A jury is deliberating on the case of former Chicago police commander Jon Burge on torture charges, reports the Chicago Tribune. Burge defense attorney Richard Beuke charged in final arguments yesterday that the accusers met in Cook County Jail and concocted the abuse claims years ago to save their own skins and make money off lawsuits. Federal prosecutors David Weisman and April Perry contended the men weren't incarcerated at the same time and shared nothing in common except for their claims of torture.
"How is it that of all the police officers involved, on all these cases, they all managed to pick that man as the one who abused them," said Perry, pointing to Burge as he sat at the defense table. "He may be well known now, but back then, he was just an ordinary police officer." Prosecutors contended Burge has a financial motive to lie about torture — a lawsuit sought damages from him personally — and called on jurors to end the police code of silence that shielded Burge from justice.
The American Civil Liberties Union and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People say thousands of Baltimoreans were rounded up because of zero-tolerance policies that put a big emphasis on arrests but little on justifying them, the Baltimore Sun reports. An $870,000 settlement approved yesterday by the Board of Estimates will require the city to retrain officers, mandate that supervisors review "quality of life" arrests and allow an independent auditor to evaluate data and submit semiannual reports.
In a joint statement with the plaintiffs, the Police Department said it "had agreed to reject the zero-tolerance policies" and establish new ways to handle low-level infractions. Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld said the reforms were "certainly in line with my overall mission for this Police Department." Said the ACLU's David Rocah: "Each of these [reforms] is aimed at addressing what we thought were the structural reasons why improper arrests had bloomed in Baltimore. This was a case of toxic neglect. It just didn't matter enough to [officials] that this was happening." The lawsuit, filed in 2006, chiefly covered arrests and policies the plaintiffs contended were enacted and encouraged by then-Mayor Martin O'Malley. O'Malley, now governor, maintained yesterday that there was "never, ever a policy that asked police officers to go beyond the Constitution or to engage in illegal arrests."
Authorities in Lexington, Ky., are trying to figure out what went wrong last week when an assault victim was incorrectly presumed dead by police. Umi Southworth, 44, was found badly beaten body in bushes in the back yard of her home. Nearly five hours passed before investigators realized Southworth was alive and she received medical attention.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that the investigation broke fundamental rules of policing in that the coroner was not immediately contacted to determine whether the victim was dead. The Fayette County coroner was contacted more than two hours after police arrived at the scene. Another two hours later, Ginn discovered Southworth was alive. An ambulance was called at 11:08 p.m., and Southworth was taken to University of Kentucky Hospital, where she died the following afternoon. Lexington police launched an internal investigation, and the city said an outside agency has been asked to review the case.
Officials in Columbia, Ohio, are seeking an explanation for a strange traffic stop by non-uniformed, mask-wearing police officers who jumped out of unmarked vans, reports the city's Dispatch. The paper reported that a man and his teenage son were chased, stopped and frisked on May 7 by officers later identified as members of the Police Division's Strategic Response Bureau. The division's internal affairs bureau is investigating. Police policy dictates that only uniformed officers in marked cars can stop drivers for traffic violations.
Allen R. Walker had driven Downtown at 1:45 a.m. on May 7 to pick up his father from his job as a custodian. The two were headed home when two vans and a Crown Victoria on the other side of the street made U-turns and began pursuing them. The father, also named Allen Walker, told his son to keep driving home. When they got there, eight to 10 men with guns jumped out of the vehicles and shouted commands. The men said they were Columbus police, but their vehicles weren't marked. They were dressed in black fatigues, and some wore masks. Neither father nor son saw badges, but one of the men wore a ball cap with the word "police."
The Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review has issued a scathing report on internal investigations in the county Probation Department, finding that at least 31 sworn employees who committed misconduct and abuse will probably escape discipline because investigators took too long to complete their cases, reports the L.A. Times. The lawyer who led review at the request of the county's Board of Supervisors said "the system is broken down in so many ways, from the inception of the investigation all the way through."
Of the 31 sworn staff slated for discipline who will probably go unpunished by the department, 18 had been charged with crimes including cruelty to a child, sex with a minor, prostitution, assault with a deadly weapon, resisting an officer and battery. Of the 18 charged, at least 10 have been convicted. Supervisors became alarmed about problems in the department's internal investigations after the Times reported in February that sworn probation employees working in the county's juvenile detention halls and camps had committed misconduct and abuse and in some cases escaped discipline.
Five current or former New Orleans police officers have been charged in the shooting death and burning of a New Orleans man during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, reports the Associated Press. Witnesses saw police officers drive off with Henry Glover, 31, on Sept. 2, 2005. Glover's burned remains later were recovered from the charred car when it turned up on a levee near a police station. Former officer David Warren was charged with violating Glover's rights by allegedly shooting him to death. Warren was immediately arrested after the indictment was handed up and is in federal custody.
Others charged were former Lt. Robert Italiano, Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann, Lt. Travis McCabe and Officer Gregory McRae. Scheuermann and McRae are charged with obstructing justice and burning Glover's body and the car in which he was found. They also are accused of assaulting residents who tried to help Glover. If convicted, they each face a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison and $1 million in fines. Itliano and McCabe are charged with obstruction of justice for their alleged roles in submitting false reports of the incident and lying to investigators.
Almost 20 years after the trial in the beating of Rodney King, eyes across the US are once again fixed on a Los Angeles courtroom for a trial involving police misconduct – this time with rare murder charges for an on-duty police officer, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Opening statements began Thursday in the trial of former Bay Area Rapid Transit officer Johannes Mehserle for the Jan. 1, 2009, killing of Oscar Grant on an Oakland, Calif., train platform. Legal analysts say the trial's outcome will provide insight into the latest legal thinking on the issues of video evidence and juries' attitudes toward police brutality.
“Police departments and communities across the country will be watching this carefully for the clues it gives about many of the top issues in law enforcement,” says Tod Burke, professor of criminal justice at Radford University in Virginia. Grant was among a group of men who were detained after a fight on a BART train. Fellow passengers recorded the shooting and its aftermath on cellphones, and the video was viewed widely on TV and the Internet. The video shows Grant lying face down, being restrained by officers, when Mehserle shoots him once in the back. Mehserle's attorney has said the officer meant to shoot Grant with a stun gun but mistakenly grabbed his pistol.
In a breach that may have compromised investigations of alleged police misconduct, an employee of San Jose's Independent Police Auditor repeatedly leaked confidential information over several years to the San Jose police officers union, the union's former president told the Mercury News. Police Sgt. Bobby Lopez said that the person, whom he would not identify, gave him inside information about complaints made against police officers. He said he was once tipped to an upcoming Mercury News story about the violent arrest of a San Jose State student.
Told of Lopez's comments, newly-appointed police auditor LaDoris Cordell said she had recently notified the San Jose city attorney of an allegation against an employee. Cordell would give no details, but Skyler Porras, former head of the local office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said she notified the IPA late last month of her belief that Lopez had a spy in the office. The five-person staff of the Independent Police Auditor provides the primary independent oversight of the city's police department, receiving citizen complaints against the police and monitoring the police department's investigations of its own officers.
With the firing of two Atlanta police officers, Interim Police Chief George N. Turner said he hopes that the city has finally closed the chapter on the Kathryn Johnston killing, reports the city's Journal-Constitution. Officers Carey Bond and Holly Buchanan were fired after an internal investigation found the two officers violated department policy in their roles in the case. Six others officers were disciplined and a seventh resigned. Five officers pleaded guilty in federal court to a litany of charges surrounding the botched drug raid that led to the shooting death of the 92-year-old Johnston and the attempted cover-up. Four of those officers are doing federal prison time.
The APD report, conducted by the department’s Office of Professional Standards, comes days after a scalding report by the Citizens Review Board, which blasted the department’s role and response to the 2006 killing. The CRB report, released on May 24, said that APD drug investigators would break rules, including lying, to get search warrants. The board was created in 2007 in direct response to the Johnston killing. The CRB report also recommended that the two officers be fired. They were charged with falsifying incident reports and affidavits on search warrants. Bond is a 17-year veteran of APD and Buchanan has 14 years of service. Their firings become effective June 18.
In 2008, a Philadelphia police officer took a personal photo of an accident victim whose head had been severed from his body. The Philadelphia Inquirer says the photo traveled to people who have no connection to the accident, or to the man who died. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey condemned the taking of personal photos at crime scenes, calling it unprofessional and immature.
"I think it's pretty sick to take pictures of crime scenes when it's not part of your job," Ramsey said. "It's ghoulish. And I can't figure out why you would want to remember some of that stuff. It's bad enough that you have to see it in the first place." Department guidelines forbid officers from using personal camera phones to document scenes or evidence. Whether due to a morbid fascination, a genuine interest in crime-scene photography, or a desire to keep souvenirs from on-the-job experiences, some officers say, it happens all the time. Ramsey said any officer caught doing it would be disciplined.