Baltimore PD Purging Discipline Files, Lawyers Charge

Public defenders have called for an investigation of what they say is a widespread practice by the Baltimore Police Department of wrongly expunging internal affairs files of officers accused of misconduct.

The Baltimore Public Defender’s Office called for an investigation of what it claims is a widespread practice by the Baltimore Police Department of wrongly expunging internal affairs files of officers accused of misconduct, the Baltimore Sun reports. The issue came to light as criminal defense attorneys have sought information to impeach the testimony of police officers. Officers’ internal affairs files are largely withheld from the public, and attorneys must make the case to a judge that such information is relevant to introduce the evidence at trial. But in some cases, attorneys say, they found files were expunged even though they had not been eligible for expungement.

The Public Defender’s Office is asking for the issue to be taken up as part of the police department’s federal consent decree reforms. The decree was reached last year between the city and the U.S. Justice Department after a federal investigation that found widespread discriminatory and unconstitutional policing in Baltimore. Many community leaders have stressed the need for greater transparency from the department and the city about officer misconduct following the federal racketeering convictions of members of the department’s Gun Trace Task Force and new mandates under the consent decree, which include more civilian oversight into officer misconduct. City Solicitor Andre Davis, who oversees the department’s legal section, agreed that it needs improvements in how it handles misconduct investigations. “Anybody who’s been paying attention in the consent decree knows these are the kinds of problems the department has every day,” such as management and supervision, he said.

from https://thecrimereport.org

St. Louis Cops Indicted for Beating Undercover Officer

A federal indictment charged that three officers beat a 22-year police veteran and a fourth officer lied to a grand jury about the incident. It happened last year amid protests after another officer was acquitted of murder charges in a fatal shooting.

Four St. Louis police officers were indicted Thursday on federal charges alleging that three of them beat an undercover colleague during protests last year and all four covered it up,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The indictment claims that several officers exchanged messages that “expressed disdain” for protesters and “excitement about using unjustified force against them and going undetected while doing so.” Prosecutors allege that officers Dustin Boone, Randy Hays and Christopher Myers threw a 22-year police veteran to the ground and kicked and hit him with a police baton on Sept. 17, 2017, amid protests after the acquittal of former police officer Jason Stockley of murder for the fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith. They believed the undercover officer was a protester and assaulted him “while he was compliant and not posing a physical threat to anyone,” the indictment says. Officer Bailey Colletta is accused of lying to a federal grand jury investigating the incident.

After learning that the person they attacked was an undercover officer, the three officers lied about the arrest, claiming the man resisted arrest and was not compliant, the indictment says. They tried to contact the undercover officer to dissuade him from pursuing disciplinary or legal action, the indictment says. The undercover officer has not been able to return to work because of his injuries. He was kicked in the face, which inflamed his jaw muscles to the point where he could not eat, dropping from 185 pounds to 165. The indictment says the officers exchanged a series of messages during the days of protest duty. One said, “it’s gonna be a lot of fun beating the hell out of these (expletive) once the sun goes down and nobody can tell us apart!!!!” He also wrote that it was “a blast beating people that deserve it.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

St. Louis Cops Indicted for Beating Undercover Officer

A federal indictment charged that three officers beat a 22-year police veteran and a fourth officer lied to a grand jury about the incident. It happened last year amid protests after another officer was acquitted of murder charges in a fatal shooting.

Four St. Louis police officers were indicted Thursday on federal charges alleging that three of them beat an undercover colleague during protests last year and all four covered it up,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The indictment claims that several officers exchanged messages that “expressed disdain” for protesters and “excitement about using unjustified force against them and going undetected while doing so.” Prosecutors allege that officers Dustin Boone, Randy Hays and Christopher Myers threw a 22-year police veteran to the ground and kicked and hit him with a police baton on Sept. 17, 2017, amid protests after the acquittal of former police officer Jason Stockley of murder for the fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith. They believed the undercover officer was a protester and assaulted him “while he was compliant and not posing a physical threat to anyone,” the indictment says. Officer Bailey Colletta is accused of lying to a federal grand jury investigating the incident.

After learning that the person they attacked was an undercover officer, the three officers lied about the arrest, claiming the man resisted arrest and was not compliant, the indictment says. They tried to contact the undercover officer to dissuade him from pursuing disciplinary or legal action, the indictment says. The undercover officer has not been able to return to work because of his injuries. He was kicked in the face, which inflamed his jaw muscles to the point where he could not eat, dropping from 185 pounds to 165. The indictment says the officers exchanged a series of messages during the days of protest duty. One said, “it’s gonna be a lot of fun beating the hell out of these (expletive) once the sun goes down and nobody can tell us apart!!!!” He also wrote that it was “a blast beating people that deserve it.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Long-Buried NJ Police Reports Reveal Racial Bias in Use of Force

New Jersey cops were ordered by state officials almost two decades ago to document all incidents when police used force. A team of reporters built a database after locating the reports and found what they called a “monument to failure.”

African Americans in New Jersey are more than three times as likely to face police force than white people, a news investigation has found.

The conclusions are based on data collected under official state mandate but left in “filing cabinets and stashed away in cardboard boxes in every corner of the state,” according to a report released today by NJ Advance Media.

The long-buried files are “a monument to two decades of failure to deliver on a system that promised to provide analysis, oversight and standard practices for using force,” the report said.

“Worse, the central (New Jersey) system that would flag potentially dangerous cops for review was never created.”

A team of reporters at NJ Advance Media spent 16 months examining the data and built  a  comprehensive database of  police use-of-force incidents reported by New Jersey’s 468 local police departments and the state police between 2012 and 2016—a database they say may be the most comprehensive of its kind.

Among their findings:

From 2012 through 2016, black people in New Jersey accounted for about 38 percent of arrests, yet they make up only about 14 percent of the adjusted state population.

Even when accounting for the fact that black people are arrested at a higher rate, they are still subjected to force at unequal rates when arrested. There were 173 local jurisdictions where a black person who was arrested was more likely to have force used against them than a white person being arrested. (That’s excluding departments with fewer than 25 uses of force.)

table

Table courtesy NJ Advance Media

“This is what I’ve known and lived for years,” said Milton Hinton, the former president of the Gloucester County chapter of the NAACP, who was among several community leaders asked to comment on the figures.

The news team also found that just 10 percent of New Jersey officers accounted for 38 percent of all uses of force, and a total of 296 officers used force more than five times the state average.

The statistics were originally gathered in the wake of a series of incidents involving racial profiling by police and controversial shootings. Police authorities were ordered by the state Attorney General’s Office to document every single time they used force against another person.

“The goal was to make sure nobody with a badge abused the greatest authority granted them,”  NJ Advance Media said.

But promises that the figures would be regularly reviewed and a database created to flag officers that required attention were never kept, according to the investigation.

“They are rarely closely examined, current and former law enforcement officials say,” says the report, adding that “thousands of them are incomplete, scrawled in illegible handwriting or even quarantined because of mold.”

Using the state Open Public Records Act, NJ Advance Media filed 506 requests for use-of-force forms covering every municipal police department and the State Police. The news organization spent more than $30,000 to extract the information from those paper records and build an electronic database detailing five years of punches, takedowns and shootings.

“That’s exactly the kind of analytics that we wanted to have when we initiated it,” said John Farmer Jr., the former state attorney general who enacted the first policy requiring use-of-force reporting in 2001.

“The intent of requiring these reports was to enable police executives, police management and, ultimately, the AG’s office to figure out what’s going on and, frankly, undertake the kind of analysis you’re undertaking,” Farmer said.

“I’m half-kidding, but you really have done their job for them.”

Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose said officials at every level in New Jersey have been “asleep at the wheel,” failing to scrutinize use-of-force trends and outliers.

“It was being recorded, but if the data is not being looked at or an analysis isn’t being done, then why are we capturing it?” Ambrose said.

Presented with an overview of NJ Advance Media’s findings, current Attorney General Gurbir Grewal promised to overhaul the system. That includes fixing New Jersey’s early warning system announced earlier this year and creating a statewide, electronic database of force.

He declined, however, to say exactly how the reforms would be implemented, or when.

“The hoops you had to jump through to get this data are completely unnecessary,” said Grewal, who took office in January. “It shouldn’t have taken you a year and 500 OPRA requests, and we’re committed to making this data more available, not just to the media but to the public.

“Folks have a right to know this information.”

The news team say figures culled from the database will be used to develop stories over the next few months in what they call “the most comprehensive examination of police use of force ever undertaken in New Jersey.”

As part of that effort, NJ Advance Media is making its entire database available to the public, letting anyone search by officer name or town, and ask questions similar to what reporters and editors have been asking for the past year.

How, for example, did a patrolman in Millville, a small city in South Jersey, report more uses of force than nearly any other cop in the state?

Why did police in the leafy suburb of Maplewood report using force at a rate higher than Newark, Camden or the New Jersey State Police?

And why had the Attorney General’s Office, which over the years improved standards for investigating high-profile police shootings and investigating officer misconduct, all but given up on using this data for oversight?

SEARCH THE FULL DATABASE HERE ON NJ.COM.

Craig McCarthy and Sean P. Sullivan are 2018 John Jay/HF Guggenheim Justice Reporting Fellows. Their reporting was conducted as part of the Fellowship project. Staff writers Rebecca Everett, Stephen Stirling, Carla Astudillo, Disha Raychaudhuri, Erin Petenko and Blake Nelson contributed to this report. The full account of their work is available here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Records Reveal ‘Troubling’ History of Chicago’s Johnson

An investigation of Eddie Johnson’s record as a supervisor in the Chicago Police Department before he was named superintendent uncovered what it calls a pattern of whitewashing questionable behavior by police officers, raising questions about the future of police reform in Chicago.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson’s history in the department raises troubling questions about the future of police reform in Chicago, The Intercept reports in the seventh in its Chicago Police Files series on alleged “corruption, racism and violence” in the Chicago Police Department, produced in partnership with the Invisible Institute. The publication’s investigation of Johnson’s record uncovered what it calls a pattern of whitewashing questionable behavior by police officers, including the shooting of 22-year-old Rekia Boyd, an unarmed woman hanging out in a park whose 2012 death later cost the city a $4.5 million settlement with the victim’s family.

Drawing on documents obtained by the Invisible Institute via litigation and included in the Citizens Police Data Project, the investigation shows that Johnson repeatedly approved police shootings or ignored allegations of excessive force over his years as a supervisor, consistently finding that they did not qualify as misconduct. In a decade as a senior CPD supervisor, Johnson personally investigated or commanded the officers responsible for six controversial shootings that left five people dead — all young African-Americans — and cost Chicago more than $13 million in misconduct payments. Johnson’s tenure as commander of Chicago’s 6th Police District from 2008 to 2011 was marred by serious allegations of misconduct by an elite tactical squad led by a scandal-plagued lieutenant named Glenn Evans. During six months in 2010, members of the roughly 45-person team participated in the fatal shootings of three men, all unarmed or fleeing. Another of Johnson’s officers was credibly accused of killing a teenager and planting a gun on his body. After his promotion to deputy chief in 2011, Johnson reviewed and approved more disputed shootings. Neither Johnson nor Mayor Rahm Emanuel has ever acknowledged the superintendent’s involvement in some of the department’s most notorious recent police shootings, The Intercept wrote.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Police-Civilian Contacts Dip, Blacks More Likely to Experience Physical Force: Study

The number of U.S. residents who had some form of encounter with police dropped from 26 percent to 21 percent between 2011-2015, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study. But criminologist Rick Rosenfeld says the data doesn’t necessarily support the so-called “Ferguson Effect” theory that police are withdrawing services in response to anti-cop protests.

Whites are more likely than African-Americans to experience some form of contact with law enforcement, but when police initiate the encounter, blacks are more likely to experience “the threat or use of physical force,” according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

The BJS study, based on four years of data between 2011-2015, found that the percentage of U.S. residents over 16 who had some form of police encounter had slipped from 26 percent to 21 percent—or from nearly 63 million people to 53.5 million people.

“The number of persons who had contact that was police-initiated fell by eight million, and the number of persons who initiated contact with police dropped by more than nine million people,” the study said.

Although the period of the study includes the 2014 unrest following the fatal police shooting of an unarmed African-American teen in Ferguson, MO—and what some police authorities say was a withdrawal by police from street arrests in response to community anti-police protests (the so-called “Ferguson effect”)—the figures do not necessarily corroborate those assertions.

“We don’t know whether contacts fell after Ferguson and ensuing events or had been decreasing since 2011,” said criminologist Rick Rosenfeld, Founders Professor at the University of Missouri-St.Louis, and a leading national authority on crime control policy.

“Annual data on police contacts are needed to show any relationship with the controversy over police violence.”

Rosenfeld noted that arrest rates had also dropped in 2015, but “they were declining well before the Ferguson incident.”

The BJS study found that whites (23 percent) were slightly more likely than blacks (20 percent) or Hispanics (17 percent) to have had contact with police during 2015.

But the figures also showed that blacks and Hispanics were more than twice as likely (5.2 per cent and 5.1 percent respectively) to experience the threat or use of physical force by cops than whites (2.4 percent).

About two percent of those who experienced police contact experienced a nonfatal threat or use of force by law enforcement, ranging from being pushed, hit or kicked to having a gun pointed at them, and a majority (84 percent) found it “excessive,” the study said.

The most common reason for police-initiated contact (8.6 percent) was a traffic stop, according to the study—most often for speeding.

According to the findings, females were more likely to initiate contact with police than males.

In another notable finding, residents of cities with a population of at least one million were less likely to have contact with police than residents of cities or towns with a population fewer than 100,000.

The report was written by BJS statisticians Elizabeth Davis and Anthony Whyde, and former BJS statistician Lynn Langdon, Ph.D.

The complete study can be downloaded here.

This summary was prepared with reports from Stephen Handelman, Editor of The Crime Report, and Ted Gest, TCR Washingtron bureau chief.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Florida Drops 119 Cases Over Planting of Evidence

Prosecutors dropped the charges after finishing their review of arrests involving Zachary Wester, a former Jackson County deputy accused of planting drugs on motorists. The charges involved everything from traffic offenses to felonies, including possession of methamphetamine. Wester was fired Sept. 10.

Florida prosecutors dropped charges in 119 cases after finishing their review of arrests involving Zachary Wester, a former Jackson County deputy accused of planting drugs on motorists, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. The charges involved everything from traffic offenses to felonies, including possession of methamphetamine and other controlled substances. Wester was fired Sept. 10 and remains under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. On Tuesday alone, some 49 cases were dismissed by Judge Wayne Mercer. The state began dismissing cases on Sept. 13 that either were initiated by Wester or heavily involved him.

Derek Blount, an assistant public defender, asked Mercer to set aside pleas and vacate sentences for about 40 defendants, some of whom had more than one arrest involving Wester. The explosive charges against Wester came to light last week in reporting by the Democrat. In addition to the dropped charges, Judge Christopher Patterson ordered a number of state inmates — at least five as of last week — to be released from correctional facilities. Last week, prosecutor Glenn Hess announced his office was reviewing more than 250 cases involving Wester. He “lost confidence” in Wester after watching body camera footage of Wester arresting a woman this year for possession of meth. In the video, Wester can be seen with a plastic baggie in his hand before conducting his search of the woman’s pickup truck. Prosecutors dropped drug charges against the woman last week.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trust, But Verify: The Hazards of Police Body Cams

Cops have been known to manipulate body camera evidence to support their version of fatal encounters with civilians. That’s why video footage should be closely examined through courtroom questioning, argue two researchers.

Police officer statements captured through body camera footage should be permissible in court as evidence against a criminal defendant only if the officer making the statements testifies in court, argues a forthcoming article in the Fordham Law Review

The authors of the article, William and Mary Law School Professor Jeffrey Bellin and 13th Judicial Circuit of Virginia Law Clerk Shevarma Pemberton, made the recommendation as part of an analysis of preexisting laws governing hearsay evidence and the rising widespread use of police body cameras.

Police body cams typically produce audio and video recordings of police officer actions, observations and interactions with citizens, and while they are generally viewed as checks on police misconduct, they are also a tool for officers to collect evidence against citizens who later become defendants in criminal trials, the researchers say.

Since officers know the footage will be used as evidence, they could control and manipulate evidence during police-civilian interactions in a manner that incriminates civilians.

One way they can do so is through their oral statements. For example, an officer may shout “He is reaching for his gun,” or “He just threw something in the bushes,” when in fact no such actions occurred or at least aren’t corroborated in the video footage.

For that, they should testify and face cross-examination, the researchers say.

The study provides a list of recent events the authors say back up their concern. In Baltimore, police were accused of reenacting drug discoveries for their body cameras. Officers involved in shooting Stephon Clark muted their body camera audio shortly after the shooting. During the 2016 shooting of Alton Sterling, both officers’ body cameras were “dislodged.”

The researchers also found that 70 percent of officers violate body camera policies.

“This is particularly important because the footage produced by police body cameras will much more commonly be used to prosecute citizens than to document their abuse at the hands of police,” the authors wrote.

“This danger becomes particularly significant if police body camera statements are introduced at trial without the live testimony of the authoring officer. Such statements will be admitted with a veneer of reliability despite never having been subjected to an oath, or the “crucible of cross-examination.”

The authors proposed that officers must testify that they cannot fully and accurately recall the incident and vouch for the accuracy of the out-of-court statements. Furthermore, the oral statements in the video must exhibit “excited utterances,” as they are spontaneous and less likely to engage in “conscious fabrication than the reflective mind.”

The authors argued that the media and scholars of body camera footage coverage focused on holding police accountable for unlawful shootings and other uses of excessive force but have ignored examining the extent to which the audio track—specifically statements made in the audio track in body cam footage should be admissible against a defendant in a criminal prosecution.

The full study can be downloaded here.

This summary was prepared by J. Gabriel Ware, a TCR news intern. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

18 Wrongful Convictions Dropped in Chicago Police Case

The 18 vacated convictions announced Monday bring to 42 the total number of cases overturned that involved Sgt. Ronald Watts. All of new cases vacated were connected to convictions after narcotics arrests.

The work of a “corrupt” police sergeant is still being undone in Chicago as 18 more wrongful convictions tied to his cases were overturned, ABC News reports. The 18 vacated convictions announced Monday bring to 42 the total number of cases overturned that involved Sgt. Ronald Watts. All of new cases vacated were connected to convictions following narcotics arrests. “I’m just happy that, you know, I’m able to move forward with my life,” said Martez Wise, who spent four years in jail for a narcotics conviction after an arrest involving Watts. Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said her office wants all convictions in the area to be “based on fairness and the utmost integrity.”

“We could not stand behind of the integrity of these convictions because of the behavior of Sgt. Watts and his crew,” Foxx said. “What we know what was happening with Sgt. Watts and the way he ran his operation was that there were many men and women who fell victim to his corrupt ways.” Watts was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to 22 months in prison after he was caught stealing money from an FBI informant in a sting. The individuals from the latest batch of overturned convictions were given sentences ranging from probation to four years in prison.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Why Can’t We Rein in Police Misconduct? Blame Prohibition

America’s crusade against alcohol ended over seven decades ago with the 21st Amendment. But Supreme Court decisions aimed at curbing police misbehavior during Prohibition—by excluding evidence obtained unlawfully—have complicated efforts to hold law enforcement accountable for its actions today, according to a new book by a Pennsylvania law professor.

Prohibition in America lasted 13 years—until 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a “beer bill” as one of his first acts in office. The Twenty-First Amendment—­the only constitutional amendment ever to reverse an earlier amendment—went into effect by the end of that year.

But the collateral damage of Prohibition still reverberates through the criminal justice system.

Much has been made of the gangland violence that punctuated Prohibition. Mobsters like Al Capone, who made millions during Prohibition, would stop at nothing to corner the bootlegging market.

However, that was only one facet of the violence.

At times, the police were worse than the mob, and the subsequent efforts to curb Prohibition-era police misconduct have also left a lasting impact on the search for accuracy in prosecutions and limits on excessive force by police officers.

That’s the conclusion drawn by Wesley M. Oliver, a professor at Duquesne University School of Law in his new book The Prohibition Era and Policing.

 His conclusion is especially worth noting as the nation grapples with multiple cases of police misconduct and the failures to hold law enforcement accountable

Oliver quoted the 1931 The Wickersham Report, formally titled “Report on the Enforcement of the Prohibition Laws in the United States,” which blasted law enforcement during the Prohibition era,

Among its key conclusions:

Pressure for lawless enforcement, encouragement of bad methods and agencies of obtaining evidence, and crude methods of investigation and seizures … started a current of adverse opinion.

al capone

Police mugshot of gangland leader Al Capone. Courtesy Peter K. Levy via Flickr

Prohibition created “enormous” opportunities for police corruption, Oliver wrote.

While the potential benefit to crooked cops was obvious, over-zealous “honest” officers often took advantage of the zealous enforcement climate created by Prohibition to violate individuals’ privacy, destroy property, or engage in physical violence—all in the name of stamping out alcohol use.

As Oliver points out, police behavior during this era shifted the focus from procedures to ensure accurate criminal trials to preventing police misconduct. The result was the exclusionary rule.

Thirteen days after the Volstead Act made it a federal crime to manufacture or sell alcohol, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Silverthorne Lumbar Co. v. United States. The Court found that the Fourth Amendment prohibits the government from introducing evidence gathered as the result of an unlawful seizure.

The exclusionary rule was not restricted to illegal searches. At the time, police were practitioners of the “third degree”—violence-induced confessions. The term is better known as torture.

Oliver examines the rigidity of a rule that excludes reliable evidence of criminal conduct because of the manner in which it was obtained or, as Justice Cardoza famously said, the result of the watchman’s “blunder.”

By 1939, not only was illegally obtained evidence being excluded but any evidence discovered as a result of the illegally obtained evidence was excluded as well. The fruit of the poisonous tree, as it became known, was excluded regardless of its reliability.

About the same time technology began to get in the way of the U.S. Constitution.

As telephones became more and more useful in criminal enterprises the High Court was forced to consider the privacy rights of individuals. Oliver meticulously maps out a history of the wiretap, highlighting that the Court’s first foray into wiretapping was a failure—a precursor to the modern Court’s struggle with rapidly evolving technology.

In Olmstead v United States, Chief Justice William Howard Taft concluded that the Fourth Amendment only protected tangible things—persons, papers, and effects. Since the police eavesdropped on telephone calls while clinging to a telephone pole outside the house, and not in the house, there was no intrusion and no violation of the Fourth Amendment.

According to Oliver, wiretapping during Prohibition “created such a backlash that communication over wires became more protected than information in sealed envelopes or effects in one’s home.”

So how does Prohibition affect us today? Oliver examines, with clarity and finesse, the Warren Court’s landmark decisions in Mapp v Ohio (exclusionary rule); Terry v Ohio (stop and frisk); and Miranda v Arizona (right to counsel and to be free of interrogation).

Oliver wrote that “The Supreme Court’s cases are moving toward eliminating the exclusionary rule.”

Certainly Oliver’s examination of the case law would support that conclusion, but ignoring police misconduct in favor of more reliable evidence of criminal conduct is not an even exchange.

As Oliver writes, the late Justice Antonin Scalia suggested in Hudson v Michigan that the exclusionary rule is obsolete because of an “increasing professionalism of police forces, including a new emphasis on police discipline.”

That increase in professionalism is because of the exclusionary rule— not a reason to abolish it.

Oliver’s work is thought-provoking. Accuracy should be the goal of any system of justice, but protecting the public from unlawful police practices—including excessive force—is also a laudable goal.

Matthew T. Mangino, a regular contributor to The Crime Report, served as an elected District Attorney in Pennsylvania and on the state’s Board of Probation and Parole. He is now of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

from https://thecrimereport.org