Wisconsin Makes a Good Start

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During the last week, Wisconsin lawmakers passed and Governor Walker signed a new bill affecting how deaths caused by police officers would be investigated.

Officer Stephen Heimness

Officer Stephen Heimness

In November of 2012 Paul Heenan was shot and killed by Madison, Wisconsin Police officer Stephen Heimness. Heenan had been drinking and had entered the wrong house on his street.  He was shot as he was struggling with the home owner and reportedly with officer Heimness.  Heimness said that Heenan attempted to take his gun and that he was in fear of his life when he shot Hennan.

An internal investigation conducted by the Madison PD and an investigation by the Dane County DA’s office cleared Heimness.  A federal DOJ investigation was reportedly started, but where it went is not known.  The Madison Chief of Police later found that Heimness had committed 118 violations of 13 department policies and Heimness resigned in lieu of a termination hearing.  The Chief, who later retired, said that the shooting was still a good shooting and was within policy.

Uh huh.  The lawsuit for wrongful death wouldn’t have anything to do with that statement, would it?

MichaelBell

Billboards calling for change

This wasn’t the only case where the internal police investigation was questioned.  In 2011 Derek Williams choked to death in the back of a Milwaukee squad car, and although there was a finding of probable cause that officers committed criminal acts, there was no prosecution.   In 2004, unarmed Michael Bell Jr. was shot and killed and the Kenosha Police internal review found no wrong-doing after only 2 days.  Despite that, the city settled the lawsuit for $1.75 million.  Michael Bell Sr. then used the money for billboards and fullpage newspaper ads.  The settlement outraged the police – but the city and the insurance company doesn’t hand out that type of money unless there is a reason for it.

In any event, the bill, AB 409, now requires:

  • An investigation by two outside investigators, one of whom is in charge of the investigation;
  • Any internal investigation may not interfere with the outside investigators;
  • The outside investigators submit their report directly to the District Attorney; and
  • If the District Attorney does not prosecute, the outside investigators are required to release their report to the public.

This is a good start on what is needed.  As an example, in Dallas, Texas, a former officer was recently indicted for aggravated assault for her actions in shooting an unarmed carjacking suspect who had his hands up and was surrendering.  She is the first Dallas officer indicted in 41 years for an on-duty shooting.

It all depends on how the individual agencies implement the law.  For example, the policy issued by the Madison Police after the law is, in my opinion, not compliant with the new law.  For example, the outside “lead” investigator is allowed to “observe” the Madison Police department investigation and submits his observations.  It is not to contain the facts of the case, but only if the investigation was impartial.  The policy also states that the Madison Chief of Police is the sole authority on whether an officer is to be arrested.

That hardly seems to meet either the spirit or letter of the law.

 

 

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In North Carolina, It’s OK to Commit Felonious Assault if You’re the Police

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On October 31, 2013, Johnnie Williams drove through a DUI checkpoint without stopping, and then led police on a chase.  During the chase, he reportedly rammed a police cruiser, and he was eventually stopped by officers who ran their cars into his.  Williams is being charged with multiple felonies over the incident.

I don’t have a bit of problem with any of that.

I do have a problem with what happened next.  After the chase was over, you can see Williams surrendering.  Both of his hands clearly come up in the “I give up” position.  Then we see Wilmington officer Stafford Brister pick up his K9 and shove it through the window at Williams.  Of course the dog immediately attacked Williams, causing serious injury.  Brister and the other officers then stood back and watched.

The district attorney took the case before the grand jury, which no billed Brister.  In most states, if a DA wants an indictment, they get an indictment.

The police chief says that sometimes the job “isn’t pretty.”  No argument there, sometimes it isn’t.  I don’t care what the POS suspect did, you still don’t toss a dog in the car with him.

Brister can still be prosecuted, but it would have to be a federal civil rights trial.  Wilmington is in the Eastern District of North Carolina, and the U.S. Attorney is Thomas G. Walker.  His contact info is:

Office of the United States Attorney
310 New Bern Avenue
Federal Building, Suite 800
Raleigh, North Carolina 27601-1461
Phone: (919) 856-4530
Fax: (919) 856-4487

Corpus Christi Officer Morton Norman

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Earlier this year, Corpus Christi Police Sr. Officer Morton Norman was found in violation of department policies and recommended for termination by Internal Affairs and his chain of command.  Police Chief Floyd Simpson did not agree and issued a two-week suspension, citing Norman’s record of service to the city.

Why don’t we look at the facts?

According to the video posted at Action 10 News, the victim, Roderick Hornsby was standing handcuffed, facing the wall as instructed when Norman took him down to the floor, placed his knees on Hornsby’s neck and back, and started to raise Hornsby’s arms up by the handcuffs.  This last move has no legitimate control use, but strictly inflicts pain.  In most officer self-defense tactics classes, instructors caution against this due to the potential for injury to the subject.  In any event, when Morton went before Internal Affairs on the issue, they believed that he lied about the incident and that he falsified the report that he filed on the incident.  The last matter is a felony in Texas.  Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 37.10.  They recommended that he be terminated.

Chief Simpson decided not to do that based on Morton’s good record.  This good record includes a previous lawsuit for excessive forceSosa v. City of Corpus Christi, No. C-06-149, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47318, 2006 WL 1967037 (S.D. Tex. 2006).  In that case, Sosa accused Norman and Officer Silva of beating him with batons inside his home.  While a portion of the case was dismissed because the statute of limitations had run, the § 1983 claims for excessive force against the officers remained.  The city settled the case in December 2006.

Just a year before that, he was sued for *gasp* excessive forceAvalos v. City of Corpus Christi, No. 2:05-cv-00159, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14996, 2006 WL 696495 (S.D. Tex. 2006).  In that case, the officers repeatedly took the plaintiffs to the ground, causing serious injuries.  The officers won in a jury trial, but the point is that two lawsuits for excessive force, regardless of the outcome, should set off alarm bells.

The problem with Morton continuing on the police force is the allegation of lying.  From this point forward, he is basically useless as a prosecution witness, as the Nueces County District Attorney would have to notify the defense attorney of that fact.  Normally, a good prosecutor will not take a case involving that type of witness.  Most police chiefs won’t tolerate lying for that very reason.

Although Morton had appealed his suspension, he decided to retire.

It still doesn’t say anything about Chief Simpson’s judgment.

Two Jasper Police Officers Fired for Beating a Prisoner

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The video really says it all, and tells officers even more.  The first officer, Officer Ricky Grissom, was obviously irritated – note how he hangs up the phone on the prisoner, Keyarika “Shea” Diggles.  According to several sources, Diggles’s bond or fine was $100.00, which means that this was the equivalent of a ticket for Disorderly Conduct.

At 0:50 in the video (first camera angle) and again at 3:28 (second angle) you see Grissom go hands on.  Texas law allows a person to defend oneself from an officer’s unprovoked and unnecessary use of force.  Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 9.31; see also Bowen v. State, 162 S.W.3d 226 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005).  When Diggles lifted her hand to protect herself, the second officer, Officer Ryan Cunningham, slams her head into the counter, and then, with a handful of hair, takes her to the floor.

Former Officers Ricky Grissom and Ryan Cunningham.

Former Officers Ricky Grissom and Ryan Cunningham.

Aside from the impropriety of dragging her by her foot, I would also bring your attention to 1:50 in the video where the officer brings the woman’s shackled arms directly up in the air.  This causes extreme pain and does not serve any legitimate law enforcement purpose.  It can also cause serious injury to shoulders.  It appears to be a case of the officers inflicting their own punishment on the woman.

There are any number of reasons that this happened–unfortunately, none of them are valid reasons.

Hopefully, the Jasper County District Attorney will look at criminal charges against the officers, starting with Assault with Bodily Injury and Official Oppression.  He’s already dropped the bogus Resisting Arrest charge that the officers filed on Diggles.

The officers were fired on Monday, June 3, 2013, but only after a city council member sent the video to the local media, since the police department was ignoring Diggles written complaint.  The mayor Mike Lout (yeah, that’s his real name, I couldn’t make this stuff up) was semi-defensive of the officers, saying “She refused to do what the officers told her to do and she resisted.”  Other council members did not agree and voted to fire the officers.

As a side-note and completely biased on my part, why is it that the officers that shave their head seem to be more aggressive?  Both officers tried to contact Diggles by phone after she filed the written complaint.  A local TV station has photos of the caller ID from the phone calls.  What purpose would this serve, other than to threaten or intimidate the witness?

 

Downey, California Settles with Widow of Unarmed Man Killed by Police

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Michael Lee Nida, with his family

Michael Lee Nida, with his family

On Saturday, October 22, 2011, Michael Nida was filling his car up with gas.  A Downey police officer, Officer Steven Gilley, fired a three round, fully automatic burst from his MP-5 submachine gun into Nida’s back.

The police claim that Nida fit the description of an armed robber, who had been described as wearing dark colored hoodies.  Nida was wearing a yellow and blue polo shirt.

On October 24, 2012, Prosecutor Stephanie Sparagna announced “Given the rapidly evolving, dangerous situation that confronted Officer Gilley, we conclude that Officer Steven Gilley was justified in using deadly force to prevent Nida’s escape.”  Her report is here, at: District-Attorney-report-on-Michael-Nida-shooting.  In it you see references to witnesses, none of whom stated that Nida turned back towards the officers.

On May 9, 2013, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the City of Downey settled the civil suit for $4.5 million, while admitting no wrong-doing.

Yeah, right.

You need to ask yourselves a couple of questions.  First, do you want to live or work in a city where the police carry submachine guns?  Second, does someone who just runs deserve to be shot with that same machine gun?  Finally, what is the city council doing about it, to prevent it from happening again?

Officer Gilley is still working the streets of Downey, presumably with his MP-5.

 

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