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Appalling stories from the DOJ’s investigation of the Cleveland Police Department

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The Cleveland PD seems to be a criminal organization that enjoys effective immunity regardless of its misconduct. Emily Badger reports in the Washington Post:

On Thursday, the Department of Justice released a scathing investigation of the Cleveland Police Department that found that officers there have engaged in a pattern of excessive and deadly force against residents — using guns, tasers, chemical spray and fists — in violation of their rights.

Investigators uncovered officers firing their guns at people who posed them no threat, using lethal force out of proportion to the resistance they met, and escalating incidents that might have been disarmed instead. The department, meanwhile, systemically failed to hold officers accountable, or even to document many of these incidents. The report is particularly stinging given that it comes a decade after the DOJ’s last investigation of the Cleveland PD, when it uncovered charges “starkly similar to the findings” today.

The document is a painful, often shocking read. But it’s also a good primer for anyone unconvinced of the need for police reform. Below are some of the most distressing stories documented in the report.

The DOJ found Cleveland police officers shooting at people who presented neither serious nor imminent threats. In this 2013 incident, a sergeant fired at a victim, “Anthony,” fleeing a home where he was being held against his will by armed suspects:

When officers arrived on scene, they had information that two armed assailants were holding several people inside the home. After officers surrounded the house, Anthony escaped from his captors and ran from the house, wearing only boxer shorts. An officer ordered Anthony to stop, but Anthony continued to run toward the officers. One sergeant fired two shots at him, missing. According to the sergeant, when Anthony escaped from the house, the sergeant believed Anthony had a weapon because he elevated his arm and pointed his hand toward the sergeant. No other officers at the scene reported seeing Anthony point anything at the sergeant.

The sergeant’s use of deadly force was unreasonable. It is only by fortune that he did not kill the crime victim in this incident.

The report found officers striking suspects even after they had been handcuffed:

In another incident, an officer punched a handcuffed 13 year-old boy in the face several times. Officers had arrested the juvenile for shoplifting. While “Harold” was handcuffed in the zone car, he began to kick the door and kicked an officer in the leg. In response, the 300 pound, 6’4” tall officer entered the car and sat on the legs of the 150 pound, 5’8” tall handcuffed boy. Harold was pushing against the officer with his legs, but was handcuffed and posed no threat to the officer. Nevertheless, the officer continued to sit on Harold and punched him in the face three to four times until he was “stunned/dazed” and had a bloody nose.

And using their tasers inappropriately:

In one incident that illustrates CDP’s inappropriate use of Tasers, an officer used his Taser to drive stun a 127-pound juvenile twice as two officers held him on the ground. Officers believed that “Ivan” matched the description of a possible fleeing suspect wanted for harassing store customers and stealing. Officers chased Ivan on foot, caught up to him, and tackled him. The officers alleged that the 127-pound juvenile “continued to resist” as they both held him on ground, prompting one of the officers to deploy his Taser twice in the juvenile’s back in drive stun mode, even though both officers were holding him down.

In other cases, officers deployed unreasonable force against people with mental illness: . . .

Continue reading.

As Radley Balko points out in his column on the report:

. . . The department also fails at holding cops accountable after the fact.

Force incidents often are not properly reported, documented, investigated, or addressed with corrective measures. Supervisors throughout the chain of command endorse questionable and sometimes unlawful conduct by officers. We reviewed supervisory investigations of officers’ use of force that appear to be designed from the outset to justify the officers’ actions. Deeply troubling to us was that some of the specially-trained investigators who are charged with conducting unbiased reviews of officers’ use of deadly force admitted to us that they conduct their investigations with the goal of casting the accused officer in the most positive light possible. This admitted bias appears deeply rooted, cuts at the heart of the accountability system at CDP, and is emblematic of the type of practice that justifies a finding under Section 14141.

In fact, the relevant internal department responsible for investigating deadly force incidents hasn’t conducted a single investigation since 2012. More disturbing still, the DOJ issued a similar report a mere decade ago about the same department. There’s only so much the department can do. At some point, it’s up to the people of Cleveland. Hopefully it won’t take too many more dead kids or multimillion dollar settlements for residents to demand that political leaders install police officials who take a more constitution-friendly approach to law enforcement.

Read the entirety of Balko’s column—and Badger’s as well. The police in Cleveland are simply an armed gang.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2015 at 2:03 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

The dangers of coercive interrogation

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In the New Yorker Douglass Starr points out that coercive interrogation techniques can readily produce false information:

For more than fifty years, John E. Reid & Associates, Inc., has represented itself as providing the gold standard in interrogation training for police. The company’s technique, developed by Reid himself, a polygraph expert and former cop, in the late nineteen-forties, involves exerting psychological pressure to encourage confession. It is nonviolent and, according to the company, extremely effective. But, as I discussed in an article for the magazine in 2013, the past few decades have seen a growing number of psychologists and advocates question whether the technique isn’t coercive and prone to producing false confessions. Now a twenty-million-dollar wrongful-conviction settlement has provided fuel to Reid’s detractors.

In 1993, Juan Rivera, a resident of Waukegan, Illinois, was sentenced to life in prison for the rape and murder, a year earlier, of an eleven-year-old girl named Holly Staker. For more than two months after Staker’s body was found, the police failed to produce a credible suspect. Following up on a tip from a jailhouse informant, they focussed on Rivera, a nineteen-year-old native of Puerto Rico with a history of psychological problems. No physical evidence linked him to the attack, and readings from an ankle monitor that Rivera was wearing at the time, while awaiting trial for a nonviolent burglary, showed that he had been nowhere near the scene of the crime. Nevertheless, in late October of 1992, he was brought to Lake County Jail, in Waukegan, and interrogated intermittently for four days. Twice during that time, Rivera was taken to Reid headquarters, in Chicago, where a Reid employee named Michael Masokas administered polygraph tests. The results were mixed, but Masokas told Rivera that the evidence demonstrated his guilt. Eventually, after more round-robin interrogation, he signed a confession.

Rivera’s conviction was affirmed three times in the course of the next sixteen years: in 1998, by a jury; in 2001, by the Illinois Appellate Court; and in 2009, by another jury. The last trial was, in many ways, the most astonishing, because it came four years after new DNA evidence had exculpated Rivera. Nevertheless, he was found guilty again, based partly on the strength of his original confession. Rivera’s attorneys appealed, and he was released in 2012. Later that year, he filed a civil suit for false arrest and malicious prosecution, naming a handful of people and government entities as defendants, including the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force, which helped investigate his case.

The settlement was announced in March, but only recently have some of the financial details been made public. The City of Waukegan, which has since withdrawn from the task force, will pay the highest amount—seven and a half million dollars. The State of Illinois and Lake County will each pay three and a half million dollars, with lesser amounts coming from other towns. John E. Reid & Associates will pay two million dollars, which appears to be the largest settlement in its history. Joseph Buckley, the company’s president, did not respond to my requests for comment. When I spoke with him in 2013, however, he distanced Reid from any cases of false confession, arguing that they were the result of improper implementation of the technique. Such distancing will be more difficult in this case, since several of the police officers testified that they were trained in interrogation by Reid, and since one of the company’s employees was apparently directly involved.

In a report to Rivera’s attorneys, the psychologist Saul Kassin, who has studied false confessions for decades, called the interrogation “one of the worst, if not the worst, I have ever seen.” He told me that the settlement reinforces two important points: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2015 at 9:35 am

Police immunity once more: Cleveland officer who fired 15 rounds into two unarmed citizens is acquitted of manslaughter

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Two African-Americans pursued by police (with plenty of shots fired at them). Car is finally brought to a stop and surrounded. They are unarmed. A white police officer jumps up onto the hood of the car and fires 15 rounds through the windshield, killing them both. I think perhaps he thought he was being a hero. But they were not armed, the car was immobilized, and their deaths were completely gratuitous.

But the officer was acquitted. In Cleveland, where this occurred, shooting unarmed people to death is apparently just part of a police officer’s job description. (The Cleveland PD is still investigating Tamir Rice’s death—they are certainly taking their time with the investigation, unlike with the shooting: they shot Tamir Rice two seconds after they pulled to a stop. He as 12 years old.)

Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2015 at 8:40 am

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

Banks as Felons, or Criminality Lite

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The NY Times editorial board also notices that banks are never really punished for the crimes they commit:

As of this week, Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland are felons, having pleaded guilty on Wednesday to criminal charges of conspiring to rig the value of the world’s currencies. According to the Justice Department, the lengthy and lucrative conspiracy enabled the banks to pad their profits without regard to fairness, the law or the public good.

Besides the criminal label, however, nothing much has changed for the banks. And that means nothing much has changed for the public. There is no meaningful accountability in the plea deals and, by extension, no meaningful deterrence from future wrongdoing. In a memo to employees this week, the chief executive of Citi, Michael Corbat, called the criminal behavior “an embarrassment” — not the word most people would use to describe a felony but an apt one in light of the fact that the plea deals are essentially a spanking, nothing more.

As a rule, a felony plea carries more painful consequences. For example, a publicly traded company that is guilty of a crime is supposed to lose privileges granted by the Securities and Exchange Commission to quickly raise and trade money in the capital markets. But in this instance, the plea deals were not completed until the S.E.C. gave official assurance that the banks could keep operating the same as always, despite their criminal misconduct. (One S.E.C. commissioner, Kara Stein, issued a scathingdissent from the agency’s decision to excuse the banks.)

Also, a guilty plea is usually a prelude to further action, not the “resolution” of a case, as the Justice Department has called the plea deals with the banks.

To properly determine accountability for criminal conspiracy in the currency cases, prosecutors should now investigate low-level employees in the crime — traders, say — and then use information gleaned from them to push the investigation up as far as the evidence leads. No one has thus far been named or charged. Nor has there been any explanation of how such lengthy and lucrative criminal conduct could have gone unsuspected and undetected by supervisors, managers and executives. The plea deals leave open the possibility of further investigation, but the prosecutors’ light touch with the banks makes it doubtful they will follow through.

An argument has been made that the S.E.C. was right not to revoke the banks’ capital-market privileges because doing so might disrupt the economy. That is debatable. What is not debatable is that bringing criminal charges against individuals and even sending some of them to jail would not disrupt the economy. To the contrary, holding individuals accountable is all the more important in instances of wrongdoing by banks that, for whatever reason, have been exempted from the full legal consequences of their criminal behavior. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 May 2015 at 8:52 pm

Could it be that at last employees of a law-breaking corporation will go to prison?

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Danielle Ivory, Ben Protess, and Bill Vlasic report in the NY Times:

Justice Department investigators have identified criminal wrongdoing in General Motors’ failure to disclose a defect tied to at least 104 deaths, and are negotiating what is expected to be a record penalty, according to people briefed on the inquiry.

A settlement could be reached as soon as this summer. The final number is still being negotiated, but it is expected to eclipse the $1.2 billion paid last year by Toyota for concealing unintended acceleration problems in its vehicles, those people said.

G.M.’s eagerness to resolve the investigation — a strategy that sets it apart from Toyota, which fought prosecutors — is expected to earn it so-called cooperation credit, one of the people said. That credit could translate into a somewhat smaller penalty than if G.M. had declined to cooperate.

Former G.M. employees, some of whom were dismissed last year, are under investigation as well and could face criminal charges. Prosecutors and G.M. are also still negotiating what misconduct the company would admit to.

For more than a year, federal prosecutors in Manhattan and the F.B.I. have homed in on whether the company failed to comply with laws requiring timely disclosure of vehicle defects and misled federal regulators about the extent of the problems, the people who were briefed on the inquiry said. The authorities also examined whether G.M. committed fraud during its bankruptcy proceedings in 2009 by not disclosing the defect.

An agreement with the Justice Department, which could still fall apart, would represent a crucial step as G.M. tries to move past a scandal-laden year that tainted its reputation for quality and safety and damaged its bottom line.

“We are cooperating fully with all requests,” the automaker said in a statement. “We are unable to comment on the status of the investigation, including timing.”

Continue reading.

One question: why was this information released VERY late on a Friday before a long holiday weekend?

Written by LeisureGuy

22 May 2015 at 5:38 pm

DOJ Calls Out UBS Rap Sheet; Ignores Citigroup’s Rap Sheet (because Citigroup is a US company)

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Pam Martens and Russ Martens give another example of why it’s so very difficult to respect the Obama Administration’s Department of Justice:

When the U.S. Department of Justice held its press conference on Wednesday to announce that five mega banks were each pleading guilty to a felony charge, paying big fines and being put on probation for three years, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Leslie Caldwell specifically took a battering ram to the reputation of Swiss bank, UBS.

Four banks — Citicorp, a unit of Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays — pleaded guilty to an antitrust charge of conspiring to rig foreign currency trading while UBS pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud for its earlier involvement in rigging the interest rate benchmark, Libor.

In explaining why the Justice Department was ripping up the non-prosecution agreement it had negotiated with UBS in December 2012 over its involvement in the Libor fraud and now charging it with a felony, Caldwell delivered a scathing attack on UBS, stating:

Perhaps most significantly, UBS has a ‘rap sheet’ that cannot be ignored. Within the past six years, the department has resolved criminal investigations of UBS three times, resulting in non-prosecution or deferred prosecution agreements. UBS also has entered into civil and regulatory settlements on multiple occasions within the past few years.  Enough is enough.

Enough is apparently not enough, however, when it comes to serial banking tyrants based in the U.S. Not only does Citigroup have a monster rap sheet that keeps growing, but it’s the bank that contributed significantly to the U.S. financial collapse in 2008 and received the largest taxpayer bailout in U.S. history: $45 billion in equity infusions, over $300 billion in asset guarantees, and over $2 trillion in low-cost loans from the Federal Reserve.

In last month’s Harper’s Magazine, Andrew Cockburn took an in-depth look at Citigroup’s history of hubris, including the crime supermarket that Sandy Weill created with the merger of Travelers Group and Citicorp to form Citigroup in 1998. Cockburn writes:

Under Weill, however, the merged firm set new records for reckless gambles and fraud. It was Citigroup that helped to cook Enron’s books, disguising $4 billion worth of loans on the balance sheet as operating cash flow. Citigroup’s executives apparently understood what they were doing, but carried on regardless—the payoff being the $200 million in fees earned from the energy-trading firm before it collapsed amid bankruptcy and criminal charges. (As it turned out, crime did not pay, at least not for Citigroup’s stockholders, since the firm ended up shelling out $100 million in civil penalties to the SEC and $3.7 billion to settle claims by Enron investors.)

Equally favored as a client was the WorldCom communications conglomerate. Jack Grubman, Citi’s star telecom analyst, served as an adviser to Bernard Ebbers, WorldCom’s CEO, while relentlessly touting the company’s stock to unwitting investors. For his services, Grubman received more than $67.5 million between 1999 and 2002—hardly excessive compensation, considering that he had helped Citigroup to generate almost $1.2 billion in fees from WorldCom and other communications firms. Subsequent events followed their normal course.  WorldCom declared bankruptcy, Ebbers went to jail, Grubman paid a $15 million fine and was banned from the securities industry for life, and Citigroup settled a  WorldCom investors’ suit for $2.6 billion and paid a $300 million fine to the SEC. None of Citigroup’s senior executives suffered any penalty.

There is an exponentially growing body of evidence that Citigroup’s cozy ties to Washington and cozy deals with its regulators are enabling its continued plundering of Main Street. In 2011, nineteen professors and scholars in securities law filed a joint amicus brief with the Second Circuit Appeals Court explaining why Judge Jed Rakoff was correct to reject a $285 million settlement that the SEC had negotiated with Citigroup. Their law schools included Columbia, George Washington, Villanova, Cornell and others. They told the court:

Continue reading. There’s lots more, which the DoJ tactfully ignores—it’s a US firm, after all, and US firms can do what they please.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 May 2015 at 2:16 pm

Interesting quiz: Can you tell the difference between the FISA court and the court in Franz Kafka’s The Trial

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Alvaro Bedoya and Ben Sobel write in the Washington Post:

When Edward Snowden first went public, he did it by leaking a 4-page order from a secret court called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA court. Founded in 1978 after the Watergate scandal and investigations by the Church Committee, the FISA court was supposed to be a bulwark against secret government surveillance. In 2006, it authorized the NSA call records program – the single largest domestic surveillance program in American history.

“The court” in Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial is a shadowy tribunal that tries (and executes) Josef K., the story’s protagonist, without informing him of the crime he’s charged with, the witnesses against him, or how he can defend himself. (Worth noting: The FISA court doesn’t “try” anyone. Also, it doesn’t kill people.)

Congress is debating a bill that would make the FISA court more transparent. In the meantime, can you tell the difference between the FISA court and Kafka’s court?

Section I. Every court has rules and procedures. Do the following describe proceedings in the FISA court, Kafka’s court, or both? . . .

Continue reading to take the quiz.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2015 at 3:21 pm


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