Tag Archives: police

Anything Goes When You’re a Cop in America

“There is one criminal justice system for citizens—especially black and brown ones—and another for police in the United States.”

—Redditt Hudson, former St. Louis police officer

President Trump needs to be reminded that no one is above the law, especially the police.

Unfortunately, Trump and Jeff Sessions, head of the Justice Department (much like their predecessors) appear to have few qualms about giving police the green light to kill, shoot, taser, abuse and steal from American citizens in the so-called name of law and order.

Between Trump’s pandering to the police unions and Sessions’ pandering to Trump, this constitutionally illiterate duo has opened the door to a new era of police abuses.

As senior editor Adam Serwer warns in The Atlantic,

“When local governments violate the basic constitutional rights of citizens, Americans are supposed to be able to look to the federal government to protect those rights. Sessions has made clear that when it comes to police abuses, they’re now on their own. This is the principle at the heart of ‘law and order’ rhetoric: The authorities themselves are bound by neither.”

Brace yourselves: things are about to get downright ugly.

By shielding police from charges of grave misconduct while prosecuting otherwise law-abiding Americans for the most trivial “offenses,” the government has created a world in which there are two sets of laws: one set for the government and its gun-toting agents, and another set for you and me.

No matter which way you spin it, “we the people” are always on the losing end of the deal.

If you’re a cop in the American police state, you can now break the law in a myriad of ways without suffering any major, long-term consequences.

Indeed, not only are cops protected from most charges of wrongdoing—whether it’s shooting unarmed citizens (including children and old people), raping and abusing young women, falsifying police reports, trafficking drugs, or soliciting sex with minors—but even on the rare occasions when they are fired for misconduct, it’s only a matter of time before they get re-hired again.

For example, Oregon police officer Sean Sullivan was forced to resign after being accused of “grooming” a 10-year-old girl for a sexual relationship. A year later, Sullivan was hired on as a police chief in Kansas.

St. Louis police officer Eddie Boyd III was forced to resign after a series of incidents in which he “pistol-whipped a 12-year-old girl in the face in 2006, and in 2007 struck a child in the face with his gun or handcuffs before falsifying a police report,” he was quickly re-hired by another Missouri police department.

As The Washington Post reports: “

In the District, police were told to rehire an officer who allegedly forged prosecutors’ signatures on court documents. In Texas, police had to reinstate an officer who was investigated for shooting up the truck driven by his ex-girlfriend’s new man. In Philadelphia, police were compelled to reinstate an officer despite viral video of him striking a woman in the face. In Florida, police were ordered to reinstate an officer fired for fatally shooting an unarmed man.”

Much of the “credit” for shielding these rogue cops goes to influential police unions and laws providing for qualified immunity, police contracts that “provide a shield of protection to officers accused of misdeeds and erect barriers to residents complaining of abuse,” state and federal laws that allow police to walk away without paying a dime for their wrongdoing, and rampant cronyism among government bureaucrats.

Whether it’s at the federal level with President Trump, Congress and the Judiciary, or at the state and local level, those deciding whether a police officer should be immune from having to personally pay for misbehavior on the job all belong to the same system, all with a vested interest in protecting the police and their infamous code of silence: city and county attorneys, police commissioners, city councils and judges.

It’s a pretty sweet deal if you can get it, I suppose: protection from the courts, immunity from wrongdoing, paid leave while you’re under investigation, the assurance that you won’t have to spend a dime of your own money in your defense, the removal of disciplinary charges from your work file, and then the high probability that you will be rehired and returned to the streets.

It’s a chilling prospect, isn’t it?

According to the New York Times, “Some experts say thousands of law enforcement officers may have drifted from police department to police department even after having been fired, forced to resign or convicted of a crime.”

It’s not safe to be one of the “little people” in the American police state.

Consider what happened in San Antonio, Texas.

In 2006, police officer Jackie Neal was accused of putting his hands inside a woman’s panties, lifting up her shirt and feeling her breasts during a routine traffic stop. He remained on the police force. In 2007, Neal was accused of digitally penetrating another woman. Still, he wasn’t fired or disciplined.

In 2013, Neal—then serving as supervisor of the department’s youth program—was suspended for three days for having sex with a teenage girl participating in the program. As Reuters reports, “Neal never lost a dime in pay or a day off patrol: The union contract allowed him to serve the suspension using vacation days.”

Later that same year, Neal was arrested on charges that he handcuffed a woman in the rear seat of his police vehicle and then raped her. He was eventually fined $5,000 and sentenced to 14 months in prison, with five months off for “work and education.” The taxpayers of San Antonio got saddled with $500,000 to settle the case.

Now here’s the kicker: when the local city council attempted to amend the police union contract to create greater accountability for police misconduct, the police unions flexed their muscles and engaged in such a heated propaganda campaign that the city backed down.

It’s happening all across the country.

This is how perverse justice in America has become.

Our Bill of Rights has been torn to shreds, and the cops have replaced it with their own Bill of Rights: the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBoR), which protects them from being subjected to the kinds of debilitating indignities heaped upon the average citizen.

Incredibly, while our own protections against government abuses continue to be dismantled, a growing number of states are adopting LEOBoRs—written by police unions—which provides police officers accused of a crime with special due process rights and privileges not afforded to the average citizen.

In other words, the LEOBoR protects police officers from being treated as we are treated during criminal investigations: questioned unmercifully for hours on end, harassed, harangued, browbeaten, denied food, water and bathroom breaks, subjected to hostile interrogations, and left in the dark about our accusers and any charges and evidence against us.

Not only are officers given a 10-day “cooling-off period” during which they cannot be forced to make any statements about the incident, but when they are questioned, it must be “for a reasonable length of time, at a reasonable hour, by only one or two investigators (who must be fellow policemen), and with plenty of breaks for food and water.”

According to investigative journalist Eli Hager, the most common rights afforded police officers accused of wrongdoing are as follows:

+ If a department decides to pursue a complaint against an officer, the department must notify the officer and his union.

+ The officer must be informed of the complainants, and their testimony against him, before he is questioned.

+ During questioning, investigators may not harass, threaten, or promise rewards to the officer, as interrogators not infrequently do to civilian suspects.

+ Bathroom breaks are assured during questioning.

+ In Maryland, the officer may appeal his case to a “hearing board,” whose decision is binding, before a final decision has been made by his superiors about his discipline. The hearing board consists of three of the suspected offender’s fellow officers.

+ In some jurisdictions, the officer may not be disciplined if more than a certain number of days (often 100) have passed since his alleged misconduct, which limits the time for investigation.

+ Even if the officer is suspended, the department must continue to pay salary and benefits, as well as the cost of the officer’s attorney.

+ These LEOBoRs epitomize everything that is wrong with America today.

As Redditt Hudson, a former St. Louis police officer, noted,

“We all know – either from personal experience or the experience of someone close to us – that there are officers that will violate citizens’ human rights and civil liberties with impunity and who are comfortable in the knowledge that the system will protect and cover for their actions… These inequities have led, inexorably, to the current national crisis in police-community relations – and the best way forward is to make sure we severely punish officers that violate the rights of the citizens they serve. They must be held accountable for their actions.”

Now once in a while, the system appears to work on the side of justice.

Every so often, police officers engaged in wrongdoing are actually charged for abusing their authority and using excessive force against American citizens.

And occasionally, those officers are even sentenced for their crimes against the citizenry.

Yet in just about every case, it’s still the American taxpayer who foots the bill.

For example, Baltimore taxpayers have paid roughly $5.7 million since 2011 over lawsuits stemming from police abuses, with an additional $5.8 million going towards legal fees.

New York taxpayers have shelled out almost $1,130 per year per police officer (there are 34,500 officers in the NYPD) to address charges of misconduct. That translates to $38 million every year just to clean up after these so-called public servants.

Over a 10-year-period, Oakland, Calif., taxpayers were made to cough up more than $57 million (curiously enough, the same amount as the city’s deficit back in 2011) in order to settle accounts with alleged victims of police abuse.

Chicago taxpayers were asked to pay out nearly $33 million on one day alone to victims of police misconduct, with one person slated to receive $22.5 million, potentially the largest single amount settled on any one victim. The City has paid more than half a billion dollars to victims over the course of a decade. The Chicago City Council actually had to borrow $100 million just to pay off lawsuits arising over police misconduct in 2013. The city’s payout for 2014 was estimated to be in the same ballpark, especially with cases pending such as the one involving the man who was reportedly sodomized by a police officer’s gun in order to force him to “cooperate.”

Over 78% of the funds paid out by Denver taxpayers over the course of a decade arose as a result of alleged abuse or excessive use of force by the Denver police and sheriff departments.

That’s just a small sampling of the most egregious payouts, but just about every community—large and small—feels the pinch when it comes to compensating victims who have been subjected to deadly or excessive force by police.

The ones who rarely ever feel the pinch are the officers accused or convicted of wrongdoing, “even if they are disciplined or terminated by their department, criminally prosecuted, or even imprisoned.”

In fact, police officers are more likely to be struck by lightning than be held financially accountable for their actions.

A study published in the NYU Law Review reveals that 99.8% of the monies paid in settlements and judgments in police misconduct cases never come out of the officers’ own pockets, even when state laws require them to be held liable. Moreover, these officers rarely ever have to pay for their own legal defense.

For instance, law professor Joanna C. Schwartz references a case in which three Denver police officers chased and then beat a 16-year-old boy, stomping “on the boy’s back while using a fence for leverage, breaking his ribs and causing him to suffer kidney damage and a lacerated liver.”

The cost to Denver taxpayers to settle the lawsuit: $885,000. The amount the officers contributed: 0.

Kathryn Johnston, 92 years old, was shot and killed during a SWAT team raid that went awry. Attempting to cover their backs, the officers falsely claimed Johnston’s home was the site of a cocaine sale and went so far as to plant marijuana in the house to support their claim.

The cost to Atlanta taxpayers to settle the lawsuit: $4.9 million. The amount the officers contributed: 0.

Meanwhile, in Albuquerque, a police officer was convicted of raping a woman in his police car, in addition to sexually assaulting four other women and girls, physically abusing two additional women, and kidnapping or falsely imprisoning five men and boys.

The cost to the Albuquerque taxpayers to settle the lawsuit: $1,000,000. The amount the officer contributed: 0.

Human Rights Watch notes that taxpayers actually pay three times for officers who repeatedly commit abuses: “once to cover their salaries while they commit abuses; next to pay settlements or civil jury awards against officers; and a third time through payments into police ‘defense’ funds provided by the cities.”

Still, the number of times a police officer is actually held accountable for wrongdoing while on the job is miniscule compared to the number of times cops are allowed to walk away with little more than a slap on the wrist.

Trust me, this is a recipe for disaster.

“In a democratic society,” observed Oakland police chief Sean Whent, “people have a say in how they are policed.”

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, America is a constitutional republic, not a democracy, which means that “we the people” not only have a say in how we are policed—we are the chiefs of police.

By John W. Whitehead/CounterPunch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Jeff Sessions Just Revived a Policy Nobody Supports

Every day, law enforcement officials across the United States seize cash from motorists stopped at the side of the road. It’s called “civil forfeiture,” and the stories of abuse are legion: over $17,000 seized from the owner of a barbecue restaurant in Staunton, Virginia; over $13,000 seized from a former church deacon in DeKalb County, Georgia; and over $50,000 seized from a Christian rock band in Muskogee County, Oklahoma.

Civil forfeiture allows government to seize property based on the mere suspicion that it is connected to a crime. For instance, the fact that the cops think someone has too much cash is enough to warrant a seizure. After the property is seized, in a complete reversal of the way the American justice system is supposed to work, owners must prove their own innocence to get it back.

Public outrage over the practice has grown as more tales of abuse have been reported. And fortunately, over the last three years, 24 states have passed reforms to protect property owners and curtail civil forfeiture. Less fortunately, on Wednesday Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new federal policy that threatens to undermine those reforms.

Speaking in a small conference room surrounded by law enforcement officials, Sessions announced the federal government was rolling back a Holder-era policy that had sharply curtailed so-called adoptive seizures. An adoptive seizure occurs when a state police officer seizes property and then transfers it to the federal government, which then forfeits the property under federal law. Importantly, state law enforcement gets to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of the forfeiture.

More from Politico Magazine

Posted by Libergirl

Real News Network: Only Community Control Will Stop Police from Killing with Impunity

Posted by Libergirl…too many black men dead unnecessarily….I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around it so I’m repressing it….One day five years now I’ll be drinking a cup of coffee and I’ll just snap.

Number of US police shooting victims to approach 1,000 by end of year – report

Number of US police shooting victims to approach 1,000 by end of year – report

Who Will Check the Police If the Justice Department Doesn’t?

The attorney general doesn’t plan on using his oversight authority to monitor and intervene in local departments. California provides examples of how states can compensate for that absence.

California policing played a significant role in the development of federal oversight of local law enforcement more than 20 years ago. Now, with the new Justice Department resistant to that power, California could show state and local governments how they can exert more control.

Rodney King’s infamous 1991 beating by Los Angeles police officers, and the subsequent L.A. riots, prompted Congress to expand the attorney general’s authority to monitor police departments. Former President Bill Clinton’s 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, a law frequently criticized today as fuel for mass incarceration, included a small statute that authorized the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer to investigate and file civil litigation against departments that demonstrate a “pattern or practice” of unconstitutional conduct.

The administration of former President Barack Obama embraced its oversight authority, particularly in its final years; it investigated 25 police departments, including those in Baltimore and Chicago. But President Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions has no intention of following suit. He has sharply criticized federal investigations, arguing that they’re bad for police “morale,” and has said it’s “not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law-enforcement agencies.”

Critics perceive Sessions, and the president he serves, as more interested in protecting the police than public safety—a quality often attributed to the larger Republican Party. But even heavily Democratic areas have mixed track records when it comes to addressing police misconduct. That includes California, which is one of the country’s most liberal states but home to some of its deadliest police. Both California’s reforms and shortcomings are worth examining during the Trump era, as activists and researchers consider state-level measures to counter possible federal inaction.

One policy currently being debated among police-reform advocates is the adoption of a statute that would allow state attorneys general to investigate and mandate structural changes within troubled departments, just as the federal Justice Department can. These changes can vary, but could include amending a department’s use-of-force policy or requiring bias training. The proposal has its origins in California, as it is the only state in the country that explicitly authorizes its attorney general to intervene in this way.

William Lockyer was the first California attorney general to exercise that power, after four Riverside police officers shot and killed a 19-year-old black woman in 1998. The shooting ignited community protests and attracted attention from civil-rights activists Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. The Riverside County district attorney invited Lockyer to review the evidence and circumstances of the case.

Though the state did not have enough to bring criminal charges against the officers, Lockyer told me, he launched a civil-rights investigation into the Riverside Police Department’s policies and practices. In 2001, he filed a judgment forcing the department to implement specific reforms within a five-year period. The changes included using more experienced officers on overnight shifts and implementing community policing: assigning officers to monitor specific neighborhoods on a long-term basis and build trust with residents.

“The police chief and many others said after the fact that this was the best thing to ever happen to the Riverside Police Department; it really professionalized the force,” Lockyer said. “I think it makes sense to have some external review, whether federal or state, as a way to check local politics and pressures that can stand in the way of reform.”

The Riverside reform agreement presents one case study to examine stronger state intervention in local policing, but state oversight is not an easy fix. The California attorney general has had intervention authority for 16 years, but has only used it a handful of times. That includes investigations launched in December 2016 by then-state attorney general and current U.S. Senator Kamala Harris. Even police-reform researchers who say these statutes have potential acknowledge they can run into problems when it comes to execution.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, said he suspects that political pressures and ambitions deter California attorneys general from exercising their authority more frequently. University of Virginia law professor Rachel Harmon suggested state funding might also present a barrier. “I don’t think mirroring the federal statute, section 14141, is likely to be the most successful state reform effort,” Harmon said, referring to the order granted by Clinton’s 1994 crime bill. “It took the federal government a long time to get that train rolling, and I think it’s very unlikely that the resources or expertise exist in most states to engage in a similarly effective effort.”

Another way for state lawmakers to potentially deter misconduct is through the issuance of professional police licenses. Much like certifications for health-care professionals or lawyers, these licenses can be revoked and prevent police from getting law-enforcement jobs in the state again. This is an area where California lags behind. It is one of about five states without such a mechanism to use after a serious offense. As a result, police chiefs in these states can have complete discretion over the hiring and firing of officers. In an interview last month, Roger Goldman, a law professor emeritus at Saint Louis University in Missouri, told me chiefs rarely exercise their authority to let officers go.

That can have wide-ranging implications for public safety. Sometimes employers hire an officer with a record of misconduct because they simply don’t have access to his or her work history. But other times, Goldman said, departments know a prospective hire’s troubled background, but may hire the officer anyway to reduce training expenses.

Goldman argues that all states need a strong licensing system, but that plan faces its own set of challenges. A critical problem is data—or lack thereof. It’s a multilayered issue involving both individual departments and their broader communities. For example, Frontline has reported that black and Latino communities are less likely to report officer misconduct due to fear that they won’t be believed or may face retaliation. Lawyers and police officials may also keep quiet about officer improprieties to reduce their liability.

Without thoroughly reporting and tracking misconduct, the state law-enforcement training and standards boards tasked with overseeing certifications cannot accurately assess which officers should be considered for decertification. Officers can then quietly resign and potentially find another law-enforcement job. This problem is even worse in states like California that have strict laws preventing the public release of records on police misconduct and the outcomes of internal investigations, said Peter Bibring, director of police practices for the American Civil Liberties Union of California.

Ultimately, state governments have wide-ranging authority to adopt measures for reform. So do cities, though at a more micro level. The key is whether these jurisdictions deem changes necessary on their own, or if they’d only take them under pressure from the federal government.

By CANDICE NORWOOD/TheAtlantic

Killer Cops Get Immunity, No Matter Who’s in the White House

 

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Image: africanamerican.org

Two courtroom events this week serve to remind us that, no matter which party’s president is in the White House, the right to life and liberty does not apply on the streets of Black America, where the police enjoy effective immunity from prosecution. On Tuesday, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it would not file charges in the death of Alton Sterling, the 37 year-old Black man who was shot to death by cops while helpless on the ground in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last year. Also on Tuesday, the Justice Department and South Carolina officials accepted a former cop’s guilty plea to the charge of using excessive force when he shot 50 year-old Walter Scott five times, while he was running away after a traffic stop, in North Charleston, South Carolina. Both killings were recorded in gruesome detail on video. But, when it comes to killer cops, the best of evidence is never enough.

More from Black Agenda Report

Posted by Libergirl

Police Use of Force against People with Mental Illness, Children in Schools

People with mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other civilians, according to a report covered by Democracy Now! in September 2016. The Treatment Advocacy Center published its report, titled “Overlooked in the Undercounted: The Role of Mental Illness in Fatal Law Enforcement Encounters,” in December 2015. The report’s authors wrote, “Given the prevalence of mental illness in police shootings, reducing encounters between on-duty law enforcement and individuals with the most severe psychiatric diseases may represent the single most immediate, practical strategy for reducing fatal police shootings in the United States.

Nermeen Shaikh and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviewed John Snook, one of the study’s co-authors and the director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, after the death of Alfred Olango in El Cajon, California, in September 2016. El Cajon Police responding to a call for emergency psychiatric aid shot Olango several times, and he died in hospital later the same day. The Democracy Now! report described Olango’s death as “just the most recent in a string of police shootings of primarily men of color with mental illness or disability,” linking it with an incident the week before, in Charlotte, North Carolina, in which police shot and killed Keith Scott, a 43-year-old father who reportedly had suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2015, and a July incident in North Miami in which a police officer contended that he mistakenly shot an African-American behavioral therapist, Charles Kinsey, when he was aiming for Arnaldo Rios Soto, a 26-year-old autistic man.

Snook described the Olango incident as “a nightmare scenario for families with a loved one who has a mental illness, and for law enforcement themselves” before asking, “When someone is having a medical emergency, why are we requiring law enforcement to step in?” Making the point that law enforcement officers are not trained as mental health professionals, Snook added that we need to “get away from this situation where we wait until someone is in a crisis before we provide care.”

Meanwhile, additional news stories—including Rebecca Klein’s reporting for the Huffington Post and the Hechinger Report in August 2016—document the frequency with which school-based law enforcement officers have used Tasers on children. Klein reports that, since 2011, there are at least 84 documented instances of “school-based police officers using Tasers against K-12 students.” All the students were 12-19 years old when the incidents occurred. They were hit by Taser or stun guns used by school-based police officers, who are sometimes called school resource officers. According to Klein, the figure is “a gross underestimation because not every incident is reported, and no state or federal organization track how often children are zapped at schools.”

The numbers of police officers in schools have gone up since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. New “tough on crime” and zero tolerance policies were also implemented after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, when the Obama administration funded a program to hire one thousand school resource officers and counselors. Klein reports that “in 1997 only 10 percent of public schools had police officers; in 2014, 30 percent did.”

As Regis Duvignau of RT News reports, just over a month into the 2016-17 school year, four students have already been tasered by school-based officers, including two girls from a Florida high school who were fighting. In that case, RT News reports, a sheriff later explained that the Taser was “the safest way” to break up the fight.

From Project Censored

Posted by The NON-Conformist