The Pinal County, Ariz., Sheriff's Office has declined to conduct forensic tests on evidence from a shooting incident involving Deputy Louie Puroll despite statements from forensic experts that the lawman's bullet wound could not have occurred as he described, reports the Arizona Republic. Puroll reported on April 30 that he had been ambushed while tracking drug smugglers in the desert, suffering a grazing flesh wound to the side during an exchange of gunfire that was partially recorded in 911 calls. By the time rescuers arrived, a half-dozen purported suspects had fled. But experts who studied photographs of the wound said it appeared to them to be the result of a "close contact" gunshot. They argued that it could not have been fired by a distant suspect, as Puroll told sheriff's investigators.
"It's not consistent with 25 yards away," said Dr. Michael Baden, the former chief medical examiner for New York City, who analyzed photographs of the wound for an Arizona tabloid. "This is extremely typical of a shot fired within inches." "This was fired at contact range . . . with the muzzle of the gun lying against the skin," asserted Dr. Werner Spitz, a former chief medical examiner in Michigan and co-author of a forensic pathology book, who also viewed the pictures. Puroll has declined all interview requests. Both experts said their conclusions could be further verified by lab examinations of the shirt Puroll wore on the day of the shooting. Tim Gaffney, a sheriff's spokesman, said the garment was not submitted for testing, and he has not heard of any plan to reconsider that decision.
The American Civil Liberties Union is seeking a federal investigation of the Newark Police Department, saying it routinely violates residents' civil rights through excessive force and false arrests, the Newark Star-Ledger reports. Citing dozens of lawsuits and years of internal affairs statistics, the ACLU says the department is incapable of policing itself. It says records show that out of 261 complaints in 2008 and 2009 involving excessive force, differential treatment or improper arrest, entry or search, only one was sustained. One officer has faced 62 internal affairs investigations in an almost 14-year career; none have been sustained.
Deborah Jacobs, executive director the ACLU in New Jersey, said the petition is the first step in a process she hopes will end with the same kind of consent decree and federal oversight imposed on the State Police a decade ago in response to the racial profiling scandal. Top Newark officials said the ACLU petition was undermining progress in the city. "The city of Newark was extremely disappointed when it reviewed the ACLU’s petition," said Julian Neals, the city’s top lawyer. "The city feels that the ACLU petition is frivolous and submitted in bad faith." Mayor Cory Booker was angered by the ACLU petition. "It’s casting unnecessary aspersions on the police department through the distortion of facts," he said. He said the city had tried to cooperate with the agency on numerous issues but now feels the ACLU has unfairly shut down that relationship. Booker said the ACLU is promoting "negative stereotypes" of Newark and not giving the city credit for its progress.
Citizen complaints against the Detroit Police Department continue to rush in at more than 1,700 a year, showing that more needs to be done to clean up alleged misconduct, says the Detroit Free Press, quoting a report by the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners. The board said the complaints range from sexual harassment to excessive force. Twenty cases from 2009 were considered major offenses, resulting in the suspension of officers without pay.
The number of complaints has hovered around 1,700 annually since 2007, a 36 percent increase over 2002. The report faults the department for complying with only 39 percent of a 7-year-old federal consent decree aimed at rehabilitating an abusive department. Among the failures was a slow response to citizen complaints. The police board is urging the department to do a better job of recruiting police officers who "meet the moral and ethical requirements to be a Detroit Police officer." The recommendations include conducting more in-depth background investigations of applicants, holding recruitment fairs to hire Detroit residents, and clearly showing the standards and expectations of a police officer.
In a light of a fatal accident involving an officer, Indianapolis police likely will change a policy that had not required officers involved in crashes to take breath tests to determine whether they were under the influence of alcohol, reports the city's Star. Fellow officers did not ask David Bisard to take field-sobriety or breath tests at the scene after the Aug. 6 crash. The only evidence of his intoxication was a blood draw that prosecutors later said was inadmissible in court because officers failed to follow proper procedures in obtaining the sample.
Bisard still faces charges of reckless homicide and criminal recklessness, but prosecutors dismissed all DUI charges last week. Attorneys representing the estate and family of Eric Wells, the motorcyclist who died in the crash, sent a letter to police officials requesting answers to 21 questions related to how IMPD handled the investigation. They also ask that police secure certain potential evidence.
Zelaido Rivera Garcia went to the Minneapolis impound lot in 2008 to pick up his car. His encounter with Metro Gang Strike Force officers left him shaken, reports the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Garcia said police humiliated and taunted him and others. "We had not done anything," he said. "We were just trying to retrieve our car that had been picked up by the tow truck." Officers took Garcia's wallet. When they returned it, he said, $100 was missing. That $100, and the ordeals of others whose money was seized by strike force officers, mushroomed to a $3 million settlement of a federal lawsuit announced yesterday.
Up to 200 people could be eligible for awards, said Randy Hopper, an attorney for the plaintiffs. After claims are paid, a "significant portion of the settlement will fund additional statewide" training for officers "about cultural and racial sensitivity, property handling procedures and basic constitutional rights." One year and five days before the settlement was announced, an independent review of the now-defunct Metro Gang Strike Force was issued.
Less than three months after taking control of Denver's police, sheriff and fire departments, Manager of Safety Ron Perea resigned yesterday amid growing uproar over how he disciplined officers, the Denver Post reports. Perea brushed aside concerns earlier this month from other city officials who feared he was too lenient in refusing to fire three officers involved in two separate police abuse cases — including a highly publicized case in which video shows police beating a man. His decisions in those cases started to unravel in the past seven days.
After a meeting yesteray between Perea and Mayor John Hickenlooper, Perea returned to his office at the downtown police headquarters and told confidants that he had resigned. Hickenlooper said Perea told him he didn't feel he could build trust with the public given the controversy his decisions had created. "Once he put it it in that context, it was hard to argue with," Hickenlooper said. "It would be very difficult to rebuild after all the events of the last four or five days. It would be very hard to rebuild that trust." The police department last week announced it would reopen an internal investigation into a case in which officers accused of covering up the Lower Downtown area beating were docked three days' pay by Perea. Hickenlooper requested the FBI review the officers' actions after the video was widely circulated on news stations and the Internet.
The attorneys for four current or former New Orleans police officers charged with shooting civilians on the Danziger Bridge after Hurricane Katrina are meeting today with top U.S. Department of Justice officials to argue against the government's seeking the death penalty for their clients, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
Federal death penalty cases against cops are rare; there is only one former police officer on federal death row now: former New Orleans officer Len Davis, who ran a drug-protection racket in the mid-1990s and ordered the murder of a woman who filed a complaint to his superiors. The government seeks the death penalty in about one of every five death-eligible cases that go to the attorney general's capital case review committee, says Kevin McNally of the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel. McNally's group is consulting and assisting the Danziger attorneys in their presentation. Since 1988, the federal government authorized possible death sentences against 466 defendants.
Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper has asked the FBI to review the actions of police officers accused of covering up the beating last year of a 23-year-old man outside a nightclub, the Denver Post reports. The city's video of the beating appeared on national news broadcasts Monday and went viral on the Internet after local reports over the weekend. The video, from a police surveillance camera in the Lower Downtown area, shows Michael DeHerrera doing nothing but talking on a cellphone when Officer Devin Sparks takes him down, face first to the ground, and begins hitting him with a department-issued device called a sap, a piece of metal wrapped in leather.
The new city safety manager, Ron Perea, decided the beating was not excessive, but found that the officers filed inaccurate reports about it. Rather than fire them, he docked them three days' pay, prompting an objection from Independent Monitor Richard Rosenthal. Rosenthal, who monitors investigations into allegations of police wrongdoing, has said Sparks and Cpl. Randy Murr should be fired for lying about what happened. The officers said DeHerrera was the aggressor and that he tried to hit Sparks. The video does not show that.
In a four-part series being published this week, the Raleigh News and Observer scrutinizes the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. The paper says SBI agents "have cut corners, bullied the vulnerable and twisted reports and court testimony when the truth threatened to undermine their cases." The bureau is the state's top law enforcement agency. Its 337 agents assist local police and deputies in investigating the most complicated crimes. The SBI also hosts the state's crime lab, where analysts use forensic science to solve crimes.
Agents at the crime lab have hidden test results or withheld notes that suggested the opposite of findings presented to the courts, the paper said. Analysts have stretched the boundaries of science and aligned themselves so fully with police and prosecutors that the examiners manipulated evidence to fit their theories. "The documented policies and practices of our state lab support the long-held concern that North Carolina's lab is the prosecution's lab, not the justice system's lab," said Christine Mumma, executive director of the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence, which works to free wrongly convicted prisoners. "Public confidence, judicial confidence and the lives of innocent citizens have been destroyed. It is past time for change."
Miami-Dade police abused trust funds meant to repel environmental crime by flouting purchasing rules, misrepresenting the need for the public dollars and lavishing millions on the agency instead of fighting polluters, a draft audit by the county Inspector General found. The fund was marred by "overall chaotic administration,'' and replete with "excessive, unreasonable, or unnecessary'' purchases, concludes the 38-page report obtained by The Miami Herald.
Until recently, the fund was led by Division Chief Frank Vecin, a longtime ally of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez. The police department is investigating. The report examines the nearly $6 million spent from 2000-09 from two funds aimed at combating environmental crime. Vecin controlled both: the South Florida Environmental Task Force Trust Fund and Florida Environmental Task Force Trust Fund. A Herald investigation in March detailed how hundreds of thousands of dollars were earmarked for items with little to do with fighting environmental crimes. The spending include $1 million for cell phone and data charges, the purchase of 30 rifles, and $1.1 million for car rentals, gas and 23 sport utility vehicles and trucks that were driven by officials -- including police brass and, for a time, the mayor -- who were not directly tasked with fighting polluters.