols the VA Medical Center by car in Washington, D.C., on June 16, 2019.

Photo: Michael A. McCoy for The Intercept

Qualified to Serve?

The VA police force has long struggled to recruit and retain clean, qualified cops. In 1988, the VA’s inspector general found that 57 percent of department officers surveyed were unqualified, unsuited, or both, including 21 police officers who did not disclose prior criminal convictions on their applications for VA employment. In 1989, the VA created the OS&LE in part to address this shortcoming.

Today, prospective VA police are required to submit to a criminal history check, a drug test, and a medical examination. But because the department is desperate to fill its many vacancies, it seems to many on the force that some qualifications are requirements in name only. In September 2017, the department issued a policy advisory that allows police to be given interim credentials before a background investigation by the Office of Personnel Management is completed. (In response to questions about officer vacancy rates and retention, a VA spokesperson told The Intercept that the department has added a net total of 402 officers since 2014.)

At least one officer with serious professional blemishes has risen quite high in the force: the D.C. VA’s deputy chief, Roger Lindsay, who, according to court documents, was indicted by a grand jury in 2004 on charges of intimidating and threatening witnesses to extract statements for a murder investigation while working as a municipal police officer in Brazil, Indiana. (The charge was dismissed on appeal due to the statute of limitations.) Lindsay also purchased a fake MBA degree and submitted it as part of an application to be a police chief at a department in Florida. The OS&LE’s report on D.C. police noted that when Lindsay was under consideration for a job, the VA did not exhaustively examine his previous five years in law enforcement, per departmental requirements. (A spokesperson for the D.C. VA said the hospital is “conducting a top-to-bottom review of Lindsay’s hiring,” which was made under Hebert’s direction; through the spokesperson, Lindsay declined to be interviewed.)

The department’s centralized training academy in Little Rock, Arkansas, is its primary attempt to professionalize its police. Yet the standardized training for VA cops today lasts just 400 hours, which falls significantly below training requirements for many local cops, which vary by jurisdiction. Massachusetts, for example, requires 900 hours of training to become an officer. And despite the unique challenges that VA officers face in dealing with veteran patients, the curriculum focuses little on how to police in this environment.

The academy dedicates only two hours total to “veteran-centered policing,” one hour to “crisis intervention,” and one hour to “post-traumatic stress disorder.” Despite a recent series of shocking suicides on hospital grounds, would-be VA cops are given just one three-hour lecture on “suicide awareness and prevention,” according to the 2019 training curriculum, which was obtained by The Intercept in a public records request.

“When I came out of the academy, I was stupider than when I went in.”

The training is held in uniformly low esteem by the officers who spoke to The Intercept. Charles Harrington, a VA police officer out of Bay Pines, Florida, said a lot of his colleagues “do not have the appropriate legal foundation” to serve, while Officer Ghassan Ghannoum of the West Los Angeles VA bluntly said, “When I came out of the academy, I was stupider than when I went in.”

In response to The Intercept’s inquiries, a spokesperson for the VA pointed to the academy’s accreditation by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Accreditation Board and claimed that it has a “reputation for excellence” among other federal law enforcement agencies that hold trainings there.

Inadequate training may account for the lackluster execution of much day-to-day police work. One troubling finding highlighted in the OIG’s winter report was that officers at the Chicago VA were not consistently advising suspects of their constitutional rights during arrest.

VA police officers across the country have been found to repeatedly issue federal charges with scant evidence for minor violations, a practice that can cause legal headaches and significant bills. The VA police force in Pittsburgh, for instance, has charged hospital employees with disorderly conduct, receiving stolen property, tampering with evidence, and invasion of privacy — charges that were later withdrawn or dismissed in Allegheny County District Court. In 2017, Tampa Bay’s NPR station WUSF found that VA police were taking veteran patients to federal court over small infractions, from parking tickets to spitting.

A VA police detective in Seattle acknowledged to OIG investigators that shoddy police work led to legitimate cases being dropped. Lawyers said that police routinely wrote poor reports that misstated statutes and didn’t properly justify probable cause for actions. One staffer inside the local U.S. Attorney’s Office simply described the Seattle department as a “hot mess.”

juan-victoria-1561150024

Navy veteran and VA nurse Juan Victoria in June 2019.

Photo: Courtesy of Juan Victoria

The Big, Powerful Men

In October 2017, Navy veteran Juan Victoria, a nurse at the VA hospital in Fayetteville, Arkansas, was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after expressing his intention to report improper behavior by a VA police officer.

Victoria said an officer named Jeff Eye came into the hospital’s triage room, told a patient that his car was parked illegally, and demanded that he move it immediately. Victoria, who was the nursing supervisor that night, told Eye that his actions had violated various laws and regulations, including the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, which guarantees patients uninterrupted access to emergency care.

“I was advocating for the patient and the VA,” Victoria told The Intercept. “If the patient had left the triage room before being evaluated by a physician and experienced a serious medical event, we would have had no justification for why the patient was taken out of the ER. We would have been held liable.”

Victoria said his words angered Eye, and a scuffle ensued. In a statement Victoria drafted and sent to VA administrators hours later, he said Eye and another VA cop “took hold of my arms and forcefully took me to the ground, hitting the left side of my forehead and my right knee while also damaging my glasses and phone. … One of the officers put what felt like his knee on my back and neck.” Victoria was arrested, placed in a holding cell, and charged. According to local union officials, his arrest was the second violent incident between VA cops and nursing staff in two months and a violation of the police’s code of conduct.

 

A spokesperson at the facility provided the following statement on behalf of the VA: “The incident at the center of this inquiry involved an employee who improperly intervened in a police matter and refused to comply with a police officer’s instructions despite repeated warnings. The Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks investigated this incident thoroughly and found that the officer’s use of force was appropriate.” Attempts to reach Eye by phone and email were unsuccessful.

Nevertheless, after Victoria’s congressperson, Republican Steve Womack, intervened with an inquiry on his constituent’s behalf, all of Victoria’s charges were quickly dropped.

“Every time I see that cop now, he smiles at me,” Victoria told The Intercept. “In his mind he thinks he’s taught me a lesson — not to mess with the big, powerful men: the cops.”

 

Jasper Craven, July 8 2019, “ABUSING THOSE WHO SERVED”, https://theintercept.com/2019/07/08/veterans-affairs-police-va/

Police officer charged with assault after allegedly using leg to slam suspect’s head into sidewalk

Maryland police investigating ‘excessive’ force arrest incident
Montgomery County police are investigating after a video showed an officer using the bottom part of his leg to force a man’s head into the ground. (@zxjustin_/Twitter)

July 9 at 11:41 AM

A Montgomery County police officer was criminally charged Tuesday with assault and misconduct after cellphone videos surfaced that appear to show him using his shin to force a man’s head onto a concrete sidewalk during an arrest.

The officer, Kevin Moris, faces one count each of second-degree assault and misconduct in office, according to a criminal information complaint filed by county prosecutors. Montgomery’s acting police chief, Marcus Jones, said the videos showed “troubling evidence” that excessive force was used during the encounter, which began inside a McDonald’s restaurant.

“The excessiveness of the officer, Officer Moris, actually slamming the individual’s head to the pavement — this gave me grave concern,” Jones said at a news conference Tuesday.

Videos of the July 3 altercation went viral on social media. In one 45-second clip, a group of Montgomery officers is seen standing over Arnaldo Andres Pesoa, 19, who was suspected of trying to sell psilocybin mushrooms in the area. Pesoa is seen lying facedown on the pavement, handcuffed, just outside the McDonald’s as he yells obscenities.

Moris can be seen leaning over Pesoa, who lifts his head, prompting Moris to use his right hand to grab a patch of Pesoa’s hair while thrusting his right shin into the back of Pesoa’s neck. The video shows Pesoa’s head striking the sidewalk.

While the video appears to show Pesoa resisting, it does not seem to present him as an imminent threat when Moris jabs him with his shin. “I felt like the officers did have that situation under control,” Jones said.

After hitting the concrete, Pesoa turns his head and yells that he has spit on the officer’s foot. At that point, Pesoa is told to “stop spitting” as Moris pulls the suspect’s shirt over his face.

“Mr. Pesoa did require medical attention on the scene as a result of injuries he sustained during the course of his apprehension,” said Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy.

Efforts to reach Moris or learn whether he has retained an attorney were not successful Tuesday. A person who answered a phone number linked to him declined to comment and hung up. Online court records did not show whether he has hired an attorney.

Moris is a seven-year veteran of the department, most recently assigned to a plainclothes unit in the county’s Wheaton police district, according to police officials.

The union that represents county officers, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, declined to comment Tuesday on the specifics of the case.

“Without knowing anything more than what has been shown in the viral videos posted, the FOP will not make a statement without knowing all the facts,” the union said in a statement. “Officer Moris, like all U.S. citizens, is innocent until proven guilty and has a right to due process under law.”

The charges come amid mounting criticism of the incident from local officials and activists. Late last week, the president and vice president of the Montgomery County Council issued a statement condemning the officer’s actions.

“We are outraged and deeply saddened to watch the videos that show a young man being apprehended by Montgomery County Police officers using what appears to be excessive force,” wrote President Nancy Navarro (D-District 4) and Vice President Sidney Katz (D-District 3), who also chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee.

On Tuesday afternoon, Navarro praised the swift action taken by Jones and McCarthy and commended the rank and file of the department.

“It is important to reiterate that the Montgomery County Police Department is made up of men and women of integrity who pride themselves on high standards as they keep our county safe,” she wrote. “However, effective accountability and oversight are essential to develop and maintain trust between the police and our community.”

Several days ago, the local chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice announced that it would hold a rally and news conference Tuesday night demanding that Moris be charged. Attendees were encouraged to bring signs with suggested slogans. Among them: “Stop Police Brutality,” “Not in My County” and “We Demand Accountability.”

The group gave an update on its Facebook page Tuesday.

“Tonight’s protest is on,” it said. “We demand systemic changes to MCPD.”

The charges were brought relatively swiftly and reflected the stern tone taken by police administrators after the incident. They suspended Moris of his police powers, moved him to administrative duties and launched a criminal investigation.

Jones and McCarthy stayed in regular contact over the past few days, according to McCarthy. On Tuesday, McCarthy’s office filed charges by way of a “criminal information” submission, meaning prosecutors made the decision without showing the matter to a grand jury.

The altercation outside the McDonald’s stemmed from an undercover operation into alleged sales of psilocybin mushrooms in the Aspen Hill area. Officers had identified Pesoa as a suspect, found him inside the McDonald’s and tried to arrest him.

“Pesoa became disorderly with the officers inside the restaurant and resisted the arrest,” police said in a statement. “Officers eventually removed Pesoa from the restaurant. While outside the restaurant, Pesoa continued to act in a disorderly manner and resist arrest.”

Pesoa was taken to jail and charged with drug possession, attempted drug distribution, resisting arrest and second-degree assault, police said. He was released after posting a $5,000 bond, according to police.

 

 

How an L.A. police misconduct case sparked push to loosen California wiretapping law

JUN 28, 2019 | 3:25 PM | SACRAMENTO

How an L.A. police misconduct case sparked push to loosen California wiretapping law
L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey is sponsoring legislation that would expand state wiretapping laws. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies heard a voice on a wiretap in 2009 that they believed was one of their own — a narcotics officer caught on the wrong side of the law.

For the next decade, the department would pursue a case against Det. Carlos Arellano through investigations, courts and civil service hearings. They had little luck. Arellano prevailed at nearly every turn, and the department exhausted its legal avenues last year when the state Supreme Court refused to review the case.

Now the matter has made its way to the state Legislature in a bill that has advanced quietly but could substantially expand how wiretaps are used in California.

The proposed law seems written with Arellano in mind, leaving some concerned that an effort to further the collection of evidence in police misconduct investigations could have broad privacy implications — diminishing protections against government surveillance.

“It greatly … expands the reach of wiretapping,” said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which opposes the bill. “We don’t really understand what’s going on.”

The bill’s author, state Sen. Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana) defended the legislation. He said the state’s existing law includes enough privacy protections to ensure that wiretaps aren’t improperly used, but he supports wiretap evidence being available in civil service hearings. A former federal and military prosecutor, Umberg said he is backing the bill as a public safety measure.

It’s “a tool to investigate and prosecute those who do violate the law,” he said. “Peace officers, anybody.”

The proposal, Senate Bill 439, would allow law enforcement to use intercepted phone calls, emails, Facebook Messenger chats and other electronic communications to build cases for a wide swath of crimes that current state law deems ineligible for such surveillance. The broadened list of crimes includes felonies such as attempted kidnapping and rape of an unconscious person, as well as making criminal threats and firing a weapon from a car.

The bill wouldn’t change what crimes could receive a judge’s approval for a wiretap. But it would expand the kinds of prosecutions that could go forward with overheard evidence, if law enforcement happened to gather it during a legally approved wiretap.

State wiretapping laws, which largely follow federal rules, are meant to prevent undue invasions of privacy and keep law enforcement from using such surveillance to fish for crimes that aren’t deemed the most serious. Wiretap orders are reserved for crimes such as murder, drug and gang conspiracies and violent felonies. If law enforcement officials listening on a legal wiretap hear evidence of another crime — one that a judge wouldn’t sign a wiretap order for — they are often unable to use or share that information.

Sponsored by Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, the bill also contains a narrow provision that applies only to law enforcement officers. It would make overheard evidence of any criminal conduct by a peace officer admissible in the administrative hearings used to discipline and fire officers.

Lacey, who has been criticized for being soft on police misconduct, citedArellano in a letter to the Legislature advocating for the measure. Her office declined an interview request about the legislation but offered a written statement on her behalf. The statement said that the bill’s purpose was “much broader” than the Arellano case but that it was “one example of a deficiency in the existing law in regards to law enforcement misconduct.”

The San Francisco public defender’s office, which opposes the measure, argued in a letter that obtaining a wiretap is “easy enough as is” — and more often than not doesn’t reveal criminal activity.

In 2018, there were 387 applications for wiretaps resulting in 465 arrests in California, mostly on gang and narcotics charges, according to the state attorney general’s office. The wiretaps resulted in 53 convictions, though some cases may be ongoing.

In Los Angeles, there were 181 wiretap applications resulting in 49 arrests and two convictions that year. In one case cited by the attorney general, L.A. County investigators used wiretaps to seize more than 165 kilograms of methamphetamine, 193 kilograms of cocaine, 33 kilograms of heroin and more than $3.42 million.

But law enforcement also used wiretaps to listen in on thousands of people who didn’t commit crimes, involving hundreds of thousands of calls and messages, said San Francisco Public Defender Manohar Raju in his letter. In one instance, an L.A. wiretap operation in a 2018 murder investigation intercepted more than 43,000 communications from 920 people, with 1% of the interceptions providing incriminating information, according to the state report.

In Arellano’s case, court records say he was heard on the wiretap discussing his involvement with an illegal marijuana grow, arranging for drug payments and offering advice to suspected drug dealers on how to avoid police. Arellano was identified on the wiretap by a voice comparison made by five Spanish-language linguists, according to court records, though Arellano’s lawyer, Elizabeth Gibbons, said it was never proven to be Arellano on tape, and he has maintained his innocence.

The Drug Enforcement Administration and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department asked a judge to allow the conversations to be used by internal investigators within the Sheriff’s Department. The judge granted the request, but criminal charges were never filed against Arellano because marijuana violations were beyond the scope of the serious crimes included under wiretap law.

The department fired Arellano in 2011 largely based on the wiretap.

Arellano fought the county, arguing that the intercepted conversations should not have been allowed in the civil service administrative hearing that led to his dismissal because that disclosure was beyond the scope of the judicial order that authorized their use by Sheriff’s Department investigators. A judge and a three-person panel of the appellate courtagreed, and Arellano was reinstated. The Sheriff’s Department declined to provide Arellano’s current status, referring the question to the California Public Records Act process, though he was on paid administrative leave for a time.

The appellate court in its decision in August suggested that state lawmakers needed to settle the question of whether such wiretap evidence should be admissible in administrative hearings.

But the proposed legislation’s carve-out on peace officers goes beyond a clarification, said Ed Obayashi, a legal advisor and trainer for law enforcement agencies. That’s because, he said, it allows wiretap evidence of any crime by peace officers to be used in administrative hearings — even if there are no criminal proceedings or if that evidence can’t be used in court.

Gibbons, Arellano’s lawyer and a specialist in representing law enforcement officers, said the bill may not be legal because it reduces the rights of officers below those of average citizens.

“They are reducing the constitutional rights of police officers and opening them up for … prosecution based on information that nobody else could be prosecuted for,” Gibbons said.

The bill has cleared the Senate and will next be heard July 9 by the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

 

 

JUN 28, 2019, https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-wiretapping-california-cops-20190626-story.html

 

 

Springfield City Council approves $450,000 for police brutality settlement

6/17/19 - SPRINGFIELD - City Solicitor Ed Pikula.

6/17/19 – SPRINGFIELD – City Solicitor Ed Pikula.

SPRINGFIELD — The City Council on Monday approved spending $450,000 to resolve a police brutality case in which a jury previously ruled the city was “deliberately indifferent to the civil rights of its citizens.”

The payment to Lee Hutchins Sr. follows a successful lawsuit in U.S. District Court in which he accused police of using excessive force during a domestic disturbance. The Boston jury awarded $250,000 to Hutchins in February, and he filed a subsequent claim for more than $200,000 in attorneys’ fees and trial-related costs.

Springfield City Solicitor Edward Pikula said the settlement was negotiated after the judgment. The city faced a potential payment of $600,000 when considering the judgment, interest on the judgment, attorney fees and other costs.

The suit was initially filed in U.S. District Court in Springfield, but was transferred to Boston.

The Springfield City Council recently met in private with the Law Department to discuss the proposed settlement, but did not discuss the specifics in public until Monday. Funds for the settlement were transferred from the city’s fiscal 2018 budget surplus, known as its “free cash” account.

Hutchins claimed three officers used excessive force again him when he was pepper sprayed and struck with a baton at his home on Jan. 20, 2013.

The jury found one officer, Thomas Hervieux, used excessive force. The verdict slip from the jury said the city “was deliberately indifferent to the civil rights of its citizens through a policy or custom of inadequately supervising or disciplining its police officers.”

Lawyers for Hutchins said the city was to blame for the rising cost of the lawsuit by dragging out the case rather than reaching a settlement. They said the prolonged case led to more than 500 hours of work on Hutchins’ behalf.

“In short, the City never made any serious effort to resolve the litigation,” wrote Northampton attorney Luke Ryan, one of the lawyers representing Hutchins.

Councilors have been critical of police misconduct lawsuits and city funds needed to settle them.

Council President Justin Hurst, in previously commenting on the judgment, said, “Unfortunately, this case is just the tip of the iceberg that last year cost taxpayers over a million dollars in settlements, and if this case is any indication, citizens will be paying even more money this year.”

The vote was 10-2 in favor of the settlement, with Councilors Orlando Ramos and Adam Gomez opposed, and Councilor Tracye Whitfield absent.

Pikula said judgments must be paid if not successfully appealed or settled.

On Oct. 1, 2018, the City Council approved a settlement of $885,000 to four men who claimed they were beaten by off-duty police officers in 2015 outside Nathan Bill’s Bar & Restaurant. Of that amount, $750,000 was awarded to Herman Paul Cumby, who suffered a concussion, fractured ankle and damaged teeth in the attack, according to a lawsuit he filed against the city.

In April, 13 current and former Springfield police officers were arraigned in Hampden Superior Court on allegations that they either participated in or helped cover up the beating.

 

“Springfield City Council approves $450,000 for police brutality settlement”, https://www.masslive.com/news/2019/06/springfield-city-council-approves-450000-for-police-brutality-settlement.html

Bridgeport man’s charges dismissed in police misconduct case

Updated 

BRIDGEPORT – Criminal charges were dismissed Tuesday against a city man whose October 2017 arrest during a pre-Halloween party led to disciplinary action against 17 police officers accused of using excessive force and lying on police reports.

“After a year and a half, I finally got justice and it feels great,” said Carmelo Mendez, as he left the Golden Hill Street courthouse. “I said all along that the police were the aggressors and now a court has seen it, too.”

Superior Court Judge Frank Iannotti dismissed the charges of interfering with police and breach of peace pending against Mendez as the case was about to go to trial. Prosecutors had entered a nolle in the case in which they were discontinuing the prosecution without comment and the judge then granted a motion to dismiss the charges from Mendez’s lawyer, Robert Berke.

The dismissal now sets up a lawsuit against the city and the Police Department.

City spokeswoman Rowena White said late Tuesday that the City Attorney’s office was unaware of the dismissal.

“Mr. Mendez has filed a lawsuit, and so we cannot comment on pending litigation,” she said.

Berke confirmed later that he will be filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and Police Department but declined further comment.

“I’m going to sue the city,” Mendez said. “I need to get justice for what they did to me.”

He said he suffers from permanent eye damage as a result of the incident.

Mendez and his sister were arrested on Oct. 21, 2017, after police responded to a noise complaint at the sister’s home on Colorado Avenue. Eventually, 45 officers responded to the scene.

A report by the city’s Office of Internal Affairs, obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, found that 17 officers involved in the case violated police rules and regulations including using excessive force on Mendez who had been taking video of the police response.

The OIA report states that video from the party shows Officer Michael Stanitis strike Mendez multiple times in the side of the head with the butt of his flashlight as Mendez was held on the ground by other officers. “Officer Stanitis stated he did not see any injuries on Mr. Mendez, offering that he was unable to ‘even see him at all.’” The report states that Mendez had an “S” imprint on his face consistent with the butt end of the flashlight carried by the officer.

Mendez and his sister, Wanda Mendez, were arrested. His sister was charged with assault on a public safety officer, interfering with police, inciting a riot and breach of peace. Her case is still pending.

Last week, the city’s Board of Police Commissioners began closed hearings against each of the accused officers in the case.

At his last court hearing, Carmelo Mendez told the judge he wanted a trial and Berke filed a motion for a speedy trial. Jury selection in the case was to begin Tuesday.

Last month, Carmelo Mendez sued the police department on behalf of his 8-year-old son and 13-year-old niece who he claims witnessed officers beating him up.

“They both were traumatized as they stood by and watched police beating me up,” Mendez said. “My son didn’t want to celebrate Halloween again after what happened.”

 

‘I Can’t Breathe’: 5 Years After Eric Garner’s Death, an Officer Faces Trial

Disciplinary proceedings against Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is accused of using a chokehold to subdue Mr. Garner, could lead to his firing.

Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, at a protest in 2015 outside the Manhattan office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.CreditMark Kauzlarich/The New York Times
Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, at a protest in 2015 outside the Manhattan office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.CreditCreditMark Kauzlarich/The New York Times

By Ashley Southall

The last words Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, uttered on a New York City sidewalk in 2014 instantly became a national rallying cry against police brutality. “I can’t breathe,’’ Mr. Garner pleaded 11 times after a police officer in plain clothes placed his arm across his neck and pulled him to the ground while other officers handcuffed him.

The encounter was captured on a video that ricocheted around the world, set off protests and prompted calls for the officers to be fired and criminally charged.

Mr. Garner’s death was part of a succession of police killings across the country that became part of a wrenching conversation about how officers treat people in predominantly poor and minority communities.

Now, the officer who wrapped his arm around Mr. Garner’s neck, Daniel Pantaleo, 33, faces a public trial that could lead to his firing. Officer Pantaleo has denied wrongdoing and his lawyer argues that he did not apply a chokehold.

The trial, scheduled to start Monday at Police Department headquarters, has been long-awaited by the Garner family, whose campaign to hold the police accountable for what they say is an unjustified use of force took on greater significance after Mr. Garner’s daughter, Erica Garner, died in 2017.

The city paid $5.9 million to settle a lawsuit with the family after a grand jury declined to bring criminal charges.

But Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has fought and delayed the family’s efforts to have all the police officers involved in the encounter punished.

“It was at least a dozen more who just did nothing, or either they pounced on him, they choked him, they filed false reports,” Mr. Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said in an interview. “It’s about all of those officers who committed an injustice that day and they all need to stand accountable.”

Officer Pantaleo faces charges of reckless use of a chokehold and intentional restriction of breathing. His lawyer says that Officer Pantaleo did not use a chokehold, but a different technique that is taught to officers in training and is known as a seatbelt.

So the trial will have to settle two questions at the heart of the case: Was the maneuver Officer Pantaleo used a chokehold? And, if so, was the officer justified in using it to subdue an unarmed man during a low-level arrest?

On Thursday, the Police Department judge overseeing the trial said that prosecutors must prove that Officer Pantaleo’s actions went beyond a violation of departmental rules and constituted a crime — an unusually high bar.

Video of the fatal encounter was recorded by Ramsey Orta, a friend of Mr. Garner’s who is expected to testify at Officer Pantaleo’s trial. It captured Mr. Garner telling officers in street clothes to leave him alone after they approached him outside a beauty supply store on July 17, 2014, not far from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.

Mr. Garner had repeated encounters with the police and believed that he was being harassed.

“This stops today,” he told the officers before they moved to arrest him over accusations that he was selling untaxed cigarettes. As one officer tried to grab Mr. Garner’s hand, he slipped free. Then Officer Pantaleo slid one arm around Mr. Garner’s neck and another under his left arm and dragged him to the ground. On the pavement, he begged for air.

The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide and said he died from a chokehold and the compression of his chest from lying prone. The findings are a crucial issue in the trial and Officer Pantaleo’s defense lawyer plans to dispute them.

Stuart London, the police union lawyer representing Officer Pantaleo, said the technique his client used was the seatbelt maneuver taught in the Police Academy, not a chokehold. He plans to argue that Mr. Garner, who was overweight and severely asthmatic, died because of poor health.

“Those who have been able to not come to a rushed judgment, but have looked at the video in explicit detail, see Pantaleo’s intent and objective was to take him down pursuant to how he was taught by NYPD, control him when they got on the ground, and then have him cuffed,” Mr. London said in an interview. “There was never any intent for him to exert pressure on his neck and choke him out the way the case has been portrayed.”

Demonstrators protesting a decision by a grand jury not to bring criminal charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo in December 2014.CreditVictor J. Blue for The New York Times
Demonstrators protesting a decision by a grand jury not to bring criminal charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo in December 2014.CreditVictor J. Blue for The New York Times

The Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent city agency that investigates allegations of police misconduct, is prosecuting the case against Officer Pantaleo and is seeking his termination.

But the ruling on Thursday by the judge, Rosemarie Maldonado, the deputy police commissioner in charge of trials, denied Mr. London’s motion to dismiss the case. But her ruling means that prosecutors need to prove that Officer Pantaleo’s actions rose to the crimes of assault and strangulation in order to avoid the state’s prohibition on bringing misconduct charges more than 18 months after occurrence.

Colleen Roache, a spokeswoman for the review board, said prosecutors understood their obligation when they served Officer Pantaleo with the charges last July.

But critics have said the review board’s failure to file charges sooner had made the prosecutors’ case significantly harder to prove.

The Police Department banned chokeholds in 1993 amid concern about a rising number of civilian deaths in police custody. In 2016, the department added an exception to its chokehold ban under certain circumstances, which critics said made it easier for officers to justify its use.

After Mr. Garner’s death, the Police Department spent $35 million to retrain officers not to use chokeholds, but they continue to use the maneuver and rarely face punishment.

The trial is expected to last two weeks, with testimony from about two dozen witnesses. Officer Pantaleo has not decided whether he will testify, Mr. London said.

When the trial ends, Deputy Commissioner Maldonado, will decide if Officer Pantaleo is guilty. If guilt is determined, she will recommend a penalty to Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill, who will make the final decision.

Short of firing, any discipline of Officer Pantaleo, a 13-year veteran, may never become public because of a state law that shields police disciplinary records from public disclosure.

The delays and secrecy surrounding officer discipline are part of the reason that police reform advocates say the public has lost trust in the city’s process for assessing complaints against officers.

The de Blasio administration fought to keep prior abuse complaints against Officer Pantaleo secret, including one stemming from a car stop in which the occupants said he strip-searched them on the street.

The records were eventually leaked, but the administration won several court rulings broadening the scope of the secrecy law.

“It’s been de Blasio and his administration who’ve been blocking the whole time that I’ve been trying to get the officers fired,” Ms. Carr said.

Despite Eric Garner and ‘I Can’t Breathe,’ Chokeholds Still Used

Beyond the Chokehold: The Path to Eric Garner’s Death

The trial will revisit a painful chapter marked by months of protests with marchers chanting Mr. Garner’s final words.

Not long after a Staten Island grand jury in December 2014 decided not to charge Officer Pantaleo with a crime, two officers were ambushed and killed by a gunman while sitting in their patrol car.

To Mr. Garner’s family and their supporters, his death discredited a crime-fighting strategy that the police and mayors have cited repeatedly as helping to drive crime rates to their lowest level in recent history. The strategy relies on targeting lower-level offenses that the police believe create the environment for more violent crime.

But critics say it has resulted in racial profiling, targeting mostly black and Latino men in poorer neighborhoods.

The Police Department delayed disciplinary proceedings against Officer Pantaleo for years because of an ongoing federal investigation. But with prosecutors in the Department of Justice divided over whether to bring charges, police officials decided to allow the disciplinary process to move forward.

Officer Pantaleo and Sergeant Kizzy Adonis, who was the first supervisor to arrive on the scene where the police were confronting Mr. Garner, were stripped of their guns and placed on desk jobs. Sergeant Adonis, who has since been restored to full duty, has been administratively charged with failing to properly oversee officers, but a date for her disciplinary trial has not been set.

A state judge recently denied Officer Pantaleo’s motion to have the civilian review board removed from the case. He argued that the agency lacked jurisdiction because the person who filed the complaint was not involved or an eyewitness.

“It’s time for Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, the rest of the Garner family, and the people of the City of New York to have closure,” Fred Davie, the chairman of the civilian review board, said in a statement.

On the stretch of Bay Street where Mr. Garner died, the type of behavior that drew police attention five years ago persists. People peddle loose cigarettes and a sign affixed to a door outside an apartment building warns against selling heroin on a stoop.

“It’s a hustle block,” Christopher Sweat, a retired chef, said. “It’s a regular mood until the cops get called.”

Nearby, a plaque memorializes Mr. Garner’s death as a murder, adding, “May his soul rest in peace.” Passers-by on a recent afternoon were unanimous in their belief that Officer Pantaleo deserved to be fired.

“It was a blatant chokehold,” said Keenen Hill, 46, a maintenance man who lives in the neighborhood. “Stevie Wonder saw that.”

Laura Dimon and Ali Winston contributed reporting.

Ashley Southallm, “‘I Can’t Breathe’: 5 Years After Eric Garner’s Death, an Officer Faces Trial”, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/12/nyregion/eric-garner-death-daniel-pantaleo-chokehold.html

Why Are So Many ‘Bad Apple’ Police Officers Bad in the Same Way?

Brian Encinia, a former trooper with the Texas Department of Safety, confronting Sandra Bland at a traffic stop.

Brian Encinia, a former trooper with the Texas Department of Safety, confronting Sandra Bland at a traffic stop. Photo: Sandra Bland

Brian Encinia said that he ordered Sandra Bland out of her vehicle, forced her to the ground, and handcuffed her on July 10, 2015, because he feared for his safety. “My safety was in jeopardy at more than one time,” the former–Texas Department of Safety trooper told the agency’s Office of Inspector General. “I had a feeling that anything could’ve been either retrieved or hidden within her area of control.”

But newly released footage contradicts this account. On Monday, reporters with Dallas television station WFAA aired a 39-second cell phone videocaptured by Bland that had not been previously made public. It depicts an irate Encinia threatening to “light … up” the black 28-year-old with his stun gun and demanding that she exit her car and “get off the phone,” all while Bland asks him repeatedly why a “failure to signal” called for such treatment. “The video shows that [Encinia] wasn’t in fear of his safety,” Cannon Lambert, a lawyer for Bland’s family, told the New York Times. “You could see that it was a cell phone. He was looking right at it.”

Bland was found dead in a Waller County jail cell three days later; authorities ruled her death a suicide. Nationwide protests followed. The Naperville, Illinois, native — who, before her arrest, was en route to start a new job at Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas — became the most prominent woman to die in police custody as a result of police violence during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Encinia was charged with perjury for lying about the circumstances surrounding Bland’s arrest, but the charges were dropped on the condition that he never seek a job in law enforcement again. As a result, Encinia — whose former lawyer told the Times that he is now “working in the private sector, supporting his wife and family and living a quiet life” — became one of the countless American police officers to face no legal consequences for demonstrated misconduct.

The gravity of Encinia’s behavior falls short of the murderousness shown by Michael Slager and Jason Van Dyke, police officers who were convicted of crimes after shooting and killing black men. But it is an edifying example nonetheless in the debate over whether cases of police misconduct are a series of isolated incidents or part of a systemic problem. Public opinion is divided on the issue — but perhaps predictably, the divide is largely racial and politically partisan. According to a 2015 PRRI survey conducted after the killings of Mike Brown and Freddie Gray, 74 percent of black Americans believed that such killings were part of a broader pattern of police behavior, compared to 43 percent of white Americans. Thirty percent of Democrats felt they were isolated incidents, compared to 65 percent of Republicans.

The position held by most whites and Republicans can be summarized as the “bad apple” theory of law enforcement — the idea that a few bad actors exist but should not reflect poorly on an otherwise-good bunch. Prominent subscribers include former–U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has deployed this argument to discredit federal oversight of local police departments. “I think there’s concern that good police officers and good departments can be sued by the Department of Justice when you just have individuals within a department who have done wrong,” the then-senator said in 2017. About 67 percent of police officers agree with Sessions that these occurrences say little about policing as a whole.

But what happens in their immediate aftermath is just as illuminating in uncovering the truth as the incidents themselves. Encinia did not just order Bland out of her car, threaten her, and arrest her for apparently frivolous reasons. He lied to investigators about the threat that he believed she posed. His official account of the exchange hinged entirely on the assertion that his actions were justified because he thought he was in danger. And he is not alone in pursuing this line of reasoning. Almost every prominent police killing or assault of an unarmed black person in recent years has been followed by official claims that the officer feared for his or her safety. In cases as disparate geographically as the shooting deaths of Mike Brown in Missouri, Terence Crutcher in Oklahoma, Sam Dubose in Ohio, and the 15-year-old boy attacked in April by sheriff’s deputies in Broward County, Florida, police have invoked the fear they purportedly felt to justify their violence.

This approach has yielded dividends. Department policy and Supreme Court precedent have combined to render more or less legal the brutalization of civilians, as long as the officer in question can demonstrate that their actions were “objectively reasonable.” Of course, what is considered “objectively reasonable” shifts from state to state and case to case — such that more often than not, merely claiming to have felt fear is treated as objectively reasonable grounds for murder.

We can say with confidence that this is a systemic problem because letting these officers off the hook is a systemic act — enshrined in law and practice across the United States and carried out in official press conferences, departmental investigations, and grand jury proceedings. “A few bad apples” are not to blame for a system-wide mechanism which police can so reliably turn to for exoneration that they do so almost every time they are caught doing wrong. There is something fundamentally nefarious about the whole institution when so many such cases follow a familiar script: Commit violence against an unarmed civilian, then claim — often dishonestly — to have been so frightened that no other option was available.

Sandra Bland may have been mistreated by a lone officer on the street that day. But it was the system that empowered Encinia to treat her as he did in the first place — and that gave him confidence that even if the encounter ended with her dying, he could lie and expect to be protected.

 

“Why Are So Many ‘Bad Apple’ Police Officers Bad in the Same Way?”, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/05/sandra-bland-footage.html

Houston Police Shot Man Killed in Fraudulent Drug Raid at Least Eight Times

Dennis Tuttle and his wife, Rhogena Nicholas, who was shot twice, were pronounced dead shortly after police invaded their home based on a “controlled buy” that never happened.

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Houston narcotics officers shot Dennis Tuttle at least eight times during the January 28 drug raid that killed him and his wife, Rhogena Nicholas, at their home on Harding Street. The no-knock raid, based on allegations that Tuttle and Nicholas were selling heroin, found no heroin and no evidence of drug dealing. The officer who obtained the warrant, Gerald Goines, reported a “controlled buy” at the house that apparently never happened.

According to an autopsy report dated March 19, Tuttle suffered gunshot wounds in his head and neck, chest, left shoulder, left buttock (which was struck twice), left thigh, left forearm, left hand, right wrist, and right forearm (two graze wounds). The report says the chest injury “may represent a re-entrance wound of a fragmented bullet associated with one of the gunshot wounds of the upper extremities.” The officers reported that they shot Tuttle after he fired at them with a .357 Magnum revolver in response to their armed invasion of his home, during which they killed a dog with a shotgun immediately after crashing through the door.

Another autopsy report, also dated March 19, says Nicholas was shot in the torso and right thigh. Police said they shot her after she moved toward the officer with the shotgun, who had collapsed on a couch after being shot by Tuttle. They said they believed she was trying to take away the shotgun. There is no video of the raid to corroborate that account. Both Tuttle, who was 59, and Nicholas, who was 58, were pronounced dead at 5:15 p.m., shortly after police broke into their home.

The only drugs that police found in the house were 18 grams of marijuana and 1.5 grams of cocaine. Those are also the only drugs detected by the toxicology tests described in the autopsy reports: THC and a THC metabolite in Tuttle’s blood and benzoylecgonine, a cocaine metabolite, in Nicholas’ blood. Notably, the tests found no traces of heroin, fentanyl, or other opioids.

Although Police Chief Art Acevedo has said the affidavit for the search warrant was falsified, he continues to defend the investigation that led to the raid, citing a January 8 call from an unnamed woman who reported that her daughter was using drugs at the house and described Tuttle and Nicholas as armed and dangerous drug dealers. Acevedo also said neighbors had thanked police for raiding the couple’s home, which he said was locally notorious as a “drug house” and a “problem location.”

Those claims are inconsistent with the accounts of neighbors interviewed by Houston news outlets. They said that Tuttle and Nicholas, who had lived in the house for two decades, were perfectly nice people and that they had never noticed any suspicious activity at the house.

KTRK, the ABC station in Houston, reported in February that the woman who called police on January 8 was Nicholas’ mother, who was concerned about her own daughter’s drug use. But that report is inconsistent with Acevedo’s account and with what Nicholas’ mother, Jo Ann Nicholas, has told reporters. “I want her name cleared,” the grieving 84-year-old woman said in a March 25 interview with KTRK.

Four officers, including Goines, were injured by gunfire during the raid, but it is not clear where those rounds came from. It seems implausible that Tuttle, even if he fired all six rounds from the revolver, was able to hit his targets four times in the chaotic circumstances of the raid. Acevedo initially responded indignantly to the suggestion that officers were hit by “friendly fire,” but that question is part of the Houston Police Department’s ongoing investigation. This morning I asked the HPD whether the issue has been resolved but have not heard back yet.

After I requested copies of the autopsy reports on April 1, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan claimed the documents were not subject to disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act. Citing the law’s exception for information that “would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime,” Ryan sought an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who I gather disagreed.

Update, May 7: HPD spokesman Kese Smith said the department is not releasing any information on the “friendly fire” issue until it completes its internal affairs and criminal investigations of the operation. He said those investigations should be completed by mid-May, at which point the department will report its findings to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, which is conducting its own investigation. The FBI is also looking into potential civil rights violations.

 

| “Houston Police Shot Man Killed in Fraudulent Drug Raid at Least Eight Times”, https://reason.com/2019/05/06/houston-police-shot-man-killed-in-fraudulent-heroin-raid-at-least-8-times/

How an officer fired twice from one police department became chief of another

David Cimperman

A lot of police departments don’t have the money or resources to do thorough background checks on candidates, and police misconduct is often secretive and hard to uncover, reports CBS News’ Jeff Pegues. He spoke to an Ohio police chief who said an officer fired twice from his department went on to become the police chief of a nearby town.

Michael Goodwin, the police chief of New Philadelphia, Ohio, said there is one word that comes to mind when he hears the name of his department’s former officer, David Cimperman: chaos.

“He was here for 15 years before he resigned. The city fired him twice. An arbitrator gave him his job back twice,” Goodwin said. “He was being wrote up or disciplined by his supervisors on a regular basis.”

Cimperman was hired in the early 1990s. Internal police reports and county records obtained by USA Today Network show years of misconduct followed. Among the allegations: Cimperman tampered with police radios so he could “make untraceable calls,” which blocked 911 calls from coming through. He was also accused of engaging in a high-speed chase with a motorcyclist who didn’t pull his visor down. Cimperman crashed, flipped his patrol car and had to shoot a window to get out.

Even after Cimperman was fired and rehired twice, Chief Goodwin says allegations continued to pile up, and in 2012, the department gave Cimperman an ultimatum – resign or face more possible disciplinary action. He chose to resign on his own accord, which allowed him to get another job.

Three years later, Cimperman was back on the force, this time,as chief in nearby Amsterdam, Ohio. Nobody from Amsterdam called to check on his past – something that doesn’t surprise Goodwin.

“What we are finding out is, across the state, police departments are not doing a thorough background check,” Goodwin said. “I think they are in a hurry to get a body or boots on the ground.”

Gary Pepperling is the mayor of Amsterdam. He hired Cimperman, whose misconduct allegedly continued.

“We needed a police officer bad, and he fit the bill for what we thought he would do,” Pepperling said. “I think he’s a criminal and that’s disgusting, you know? And I feel bad I let the people down and didn’t get rid of him sooner.”

According to interviews and hiring forms obtained by USA Today Network, Cimperman allegedly added officers to Amsterdam’s roster even though many of them never did any work. Instead, they allegedly logged hours for a private security company he ran on the side. A now published internal report also accuses Cimperman of misplacing evidence. The mayor said Cimperman was forced to resign.

Chris Davis, the vice president of investigations for USA Today Network, and his team analyzed troves of records and data from around the country, publishing many online. They found 85,000 police officers who have been disciplined or in trouble. Dozens of them are still working in departments, including some previously found guilty of a crime.

“It’s not easy to find information often about officers who have been in trouble,” Davis said. “You need a resource that is better than what exists to keep track of officers who have had problems and there is no national complete data set that’s available.”

Chief Goodwin agrees. He wants to see departments doing background checks and thoroughly investigating officers before they are hired, something he says his department already does.

“Things are getting kind of set aside that’s not fair to the people who pay our salaries, which are the citizens of our cities,” Goodwin said.

USA Today Network published a list of more than 30,000 officers in 44 states who have been decertified, or essentially banned, from being an officer in their state. They hope this searchable database will help the public and future employers identify dangerous officers.

Cimperman told us “the article is not accurate, and places me in a false light.” USA Today Network says he is still commissioned and working in Ohio as a paid part-timer.

 

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/officer-fired-twice-from-one-police-department-became-chief-of-another/