Six current or former New Orleans police officers were charged in a sweeping federal grand jury indictment that accuses four of them of shooting unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge several days after Hurricane Katrina and all six of plotting to cover up what they knew was an unjustified attack, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports.
The charges are the culmination of a two-year probe by the federal government, the third investigation into the controversial events on the bridge on Sept. 4, 2005. Said defense attorney Eric Hessler: "The government has ignored the circumstances and conditions under which these officers were operating. For them to say that these officers intentionally went out and shot and killed unarmed civilians, knowing that they were unarmed and posed no threat, is certainly the wrong conclusion."
To the Philadelphia drug courier, it must have seemed like extraordinarily bad luck: A police cruiser appeared with its lights flashing moments after the 300 grams of heroin allegedly was exchanged on a street, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The suspect was handcuffed and driven away.
Neither luck nor good police work had anything to do with what happened. According to a new federal indictment, the arrest was staged by police officers who were working with a drug dealer in a scheme to steal heroin and sell it. Instead of booking the suspect, Officers Mark Williams and James Venziale allegedly let him go. A federal drug agent, posing as a dealer, was allowed to drive away with the heroin. John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, the department's largest union, said the officers' alleged actions are "a disgrace." "We have a bunch of good officers out there on the streets every day, risking their lives," McNesby said. "This casts a dark cloud over all of them."
Former Bay Area transit officer Johannes Mehserle, in a public letter, says he is sorry for the shooting that took Oscar Grant's life, wishes he could speak to Grant's family members, and describes the moments after the shooting on a station platform on Jan.1, 2009, reports the Contra Costa Times. Mehserle, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter last week, says that Grant "should not have been shot."
The Oakland Tribune reports that the jury also concluded that the 28-year-old Mehserle is guilty of a gun enhancement, raising questions among legal scholars about whether that enhancement contradicted the jury's primary verdict. How Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry chooses to answer those questions when he sentences Mehserle this summer will determine if Mehserle receives a lenient punishment of felony probation, a serious sentence of 14 years in state prison or something in between.
At least 50 people were arrested last night in Oakland for looting, refusing to disperse, and other offenses after a former transit police officer was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for killing a man on a train platform, the Oakland Tribune reports. Police Chief Anthony Batts said he was disappointed in people's actions, saying, "This city is not the wild, wild west."
Ex-officer Johannes Mehserle was found guilty for killing Oscar Grant III Jan. 1, 2009. The 28-year-old was handcuffed and sent to jail. The jury also found him guilty of a gun enhancement charge that could make him ineligible for probation, give him a strike under the state's Three Strikes Law, and add additional years to his sentence, which will be decided next month by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry. Under an involuntary manslaughter charge, Mehserle will face at least two years in prison and a maximum of six years.
Former Chicago police Commander Jon Burge, the subject of accusations of torture against suspects for decades, was convicted on all counts of an indictment charging him with perjury and obstruction of justice. The Chicago Tribune says a federal jury found Burge guilty of lying in a 2003 civil lawsuit about his use or knowledge of torture of criminal suspects.
William Gamboney, one of his attorneys, said Burge was very disappointed and surprised by the verdict. "We intend to pursue every (legal) avenue we have." Gamboney said he will seek probation for Burge, who is 62 and is said to be ailing from cancer. "I think he has a lot of mitigation on his side, " he said. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said the verdict represented a measure of justice for Burge's victims. "These sorts of things that happened in 1982, 1985, being punished 25, 28 years later, that's not a full measure of justice," Fitzgerald said.
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.