Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for November 18th, 2014

Police killing, beating of civilians raise issue of reasonable force

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A lengthy and interesting article in the LA Times by Tina Susman and Maria La Ganga about the police practice of beating and killing civilians (predominantly minorities):

A wooden cross on a narrow, tree-lined road marks the spot where Samantha Ramsey died a violent death.

Passersby might think the marker, etched with the 19-year-old’s name and a yellow smiley face, is a memorial to a car crash victim. They would be wrong.

In April, Ramsey was killed when a sheriff’s deputy fired four bullets through her car windshield as she left a party on the banks of the Ohio River. Ramsey, who did not have a gun, was dead before her mother got to the hospital. A grand jury took one day to review evidence — including the deputy’s testimony that he feared for his life — before declaring the shooting justified.

With that, Ramsey’s relatives joined the ranks of families who demand answers about why lethal force was used, and who decides what is reasonable use of force.

Those questions are in play in Missouri right now, as a grand jury weighs whether to indict police Officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. The incident sparked months of unrest, which is why the city of Ferguson and the surrounding St. Louis area are braced for possible violence whichever way the jury decides.

The hurdles for indicting or convicting a uniformed officer are high, for many reasons.

“There’s a great deal of deserved respect for the difficulties of being a police officer,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law. “There’s a desire to give great deference to police officers.”

As with Ferguson, critics sometimes see law enforcement agencies as reluctant to go after their own members. In Brown’s case, the Ferguson Police Department was vilified by protesters after withholding Wilson’s name from the public for a week, giving the officer and his family time to relocate while the case was investigated. Moreover, prosecutors depend on police officers as witnesses, and jurors give officers in peril the benefit of the doubt.

Police use of force is guided by the 4th Amendment, which protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. Another legal standard is that police should use no more force than is reasonably necessary.

The big question is just what is reasonable.

It lies at the heart of Ramsey’s case, Michael Brown’s, and a long list of similar clashes between civilians and police officers that ended with casualties and accusations.

The 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police, caught on video, led to charges against four officers. After a jury trial in 1992, all were acquitted, a decision that sparked violent riots across the city and led to Chief Daryl F. Gates resigning and the LAPD reexamining its use of force.

More recently, Kelly Thomas, a homeless man with schizophrenia, was beaten in 2011 by Fullerton police when he wouldn’t follow their commands. Thomas died a few days later. That scene also was captured on video — with Thomas shouting, “Dad, help me!” — and led to charges against three officers. Two were acquitted; prosecutors dropped charges against the third.”We all look at it from our own perspective,” Chemerinsky said. “Ultimately, either one perceives it as a police officer in a split second using deadly force to protect himself, or a police officer committing murder.”

Law professor Franklin E. Zimring, who directs the criminal justice research program at UC Berkeley’s Earl Warren Legal Institute, said “enormous obstacles” hinder criminal cases involving law enforcement officers.

One impediment is the burden of proof, which requires prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an officer acted improperly. That burden “has special force when you have police officers” on trial, Zimring said.

Another is the question of what police officers feared would have happened had they not acted, he said. And then there is the he-said-she-said nature of most cases, with publicly trusted authorities up against sometimes marginal victims.

“It has to be a really horrendous outlier before you can expect the criminal process to succeed,” Zimring said.

Zimring has analyzed nearly four decades of FBI statistics on police-involved killings — including cases in which officers also were victims.

His research, which has yet to be published, shows an average of 400 civilians, both armed and unarmed, are killed by police in this country each year. It also shows that excessive police violence is usually part of a larger pattern in a law enforcement agency, he said.

Continue reading. It’s a damn good article.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2014 at 10:32 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

Ferguson police are out of control—at least the court cannot control them

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The court has ordered the Ferguson police to allow people to record the police in the course of doing their duties so long as those recording do not interfere. The police have simply (and overtly) ignored the court’s order and have continued ordering people not to record interactions.

Now the ACLU is back in court again to get the police to allow recording, but this is the same court that issued the previous order, which the police have ignored. I suppose the police figure that no one will stand up to them so they can do as they please—at least that’s how they’re acting.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2014 at 10:26 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

Police shooting dogs in line of duty

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I mentioned some time back that it seemed as though there were an informal policy/competition/attitude among police officers about shooting dogs whenever the opportunity presented itself. Danny Spewak and Megan Blarr take a look at the Buffalo NY Police Department. From their article:

The New York City Police Department, the nation’s largest force, reported killing half as many dogs as the Buffalo Police Department in its two most recent annual discharge reports.

A police department chief offered a lame defense:

“The numbers are what the numbers are,” Buffalo Police Chief of Detectives Dennis Richards said.

In other words, he had no explanation and actually doesn’t seem to know what’s going on.

It’s a lengthy article with a couple of videos and is worth reading, especially for dog owners and for those concerned about the direction American police departments are taking.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2014 at 10:23 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

Interesting point about the GOP’s stance on governance

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Kevin Drum has an excellent post, and my judgment of David Brooks as a thinker and columnist continues to plummet. I really think Brooks is not very bright.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2014 at 10:17 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

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