New Austin Police Shooting Policy Meets Sharp Criticism

In the past, the Travis County prosecutor presented each police shooting to a grand jury. That will be no longer be the case. A leading civil rights attorney called the move a “double somersault backwards” to protect police.

Margaret Moore, the Travis County, Texas, district attorney, announced Wednesday that her office no longer will present every police shooting to a grand jury, reports the Austin American-Statesman. She said she will evaluate each case in which police use deadly force and determine if there may have been a criminal act or if facts about a shooting are in dispute. She created a new Civil Rights Division to assist in those investigations. In the past, the Travis County prosecutor presented each police shooting to a grand jury.

Austin civil rights attorney Jim Harrington issued a blistering reaction, saying the new policy gives too much discretion to prosecutors and too much protection to police. “Margaret Moore’s newly-announced approach is nothing more than ‘trust me’ to do the right thing in police shootings and give grand juries less oversight in cases involving police shootings,” said  arrington, founder and director emeritus director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. He added,  “District attorneys in Travis County historically have somersaulted backwards to protect police from grand jury investigations. Moore’s new policy is a double somersault backwards.”


Denver Paying $1M To Family of Teen Killed by Police

Jessica Hernandez, 17, was shot to death in an alley in 2015. The settlement requires police to host a community meeting on justice in the Latino and LGBTQ communities.

Denver will pay $1 million to the family of Jessica Hernandez, a 17-year-old girl shot to death by police in an alley in 2015, and will agree to concessions aimed at improving the police department’s relationship with young Latinos and gay youth, the Denver Post reports. The settlement must be approved by the City Council. The Hernandez family, represented by the Rathoud Mohamedbhai law firm, never filed a lawsuit. The city acknowledged in the settlement that Hernandez’s shooting death was “a tragedy for all involved” and  that “the parties desire to work together to bring about positive change in the Denver community.”

The shooting death triggered outrage because police killed a teen girl, and it caused the community to question police tactics, forcing the police department to change its policy on shooting into moving cars. The concessions include a new policy that forbids police to proactively release criminal background information on people that its officers shoot. The Denver Police Department still will be covered by the state’s open records law, which requires release of information when asked. In the Hernandez case, officials portrayed Jessica as a troubled teen who drove a stolen car toward officers. The family has said the department unfairly tarnished the image of a girl who was dearly loved by family and friends. The agreement requires Denver police to host a community meeting on justice in the Latino and LGBTQ communities. The Hernandez family will select a representative to serve on a new committee that is helping rewrite the police use-of-force policy.



Despite Promise, Chicago Seeks Delay in Releasing Police Video

Mayor Rahm Emanuel vowed to release videos of shootings by police within three months. Now, the city has agreed to a 30-day delay beyond the 90-day limit.

In the fallout from the Laquan McDonald shooting, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel touted a new policy requiring that videos of shootings by police be released within three months, calling it a shift toward transparency for a city that long fought to keep evidence of wrongdoing by officers hidden from the public. Now, a little more than a year later, Emanuel’s top lawyer has agreed for the first time to delay the release of a video of a police shooting beyond the 90-day limit set by the city’s own policy, the Chicago Tribune reports. The Cook County prosecutor sought the delay, arguing that releasing the video would jeopardize the right of Dwane Rowlett to a fair trial on charges he faces after police shot him early this year. Rowlett’s lawyer said he and prosecutors plan to seek a court order that could keep the video from public view even longer. The lack of disclosure comes amid uncertainty over the future of police reform in Chicago. Emanuel has pledged to continue seeking reforms, but President Trump’s administration has eased pressure on big-city police forces that are facing federal scrutiny.

Emanuel took heated criticism for fighting to keep that video hidden for more than a year before a judge ordered its release. His policy requires that audio and video from shootings and other clashes involving officers be made public within 90 days, saying the city “will not honor any further requests to delay release beyond the initial request.” Yet the city agreed to an additional 30-day extension beyond the 90 days in connection with Rowlett’s Jan. 1 shooting. Sergio Acosta, a former federal prosecutor who helped create the policy, said it would be “problematic” if the city returns to blocking videos for months because of ongoing investigations.



FL Newspaper Tracks Police Shootings: 827 In Six Years

The Tampa Bay Times found that over six years, unarmed black people were nearly eight times as likely to be shot by police than were whites.

No one was keeping track of police shootings in Florida, the third-largest state, so in 2014, the Tampa Bay Times set out to count every officer-involved shooting in Florida during a six-year period. At least 827 people were shot by police, one every 2 1/2 days. More than half, 434, were fatal. Blacks were shot at a higher rate than whites. On-duty police are almost never charged with crimes for firing, even though agencies pay millions to settle civil lawsuits, the Times reports.


Nearly a fifth of the people shot — 156 — were unarmed; no gun, no knife, no vehicle. Half of those were black, in a state where blacks make up just 15 percent of the population. Unarmed black people were nearly eight times as likely to be shot by police than were whites. One hundred twelve people shot were believed to have driven toward police officers or otherwise used a vehicle as a weapon. Most of the shootings seem justified. While millions of interactions are peaceful, we give police the authority to kill and the benefit of the doubt, and we expect them to use violence judiciously to protect the public and themselves. More often than not they do. Policing can be dangerous. In the same six years, 23 officers were killed in the state, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.


Who Should Probe Nashville Police Shooting Is In Dispute

State, Nashville Metro Police disagree on whether there should be simultaneous parallel investigations over a shooting by a Nashville police officer.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) leaders have suggested that the agency should pull out of a deadly police-involved shooting inquiry in Nashville amid an ongoing, behind-the-scenes battle over who should investigate when the city’s police kill civilians, reports The Tennessean. Since the Feb. 10 shooting of Jocques Clemmons by a Nashville police officer, whether the Metro Nashville Police Department should continue to investigate at all has created a rift among law enforcement brass. A draft agreement has been shuttled back and forth between Police Chief Steve Anderson, Davidson County District Attorney General Glenn Funk and TBI Deputy Director Jason Locke. They ended at an impasse.

The apparent sticking point: Anderson wants officers to be able to continue an investigation, even as TBI agents conduct their own. TBI says that’s not a true independent investigation. “It will be impossible for TBI to conduct an independent investigation while another agency simultaneously conducts the same investigation, potentially interviewing and creating multiple statements from the same witnesses, which is contrary to standard practices of investigations,” Locke wrote in a Feb. 22 email to Funk. Two sides have emerged: Funk and Locke, pushing that TBI should be the exclusive investigator when Nashville police use deadly force, versus Anderson. “I remain convinced that there can be separate, parallel and independent investigations,” Anderson wrote in a March 20 email to Locke, Funk and others. “More importantly, I cannot look the other way or turn a blind eye when something of this magnitude occurs in Nashville.”



NYC Cop Quits Over 2012 Killing of Unarmed Teen

Richard Haste, a narcotics officer, resigned after he was told he would be fired for shooting Ramarley Graham, 18. Haste did not face criminal charges in the incident.

New York City police officer Richard Haste, who shot and killed an unarmed Bronx teenager in 2012, resigned after his attorney informed him that the department would fire him, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. The 35-year-old former narcotics officer fatally shot 18-year-old Ramarley Graham. Haste avoided criminal charges for the shooting but a disciplinary trial held in January ruled that he had violated police guidelines when he followed Graham on Feb. 2, 2012 and shot him inside his home.

Constance Malcolm, Graham’s mother, who has become an activist working for police reform since her son’s death, criticized the department for informing Haste of the ruling, sparing him the humiliation of being fired. She said it was another example of the city and mayor prioritizing police over the unarmed victims like her son Ramarley. Haste said he believed that Graham was an armed and dangerous gunman inside the Bronx apartment where he lived when Haste and another officer burst into the home. Graham’s grandmother and brother dispute Haste’s assertion that Graham swore at Haste before running into the bathroom. Haste fired one shot after Graham reached for his waistband, Haste said at the disciplinary trial. Police did not find a weapon.




In a ‘Hedged Bet,’ Chicago Officer Faces 16 More Charges

Former Chicago Officer Jason Van Dyke, already charged with murder, has been indicted on 16 counts of aggravated battery in the controversial 2014 shooting death of Laquan McDonald. A law professor says prosecutors may be concerned that murder will be difficult to prove.

Prosecutors have tacked on 16 new counts to the first-degree murder charges against Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke in the shooting of Laquan McDonald, reports the Sun-Times. A new grand jury indictment adds 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, apparently one for each shot Van Dyke fired at McDonald, special prosecutor Joseph McMahon said during a hearing Thursday. The new indictment still includes the six counts of first-degree murder and one count of official misconduct that were charged in November 2015, when the case was being handled by former State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.

Northwestern University Law School professor Jeffrey Urdangen said the additional charges suggest prosecutors wanted to “hedge their bets” on a case that may be difficult to prove. “These are charges that are going to be easier to prove,” he said. Van Dyke, 38, is accused of shooting the 17-year-old McDonald 16 times in October 2014. But he wasn’t charged until a year later, after a shocking video of the incident, filmed by a dashboard-mounted camera, was released, prompting protests across the country.



“Shots Fired” Called “Autopsy of a Town Like Ferguson”

A racial role reversal is featured in Fox’ ten-part primetime drama “Shots Fired,” based in the Charlotte area.

In the first 20 seconds of the new 10-part limited primetime drama “Shots Fired” on Fox, during a routine traffic stop in a black neighborhood near Charlotte, a police officer suddenly shouts “I SAID, GET OUT OF THE CAR!” then squeezes off four semi-automatic rounds. The driver falls onto the pavement, dead. “Shots Fired” centers around Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan), an investigator for the Department of Justice, and Preston Terry  (Stephan James), her federal prosecutor boss/partner, who start out seeking to uncover the truth about the first killing and then stumble upon a second: a case of an African-American boy killed under mysterious circumstances, perhaps also at the hands of law enforcement, the Charlotte Observer reports.

Tristan Mack Wilds, the actor who portrays the police officer, is black, while the young man his character kills in the opening scene is white. “It’s very easy for people to watch the news and see a piece about a shooting, and if you don’t identify with who’s onscreen, you turn it off,” Gina Prince-Blythewood, a creator of the series, said of the racial role reversal. “So we felt the best way to address this issue for us was to get people who don’t normally go through this issue to understand … to give them a way in and a way to understand.” Prince-Blythewood said in shaping the series, she and her husgband Reggie Rock Blythewood thought of it as “an autopsy of a town like Ferguson.”


911 Call Taker Suspended Eight Days in Tamir Rice Case

Operator failed to tell officer who shot Rice, 12, to death, that he probably was a juvenile and that his gun was “probably fake.” Attorney for Rice’s mother called “pathetic” the penalty for “gross negligence.”

Cleveland officials handed down an eight-day suspension for a 911 call taker who didn’t relay that Tamir Rice was “probably a juvenile” and that the airsoft pellet gun he had was “probably fake,” reports Constance Hollinger faced up to 10 days without pay. Hollinger initially denied accusations that she did anything wrong, but Police Chief Calvin Williams found that she violated protocol during the call. Hollinger took the initial 911 call from a man near a recreation center. She never relayed the information to dispatcher Beth Mandl, who told the responding officers information that led them to believe a man was pointing a real gun. Mandl later resigned.

That omission was cited by former Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty as a crucial mistake that directly affected how officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garnback responded to the November 2014 call. Loehmann shot and killed Rice, 12, less than two seconds after they arrived. McGinty said the shooting might have been avoided if the information was properly relayed to the officers. Rice’s mother, Samaria Rice, called the suspension “unacceptable.” Her attorney, Subodh Chandra, said, “Eight days for gross negligence resulting in the death of a 12-year-old boy. How pathetic is that?”


Does Surveillance Video Shed New Light on Michael Brown?

A new documentary contends that Michael Brown didn’t rob a convenience store in Ferguson, Mo., before he was fatally shot in 2014. The store’s attorney disputes that narrative.

Citing surveillance footage, a documentary that debuted Saturday at a popular film festival in Austin, Tx., contends that Michael Brown didn’t rob a Ferguson convenience store moments before he was fatally shot by police in 2014, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. It asserts that Brown’s altercation with the shop was part of a misunderstanding tied to a possible drug transaction he earlier had with store employees. The new surveillance video in the film “Stranger Fruit” suggests Brown first showed up at Ferguson Market and Liquor about 1 a.m., many hours before he and police faced off.

Filmmaker Jason Pollock argues that Brown first exchanged a small amount of marijuana with store clerks for two boxes of cigarillos in his early morning visit that day. Before leaving the store, Brown gave the cigarillos back to the store clerks who put them behind the counter, according to the clip. The documentary asserts that Brown left the merchandise at the store to retrieve at a later point. After Brown was shot by then- Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson later that day, police released video of Brown strong arming his way out of the same store with cigarillos. “Mike did not rob the store,” says the film narrator. Jay Kanzler, an attorney for the convenience store and its employees, told the New York Times that his clients dispute the film’s version of events. “There was no transaction,” Kanzler said. “There was no understanding. No agreement. Those folks didn’t sell him cigarillos for pot.”