[WATCH] Seated, Unarmed and Compliant Man Tasered By Police

Sean Williams sat on the curb in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, arms outstretched following the officers’ commands, at times conflicting, while being threatened to be shocked with a taser. The white male officer, Philip Bernot, the one with the black and yellow Taser, trained on Williams’s back, repeatedly told him “legs out!” and “straight out!”The female officer, Shannon Mazzante, off-camera but just as insistent, was shouting, “Put your legs straight out and cross them now!

Their wording and Williams’ sudden moves made headlines because by about 10:30 Thursday morning, their commands became threats. “Legs straight out, or you’re getting tased,” Bernot warned.

Moments later, Williams, whose legs were not fully extended, shifted his legs. Bernot then squeezed the trigger, sending taser prongs and a current of electricity through Williams’s body — and sparking virulent protests about what many claim is an abuse of power against a person who never posed a threat to officers.

He was arrested on drug possession and public drunkenness charges, both from a warrant unrelated to Thursday’s call.

 

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How to Survive a Police Shooting When You’re Black

 

https://cdn.citylab.com/media/img/citylab/2018/05/THE_HOLD_UP_Photo_by_Emmai_Alaquiva/940.jpg?mod=1525461981
Leon Ford, center, in a wheelchair, is surrounded by friends and colleagues in Pittsburgh. Emmai Alaquiva

Pittsburgh activist Leon Ford explains in his new book, Untold, how to get lifted up, and how to lift a city up, even after being shot by its police.

Leon Ford @LeonFordSpeaks

When you get shot by a police officer 5 times–and docs say that you will ever walk but your son says keep pushing 💪🏾💪🏾💪🏾 Untold 11•11•17

CityLab spoke with Ford about his new book on improving policing, and being a change agent for his city:

How do you talk to your son about the police, particularly given what you’ve been through?I’m basically preparing a platform right now for him to decide what he wants to do with it later, because one thing that I don’t want to do is put too much emphasis on “the talk”—like, preparing my son to get pulled over by a police officer. My mom and my dad did that for me, and I did everything they told me to do. But I still ended up shot. It doesn’t work. “The talk” is not strength-based, it’s really just a fear talk. I’m not trying to put fear in my son’s heart. This is why I do the work that I do and this is why I’m not opposed to building relationships with police officers and people who are in positions of power. I’m working towards preparing the world for my son.

“The talk” should be more about: What does a prosperous community look like to you? When we continue to have these conversations around fear, then people will continue to run away from each other and step on each other. I don’t want to build a community where people are stepping on each other. That’s not a healthy community.

You did the photo shoot for your book cover at the site where police shot you. How difficult is it for you revisit that space?

It used to be a painful reminder, but now I just view my life differently. I’ve had that paradigm shift where, before, even thinking about the day that I was shot, that used to be super emotional. But now it’s like a celebration because I could’ve lost my life on that block. However, I survived and so I view my life like a vessel to make people aware, to educate, and to inspire. And that’s really empowering.

What’s your relationship with Pittsburgh police like today?I’m still going through my healing process, and there’s certain things that were done even after I was shot that I’m still dealing with psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Just the way that the city handled my case—I was fighting for six years and it’s like being in the belly of the beast of a system that was designed to destroy me. It made me feel like I wasn’t an American. The laws, the Constitution, and these documents that Americans praise—it felt like they didn’t work for me.

What kind of documents do you mean?

Like the Declaration of Independence, you know, those type of documents. These are good ideas, but [this ordeal] made me question who they were written for. What I went through, it made me feel like America was this house, and, I felt like the dog in the backyard that’s chained up all the time. You know? And kids come and pick on me and tease me and I get rained on—that’s how I felt, you know what I mean? Being a young man feeling like that, it’s like finally you get let out, they let you off the leash and you almost want to bite somebody. But gratefully, regardless of my circumstances, I realized that I was stronger than that, and just because someone else’s moral compass was pointing in the wrong direction, that didn’t mean that mine had to also.

Leon Ford (Emmai Alaquiva)

Is it hard pushing a message of compassion and forgiveness in such a suffocating climate for discussions around police and racism?

My message is to channel that anger into educating yourself. Educate yourself about the history of this country, and different policies at the local, state and federal levels. We’re behind the ball because these people are changing policies and stripping our rights away every single day. If we let our emotions get the best of us, before we know it we ain’t going to have any rights and they’ll continue to do whatever that they want to us. But the more we educate ourselves, the more we can use the system that has been working against us, to make it work for us.I encourage young people to run for office. I meet a lot of young people who are fed up with police officers and go to college and don’t know what they want to do in life. Well, if you don’t want to go to work delivering furniture or working at Panera Bread, or you just don’t like your job, then become a police officer. I think that’s where activism meets mentorship, especially in our communities. I had a few football coaches growing up who were police officers, but I never viewed them as police officers because they were mentors in the community.

What are your plans now for creating the kind of change you want to see in the city of Pittsburgh?

I’m getting involved with real estate development and leveraging my platform and resources to provide affordable housing for people here in Pittsburgh. One of the problems that I see, especially here in Pittsburgh is access. A lot of young African-American men and women don’t have access to resources to capital. There’s a lot of great things happening in Pittsburgh, but if you go to [the neighborhoods of] Larimer, or Homewood, or East liberty and Garfield, they don’t even know or understand what’s happening. There’s a disconnect there. So, I’m in a unique position right now to leverage my platform to give other people access so that they can understand things like: What does it really mean for Amazon to come to Pittsburgh?

I’m wondering as an entrepreneur, if Amazon is going to bring a lot of money to Pittsburgh, or, as an activist, what does that look like for the average household given what we’ve seen in Oakland, California and San Francisco? The average apartment rent has gone up to $2,500-$3,000 [in those cities] and that has the potential to happen in Pittsburgh. So, how are people going to afford to live within the city?Navigating the city from your vantage point now, what do you think Pittsburgh should prioritize for change?

Affordable housing policy. Also, accessibility. I love Pittsburgh, however Pittsburgh isn’t as accessible as I want it to be. There are still buildings within the city that aren’t really that handicap accessible.

Also police training. There’s really an accountability issue. I think police officers should have to live within the city. That’s a policy they recently changed that I think is just asinine. If you can drive an hour to go to work then you don’t have to be a part of any of the repercussions from people living in a neighborhood where you’re policing at. You don’t really have a heart for the people.

I believe that [the police] should have mental health evaluations. A lot of them come from the Army, and being a police officer, you’re sitting in a car for the majority of the day, not getting a lot of sleep because of the shifts that they put them. So police officers have very poor health, and there needs to be some changes within that structure. If police officers could be happier and healthier and more culturally competent that may help with some of these issues that we’re having as well.

Brentin Mock , Citylab.com, “How to Survive a Police Shooting When You’re Black”, https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/05/pittsburgh-police-shooting-survivor-wants-to-change-the-game/559493/

Main Line Girl Sues Philly Cop for Police Brutality

Philadelphia police officer Natasha Chestnut was seen in a 2017 video hitting the teen repeatedly while she was on the ground.

Victor Fiorillo· , “Main Line Girl Sues Philly Cop for Police Brutality”, https://www.phillymag.com/news/2018/04/19/police-brutality-natasha-chestnut-philadelphia-police/#P3ILHsVwofQy5MR9.99

Under court order, District Attorney Krasner releases list of tainted police

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner speaks during a news conference.

Responding to a judge’s order, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has released a secret list of current and former police officers whom prosecutors have sought to keep off the witness stand after a review determined they had a history of lying, racial bias, or brutality.

>> THE LIST: Here are the 29 Philly cops on the DA’s ‘do not call’ list

The names of the 29 officers were included among a larger roster of 66 provided to the Philadelphia Defender Association on Monday and obtained Tuesday by the Inquirer and Daily News. The full list combined two groupings — the officers whose serious misconduct rendered them problematic as witnesses and 37 officers who have been charged with lesser offenses or have been involved in other legal conflicts, often while off duty.  Under prosecution policy, the second group can testify, but defense attorneys must be told of their legal issues.

In a detailed fact summary about each officer on the “Do Not Call” list, prosecutors said that the 29 former and current officers had engaged in a wide range of wrongdoing and had, as a result, often faced criminal charges or been found guilty by the department’s internal Police Board of Inquiry.  The offenses included numerous cases of lying to police investigators, filing false police reports, use of excessive force,  drunken driving, burglary, and others.

The list included former Officer Ryan Pownall,  35, a 12-year veteran of the department who was fired last year after he fatally shot a man running away after a traffic stop in North Philadelphia; former Office Emmanuel R. Folly, 26, a three-year veteran fired last year upon his arrest on pending charges of  sexual abuse of children and dissemination of child pornography; and former Officer Stanley Davis, a narcotics officer who pleaded guilty last year to giving heroin to women in exchange for sex acts.

The roster also included Sgt. Michael Spicer, 50, who was acquitted in 2015 with five other narcotics officers in a heavily publicized  federal corruption probe. He and other officers were later awarded their jobs back by an arbitrator. A source familiar with the list said he had been added because prosecutors deemed some of his recent arrests problematic. His attorney declined comment.

The 29 officers collectively made more than 800 arrests in the last five years, records show.

Common Pleas Court Judge Tracy Brandeis Roman last week ordered that the names, badge numbers, and background information of the officers be turned over to the public defenders office. The defenders demanded the list from District Attorney Larry Krasner after the Inquirer and Daily News revealed its existence last month.

The list was drawn up by prosecutors in March 2017 at the order of former District Attorney Seth Williams.  Before Williams pleaded guilty to corruption and resigned in June, he created a special Police Misconduct Review Committee to identify officers whose testimony might be problematic in criminal cases. In deciding whose testimony should be avoided, Williams limited the review, in large part, to those found by the Police Board of Inquiry, from the summer of 2016 on, to have committed serious misconduct.

Williams and his prosecutors did not reveal the existence of the list, treating it as an internal guide to determine when a potentially tainted officer’s testimony could be used. Under the office’s policy, frontline prosecutors were instructed to get top-level permission before calling such an officer as a witness in a criminal case.

The list was kept secret by Williams, prosecutors said, out of concern for the officers’ privacy rights and the broad impact it might have on past convictions involving the officers. In the aftermath of previous scandals involving allegedly corrupt officers, the city has faced costly wrongful-arrest lawsuits and seen many previous convictions overturned.

The most recent such scandal unfolded when prosecutors charged seven narcotics officers with corruption.  While one officer pleaded guilty and cooperated with the probe, the six others were acquitted.  So far, prosecutors have thrown out 800 cases of those officers. About 300 defendants have sued the city after the dismissals.  With less than a third of those suits resolved, the city has agreed to pay out more than $2 million in settlements.

At last week’s hearing before Brandeis Roman, Assistant District Attorney Andrew Wellbrock agreed that the list would be provided on Monday.

Krasner, a former top defense lawyer who came into office promising to be uncompromising when it came to bad police officers, pledged at a public meeting last month that he would release the list and finally faced a judicial command that he do so.

In an interview Tuesday, Krasner said all assistant district attorneys have been instructed to tell opposing lawyers about officers on the list if it affected their cases. He said his staff had “moved quickly” to share the list after learning of it.

“It’s a daunting task to reverse years of potential Brady violations,” Krasner said, referring to a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brady v. Maryland , requiring prosecutors to share evidence favorable to defendants with their lawyers.

In a statement, DA spokesman Benjamin Waxman said:  “As we have made clear on several occasions, this list was compiled and maintained by a previous administration.  We do not endorse the legal or factual validity of the information contained in the document. We also do not endorse any positions taken in regard to disclosure or non-disclosure of information contained in the document.”

Last week, in an interview, public defenders Bradley Bridge and Michael Mellon said the list was clearly covered by the 1963 Brady ruling.

Despite its existence, the list had never been used to bar an officer’s testimony, officials said. Instead, prosecutors have simply been dismissing cases involving problem officers.

For decades, critics, including former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, have complained bitterly about the police disciplinary system, saying a sluggish Internal Affairs Division, a weak police inquiry board, and an officer-friendly arbitration system have prevented the force from firing bad cops.

Beyond officers deemed too suspect to put on the witness stand, the DA’s Office had compiled a list of officers with their own legal cases pending. While those officers could still be called as witnesses, it was determined that defense lawyers needed to be told of their pending cases.

Of the 29 men and women on the more serious “Do not call” list,  about half appear to be still on the force.  The number  includes a lieutenant, four sergeants, one corporal, and one detective.

The District Attorney’s Office has also released the protocol detailing how officers were put on the list and how they could be removed.

Under the protocol, prosecutors left it to the Police Department to explain to officers on the list why they would not be called to testify in court.

A spokesman for Commissioner Richard Ross, Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, said the department “never received this protocol.” As a result, officers were never told they were on the list, he said.

The Fraternal Order of Police, the city’s police union, has said it also had never received the protocol. It had no further comment Tuesday.

While such lists of “rogue” police are unusual, they are not unprecedented.

In Seattle and 39 other towns in King County, Wash., with a total population of 2.5 million, prosecutors have made public such lists of officers for more than a decade.  Mark Larson, a top King County prosecutor, said the public at any time can request a copy of its list, which contains the names of 214 former or current officers.

, “Under court order, District Attorney Krasner releases list of tainted police”, http://www.philly.com/philly/news/larry-krasner-philadelphia-police-tainted-misconduct-secret-list-20180306.html

Complaints show Philly police escape discipline for violent misconduct

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Internal Affairs investigated. The allegations held up. But the PPD’s internal justice system remains slow-moving and mysterious. (Photo: Maria Young/Philadelphia Weekly)

On a clear September night in 2016, a 20-year-old black man and a female companion were driving through the darkened streets of Northwest Philadelphia when they noticed a 14th District patrol car tailing them. After a few blocks, two officers in the cruiser used their PA system to order the couple to pull over.

It’s unclear exactly what transpired next, but the male driver later affirmed in a formal complaint that one of the cops pistol-whipped him after he stepped out of the car. According to the complainant, he was struck in the mouth so hard that it chipped one of his teeth. As the driver’s companion panicked, the officer reportedly said, “Fuck your pretty teeth.”

Although the Internal Affairs Division rejects nearly 98 percent of physical abuse complaints lodged against Philadelphia police, they found this account to be credible. But nearly a year and a half later, neither officer has ever faced any disciplinary action over the use of excessive force.

They are hardly alone. A Philly Weekly and City & State PA analysis of 8,555 newly released civilian complaint records, dating from 2013 to the present, found that hundreds of allegations ruled credible by Internal Affairs have languished – sometimes for years – with no resolution.

Between 2013 and 2016, 138 cases that sustained allegations of misconduct against city police have no listed punitive action. Despite a requirement that Internal Affairs complete investigations within 75 days of receiving a complaint, an additional 172 cases have remained open for a year or more – and some may never be resolved.

“Any police department, institution or employer wants a procedure by which they can investigate wrongdoing by employees. But the unfortunate history of Internal Affairs in Philadelphia is that they don’t do a very effective job,” said attorney David Rudovsky, of the firm, Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP, who has sued the city over police misconduct. “It’s police officers investigating other police officers.”

Even when Internal Affairs hands off credible cases to the Police Board of Inquiry for punishment, records show that the majority of officers still walk away with nothing more than recommendations for additional unspecified “training or counseling.” Even in cases that include potentially criminal allegations, many officers are ultimately ruled not guilty.

But most cases never get that far.

“The last time we looked at physical abuse complaints, around 2003 or 2004, something like 1 percent of complaints were sustained. Little meaningful punishment has ever been imposed by Internal Affairs in Philadelphia,” said defense attorney Paul Messing, who is Rudovsky’s law partner. “It’s substantially below the average of most big-city internal affairs units.”

But 15 years after Messing’s initial examination of police disciplinary complaints, records show that little has changed.

PPD Civilian Complaints: 2013-2017
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Internal justice

Philadelphia has had a checkered history of police disciplining their own.

After a series of misconduct scandals in the late 1990s, then-Commissioner John Timoney promised to reform the Internal Affairs unit, which had long been treated as a stepchild by the department. At the time, a handful of staffers were split between tiny, crumbling offices scattered in different parts of the city.

“In some cases, we didn’t know if more than one unit was investigating the same person,” said John “Ziggy” Norris, a respected Internal Affairs inspector, told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1998.

Timoney centralized the unit under Norris, pledging to ramp up discipline. But from the beginning, critics questioned how committed the department was to policing itself.

The new unit was banished to an office in a distant pocket of Northeast Philadelphia, where many members of the department live. Norris would soon retire and his successor would be quickly removed by new commissioner Sylvester Johnson – who, news reports indicate, had a reputation for leniency – in the early 2000s over a residency requirement violation.

In the late 2000s, Johnson’s replacement as commissioner, Charles Ramsey, once again beefed up staffing at Internal Affairs, promising to crack down on dirty cops. But even in cases where the commissioner directly intervened in disciplinary actions, he butted heads with the Fraternal Order of Police, which seeks to shield officers from punishment.

“At times, Internal Affairs has operated well…but the unfortunate fact in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia is that the police have ‘super’ due process through union arbitration,” Rudovsky said.

More recently – and following another wave of corruption scandals – Mayor Jim Kenney named a former Internal Affairs deputy, Richard Ross, as his police commissioner. Last year, in an apparent effort to increase transparency, Kenney also ordered the online publication of thousands of complaint records filed by civilians against police officers.

Previously, certain unredacted records were only available via direct requests to Internal Affairs. But to critics’ dismay, the newly released records do not explicitly identify offending officers – or their victims – by name, reducing their identities to simple initials.

In a questionably timed move, since the release of the online complaint data, Internal Affairs has stopped disclosing the identities of any police officers named in complaints.

Today, not even the Police Advisory Commission, a civilian board established by the Mayor’s Office to independently investigate complaints against officers, has access to unredacted complaint records, and public defenders are forced to subpoena individual records. Moreover, records relating to investigations launched by Internal Affairs itself have never been made public.

Police department spokesperson Capt. Sekou Kinebrew declined to confirm the identities of any officers named in complaints mentioned in this story. The Kenney administration declined to explain the rationale behind the partial release of records.

Delays in discipline

Despite those redactions, data analysis suggests that a small number of police officers are likely responsible for a disproportionate number of complaints. Out of the department’s 6,500 staffers, some 2,000 officers received just a single complaint over a five-year period. Thousands of other officers appear to have received no complaints at all during that time.

Police officers interviewed for this article concurred that it was unusual for the average patrol officer to receive more than a few complaints over a five-year period, either due to good behavior or victims’ reluctance to file formal grievance.

“A lot of people say, ‘What’s the point?’ You file the Internal Affairs complaint and you don’t get anything, even if it’s sustained,” Rudovsky said. “I think most people who do file legitimate complaints do it because they think they’ve been wronged and maybe want the police officer fired or retrained.”

It is also worth noting that many of the 8,555 complaints lodged against officers are frivolous on their face: one officer rolled his eyes, another spoke too curtly. Other complaints detail terrifying abuses of power – officers allegedly beating their spouses, stealing money, using racial epithets, beating suspects – but have been deemed not credible by Internal Affairs for unknown reasons.

But in the rare instances when claims of extreme misconduct are sustained, consequences may never come – leading criminal justice advocates to question both the sluggish resolutions and the lack of punitive outcomes.

In one harrowing case, an officer facing domestic abuse charges was able to leave the department without facing disciplinary action.

A woman, identified in records only as “Ms. P,” said she had been repeatedly terrorized by an abusive ex-boyfriend who happened to be one of the department’s own higher-ups: a 15th District sergeant identified by the initials “JT.”

According to the 2013 complaint, “JT” repeatedly threatened to kill “Ms. P” when she sought to end their relationship – and later slashed her tires. One night, he used a copied key to enter the woman’s house uninvited while her teenage daughter was home alone.

Internal Affairs sustained portions of that account, including allegations of domestic violence. But Kinebrew, the department’s spokesperson, said that “JT” retired that same year prior to facing the disciplinary board.

But in potentially criminal cases, department policy says that both Internal Affairs and the Police Board of Inquiry have a responsibility to refer cases to the district attorney for review.

“If Internal Affairs develops credible information concerning off-duty misconduct or situations like domestic violence, they have a responsibility to report it. And if they don’t, they’re in dereliction of duty,” Rudovsky said.

Ben Waxman, spokesperson for DA Larry Krasner, said that it is “absolutely appropriate” for Internal Affairs to share information about problem officers.

The police department declined to identify specific cases that had been referred for criminal prosecution. But the District Attorney’s Office stated that between 2012 and 2017, Internal Affairs had referred 660 such cases – either from civilians or internally – for criminal charges. Just 62 resulted in arrests.

Despite internal findings that an officer may have trespassed and committed domestic abuse, “Sergeant JT” was never arrested over the incident or otherwise disciplined. Today, five years after he retired, police records still list the case’s resolution as “pending.”

In other cases of violent misconduct, both disciplinary action and Internal Affairs investigations appear to drag on with little urgency, including another physical abuse case involving a different police sergeant that is fast approaching its one-year anniversary.

Last April, according to this complaint, an 18-year-old white male and his female friend were driving the streets of Northeast Philadelphia on their way to pick up some groceries when they were stopped by an 8th District officer listed in city records only as “Sergeant FB.”

He accused the pair of making unspecified “offensive” hand gestures in his direction. During an ensuing altercation, the sergeant decked the 18-year-old and choked his female friend before arresting them both. Inspectors eventually sustained a charge of physical and verbal abuse against “FB” – but no punishment has been meted out to date.

The department offered no timeline for resolving that complaint and declined to identify the officer involved.

Police sources, who were not authorized to speak on the record, said it is also not unusual for a year or more to pass between the start of an internal investigation and a final disciplinary hearing.

Department spokesperson Kinebrew said delayed verdicts can be caused by the complainant or the accused officer’s unavailability due to illness, injury or extended leaves of absence.

But records indicate cases have stalled out even when multiple witnesses identified themselves in the initial complaint.

In November 2016, a registered nurse claimed to have witnessed officers pulling over two parents for erratic driving. The nurse reported that the couple tearfully explained to the police that they were taking their gravely ill child to the emergency room.

As the hospital’s chief of staff and other employees watched, the father was allegedly removed from the vehicle at gunpoint, handcuffed, cursed at, and placed in the officers’ patrol vehicle.

The father was released only when hospital security intervened on the family’s behalf, at which point one officer reportedly commented: “You should be glad I have a heart.”

Nearly a year and a half later, that investigation is still technically ongoing.

“I think that a lot of time, you find investigations are not up to par,” Rudovsky said. “We’ve looked at a lot of instances where witnesses were never interviewed or evidence was never collected.”

PPD Civilian Complaints – Sustained

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The shadow tribunal

Internal Affairs sustained only 15 percent of all 8,555 civilian complaints filed over the last six years – more than some big cities, like Chicago or Baltimore, but fewer than places like New York City or Washington, D.C. But the occasional case does make it before the Police Board of Inquiry, a three-member panel comprised of a rotating cast of sworn officers.

The PPD has previously barred members of the public from attending these hearings, which departmental edicts describe as “informal” tribunals where “strict rules of evidence shall not apply.” After reviewing each case, the panel makes a disciplinary recommendation to the police commissioner.

Complaint records list these outcomes as “guilty,” “not guilty” or “training/counseling,” but do not specify the police commissioner’s subsequent actions – if any.

Over the last five years, internal investigators have sustained 1,122 complaints against officers. 95 officers – just over 8 percent of the sustained complaints – were later found to be not guilty by the board, another 840 were referred for retraining or counseling. Only 160 cases yielded a guilty verdict.

“(The process) rarely imposes punishment, even when there is a finding,” said Messing. “I don’t think there is a rationale to it. The disciplinary system was long ago found to be ineffective – and still is ineffective.”

Yet Philadelphia officers facing disciplinary threats still often retain counsel through their union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5. Under its recently renewed contract with the city, the FOP wields outsized power to arbitrate cases and reinstate police officers who have been terminated for misconduct – though it remains unclear how many dismissals have stemmed from civilian complaints.

Union reps did not return multiple requests for comment on this story.

Advocates say the city needs to go further than releasing partially censored complaint records to right police discipline in Philadelphia. Some, like Marcel Bassett, the Police Advisory Commission’s public affairs specialist, say effective discipline can ultimately build relationships with those policed by the department.

“(The release of civilian complaints) helped by creating more transparency with the police department,” Bassett said. “But it alone did not and will not fully repair the bridge of trust we are tasked with repairing.”

*Editor’s note: Following publication, the Police Advisory Commission clarified that it does, in fact, have access to unredacted complaint records, although the commission declined to provide further details.

Complaints show Philly police escape discipline for violent misconduct”, http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news/complaints-show-philly-police-escape-discipline-for-violent-misconduct/article_c283b3da-1bc6-11e8-bfbd-47e1758196fe.html

Settlements resulting from alleged police misconduct are costing Pittsburgh taxpayers millions. What can be done to lessen the burden?

“You can never make Leon Ford whole, but we sure as hell cannot tolerate officers acting in such a cavalier fashion.”

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In 2009, the City of Pittsburgh approved a $3.7 million settlement for musician Thomas Doswell. The settlement was the result of Doswell’s decades-long struggle to clear his name after he was falsely arrested and imprisoned in 1986.

Doswell spent 19 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of rape. He was ultimately freed following the results of a DNA test in 2005.

His $3.7 million settlement was the highest the city had seen in recent years, until now. This month, the city announced it had reached a $5.5 million settlement with Leon Ford, a man who was paralyzed after a Pittsburgh police officer shot him during a routine traffic stop in 2012.

Last year, Ford’s civil suit against the Pittsburgh police officers involved in the stop went to trial. The jury deadlocked on a claim of excessive force against David Derbish, the officer who shot Ford five times, paralyzing him. The other officers at the scene were cleared of wrongdoing by the jury, and the suit against Derbish was expected to go back to court this month before it was settled.

“After five years of arduous litigation, all parties are pleased to announce that we have reached an amicable resolution in the federal lawsuit Leon Ford brought following the November 11, 2012 shooting incident,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said in a statement. “The City has agreed to pay Mr. Ford and his attorneys $5.5 million dollars. This settlement is in the best interest of Mr. Ford, Officer Derbish and the City of Pittsburgh, and will provide all involved the closure needed to move forward in a positive direction.”

City Paper asked the city for records of all settlements resulting from civil-rights complaints over the past 10 years. According to those numbers, from 2008-2017, the city had paid out $5,781,178.26 in settlements. At $5.5 million, Ford’s settlement alone nearly equals the price tag for police settlements doled out over the prior decade.

In light of the financial challenges facing the city, Ford’s multimillion-dollar settlement might be hard to swallow. Since 2004, the city has been operating under Act 47, a recovery program designed to help distressed municipalities strengthen their finances. And many city sectors — including the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, which has been in the news regularly for problems resulting from crumbling infrastructure — are in need of costly updates.

Many believe Ford’s settlement is necessary to repair the damage he has suffered. But should taxpayers carry the burden of alleged police misconduct? Whether it’s making police officers personally liable for their actions or requiring changes to police-department policies and procedures, advocates say the city must do more to hold police accountable, not taxpayers.

“You can’t help but look at the settlement of Leon Ford and be grateful that that young man is going to be taken care of,” says Beth Pittinger, director of the Citizen Police Review Board. “It’s outrageous that we’re paying $5.5 million to settle a case that resulted from a police officer’s conduct. You can never make Leon Ford whole, but we sure as hell cannot tolerate officers acting in such a cavalier fashion.”

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From 2008-2017, the city paid 43 settlements resulting from claims of police misconduct including excessive force, false arrest and imprisonment, and free-speech violations. The payment amounts ranged from $995 to $250,000, the highest amount of any settlement from the past decade, not counting Doswell’s.

“Mr. Ford is just one example,” says attorney Todd Hollis, who represented an individual who received a $40,000 settlement from the city in 2015. “Payments like these are to compensate victims for injuries they have sustained at the hands of police. I don’t know that you can put a price tag on it.

“If the community is upset about these large payouts, they should be upset about the police officers in the department. They should restructure the rules so they can get rid of bad police officers.”

Hollis’ client Paul Parrish was involved in a police chase in 2012. Hollis says Parrish eventually came to a stop and exited the vehicle with his hands up in a gesture of surrender when he was pistol-whipped by a Pittsburgh police officer.

“If you want to avoid these situations, perhaps they should be more cognizant of hiring better-trained police officers who work within the boundaries of the law,” Hollis says. “There is no excuse for a police officer to pistol-whip anyone. Particularly someone who has their hands up and has surrendered. There are some very good police officers who have never had to use their guns.”

(Two years after Parrish received the settlement, a 3-year-old girl shot and killed herself with a gun found in his home. Parrish was barred from owning a firearm due to a prior conviction. A few months later, he was arrested by Pittsburgh Police’s Narcotics and Vice Unit after a month-long drug investigation.)

Hollis says the police bureau must do more to discipline officers, including firing them. For example, Derbish, the officer who shot and paralyzed Ford, remains on the force.

Certainly after they spent that money, why in the world are those police officers still enforcing the law? Why are they still there?” Hollis says. “The solution to the problem should begin with the government no longer employing these police officers.”

Pittinger, of CPRB, says the bureau has seen improvements in holding officers accountable in recent years. She says former Chief Cameron McLay set the bureau on a path to correct these problems, and current Chief Scott Schubert is continuing that work.

“What we’re seeing is holding officers to standards and making sure they’re trained to meet those standards,” Pittinger says. “It’s different from where we were maybe 15 or even 10 years ago. Over the last several years they have improved the relationship with the community. You can’t always measure these things, but you can notice that there is a difference with the tension level. They’re making a concerted effort to professionalize the officers.”

In addition to these changes, CPRB has suggested requiring all officers to carry the equivalent of law-enforcement malpractice insurance. The recommendation was discussed with Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration when he first took office, but Pittinger says she was told it wasn’t an option for officers in Pennsylvania. The mayor’s office and the police bureau declined to comment for this story.

“Several years ago, we looked at whether you can hold someone responsible for the amount of civil damages a city absorbs because of their actions,” Pittinger says. “If there’s no finding, what do you do? How do you still hold that person responsible if no one has determined if they are responsible? That’s an incredibly gray area.”

But the city has tried to hold an officer personally responsible, at least partially, in recent years. In 2011, the city paid $40,000 to Kaleb Miller following a claim of excessive force against Pittsburgh police officer Paul Abel. In June 2008, Abel allegedly assaulted Miller and shot him in the hand while off duty. Abel’s homeowner’s insurance was supposed to pay out an additional $4,500 as part of the settlement for Miller, but the decision was ultimately overturned and the city ended up picking up the tab for the additional $4,500. Following the incident, Abel was fired, charged criminally, acquitted by a judge and then given his job back by an arbitrator.

“It’s time for some policies that make it clear that there’s going to be some personal responsibility when any employee acts beyond the scope of their duties or outside of policy, and there’s going to be some consequence for it,” says Pittinger. “Right now, that’s not the world we live in.”

Instances of alleged police misconduct aren’t the only cases where the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police has cost the city money over the past decade. In 2015, the city reached a $985,000 settlement with a group of African-American applicants to the police force. The federal class-action lawsuit against the city alleged that the police department had a “longstanding pattern and practice of racial discrimination against African-Americans in its hiring process for entry-level police officer positions.”

That case was handled by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. The group has been involved in several civil-rights suits against the police bureau over the past 10 years, including four that resulted from the international G-20 summit in Pittsburgh in 2009.

The G-20 cases were not included in the numbers the city sent CP because these settlements were paid by an insurance policy the city took out to cover the summit. According to the ACLU, these settlements totaled approximately $800,000.

The ACLU often works on free-speech cases where clients say the police department has infringed on their First Amendment rights. Over the past decade, the city settled five civil-rights claims involving free speech or religious freedom.

“We’ve had numerous complaints about police officers citing people for disorderly conduct for using profanity,” says Sara Rose, senior staff attorney with ACLU Pennsylvania. “We had a case where a guy was driving and had given another driver the middle finger, and a police officer saw him, pulled him over, and issued him a citation.”

In that case, the ACLU obtained a $50,000 settlement for its client, David Hackbart. But the group also had the city agree to change its training policies.

“Part of the settlement was the city would provide additional training to all officers on the constitutional rights of individuals using profane languages or gestures, that they would adapt a procedure whereby supervising officers review citations for summary offenses written by officers or personnel in the field on a regular basis,” says Rose.

As a result of this change, Rose says the ACLU has received significantly fewer complaints about police officers issuing citations for the use of profanity in Pittsburgh.

“When we settle a case, we can ask to incorporate anything, so that’s one of the reasons we bring these kinds of damages cases, with hope that we’ll be able to settle them with some kind of changes to training and policy,” Rose says.

The ACLU also worked on the case of Dennis Henderson, a Pittsburgh Public Schools teacher who was arrested after he made a comment to a police officer whom he says was speeding down a residential road. Henderson received a $52,500 settlement in 2015, and the city ended up changing its procedures for tracking pedestrian stops.

“At the time, if an officer stopped a pedestrian on the street and even frisked them, they weren’t even tracking those stops,” Rose says.

These kinds of policy changes tied to settlements are something Rose would like to see more of. Only in this way, she says, can the city ensure that such incidents don’t continue.

“We have limited resources, so we try to use our litigation to achieve broader goals,” says Rose. “Obviously, we want to represent the interests of the person whose case it is, but we don’t just want to get relief for them. We want to get broader relief for everybody so we don’t have to go back to court again in two years.”

 

, January 31, 2018, pghcitypaper.com, “Settlements resulting from alleged police misconduct are costing Pittsburgh taxpayers millions. What can be done to lessen the burden?”, https://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/settlements-resulting-from-alleged-police-misconduct-are-costing-pittsburgh-taxpayers-millions-what-can-be-done-to-lessen-the-burden/Content?oid=6405266

Pa. state police paid $8 million to settle claims against troopers

by Paula Knudsen and Brad Bumsted, LNP Media Group, Posted: December 24, 2017

 

HARRISBURG — The state has paid nearly $8 million to settle more than a dozen sexual harassment and misconduct lawsuits against Pennsylvania State Police troopers since 2001, records obtained by the Caucus weekly newspaper show.

And at least four more pending cases could result in additional taxpayer-funded payouts, including a rape allegation against an unnamed trooper.

The allegations that resulted in settlements ranged from physical assault and battery to sexual discrimination and retaliation at the hands of troopers and, more broadly, state police employees being forced to work in a hostile work environment.

The plaintiffs in those settlements include female state police employees across many ranks, including a clerk, troopers, a sergeant, vice corporal and lieutenant colonel. The state police did not admit to wrongdoing in any of the cases. The terms of the agreements prevent both the state police and the accusers from speaking publicly about their cases.

As more women step forward about being victims of sexual harassment at the hands of powerful figures in Congress and  legislatures across the United States, the settlements bring renewed attention to an agency that has received almost no scrutiny in the ongoing national #MeToo conversation. The state police, whose workforce is 95 percent male, was the subject of a 2003 Office of Inspector General investigation of sexual harassment by troopers.

The Caucus used federal, state and county court records, some obtained under the state’s Right-to-Know law, to identify settlement payouts by the state police in cases where sexual harassment and misconduct were alleged.

In all, the records show, the agency has settled at least 18 sexual harassment and discrimination cases since 2001. Most payments ranged from $5,000 to $435,000. But the agency also paid $6.3 million between 2001 and 2004 to settle claims against a single trooper, Michael K. Evans, who in a widely publicized case was convicted in Montgomery County of numerous sex crimes. Evans, of Mertzville, Berks County, served about eight years in prison.

The nearly $8 million does not include a Philadelphia federal jury’s $250,000 verdict against the state police this month for not taking prompt and appropriate action to stop or prevent the sexual harassment levied against a female trooper.

State police spokesman Ryan Tarkowski, responding to inquiries about the settlements, issued a statement that read: “We are confident that our members and civilian employees receive the proper training in how to prevent, identify and report misconduct. Every allegation is taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.

“When warranted, prompt and appropriate corrective and/or disciplinary action is taken against the trooper or civilian employee involved,” said Tarkowski. “Although specific actions against individual employees are confidential personnel matters, they may range from three-day suspension to termination. In some cases, a terminated trooper has to be reinstated due to the decision of an arbitrator.”

He also said the settlement agreements “are not entered into lightly.”

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who has described as “outrageous” the use of taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment claims against elected officials, said he is preparing to meet with his staff “to develop a broader strategy on how we can review sexual harassment policies and any settlements across state agencies.”

Still, the volume and severity of the allegations against troopers in recent years raises serious questions about the work atmosphere inside the agency.

“If you keep hiring the same type of men — the alpha male — what comes with that type of personality is this misconduct,” said Bucks County employment lawyer Brian Puricelli, who represented the corporal who won her case in Philadelphia this month.

Pittsburgh employment lawyer Susan Mahood, who has represented clients in employment discrimination against the state police for nearly two decades and has two pending cases against the agency, said things haven’t changed much for women.

“I cannot say in 20 years I have seen significant progress,” Mahood said.

Philadelphia attorney Mary McDaniel, 56, a former state trooper, said she was sexually harassed “from day one” after beginning work for the agency in Lancaster in the 1980s. She did not reveal the harassment until the #MeToo movement gained momentum this year.

Writing for the New York Times, McDaniel said she did not speak up sooner because she worried about retaliation.

“I did not report it because other women who reported were called ‘sluts,’ given bad work assignments, and some male troopers refused to ride partner with them … I wish I had spoken up. I quit the police force after four years due to the constant harassment. They effectively drove me out. This was in the 1980s but little has changed,” she wrote last week.

Others have reported similar harassment.

 

One female employee alleged that her male supervisor and two male troopers referred to her by sexually derogatory terms, discussed sexual promiscuity and sexual desires, made sexual gestures, and touched her inappropriately and without her permission while she was stationed in McConnellsburg, Fulton County, in 2005 and 2006. She filed suit, and the state police settled the case for $435,000 — one of the largest payouts — in 2012, the records show. (Like the Inquirer and Daily News, the Caucus does not identify victims or alleged victims of sexual assault without their consent.)

In another case, a female clerk typist at the Butler barracks alleged in 2008 that a corporal there “would make suggestive and offensive remarks and engage in suggestive and offensive conduct without her permission, and handcuffed her to the steering wheel of her vehicle.” The state police settled the federal lawsuit and paid $42,500.

Four pending lawsuits filed by women against the state police allege similar harassment.

In one, a federal case scheduled for trial in Scranton in February, a trooper has alleged “a severe and pervasive hostile work environment” at two different barracks. Emails cited in court records show a male trooper asked the female trooper about her “tan lines,” referred to her as a “kitten,” and pulled her onto his lap in the workplace.

In another pending case, a female dispatcher alleges she was raped and sexually harassed by an unnamed trooper in 2013 at the Blooming Grove, Pike County, barracks. She also contends state police officials tried to suppress the claims because they wanted to protect the reputation of the agency and the trooper. The case is pending before federal Judge Robert Mariani in Scranton.

In the Philadelphia case resolved last week, a jury sided with a female corporal who alleged she was repeatedly harassed by a male trooper whom she had previously dated while employed at the Trevose barracks in Bucks County. The corporal stated in her complaint that she told her supervisors about the harassment repeatedly, but they did nothing to solve the problem.

The corporal obtained a two-year protection-from-abuse order against the trooper, who is no longer stationed at that barracks. The trooper, who was initially named as a defendant in the suit but was later dropped from the case, did not return a telephone message seeking comment. The corporal is now stationed in Philadelphia.

J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for Gov. Wolf, said the administration was aware of the verdict against the state police but could provide no further information about the case.

“Gov. Wolf finds sexual harassment reprehensible and has made it clear to his staff and cabinet that it is unacceptable,” Abbott said. “While every large organization will have bad actors, we trust that the vast majority of state employees, including troopers, live up to high standards and respect their fellow employees.”

Spokesmen for the state police and the attorney general said their offices were reviewing the verdict and assessing legal options.

Paula Knudsen and Brad Bumsted, LNP Media Group, Posted: December 24, 2017, “Pa. state police paid $8 million to settle claims against troopers”, http://www.philly.com/philly/news/pennsylvania-state-police-settlements-sex-harassment-misconduct-20171224.html

Man who alleged brutality by Delaware police gets $125K

Randall Chase, Associated Press Published 4:59 p.m. ET Dec. 22, 2017

 

DOVER – A Pennsylvania man who claimed he was brutalized by police officers in Delaware’s capital city has settled a federal lawsuit for $125,000.

Officials released details of the settlement with Stephen DiFlorio of West Chester on Friday in response to a public records request by the Associated Press.

DiFlorio claimed that Dover police targeted him after he got in a fight outside of the now-closed W.T. Smithers Restaurant and Tavern in the downtown area in 2013. He alleged that as he was walking away from the fight, police without warning hit him with a stun gun in the back.

The lawsuit claims police then showed up at DiFlorio’s house the next day, punched and kicked him as they took him into custody, then filed false paperwork to justify their actions.

In settling the lawsuit, officials denied that the officers used excessive force.

Randall Chase, Associated Press, Dec. 22, 2017, “Man who alleged brutality by Delaware police gets $125K”, https://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/local/2017/12/22/man-who-alleged-brutality-delaware-police-settles/978032001/

DA to consider charging Pittsburgh officer for violent South Side arrest

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Wednesday that he “has a problem” with a Pittsburgh police officer’s violent arrest of a man outside a South Side bar Sunday.

Officer Raymond Toomey kneed, kicked and punched 26-year-old Nathan Stanley III during the arrest outside the Flats On Carson at 1500 E. Carson St around 2 a.m. Sunday, after Mr. Stanley allegedly told the officer that he had a gun.

Nathan Stanley III

A bystander filmed a 10-second video that captured the end of the arrest, when Officer Toomey kneed and kicked Mr. Stanley in the face while the man was on the ground.

“I’ve got a problem with kicking someone in the head,” Mr. Zappala said.

The Flats bar at 1500 East Carson Street on the South Side.
Shelly Bradbury
Peduto orders probe of violent South Side arrest

Officer Toomey wrote in a report that he feared Mr. Stanley was reaching for a gun in his waistband when he delivered the blows to the face, but Mr. Zappala said Wednesday he did not see Mr. Stanley make such a motion in the 10-second clip.

“If the officer felt he was in danger and [Mr. Stanley] was going for an area which could conceal a gun, then use force if that is what it takes,” Mr. Zappala said. “But I don’t see that in the 10-second video. I don’t see his hands anywhere near his waist, for instance.”

Mr. Zappala said his office plans to consult with a use-of-force specialist from outside the city on whether the officer should face criminal charges. He also reviewed surveillance video footage from the bar, and said it is “not as clear” in that video whether Mr. Stanley ever appeared to reach for a weapon.

The bar video shows Mr. Stanley and Officer Toomey interacting in the moments before the 10-second clip was filmed, Mr. Zappala said.

“There is a struggle, and he does put his hands on the officer, which is technically a crime,” Mr. Zappala said. “Why that happened is unclear. We have a constitutional right in this country to say what you want to say in a public place. That’s protected speech. So if he was arrested for protected speech, that is a problem, too.”

Mr. Zappala spoke to the press during a senior fair at the IBEW Local 5 headquarters on the South Side on Wednesday, after meeting with Pittsburgh police Chief Scott Schubert and Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich to discuss the case earlier in the day.

Mr. Zappala said he believes police plan to administratively discipline Officer Toomey. Police spokeswoman Emily Schaffer would not confirm that on Wednesday, and said only that the investigation is ongoing. Police said on Monday that Officer Toomey and a second officer involved in the arrest, Officer Shenandoah Welsh, remained on active duty.

Any investigation by the district attorney’s office will be in addition to investigations by police, the Office of Municipal Investigations and the Pittsburgh’s Citizen Police Review Board. The FBI is reviewing the case for possible federal violations, including civil rights violations, Supervisory Special Agent Gregory Heeb said.

Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the CPRB, said she believes the district attorney’s review is appropriate.

“It’s very encouraging, because when you have a police officer engaged in such violent behavior without what appears to be cause, and contrary to what the written report describes, that is very disconcerting to the public,” she said.

Chris Cimballa, attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1, did not return a request for comment Wednesday.

http://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2017/05/10/Zappala-South-Side-violent-arrest-video-Pittsburgh-police-officer-kicking-man-face/stories/201705100190?platform=hootsuite

More students come forward alleging abuse at Woodland Hills

This screengrab from surveillance videos released Tuesday by attorney Todd Hollis shows an incident involving a Woodland Hills student being subdued in a school office by police and school officials.

An attorney representing two students who claim they were abused by administrators at Woodland Hills High School said Tuesday that two more students have come forward with similar stories.

Todd Hollis, who represented an unidentified student earlier this year after the student recorded high school principal Kevin Murray threatening to “knock his … teeth” down his throat, said his office was contacted last week by federal investigators who are looking into “incidents of abuse” at Woodland Hills High School.

“Four kids have been injured as a result of some conduct by one or more administrators at the high school,” Mr. Hollis said.

Vernesa Hines, the mother of a 14-year-old Woodland Hills High School student who recorded his principal threatening him, wept briefly during a protest Friday outside of the Allegheny County Courthouse in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Elizabeth Behrman
Crowd protests DA’s handling of Woodland Hills investigation

He released surveillance video Tuesday that showed school resource Officer Steve Shaulis and Que’Chawn Wade, 14, step into an office where they got into an altercation that concluded when the officer punched out the student’s front tooth. The student had to be taken by ambulance to a hospital, where his tooth was sewn back into place.

Que’Chawn was charged with resisting arrest, simple assault, aggravated assault and making terroristic threats in the April incident and his case is still pending in juvenile court, Mr. Hollis said.

A second video clip shows a March 2015 incident involving a former Woodland Hills student being grabbed by Officer Shaulis and thrown to the ground. In the video, Mr. Murray is seen helping to hold the boy down while Officer Shaulis shocked him with a Taser. Mr. Hollis said that student was acquitted of resisting arrest, but received probation on a disorderly conduct charge.

“They make you flinch when you see what they did to that young man,” said Tim O’Brien, the attorney representing the fourth student. His client is a 15-year-old girl who alleges similar altercations and “fabricated” criminal charges in two incidents at the school in 2015 and late 2016.

Mr. O’Brien said he and the girl’s family are considering filing a lawsuit.

The Allegheny County District Attorney’s office has been investigating whether Officer Shaulis, an officer with the Churchill Police Department, used excessive force in the April incident. The results of that investigation will be shared with the FBI.

District attorney spokesman Mike Manko said investigators are aw

are of the surveillance videos.

Authorities say Joseph Golden III is shown in surveillance video picking up a 13-year-old student by the neck and carrying him down the hallway on April 12.
Elizabeth Behrman
Attorney: Rankin Promise employee used ‘approved restraint method’

“As we have previously stated, we are working with other agencies, both state and federal, to determine what if any crimes have been committed and which venue best addresses the issues presented,” he said in an email. “The investigation is ongoing and, when appropriate, we will comment further.”

Mr. Murray was placed on paid leave in December while the school district and the district attorney’s office investigated the allegations against him.

He was reinstated in January and the school board appointed him as head high school football coach during a meeting last month.

“Principal Murray has nothing but love and admiration and respect for the over 10,000 children he has seen go through the Woodland Hills School District doors and become productive members of our society,” said Phil DiLucente, his attorney. “However, he will not tolerate misbehavior.”

Mr. DiLucente, who also represents Officer Shaulis, said the officer remains on duty, but is not currently stationed in the school due to the investigation.

Superintendent Alan Johnson said the district was cooperating with the investigation and said the 2015 case was adjudicated.

“We are disappointed that Mr. Hollis is attempting to take a small number of widely separated incidents and spin them into a conspiracy or a pattern of abuse that simply does not exist,” Mr. Johnson said.

http://www.post-gazette.com/local/east/2017/05/02/Woodland-Hills-High-School-student-abuse-video-claims/stories/201705030111?platform=hootsuite