By GINIA BELLAFANTE APRIL 8, 2016
Glen Grays, a 27-year-old mail carrier, and his mother, Sonya Sapp, at a news conference in Brooklyn in March. CreditDave Sanders for The New York Times
When Glen Grays was inexplicably handcuffed and hauled off by the police in Brooklyn on March 17 while delivering the mail on his route in Crown Heights, the world soon learned a bit about him. At a news conference given by Eric L. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, at which a video of the encounter was made public, Mr. Grays’s mother explained that she had six sons and worried about all of them. In the days ahead, Mr. Grays spoke to reporters, telling them that he was, in fact, engaged to a New York City police officer, that he had worked hard all of his life, that he had never been arrested and that despite the indignities he had suffered at the hands of the four plainclothes police officers — who were supposed to be in uniform — he did not wish for them to be fired.
Days after the video gained national attention, the police commissioner, William J. Bratton, said he had strong concerns about the actions taken by the officers. By then the Police Department had already begun an investigation by its Internal Affairs Bureau and the officers had beenremoved from their assignment with the Conditions Unit, a neighborhood-based troubleshooting division, and put back on patrol. Later, the supervising officer was stripped of his gun and badge and put on desk duty.
Despite all that, the department did not reveal the names of the men involved or apprise the public of any history of complaints leveled against them. The officers’ names became known because of an accident report Mr. Grays obtained at the 71st Precinct station house, which identified them. After Mr. Grays was taken away by the police officers in an unmarked car, that vehicle had hit another in front of it.
Secrecy is, in essence, protocol. It is required by a controversial lawpassed 40 years ago, Section 50-a of the state’s civil rights code, which protects officers’ personnel records from public view, enshrining the suppression of information around police misconduct as governance.
Had Mr. Grays, in his 27 years, accumulated a litany of petty offenses and low-level drug possession charges, we would almost surely know about them. One comparatively less glaring dimension of the hypocrisy that surrounds cases in which ordinary people are harmed or killed by those entrusted to protect them is the vast difference in the way that law enforcement handles the biographies of those people. A system that safeguards the names of police officers above all else often too easily accommodates the tainting of victims. The most notorious example occurred 16 years ago, when Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani authorized the release of Patrick Dorismond’s arrest record after Mr. Dorismond had become the third unarmed black man shot and killed by New York City police officers in approximately a year. When asked to respond to criticism that he had been vilifying the dead man, the mayor only delivered his rebuke more emphatically, claiming that Mr. Dorismond was not “an altar boy.”
Four years ago, a day after 18-year-old Ramarley Graham, unarmed, was shot and killed by a police officer in the Bronx, an article in The Wall Street Journal quoted an anonymous law-enforcement source offering that Mr. Graham had eight prior arrests. This information was made known before the Police Department identified the officer who shot him, Richard Haste. Documents filed in conjunction with a wrongful-death suit against the city, which resulted in a $3.9 million award to Mr. Graham’s family, showed that most of the arrests had been dismissed, or sealed because of Graham’s age, and that access to his history could have been obtained only through “the illegal or improper retention of sealed information.”
We know that Eric Garner had a criminal record, but we know far less about Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who applied the fatal chokehold while attempting to arrest Mr. Garner for the sale of loose cigarettes on Staten Island two years ago. Hoping to learn more, the Legal Aid Society sued the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, the independent agency that handles complaints against police officers, for a summary of substantiated claims and disciplinary actions against Mr. Pantaleo. A State Supreme court justice ruled in Legal Aid’s favor; the city appealed the decision in August.
All the while, both Officers Pantaleo and Haste have remained on the force, in administrative roles, collecting salaries.
In an effort to combat a culture of concealment, the Legal Aid Society last year began building a database to collect whatever information it could find about potential areas of misbehavior by police officers. Through the state’s Freedom of Information Law, for instance, the organization gathers city payroll data to examine overtime patterns. A lot of overtime can indicate either a penchant for hard work, or a propensity for making unnecessary arrests, with the notion that the attendant paperwork will extend the clock.
The three police officers and one lieutenant involved in the Grays case were all found to have amassed considerable overtime last year, according to Cynthia Conti-Cook, a staff lawyer for the Legal Aid Society. The lieutenant, Luis D. Machado, made more than $41,000 in supplemental income, meaning that he put in more overtime hours than 89 percent of the lieutenants working in Brooklyn. The officers, David G. Savella, Miguel I. Rodriguez and Lazo Lluka, each worked more overtime than at least 96 percent of the officers in Brooklyn. Responding to a request for comment, Lt. John Grimpel, a department spokesman, said the officers’ overtime levels last year were “well within the normal range for their assignments.”
When Section 50-a was under review in 1976, it had, not surprisingly, a great deal of support from prosecutors and police unions. In a letter opposing passage of the law, though, one prosecutor, Joseph P. Hoey, took an enlightened view. “Too often today the opinion is expressed that police work is just another job,” Mr. Hoey, who had been the United States attorney in Brooklyn, said. Making personnel records confidential would only bolster that belief, he argued.
“All the participants in the criminal justice system should constantly be reminded that their employment in this system is a privilege,” Mr. Hoey wrote, “and that the greatest part of this privilege is being charged with the trust of maintaining the public’s right to justice.”
Federal intervention allows local officials to evade responsibility.
It has been one year since Freddie Gray died while in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department. Gray’s death sparked peaceful protests and then calamitous riots that brought international attention and prompted the deployment of National Guard units. While local prosecutors indicted the officers involved in Gray’s arrest, the federal government promised to investigate the entire police department for a “pattern or practice” of constitutional violations. The impending outcome of that inquiry seems foreordained. The real question is whether federal monitoring can truly fix a broken police department. The conventional wisdom is that it can, but experience tells us that it can be counterproductive.
Since the Ferguson riot in 2014, police departments across the country have been under unprecedented scrutiny. When a pattern of wrongdoing or dysfunction is exposed, we hear a familiar refrain: this department is so bad that it is incapable of correcting itself, so federal intervention is necessary. After some initial resistance, the city of Ferguson has now agreed to a federal monitor. Last week, Newark also agreed to a federal monitor, to oversee its troubled police force. The Justice Department has also investigated and instituted reforms in many of the United States’ big-city police departments—Los Angeles, New Orleans, Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, to name a few.
Clearly, police misconduct is more widespread than many want to admit. In Chicago, the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, caught on camera, has roiled minority neighborhoods because they see it as only the most recent episode of police wrongdoing there. It is safe to say that other cities may be one incident away from similar unrest.
Mayors and city councils don’t want police misconduct to occur, but in too many cities they let the problem fester. To the extent that they’re even paying attention, the typical political calculation seems to be this: it’s better to have the support of the police department and police union come election time, so don’t take steps that they will oppose.
There is, however, a cost to that political calculation: minority resentment toward city government—especially the police. After all, the victims of illegal detention, illegal searches and excessive force have friends, neighbors and relatives. And when bad cops are not dealt with, it is not unfair to conclude that the department itself is indifferent to injustice. This explains the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
When a shocking incident of police misconduct comes along, the fecklessness of local governance is exposed in the glare of the media spotlight. Suddenly, reporters are asking pointed questions. Exactly how many people have been shot by the police department? Why was video evidence withheld from the public? What accountability systems are in place to track and remove problem officers?
The optimal moment for police reform comes in the immediate aftermath of a police scandal. The public is aroused, and if the problems run deep into the department itself, voters want those problems corrected. Local politicians find themselves on the spot. They can’t afford to appear uninterested, but they’d rather not fight the police department either. Instead of rolling up their sleeves to make some politically difficult decisions, they posture as reformers by joining thechorus calling for a federal civil rights investigation.
When the feds do intervene, everyone seems to be pleased. The heat is off the local officials to address police misconduct. They say they’ll have to await the outcome of the federal investigation before taking any action. Federal officials are pleased because they are seen as the cavalry coming to the rescue. Civil rights activists are satisfied because they think a federal lawsuit will bring about needed reforms. The police department and police union benefit as well. The intense media scrutiny will now fade as the months roll past.
Unfortunately, federal intervention has a counterproductive “enabling” effect: it allows local officials to evade their responsibility to fix broken police organizations. When the local politicos make a plea for federal intervention, it deflects attention away from their oversight failure and actually squanders the prospect for sweeping changes at a pivotal moment.
There is a borderline reverence for federal intervention among academics and journalists, which has blinded them to political dynamics that should strike us as odd. On the surface, it appears as if the feds are imposing wide-ranging reforms on local officialdom. In truth, however, the local officials chose that outcome once the feds were invited in. Here’s the quandary: the local politicos had the capability to enact reforms all along, so why didn’t they embrace such measures to head off a federal lawsuit? Experience has shown, time and again, that local officials would rather cope with federal monitors than fight powerful police unions.
Federal monitors have not succeeded where local officials are intransigent about reform. Arizona’s Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, is an example. Arpaio may lose a case in court, but he remains defiant and wins reelection. There have been improvements in the cities with reform-minded mayors and police chiefs—but in those cases, federal monitors were never really necessary. The monitors merely provided the local officials with additional political leverage against the police lobby. Local political fights, however, should not be considered an appropriate basis for federal lawsuits and federal takeovers of local police operations.
Police misconduct is a serious problem. If the solution was simple, it would have already been adopted. The hard truth is that a good police department requires the sustained commitment of locally elected officials to that goal. If that commitment is absent, federal intervention will only obscure that reality, and make it more difficult for voters to hold the local politicos accountable for their neglect.
Timothy Lynch is director of the Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice and is the editor of Cato’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project.
By Joel Brown
RALEIGH (WTVD) --
Raleigh City Council got an earful Monday night about how to reform the city's police department.
Community activists aligned with the group PACT led the charge. The Police Accountability and Community Task Force is more than a year old, but the deadly police shooting of Akiel Denkins in southeast Raleigh on Feb. 29, gave the group renewed purpose.
Outside City Hall, the group came bearing signs. Some read, "Justice for Akiel" and "Black Lives Matter." But the group also came to deliver a petition, a list of demands to reform Raleigh PD.
"We as the citizens of Raleigh ask for transparency! That is why we ask for a seat at the table to decide the oversight board," said Kimberly Muktarian at a rally before the meeting.
When the public-hearing portion began, they came one by one to bring their demands to city councilors. They want a community oversight board with subpoena power to hold officers accountable. They want officers to make marijuana possession a lower-level priority.
"Wake County arrest data shows that black people are going to jail for possession of small amounts of marijuana at significant higher rates," said Geraldine Alshamy as she addressed the council.
The group applauded the city's move to start a five-year pilot program to equip every officer with a body camera. But they want the city to immediately begin drawing up rules of the road for the body-camera program. They expressed concerns about privacy for victims of domestic-violence calls, and they want public access to the videos.
"At the very least, the subjects of any recordings should have access to those recordings, ideally a copy of those recordings," said Sarah Preston with ACLU of North Carolina.
Raleigh City Attorney Thomas McCormick raised objections about whether City Council has the authority to grant subpoena power to a community oversight board.
"We agree with the comments made by the city attorney," said Matt Cooper, President of the Raleigh Police Protective Association, the police union.
Cooper also agreed with McCormick that city councilors, the grand jury, and independent investigators at the SBI provide more than enough accountability for his officers.
"We would like to say that issues and perceived problems in other areas of the country are not indicative of what is going on in the city of Raleigh," Cooper said
The ACLU concedes a community oversight board with subpoena power for investigations would likely require legislation from the General Assembly. And, that is unlikely to happen. But the ACLU points to cities such as Greensboro, which has a city staff sit on its civilian review board for police that can issue subpoenas.
Animal lovers protest Bronx cop’s dog shooting outside NYPD stationhouse
BY DANNY LEWIS, LEONARD GREENE
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
No justice, no pooch.
Animal lovers gathered across the street from a Bronx police stationhouse Sunday to protest the death of a dog shot by an officer answering a domestic dispute call.
Cops from the 46th Precinct stationhouse on Ryer Ave. were responding to a call from an E. 183rd St. Bronx apartment building on Feb. 13 when Officer Ruben Cuesta fired a single shot into the pit bull’s skull as the dog scampered about in the hallway.
Video of the shooting showed the wounded dog named Spike still wagging his tail before he died.
“If you are afraid of a dog, I hate to tell you, you’re in the wrong line of work,” said Rob Becerra, a filmmaker and animal-rights activist from Long Island, who organized the protest.
“Shooting a dog is a last resort,” Becerra said.
“They need to utilize pepper spray. God forbid that cop missed, he could’ve shot someone.”
Chanting slogans like “Tail wagging, don’t shoot,” “Paws up, don’t shoot” and “Justice for Spike,” the dozen protesters called on the NYPD to implement training to teach cops how to react to situations involving dogs without using a gun.
Meanwhile, Bronx neighbor Marie Palladino, 65, said she also holds the owner responsible for Spike’s death.
“She had ample opportunity to get the dog,” she said.
Palladino, an animal lover who helps rescue and find new homes for dogs, said the NYPD should be trained in canine body language to figure out whether a dog is being threatening.
“I want the officers to be more educated in dog body language, pit bulls especially,” Palladino said.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said Cuesta, 28, would have to “justify what was going through his mind at that particular time.”
A surveillance video the Daily News acquired shows Cuesta backing away from Spike, then shooting the dog from a few feet away as he slowly approached, wagging his tail.
‘Body slam’ cop sparks fury after shocking Texas schoolgirl arrest (VIDEO)
Mobile phone footage of a Texas police officer picking up a 12-year-old girl and slamming her onto a concrete floor has emerged, sparking a probe by San Antonio school authorities.
Identified as officer Joshua Kehm of Rhodes Middle School by the San Antonio Express, the cop has been placed on paid leave after appearing to violently intervene in a schoolyard dispute between two children.
Struggling to restrain 6th grader Janissa Valdez, who was reportedly involved in an argument with a peer, Kehm can be seen to slam her to the ground with force.
As the district police officer cuffs the dazed girl, shocked students can be heard asking if she is okay after apparently landing on her face.
“This video is very concerning, and we are working to get all of the details,” Leslie Price, San Antonio Independent School District spokesperson, told local media.
“We certainly want to understand what all occurred, and we are not going to tolerate excessive force in our district.”
The police smackdown happened on March 29. The girl’s mother has said her daughter doesn’t remember the arrest as she was knocked out by the alarming incident.
“Supposedly he was threatened by her that she kicked him, but in the video her legs never went up,” Gloria Valdez told Kens 5 Eyewitness News.
“She was, I guess, unconscious. She doesn’t remember being arrested with handcuffs… [she’s] bruised because of how she was hit on the cement.”
This isn’t the first time a Texan cop has hit the headlines over apparent rough handling of a juvenile.
In June 2015, another officer, Eric Casebolt, resigned after he was filmed pulling his gun on a group of black teenagers in McKinney.
His lawyer said two earlier suicide calls had contributed to his emotional state, which saw him force a 14-year-old girl to the ground and perform a ludicrous barrel roll.
Four Cops Arrest Black Man For Stepping Off Curb
by Michael Allen
An unidentified black man filmed the moment he was arrested by four San Diego, California, police officers (video below). His crime? Stepping off a curb.
The video was originally posted on the Don't Shoot Facebook page on April 7 with the caption: "The hateful eight of San Diego cops rushed a Black man for 'stepping off sidewalk' I just wonder, what are we paying for our tax dollars? Do they REALLY not have anything better to do than this?
"These cops are thirsty for violent conflict and thus are a menace to society. This video is more proof."
In the video, the man is walking around with an unidentified companion and pointing out the cops in the area. At one point, the man does appear to step off a curb to film a street.
"Now you see this s---?" the man tells his companion. "They’re trying to follow me. They’re trying to get me. But I’m in the wrong, if I do anything. You see this s---? This is dumb."
Two San Diego police cruisers pull up, the officers get out and approach the man.
PhotographyIsNotACrime.com notes the awkward conversation that followed.
"How’s it going partner?" the cops.
"Alright, did I do anything wrong?" the man replies.
"Absolutely, you can’t step off the curb like that," the officer informs him.
"Oh, I can’t step off the curb," the man answers. "I didn’t take a picture, I just lightly stepped off."
"No, no, no, no," the cop insists. "I saw you over there."
"I didn’t do nothing wrong," the man tells the police.
The officer then asks the man if he is carrying any weapons and tells him that they are going to pat him down. The police do not give a reason for searching him on the video.
"I didn’t do nothing wrong," the man says.
"You stepped off the curb," the officer replies
The man asks for his ticket, but the cop handcuffs him and says, "I'll do my business the way I do my business."
"If the person is a danger to themselves or others, it could rise to the level of a state misdemeanor arrest,” an officer from the San Diego Police Chief's office told PhotographyIsNotACrime.com.
"Generally we issue a civil citation for jaywalking," the officer added. "I don’t know under what circumstances our police would perform an arrest."
Federal grand jury indicts former Pittsburgh police sergeant who was fired after violent arrest
PITTSBURGH —A federal grand jury has indicted a fired Pittsburgh police sergeant accused of wrongly pushing and punching a drunken man at Heinz Field and then lying on reports to justify his use of force. (Mobile users: Scroll down to read the U.S. attorney's statement.)
Stephen Matakovich, accused of wrongly pushing and punching a man at Heinz Field and lying on reports to justify his use of force, is now facing a federal civil rights case.
Stephen Matakovich, 47, of Brookline, was charged with perjury, official oppression and simple assault after surveillance videoshowed him striking Gabriel Despres, then 19.
VIDEO: Watch Sheldon Ingram's report
"Every indication is what the sergeant did that day was wrong", says Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.
He says the grand jury indictment sends a powerful message "to build that faith back with the community, We have to make sure we have discipline, but it has to be consistent and fair".
Charges against Matakovich were dismissed by a district judge at a preliminary hearing Feb. 1. District Attorney Stephen Zappala's office later refiled the charges.
The FBI reviewed the case, because Pittsburgh police said the security video did not appear to support Matakovich's claim that Despres was aggressive during his Nov. 28 arrest at the WPIAL football championships.
"Sgt. Matakovich recently testified at a preliminary hearing before District Judge Robert Ravenstahl. At the conclusion of that hearing, the charges were dismissed. The FOP believes strongly that when all the facts and circumstances are fully explained, Sgt. Matakovich's actions will be found reasonable based upon the totality of the circumstances known to him at the time he used force in the course of an arrest," police union President Robert Swartzwelder said in a statement Wednesday.
Bryan Campbell, a police union attorney seeking to have the ex-officer reinstated, said that a state law requires officers charged with felonies to be suspended from "law enforcement duties" but that the language has been interpreted to mean officers in such cases can't work patrol duties.
He said Matakovich could work in the police warrant office or evidence room.
"Plus, he's a sergeant, so there's a lot of administrative jobs for sergeants where they're not out there answering calls and stuff," Campbell said.
Despres still faces a preliminary hearing in May on charges including defiant trespass and public drunkenness. He didn't return a telephone call seeking comment and doesn't have an attorney listed in court papers.
Md. lawmaker confident in police reform bill despite setback
By BRIAN WITTE
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A Maryland lawmaker says he’s optimistic a police reform bill can still pass, despite an unexpected setback.
Sen. Robert Zirkin said Tuesday he doesn’t think the measure is in trouble after it was sent back to committee late Monday. The chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee says he’s confident the comprehensive bill will return to the Senate “sooner rather than later.”
The bill was sent back after Baltimore senators wanted to include two civilian members with voting powers on a city board that reviews complaints against police. The measure now leaves it up to local officials to determine that.
The bill is the work of a panel formed after Baltimore riots last year following Freddie Gray’s death after his neck was broken in the back of a police van.
Cops sued for ‘brutal beating’ during arrest of wrong man
GRAND RAPIDS, MI (WOOD) — A man is suing a Grand Rapids police officer and an FBI agent, claiming he was brutally beaten by them when they were undercover looking for a different man.
In the federal lawsuit filed Monday, 23-year-old James King argues excessive force was used and his constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure were violated when he was arrested in July 2014.
The arrest happened near the corner of Leonard Street NW and Tamarack Avenue in Grand Rapids. According to court documents, King says he was walking to work at The Geek Group when the officer and agent in plainclothes approached him, claiming they were police and asking for his identification because he matched a rough description of a home invasion suspect.
King complied at first, according to the lawsuit, but when the officers removed his wallet and said he was under arrest, he started running because he thought he was being robbed. The lawsuit alleges he made it only a few steps before he was tackled and then choked until he lost consciousness.
A witness captured video on a cellphone of a handcuffed King lying face-down in the grass after the struggle was over. In the video, witnesses can be heard recounting what happened:
“They were literally pounding him in the head, though,” one witness said. “They were pounding his head for no reason.”
King was arrested for assaulting the undercover officers and resisting arrest. He spent the weekend in jail before posting bond and being released, according to the lawsuit.
King after the arrest. (Courtesy photo)
Pictures taken after the incident show him with a dark bruise under his left eye and both eyes red because of burst blood vessels.
In the lawsuit, he claims he had to drop out of college because of the incident.
“James learned the hard lesson that unless you’re 6 years old, white and lost, the police aren’t necessarily your friends and he got beat down for it,” Chris Boden, the president of The Geek Group, said.
He said he’s furious about what happened.
“This is real and I watched a kid’s life get destroyed for it,” he said. “I’m pissed as hell.”
Other witnesses who have come forward painted a different picture. One witness said he helped police subdue King, who he said bit an officer’s arm.
“When they tackled him, they proceeded to yell, ‘Help us, help us.’ And they were yelling that they were detectives. So I sat and watched for two seconds, (then) I ran across the street helped hold him down, pretty much,” the witness, who didn’t want to be identified, told 24 Hour News 8.
Another anonymous witnesses also said the officers’ actions were justified:
“At not one point did I see him knocked unconscious and laying still. He was flailing at all times,” the witness said.
Both witnesses claim police were clearly wearing badges around their necks.
Police later realized King was not the home invasion suspect they were looking for. He was tried on the assault charges, but ultimately acquitted.
Several witnesses told 24 Hour News 8 that another officer who arrived on scene after the incident was asking people to delete any cellphone video to protect the officers’ identities.That third officer is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The City of Grand Rapids declined to comment Tuesday.
Should smoking a cigarette land you in jail?
By Mark Chiusano
One snowy day last winter, Darrell Morrison was walking into the subway at 125th Street. He was smoking a cigarette, and before entering the station, on the last step, he stamped it out.
That’s when he saw two police officers watching him. They asked to see his ID.
Morrison, 49, asked why, and one of the officers told him that he wasn’t allowed to smoke in the transit system. Morrison said he knew that, but had put out the cigarette before he got underground. The officer told him a new law made the staircase part of the transit system.
Morrison gave the officers his ID, figuring he’d get his ticket, pay his fine. But the officer came back after running the ID, and said they had to arrest him.
At the station, Morrison was informed that he was a "transit recidivist," language in a recently revised NYPD policy by which those who have committed certain crimes or committed a number of transit violations in recent years would be arrested for future violations, not simply given a summons. The NYPD says Morrison’s problem was an arrest for robbery two years before, which led to an assault charge (Morrison says the incident was an altercation in a store). Still, he'd served his time.
So, for putting out a cigarette in the wrong place, combined with the long memory of the law concerning an earlier transgression, he spent about 48 hours in jail, losing a day’s pay at work in the process.
“It really sucked, to tell you the truth,” he says, “going through the system for something I’d already paid for.”
Observing the system
Morrison’s is one of the stories collected in a new report by the Police Reform Organizing Project, a criminal justice advocacy group.
PROP conducted a number of “court monitoring” sessions of mostly misdemeanor and violation cases starting in 2014, according to director Bob Gangi. Observing 1,880 cases in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, PROP found that 91% of the defendants were “people of color.”
Gangi says the “vast majority” received adjournments in contemplation of dismissal — basically a warning — or received time served plus a fine or community service. Meaning, the court didn’t find it necessary to lock these people up further for public safety or the like.
PROP did not observe Morrison’s case, but Morrison approached them recently to add his experience to the list.
Morrison, who is a stagehand, grew up and lives near Lincoln Center. He said he’s “had some run-ins with the police.” His conviction records show about a dozen cases, for misdemeanors and a few low-level felonies — mostly from when he was a younger man. His life "changed a lot," he says, when he had children; he now has two daughters.
Often he felt that cops had it out for him when he was young, for being young and black — he remembers being accosted by police while trying to get on the subway once as a boy, accused of "preparing to steal a ladies purse." He said he had his coins in his hand to pay for the ride.
But history was against him on the day of that subway arrest. Any earlier transgressions were behind him, both in his own estimation and legally — sentences filled, paid fines, completed community service. “I paid my dues for all of them,” he says. Still, the past turned a cigarette toss into a ticket to jail.
The potential for change
Morrison’s experience is sadly typical: A small offense can pull an individual into the criminal justice system and impact his or her life.
Summons reforms in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island and criminal justice reform bills before the City Council, along with the NYPD’s court-mandated curtailing of stop-and-frisk, all aim to break the cycles that keep low-level offenders in the criminal justice system.
But much depends on the focus of the police department, which decides where to marshal its forces and angle its attention. That is abundantly clear from Morrison’s case: earlier this month, the NYPD began a new pilot program (confined to the MTA system) through which so-called transit recidivists are not automatically arrested for violations such as such as cigarette smoking on the subway or feet up on a seat. They’ll receive a summons. It’s too late for Morrison, but it makes one thing clear: police strategy is crucial to any reform efforts.
Morrison says he can understand police officers being vigilant in the subways — protecting against terrorists and slashers, for example. “They want to crack down on random violence,” he says, “but with that dragnet, they’re catching a lot of good people as well.”
Morrison says some common sense could be in order — searching people’s bags for weapons, feeling out the situation. Not just arresting people because it’s allowed.
The only thing Morrison has learned from the encounter? “I make it a point to put out my cigarette way before now.”
Off-duty Oakland cop charged in wrong-house case
OAKLAND COP CHARGED: An off-duty Oakland police officer has been charged with four misdemeanors for an alleged drunken assault after he showed up at the wrong house while looking for a party.
Cullen William Faeth was charged with two counts of battery and one count each of trespassing and public intoxication in connection with an incident on Dec. 7, Alameda County prosecutors said today.
It all started at Monaghan's Bar in the Oakland hills.
Sources say a group of off-duty Oakland police officers was drinking when they decided to go to one of the officer's homes about a mile away.
But Faeth apparently got left behind and got lost on the way there. He ended up on the wrong street and showed up at a home belonging to a woman who works as an Alameda County deputy probation officer.
Faeth, allegedly drunk, was charged with battering the woman and her husband while trespassing on their property.
According to an Oakland police statement of probable cause, Faeth battered the woman by "taking her to the ground by body force. Faeth refused to leave their property and was intoxicated in a public place."
Faeth and three other officers who had been together that night were placed on administrative leave.
The department has indicated that it no longer wants several officers on the force in connection with that incident.
In a statement today, the department said an internal affairs investigation had been completed.
"The Oakland Police Department takes all allegations of misconduct involving our employees seriously," the department said. "We hold all of our employees to a high level of ethical and professional accountability and will not tolerate criminal behavior."
Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris has filed a claim against the city. The claim is a legal precursor to a formal lawsuit.
The alleged victim, who wished only to be identified as Mrs. Cortez, said she and her husband were home at the time with their two teenage daughters at the time of the incident.
The mother described being in the shower when she heard knocking on the door that became incessantly louder. She eventually and abruptly exited the shower to answer the door. At least one officer was described as being “very aggressive”, while another officer was said to have gone to the back yard.
Mrs. Cortez said she and her family were traumatized by the ordeal.
"I told my kids to go back inside," Cortez told reporters at a news conference with Burris. "And they were crying. And they were really afraid."
After investigations into serious misconduct, findings of systemic bias cast a pall on law enforcement and question the city’s faith as a progressive beacon
While everyone in San Francisco appears to agree that there’s a problem with the police department, few can agree on the path forward. Photograph: Ryan Anson/AFP/Getty Images
Julia Carrie Wong in San Francisco
A court filing by a US attorney pulled back the curtain of the San Francisco police department in March last year, revealing a shockingly ugly culture in which sworn officers of the law exchanged text messages expressing such sentiments as “All niggers must fucking hang” and “Cross burning lowers blood pressure”.
The ensuing scandal – which implicated 14 officers and compromised thousands of criminal cases – cast a pall on the police department and shook San Francisco’s faith in itself as a progressive beacon.
Elected leaders and the police brass quickly and forcefully denounced the officers involved and promised reform. But even as the city attempted to clean up the mess, another group of at least four San Francisco police officers was exchanging text messages that mocked the community response to the scandal, used racist slurs and denigrated LGBT people.
The revelation last week of that second batch of bigoted text messages has prompted another round of recrimination between city leaders and again raised the question: how can this be happening in liberal San Francisco?
“We seem to have a continuation of the problem,” said George Gascón, the city’s district attorney. “Last year the police department indicated that this was an isolated incident. I differed then because you don’t just have 14 people being racist without there being a wider problem.”
It is perhaps easier to identify that problem from a text message reading “White Power” than it is from a department’s overall work product, but statistics paint a damning picture of law enforcement in the city by the bay.
You don’t just have 14 people being racist without there being a wider problem
San Francisco’s population is just 5.8% black, but black adults make up 40% of all arrests in the city and 56% of inmates in the San Francisco county jail. A 2015 study found that black adults were seven times as likely to be arrested as whites, and black women were 13.4 times as likely to be arrested as white women.
What is often overlooked in discussions of the racist text messages is the fact that both were discovered in the course of investigations into serious misconduct by SFPD officers.
The first batch was revealed in the course of a federal investigation into a group of officers who were caught on video illegally searching and stealing property from residents of single-room occupancy hotels. Six officers were ultimately indicted in the corruption case, which resulted in multiple convictions.
The second batch came out because of a criminal investigation into allegations of rape against officer Jason Lai. The investigation found insufficient evidence to support a sexual assault charge, but Lai was charged with six misdemeanor counts of misusing police records. Another officer, Lt Curtis Liu, allegedly interfered with the investigation into Lai.
Gascón pointed to another troubling case as evidence of systemic bias in the SFPD: Operation Safe Schools. The joint SFPD/DEA effort was supposed to target drug dealing near schools and resulted in the arrest of 37 people – all black. Leaked surveillance video of the operation revealed undercover officers eschewing arrests of non-black people engaging in the same criminal activity as the black people they did arrest.
A former San Francisco police chief himself, Gascón has increasingly positioned himself as the standard bearer of police accountability in San Francisco, squaring off against the police chief and police union, the San Francisco Police Officers’ Association.
Last year, Gascón empaneled a blue ribbon taskforce to investigate misconduct and the “culture of bias” in the police department. (In a sign of how politics work in this one-party town, the SFPOA has fired back at Gascón by, in essence, accusing him of being the real racist.)
“If you’re an African American member of the community, or if you’re LGBT, you’re going to have to start questioning what kind of treatment you’re going to get from police if this kind of behavior goes on unabated,” Gascón told the Guardian on Thursday. It’s a striking statement coming from a man who regularly sends people to prison based on the testimony of police officers.
But while everyone in San Francisco appears to agree that there’s a problem with the SFPD, few can agree on the path forward.
“There’s a certain thing in the culture where these people think that they’re defending and protecting, and they can be a law unto themselves, and it has to be reformed,” said supervisor Aaron Peskin, the mayor’s primary foil on the city’s board of supervisors.
“Everyone thinks that that can’t be in San Francisco, but it is. The best guy to reform it is [police chief] Greg Suhr, because’s he’s one of them,” Peskin added. “At least I used to think that.”
Suhr has faced noisy calls for his resignation since the police killing of Mario Woods on 2 December 2015. Woods was killed in a barrage of police gunfire that was caught on video, and his death has prompted ongoing protests against Suhr and San Francisco’s mayor, Ed Lee, with many pressuring Lee to fire Suhr.
Lee declined to answer queries from the Guardian as to whether he intends to fire or stand by Suhr. His staff released a statement reading: “Mayor Lee has zero tolerance for bigotry and racism in our San Francisco Police Department. Chief Suhr did the right thing in taking immediate disciplinary action and seeking immediate termination.”
Supervisor David Campos, a frequent opponent of the mayor who served on the police commission for three years, thinks that calls for the chief’s firing or resignation are “too simplistic”.
“The buck stops with the mayor,” he said. “The mayor is doing on police reform what he’s doing on homelessness or the housing crisis: taking passive steps only when he feels he has to, with the hope that the issue will go away. But the thing about these issues is that they don’t go away.”
Campos points to the mayor’s embrace of a Department of Justice inquiry into the police department as an example of a half-measure. The review will be carried out by the department’s office of community-oriented policing services, not the civil rights division, meaning that it won’t result in a binding settlement.
“A lot of people feel like it’s not a real review,” Campos said. “He [the mayor] does the right thing and then he steps back from it.”
Jeff Adachi, the city’s elected public defender and a longtime advocate of criminal justice reform, also points to a lack of leadership from City Hall.
“The mayor has not been vocal,” he said. “His style is to say let the police commission deal with it, or whatever.”
Adachi wants to see the department go beyond “lip service” and “window dressing” and truly invest in things like crisis intervention training and implicit bias training.
“The bigger question is not so much whether [Suhr] should be fired,” Adachi said, “but is he the person who can not only move the department beyond the scandals, but change the culture so that new line officers can say: this is the person that I want to model myself after.”
Sgt Yulanda Williams, a 30-year veteran of SFPD who leads Officers for Justice, a group representing minority and female officers, has been an outspoken supporter of reform efforts. For her, the latest revelations are a depressing setback.
“We’re the most diverse city in the United States, and it baffles me to think that we’re dealing with these issues,” she said.
SFPD Racist Texts, Official Bickering Prompt New Calls for State or Federal Intervention
Multiple observers of the San Francisco Police Department called for state or federal investigations Tuesday. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
By Alex Emslie APRIL 5, 2016
Calls for a higher power to intervene in San Francisco’s criminal justice system have reignited with therevelation last week that a second batch of police officers traded racist and homophobic text messages, even as the city reeled from a first batch, revealed last year, replete with racial slurs and violent language about African-Americans.
And exactly how the Police Department notified the District Attorney’s Office that new messages indicating racial bias were recently recovered from officers’ personal cellphones has prompted the latest round of public bickering between Police Chief Greg Suhr and District Attorney George Gascón.
That’s because prosecutors are required to notify defendants of exculpatory evidence, or evidence that tends to show a defendant is not guilty of a crime for which he or she is charged, under the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brady v. Maryland. That includes evidence that an arresting officer may have acted out of bias, hence the great interest from the legal community in racist text messages from police officers.
“Every time an officer is deemed to engage in behavior that involves moral turpitude — an officer is a thief, an officer’s a liar, or if an officer engages in racist or sexist behavior — that officer has to be put on a list,” said retired Superior Court of California Judge LaDoris Cordell. “Basically, Brady officers really become useless.”
The Brady notification process is anything but simple, though, largely because peace officer personnel information is kept so secret in California that not even prosecutors have direct access to it.
Suhr laid out the process that SFPD’s Brady Unit followed regarding the latest text messages in an April 4 letter to Gascón, arguing that the department made the required notifications, and it was up to prosecutors to either file a motion or work with Police Department to review the personnel files in question.
But Gascón has said his office had no way of knowing that bigoted texts were buried in tens of thousands of pages of records seized from officers’ personal cellphones as part of an internal sexual assault investigation of Officer Jason Lai. To avoid future oversight, Gascón suggested Suhr make the existence of such messages public from the outset.
Senior American Civil Liberties Union attorney Alan Schlosser agreed.
“He [Suhr] certainly was free back in August to say that they have uncovered more examples of this kind of conduct, and hopefully use that to reiterate his strong stand and say what they’re going to do about it,” Schlosser said. “But in fact it’s been kept secret from the public, and was only revealed last week by the district attorney. That to us was a very telling sign that the leadership of the Police Department is not committed to transparency and to significant reform.”
So for the second time in a little over four months, the ACLU asked the U.S. Department of Justice for a civil rights investigation of the SFPD, noting that federal authorities conducting a voluntary review of department policies, following the fatal December police shooting of Mario Woods, have repeatedly said that a stronger civil rights investigation could launch if circumstances change.
Schlosser said the public feud between Suhr and Gascón adds to concern about San Francisco’s overall criminal justice system.
“I think it’s troubling,” he said. “I do think that kind of disarray does contribute to a feeling that San Francisco needs outside help, but it has to come from a source that can enforce.”
Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services conducting the voluntary review of SFPD policies have made no official statements about the latest racially charged scandal, despite repeated inquiries. The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division did not respond to KQED’s inquiry.
“We feel new circumstances have added to our original request to provide a compelling case for a pattern and practice investigation,” Schlosser said.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi made a similar request to state Attorney General Kamala Harris Monday, asking the California Department of Justice to launch a civil rights investigation of San Francisco’s Police Department.
Like the ACLU, Adachi cataloged not only the repeated scandals over racist text messages, but also SFPD’s failure to discipline officers implicated in the first round of texts, SFPD’s extremely disproportionate arrest rate of African-Americans, three high-profile fatal shootings of black and Latino men, and allegations of racial bias in a joint local-federal drug sting revealed last year.
“The incidents reveal a pattern and practice within the police department that has allowed racism and disparate treatment of black and Latino people to fester and grow,” Adachi wrote. “An investigation would help settle the pressing question of whether the racism evidenced in these incidents is endemic of a culture within the department which allows these types of incidents to occur. But most importantly it would help restore the confidence of San Franciscans — and those around the nation who are watching — that the San Francisco Police Department is not engaging in racist practices.”
A spokeswoman for the California Attorney General said the office is reviewing Adachi’s request.
San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen said Tuesday she has not stopped calling for a federal investigation since she and board President London Breed formally requested one in January.
“When is enough, enough?” Cohen and Breed wrote in a joint statement issued April 5. “We talk about implicit bias training, yet time and again are confronted with explicit bias by those who are sworn to protect the community. This behavior cannot be tolerated without consequence; the City must rededicate itself to police reform.”
by Lyle Adriano |
Insurance companies can help keep law enforcement personnel in line—that was the idea posited in a recent report on National Public Radio.
With issues of police brutality and abuse sprouting across America, the reformation of the country’s police forces has been seriously considered. The government, however, is limited to what it can do to change the agencies for the better.
The article cities research from University of Chicago assistant law professor John Rappaport, who found that insurers were actively trying to limit the liability of the police departments they cover.
"One of the first things I found was this pamphlet from Travelers Insurance about how to do a strip search, and I just thought people in my world have no idea that this stuff is out there and it's really fascinating," said Rappaport.
By coming across similar material on the Internet, Rappaport realized that police departments typically do not feel the financial pain of a lawsuit. When a lawsuit is filed against an officer for his or her actions, neither the officer’s nor his or her department’s money is at stake.
On the hand, if the city has liability insurance, the insurer instead will be on the receiving end of the burden and would do something to lessen the risk.
"They look for ways to push police departments in a direction of reduced risk," Rappaport reasoned.
It has been observed that non-profit insurance pools—particularly those in the Western states—have been the most “hands-on” when it came to providing police departments with support and educational information, such as the latest court precedents on the use of force and the like. Some of these insurers have even gone out their way to pay for the police departments’ special training.
Another law professor featured in the article, Joanna Schwartz of UCLA, agrees with Rappaport that “insurers can play the role of an honest broker to force a city to learn from its police department's mistakes.”
"They are highly motivated to reform because it affects their bottom line, and they're not constrained by any of the political counterforces that could prevent the city council or mayor from pushing hard on a law enforcement agency to reform," Schwartz remarked.