Tag: Crime

#BlackLivesMatter: Who Was Dontre Hamilton?

The now-fired Milwaukee police officer who fatally shot Dontre Hamilton in Red Arrow Park in April 2014 violated his constitutional rights by illegally patting him down for weapons, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

The decision is a partial victory for the Hamilton family in their civil suit against the officer and the city. It means they are entitled to receive damages in at least one of their four claims against the former officer, Christopher Manney.

Three remaining claims still need to be decided by a jury, according to the ruling by U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller. They are: Whether Manney detained Hamilton unlawfully, whether Manney used excessive force against Hamilton and whether the city failed to properly train Manney, particularly with regard to dealing with mentally ill people.

The incident that resulted in Hamilton’s death began when workers at the nearby Starbucks called police to complain that he was sleeping in the park. A pair of officers had twice checked on him earlier and found he was doing nothing wrong.

Manney, the beat officer in the area, unaware of the other officers’ actions, retrieved a voicemail about Hamilton and went to the park. He approached Hamilton, who was lying on the ground and asked him to stand.

Chief fired officer

Manney came up behind Hamilton, placing his hands under Hamilton’s arms and on his chest in what Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn later described as an “out of policy pat-down.” In the confrontation that unfolded after the pat-down, Hamilton got control of Manney’s baton and Manney shot Hamilton 14 times.

The national debate over police relations with the African-American community escalated after the killing of two New York City police officers on Saturday by a man who cited his anger about the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases on social media.

*Originally published on JS Online.

#BlackLivesMatter: Who Was Jonathan Ferrell?

Jonathan Ferrell found himself in Bradfield Farms, a quiet community of single-family homes just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. Ferrell had spent the evening at a bar on the northern edge of Charlotte with some co-workers from Best Buy, where he worked part time as a salesman, and had agreed to give one of them a ride home. Afterward, the 24-year-old Ferrell turned around the Toyota Camry he had borrowed from his fiancée and drove through the densely wooded neighborhood toward the freeway. It was after 2 a.m. and dark.

Ferrell ended up drifting into the woods alongside Reedy Creek Road, then down an embankment and into a cluster of trees. The wreck was so severe that Ferrell likely had to kick his way out through the back window (A toxicology report would later show no sign of drugs in Ferrell’s system). He emerged with neither his shoes nor his phone, which was lost somewhere in the crumpled vehicle, and began to look around for someone he could ask for help.

He had walked about a quarter of a mile when he saw a house. He approached the front door and started knocking. It was now about 2:30 a.m. The sound of Ferrell’s knocking awoke Sarah McCartney, a young woman who lived in the house with her husband and their infant. McCartney’s husband worked nights, so when Ferrell arrived at her doorstep, she and the baby were home alone. She opened the door expecting to see her husband. Instead, she saw someone she did not recognize, panicked, and shut the door as fast as she could.

McCartney had triggered her burglar alarm when she’d opened the door. Now she called 911. “I need help,” she told the dispatcher. “There’s a guy breaking in my front door. He’s trying to kick it down.” The man was black, she said, sobbing. He had a green shirt on, maybe khakis or jeans. The dispatcher told her that police were on their way.

McCartney watched from her window as Kerrick (the first officer to respond) looked around for the intruder. He didn’t see anyone, he would later testify, but heard noises—what sounded like screaming—coming from the direction of a nearby neighborhood pool. Little pulled up in his patrol car, and the two of them drove toward the noise. It was now 2:47 a.m.

As the officers turned onto the pool road, with Neal following behind them, Jonathan Ferrell emerged from the darkness. Kerrick and Little got out of their cars and watched for several seconds as their suspect walked toward them, the patrol car headlights illuminating his 6-foot, 225-pound frame. Little took out his Taser and aimed it at the approaching figure’s chest, causing bright red lights to appear on the front of his green T-shirt. Kerrick unholstered his firearm.

What happened next took about five seconds. Little fired his Taser but missed. Kerrick shouted, “Get on the ground!” three times in quick succession. When Ferrell did not comply, and continued to run, Kerrick opened fire. By the time he was satisfied he had neutralized the threat, Kerrick had discharged 12 rounds, 10 of which had struck their target. Jonathan Ferrell, who had been unarmed, died on the scene.

Kerrick said he saw Little fire at Ferrell with the Taser but concluded that it hadn’t worked. “He kept coming towards me. … I was giving him loud commands, but he wasn’t paying me a bit of attention. When he got within, say, 10 feet of me, I fired my duty weapon. It didn’t faze him. He kept coming toward me; I fired again.”

So far, this might sound like an all-too-familiar story. White police officer kills unarmed black man, defends his decision to use deadly force by saying he feared for his life, enjoys the vigorous backing of his department, and suffers few, if any, consequences for his actions. It’s a script that has played out repeatedly since Ferrell’s death in the fall of 2013, most prominently in the case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement and forced a national debate about police violence.

Less than 18 hours after Jonathan Ferrell died, CMPD served Randall Kerrick with an arrest warrant. That night, Kerrick was booked at Mecklenburg County Jail, a short walk from police headquarters. He was released from custody the following day, when he posted $50,000 bond. It was the first time in more than 30 years that an officer in Charlotte was being charged with a crime for killing someone.

The effort proved insufficient. After eight hours, the grand jury came back to Coman with a “no true bill,” meaning the jurors felt the prosecutor had failed to demonstrate there was probable cause to indict Kerrick on manslaughter charges. (In a handwritten note, members of the jury indicated to the prosecutors that they might have been willing to indict under a lesser charge.) “We are shocked and devastated,” a lawyer for the Ferrell family was quoted as saying at the time. “We’re highly concerned that a miscarriage of justice is imminent.” Kerrick faced three to 11 years in prison if convicted at trial.

The evidence against the White officer was mounting: the dashcam footage showed that the victim was unarmed; Also, neither of the other 2 officers at the scene, who had more policing experience than Kerrick, used their firearms in response to Ferrell’s behavior. If Kerrick had been afraid that Ferrell was about to kill him, he shouldn’t have been.

*Excerpts taken from an article originally published on Slate.

#BlackLivesMatter: Who Was Jerame Reid?

A newly released video shows a tense traffic stop last month in which a man stepping out of a car with his hands raised at shoulder height was fatally shot by police.

The video from a police car dashboard camera shows Bridgeton officers Braheme Days and Roger Worley in a Dec. 30 traffic stop that escalates quickly after Days warns his partner about seeing a gun and then saying that the vehicle’s passenger was reaching for something in the car. It ends with passenger Jerame Reid disregarding Days’ order to not move, getting out of the car and being shot to death.

The officers had pulled over the Jaguar for rolling through a stop sign, and the encounter started friendly. But after Reid tells Officer Days that the car had stopped at the sign, Days suddenly steps back, pulls his gun and tells them, “Show me your hands.” Days tells his police partner that there’s a gun in the glove compartment and then appears to reach inside the car and remove a gun.

The driver, Leroy Tutt, is seen showing his hands atop the open window on his side of the car. It’s not clear what Reid is doing, though Days repeatedly warns him not to move during an interaction that lasts less than two minutes.

“I’m going to shoot you,” Days shouts in a speech laced with profanity. “You’re going to be … dead. If you reach for something, you’re going to be … dead.”

“I ain’t got no reason to reach for nothing, bro, I ain’t got no reason to reach for nothing,” Reid says as Days continues to yell to his partner that Reid is reaching for something.

Reid then says, “I’m getting out and getting on the ground.” Days tells him not to move, but Reid repeats that he’s getting out.

The passenger door then pops open, but it’s not clear whether Reid or Officer Days opens it. Reid then emerges from the vehicle. His hands are at about shoulder height, and they appear to be empty. As he steps out, the officers fire at least six shots, killing him.

Days is out of the frame when the shots ring out. It’s unclear how many times each officer shoots.

After the shooting, there are shouts from people who are in the area and other police and emergency vehicles arrive. Tutt follows officers’ commands, gets out of the vehicle and calmly lies down on the street.

The shooting has sparked protests in the southern New Jersey city. Activists are calling on the Cumberland County prosecutor to transfer the case to the state attorney general. County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McCrae has recused herself from the case because she previously knew Officer Days. First Assistant Prosecutor Harold Shapiro said Wednesday that he could not comment on the investigation.

“The video speaks for itself that at no point was Jerame Reid a threat and he possessed no weapon on his person,” said Walter Hudson, chair and founder of the civil rights group the National Awareness Alliance. “He complied with the officer and the officer shot him.”

*Originally published on CBS News.

#BlackLivesMatter: Who Was Victor Steen?

Late one night in October, 2010 a 17-year-old on a bike was chased by a police officer in a cruiser. When the boy refused to stop, the officer aimed his Taser out the driver’s window and fired. The boy fell off the bike and the cruiser ran over him, killing him.

Victor Steen was the fourth person who died in Florida in 2009 in an incident in which a Taser was used. It was the 57th such death since 2001, according to statistics compiled by Amnesty International and the St. Petersburg Times. At the time this placed Florida first in the nation as the state with the most fatalities related to Tasers, a weapon that delivers an incapacitating electrical jolt.

Victor lived with his mother, Cassandra Steen, in a two-bedroom house in West Pensacola. His father died a few years ago from diabetes. Victor had never been in trouble and was about to get his high school diploma, join the U.S. Army, then go to college in a few years.

Victor’s pastors, teachers, family and friends repeatedly described him as “respectful” and “loving,” with a “great sense of humor.”

“I work with a lot of kids who need guidance, but Victor wasn’t one of them. He has a very caring and considerate family and their light shone in him,” said Pensacola pastor Guy Johnson, 54.

On the night of his death, Victor went to a high school home­coming football game then over to a friend’s house to plan the birthday party of a child in the family.

“We wanted Victor’s help because he was so good with little kids,” said Victor’s friend, Mike Moultrie.

About 12:45 a.m., said Moultrie, Victor left on a borrowed bike. From there to where the chase started was about 41/2 miles. But it was about 1:45 a.m. that Officer Jerald Ard spotted Victor. Where Victor went after leaving Moultrie’s house is unclear.

Ard would later say that he tried to stop Victor because he had seen him at a construction site and thought he may have stolen something. But witness Victor Stallworth said he saw Victor ride his bicycle past the construction site without stopping. Months later, Ard gave investigators a different reason for stopping Victor: He didn’t have a light on his bike — only two reflectors.

A video camera on the dashboard of Ard’s squad car recorded the brief chase. Ard spotted Victor and did a fast U-turn to stop him. When Victor didn’t stop, Ard veered to the wrong side of the street and up on the sidewalk behind the teenager.

The officer revved the motor, his tires screeching, as he followed Victor into the side yard of an apartment building. With his flashers and PA system on, Ard yelled at Victor to “stop the bike.”

It is unclear why Victor disobeyed the order to stop, but the teenager continued pedaling, trying to escape. Ard followed his every move, driving in and out of the wrong lane of traffic and up onto the sidewalk again. One minute and seven seconds into the chase Ard fired his Taser at Victor, who made a turn into a parking lot. About two seconds later, Victor fell to the ground and Ard ran over him.

At first, Cassandra Steen said she didn’t want Ard punished, but suspecting the gun was a plant, she became less forgiving.

“Victor died a horrible, brutal death and, after that, his reputation was ruined by the gun. Someone besides Victor needs to be held accountable,” she said.

A coroner’s inquest was held in February so a Pensacola judge could decide who that should be. An assistant state attorney asked questions of witnesses and law enforcement. As is standard in an inquest, Steen family lawyers were not allowed to verbally question or cross-examine anyone.

Escambia County Judge John Simon concluded: “Mr. Steen desired to avoid apprehension on Oct. 3, 2009. That desire led to Mr. Steen’s ill-advised decision to ignore lawful commands … and enter a dimly lit parking lot unaware that a potential hazard was present i.e., the existence of a raised curb. Once Mr. Steen struck the raised curb, he was ejected directly into the path of Officer Ard’s vehicle. … It was impossible (based on perception reaction time) for Officer Ard to avoid striking Mr. Steen.”

The judge did not find Ard’s driving or firing the Taser out of his car window to be questionable in any way.

“Mr. Steen was actively fleeing Officer Ard. … Officer Ard violated no traffic laws in light of the fact that he was actively pursuing Mr. Steen.”

Afterward, Victor’s lawyers spoke on the courthouse steps: “This ain’t the old Wild West. It’s Pensacola 2010. It’s absolutely outrageous that a boy would be run over and killed for no tail light on a bike,” said Bill Cash.

On Oct. 3, when Victor died, the Pensacola Police Department policy didn’t specifically prohibit firing a Taser from a moving squad car at someone on a bike. But less than a week later, the deputy chief issued a memo, saying: “Firing a Taser from a moving vehicle or into a moving vehicle is prohibited.”

It didn’t make sense to fire a Taser at Victor on the bike, said Klinger, because of the likelihood he would get hurt. Furthermore, he said, Victor was not a suspect in a serious crime.

There is no question that Tasers frequently save lives by offering law enforcement officers a nonlethal means of stopping people who present a threat to the officers, the public or themselves. But as the four fatal cases from 2009 show, Tasers are also being used to subdue people who appear to pose no threat.

 

*Article originally published on Tampa Bay.

#BlackLivesMatter: Who Was Alberta Spruill?

A 57-year-old woman died of a heart attack Friday after police, who thought her apartment was a gun and drug stash, broke down her door, tossed in a “flash grenade,” stormed inside with guns drawn and handcuffed her before realizing their error.

“Obviously we’re deeply saddened. This is a tragedy. This should not have happened,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said of the death of Alberta Spruill, who worked for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

At a news conference, Kelly offered “condolences and sympathy” on behalf of the Police Department and a personal apology to Spruill’s family.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, calling the incident a “terrible episode,” said, “I join all city employees in grieving the loss of our dedicated and hard-working colleague.”

Spruill went into cardiac arrest about a half-hour after 12 police officers raided her sixth-floor apartment about 6:10 a.m. She died shortly before 8 a.m. at Harlem Hospital Center.

Melvin Boswell, 35, the man who police said they believed was using Spruill’s apartment as a drugs cache, with a vicious dog or dogs on guard, was in police custody, having been arrested on a drug charge Monday. He lives in the same building as Spruill, but on the ninth floor.

Boswell’s distraught girlfriend, Isabel Llanos, 48, said Friday evening that Boswell has used crack and has an 11-week-old pit bull mix named Bighead but that he doesn’t have a gun. A tearful Llanos accused police of “making him out to be a killer” to cover their mistake.

Kelly promised a “thorough investigation“–a pledge also made by the mayor–and said all aspects of the raid are under investigation, from the reliability of a confidential informant who first led police to Spruill’s apartment, to subsequent efforts by police to confirm the informant’s tip, to the decision by police to use the flash grenade.

Kelly immediately placed on desk duty the police lieutenant whose decision it was to use the flash grenade and banned use of flash grenades department-wide. The device was used in this instance, he said, because police believed there may have been people wielding guns, or dogs, in the apartment.

The department has carried out more than 1,900 search warrants this year, Kelly said, and only four of those have been conducted at wrong locations, none resulting in injuries.

*Article originally published on Chicago Tribune.

#BlackLivesMatter: Who Was Phillip White?

Phillip White was walking in the late morning of March 31, 2015, in Vineland, the New Jersey town where he lived. Police officers approached him, responding to a call about a disorderly person. It is unclear how the encounter began, but it ended with an unarmed, 32-year-old White arrested, taken away in an ambulance, and declared dead upon arriving at the hospital.

What happened in the interim was witnessed by several bystanders and recorded in two videos that emerged online and in the local news in the following days.

Two police officers from Vineland, New Jersey, are being investigated as Mr. White died in custody following an attack by a police dog.

The videos were taken from about the same angle and overlapping moments of the incident. They both begin with White on the ground. Though White’s upper body is mostly obscured by a car and the officer straddling his torso, his legs are noticeably still when the officer calls a canine to attack his face. “Get that dog off,” a witness can be heard shouting. “He’s knocked out. He’s not even moving.” The second video ends with an officer approaching the filmer saying he will have to take his phone for evidence.

Police have said that White tried to grab an officer’s gun. Several witnesses have told the media that an officer punched White and that he was unconscious by the time the officer set a dog to attack him.

After the video ends, White appeared to be in respiratory distress, according to a press release by the Cumberland County Prosecutor. He was handcuffed, restrained, and placed in an emergency vehicle accompanied by an officer, but died en route to the hospital.

While it is not clear from the video what took place prior to White’s arrest, Vineland police say they responded to a call for service for a “disorderly person,” the prosecutor’s office said. In a 911 recording released Tuesday, a caller can be heard telling the dispatcher that White is “freaking out,” “going crazy,” and “screaming,” according to NBC Philadelphia. An autopsy is pending.

“There are great concerns about the circumstances that surround this death,” said Conrad Benedetto, an attorney for the White family, in a statement last week. “The public and Mr. White’s family deserve answers as to how Phillip was killed and why there is a lack of oversight of local police.”

Vineland Police Chief Timothy Codispoti said that White reached for an officer’s gun before the camera started rolling, NBC Philadelphia reported, and that two of the officers involved had been placed on administrative leave.

*Gathered from Witness.org

African Americans Deserve Reparations & Here’s Why…..

A Justice Department investigation found that the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) engages in unconstitutional practices that lead to disproportionate rates of stops, searches and arrests of African-Americans, and excessive use of force against juveniles and people with mental health disabilities.

What this means is that according to CNN’s report (below) there is empirical data showing that the Baltimore Police Department has systematically discriminated against African Americans with absolutely NO repercussions for AT LEAST the past six years. This means that African Americans have been criminalized and terrorized all without just cause. A criminal record can cause job loss which leads to economic distress and other missed opportunities. It’s great that this report has been published but what is the Baltimore Police Department doing to make up for all the wrong that it has done to its residents?

This is exactly why reparations are needed within the African American community. To think that we have been subject of this treatment for years & years without any consequence is absolutely reprehensible! What about all the years where racist treatment wasn’t documented? What about all the cops who got promoted based off of unmerited arrests or the bail money that was never refunded from erroneous traffic tickets?

America, this report is not “exception to the rule”! Things like this happen every day to African Americans – we are targeted & treated unjustly all the time. I’m not typing this to incite negativity, but instead am providing proof that those who are sworn to uphold the law don’t always do so. And when they don’t, we as a community suffer.

Wake up America, it’s time that African Americans get paid back for all that they’ve lost at the hand of racism…..

Read the CNN* report (in part) below –

The Department of Justice monitored the department’s policing methods for more than a year at the request of the Baltimore Police Department, after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal injury while in police custody.

The long-awaited report, which covered data from 2010 to 2016, attributed the practices to “systemic deficiencies” in training, policies, and accountability structures that “fail to equip officers with the tools they need to police effectively.”

A DOJ investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri, Police Department after the shooting death of Michael Brown reached a similar conclusion: a “pattern and practice” of discrimination against African-Americans that targeted them disproportionately for traffic stops, use of force, and jail sentences. So did the investigation after the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, concluding that Cleveland police have a pattern of excessive force.

As a result of the probe, the city and the Justice Department have agreed to negotiate a court-ordered consent decree that will prescribe steps for reform, in addition to steps Baltimore already has taken, city and federal officials told reporters in Baltimore on Wednesday. In June, the department announced an overhaul of its use of force policy.

“Change is painful. Growth is painful. But nothing is as painful as being stuck in a place that we do not belong,” Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said.

Here are some of the report’s highlights:

Unconstitutional stops and arrests

The report blamed “zero tolerance” enforcement practices that emphasized stops, searches and arrests for repeated violations of constitutional rights that eroded the community’s trust.

Encouraged by BPD supervisors, “zero tolerance” policing continues in certain neighborhoods, leading to unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests, with little to no suspicion, the report said.

For example:

  • About 44% of those stops occurred in two small predominantly African-American neighborhoods that contain only 11% of the city’s population
  • Hundreds of individuals were stopped at least 10 times during this period, and seven were stopped more than 30 times
  • Only 3.7% of those stops resulted in citations or arrests
  • From 2010 to 2015, prosecutors and booking supervisors rejected more than 11,000 charges made by BPD officers because they lacked probable cause or did not merit prosecution

Discrimination against African-Americans

BPD stops African-American drivers and pedestrians at disproportionate rates, subjecting them to greater rates of searches than whites, the report said, creating racial disparities at every stage of law enforcement actions, from stop to arrest.

“These racial disparities, along with evidence suggesting intentional discrimination, erode the community trust that is critical to effective policing,” the report said.

Among the investigation’s findings:

  • African-Americans accounted for 95% of 410 individuals stopped at least 10 times from 2010 to 2016
  • One African-American man in his 50s was stopped 30 times in less than four years; none of the stops resulted in a citation or criminal charge
  • African-Americans accounted for 82% of all BPD vehicle stops though they make up 60% of the driving age population in the city and 27% percent of the driving age population in the greater metropolitan area
  • BPD officers found contraband twice as often when searching white individuals compared to African-Americans during vehicle stops and 50% more often during pedestrian stops

Use of constitutionally excessive force

After reviewing all deadly force cases from January 2010 to May 1, and a random sample of more than 800 than nondeadly force cases, the DOJ concluded that BPD engages in a pattern or practice of excessive force. Insufficient training and lack of oversight of those incidents perpetuate the pattern, leading to several recurring issues:

  • Use of overly aggressive tactics that escalate encounters and increase tensions and failure to de-escalate encounters when appropriate to do so
  • Frequently resorting to physical force when a person does not immediately respond to verbal commands, even if the subject poses no imminent threat to the officer or others
  • Due to a lack of training and improper tactics, BPD officers end up in needlessly violent confrontations with people with mental health disabilities
  • Failure to use widely accepted tactics for dealing with juveniles, treating them the same way as adults, leading to unnecessary conflict
  • Use of excessive force against people already restrained and under officers’ control

Retaliation for activities protected by the First Amendment

DOJ investigators found that officers “routinely infringe” upon First Amendment rights in the following ways:

  • Unlawfully stopping and arresting people for cursing at officers, even though it’s not illegal to use vulgar or offensive language as long as they are not “fighting words”
  • Retaliating with excessive force against people in cases of protected speech
  • Interfering with people who record police activity, including a time in which officers seized the phone of a man who recorded his friend being arrested and deleted all the videos on his phone, even personal videos of his son

    Bmore*Originally taken from CNN.