Baltimore PD Board Weighs Fate of Lt. Rice in Gray Death

After a four-day administrative trial, the city’s police board must now determine whether Lt. Brian Rice either neglected protocol while supervising the arrest of Freddie Gray or made reasonable decisions at the chaotic scene in 2015.

Baltimore Police Lt. Brian Rice either neglected protocol while supervising the arrest of Freddie Gray or made reasonable decisions at a chaotic scene, says the Baltimore Sun. The question of whether Rice acted with reason or neglect was left Thursday to members of a police trial board. The panel’s members began deliberations after a four-day administrative trial for Rice, the highest-ranking officer to face administrative charges in Gray’s death. In closing arguments Thursday, prosecutors sought to blame Rice for a series of alleged infractions surrounding Gray’s arrest and the injuries the 25-year-old suffered in the back of a police van more than two years ago. The charges range from failing to check on Gray to ignoring new policies requiring that detainees be secured in seat belts. Rice, 44, was absolved of criminal conduct during a trial last year.

“We’re not here to prosecute high crimes,” said Neil Duke, the attorney prosecuting the case for the city. “We’re here to determine whether or not he followed protocol.” Rice placed Gray in the back of the police van handcuffed and shackled but not seat-belted, prosecutors said. After the van ride, Gray was found unconscious with broken vertebrae in his neck. He fell into a coma and died one week later. As the shift supervisor in the Western District that Sunday morning, Rice was responsible for the arrest of Gray, the prosecutor said. “He’s the quarterback,” Duke said. “Everything has to go through him.” Gray’s death led to protests and riots across the city. More than two years later, the officers who arrested Gray have been cleared of criminal charges and five of them were brought to trial on administrative charges.


Demoted for Leaking Video, Fort Worth Cops Sue City

Abdul Pridgen and Vance Keyes were demoted from chiefs to captains in May after they were accused of leaking officer body cam video of a controversial arrest last December of a black woman and her daughters by a white cop who was later suspended for using excessive force.

Two Fort Worth police officials are suing the city after they were demoted and accused of leaking body-camera footage that showed the controversial arrests of a black woman and her teenage daughters last December, reports the Dallas Morning News. Abdul Pridgen and Vance Keyes were demoted from chiefs to captains in May and unsuccessfully appealed the reassignments via an administrative process. Through their attorney, they both denied leaking the police video or the personnel files of Officer William Martin, who was disciplined in the 2016 arrests. In separate lawsuits filed this month, Pridgen and Keyes said they reported to Fort Worth Chief Joel Fitzgerald that Martin had used excessive force in the arrest of Jacqueline Craig and that he had filed a false affidavit about it. They said Fitzgerald reacted with “hostility.” Earlier this year, Fitzgerald said he reassigned Keyes and Pridgen because they were not truthful with investigators when asked about the leak. The Fort Worth Police Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

The footage leaked to Craig’s attorneys shows Martin, a white police officer, wrestling Craig, a black woman, to the ground and pointing a stun gun at her daughters before putting them in handcuffs on Dec. 21. Craig had called police to complain that a neighbor had choked her young son after the boy allegedly littered. Martin was dispatched to the neighborhood and told Craig, “Why don’t you teach your son not to litter?” A video of the encounter shot by a neighbor went viral, and the leaked police body cam video added to the controversy.


15 Convictions Linked to Corrupt Chicago Cop Are Vacated

The cases were linked to former police Sgt. Ronald Watts, who was sent to federal prison in 2013 for stealing money from a drug courier who was an FBI informant. A defense attorney says 400 more convictions deserve scrutiny.

In what is believed to be the first mass exoneration in Cook County history, prosecutors on Thursday plan to drop all charges against 15 men who alleged they were framed by corrupt former Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts and his crew, reports the Chicago Tribune. The announcement to vacate the convictions was expected during a morning hearing before Chief Criminal Court Judge LeRoy Martin Jr., according to a statement from Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office. It comes two months after lawyers for the 15 men filed a joint petition seeking to overturn a total of 18 criminal drug convictions, alleging that Watts and his crew framed all of them between 2003 and 2008. Watts and an officer under his command were sent to federal prison in 2013 for stealing money from a drug courier who’d been working as an FBI informant.

A review of the cases by the state’s attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit “has shown a pattern of narcotics arrests that raise serious concerns about the validity of the resulting convictions,” a spokesman for Foxx said in a written statement. Joshua Tepfer, the lead attorney for the 15 men, praised the “unprecedented” action by Foxx’s office but said the cases were “the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to cases tainted by Watts. He cited the more than 400 convictions by Watts’ team “that are unaccounted for.” Since last year, the Tribune has published several stories detailing Watts’ decade-long run of corruption.


San Jose PD Adds New Scrutiny to Use of Force

In the past, reviews of most nonfatal use-of-force encounters were prompted by formal citizen complaints. Police supervisors will now be expected to launch investigations on their own based on reports from the field.

In a groundbreaking move inspired by public oversight, the San Jose Police Department will step up reviews of officers’ use of force and intensify investigations into the most serious cases, reports the Mercury News. Until now, the department only reviewed most nonfatal use-of-force encounters in response to a citizen’s complaint filed through formal channels. Police supervisors and commanders will now be expected to launch force investigations on their own based on reports from the field. Those violent encounters will be graded on a new four-tier scale where a higher risk of injury or death triggers increased scrutiny.

Chief Eddie Garcia said the policy was crafted in consultation with the police union to ensure maximum buy-in from his rank-and-file officers amid a national landscape marked by skepticism about police actions in minority communities. He acknowledged that the department’s practices for reviewing violent incidents needed updating. “This is long overdue. We had blind spots. Our policy was too reactive,” Garcia said. “This doesn’t mean we’re automatically going to find that (an officer) did something wrong, but we’re going to scrutinize it with a sharper lens.


Seeking Openness, Minneapolis PD Posts Use-of-Force Data

In the past, access to use-of-force data required a special request. This week, police have begun tabulating the information on the data dashboard of its website.


Judge Restricts St. Louis Police Strategies During Protests

Federal Judge Catherine Perry faulted police for using unconstitutional strategies used to impede lawful protesters in September after a white former cop was acquitted in the shooting of a black man.

A federal judge issued on Wednesday wide-ranging restrictions on the ability of St. Louis police to declare protests “unlawful” and use chemical agents against protesters, says the city’s Post-Dispatch. U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry’s 49-page order says that police can’t declare an “unlawful assembly” and enforce it against those “engaged in expressive activity, unless the persons are acting in concert to pose an imminent threat to use force or violence or to violate a criminal law with force or violence.” Police also can’t use that unlawful assembly order or threaten the use of pepper spray and other chemical agents to punish protesters for exercising their rights, she wrote. The ruling came as part of an ACLU lawsuit over police strategies during protests in St. Louis in September after white former police officer Jason Stockley was acquitted in the 2011 shooting death of black driver Anthony Lamar Smith.

A mayoral spokesman said in an email that the city would comply with the order. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, asked the region’s federal prosecutor to launch an investigation into the “alleged unconstitutional practices” by St. Louis police. Judge  Perry said that based on the evidence presented so far, the ACLU was likely to succeed in its underlying lawsuit over police practices. She faulted police use of mace against nonviolent protesters and those recording police activity, and said police had improperly declared an “unlawful assembly” on some occasions and then gave protesters and others unreasonable and vague dispersal orders. She said a controversial police “kettle” that confined protesters on Sept. 17 “cannot meet constitutional standards.”


Seattle PD Finds No Fault in Slaying of Deranged Woman

Two white officers shot and killed Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old African American mother of four, after she called 911 in June to report a burglary at her apartment. A police review found the shooting reasonable. An attorney for the dead woman’s family said, “If her killing was within policy and training, we need changes in policy and training.”

The Seattle Police Department’s Force Review Board has found the controversial fatal shooting of Charleena Lyles by two officers in June to be reasonable, proportional and within policy, reports the Seattle Times. The board’s unanimous vote followed a daylong meeting Tuesday. The findings are subject to final approval from Assistant Chief Lesley Cordner, who presided over the meeting and oversees the department’s Compliance and Professional Standards Bureau. Corey Guilmette, an attorney representing Lyles’ family, said, “We cannot accept that Charleena Lyles’ killing was unavoidable. If her killing was within policy and training, we need changes in policy and training.”

Lyles, a 30-year-old African American mother of four, was shot seven times by two white officers, Steven McNew and Jason Anderson, on June 18 after she called 911 to report a burglary at her Northeast Seattle apartment. Police said Lyles suddenly threatened the officers inside the apartment with one or two knives before they opened fire. The officers found no evidence of a burglary. Lyles had struggled with mental-health issues, according to her family and court records, and the shooting came at a time her life was spinning out of control. The shooting unleashed a storm of public protest, with many seeing it as another example of unnecessary deadly force being used by police against people of color.


Study Finds Meager Progress in Police Body Cam Policies

An annual review by civil rights groups of transparency and accountability policies in body camera usage by 75 police departments finds little progress in ensuring that the footage collected will not contribute toward more expansive surveillance of communities or offer “a false narrative” of events captured by the video.

Most police departments across the United States have taken few new steps to ensure the footage they collect from body cameras will further transparency and accountability, according to a study released Tuesday by civil rights groups. Government Technology says the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights partnered with Upturn to release a third annual review of body-worn camera policies at 75 police departments across the country. The report evaluated departments across eight criteria and found that they have budged little when it comes to ensuring that the footage collected will not contribute toward more expansive surveillance of communities or offer “a false narrative” of events captured by the video.

“Many people had hopes that these cameras would improve transparency and accountability, and foster a greater public trust in local law enforcement,” said Vanita Gupta, CEO of the Leadership Conference. “But the promise of these cameras is not guaranteed … there’s a real risk that these new devices can become instruments of injustice.” The number of departments reviewed in the report has increased each year it’s been released, rising from 25 in 2015 to 51 in 2016 and now 75. The study found that 26 departments made no improvements since last year, 18 made minor policy improvements, and seven regressed. Baltimore was credited with making improvements across four of the eight indicators used in the evaluation.


Chicago Police Bosses Evade Charges in McDonald Slaying

A special grand jury looking into an alleged police cover-up in the controversial shooting of Laquan McDonald has completed its work without indicting any supervisors. An advocacy organization said that shows the weaknesses of the Chicago criminal justice system in rooting out a “culture of corruption.”

Cook County special grand jury has been disbanded without charging any additional Chicago police officers, including department supervisors, for their handling of Laquan McDonald’s controversial fatal shooting by an officer, says the Chicago Tribune. At a hearing Tuesday, special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes said the grand jury has completed its investigation. That means no other officers, including higher-ups who signed off on allegedly false reports of the shooting, will be indicted. Just three lower-level cops–two patrol officers and a detective–were charged.

The MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University said the inability to indict supervisors involved in the alleged cover-up showed the weaknesses of the criminal justice system in rooting out a “culture of corruption” and underscored the need for a court decree overhauling the Police Department’s operations. Outside the courtroom, activist Will Calloway, whose efforts helped make public the video of McDonald’s shooting, said higher-ranking department officials should be charged, he said. “The other officers lied, too, on their police reports,” Calloway said. The court-ordered release in 2015 of video showing Officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting McDonald 16 times a year earlier sparked widespread protests, the firing of Chicago’s police superintendent and a damning report of police practices by the U.S. Department of Justice. Van Dyke has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges.


San Diego Police Review Board Set to Abort Probes

The Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board is moving to prematurely end its investigation of 22 death cases, citing a California state rule that bars punitive action against officers if an investigation isn’t completed within a year.

The group tasked with investigating in-custody deaths and complaints against San Diego county law enforcement is on the cusp of dismissing 22 death cases without any investigation at all, reports the Voice of San Diego. The Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board staff is recommending the dismissal of 22 investigations involving people who’ve died in county detention facilities or while being taken into custody. It appears to be the first time that the board, created in 1990, has failed to issue findings in a death case. The board is set to make the final decision on whether to dismiss the cases on Tuesday. To justify the dismissals, the board is citing a section of the California Public Safety Officers Bill of Rights, which declares that “no public safety officer shall be subjected to punitive action” if an investigation isn’t completed within a year.

Many of the cases being dismissed involve serious allegations brought to light by civil lawsuits and media reports, including that law enforcement officials ignored repeated suicide threats from mentally ill jail inmates and a juvenile detainee, and used excessive force during arrests. A number of experts said the rule being used to justify the dismissals shouldn’t apply to the San Diego board and similar groups in the state that exist to monitor law enforcement. Barbara Attard, who served as San Jose’s independent police auditor and now heads police practices consultancy Accountability Associates, described what CLERB’s doing as “a mess.” “To just wholesale close cases, I’ve never seen an agency do that,” she said.