Later On

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

Chicago Rarely Penalizes Officers for Complaints

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Police, like prosecutors, generally have immunity. The long-term effects of this immunity seem to be that police feel free to use force, including deadly force, whenever they want, and prosecutors feel free to hide exculpatory evidence in order to secure convictions, thus sending innocent people to prison. Almost never does such misconduct result in any sanctions at all.

A pertinent example is discussed at length in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article by Brad Schrader in the police shooting of Caroline Small (“, and I urge you to read the article as an example of the lack of accountability police today enjoy. The article, which, well worth reading, begins:

At high noon on June 18, 2010, Caroline Small, a petite 35-year-old woman and mother of two, sat behind the wheel of her beat-up Buick Century with nowhere to turn. Police vehicles flanked her on two sides, a shallow ditch was on another and a utility pole blocked her rear bumper.

Unarmed but distraught, Small’s crime to that point had been reckless driving and leading police on an erratic low-speed chase that ended when her car, tires flattened to the rims, spun out on a suburban street. Sirens blared and officers shouted as she put the car into reverse, then drive, then reverse. Two officers stood ground near their cars, guns drawn.

“If she moves the car, I’m going to shoot her,” an officer yelled. Small pulled forward. Eight bullets tore through the windshield, striking her in the head and the face. The shooting was captured on police dash cam video.

So was what the two Glynn County officers said afterward. They compared their marksmanship. One told a witness how he saw Small’s head explode.

Their words were as callous as Small’s death unnecessary.

“This is the worst one I’ve ever investigated,” said Mike McDaniel, a retired GBI agent who supervised the 2010 criminal investigation into the officers’ actions. “I don’t think it’s a good shoot. I don’t think it’s justified.”

Small’s death has also haunted Byron Bennett, who as a member of the grand jury that considered the officers’ fate voted to clear them of wrongdoing. Bennett now regrets that choice.

“I felt like I let that lady down,” he said. “I felt like they killed that lady. They didn’t give her a chance.”

The grand jury Bennett served on found the two Glynn County officers who fired the shots — Sgt. Robert C. Sasser and Officer Michael T. Simpson — were justified in pulling the trigger. A federal judge last September threw out the Small family’s wrongful death lawsuit saying the two officers killed lawfully because they thought Small posed a threat. Neither officer was ever disciplined.

What happened in Small’s case demonstrates the broad powers police in Georgia have to shoot and kill unarmed citizens and to influence the outcome of their cases in the legal process. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News investigation of the case found that:

  • Glynn County police officers interfered with the GBI’s investigation from the start, seeking to protect the officers.
  • The department tampered with the crime scene and created misleading evidence that was shown to the grand jury.
  • The local district attorney shared the state’s evidence with the officers nearly two months before the grand jury convened and cut an unusual deal with them just before it met.

That seems to be more the rule than the exception. Timothy Williams has a very interesting article in the NY Times on a trove of data that reveals Chicago police seem to enjoy complete immunity. He writes:

In 18 years with the Chicago Police Department, the nation’s second-largest, Jerome Finnigan had never been disciplined — although 68 citizen complaints had been lodged against him, including accusations that he used excessive force and regularly conducted illegal searches.

Then, in 2011, he admitted to robbing criminal suspects while serving in an elite police unit and ordering a hit on a fellow police officer he thought intended to turn him in. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison. “My bosses knew what I was doing out there, and it went on and on,” he said in court when he pleaded guilty. “And this wasn’t the exception to the rule. This was the rule.”

Mr. Finnigan is one of thousands of Chicago police officers who have been the subject of citizen complaints over the years but have not been disciplined by the department, according to data released this month by the Invisible Institute, a nonprofit journalism organization, and the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School. Such information is rarely made public and has come to light in Chicago only after a decade-long legal battle by the institute and the clinic.

The trove of information — thousands of pages of officers’ names and brief descriptions of each civilian complaint against the Chicago police from March 2011 to September 2015 — provides a rare look into the cloistered world of internal police discipline.

For example, the data for 2015 shows that in more than 99 percent of the thousands of misconduct complaints against Chicago police officers, there has been no discipline. From 2011 to 2015, 97 percent of more than 28,500 citizen complaints resulted in no officer being punished, according to the files.

Although very few officers were disciplined in the years covered by the data, African-American officers were punished at twice the rate of their white colleagues for the same offenses, the data shows. And although black civilians filed a majority of the complaints, white civilians were far more likely to have their complaints upheld, according to the records.

Information related to complaints and discipline taken against officers is typically tightly controlled by police departments, and in many cases is protected from public release by state or local law.

“It is very unusual to have this much data — and data this rich,” said David A. Harris, a University of Pittsburgh Law School professor and an expert on police accountability. “The general rule is that this kind of stuff is not made transparent, so the public can’t see it and can’t hold people accountable in the way they want.”

The release of the documents comes as police departments around the nation have been placed under intensive public scrutiny after a number of fatal shootings of unarmed African-Americans by white police officers. This has led to criticism about the lack of public availability of even rudimentary data related to police work.

The records take on added resonance in Chicago because the department has a well-documented history of officers physically abusing — including torturing — African-American men, and also because of the possible release on Thursday of a police dashboard camera video showing the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald, an African-American teenager.

Mr. McDonald, 17, who had been armed with a knife, was shot 16 times in 2014 by Jason Van Dyke, a white officer. The shooting is being investigated by a team including the F.B.I. and the United States attorney’s office in Chicago.

Officer Van Dyke has had 18 civilian complaints filed against him, including allegations of using excessive force and racial slurs. In each of the complaints, Officer Van Dyke denied that he had acted improperly and was not punished by either the Police Department or civilian police oversight investigators.

In April, the city agreed to pay Mr. McDonald’s family a $5 million settlement. The video of the shooting, which is the subject of a court hearing on Thursday, shows Mr. McDonald lying on the ground as some of the shots are fired, according to people who have seen it.

Dan Herbert, a lawyer for Officer Van Dyke, said the officer believed that he was justified in the shooting. “He fired because he was in fear for his safety, as well as the safety of his colleagues,” Mr. Herbert said in an email. Regarding Officer Van Dyke’s past disciplinary record, Mr. Herbert said, “As far as I know, Jason has not had a single sustained complaint, meaning all allegations were found to be without merit.”

Criminologists say the public’s ability to see civilian complaints against officers and similar data compels police departments to be more accountable, especially when it comes to officers who receive frequent complaints.

“Look, it’s not unusual for a police officer to get a complaint, but the fact is that a complaint is a significant piece of information if it is a recurring thing,” Professor Harris said. “It is the patterns we worry about.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more. Later in the article:

. . . The department said it had “implemented early warning systems to help identify potential concerns with officers’ actions and arrange for the appropriate training, when applicable,” to reduce misconduct.

But Craig B. Futterman, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School who founded the legal aid clinic that helped bring about the records’ release, said the department’s early intervention system had identified only 6 percent of officers who received 11 or more civilian complaints. The department did not dispute that figure.

The files show that a number of officers who have been convicted of serious crimes, like Mr. Finnigan, or are being investigated for misconduct have accumulated dozens of complaints while avoiding punishment from the Police Department. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2015 at 12:19 pm

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