A New Database Seeks to Catalog—and Hold Accountable—Police Officers Across the U.S.

Pacific Standard spoke with Camille Fassett, a researcher with Lucy Parsons Labs, about the OpenOversight program—a public database indexing law enforcement officers by name, photo, incidents, and more.
Arvind Dilawar,
A police officer in Bakersfield, California.

A police officer in Bakersfield, California. OpenOversight, which is creating a database of police officers and officer incidents, has apparently struck a nerve with some officers.

(Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

OpenOversight is deceptively simple. Anyone trying to identify a police officer can log on to the website, select the police department or federal agency, enter as much or as little of the officer’s last name and badge number as they remember, choose the officer’s rank if they know it, and enter the approximate race, gender, and age. That query searches a database of law enforcement, producing not only names, badge numbers, and identifying features, but photos and incidents too: Officer Jason D. Van Dyke of the Chicago Police Department, badge number 9465, shot and killed Laquan McDonald in October of 2014; Officer Nicole M. Rhodes of the Oakland Police Department, badge number 736, shot and killed Demouria Hogg in June of 2015; Officer Sean Aranas of the University of California Police Department, badge number 76, allegedly extorted a hot dog vendor in September of 2017.

The project isn’t perfect. Of the 684,200 patrol officers in the United States, only 12,900 have been added to OpenOversight. Some of those profiles are limited to names, badge numbers, and ranks, and just 5 percent include photos. Only five police departments—Berkeley, Chicago, New York, Oakland, and the University of California—are included, along with two federal agencies—Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And, as can be seen from the examples above, only high-profile incidents are currently catalogued.

Yet OpenOversight appears to have struck a nerve. Shortly after launching in 2016, the project became the target of spammers at the encouragement of an anonymous police blog. The president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police has also repeatedly claimed that it endangers police officers by making them identifiable.

But accountability is exactly what Lucy Parsons Labs, the non-profit organization behind OpenOversight, hopes to achieve with this project. Pacific Standard spoke with Camille Fassett, a researcher with Lucy Parsons Labs, about OpenOversight’s reception and its future.

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What was the genesis of OpenOversight?

Back in 2016, someone that Lucy Parsons Labs knew in Chicago was assaulted by a police officer. She didn’t get his name or badge number, and for big police departments like Chicago, which has over 12,000 members, this information is critical for identifying officers; in a four-year period, approximately 4,000 complaints were tossed out due to investigators being unable to identify an officer.

She said something that really stuck with us: She said that she would recognize his face if she ever saw him again. So initially OpenOversight was developed to be a digital gallery of photos of police officers. That way, if someone wanted to identify an officer, they could input whatever they remembered, like race and sex and approximate age, and get back a list of possible faces.

https://openoversight.lucyparsonslabs.com/

Arvind Dilawar, , Pacific Standard, “A New Database Seeks to Catalog—and Hold Accountable—Police Officers Across the U.S.”, https://psmag.com/news/new-database-seeks-to-index-police-officers
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Alleged victims of police brutality have a powerful new tool in court, top N.J. defense attorneys say

The Force Report is a continuing investigation of police use of force in New Jersey. Read more from the series or search your local police department and officers in the full the database.

Defense attorneys and the state Public Defender’s Office say the unprecedented release of police use-of-force data in New Jersey could significantly bolster the rights of defendants who for years have had the odds stacked against them in court.

In the wake of The Force Report, a 16-month investigation of police use of force by NJ Advance Media for NJ.com, the attorneys said they have been strategizing over how they could use the data to gain more access to police personnel records in their cases.

“Until (NJ Advance Media) published (its) work, there was no resource like this available,” said Sharon Bittner Kean, president of the Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys of New Jersey. “We’re delighted to have a tool that could bolster the rights of defendants.”

The investigation found that while the majority of police officers in the state barely used force at all, many departments had individuals who did so far more than their peers. The data revealed that multiple officers who were charged with brutalizing suspects and other types of misconduct would have raised red flags had a system been in place to track use of force trends.

The entire database is now available to the public at NJ.com/force.

The attorneys said that accessing police records can be difficult during discovery. They said cannot request a police officer’s entire disciplinary record when they can’t present proof that there’s anything relevant to the case in it. With the newly released data, they said they may now have a basis to request and receive more documentation.

“A lot of people think we can just go into court, ask and a prosecutor just hands it over. That’s not how it works,” said Jennifer Sellitti, director of training and communications for the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender. “Now we can use statistics to support our argument. We can say we know this exists. That gives us something we can put into a motion.”

Search officers in your town

Bittner-Kean said the defense attorney association plans to discuss The Force Report at its next board meeting and brainstorm how to use it in court. Sellitti said attorneys working for the Public Defender’s office already have been combing through the database, and the office has been crackling with excitement at the possibilities it presents.

“This is something we’ve been discussing for a long time, and (NJ Advance Media) just stepped on the accelerator for everyone,” she said.

Sellitti also believes the newly released use-of-force data could prove valuable in other aspects of criminal litigation, such as reinforcing the prosecution’s requirement to turn over evidence that may be favorable to the defense.

“It adds some teeth to what we’re asking prosecutors for,” she said.

Matthew Troiano, a defense attorney who spent years as a prosecutor for Hudson and Morris counties, said the database removed barriers to learning about an officer’s history.

That could especially impact cases where an officer’s testimony conflicted with the testimony of someone he or she had arrested, Troiano said, because the differing accounts could be more easily compared to that cop’s past arrests.

“In that type of situation, it’d be extremely helpful,” Troiano said.

To build The Force Report, reporters filed 506 public records requests, collected 72,609 paper records and spent more than $30,000 to create the most comprehensive statewide database of police force in the United States. The records — spanning 2012 through 2016, the most recent year available — cover every municipal police department and the State Police

Terence Jones, a civil rights investigator, said he hopes The Force Report will prompt state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to push for more transparency in policing data and enact reforms that will allow for greater accountability.

“I think it’s an embarrassment that you have to have a news organization do the work of these agencies,” he said. “The police have proved they cannot police themselves. And right now, you have county prosecutors acting as if they are the personal lawyers of the police. The state is supposed to represent the people.”

Hours after the project was released, Grewal called it “nothing short of incredible” and promised to propose changes to the system. On Wednesday, he issued a rare joint statement with every leading law enforcement official in the state conceding they had failed to accurately track police force and setting forth reforms, including standardized electronic reporting.

We are continuing to make this dataset better. The numbers in this story were last updated Dec. 12, 2018.

Stephen Stirling | NJ Advance Media NJ.com, , 2018, “Alleged victims of police brutality have a powerful new tool in court, top N.J. defense attorneys say”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 police misconduct cases had new developments last week. Here’s what happened

Nation

Five cases of police misconduct had new developments last week. Here’s a look at what happened and what’s next for the families of the victims and the officers involved.

WALTER SCOTT

Judy Scott looks over a photo of her son Walter Scott during a news conference after former police officer Michael Slager was sentenced to 20 years in prison, in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S., December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Randall Hill  NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES - RC17B6850B10

Original incident

In April 2015, North Charleston police officer Michael Slager pulled over Walter Scott for a broken tail light. What happened next is uncertain. Slager says the two fought for his taser. But in a bystander cell phone video, Scott is seen fleeing the scene, as Slager fatally shoots the 50-year-old multiple times. The video also shows Slager putting his taser on the ground next to Scott. In court, Slager said he was securing a weapon; the prosecution argued he was planting evidence to bolster his defense. A previous trial by the state resulted in a hung jury. In May, Slager pleaded guilty to federal civil rights violations and the state dropped the murder charges.

The Latest: On Wednesday, Slager was sentenced in a federal court to 20 years in prison for violating Scott’s civil rights. The judge found that the shooting went beyond manslaughter to second-degree murder, and said Slager used excessive force.

The case is unusual in that it is rare for police officers to be convicted for fatal shootings. Often, cases end in acquittals and mistrials, if an officer is indicted at all. After Slager’s sentencing, the Scott family said they were “pleased” with the result.

What’s next? Slager and his attorneys have 14 days to appeal the verdict, a possibility since the sentence is nearly twice what they’d hoped. Because the trial was in federal court, Slager will not be eligible for parole.

PHILANDO CASTILE

The car of Philando Castile is seen surrounded by police vehicles in an evidence photo taken after he was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in July 2016. Picture released June 20, 2017. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via Reuters

Original incident

In July 2016, Philando Castile was driving with his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her daughter in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, when he was pulled over by officer Jeronimo Yanez. Castile told the officer he had a gun, which he carried legally. Dashcam video released this past summer documented Yanez telling Castile not to reach for his gun; Reynolds testified that Castile was reaching for his ID. Castile can be heard telling the officer he wasn’t reaching for his gun, but Yanez repeated his command and immediately fired seven shots into the car. Castile died at the hospital.

Reynolds began livestreaming the aftermath on her cell phone, garnering worldwide attention. Additional footage released later showed Reynolds in handcuffs with her daughter in the back of a police cruiser.

In November 2016, Yanez was charged with manslaughter; he was acquitted of all charges in June. A month later, the St. Anthony police department removed Yanez from the force. The former officer was bought out for $48,500, plus up to 600 hours of unused personal leave pay.

The Latest: Last week, Reynolds reached settlements totaling $800,000 with the cities of St. Anthony and Roseville. Though the cities say the settlements, which are pending judicial approval, do not admit guilt, Reynolds released a short statement saying they represent “what happened to my daughter and I on July 6, 2016 was wrong.”

“While no amount of money can change what happened, bring Philando back, or erase the pain that my daughter and I continue to suffer, I do hope that closing this chapter will allow us to get our lives back and move forward,” she continued.

This latest payment follows a $3 million settlement earlier this summer between St. Anthony and Castile’s family.

What’s next? Now that the cities have settled with Reynolds and the Castile estate, the case is essentially closed.

ALTON STERLING

A boy sits next to a makeshift memorial outside the Triple S Food Mart where Alton Sterling was fatally shot by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

Original incident

A little after midnight on July 5, 2016, Baton Rouge police officers responded to a call of a man with a gun outside a Triple S food mart. When they arrived, they found Alton Sterling, who often sold CDs outside the store, owner Abdullah Muflahi said.

Two subsequent bystander videos, one by Muflahi, show two officers wrestling Sterling, 37, to the ground. Someone can be heard shouting, “He’s got a gun! Gun!” before an officer shoots multiple times.

The officers were not charged in his death, prompting protests in Baton Rouge over the decision. More than 100 people were arrested as a result.

Many of those arrested in protests immediately after Sterling’s death participated in a class-action lawsuit, and in October, a judge awarded a $500-$1,000 settlement to each participant.

In June, the family of Alton Sterling sued the police officers and the city of Baton Rouge, alleging that the actions of the officers “were unreasonable, unnecessary, violated police officer protocol and procedure” and were “an excessive use of deadly force.”

Weeks later, another lawsuit claimed that police officers used excessive force when they arrested dozens protesting Sterling’s death.

The Latest: On Dec. 4, three people sued the city of Baton Rouge and Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wilson, claiming unlawful removal from a city council meeting last May. At the meeting, which was a week after the officers were not charged, the speakers say their First Amendment rights were violated when police officers removed them.

The meeting was about sewer backups, and when the council called for public comment, multiple speakers came up to address Sterling’s death. In total, six people were removed from the meeting.

The speakers, Gary Chambers, Mike McClanahan and Eugene Collins, allege the mayor discriminated against them and their views because they are black. Wilson said at the time the speakers were deviating from the stated subject of the meeting.

The three plaintiffs are only asking to cover court costs and legal fees. Instead of a settlement, they hope that Wilson will be forced out if the court finds he acted illegally.

What’s next? The Louisiana Attorney General is still reviewing the case to determine if the state should bring charges against the officers.

FREDDIE GRAY

FILE PHOTO: Baltimore Police Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., Officer Edward M. Nero, Officer Garrett E Miller (top L-R), Officer William G. Porter, Lt. Brian W. Rice, Sgt. Alicia D. White (bottom L-R), are pictured in these undated booking photos provided by the Baltimore Police Department. Baltimore's top prosecutor on July 27, 2016 dropped remaining charges against police officers tied to the death of black detainee Freddie Gray, after failing four times to secure convictions in a case that inflamed the U.S. debate on race and justice./File Photo Courtesy Baltimore Police Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. - RC12F9528440

Original incident

Last year, state prosecutors decided to drop charges against three of the six officers involved in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, who sustained a fatal spinal injury in the back of a Baltimore police van. This was announced after the three remaining Baltimore officers had been acquitted in the 25-year-old black man’s death.

In September, the Justice Department announced that none of the six officers would face federal civil rights charges, either.

The latest: After charges were cleared on the federal and state levels, Montgomery and Howard county police departments, whose officers responded to the initial incident, brought internal charges against five of the six officers, citing violations of department rules, The Baltimore Sun reported.

To date, two of the officers have accepted minor disciplinary actions. All charges against the driver of the van, officer Caesar Goodson Jr., were dropped in November. All charges against Lt. Brian Rice were also dropped the following week.

The administrative trial for Sgt. Alicia White, the last officer to face internal discipline in the case, was originally scheduled for Dec. 5. But, a police commissioner decided to not proceed with the hearing. White will not face further internal consequences.

What’s next: “After all the trials and police disciplinary proceedings, we still don’t know what happened in the back of that van,” The Sun wrote in an editorial after the last officer White’s administrative hearing was dropped.

The Baltimore police have made changes following Gray’s death: New police vans are equipped to better handle passenger safety and are fitted with cameras to monitor officers’ actions. The city also launched a program to have patrol officers wear body cameras.

But the newspaper argued that we need to “do more than talk” to prevent a similar death in the future. That means evaluating how well the city addresses the restrictions in its continued consent decree with the government, including changes to how an officer approaches a possible suspect.

ANTHONY LAMAR SMITH

Police in riot gear and a protester stand near a burned U.S. flag after the not guilty verdict in the murder trial of Jason Stockley, a former St. Louis police officer charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. Sept. 17. Photo by Lawrence Bryant/Reuters

Original incident

Six years ago, a former St. Louis police officer shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith after an attempt to arrest the black motorist.

On Dec. 20, 2011, Jason Stockley and his partner approached Smith, who they thought was involved in a suspected drug deal. The encounter eventually led to a high-speed pursuit as Smith fled the scene in his vehicle. The chase ended when Stockley, captured by a dashcam, told his partner to crash into Smith’s vehicle. Getting out of the police SUV, Stockley then fired five shots at Smith, who was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

After years of the case lingering in court, a Missouri judge acquitted Stockley in September of first-degree murder in Smith’s death, a decision that sparked weeks of new protests in a city that was also rocked by the 2014 death of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson.

The latest: An independent investigation ordered by Republican Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley found that a senior attorney who worked for the officer of former Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, knowingly withheld DNA evidence while the state was negotiating a wrongful death settlement with Smith’s family, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

During the trial, prosecution representing Smith’s family argued that Stockley’s DNA was the only genetic material identified on the revolver that was recovered from Smith’s vehicle after the shooting. While this evidence was used in the court case earlier this year, it was not available to Smith’s family when they were trying to reach a settlement with the city’s police department years ago.

Attorney Albert S. Watkins told the newspaper that the DNA evidence would have helped Smith’s family obtain a larger settlement than the $900,000 that was given to them in 2013.

What’s next:The civil case could be reopened, Watkins said, to allow the Smith’s family receive a higher settlement.

 

Nation, , “5 police misconduct cases had new developments last week. Here’s what happened”, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/5-police-misconduct-cases-had-new-developments-last-week-heres-what-happened

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

EDITORIAL

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

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

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

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

Among those proposed reforms:

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACLU of Indiana Sends Letter to Elkhart Mayor Regarding Police Department Use of Excessive Force

December 4, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS – The ACLU of Indiana today sent a letter to Elkhart Mayor, Tim Neese, offering recommendations for responding to misconduct and use of excessive force within the Elkhart Police Department.

“Elkhart’s history of police misconduct requires a thorough examination and policy recommendation by a proven, independent third-party expert such as, the Leadership Conference Education Fund and Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Center for Policing Equity or the NYU Policing Project,” said Jane Henegar, executive director of the ACLU of Indiana. “We urge Mayor Neese and the Board of Public Safety to abandon any proposal that would establish a review board consisting solely of law enforcement officers.”

According to the letter, the Mayor’s call for an investigation of the Department of Justice is not realistic at this time, because the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has been largely stripped of its power to negotiate consent decrees and other settlement agreements regulating patterns and practices of police enforcement. Under the Trump administration, the Justice Department has pulled back from providing this kind of state investigative reform.

“It is simply not realistic to expect that the Justice Department will be able to carry out the kind of investigation and reform that the Elkhart Police Department needs,” said Jane Henegar, executive director of the ACLU of Indiana. “We hope that Mayor Neese will take these recommendations to heart as he works to ensure that Elkhart is a safe and welcoming city, in which all community members can share confidence and trust in their local law enforcement and elected officials.”

The full text of the letter is available here:  https://www.aclu-in.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/18_12_04_elkhart_mayor_police.pdf

December 4, 2018, “ACLU of Indiana Sends Letter to Elkhart Mayor Regarding Police Department Use of Excessive Force”, https://www.aclu.org/news/aclu-indiana-sends-letter-elkhart-mayor-regarding-police-department-use-excessive-force

State trooper sidelined for defending police brutality

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

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

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

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

Police ‘Code of Silence’ Is on Trial After Murder by Chicago Officer

 
Three Chicago police officers — from left, David March, Thomas Gaffney and Joseph Walsh — are accused of covering up what had really happened when a white police officer shot Laquan McDonald, a black teenager.CreditCreditPool photo by Zbigniew Bzdak

By Monica Davey

 

CHICAGO — Inside a cramped and worn courtroom, three white police officers are on trial in connection with the fatal shooting of a black teenager, Laquan McDonald. But these officers never fired their guns. Their crime, prosecutors say, was concocting a story to cover up for a colleague who did.

As prosecutors tell it, Chicago police officers shooed away eyewitnesses after the shooting on Oct. 20, 2014, and then made up a narrative to justify the shooting. They said in official reports that the teenager had tried to stab three officers, and that he had tried to get up from the ground as 16 shots were being fired into him.

The only hitch? Dashcam video footage of the encounter contradicted their account.

Patricia Brown Holmes, a special prosecutor trying the three officers on charges of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice, told a judge last week: “Instead of serving and protecting all citizens of Chicago, the defendants tried to protect only one — Jason Van Dyke,” the police officer who was convicted this fall of second-degree murder in the shooting.

On trial along with the officers is the “code of silence” that police officers across the country have been accused of operating under. In Chicago, the issue has been around for decades, bubbling up in recent years in cases involving a drunk-driving officer, an off-duty officer’s beating of a bartender and a lawsuit by two police officers who said they faced retaliation after breaking the code.

“Every police officer has seen the code of silence in action,” said Lorenzo Davis, a former Chicago officer who rose through the ranks to commander over a career of more than two decades. He was later an investigator for an oversight agency of the police department, and was awarded $2.8 million by a jury this year after suing the city, saying he had been fired from the agency because he refused to change his findings concerning police shootings that he deemed unjustified.

By Mr. Davis’s description, the code of silence can be subtle. An officer, even one who was close by, may say that he didn’t see what happened at a crucial moment. And the penalties can be frightening: colleagues may not arrive as quickly to help an officer in danger who is considered a snitch.

“The code of silence works a lot like a family situation,” Mr. Davis said. “You cannot tell on your family members. You just know that. No one has to tell you that. If you have a partner, you’re going to back up your partner.”

The president of the police union in Chicago, Kevin Graham, said through a spokesman that no such code of silence exists, calling the claim nonsense. “How the special prosecutor can construe a ‘code of silence’ theory defies belief,” Mr. Graham said after the charges against the three officers were announced.

And Eddie Johnson, the superintendent of the Chicago Police and a 30-year veteran of the force, said this year — in a sworn deposition related to a separate police shooting lawsuit — that he was unaware of any such code. Through a spokesman, Superintendent Johnson declined to elaborate on the matter this week, citing limits on speaking with reporters that were set by the judge in the trial of the three officers.

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel has acknowledged the existence of a code. In late 2015, in the days after Chicagoans first saw damning video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald — video that the city had fought to keep out of public view — the mayor called for major changes in policing in a speech at City Hall. Facing demands for his resignation, Mr. Emanuel condemned what he said was sometimes called a “code of silence” or “a thin blue line.”

“It is the tendency to ignore, it is a tendency to deny, it is a tendency in some cases to cover up the bad actions of a colleague or colleagues,” Mr. Emanuel said in the emotional speech.

Mr. Emanuel’s remarks joined a series of disclosures, court findings and report conclusions in recent years that have drawn attention to a code of silence in Chicago, and, some say, have set off a gradual process of dismantling it.

In 2012, a federal jury awarded $850,000 to Karolina Obrycka, a bartender who was beaten by an off-duty Chicago police officer, Anthony Abbate, in an incident that was caught on security video. Ms. Obrycka asserted in her lawsuit that a broad code of silence in Chicago had emboldened Mr. Abbate’s behavior.

The city reached a $2 million settlement in 2016 with two officers — Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria — who said they experienced retaliation after exposing a fellow officer who was accused of shaking down drug dealers and of framing people who would not go along with other crimes.

And in 2017, the Department of Justice issued a scathing report on the Chicago police that found, in part, that a code of silence was getting in the way of holding officers accountable for misconduct.

For all the attention, though, the attitude that officers back one another up has yet to change, according to Terry Ekl, a lawyer who represented Ms. Obrycka in her suit. “The fact of the matter is that a code of silence exists,” he said. “As long as you and I are alive, it’s going to be there. It would take the leadership at the top stating that we’re not going to tolerate this any longer, and if you do this, you’ll be fired.”

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In the case playing out now in a Chicago courtroom, the three officers — David March, Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney — have denied that they covered up for the officer who shot Laquan McDonald and tried to make the shooting appear justified.

Mr. March, who has resigned from the department, was the detective assigned to investigate the shooting. James McKay, a lawyer for Mr. March, told Cook County Associate Judge Domenica Stephenson that Mr. March merely carried out his duties. “He wrote down what the witnesses told him,” Mr. McKay said, adding that Mr. March was not assigned to be a “judge and jury” of what the officers reported had happened.

Mr. Walsh has also resigned from the department. He was the partner of Mr. Van Dyke, the officer who fired all the shots, on the night of the shooting. Mr. Walsh’s lawyer, Todd Pugh, said Mr. Walsh had only worked with Mr. Van Dyke once before, suggesting that his client had little reason to cover up for Mr. Van Dyke. If the video footage of the shooting conflicted with the way Mr. Walsh had described the events in reports, it was a matter of different perceptions of the same information based on one’s viewpoint, Mr. Pugh said.

Mr. Gaffney was one of the officers who first confronted Laquan McDonald on the evening of the shooting, after police got a report of a man breaking into trucks on the city’s Southwest Side. Mr. Gaffney and other officers had followed the teenager, who was carrying a knife and ignoring orders to stop, for several blocks. William Fahy, Mr. Gaffney’s lawyer, told the judge that Mr. Gaffney had showed appropriate restraint on the night of the shooting, but was now being charged because the authorities “disagree with the report that he wrote.” Mr. Fahy described the notion of a conspiracy among the officers to protect Mr. Van Dyke as “complete and utter nonsense.”

For some, the case has raised another question: Why are only three officers on trial?

Nine officers were at the scene when Officer Van Dyke shot Laquan McDonald, and police officials moved to fire seven officers who they said gave questionable accounts of the shooting. Grand jurors indicted three officers but declined to indict any others.

“You have to wonder, where is the brass in all this — where are the top bosses?” said Ms. Spalding, one of the officers who sued and received a settlement from the city in 2016.

Ms. Spalding described the trial now underway as a “puppet show for the public,” to create the appearance that someone was being held accountable for false accounts after Laquan McDonald’s death. “You’re putting a couple officers on trial,” she said. “But don’t think for one minute that everyone didn’t know.”

Monica Davey, The New York Times, “Police ‘Code of Silence’ Is on Trial After Murder by Chicago Officer

After Fatally Shooting Man in His Apartment, Ex-Dallas Cop Indicted for Murder

by Tribune News Service | December 3, 2018 AT 10:30 AM

By Nichole Manna

A former Dallas police officer who walked into an unarmed man’s apartment on Sept. 6 and shot him while wearing her police uniform has been indicted on a charge of murder.

The Dallas County grand jury began hearing the case against Amber Guyger, 30, on Monday. Guyger was originally charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of 26-year-old Botham Shem Jean. She was released from jail on a $300,000 bond about an hour after turning herself in.

District Attorney Faith Johnson said that by 3 p.m., Guyger had turned herself back in on the murder charge. Her bond was transferred and she has been released.

Asked why the grand jury indicted Guyger on a murder charge, Johnson said, “We presented the evidence and explained the law.” She added that the law prohibits her from talking about the evidence presented to the grand jury.

She said her office had a “very spirited conversation” with the Texas Rangers, the lead investigators in the case, back in September.

“They chose to file this case as manslaughter,” she said. “We did our own investigation.”

She said that prosecutors talked to more than 300 witnesses.

Guyger has said she mistook Jean’s apartment at the South Side Flats for hers that night after getting off a long work shift, Dallas police said. Court documents have varied on the story of how Guyger got Jean’s door open.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, along with several other media outlets, have requested copies of the 911 call Guyger made after the shooting, along with body camera footage worn by the officers who responded. The Dallas Police Department has declined to release that information and sent the open records requests to the attorney general for final determination.

Guyger was not wearing a body camera. The department said officers leave their body cameras at work after their shift.

Johnson, who was voted out of office in the Nov. 6 election, will not see the case through to a trial and said Friday that she “trusts the DA-elect will continue to represent this family (and all of Dallas County) as he seeks justice for victims.”

Johnson also spoke about why it took her office two months to bring the case in front of a grand jury. She said she wanted to make sure the jury had everything they needed to “make the right choice.”

“We thought it was murder all along,” she said. “But we didn’t file this case … but we did what we had to do get this case ready for the grand jury. Justice is never too long.”

Moving forward, it could be more than a year before Guyger sits in front of a judge and jury. It took 16 months, Johnson said, for the case against former cop Roy Oliver to go to trial. Oliver shot and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards while on duty as a Balch Springs police officer. He was found guilty of murder.

Jean was a native of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. After graduating from college in Arkansas, he moved to Dallas to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Jean’s family filed a lawsuit against the City of Dallas and its Police Department in late October.

Jean’s family says in the suit that Guyger had a history of violence and used excessive force against Jean that fateful night in September, resulting in his wrongful death.

The family also says the Dallas Police Department “has a pattern, practice, history and custom of using excessive force against minorities,” and accuses it of not providing proper training or discipline for Guyger in the use of deadly force.

“By simply following proper police procedures and the best police practices and not the protocol of the DPD to ‘shoot first and ask questions later,’ Defendant Guyger would have not shot Jean,” the lawsuit states. “Essentially, Officer Guyger was ill-trained, and as a result, defaulted to the defective DPD policy: to use deadly force even when there exists no immediate threat of harm to themselves or others.

By Nichole Manna, Tribune News Service | December 3, 2018, “After Fatally Shooting Man in His Apartment, Ex-Dallas Cop Indicted for Murder”, http://www.governing.com/topics/public-justice-safety/tns-dallas-police-murder-trial.html

Sadism in the St. Louis Police Department

Jim Young / Reuters
Last year, former police officer Jason Stockley was on trial in St. Louis, Missouri, for the shooting death of a black motorist named Anthony Smith.He was acquitted, sparking street protests.

The St. Louis police activated what it calls its Civil Disobedience Team. Among the cops assigned to it were Dustin Boone, Randy Hays, and Christopher Myers, who sent texts to one another expressing their excitement and glee at the prospect of brutalizing protesters, according to federal prosecutors who reviewed their communications.

“Let’s whoop some ass,” Myers allegedly texted.

“The more the merrier!!!” Boone allegedly replied. “It’s gonna get IGNORANT tonight!! But it’s gonna be a lot of fun beating the hell out of those shitheads once the sun goes down and nobody can tell us apart!!!!” He went on to describe a fellow police officer as “a BIG OL black dude” who is “hands on,” and who is “basically a thug that’s on our side. It’s he and I that just grab fuckers and toss em around.” Later he described cops loading protesters onto prison buses while saying “Our streets,” in unison, mocking their chant. He added, “Did everyone see the protesters getting FUCKED UP in the galleria????? That was awesome.”

Hays allegedly explained, “It’s extremely frustrating, but you’ll eat yourself up inside if you don’t just let it go and deal with it when it comes. And this one is easy because we both are good, going rogue does feel good, but I’ve been elected to be the driver of a Tahoe, so if I get involved tonight, shit has hit the fan.” He added, “Remember we are in south city. They support us but also cameras. So make sure you have an old white dude as a witness.”

On September 17, 2017, these men put their sadistic language into practice, according to an indictment filed against them last week.

“The defendants threw L.H. to the ground and then kicked and struck L.H. while he was compliant and not posing a physical threat to anyone,” it states. “This offense resulted in bodily injury to L.H. and included the use of a dangerous weapon, that is: shod feet and a riot baton.”

They most likely would still be on the street, with their badges, their guns, and the ability to inflict lethal force, if not for the fact that L.H. happened to be an undercover police officer. “We’ve had several incidents of protesters and activists being the victims of excessive use of force and police abusing their authority without ever seeing charges like this,” Rev. Darryl Gray, a protest organizer, told The Washington Post.

An attorney who filed brutality lawsuits on behalf of 23 protesters told AP, “The text messages confirm our suspicions that these officers were using the anonymity of their SWAT uniforms and face masks after removing their name tags so that they could beat citizens with impunity.”

Now four officers await an early December court date, where they are expected to plead not guilty. According to the indictment, Myers “did knowingly destroy and mutilate L.H.’s cellular phone, a tangible object used to record and preserve information.” All three men allegedly conspired to influence the testimony of potential witnesses. One fellow officer, Bailey Colletta, was indicted for lying about the incident.

“St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said that her office has dismissed 91 criminal cases associated with four St. Louis police officers,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, adding this striking detail:

Gardner stopped accepting cases from the four officers in question, “When we learned these officers were under investigation and the reason for the investigation,” spokeswoman Susan Ryan said Friday. “That was in late August, early September,” she said. A source told the Post-Dispatch that those cases had been issued between 2016 and this year.

Several were issued after the alleged assault on Hall took place, and well into the federal investigation into the incident, according to a source. That means the accused officers were on duty, actively making arrests and building cases while they were the subjects of a federal criminal investigation. It is not clear whether they were ever disciplined internally or put on administrative duty during the investigation.

St. Louis prosecutors seem to have all sorts of problems with St. Louis police officers––they keep a list of the ones they won’t work with, but won’t reveal those names to the public and the cops remain on the job.

Additional information about police misconduct during the Stockley protests may emerge as more than a dozen federal lawsuits filed against the police department make their way through the courts.“The suits claim police violated the arrestees’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from unlawful seizure and their First Amendment rights to assemble in public and express their views free from retaliation,” the PostDispatch reports. “The suits also say police conspired to deprive them of their civil rights and that the city failed to properly train officers to avoid violating the rights of protesters or others.”