Archive for the ‘Law’ Category
Matt Apuzzo reports in the NY Times about a professional expert witness who, in every case, finds that the police were fully justified in shooting someone. No exceptions. Needless to say, he’s a very popular witness, given the number of times police shoot people.
The report opens with an example of a fully justified shooting from the report, and in fact the officer did suffer no penalties at all:
The shooting looked bad. But that is when the professor is at his best. A black motorist, pulled to the side of the road for a turn-signal violation, had stuffed his hand into his pocket. The white officer yelled for him to take it out. When the driver started to comply, the officer shot him dead.
The driver was unarmed. . .
So: the officer issues an order, the man starts to obey and is killed for that.
This reminds me of the South Carolina shooting when the police officer ordered the man to get his driver’s license, and when the man did, shot him for it.
The Times report concludes with this:
On a cold night in early 2003, for instance, Robert Murtha, an officer in Hartford, Conn., shot three times at the driver of a car. He said the vehicle had sped directly at him, knocking him to the ground as he fired. Video from a nearby police cruiser told another story. The officer had not been struck. He had fired through the driver’s-side window as the car passed him.
Officer Murtha’s story was so obviously incorrect that he was arrested on charges of assault and fabricating evidence. If officers can get away with shooting people and lying about it, the prosecutor declared, “the system is doomed.”
“There was no way around it — Murtha was dead wrong,” his lawyer, Hugh F. Keefe, recalled recently. But the officer was “bright, articulate and truthful,” Mr. Keefe said. Jurors needed an explanation for how the officer could be so wrong and still be innocent.
Dr. Lewinski testified at trial. The jury deliberated less than one full day. The officer was acquitted of all charges.
Thomas Frank writes in USA Today:
More than 5,000 bystanders and passengers have been killed in police car chases since 1979, and tens of thousands more were injured as officers repeatedly pursued drivers at high speeds and in hazardous conditions, often for minor infractions, a USA TODAY analysis shows.
The bystanders and the passengers in chased cars account for nearly half of all people killed in police pursuits from 1979 through 2013, USA TODAY found. Most bystanders were killed in their own cars by a fleeing driver.
Police across the USA chase tens of thousands of people each year — usually for traffic violations or misdemeanors — often causing drivers to speed away recklessly. Recent cases show the danger of the longstanding police practice of chasing minor offenders.
A 25-year-old New Jersey man was killed July 18 by a driver police chased for running a red light.
A 63-year-old Indianapolis grandmother was killed June 7 by a driver police chased four miles for shoplifting.
A 60-year-old federal worker was killed March 19 near Washington, D.C., by a driver police chased because his headlights were off.
“The police shouldn’t have been chasing him. That was a big crowded street,” said Evelyn Viverette, 83, mother of federal worker Charlie Viverette. “He wouldn’t have hit my son if the police hadn’t been chasing him.”
Nearly every day, someone is killed during a high-speed chase between police and a suspect.
Some police say drivers who flee are suspicious, and chasing them maintains law and order. “When crooks think they can do whatever they choose, that will just fester and foster more crimes,” said Milwaukee Police Detective Michael Crivello, who is president of the city’s police union.
Many in law enforcement, including the Justice Department, have recognized the danger of high-speed chases and urge officers to avoid or abort pursuits that endanger pedestrians, nearby motorists or themselves. At least 139 police have been killed in chases, federal records show.
“A pursuit is probably the most unique and dangerous job law enforcement can do,” said Tulsa Police Maj. Travis Yates, who runs a national pursuit-training academy.
The Justice Department called pursuits “the most dangerous of all ordinary police activities” in 1990 and urged police departments to adopt policies listing exactly when officers can and cannot pursue someone. “Far more police vehicle chases occur each year than police shootings,” the department said.
Police chases have killed nearly as many people as justifiable police shootings, according to government figures, which are widely thought to under count fatal shootings. Yet chases have escaped the national attention paid to other potentially lethal police tactics. . .
David Amsden reports in the NY Times Magazine:
On the morning of Sunday, March 29, Sidney Torres was sipping an espresso in the kitchen of his mansion on the edge of the French Quarter when a jarring notification lit up his iPad and two iPhones. Pimps fighting with drug dealers and johns. Man has gun. Hurry. The message came from a neighbor 10 blocks away, on St. Louis Street, and was sent through a venture Torres started four days earlier: a private police patrol that could be summoned via mobile app. Torres, who made a vast fortune as the founder of SDT Waste & Debris Services, a sanitation company that cleaned up much of New Orleans in the years following Hurricane Katrina, spent $380,000 to fund the enterprise after a crime wave put Quarter residents on edge for the better part of a year. Between November and January, there were more than 60 robberies in the neighborhood, and the crimes became increasingly brazen, including a vicious stabbing and a spate of random beatings. It became a personal issue for Torres on Dec. 17, when his 8,000-square-foot home was burglarized; three weeks later, the bar next door was held up by two masked gunmen. Torres’s crowdsourcing approach to crime, conceived throughout February and March, was the impulsive byproduct of his belief that the New Orleans Police Department, which has shrunk by around 500 officers since Hurricane Katrina, was no longer able to protect even the neighborhood less than a square mile in size that contained the city’s most valuable real estate.
Seated at his kitchen table, Torres began furiously refreshing his iPad. The screen displayed a digitized map of the Quarter, a grid of 78 city blocks that, as a national historic landmark and the center of the city’s $6.7 billion tourism industry, draw upward of nine million visitors each year. A red dot represented the incident in progress on St. Louis, while a green arrow indicated a member of Torres’s squad, the French Quarter Task Force, which at all hours had three armed officers zigzagging the neighborhood in matte black Polaris Rangers that resemble militarized golf carts. When Torres, who is 39, had deployed the same vehicles in his garbage business, the decimated city became cleaner than ever. ‘‘Basically, I’m handling crime the same way I did trash,’’ said Torres, whose brooding good looks and penchant for self-promotion earned him the nickname of Trashanova before he sold his sanitation company to a national conglomerate in 2011.
The task force’s Polarises had been retrofitted with blue halogen lights and a dock for an iPad, which served up requests in a manner similar to Uber. Torres was especially proud of the GPS chip he embedded in the chassis of each patrol, which now allowed him to watch the green arrow closing in on the red dot. Still, there was a three-second delay with the GPS, and he was not satisfied. The previous June, a shootout between two men on Bourbon Street’s commercial strip left nine wounded and one dead; worried a similar event was about to unfold, Torres telephoned a member of the dispatch team, which he was paying $20,000 a month.
‘‘We have a possible gunfight on St. Louis. What’s going on, man?’’
‘‘We have a guy en route.’’
‘‘I see that, but he needs to step on it.’’
For the next few minutes, Torres stared at the screen with the twitchy intensity of a day trader. The report came from Gail Cavett, a 30-year resident of the neighborhood who had parked her car on St. Louis to discover a commotion breaking out among a group of about a dozen people. This was not uncommon. The block had become so rough in recent months that, as Cavett later explained, ‘‘I wouldn’t take out my garbage without a gun.’’ From what she could gather, one of the men had failed to pay a prostitute for services rendered, and in response her pimp and his entourage — the ‘‘drug dealers’’ in her report — were now chasing the man down. They caught up with him in front of her home, where they started beating him. When he scurried away, Cavett ran inside and observed the scene from her balcony. The man returned wielding a gun, which he began waving in the street. That was when she sent in the report, opting to use Torres’s mobile app instead of 911, because, as she said, ‘‘everyone in New Orleans knows that 911 is a lost cause.’’
A Polaris turned the corner within two minutes, or 26 minutes faster than the N.O.P.D.’s average response time for the district. At the sight of the flashing blue lights, the men put their guns away and scattered.
‘‘Crazy, right?’’ Torres later said. ‘‘I kind of felt like Bruce Wayne.’’
In the United States, private police officers currently outnumber their publicly funded counterparts by a ratio of roughly three to one. Whereas in past decades the distinction was often clear — the rent-a-cop vs. the real cop — today the boundary between the two has become ‘‘messy and complex,’’ according to a study last year by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Torres’s task force is best understood in this context, one where the larger merging of private and public security has resulted in an extensive retooling of the nation’s policing as a whole. As municipal budgets have stagnated or plummeted, state and local governments have taken to outsourcing police work to the private sector, resulting in changes that have gone largely unnoticed by the public they’re tasked with protecting.
A recent report by the Justice Department, which has become one of the most prominent advocates of such collaborative efforts, identified 450 partnerships in the country between law enforcement and the private sector. Nationwide, there are now more than 1,200 ‘‘business improvement districts’’ in which businesses pay self-imposed taxes to fund improved services, including security. In many cases, officers covered by corporate entities have become indistinguishable from those paid for by taxpayers. Last year, Facebook entered into a three-year partnership with the Menlo Park, Calif., Police Department in which the social-media giant agreed to pay the $194,000 salary of a police officer whose job was going to be cut. One of the largest private security forces in the nation today is the University of Chicago Police, which has full jurisdiction over 65,000 residents, only 15,000 of whom are students. More than 100 public housing projects in Boston are patrolled by private security, including one company that has been authorized to arrest suspects under certain circumstances.
Torres’s security detail is unique not just in the prominence of its beat — a major American city’s most-visited neighborhood — but also in the fact that it was conceptualized and financed by a single individual, with government support. Staffed by off-duty N.O.P.D. officers in vehicles that bear the N.O.P.D.’s star-and-crescent logo, the force became part of a larger initiative for public-private policing that Mitch Landrieu, the city’s mayor since 2010, had been working to put in place since the shooting on Bourbon Street last summer. In addition to Torres’s force, set to run for a two-month pilot, Landrieu brought in . . .
It’s a very dark sign when government goes after journalists for publishing reports that are demonstrably true. I understand that the German government does wish that a person in government (the fault here lies within the government) leaked a classified document, but it should recognize that journalists took no oath to respect government secrecy. That’s the job of the government.
Morgan Marquis-Boire reports in The Intercept:
Two journalists at the prominent German news website Netzpolitik are under investigation for treason after publishing details about the planned expansion of the German Secret Service’s Internet surveillance program.
On Wednesday, the organization received a letter from the Federal Attorney General of Germany confirming ongoing investigations against reporters Markus Beckedahl, Andre Meister (pictured), and an “unknown source” for the articles, one of which waspublished in February and detailed a secret budget plan for surveillance activities, and another, from April, describing a new surveillance unit for monitoring social networking and online chats. Meister has characterized the plans as being part of Germany’s “post-Snowden” internet surveillance push.
Netzpolitik, which reports on politics and technology, learned within the last several weeks that Federal Attorney General of Germany was investigating the stories, but believed its sources were the target of the investigation rather than its journalists, Meister said in an interview. Only yesterday did it became clear that Meister and Beckedahl were also under investigation.
“This is a direct attack on freedom of the press, such as hasn’t been the case in around 50 years in Germany, since the ‘Spiegel scandal’ in 1962,’” Meister told The Intercept, citing an incident in which the German newsweekly Der Spiegel was searched and some of its journalists were arrested on treason accusations stemming from an article questioning the preparedness of West German armed forces.
“These charges are an intimidation against media and against potential sources — which are an integral part of investigative journalism,” he added. “The public needs whistleblowers to find out about what’s done in their name and with their money. So the original investigations against our sources were already a direct attack on freedom of press and freedom of information.”
The attorney general’s letter cites a section of the German penal code that states:
Whosoever … allows a state secret to come to the attention of an unauthorised person or to become known to the public in order to prejudice the Federal Republic of Germany or benefit a foreign power and thereby creates a danger of serious prejudice to the external security of the Federal Republic of Germany, shall be liable to imprisonment of not less than one year.
Meister railed against the implication that he or his publication have attacked the German state, saying that, as part of a “fourth pillar” in German society, their job is to “dig deep, investigate, and provide the public with information that has not previously been public … providing the public — and thus the sovereign — with information for public debate that’s integral for informed consent.”
“Germany won’t be invaded because of our reporting,” he added. “On the other hand, one could argue that the pervasive mass surveillance of the digital world is an attack on the basic freedoms of a free society. Without privacy, there can be no freedom of thought and freedom of association without a protected, un-invaded private space. We want to enable a public debate about these integral issues.”
The charges have generated significant attention in Germany. A public demonstrationhas been organized in support of Netzpolitik, and today they received high-level support when the Heiko Maas, the German Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection, expressed doubts to the Attorney General that journalists intended to harm Germany or aid a foreign power.
Asked if Netzpolitik would continue to report using materials gained from whistleblowers, Meister replied, . . .
And Snowden is right. The 4th Amendment (and the 5th Amendment) are part of the Bill of Rights for a reason. If the government wants to read your emails, it can serve a warrant and seek formal access, not through breaking the encryption. The government truly wants one-sided secrecy: secrecy for itself and its actions, transparency for you and your actions.
Jenna McLaughlin reports in The Intercept:
As the Obama administration campaign to stop the commercialization of strong encryption heats up, National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden is firing back on behalf of the companies like Apple and Google that are finding themselves under attack.
“Technologists and companies working to protect ordinary citizens should be applauded, not sued or prosecuted,” Snowden wrote in an email through his lawyer.
Snowden was asked by The Intercept to respond to the contentious suggestion — made Thursday on a blog that frequently promotes the interests of the national security establishment — that companies like Apple and Google might in certain cases be found legally liable for providing material aid to a terrorist organization because they provide encryption services to their users.
In his email, Snowden explained how law enforcement officials who are demanding that U.S. companies build some sort of window into unbreakable end-to-end encryption — he calls that an “insecurity mandate” — haven’t thought things through.
“The central problem with insecurity mandates has never been addressed by its proponents: if one government can demand access to private communications, all governments can,” Snowden wrote.
“No matter how good the reason, if the U.S. sets the precedent that Apple has to compromise the security of a customer in response to a piece of government paper, what can they do when the government is China and the customer is the Dalai Lama?”
Weakened encryption would only drive people away from the American technology industry, Snowden wrote. “Putting the most important driver of our economy in a position where they have to deal with the devil or lose access to international markets is public policy that makes us less competitive and less safe.” . . .
The cop in question already had a drunk-driving conviction, but was still on the job and driving. Police really do not seem to be held accountable when they break the law. Tom Haydon reports for NJ.com:
More than two months after he crashed head-on into a tractor-trailer in Staten Island in a suspected drunk-driving accident that killed two people, Linden Officer Pedro Abad remains on the city payroll.
Abad, 27, had blood-alcohol level of .24 — three times the legal limit — at the time of the head-on crash, officials have said. He also has previously been charged with drunk driving after two separate accidents. He pleaded guilty to one of those incidents in 2013.
“This destroys the image of the police department for years,” said Maria Haberfeld, a professor at John Jay College of of Criminal Justice and chair of the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at the college.
“It’s incomprehensible to me that he’s still on the force. It taints the whole department,” she added. She has used reports about Abad in her police ethics class.
Linden police say they are still reviewing the case, and awaiting results of the New York investigation, and have not taken any disciplinary action. New York authorities have not filed any charges against anyone involved in the crash. . .
Continue reading. There’s more.
The American criminal justice system is nothing to be proud of. Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:
A couple weeks ago, Nathan Burney drew up a cartoon for The Watch that explained the concept of qualified immunity. This is the protection given to state employees, including police, from lawsuits alleging violations of constitutional rights. Before even getting in front of a jury, a plaintiff must not only show that his rights were violated, but that a reasonable person in the public employee’s position should have known that the actions in question were in violation of the Constitution. It’s a tough hurdle to overcome. And even then, the plaintiff could still fail to persuade a jury.
A couple recent appeals court decisions demonstrate just how difficult it can be for a victim to win compensation.
The first comes from Ferguson, Mo., where Henry Davis sued three police officers for allegedly beating him in a jail cell while he was compliant and subdued. While the evidence suggests that Davis was initially uncooperative, the appeals court ruling notes that testimony supports the contention that this wasn’t the case when the officers began beating him. Davis was then charged with “property damage” for bleeding on the officers’ uniforms.
That brings us to this amazing passage from an opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit:
The district court granted summary judgment dismissing these claims on a narrow ground. “Qualified immunity shields police officers from liability for civil damages where their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” . . . Noting that, until recently, some of our decisions suggested that an excessive force claim will not lie if the plaintiff suffered only “de minimis injuries,” the court concluded that the police officers were entitled to qualified immunity because, “as unreasonable as it may sound, a reasonable officer could have believed that beating a subdued and compliant Mr. Davis while causing only a concussion, scalp laceration, and bruising with almost no permanent damage did not violate the Constitution.
The court overturned the district court judge’s opinion. But it’s remarkable that it would need to. Here are a few other things to keep in mind:
- Davis is fortunate to have attorneys willing to appeal that decision.
- He could still lose in front of a jury.
- Even if he wins, the officers could appeal.
- Even if he wins the appeal, the officers likely won’t be paying a dime. Unless the jury specifically calls for punitive damages, the award will be paid for by the people of Ferguson.
- The appeals court ruled against Davis’s claim against the city of Ferguson, finding that the city is protected by sovereign immunity. To get past sovereign immunity, Davis would have to show that Ferguson police have demonstrated a pattern and practice of constitutional violations. (This incident happened in 2009.) Despite the numerous reports of precisely that, including one from the Department of Justice, Davis lost here. It seems doubtful that the DOJ report would have been released in time to be admitted into evidence. But this shows how tough it is to establish a pattern or practice of violations, even in jurisdictions where that’s clearly the case.
The other case involves Benny Starks, about whom I wrote in my series on bite mark evidence. Starks spent 20 years in prison after he was convicted of the rape and assault of a 69-year-old woman in 1986. He was convicted primarily due to testimony from bite mark analysts Russell Schneider and Carl Hagstrom, testimony from blood serologist Sharon Thomas-Boyd, and an identification by the victim. (The victim initially described her assailant as clean-shaven and 18-19 years old. Starks at the time was 26, and had a mustache and beard.) Schneider and Hagstrom claimed to have found a bite mark on the victim that matched Starks’s teeth “to a reasonable medical certainty.” . . .
Continue reading. And do read the whole thing: The Starks case is an eye-opener into just how bad the US criminal justice system is.