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Tag: Excessive Force

Unreasonable Police Searches Are Illegal And Happen Far Too Often

police lightsBy Steve Chapman
Chicago Tribune

The most memorable moment of the recent Democratic National Convention was when the father of a Muslim U.S. Army captain killed in Iraq demanded of Donald Trump, “Have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.” Conservatives, however, also revere our founding document. At the first tea party rallies in 2009, attendees waved copies.

But the Constitution is not self-enforcing, and one important section has eroded to the point of invisibility: the Fourth Amendment. It says, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” In much of America, that guarantee is an empty promise.

The latest evidence came in a report on police practices in Baltimore, issued Aug. 10 by the U.S. Department of Justice after an investigation spurred by the 2015 death of Freddie Gray. It documents that the city’s law enforcement officers operate with virtually no regard for the Fourth Amendment.

In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that cops may stop someone when they have reasonable grounds to suspect criminal activity and, if they have reasonable grounds to think the person is armed, may frisk him lightly to detect weapons. They may not stop anyone they please, and they may not vigorously search a citizen’s clothing and body without a good reason.

The court intended to empower police only within strict limits. It emphasized, “No right is held more sacred, or is more carefully guarded, by the common law, than the right of every individual to the possession and control of his own person, free from all restraint or interference of others, unless by clear and unquestionable authority of law.”

But the Justice Department found that in Baltimore, police routinely stop people on the street without reasonable suspicion, conduct physical searches that lack adequate grounds and exceed legal limits, and arrest people without justification. Each of these practices is more than a mistake: It is a violation of fundamental liberties at the heart of what it means to be an American.

To read more click here. 

Justice Department: Baltimore Police Routinely Violated Civil Rights of Residents

baltimore police departmentBy Steve Neavling

A Justice Department investigation determined that Baltimore police often are quick to stop, search, arrest and use excessive force on black residents who often did nothing wrong.

The investigation, prompted by the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, found deficiencies in training, supervision and policies “that fail to equip officers with the tools they need to police effectively and within the bounds of federal law,” the Baltimore Sun reports. 

Part of the problem stems from a zero-tolerance policy that encouraged officers to make a lot of stops, searches and arrest without the proper training.

The investigators concluded that “supervisors have issued explicitly discriminatory orders, such as directing a shift to arrest ‘all the black hoodies’ in a neighborhood.”

Police practices in Baltimore “perpetuate and fuel a multitude of issues rooted in poverty and race, focusing law enforcement actions on low-income, minority communities” and encourage officers to have “unnecessary, adversarial interactions with community members,” the report said.

Ex-Louisiana Cop Admits He Lied about Striking Woman in Civil Rights Case

HomerLouisianaPoliceDept (1)By Steve Neavling

A former Louisiana police officer who used excessive force on a woman in 2012 has pleaded guilty to violating her civil rights and lying to the FBI.

Homer Police Department Officer Willie Fred Knowles was accused of pushing the woman to the floor and striking her face and body, the Guardian reports. 

When questioned by the FBI, the officer falsely claimed the woman pounced on him and that he never struck her.

Authorities said Knowles also used his taser against two people in 2012 “without justification.”

He faces five year in prison when sentenced.

Other Stories of Interest

FBI Widens Investigation of Inmate Abuse at New York State Prison System

jail2photoBy Steve Neavling

The FBI is widening its investigation into inmate abuse in the New York state prison system following the death of a mentally ill inmate last April.

Now the bureau has opened a probe into the alleged 2014 beating of an inmate at Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill by officers, the Poughkeepsie Journal reports. 

Less than 2 miles away is another prison where officers allegedly beat to death Samuel D, Harrell III in a vicious attack. His death prompted a federal wrongful-death lawsuit.

The latest case involves Kevin Moore, who was allegedly beaten so badly that he suffered a collapsed lung, socket fractures, bruised legs, five broken ribs and blurred vision, the Times-Union reports. 

Moore’s assaulted spared a grand jury investigation in Jun 2015 but nothing resulted at the time.

“We reached a point where it became apparent that the investigative resources of the U.S. attorney’s office coupled with the federal grand jury rules of evidence would enhance our ability to conduct a more thorough investigation,” Dutchess County District Attorney Bill Grady said Sunday. “Therefore we, as an office, joined with the U.S. Attorney’s office a number of months ago. And this joint investigation is currently ongoing along with the (Samuel) Harrell case.”

Justice Department to Spend $20M on Body Cameras for Police

By Steve Neavling

The Justice Department plans to help police departments equip officers with body cameras, The Washington Post reports. 

The DOJ is launching a pilot program to determine the impact of the cameras, which come at a time when protesters nationwide are accusing police of unlawful force and racism.

The plan is to spend nearly $20 million on cameras for dozens of departments.

“This body-worn camera pilot program is a vital part of the Justice Department’s comprehensive efforts to equip law enforcement agencies throughout the country with the tools, support, and training they need to tackle the 21st century challenges we face,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement.

Lynch said the idea is to learn what really happens when accusations are made.

“Body-worn cameras hold tremendous promise for enhancing transparency, promoting accountability, and advancing public safety for law enforcement officers and the communities they serve,” Lynch said.

A separate task force found that body cameras reduce the use of force by police.

“Now that agencies operate in a world in which anyone with a cell phone camera can record video footage of a police encounter, [body cameras] help police departments ensure that events are also captured from an officer’s perspective,” the report stated.

Justice Department to Investigate Extent of Law Enforcement Bias in 5 Cities

By Steve Neavling

The rash of shootings of unarmed black teens has prompted Attorney General Eric Holder to launch an investigation of law enforcement bias in five not-yet-named cities, the USA Today reports.

Holder said the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO., underscored the importance of an investigation.

To head the study is a team of criminal justice researchers who will make recommendations, Holder said.

The Rev. Al Sharpton welcomed the investigation.

“We must study the culture of policing … and the reason that the community responds the way it does,” Sharpton said in a telephone interview. He added that the Brown and Garner cases and others have “led to an even further erosion” of relations between police and communities already shaken by growing gun violence.


LA Times Editorial: Border Patrol Must Take Deadly Shootings More Seriously

By Los Angeles Times
Editorial Board

The new head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s internal affairs office made a troubling assertion late last week. Since 2004, he said, the agency has apparently taken no disciplinary action against any of its agents who have used deadly force.

That follows a report released in February by the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum, which reviewed 67 shooting incidents by Border Patrol agents from January 2010 to October 2012, 19 of which were fatal, and accused the agency of violating accepted police practices and a “lack of diligence” in investigating agents’ actions.

The American Immigration Council reported in May that of 809 abuse complaints (a broader category) filed from 2009 to 2012, 40% remained unresolved, and in the resolved cases, only 3% found fault with an agent’s actions. Comparative statistics are hard to come by, but a study of 2002 data found that about 8% of complaints against civilian police officers were sustained.

The backlog of cases and the possibility that the agency has been unwilling to discipline its officers led Department of Homeland Security officials in June to replace the internal affairs director, James F. Tomsheck, with an outsider, former L.A. police officer and FBI Deputy Assistant Director Mark Morgan. It was Morgan who told reporters he had yet to find records of disciplinary actions against agents in deadly force cases. While it’s possible that there was no fault to be found, that seems highly unlikely.

It is clear that the agency must respond more quickly to complaints and must be willing to assess the behavior of its employees fairly and objectively when they use their weapons. In one 2012 case, a Border Patrol agent fired across the border into Nogales, Mexico, killing 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez; the boy, who the Border Patrol says may have been throwing rocks, was struck in the back by at least eight bullets. His family says he was merely walking home after playing basketball. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of the family, but so far it has been unsuccessful in getting the agency to publicly identify the officer involved.

To read more click here.


Other Stories of Interest


Justice Department to Launch Broad Civil Rights Investigation into Ferguson PD


By Steve Neavling

The Justice Department is launching a broad civil rights investigation into the Ferguson Police Department after an unarmed black teen was shot, leading to protests, unrest and more abuse from local cops.

The Washington Post reports that the investigation is expected to be announced as early as today by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

The Justice Department civil rights division, which has investigated excessive force in other police departments, will lead the probe.

The investigation will also include police departments in St. Louis County.

Investigators will be determining whether the department adopted polices and practices that led to civil rights violations.