Wednesday, June 30, 2010

They finally get brute Burge for something

Decades after torture allegations were first leveled against former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge's "Midnight Crew," a federal jury convicted him Monday on all three counts of obstruction of justice and perjury for lying about the torture in a civil lawsuit.

Burge showed no reaction as the verdict was read, but moments after jurors strode from the courtroom for the last time, he talked and laughed with his lawyers.

Under federal criminal statutes, Burge faces up to 45 years in prison, but in reality his punishment will be far less severe. His attorneys said, in fact, that they will seek probation for Burge, who is 62 and said to have prostate cancer.

For years it looked as if Burge would escape criminal charges altogether. He was fired from the Police Department in 1993 for torturing a cop killer, but a four-year investigation by special Cook County prosecutors concluded in 2006 that the statute of limitations on the claims of abuse had long passed. It wasn't until 2008 that federal prosecutors figured out a clever way to indict him — not for the tortures themselves, but lying about them.

After Monday's verdict, jurors said five ex-cons who alleged torture by Burge or detectives under him — the so-called Midnight Crew — were taken with a grain of salt because of their lengthy criminal records, but that a cop who worked for Burge was a key witness for the prosecution even though he backtracked from his grand-jury testimony. And some jurors took note of the fact that Burge had named his boat "Vigilante," a point driven home by the prosecution during its cross-examination of Burge on the witness stand. Burge claimed he picked the name off a computer-generated list because it was unique.

But jurors acknowledged the deliberations were complicated by the fact that a cop was on trial in this upside-down case. Though Burge wasn't directly charged with torture, prosecutors had to prove those allegations to substantiate the charges of obstruction of justice and perjury.

The torture scandal sent innocent men to prison, tarnished the reputations of the Police Department and the Cook County state's attorney's office and led to blanket commutations that emptied the state's death row as well as repeated lawsuits that drained millions in taxpayer dollars from the city.

"This is a really significant moment in this ongoing drama," said attorney Locke Bowman, who has represented a number of Burge's alleged victims in their efforts to gain new trials over allegations that their confessions were coerced. "We now have confirmation of what has been well-known for decades," he said.

"I hope the U.S. government will take swift action to charge the other detectives … who were implicated in so many of these cases," he said

Prosecutors have signaled that they are investigating a number of detectives who worked for Burge. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has previously warned that police detectives relying on a code of silence to protect them may be "hanging on air," and he reaffirmed Monday that prosecutors are continuing their probe.

"I'm not going to comment on any other persons in this case at this time," he said. "The investigation is moving forward."

Fitzgerald, who was in the courtroom for the verdict, said the outcome provided at least a measure of justice for Burge's victims. "It's sad that it took so long, but it would be horrible if it was never addressed," he told reporters.

In closing arguments to jurors last week, Burge's lawyers questioned how the testimony of convicted murderers, gang members and armed robbers could be believed over the word of a Chicago cop.

But the accounts of victims Anthony Holmes, Melvin Jones, Gregory Banks, Shadeed Mu'min and Andrew Wilson were bolstered by testimony from doctors, nurses, attorneys and former Area 2 detective Michael McDermott, who was forced to testify against his old boss in exchange for immunity.

Still, the testimony of the victims was shocking. One said Burge smothered him with a bag and shocked him with an electrical device in 1973. Another said that nine years later Burge shocked him in the genitals. Another said Burge played Russian roulette with a .44-caliber gun and smothered him with a plastic bag. All said they feared for their lives and confessed to murders and other crimes.

Testifying in his own defense, Burge offered denial after denial of torture. The defense alleged that the accusers had cooked up the abuse stories after meeting in jail as a way to exact revenge, help them beat their criminal cases and make money through lawsuits.

Outside the courthouse, a small crowd of activists marched in a loose circle, partly in celebration, partly to demand that Mayor Richard M. Daley — who was the state's attorney when much of the abuse occurred — be held accountable for doing nothing to stop Burge.

Original report here

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Business as usual for Las Vegas police

Sequioa Pearce was made to kneel before the Las Vegas police officers who held her at gunpoint in her bedroom Friday night, June 11, and watch them shoot her unarmed fiance in the head.

The 20-year-old, who was nine months pregnant, could see Trevon Cole reflected in the mirror from the bathroom, where he, too, was being held at gunpoint as officers told him to get on the floor. He met her gaze in the mirror. She watched him put his hands up. "All right, all right," he told the cops, according to Pearce.

Then she heard the shot. Officers rushed her out of the apartment. Trevon Cole, 21, employed as an insurance adjustor while working on a political science degree at UNLV, died minutes later.

Officers were serving a pot warrant on the apartment near Bonanza Road and Eastern Avenue. The warrant was based on Cole having made three marijuana sales to undercover police.

The shooting poses a small problem for police. Pearce, who survives, says police were upset they could find no drugs in the apartment that night, that Cole was unarmed, that he put up no resistance, that he owned no firearms.

Of course, any old bag of pot from the evidence locker can be presented at the coroner's inquest. No attorney for Cole's family will be allowed to ask any questions.

How to explain the gun going off, though? The shooter, officer Bryan Yant -- who has now been involved in three shootings, two of them fatal -- says Cole made a "furtive movement."

Ah, yes. Was it in the third or the fourth day at the police academy that they covered what to do when you've just accidentally shot an unarmed suspect in the head?

As we've seen in the deaths of Henry Rowe, John Perrin and Orlando Barlow, there's a standard prescription. First: Pray to heaven it was a homeless guy or a Negro; those cases are always found to be "justified." Second: Check to see if anyone remembered to bring the "drop bag" of drugs. But third and most of important of all: Memorize this phrase: "He made a furtive movement toward his waistband."

Now, if only they could show Trevon Cole owned a gun. No one on the coroner's jury would care where they found the gun, as long as they could show he or the girlfriend had one. After all, the coroner's jurors are led through their paces by prosecutors who don't have to worry about any pesky cross-examination, like pet rabbits dressed up by little children and walked through a tea party in the doll house.

Ten days after they killed Trevon Cole, police were at another apartment complex in historically black West Las Vegas, near Owens Avenue and H Street. A patrol officer "heard shots fired" and "saw movement at an open upstairs window" in one of the apartments there, said a Las Vegas police spokesman. Concluding that was where the shots came from, he called for backup. Officers then approached the home with a bullhorn, demanding that anyone inside come out.

The only person home was Shannon Sutton, the 18-year-old brother of ... Sequioa Pearce! This was the apartment of Sequioa Pearce's mother, where the young mother had gone to stay after Yant killed her fiance. What a coincidence!

Police said they entered the home immediately to check whether anyone inside was in danger. Officers handcuffed Sutton and sat him in the back of a police car on a charge of obstructing a police officer because he would not immediately identify himself. The rest of the family, including Ms. Pearce and her week-old daughter, returned home in time to see the incident unfold.

A Metro spokesman said officers did not need a warrant to check the home to see whether anyone inside was hurt, but they did need a warrant or written consent from a resident to search for guns or ammunition.

So, Trenia Cole -- Sequioa Pearce's mother but otherwise no relation to Trevon Cole -- said officers demanded she sign a written consent form in exchange for a promise not to transport her son to jail. Trenia Cole signed the card, asking only "that you don't tear up my house," which, of course, they did. No firerarm was found. Awww.

It doesn't matter whether this kind of police behavior is "not uncommon" -- it's illegal, and it's fair to wonder why cops expect us to respect the law when their own attitude is, "Screw the law, do whatever's most expedient."

Either they had a suspect who deserved to go to jail, and they let him loose in order to extort the waiver of Mrs. Cole's Fourth Amendment rights, or else they threatened to haul an innocent young man to jail in order to extort her waiver of her Fourth Amendment rights. Either way, extortion under color of law.

And why? Does it really merit a search just because police believe you "have a gun in a residence"? If so, a roster of people who have been issued Clark County gun registration "blue cards" might make a nice starter list.

The only deadly shooter involved with this family recently was Yant. Has anyone handcuffed him and sat him in the patrol car and insisted his wife or mother sign a consent form for a warrantless search of his home, on threat of hauling him to jail?

After officer Bruce Gentner emptied his 14-round Glock at John Perrin, who was armed only with a basketball, the family submitted a written question to the hearing master of the coroner's inquest, asking whether Gentner had been on steroids at the time. The question was never asked. No warrantless search of the Gentner home to see if the officer was on steroids.

Who else heard this gunshot? We're supposed to believe it's a coincidence they were looking for a gun in the apartment where Sequioa Pearce retreated after cops killed her unarmed boyfriend? "It seems like it might be related to the Cole incident," says the family's attorney, Andre Lagomarsino. "Either this is just a crazy coincidence, or they're fishing."

The family buried Trevon Cole in Los Angeles on Thursday. Taxpayers will end up forking over a couple hundred grand to settle this one. Bryan Yant won't pay a penny.

Original report here

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Watching the watchmen is no crime

Traffic cameras watch your speed, security cameras watch your comings and goings, but is anyone watching the police? Police in Maryland, Michigan and elsewhere would rather you didn't -- particularly not on YouTube. Just last Saturday, Yvonne Nicole Shaw, 27, was arrested in Lexington Park, Md., for recording deputies in her apartment complex responding to a noise complaint. Sheriff's Cpl. Patrick Handy's report explained the arrest: Shaw "did admit to recording our encounter on her cell phone for the purpose of trying to show the police are harassing people." This sounds like she was more of a threat to the jobs of public safety officers than to public safety itself. One is not the same as the other.

Another recent example of contempt for the average camera-wielding citizen in Maryland: Anthony Graber's home was raided by police, after which he was arrested and jailed, charged with violating Maryland's wiretapping statute. What did he do? He posted video of a traffic stop during which a Maryland State trooper drew his firearm. For this offense, Graber faces five years in prison.

Reason magazine's Radley Balko notes that in 2000, Maryland Attorney General Joseph Curran Jr. issued an opinion on whether a plan by the Montgomery County Police Department to install recording devices on patrol officers' vehicles would violate the wiretapping law. He said that even if an officer inadvertently recorded someone without informing him first, it [was still legal]. Curran wrote that any conversation between a driver pulled over by a uniformed police officer "is difficult to characterize" as "private."

But Maryland is hardly the only state where watching the police is unwelcome. Several missionaries in Dearborn, Mich., were passing out copies of the Gospel of John from the New Testament to the Dearborn Arab International Festival when they were confronted and arrested by police within three minutes of arriving. Their offense wasn't merely exposing Muslims to Christian literature -- they were also recording police activity on a hand-held camera. When one of the policemen noticed a cameraman monitoring the encounter, he approached and told him to turn it off.

In the line of duty, officers of the law encounter many threats no doubt. But a citizen who knows his rights and owns a camera is not such a threat. As the Roman poet Juvenal asked "Who watches the watchmen?" We do, and should.

Original report here

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

DNA Testing Clears NY Man of Sexual Assault Charge

Faulty eyewiness ID again. Pacyon was arrested based partly on leads generated by a widely distributed composite sketch of the attacker. He was convicted based on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of one woman who positively identified him

DNA tests have cleared the name of Douglas Pacyon, who served a prison term in the 1980's for sexual assault. Pacyon was accused of sexually assaulting two women in May of 1984. Paycon was acquitted of the charges relating to the first victim, but convicted on the charges relating to the second. He was sentenced to a prison term and was released in 1990.

In May 2008, Paycon's attorney filed a motion seeking to have forensic DNA testing done on items of evidence from the case. In January 2009, forensic tests found that Mr. Paycon was excluded as a male contributor to the genetic material present in the rape kit of the second victim.

The results let the District Attorney's Office to conduct a post-conviction investigation to determine if Mr. Paycon was wrongfully convicted.

Further DNA tests revealed that both victims in the sexual assault case against Mr. Paycon were assaulted by the same man. Although the DNA forensic analysis cannot currently identify the perpetrator, the results do show that man responsible for the assaults is not Douglas Paycon.

As a result, Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita submitted an affidavit to dismiss the indictment of Mr. Paycon. The motion is expected to be ruled on Monday afternoon.

Original report here

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Thug police send a town broke

So now they're out of a job!

Economic hard times are causing many municipalities to look for ways to reduce their payrolls, but none has taken it as far as the town of Maywood, California. On Monday night, the Maywood City Council voted unanimously to fire all 100 city employees and contract out most services, including record-keeping, street maintenance, and parks and recreation, to the neighboring town of Bell. "We will become 100% a contracted city," Maywood's interim city manager stated.

Even the Maywood police department will be disbanded. Those services will be provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, since a proposal earlier this month to merge Mayfield's police department with that of Bell was met with angry protests by Bell residents.

It was the police department that largely got Maywood into its current financial troubles. Last month, the town was informed by the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority that it would no longer be able to obtain liability insurance, largely as a result of excessive claims filed against the police.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "The [Insurance Authority's] action is yet another blow for the predominantly Latino city of 45,000 residents densely packed into about 1.2 square miles in the heavily industrial southeast part of Los Angeles County. Officials estimate about half the city's residents are illegal immigrants."

"Four years ago, the department faced a political outcry when it began running checkpoints that resulted in hundreds of cars being taken away from unlicensed illegal immigrants," the Times explains. "The checkpoint sparked a political movement that brought a new council that was more sympathetic to illegal immigrants. But Maywood was back in the headlines when it declared itself a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants, making the town a target of conservative talk radio and TV news shows."

Last year, California Attorney General Jerry Brown announced that he would seek a court order to impose reforms on the Maywood Police Department, after a sixteen-month investigation had revealed "gross misconduct and widespread abuse." There have already been two police shootings since the start of 2010 that drew investigations by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

The Los Angeles Times reports that town residents blame the current problems on "years of financial abuse and corruption" by the city council. Ironically, however, the city manager, attorney, and council members are the only Maywood employees who will remain on the payroll.

"You guys had the power to change it and you didn't," City Treasurer Lizeth Sandoval told the council at Monday's meeting. "You single-handedly destroyed the city.

Original report here

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Friday, June 25, 2010

'Don't Taze My Granny!'

This is beyond belief. Keep away from Oklahoma!

Police Tasered an 86-year-old disabled grandma in her bed and stepped on her oxygen hose until she couldn't breathe, after her grandson called 911 seeking medical assistance, the woman and her grandson claim in Oklahoma City Federal Court. Though the grandson said, "Don't Taze my granny!" an El Reno police officer told another cop to "Taser her!" and wrote in his police report that he did so because the old woman "took a more aggressive posture in her bed," according to the complaint.

Lonnie Tinsley claims that he called 911 after he went to check on his grandmother, whom he found in her bed, "connected to a portable oxygen concentrator with a long hose." She is "in marginal health, [and] takes several prescribed medications daily," and "was unable to tell him exactly when she had taken her meds," so, Tinsley says, he called 911 "to ask for an emergency medical technician to come to her apartment to evaluate her."

In response, "as many as ten El Reno police" officers "pushed their way through the door," according to the complaint. The grandma, Lona Varner, "told them to get out of her apartment."

The remarkable complaint continues: "Instead, the apparent leader of the police [defendant Thomas Duran] instructed another policeman to 'Taser her!' He stated in his report that the 86 year-old plaintiff 'took a more aggressive posture in her bed,' and that he was fearful for his safety and the safety of others.

"Lonnie Tinsley told them, 'Don't taze my Granny!' to which they responded that they would Taser him; instead, they pulled him out of her apartment, took him down to the floor, handcuffed him and placed him in the back of a police car.

"The police then proceeded to approach Ms. Varner in her bed and stepped on her oxygen hose until she began to suffer oxygen deprivation.

"The police then fired a Taser at her and only one wire struck her, in the left arm; the police then fired a second Taser, striking her to the right and left of the midline of her upper chest and applied high voltage, causing burns to her chest, extreme pain and to pass out.

"The police then grabbed Ms. Varner by her forearms and jerked hands together, causing her soft flesh to tear and bleed on her bed; they then handcuffed her.

"The police freed Lonnie Tinsley from his incarceration in the back of the police car and permitted him to accompany the ambulance with his grandmother."

Tinsley says the cops capped it all off by having his grandmother "placed in the psychiatric ward at the direction of the El Reno police; she was held there for six days and released."

"As a result of the wrongful arrest and detention, the plaintiff Lona M. Varner suffered the unlawful restraint of her freedom, bodily injury, assault, battery, the trashing of her apartment, humiliation, loss of personal dignity, infliction of emotional distress and medical bills."

They seek punitive damages for constitutional violations, from the City of El Reno, Duran, Officers Frank Tinga and Joseph Sandberg, and 10 Officers Does.

Original report here

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ohio cop gets 10 years for shooting motorcyclist

One dangerous goon down, many more to go. Never turn your back on a cop. They hate it and are very likely to attack

A judge has sentenced an Ohio police officer to 10 years in prison for shooting a motorcyclist in the back during a 2009 traffic stop.

The Lucas County Common Pleas judge sentenced Ottawa Hills police officer Thomas White on Monday on his felonious assault conviction in the shooting of Michael McCloskey Jr. McCloskey was paralyzed from the waist down when the bullet struck his spine.

Prosecutors say White used excessive force. Video taken from the police car dashboard showed McCloskey turning away from the officer to look at the patrol car.

White testified that he believed McCloskey was reaching for a weapon and that his life was in danger when he fired the single shot.

Original report here

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Police Misconduct and Public Accountability

What are they trying to hide?

Why is it difficult to prosecute police officers for criminal misconduct even when the abuse is severe and unequivocal? A February news item from WSVN-TV in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale points to one reason.
A homeless man’s attorney said surveillance video shows deputies used excessive force in his arrest. Gerald McGovern, 58 [said he] did not attack them, as charged. Instead, they attacked him. The public defender’s office said the surveillance video clears McGovern and implicates BSO [Broward Sheriff’s Office]…. A witness, Roberto Aguilara, backed up McGovern’s claim.

Note the omission. The news report names the alleged victim, the witness and (elsewhere) the lawyer but not the accused deputies. Nor do their names appear in subsequent stories about an official investigation into allegations that the deputies used excessive force.

Few people outside law enforcement are familiar with Police Disclosure Laws (PDLs), which in most states, including Florida, block the release of information about an officer’s alleged misconduct until internal investigations are completed. Even then, the laws are often broadly interpreted to block such release. Some states do not make information public unless criminal charges are filed or the officer is dismissed. Other states leave the issue entirely to the police department’s discretion. (See chart for comparison of state PDLs.)

The declared purpose of restrictive PDLs is to protect accused officers. With sympathetic courts ruling in favor of PDLs, police unions staunchly defend the practice of granting officers more privacy than others who are criminally accused. A news story from the New Orleans Times-Picayune offers a glimpse into the vigor of their defense:
Police unions trying to block news organizations’ access to internal police investigations of New Orleans officers also are waging a campaign in the civil and criminal courts to keep such records out of the hands of the city’s public defenders office. Steve Singer, general counsel of the Orleans Public Defenders, said his office has filed public records requests for the New Orleans Police Department’s Public Integrity Bureau files of arresting officers in the cases of more than 50 defendants. The office also has sought subpoenas through Criminal District Court to obtain some of these records.

Critics argue that PDLs obstruct justice. The laws allow police officers to violate rights because they can avoid both transparency and accountability. The laws deny victims information that may be necessary to sue or otherwise press a legal case against officers. And by shielding important aspects of accusations — for example, whether the unnamed officer has been similarly accused in the past — the laws discourage the reporting of police abuse, especially by the media, for whom a significant delay in information makes a story grow cold. In turn, the lack of coverage encourages the public to believe misconduct is rare; thus those abused by police are doubly victimized by having their accounts dismissed out of hand.

Setting the Wider Context

On what legal basis do police departments refuse public access to information on misconduct by their officers?

Almost every state uses the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as a model for its own statutes on the public disclosure of government records. FOIA was intended to give the public a general right of access to information held by government agencies. Nevertheless, the nondisclosure about police misconduct is generally justified by reference to two common exemptions: the “investigative record” and “privacy right” exemptions. The investigative record exemption can be invoked even after an investigation is completed.

Strong arguments can be made against both exemptions.

The Investigative Records Exemption. The police units that investigate accusations of misconduct are called “internal affairs” or something similar. But are such accusations an internal, private matter rather than one of compelling public interest? The question becomes more urgent when the alleged misconduct is criminal or involves the violation of constitutional protections such as the right to due process.

When anyone is given a gun and broad authority to use it in public, that same public needs to know if the gun and the authority are being misused. The public also needs to know the particulars of how abuse accusations are being investigated. For example, has a particular police department established such a high burden of proof that virtually no accusation against an officer can be sustained?

This compelling public interest is usually overridden by the argument that releasing information would have a “chilling effect” on law enforcement. In the essay “The Public’s Right of Access to Police Misconduct Files,” attorney Lynne Wilson comments, “A number of federal courts have seriously questioned the empirical basis for a finding that public disclosure of internal disciplinary files causes a ‘chilling effect’ on law enforcement. One judge said that ‘if the fear of disclosure … does have some real effect on officers’ candor, the stronger working hypothesis is that fear of disclosure is more likely to increase candor than to chill it.’”

The Privacy Right Exemption. The police are tax-supported public servants with the authority to violate your privacy rights. As such, officers should expect to receive a public review of their performance while on duty. The intent of the privacy exemption in FOIA is the preservation of “personal” privacy, such as sexual preference, that is not of legitimate concern to the public. But in its application by police departments, the privacy exemption closes off examination of the professional behavior of public servants.

“[I]t would be difficult to imagine a subject-matter of more legitimate concern to the public than how its police departments are managed,” Wilson writes. “At least one state court has held that police officers have no privacy rights in misconduct records because the records, by definition, ‘involve events which occurred in the course of public service … matters with which the public has a right to concern itself.’”

In short, on-duty police conduct is not an internal or private matter but one of overriding public concern.

Everyone is vulnerable to police misconduct. Drivers can be arbitrarily pulled over; anyone can be stopped on the street and questioned. If you encounter the police, being “within the law” will not protect you against an overzealous or hostile officer who does not like your attitude. Making officers accountable for their actions is your greatest protection. Police Disclosure Laws are part of what appears to be a continuing attempt by police to avoid accountability.

Original report here

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dumb and dangerous Canadian cop

How come he was let loose without effective marksmanship training?

A London police officer who fired 19 bullets at a fleeing robbery suspect — hitting homes, sheds and decks but no people — won’t face criminal charges. It’s unclear, however, whether the officer will face any Police Act, or internal discipline, charges.

The Free Press has learned that a post-shooting report — compiled by internal investigators, reviewed by use-of-force experts and an outside Crown attorney — concludes the suspect took a firing position several times and the unidentified officer fired in return.

Other details of the shooting on Tweedsmuir Ave. in east London last Aug. 12 are to be released Monday at a news conference at police headquarters.

Police Chief Murray Faulkner declined comment about the information, obtained from a police source. “As I promised, the information will be released to all the media at the same time — the details, the circumstances, the follow-up investigation and the review,” said Faulkner.

Const. Rick Robson, president of the London Police Association, could not be reached for comment Sunday.

On Friday, Robson said the officer, whose name police haven’t released, is “looking forward to a resolution.” He said the officer, on administrative duty since the shooting, is anxious to return to the street.

The shooting followed a five-hour robbery spree that began just before midnight Aug. 11 when a man, who claimed to be armed, tried to hold up a Subway store on Hamilton Rd., a gas bar on Highbury Ave. and a variety store on Commissioners Rd.

The suspect, Paul O’Connell, 37, was arrested by police on a deck in a backyard after the shooting. He pleaded guilty to two robberies, attempted theft, failing to stop for police and possession of a stolen vehicle and was sentenced to four years in prison.

After the robberies, a police officer spotted the suspect in a stolen SUV on Highbury Ave. and a brief chase through the Fairmont subdivision ended when the SUV crashed into a street light on Tweedsmuir Ave. O’Connell was fleeing with a cash box under his arm and raised his arm as if preparing to fire a gun, court was told during the trial.

The police officer fired 19 shots as O’Connell was chased through several rear yards before other officers arrived and arrested him on the deck of a home on Queenston Cres.

The bullets hit buildings but no people. One man who heard the commotion had just stepped away from a window in his home when a bullet ripped through its frame and landed in a closet wall.

The shooting sparked a public outcry, with many Londoners questioning why the officer, a five-year veteran, fired so many shots.

In a jailhouse interview a couple of days after the shooting, O’Connell denied taking a firing position, as police reported, and claims he told the officer he was unarmed.

Original report here

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Lying cop in Mehserle trial

Blatant attempt at a coverup

Former BART Police Officer Marysol Domenici, whose role in the events leading up to the shooting of unarmed BART passenger Oscar Grant by former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle has sparked controversy, took the witness stand Thursday in Mehserle’s second-degree murder trial.

Domenici was one of the first officers to respond to the Fruitvale BART station in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009, working with fellow former BART Police Officer Anthony Pirone to detain Grant and his friends on the platform after reports of an altercation on the train.

Both Domenici and Pirone were terminated from BART Police earlier this year after a third-party review of the incident recommended their firings. Both are appealing the decisions.

On the witness stand Thursday morning, Domenici appeared to have problems giving answers to questions posed by Deputy District Attorney David Stein, who grilled the former police officer about testimony she gave to an Alameda County judge about how volatile the situation at Fruitvale BART was moments before the Grant shooting.

“Did you ever exaggerate the behavior of the people on that platform so as to make it appear officers were in more danger than they were to justify the shooting of Grant by Johannes Mehserle?” Stein asked the former officer. “No, sir,” she replied.

During preliminary hearings held in Oakland to determine whether Mehserle should be tried, Domenici testified that Grant and his friends ignored orders she gave to sit down on the platform. She told the judge that the shooting could have been prevented if Grant had followed orders from officers.

The prosecution jumped on another statement the former officer gave about Grant grabbing her left arm and holding on to her after she attempted to detain another individual on the platform, Grant’s longtime friend Jackie Bryson.

Domenici testified that her lawyer told her amateur video footage recorded by BART passenger Daniel Liu proved that Grant touched her before he was shot by Mehserle. When the video in question was played by Stein, it appeared to show Grant’s arm crossing with Domenici’s. But Stein then played footage from another video — shot from a different angle by Karina Vargas — that shows Grant touching Bryson’s arm, not the former officer’s.

After watching the videos, Domenici appeared frazzled on the witness stand. She later reneged on the claim that Grant had touched her. “I don’t remember his hand at all [...] I don’t remember him grabbing my arm,” she told the jury. She later admitted that the young men on the platform “never struggled with me.” She also said that when she and Pirone drew their Tasers, the young men “calmed down.”

Mehserle’s defense strategy relies in part on the argument that Grant “actively resisted” officers, including Domenici, on the Fruitvale station platform.

Stein also criticized Domenici’s characterization of what she saw when she arrived at the platform. “You said during the preliminary hearing that about 40 to 50 people came off the BART train and that you felt threatened,” he said. “Do you remember giving that testimony?” “I saw people,” she responded vaguely.

When Stein played security camera footage of the platform, Domenici can be seen running down an empty platform without anyone walking off the train. When questioned where the 40 to 50 people were, Domenici first said they could not be seen in the video. She said they were on board the Dublin/Pleasanton-bound BART train. “When I said the platform, to me the train is an extension of the platform,” she said.

The former officer’s testimony became strained and rambling at times during questioning by Stein, causing Judge Robert Perry to intervene and ask Domenici to respond more carefully. “Listen to the question and try to understand it before you answer it,” said Perry, adding he noticed a “disconnect between the questions asked and the answers” Domenici was giving.

Her responses caused a stir in the courtroom gallery when members in the audience were heard murmuring comments about Domenici. “She’s dumb,” an audience member remarked.

The comment prompted a stern lecture to the courtroom from Judge Perry, who reprimanded the audience for making “audible comments” during her testimony. He threatened to ban from the courtroom anyone who continued to make audible responses.

Outside the courtroom, Grant’s family reacted strongly to Domenici’s testimony, saying that her statements weren’t backed by video evidence. “She did the same thing at the preliminary hearing,” Grant’s uncle Daryl Johnson said. “She has trouble remembering things that have happened unless her lawyer told her that they did. Her verbal accounts don’t match what she sees on video.”

Pirone, who partnered Domenici that night, is expected to take the stand Friday after Domenici is cross examined by the defense. Every witness who has taken the stand so far who was present at Fruitvale BART that night has described Pirone’s behavior as aggressive and offensive.

Domenici’s testimony came after a surprise in the morning session, when an expert witness for the prosecution, ex-Berkeley Police Officer Sean McCann, told the court under cross examination that he had once drawn his gun on a suspect without realizing it. McCann testified that he was attempting to detain a violent robbery suspect in Berkeley when he suddenly discovered he had drawn his weapon on the man. The former Berkeley cop said he did not remember pulling the firearm out of its holster.

McCann is currently a defensive tactics instructor for law enforcement organizations and was brought on by the prosecution to testify about use of force by police officers.

Defense attorney Michael Rains seized on the admission, immediately asking McCann about the incident. Stein, who appeared to be caught off-guard by the officer’s recollection, attempted to differentiate McCann’s incident from the Grant shooting, a move Grant’s family agreed with.

Johnson said that while the witness appeared to help the defense, the situations cannot be compared. “The difference between what happened with that officer and Mehserle are night and day. That officer was fighting for his life. Mehserle was not,” he said.

Earlier, BART Police training instructor Sergeant Eugene Wong finished testimony begun Tuesday. Court was not in session on Wednesday due to a state-mandated furlough. Rains asked Wong, who has worked directly with Mehserle, about the amount of time he spent teaching the Koga Method of search and arrest techniques to incoming officers. Wong said they spent seven hours teaching nine techniques. He called it an ambitious agenda and said that officers were not required to demonstrate proficiency.

Rains used his line of questioning to try to establish that Mehserle was undertrained. The defense contends that poor training contributed to Mehserle accidentally firing his gun when he meant to use his Taser. BART no longer uses the Koga Method for police training.

Stein then brought on David Chlebowski, a BART Police officer in Internal Affairs. Questioned about Mehserle’s training, Chlebowski confirmed the former officer passed multiple assessments administered by the agency on using his Sig Sauer handgun, tests which were given during both day and night.

Stein had Chlebowski recite each date Mehserle received training, in an apparent effort to show that Mehserle was indeed sufficiently trained. The prosecution argues Mehserle meant to reach for his gun, after allowing emotions to impede restraint during the chaotic atmosphere on the platform.

Testimony in the trial continues Friday in Los Angeles, where the case has been moved due to concerns over whether Mehserle could receive a fair trial in the Bay Area.

Original report here

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Julian's Jailhouse Journal: Police State USA

Seventy-eight year old veteran libertarian, Fully Informed Jury Association activist and indefatigable freedom campaigner Julian Heicklen released his jailhouse journal to his fellow Tyranny Fighters on Tuesday.

Heicklen was arrested on May 25 for committing the crime of standing on public property in front of the US District Courthouse in Manhattan while peacefully giving jury rights information to individuals, sent to jail for 18 Days in New York City's notorious Riker's Island, and then released "in the interest of justice."

Following are just a few outtakes from his journal. Anyone who finds these entries disturbing, disgusting, outrageous and inexcusable should read his entire journal.

"The handcuffs were removed. A number of capillaries had been broken in my wrists. My hands turned blue."

"I was physically and verbally abused during these drags. My upper arms were crushed in their hands, and blood vessels broken. This was painful. My upper arms turned blue. My sneakers had no shoelaces, so my toes kept smashing into the front of the sneakers breaking blood vessels in my toes. This was unpleasant to say the least. My toes turned blue, and did not return to normal for two weeks."

"The nurses and doctors pounded on my chest and pinched my fingers, which was quite painful, but I would not utter a sound. Then they sodomized me by shoving a needle up my rectum. Presumably they were looking for drugs (or bombs)."

"I objected vociferously, but the attendants pinned me to the floor while the doctor gave me an injection in my buttocks. Presumably this was a thorazine shot. I passed out."

"The toilet had overflowed, so there was urine and feces on the floor. I got very little sleep in these pens, because I did not have room to lie down and my old body would ache in the sitting position." "The toilet did not flush, so feces and urine accumulated in the toilet."

"However the NY City police officer who had to drag me up and down stairs in the courthouse was more articulate. Every few minutes, he would say: 'You worthless piece of sh*t," apparently directed at me.

Original report here

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Innocent British man jailed for 3 years over false rape claim - despite police knowing 'victim' was a fantasist

A man jailed when a woman falsely cried rape told of his fury yesterday after learning that police knew the woman was 'unreliable'. Warren Blackwell, 40, spent three years in jail as a convicted sex attacker until his 'victim' was unmasked as a fantasist who had accused other blameless men.

The woman - named under Parliamentary privilege as Shannon Taylor - said he indecently assaulted her outside a social club in the early hours of January 1, 1999, after a New Year's Eve party.

A report revealed yesterday that officers were told Taylor was 'unreliable', ' unstable' and craved attention - but they failed to disclose it at his trial.

The mistake led to an appalling miscarriage of justice which saw father-of-two Mr Blackwell jailed in October 1999 for three years, which was later increased to five, despite no forensic evidence to back up the claims.

His conviction was quashed in September 2006 when it became clear that not only did Mr Blackwell not commit the crime, it never took place.

In 2006, Lord Campbell-Savours used Parliamentary privilege to name the woman.

Taylor, who is said to have made seven other false sex attack allegations, including one against her father, would otherwise have kept her identity secret for life. But she was not prosecuted for perjury, because prosecutors decided she was too ill.

Taylor kept changing her name and moving, so police forces did not realise they were dealing with the same woman.

But the Independent Police Complaints Commission revealed an officer from another force expressed concerns about her reliability to the detective investigating Mr Blackwell's case, saying she seemed to 'enjoy police attention'. The detective's notes referred to her as 'unreliable' and 'unstable', but this was never disclosed to prosecutors or the defence team.

Last night Mr Blackwell attacked a 'mealy-mouthed' apology from Northamptonshire Police. He said: 'It does not even begin to address the suffering I have been through and my family have been through. It is disgusting.'

Mr Blackwell is taking legal advice about bringing a damages claim against Northamptonshire Police. He said: 'It took a long time, it was a massive investigation that was, in my view, hindered by Northamptonshire Police. 'To say they dragged their heels is an understatement.'

Mr Blackwell was jailed on the word of Taylor, who claimed he seized her at knifepoint outside a village club early on New Year's Day 1999, marched her down an alleyway and indecently assaulted her. She picked him out of an identity parade and a jury found him guilty.

But an investigation by the Criminal Cases Review Commission later discovered that his accuser had invented the story.

The Court of Appeal cleared him in 2006 when it emerged that evidence suggested her injuries were self-inflicted.

Mr Blackwell was later awarded £252,500 in compensation - but minus the estimated £12,500 cost of his food and accommodation while behind bars.

Yesterday the IPCC criticised Northamptonshire Police for taking more than a year to finalise an apology and resolve disciplinary matters with officers involved.

The IPCC probe, launched in 2007, found failings by three officers who had a case to answer on misconduct grounds. But one has since retired and two others - a detective chief inspector and a detective sergeant - will only receive words of advice.

Yesterday IPCC Commissioner Amerdeep Somal said: 'As the Court of Appeal has ruled, Warren Blackwell was subject to a terrible miscarriage of justice. 'Nothing can bring back the three years four months he wrongly spent in prison. 'I am dismayed that Northamptonshire Police has taken so long to issue an apology to Mr Blackwell that he has patently deserved.

A Northamptonshire Police spokesman said the force 'regrets that some aspects of the investigation and handling of information, which emerged after Mr Blackwell's conviction in 1999, fell well below the required standard'. [Arrogant pricks!]

Original report here

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Amnesty for the bankers, debtor’s prison for the serfs

Maryland is one of 29 states that permit city governments to raise money by selling tax debts to investors. Each year, Baltimore's municipal government bundles up tax liens against properties whose owners haven't paid local taxes or utility bills (such as water and sewage fees) and sells them at auction.

In the most recent auction, Baltimore sold liens on 12,689 properties -- ranging from rotting shells of long-abandoned homes to office buildings in the downtown business district. Purchasers assume responsibility for collecting the debts, and the opportunity to foreclose on properties whose owners can't pay them off.

According to a study conducted by the Baltimore Sun, twenty percent of those liens involved amounts smaller than $1,000. Financial necromancers employed by collection agencies can transmute a trivial amount -- a delinquent utility bill or an unpaid and long-forgotten municipal citation -- into a budget-crippling debt of several thousand dollars.

"You will pay," one of Nusbaum's minions told a victim who called to complain after a tiny unpaid water bill had metastasized into a $4,000 extortion demand. "Everybody does."

Nusbaum and his cronies filed over 6,000 lawsuits, raking in an estimated $11.5 million in legal fees, title search fees, and interest. This inevitably attracted the attention of the "Justice" Department's antitrust division, which discovered that Nusbaum, his partner Jack W. Stollof, and other as-yet unnamed investors engaged in collusive bidding in a dozen tax auctions conducted in Baltimore and five other Maryland jurisdictions.

According to federal prosecutors, the actions of Nusbaum and his colleagues were a criminal conspiracy to violate the Sherman Antitrust Act. Once in possession of the liens, the conspirators "used the court system to threaten homeowners with seizure of their properties unless they paid legal fees, interest, and other charges ... [that] often totaled 10 times the original debt," observed the Sun.

The real crime here, according to the Feds, was not the use of government-aided extortion to wring hugely inflated sums from struggling, debt-plagued citizens, but rather the use of collusion to enhance the cabal's profits at the expense of local governments. You see, the entire point of the tax auction racket, in the Sun's eminently suitable phrase, is "feeding the public treasury."

During a rigged auction in 2006, Nusbaum and his comrades bought a bundle of liens containing Vicki Valentine's unpaid $362 municipal water bill. Valentine had inherited a home in West Baltimore from her father, who died, after a long struggle with Alzheimer's, in 2003. The house was free and clear, but many of the utility bills had been left unpaid.

Struggling with chronic depression after taking care of her dying father, Vicki was soon dealing with unemployment as well. In 2006, Vicki he paid $100 on an outstanding water bill of $462.28. By year's end, that figure shot up to more than $700, after the city added interest, processing charges, and property taxes.

Under severe financial strain, Vicki filed several legal challenges, which delighted the firm that had purchased the lien, since this permitted them to tack on additional legal costs. On September 19, 2008, a judge ordered Vicki to pay $3,603.41, or lose a home that was already bought and paid for. She didn't have the money. So last February, the local sheriff's department seized Vicki's home on behalf of Montego Bay Properties, the entity that held the lien following at least two post-auction transfers of ownership.

In a desperate letter written a year before her house was seized, Vicki pleaded with Baltimore City Circuit Court to extend the payment period.

"For now, this is the roof over my son's and my head," she observed, pointing out that she was unemployed and frantically looking for work. "I am trying to get the money together to catch up on my delinquent bills. Please allow more time to pay all bills connected with the foreclosure...."

Vicki didn't understand that in the corporate socialist system that now exists, mercy is a gift conferred only on the powerful and politically connected. This is illustrated by the fact that the presiding officers of DRT Fund, which was listed as a co-conspirator in Nusbaum's bid-rigging scheme, were granted amnesty -- that is, official forgiveness -- in exchange for admitting that they had done wrong and facile promises to pay restitution "to any person or entity injured as a result of the bid-rigging activity ... in which [the investment firm] was a participant."

Here's the curious thing about that promise of "restitution": The only party "injured" by the bid-rigging scheme, according to the Feds, was the Municipal Government of Baltimore.

The specific terms of the settlement remained sealed, and DRT Fund's owners aren't discussing the particulars in public. However, we can be sure that Vicki Valentine isn't listed among those "injured" by DRT, whose co-owners, Anthony De Laurentis and John Rieff, are now in possession of her home.

Two years ago, Milwaukee resident Peter Tubic nearly lost his home to foreclosure as a result of an unpaid $50 citation for parking an inoperable van on his own property. A government that arrogates to itself the supposed authority to regulate such matters won't scruple to add extortionate penalties to the original citation; thus it's not surprising that the City of Milwaukee eventually demanded $2,645 from Tubic as ransom to prevent the seizure of his home. Eventually a local judge succumbed to an unprofessional fit of common sense and dismissed the citation outright.

Confiscation of a home to collect small debts remains uncommon. However, "people are routinely being thrown in jail for failing to pay debts," reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. As is the case in Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Illinois, and other states, the Land of 10,000 Lakes is infested with agents of "well-funded, aggressive and centralized collection firms, in many cases run by attorneys, that buy up unpaid debt and use the courts to collect."

As a result, it's increasingly common for people who owe small amounts to find themselves being confronted by police -- in the streets, at home or work, while driving, or even while recovering from surgery -- and hauled away in handcuffs. Warrants have been issued over outstanding debts as small as $85, which is "less than half the cost of housing an inmate overnight."

After a brief but robustly unpleasant interlude behind bars, debtors are brought before a judge and compelled to sign documents permitting the collection firms to garnish their wages or extract money from their bank accounts. Refusal can lead to a "indefinite incarceration," a sentence recently imposed, without trial, on a debtor from Kenney, Illinois. "Bail" consists of paying the amount demanded by the collection firm, which is the amount of the purchased debt plus whatever enhancements the firm can devise.

"A firm aims to collect at least twice what it paid for the debt to cover costs," points out the Star-Tribune. "Anything beyond that is profit." Successful debt-buying firms enjoy very impressive profit margins. Portfolio Recovery Associates, a Virginia debt buyer, reported a 16 percent net margin last year; for Encore Capital Group of San Diego, last year brought a 10 percent net profit. By way of contrast, Wal-Mart's profit margin last year was 3.5 percent....

In the early 2000s, with the Federal Reserve pumping huge amounts of "liquidity" into the economy, it was immensely profitable for lenders to entice borrowers of dubious credit-worthiness into mortgages and other loans they weren't really able to pay. Before the collapse, bundling and re-selling bad debts to investment banks was a lucrative enterprise for Goldman Sachs and other major powers on Wall Street. Now that the bubble has burst, the titans of Wall Street are bailed out by the same taxpayers who often face the prospect of arrest and incarceration for their own bad debts.

The welfare queens of Wall Street, cushioned by subsidizes extracted from taxpayers at gunpoint, are ill-disposed to liquidate bad debts through negotiation. This helps explain why an increasing number of people who find themselves "upside down" on their home mortgages are practicing "strategic default": With lenders unwilling to negotiate reasonable terms, the debtors simply stop making payments. This has inspired Wall Street's tax-subsidized deadbeats to begin a PR campaign to demonize "ruthless borrowers" as uniquely depraved.

"Having been deadbeats and strategic defaulters of the first order," writes economic analyst Yves Smith, the major banks "continue to manifest their characteristic unmitigated gall [by] hectoring the public about honorable behavior." Smith predicts that ere long we will witness the return of debtor's prison, which was supposedly abolished in the 19th century.

A cynic once said that while a petty thief will find himself behind bars or dangling from the end of a rope, the most powerful criminals are those who run the jails and operate the gallows. The corporatist plutocracy controlling our country is determined to make a prophet of that anonymous cynic.

Original report here

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Va: “There’s no transparency, and I find that inexcusable”

Meet the 82-year-old ex-cop, World War II vet, and private eye who's challenging one of the largest police departments in the country

At a stoplight just a few miles from his home, Nicholas Beltrante, 82, puts on his flashers, opens the driver's side door to his car, gets out, and approaches my car. I roll down my window.

"You see that little memorial over there?" he asks. I nod. "That's where a Fairfax County Police officer killed Ashley McIntosh." He starts to offer more detail, then realizes the middle of an intersection probably isn't the best place to fill me in. "I'll tell you more about it when we get to Ruby Tuesdays," he says.

Beltrante asked me to lunch (disclosure: his treat) last month after seeing a column I wrote on the striking lack of transparency among Northern Virginia's three largest police departments. He wanted to discuss his new organization, the Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability (VCCPA), which he says he started in order to fight what he calls the "decades of corruption and secrecy at the police department here in Fairfax County."

In addition to passion, Beltrante brings some gravitas to the project. He points to his "World War II Veteran" license plate. Beltrante served as a Navy medic. "People still come up and thank me," he says, referring to the license plate. "Always makes my day." Beltrante worked for the D.C. Metro police department for 14 years, retiring with the rank of sergeant detective. He then opened a private detective agency, which he ran for 30 years. The Democratic National Committee hired his agency to sweep their office for bugs after the Watergrate break-in. (Beltrante met his wife Patricia—to whom he's been married for 35 years—when she came to the agency with suspicions that her then-husband was cheating. He was.)

Ashley McIntosh was killed in February 2008 when Fairfax County Police Officer Amanda Perry, responding to a petty theft at a convenience store, sped through an intersection without sounding her siren, striking McIntosh's car. Perry was charged with reckless driving, the first time in decades an on-duty Fairfax County cop was charged with a crime. A judge later dismissed the charge, though Perry was ultimately discharged from the force for falsifying time sheets.

"They finally settled with the family in February," Beltrante says. "$1.5 million. That's $1.5 million taxpayers have to pay because Fairfax can't keep its police officers accountable."

Beltrante emphasizes that it isn't the mistakes but the lack of accountability that got him agitated enough to start his organization. "You have this David Masters who was killed last year," he says, referring to another incident in which a Fairfax officer shot an unarmed man along the same highway. "They won't even release the police officer's name. They won't even release the report. We're just supposed to trust them when they say that shooting was justified. I've worked in government. You don't keep the government accountable by shielding the people who work for it. There's this perception in some departments that officers are above the law."

Beltrante recently received some assistance to get his website up and running. But for the first several months of its existence, he ran the VCCPA from a typewriter, fax machine, and telephone in his home. "The phone rings all the time," he says. "There are more than enough complaints to keep me busy."

He then rattles off stories. There's the NAACP complaint about Randall Leroy Rollins, a black man killed by Fairfax police in 2007 during a drug sting. Police say Rollins reached for a gun. Witness accounts differ from police accounts. More disturbing, Rollins' family says when his body was delivered to them, his testicles had been removed. (Rollins was with a white woman at the time of the sting.)

There's Sal Culosi, the Fairfax optometrist killed during a 2006 botched SWAT raid on his home. Culosi was suspected of wagering on college football games with friends. Then there's Ian Smith, a mentally-ill man shot by Fairfax police just this year after a tactical team entered his home and he brandished a plastic BB pistol.

Beltrante acknowledges that the actions of the police may have been justified in some of these incidents. "The problem is that they refuse to share any information. Not with the press, not with the victims' families. Their transparency policy is that there's no transparency. And I find that inexcusable."

Beltrante eventually wants to start chapters of his organization in Richmond, Hampton Roads, and other cities across Virginia. First, however, he wants Fairfax to establish a formal civilian review board to oversee the police department. It's one of the largest police departments in the country without a citizen oversight board. Beltrante also wants to challenge Virginia's open records law, or at least the way the police departments in Alexandria, Fairfax County, and Arlington have interpreted it, which is that it gives them carte blanche to turn down any and all information requests.

"I've already filed the open records request for the report and the name of the police officer who shot David Masters," Beltrante says. "They turned me down, as I expected they would. We hope to work with the ACLU to either challenge the law in court, or get the legislature to change it. Think about that. An officer shoots and kills an unarmed man and we're not permitted to even know the officer's name. I find that offensive as a former police officer, as a veteran, and just as someone who happens to live in Fairfax County."

Original report here

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rogue black cop shoots Marine

The unarmed former Marine fatally shot by an off-duty Baltimore police officer outside a Mount Vernon bar early Saturday had his hands in the air when the officer fired 13 rounds, striking him nine times in the chest and groin, according to department sources.

Two top police commanders said Thursday that four witnesses -- two friends of victim Tyrone Brown and two bystanders -- corroborated that version of events in taped interviews with homicide detectives and prosecutors.

The commanders acknowledge that three other witnesses who were with Gahiji A. Tshamba said that he identified himself as a police officer and that Brown shoved Tshamba, events that would be more favorable to the officer's case. But police say the version of events described by those witnesses is inconsistent with evidence recovered at the scene and other findings of the investigation.

Police sources with knowledge of preliminary autopsy findings said the medical examiner found a heat imprint from a muzzle blast on Brown's shirt, a condition known as stippling. Such an imprint is created when a weapon is fired from as close as five inches away. The finding could be used to show that Brown was executed at close range, but it could also indicate that he was shot while advancing on the officer.

Police officials, who requested not to be identified in part to distance themselves for now from a highly sensitive case, have taken the unusual step of releasing details of an investigation as part of an effort to defuse public anger that Tshamba has not been charged with a crime.

They say they are frustrated that prosecutors might extend the investigation into next week, delaying the arrest of the 15-year veteran officer.

Officials with the Baltimore state's attorney's office declined to comment on the investigation. State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said during a radio appearance Thursday that her department was "moving forward expeditiously."

Police worry that further delays will add to mounting public suspicion that authorities are protecting one of their own. The unusually harsh criticism, shrouded behind anonymous sources, appears designed to shift public anger over Tshamba's not having been arrested to the prosecutorial arena.

"We handed prosecutors our case Monday morning," said one top police official, who spoke on the condition he not be named. The lead investigator on the case "has slowly interviewed everyone and went to the crime scene. That's fine, but our position is we would like to proceed as soon as possible."

Said another commander: "In this case, the best we can see, there is no reason for this man to have been shot as many times as he was. Homicide is convinced that the evidence is very clear. This is not a complex case. ... There was no physical confrontation. He had his hands up when he was shot."

Speaking with Clarence M. Mitchell IV on WBAL radio, Jessamy said she planned to meet with prosecutors Friday to discuss the case. But she cautioned that doesn't mean charges are imminent. "I'm not the general public," Jessamy said. "I can't offer opinions. I have to make decisions based on the law, the facts and the evidence. ... We will be moving forward expeditiously."

Despite a swift police investigation, prosecutors say they are awaiting the autopsy report and want to talk with officers who responded to the scene. They have already reinterviewed the seven witnesses.

Privately, officials in the prosecutor's office note that because this is Tshamba's second off-duty shooting of a civilian in five years, they want to make sure the case is handled properly.

In 2005, Tshamba was driving under the influence of alcohol when he got into a confrontation with a group of young men in a sport utility vehicle who he said shouted racial epithets at him. Tshamba followed the car into a residential neighborhood, where the other driver turned his vehicle and rammed the officer. Tshamba chased the men into a wooded area, firing his weapon. A juvenile was hit in the foot.

Tshamba received an eight-day suspension for the incident but avoided criminal charges and dismissal. Prosecutors now privately question whether top police administrators were too lenient in allowing him to remain on the force. As one official said: "They expect us to clean up their mess."

Officials in both the department and state's attorney's office say the pressure from the public, the news media and within their own offices has made the investigation complex and politically charged. One official in the prosecutor's office cautioned that many cases "are not as easy and cut-and-dried and slam-dunks as people want us to believe."

Andrew C. White, a former federal prosecutor who is now a defense attorney, said the state's attorney's office should proceed slowly to build a solid case.

"I think the prosecutors are trying to strike a balance between speed and accuracy," White said. "In the immediate aftermath of a shooting, oftentimes it is not clear if a person acted in self-defense. ... Public opinion has no bearing. You put yourself in a box if you arrest too soon."

White said that when a shooting involves a police officer "who is trained to recognize situations that are rapidly unfolding, you have to give some credit to what the officer says in defense of why he discharged his firearm. ...He gets the benefit of the doubt. Whether it's appropriate or not is a question, but he gets it."

Tshamba remains on desk duty without his gun and badge. Meanwhile, Brown's family has hired an attorney, Andrew D. Freeman, and have announced the funeral for 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Morgan State University auditorium.

The shooting involving Tshamba occurred early Saturday after he and Brown found themselves in an alley off Eager Street and near the back door to Club Hippo.

Brown, a former Marine, touched the officer's female companion, who took exception to what Brown apparently thought was a joke. Brown sister, who witnessed the exchange, said her brother apologized and tried to walk away but Tshamba challenged him.

Police said the officer took out his department-issued Glock and fired 13 rounds from feet away, hitting Brown nine times.

Detectives are trying to determine whether Tshamba was impaired by alcohol. The officer has declined to talk to homicide detectives, and he refused to take a breath test.

Once detectives heard from some witnesses that Tshamba might have identified himself as a police officer, investigators treated the probe as a police-involved shooting, meaning any charges would be left for prosecutors, who take all such cases before a grand jury, which adds time before an arrest is made.

One police commander said arresting Tshamba on the spot would have been irresponsible. They didn't know whether he had consumed alcohol, needed to review recordings from a surveillance camera near the shooting scene (later found to be inoperable) and listen to 911 calls, he said.

Tshamba, like any citizen being investigated in a possible crime, does not have to speak to detectives. Unlike a civilian in the same predicament, he cannot be detained and is free to leave to consult an attorney, a right afforded him under his labor contract.

And not every civilian involved in a homicide is arrested immediately. The Johns Hopkins University student who killed an intruder with a samurai sword in the fall of 2009 was questioned by detectives but never arrested or charged. Prosecutors later ruled the killing self-defense. Similarly last year, a dry cleaner and a gas station attendant were never arrested after they shot robbers, and both were later cleared.

Jessamy's office has feuded with city police for years on a variety of issues, including arrest policies, the creation of a list of officers deemed too untrustworthy to testify in court and the thoroughness of police investigations.

Prosecutors have lost or dropped several criminal cases against police officers because of botched probes or missing evidence, including two rape cases in 2007 and a misconduct case in 2001 involving an officer accused of planting drugs on an innocent man.

"There is a reason we are going carefully," one official in the state's attorney's office said of the case being built against Tshamba, "and it's because if we get to trial a year from now, we want to make sure this is right."

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today. Now hosted on Wordpress. If you cannot access it, go to the MIRROR SITE, where posts appear as well as on the primary site. I have reposted the archives (past posts) for Wicked Thoughts HERE or HERE or here

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Police and accountability

I have written before that the inexpensive handheld video camera is perhaps the most important innovation in police accountability in my lifetime. So of course, the police want them banned.
In response to a flood of Facebook and YouTube videos that depict police abuse, a new trend in law enforcement is gaining popularity. In at least three states, it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer.Even if the encounter involves you and may be necessary to your defense, and even if the recording is on a public street where no expectation of privacy exists….

In short, recordings that are flattering to the police – an officer kissing a baby or rescuing a dog – will almost certainly not result in prosecution even if they are done without all-party consent. The only people who seem prone to prosecution are those who embarrass or confront the police, or who somehow challenge the law. If true, then the prosecutions are a form of social control to discourage criticism of the police or simple dissent.

Folks who read Radley Balko or Carlos Miller will not find a lot new hear, but it is a very good overview of an issue that is hot among blogs but rarely if ever makes the major media.

After an encounter with the public goes wrong, the police have historically been able to make up any story they want and make it stick, in many cases shifting the blame to innocent civilians. It is scary to see how many times this happens, with the officer’s story shown to be a lie by cameras on site (and even then it can be hard to get the police to investigate). Only the combination of cameras and YouTube (to publicize the video so it can’t be ignored) have begun to bring some justice to these encounters.

Original report here

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Monday, June 14, 2010

West Australian police goons again

And it took a newspaper to "bring it to the attention" of police authorities. Too bad about the 99% of cases where newspapers don't get involved

POLICE have been filmed kicking and kneeing a man on the ground during a brutal arrest - sparking an internal police investigation and moves to have the officers charged. A spokesman for Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan confirmed on Friday that "an internal investigation (is) under way into this matter".

The Sunday Times alerted his office to the incident, which occurred in William St, City, in May last year but was only revealed by related court proceedings three months ago.

The spokesman said the Commissioner could not comment until the investigation finished "as he may have to adjudicate over any disciplinary proceedings that might arise from it".

Lawyer Shash Nigam said he was submitting evidence, including city council CCTV footage, to Mr O'Callaghan and the Corruption and Crime Commission because his client, ceramic tiler Richard Korculanic, 37, believed two officers should be charged with assault for the way they arrested him.

In March Magistrate Robert Black described one male officer's actions as "an assault" and raised concerns about police kicking people, during a hearing where he threw out the sole charge against Mr Korculanic of obstructing a public officer.

"It concerns me greatly that in the last two weeks I have heard matters whereby police officers have kicked people they are involved with," Mr Black said after acquitting Mr Korculanic in Perth Magistrates Court on March 2.

He said Mr Korculanic had not been threatening and the fact that he had asked why he was being handcuffed "does not enable a police officer to push someone vigorously in the manner that (the male officer) did". Mr Black said: "That's an assault."

About 11pm on May 24, 2009, in William St, police told Mr Korculanic and two friends, who were talking to several young people, to lean against a police car to be searched. In court, the officer claimed the trio were suspected of having stolen "cash cards" and money, but conceded that proved incorrect.

CCTV footage showed the male officer slamming Mr Korculanic against the car after he turned to speak to a female officer. Mr Korculanic said he was only asking why he was being cuffed. The film then showed the woman officer tackling him, the male officer holding him around the neck, then the woman kneeing him.

Footage also showed the male officer kicking him. The officer admitted in court he had "kicked him in the shoulder twice", claiming Mr Korculanic was moving towards hypodermic needles he had earlier placed on the ground. However, Mr Black said there was "absolutely no reason for that (the kicking) to occur".

Mr Korculanic wants publicity for his case because he is concerned about police getting more power with mandatory sentencing and proposed stop and search laws. Of the William St incident he said: "What did I assault? His shoes when he was kicking me in the head? Lucky there were cameras."

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Some charming Australian police

Chef bashed in police cell gets almost $100,000 compensation

A CHEF who made a 000 emergency call from a police cell to police to complain he had been bashed by police has been awarded nearly $100,000 compensation by three appeal judges. They today overturned an earlier ruling by a County Court judge that three police sergeants used "reasonable and proportionate’’ force to subdue Grant Watkins.

The Court of Appeal said there was no doubt Mr Watkins was assaulted on five separate occasions at St Kilda police station and the issue was whether the officers had legal defences to their actions.

Sergeants Nathan Kaeser, Andrew Falconer and Richard Lewis said that after Mr Watkins was arrested for an alleged assault on his girlfriend he tried to avoid being fingerprinted by spitting blood and struggling violently. They said they only used reasonable force to subdue him and that their actions were in compliance with the Crimes Act.

After the incident on May 14, 2005, Mr Watkins made an emergency call using his mobile phone and asked the operator to send police because he was being held against his will and had been assaulted by police.

Appeal judges Justices David Ashley, Philip Mandie and David Beach said Mr Watkins claimed that during an attempt to fingerprint him his arms were held by Sgt Lewis and Sgt Falconer while Sgt Kaeser king-hit him. They ruled that none of the five alleged assaults were justified and the evidence could not be denied.

"We are bound to say, the (trial) judge made a number of findings about the conduct of Mr Watkins and the police defendants which cannot be sustained," they said. "The assaults were a serious invasion of the appellant's rights. They caused him significant physical and psychiatric injuries.

Mr Watkins, 28, of Briar Hill, sued the State Government and the three officers, claiming he was left with multiple grazes around his face, ears and head and suffered intense anxiety, pain and emotional distress.

He had no previous convictions and admitted he refused to give his fingerprints after being arrested over an argument with his blind and bi-polar girlfriend.

Watkins was awarded $98,000, with the compensation amount being ordered only against the State Government and Sgt Kaeser.

SOURCE. (Via Australian Politics)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Apology casts new doubt over British man's conviction for wife murder

Official crookedness piled on official crookedness

Dominic Grieve, the Attorney-General, has apologised after Parliament was given wrong information about a prisoner who has spent 18 years denying that he murdered his wife and faked her suicide.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has also given an apology to Vera Baird, the former Solicitor-General, for drafting a deficient answer when she told MPs about Eddie Gilfoyle.

Gilfoyle is serving a life sentence for the murder of his pregnant wife, Paula, who died in Upton, Wirral, in June 1992. At his trial the prosecution said that he hanged her after dictating a suicide note.

Doubts about his conviction were raised when a long investigation by The Times revealed:

• police notes that were not disclosed at the trial showed that the estimated time of death gave him a potential alibi — he was at work.

• new research had contradicted advice at the time of the trial that pregnant women rarely committed suicide. In fact, the research showed that suicide was the main cause of maternal death in pregnancy and after childbirth, hanging was the main method chosen and late pregnancy was a peak time for suicides.

• international suicide experts who examined Mrs Gilfoyle’s suicide note concluded that it was genuine although prosecutors told the jury that it had been dictated by her husband.

Alison Halford, the Merseyside Assistant Chief Constable at the time, and Desmond Browne, QC, the former Bar Council chairman, are among those who believe the conviction to be unsafe.

In a new revelation, the Government has now disclosed that police withheld, even from prosecution lawyers at the trial, an internal report into blunders made by officers at the scene.

A key question has been why Gilfoyle’s defence team was not made aware of this report at the time of his trial. The report showed that evidence was lost or destroyed, that no photographs were taken and that the noose was discarded. It might have helped Gilfoyle to clear his name at Liverpool Crown Court in 1993 and his supporters want to know who took the decisions to withhold it.

The Times previously asked police for notes of interviews with the officers at the scene but was told that they did not exist. However, the newspaper discovered the notes, which revealed that Mrs Gilfoyle was estimated to have died while her husband was at work.

Although the Information Commissioner cleared the police of intentionally withholding the documents, he is investigating whether the force should have released more information.

New doubts about the way in which the case has been handled have been raised after it was discovered that Merseyside CPS had given unreliable information to the Solicitor-General about when it first received the report.

Last year the Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne asked Vera Baird, who was then Solicitor-General, to disclose when the CPS had received the report. Mrs Baird told Parliament in a written answer that it was received in July 1995.

The Times was then leaked an internal letter from Merseyside CPS dated September 1994 referring to the report, implying that it had the document earlier than Mrs Baird had stated.

The newspaper contacted the Attorney-General’s Office, which, without contacting Mrs Baird, issued a statement on her behalf saying that the material held in 1994 was not the complete report. A subsequent leak showed that it was the full report. Mr Grieve has now written to Mr Huhne, admitting that Mrs Baird’s answer was “open to misinterpretation” but denied that she had misled Parliament.

The CPS has released a chronology to be placed in the Commons library. This shows that prosecutors became aware of the internal police inquiry only in July 1994, more than two years after the death. Even then, the information came from the Police Complaints Authority, which was looking into the case, rather than the Merseyside force.

Mrs Baird, who lost her seat at the election, said: “I have never, ever, ever knowingly misled Parliament.”

Lord Hunt, Gilfoyle’s former MP, said that he would write to Kenneth Clarke, the Lord Chancellor. Lord Hunt said: “We really do need to explore and discover the truth of what happened and ensure that Eddie Gilfoyle at last receives the close attention that his case deserves to help him prove his innocence.”

Original report here

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Certain knowledge

Why all crime-scene evidence should be DNA tested

The state of Texas was 47 minutes from executing Henry "Hank" Skinner in March when Justice Antonin Scalia gave him a last-minute stay. Last month, the Supreme Court as a whole agreed to hear Skinner's case in the fall. At issue is whether Skinner should be given access to crime-scene evidence and DNA testing that he and his lawyers say will prove his innocence. However the court comes out, Skinner's case raises a fundamental question about how police and district attorneys investigate and prosecute crimes: Why wasn't this evidence tested before Skinner's trial? And why hasn't it been tested since?

The answers lie in the adversarial nature of our criminal justice system. There are times when neither the prosecution nor the defense is particularly interested in discovering the truth. That's where policy makers need to step in. In cases like Skinner's, they should establish a common-sense rule: When there is biological evidence at the crime scene, all of that evidence should be sent for DNA testing. No exceptions.

The details of Hank Skinner's case illustrate both the problem and how such a rule would solve it. Skinner was convicted in 1995 for the 1993 murders of his girlfriend Twila Busby and her two adult sons.

Skinner doesn't dispute that he was in the house when his girlfriend and her sons were murdered. He claims he was unconscious at the time, knocked out by a near-lethal mix of alcohol and codeine. Back in 1995, the evidence against him seemed formidable. He was present at the crime scene. He had smears of blood from two of the three victims on his shirt. Andrea Reed, Skinner's neighbor and ex-girlfriend, says Skinner came to her home shortly after the crime and first implicated himself, then told Reed a number of other implausible and contradictory stories about who committed the murders.

But Skinner has always maintained his innocence. In 1999, Northwestern University's Medill Innocence Project began looking into Skinner's conviction. As professor David Protess and his student journalists began interviewing witnesses and reviewing evidence, the state's case against Skinner started to unravel.

Reed recanted her testimony and now says she was pressured by police investigators to implicate Skinner. Toxicology reports showed the amount of codeine and alcohol in Skinner's blood at the time of the murders would have likely have rendered him unconscious or put him in a hazy stupor. His defenders say he couldn't have killed three adults in that condition.

The students also found that Busby had been stalked by an allegedly lecherous uncle named Robert Donnell, whom witnesses said had approached her at a party the night of her death. She left frightened, and he appeared to have followed her. Friends say Donnell had raped Busby in the recent past. Days after the murders, a neighbor saw Donnell cleaning and repainting his truck.

There are other problems with Skinner's conviction. His court-appointed attorney, Harold Lee Comer, was a disgraced former prosecutor who left office after pleading guilty to siphoning off asset forfeiture funds in a drug case. The judge, a friend of Comer's, appointed him to represent Skinner, then ordered Comer's pay in an amount roughly equal to what Comer still owed for his own criminal conduct.

Worse, Comer had previously prosecuted Skinner on a minor assault and theft charge. At Skinner's sentencing trial, the prosecution argued that those two crimes were aggravating factors that should be considered in Skinner's sentencing. Comer didn't object.

Most of these flaws have been litigated, and the courts have found that none of them is enough to win Skinner a new trial. But the most troubling aspect of Skinner's case is the biological material collected from the crime scene. Law enforcement officials tested the small blood smears on Skinner's shirt, and those matched two of the three victims. But given that Skinner admits he was at the crime scene and says he awoke to find the victims' bodies, it isn't surprising that he'd have some of their blood on his shirt.

The blood on the murder weapons has never been DNA tested. Nor has any material from the rape kit taken from Busby. The state also never tested skin cells taken from under Busby's fingernails, or a blood-stained windbreaker left at the scene that witnesses say matched one often worn by Donnell. "They only tested the material they thought would implicate Skinner," Protess told me via phone. "They fixated on their suspect, and once they thought they had enough for a conviction, they stopped."

Original report here

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