Courts » Meanwhile, ex-detective charged in shooting death appears in court.
By jessica miller
| The Salt Lake Tribune
First Published Jul 08 2014 08:10 am • Last Updated Jul 08 2014 10:34 pm
New allegations against the troubled West Valley City Police Department were revealed this week by an attorney representing the parents of Danielle Willard, who was shot and killed by police in 2012.
Attorney Mark Geragos is asking a federal judge not to halt their civil court case while former Detective Shaun Cowley faces criminal prosecution for the shooting.
Geragos alleges as part of a Monday court filing that an officer — not Cowley — accused of having sexual contact with potential suspects was given "hush money" after he resigned from the department, and that the officer "extorted a cash buyout" and resigned instead of going public with details about corruption within the department.
But Police Chief Lee Russo said Tuesday that while the officer did receive a severance payment and signed a nondisclosure agreement when he resigned about a year and a half ago, the money wasn’t given to keep him quiet.
"In no way, shape or form was this presented as covering up anything or as hush money," Russo told The Salt Lake Tribune.
Russo said the officer’s actions regarding alleged sexual activity were reviewed by the Utah attorney general’s office, but no criminal wrongdoing was found, and charges were never filed.
Attorneys for Willard’s parents are arguing in a civil wrongful-death case filed in federal court against Cowley and others that the case should not be halted while Cowley’s criminal case plays out.
The former detective is charged in 3rd District Court with second-degree felony manslaughter for the 21-year-old woman’s death in 2012.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, Cowley, 33, made a brief initial appearance in Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court in the criminal case.
Cowley’s attorney waived reading of the charge, and a scheduling hearing was set for July 28. Cowley left the courtroom quickly and did not comment to reporters. If convicted, Cowley could be sentenced to prison for up to 15 years.
Kevin Salmon, the other detective involved in Willard’s shooting, was not charged.
Attorney Geragos in his civil court filing alleging that "hush money" was paid, focused on a portion of a deposition with West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle, who said that city administrators willingly agreed to pay the officer in question:
"Mr. Geragos: OK. Did you know about the accusations of his sexual liaisons with potential suspects while on his shift at the time that the $10,000 was authorized?
"Mr. Pyle: Yes.
"Mr. Geragos: And you knew that he was calling that hush money so he wouldn’t talk?
"Mr. Pyle: I was aware of that after as [Assistant City Manager] Mr. [Paul] Isaac made it known to me, yes.
"Mr. Geragos: OK. Were you aware at that time that [the officer] wanted — was it $10,000 payment?
"Mr. Pyle: I don’t remember.
"Mr. Geragos: Whatever it was, you had authorized it at the time, right?
"My. Pyle: Uh-huh."
Pyle was did not respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit stems from an April 23, 2011 fight inside a now-closed Buckhead IHOP.
Posted by Justin Ove
The Atlanta Police Department officer who was cleared of wrongdoing after a scuffle in a Buckhead IHOP in April 2011 is facing a renewed lawsuit filed by one of the women who was arrested.
Officer Jose Vidal, who was working as an off-duty security guard at the time, has been sued by Roberta Caban for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Reports.
According to the suit, Caban and her friend Cynthia Freeman were assaulted, falsely arrested, and falsely held in Fulton County jail where they were humiliated by being forced to use the bathroom before male inmates.
Atlanta Police see it another way; Vidal's incident report states that Freeman was acting disorderly inside the now-closed IHOP, and when asked to leave, refused.
Police then say that Freeman began punching Vidal, and was also accosted by Ashley Leavell, who allegedly punched the officer in the face. Vidal was caught on camera returning Leavell's punch.
The attorney for the women arrested at the IHOP that night told the AJC in May, 2011 that the police's story about the chain of events was "riddled with inaccuracies."
The Atlanta Police Department cleared Vidal of any wrongdoing, but that didn't stop Leavell from filing a lawsuit against Vidal and IHOP in May, 2013. It is not known if the two suits are related or why the suit needed to be filed again.
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (WSVN) -- A Miami Beach Police officer is being investigated by his own colleagues after he was allegedly drunk during an off-duty job at a South Beach nightclub.
Miami Beach Police Sgt. Mike Muley has been relieved of duty with pay while internal affairs investigates the allegation.
According to Miami Beach Police, they received an anonymous call stating there was an intoxicated police sergeant in full uniform working an off-duty security job at Mango's Tropical Cafe, located on the 900 block of Ocean Drive, at around 4:30 a.m. Monday. Police said officers came to the nightclub and transported Muley to Mount Sinai Medical Center for medical treatment and alcohol testing.
Later that morning, the Miami Beach Police cruiser assigned to Muley was seen outside the club covered in evidence stickers. Crime scene investigators were also spotted on the scene.
"The matter is being taken very seriously," said Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates, who was appointed chief of Miami Beach Police in June. "I'm brand new here. We simply can't tolerate inappropriate behavior by our officers, especially with regard to alcohol, and this matter will get full investigation by this department."
News of Muley's suspension comes with the revelation that he has a direct connection to another high-profile case involving another Miami Beach Police officer accused of drinking on the job.
On Thursday, former Miami Beach Police Officer Derick Kuilan was sentenced to 18 months in prison for giving a civilian a joyride on his station-issued ATV that ended in a crash that injured two beach goers. It was alleged Kuilan had been drunk.
"He had his head down on the desk," said Muley as he reenacted Kuilan's behavior while testifying in the officer's trial. "He had his arms up, and his head down like this."
Jurors, however, were not convinced of the evidence. Kuilan was convicted of reckless driving with serious bodily injury but acquitted of DUI.
Muley was Kuilan's supervisor on the night of Kuilan's accident, which occurred in July 2011. Muley was demoted for improper supervision as a result. However, through arbitration he was eventually able to regain the rank of sergeant.
"I'm well aware of that," said Oates when asked about Muley's connection to the Kuilan case. "With regard to that, people have to recognize that that matter was adjudicated, and my understanding was that he was originally demoted, but he got his stripes back [through] arbitration. That's in the past. My immediate challenge as the new chief is to deal with this new event and do what's right for the organization."
Oates encouraged the community to provide any information they might have about Monday morning's incident. "Like any serious matter involving the department, if there's anyone in the community who saw this officer or has any evidence that might be useful to us, we ask that they come forward and let us know immediately."
It remains unknown what amount of alcohol, if any, was found in Muley's system.
The investigation remains ongoing.
BETHLEHEM, Pennsylvania — A former Easton police officer who resigned after two drunkenness citations is now charged with passing out at the wheel of his car.
Former Easton officer John Zielinski has waived his right Monday to a preliminary hearing.
Defense lawyer Alexander Ward tells The (Easton) Express-Times (http://goo.gl/R8m9w5 ) that he hopes to resolve the case through pretrial probation.
The 47-year-old Zielinski was charged with drunken driving and resisting arrest in April after police found his car partially blocking a highway in Bethlehem at 2 a.m.
Authorities say his blood-alcohol content was .26, nearly four times the legal limit for drivers.
Zielinski resigned from the Easton force in 2008 after two public drunkenness citations. The newspaper says he unsuccessfully sued over one of the arrests.
By Adriana M. Chavez
A former El Paso police officer charged with tax fraud in connection with a medical billing scheme is scheduled to appear in court later this month.
Ricardo Huante, 54, is charged with corrupt interference with Internal Revenue laws and 14 counts of structuring transactions to evade reporting requirements and aiding and abetting. Huante faces up to three years in federal prison if convicted of the first charge. Each remaining charge carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
According to Huante's indictment, which was filed in March, Huante operated a medical insurance billing company called H.M.J., also known as H.M.D.J., beginning in 1995. The company performed billing services for Hospital Torre Medica and other medical providers in Mexico by billing insurance providers for services performed by doctors. The company received checks from insurance providers to pay the doctors for the services the medical billing company sought reimbursement for.
Huante opened a bank account in the U.S. in his name and deposited insurance reimbursement funds he received from the insurance providers, the indictment states. From 2004 to June 30, 2011, Huante deposited more than $3 million.
According to the indictment, Huante reported in his 2005 tax return that the company had gross receipts of $15,211, but medical insurance companies had reported to the IRS that they made payments of more than $300,000 to Huante's company. The discrepancy triggered an investigation by IRS officials.
The indictment states that in April 2007, Huante told IRS officials in a letter that the discrepancy arouse because the tax forms included the total amounts due to both the medical providers and to his company, but that his commissions were five percent of the gross amounts billed.
Federal prosecutors allege Huante's gross receipts were "substantially greater" than the gross amounts he actually received. Huante's indictment states that he also falsely reported on his tax returns that a person identified only as "O.H." as the company's owner.
Huante's wife, Ofelia Huante, has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Ricardo Huante's indictment also lists numerous withdrawals from his bank account, most of them for about $2,500.
Federal prosecutors allege the transactions are "part of a pattern of illegal activity involving more than $100,000 in a twelve month period." The withdrawals are dated between March 2009 and March 2010.
In March 2012, agents with the FBI and other federal agencies raided the Huantes' East El Paso home. Ricardo Huante, who was an El Paso police officer for 14 years, was placed on administrative leave but resigned in July 2012, according to El Paso Times archives.
Ricardo Huante was arraigned in May. His next court hearing is scheduled on July 30 before U.S. District Judge Philip Martinez. A trial date has not been scheduled.
NORTH CAROLINA OFFICER ADMITS TO USING TACTIC
By Neal Colgrass
The police chief in Durham, North Carolina, has warned officers to stop lying about fake 911 calls in order to enter people's homes and make arrests, Opposing Views reports. The tactic came up during a court hearing in May when an officer admitted to doing it. Officer AB Beck said he'd knocked on a woman's door and told her that someone called 911 from her house before hurrying off the phone, Indy Week reports. When she let him in, he found a marijuana grinder and two marijuana blunts and arrested her. A judge kicked the case out of court, telling Beck that he "cannot enter someone's house based on a lie."
Beck also said that this 911-call tactic was standard procedure at the department in alleged domestic violence cases, according to the defendant's lawyer. Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez denied this, but told ABC 11 he's started an investigation. He also fired off a departmental memo saying he's heard the tactic is in use and has to stop. A Durham attorney framed it as a right-to-privacy issue, saying that "you can't fake someone out of their constitutional rights. You've got to be honest about this stuff."
Deputy chief resigns, officer fired, former secretary admits enrollment in organization
Author: Erik Sandoval,
FRUITLAND PARK, Fla. -
A report which investigated whether two Fruitland Park police officers were involved with the Ku Klux Klan shows a third police worker was also linked to the organization.
Deputy Chief David Borst and Officer George Hunnewell were both named as members of the KKK by informants to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Borst resigned over the claims last Thursday and Hunnewell was fired Friday.
Hunnewell's wife, Ann, worked as a Police Department secretary and she admitted to Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators she and her husband joined the KKK.
She told the FDLE they wanted to infiltrate the klan as part of a department investigation under then-Police Chief Mark Isom.
Hunnewell told investigators she and her husband never paid dues and didn't believe in the klan's philosophy.
Her involvement was reported by the wife of another former Fruitland Park police officer James Elkin, who resigned in 2010 after he was also linked to the klan.
According to the report, Pamela Ellingsworth "reported that George Hunnewell was a sworn member of the KKK."
"Ellingsworth reported that (Deputy Chief David) Borst and others in the FPPD have knowledge of the Hunnewells' membership in the KKK, but did nothing to address the issue," the report stated.
One man who was arrested two weeks ago by Hunnewell wants the Office of the State Attorney to review his case. The man, who is black, said he was pulled over driving 37 mph in a 25 mph zone.
"(Hunnewell) jumped in the middle of my car as I was going and almost pulled out his gun, and said, 'I could have shot you if you would have hit me with your car,'" the man said.
Hunnewell eventually arrested the man for marijuana possession and driving with a suspended license, but the man argues he wouldn't have been pulled over if he wasn't black.
The State Attorney is now reviewing hundreds of cases handled by Borst and Hunnewell. Workers are looking for any signs of racially motivated charges.
By ZACK McDONALD | The News Herald
PANAMA CITY — A Panama City police officer has been demoted and suspended for misusing police software to scan confidential documents of citizens for personal reasons.
Mark Aviles was suspended without pay and demoted from major to captain in June after he misused his rank and authority to access the driver and vehicle information database (DAVID) files of multiple citizens for personal reasons. The search was conducted while Aviles was off-duty and was not for law enforcement purposes, internal investigators found, which opened PCPD up to penalties that could’ve affected their law enforcement capabilities, city records state.
Aviles told internal investigators he was concerned an ex-boyfriend of his neighbor could have a history of nefarious activities. His daughter had stayed the night while the ex-boyfriend was in the neighbor’s home before the couple separated. Once his neighbor told him she suspected her ex recently placed a tracker on her car, Aviles became suspicious and checked into the ex’s background for red flags.
“If at the time, I thought that this was a misuse of the DAVID system, I wouldn’t have done it,” Aviles told internal investigators. “… What was occurring in my mind was there was an issue, I’m a cop, let me see what I can find out.”
Aviles requested a subordinate officer run the ex-boyfriend’s name through the program, since he was off duty and only certain terminals have access to DAVID. He then accessed 34 confidential reports on at least six people connected to the ex-boyfriend.
Each time DAVID is started, the system explicitly notes that use for personal reasons could result in civil or criminal proceedings against any person involved. When the program questioned Sgt. Phil Himes about the purpose of his search, Aviles told him it was to verify an identity.
Himes said he assumed the request was legitimate and obliged.
• Written by Briaana Gerdeman
A Seattle police officer who lives in Bothell was charged with first degree child molestation and communication with a minor for immoral purposes for allegedly molesting his former girlfriend’s daughter over several years, according to documents from the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office.
Eric Amadeo Smith, 57, is now on administrative leave from the Seattle Police Department. He was released on bail from Snohomish County Jail on July 1.
“Smith sexually abused a vulnerable child who he had control over,” the documents state. “The abuse allegedly occurred for a period of four years with multiple offenses.”
The 12-year-old victim reported the abuse to her teacher last month, after the subject of inappropriate touching was covered in health class.
According to the documents, she said Smith made her perform sexual acts several times between 2009 and 2013, when she was age 7 to 11.
The documents describe five instances of alleged sexual abuse, adding that the victim gave specific details of the abuse when being interviewed during the investigation.
“The victim disclosed this abuse to her mother, friends and school staff verbally and in writing over the years,” the documents state. “The victim recanted her initial disclosure when she was 7 after being confronted by the suspect in front of her mother, but has since confirmed that the abuse occurred and continued to occur in his home until the age of 11.”
Four EMS workers who responded to the arrest of a man who later died in police custody were placed on modified duty a day after an eight-year veteran of the NYPD was stripped of his badge and gun for allegedly using a chokehold while handcuffing the man.
The EMS workers, who have not been identified, included two EMTs and two paramedics. The workers are not city employees but work for Richmond University Medical Center, according to the FDNY.
On Saturday, NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo was placed on modified assignment pending further investigation into the arrest of 43-year-old Eric Garner, which was captured on a cellphone video that showed the 43-year-old saying "I can't breathe, I can't breathe" as he was brought to the ground by an officer using a chokehold, a tactic prohibited by NYPD policy.
In the video, EMS workers are not shown giving CPR when arriving at the scene.
Officials said another officer involved in the arrest, a four-year veteran of the force who has not been identified, had been put on administrative duty but didn't have to surrender his gun or shield.
The Staten Island District Attorney's Office is investigating the death of Garner, who was being arrested for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on Victory Boulevard and Bay Street in Tompkinsville Thursday afternoon, according to police.
While he was being handcuffed, he went into cardiac arrest, police said. He was taken to Richmond University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
On Sunday, the medical examiner's officer said autopsy results are still pending.
"At this time, no determination has been made by the Medical Examiner's office as to the cause and manner of death of Eric Garner," the office said in a statement.
Earlier in the weekend, the Rev. Al Sharpton rallied with supporters and Garner's family. The man's death has sparked community outrage.
"The issue is not whether one was selling cigarettes. The issue was how an unarmed man was subjected to a chokehold, and the result is he is no longer with us," Sharpton said after leading the crowd in chants of "no justice, no peace."
Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said in a statement that the NYPD's decision regarding Pantaleo was politically motivated.
"The department’s modification of this police officer under these circumstances is a completely unwarranted, knee-jerk reaction for political reasons and nothing more," Lynch said. "It is a decision by the department that effectively pre-judges this case and denies the officer the very benefit of a doubt that has long been part of the social contract that allows police officers to face the risks of this difficult and complex job."
Mayor de Blasio has said he was "very troubled" by the video.
"It is too early to jump to any conclusions about this case -- we must wait for all the facts and details of the incident to emerge," de Blasio said following Garner's death.
On Sunday, while on vacation in Italy, de Blasio received a briefing from administration officials about the ongoing investigation and the administration's community efforts, his office said
By Chris Glorioso
An Iraq War veteran from New York City who landed in the hospital after an assault during a backyard party is calling for his alleged assailant to be fired from his police officer job at Amtrak.
The officer, William Gonzalez, was arrested July 5 and charged with aggravated assault after he allegedly knocked out Guillermo Balseca during a housewarming party on the deck of Gonzalez's Linden Avenue home in Woodbridge, New Jersey, police say.
Balseca, from the Woodhaven section of Queens, suffered bleeding and contusions around his brain after the fight with Gonzalez. Balseca says he and others attending the housewarming party had been drinking alcohol, but says there is no excuse for the level of violence that resulted in his brain injuries, now manifesting in constant short-term memory loss and reduced mobility of his left foot.
"I'm very angry," he said.
Balseca's fiance, Charlene Charriez, who was also at the party, said Gonzalez continued to attack Balseca after he was already unconscious.
"He could not breathe. He was making no signs of life," she said.
Balseca's sister Lucille Nowakowski said: "He served his country. He was in combat. He was able to survive that. And he comes here to his home where he is supposed to be safe, and this happens to him? It's unfair."
In an email, Amtrak spokesman Craig Shulz said Gonzalez has been put on paid desk duty and "has had his police powers suspended pending an internal review of the circumstances."
But Balseca and his family want the agency to go further.
"He needs to be permanently terminated. He needs to spend some time in prison," said Nowakowski.
Darren Gelber, a defense attorney for Gonzalez, suggested his client was justified in defending himself in the backyard fight. He his client has filed his own counter-complaint against Balseca with Woodbridge Police.
"Mr. Gonzalez believes he acted completely lawfully and he'll be exonerated," Gelber said.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office is evaluating the charges against Gonzalez.
By Amanda Plotts
COMMERCIAL POINT — A reserve officer was recently suspended from the Commercial Point Police Department, stemming from an investigation being done on a 2012 incident report the officer wrote.
Officer Robert Barna, who has served in his capacity of reserve officer for 10 years, was suspended on July 8.
The incident report dated February 24, 2012 and written by Barna states that he was conducting a traffic stop. During this time, another citizen drove up to the scene and was not complying with Barna’s instructions and obstructing official business. Barna called dispatch for backup and Barna handcuffed the citizen and placed him in the police vehicle.
At this time, Barna stated in his report, that several other vehicles started arriving at the location that were not police or emergency vehicles. Among the civilians arriving were Mayor Joe Hammond, councilman Clarence Wissinger and councilman Randy Shelton.
In his report, Barna said that Shelton stated “this does not need to be handled this way” and was referring to the arrest of the citizen. At this time, the mayor requested to speak with Barna and, after their discussion, Barna felt his position as a reserve police officer could be in jeopardy. Barna ended up releasing the citizen with no charges against him.
Mike Hess, village solicitor, said the incident report came to his attention after a public request was made for the document. Hess said he questioned why a document from 2012 was coming up now.
After Hess discussed the report with those involved, a meeting was requested with Barna.
Shelton was concerned because the incident report did not have accurate information. Shelton said he has never met Barna prior to the meeting they had on July 7. He has records that show where he was the day the incident report was filed that stemmed from car repairs and personal circumstances.
Shelton said that Barna’s report shows him trying to abuse his power and he has never gone to a police stop prior to being a council member or after.
According to Hess, Hammond and Wissinger agree that they were at the scene, but dispute other statements made by Barna.
Hess said there is also concern that the report available now is not the way it was originally written in 2012. Barna admitted that he changed the report but would not give an exact date. There is no way to tell on the document when changes were made.
Hess said that it was the mayor’s decision to investigate the situation and place the officer on leave until it was completed and that the Adam Jordan, chief of police, is investigating the situation.
Barna said that he told council and the mayor from the start of their meeting that he did not feel comfortable with the situation. Barna said he was told there was litigation going on with former village police sergeant John Murphy — who was terminated on April 28 due to lack of meeting professional requirement — and this was how the document came to their attention. Barna said he responded by saying there is nothing he can do about that.
Barna said that at the time he filed the incident report in 2012, he was concerned about losing his job if he documented it on the report. Barna said that he doesn’t have protection as a reserve officer and the mayor can get rid of him at any time.
Other officers and the chief were aware of the situation when it happened in 2012, Barna said.
“Looking back at the situation, I should have dealt with it then,” Barna said. “It should have been there from the start.”
The reason Barna said he changed the incident report was because of everything that has been going on with the village police department in the recent months and he felt that it needed to be on the report. The village council will consider an ordinance at their meeting next month on possibly abolishing the current police department and contracting for services with the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office.
Barna said he still wants his job at the police department but stands by what he wrote on the incident report 100 percent.
Attempts were made to contact Jordan in regards to the situation but no return call was made.