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.
As Michigan State Police investigators sort out the shooting of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones in Detoit, one aspect is clear: Detroit taxpayers will pay, reports the Detroit News. Experts say the family's lawsuit against Detroit surely will result in a multimillion-dollar payout. For the financially strapped city, that would only add to the more than $39 million paid out in police lawsuits between July 2006 and June 2009.
About half of that -- $19.1 million -- can be traced specifically to police misconduct allegations, including $7.3 million in payouts for 18 people shot by police. They range from $2.5 million for a man who was shot in the head and still lives with the bullet fragment to $25,000 for a woman shot in the leg at a backyard party by an officer aiming at a charging dog. The multimillions in payouts for legal settlements and jury verdicts continue despite the department being under federal oversight since 2003 for allegations of police brutality and ill treatment of prisoners. For a city with an estimated $300 million deficit, the lawsuits are a "vicious cycle," said City Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown, a former Detroit police officer.
A New York governor’s task force studying mistaken-identity confrontations between police officers found that racial bias, unconscious or otherwise, played a clear role in scores of firearms encounters over the years, most significantly in cases involving off-duty officers who are killed by their colleagues, reports the New York Times. The task force, formed last June by Gov. David Paterson to examine confrontations between officers and the role that race might have played, conducted what it said it believed was the first “nationwide, systematic review of mistaken-identity, police-on-police shootings” by an independent panel outside of law enforcement.
“There may well be an issue of race in these shootings, but that is not the same as racism,” said Zachary Carter, a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, who served as task force vice chairman. “Research reveals that race may play a role in an officer’s instantaneous assessment of whether a particular person presents a danger or not.” The task force found that 26 police officers were killed in the U.S. over the past 30 years by colleagues who mistook them for criminals. It found that it was increasingly “officers of color” who died in this manner, including 10 of the 14 killed since 1995.
The low rate at which the St. Louis Police Department sustains physical-abuse complaints against officers — the subject of scathing comments by a federal judge in 2008 — has increased significantly in recent years, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. At about 3 percent, it remains only half the rate reflected in a federal study of the nation's large departments. "Sustained" means an internal investigation showed that a complaint was supported by evidence.
In 2008, U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber accused the Board of Police Commissioners of turning a "blind eye" to abuse complaints, after evidence in a civil suit showed that only one of 322 complaints had been sustained in a five-year period. In 2006-08, the department reported 123 complaints of physical abuse. Four of those, or 3 percent, were sustained, 82 percent were not sustained and three were withdrawn. In a 2002 study of state and local law enforcement agencies with more than 1,000 officers, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 6 percent of their complaints were sustained and 42 percent not sustained. The report pointed out that the statistics' meaning was not always clear. Departments used different counting methods. Moreover, a low rate of complaints could mean that officers were performing well or that the process was inaccessible. St. Louis Police Chief Dan Isom cautioned that the numbers in St. Louis and nationwide may not be comparable.
A little more than a week after Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked the U.S. Department of Justice to take the first steps that could lead to federal oversight of the New Orleans Police Department, federal and city officials announced they will discuss the request in two forums on Monday. A news conference was to be held noon. Among those expected to attend are Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, Landrieu, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and new NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas, reports the city's Times-Picayune.
The same officials will hold a town hall-style meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the Superdome, according to the mayor's office. Civil intervention in the NOPD was expected even before Landrieu announced two days after taking office that he wanted the Justice Department to take a deeper look at the department. While the agency has at least eight ongoing federal investigations of alleged criminal misconduct by NOPD officers, Landrieu is asking that the Justice Department conduct a civil investigation of the agency's "patterns and practices." That kind of probe can lead to a court-backed consent decree that mandates specific changes within the department, such as within internal affairs investigations or use-of-force policies. A federal monitor often checks to make sure these changes have actually happened.
Nicholas Beltrante, an 82-year-old military veteran, former D.C. police officer and longtime NRA member, is an unlikely police watchdog. But he has become a critic of the tight-lipped Fairfax Police Department, and his dogged efforts and growing disillusion have created a groundswell, with county residents launching an effort to create a citizens group to oversee the department, reports the Washington Post.
Fairfax police and politicians say they're open to the idea. Beltrante said he was moved to act after concluding Fairfax police "are sort of out of control. Not all of them. A small number." Citizen groups overseeing police departments are not a new idea. Philip K. Eure, executive director of the D.C. Office of Police Complaints and president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, said there are 150 citizen groups involved in police oversight around the country, including in most large cities. Fairfax's police force is "one of the largest law enforcement agencies without any form of public review," he said.
Guatemala is becoming a regional model for crime fighting and efforts to root out corruption, reports the Christian Science Monitor. The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) began work as an independent investigative body two years ago under an agreement between the United Nations and the Guatemalan government. Wielding unprecedented power for a nongovernmental group, it has forced the removal of thousands of police officers, prompted the arrest of dozens of corrupt businessmen and officials, and solved some of the country’s most heinous crimes.
Now, other poor countries are looking to duplicate CICIG’s success, with Honduras and El Salvador joining Guatemala this month in asking the United States for help in creating a similar regionwide body. “There is clearly increased demand from states around the world that are looking for the UN to help strengthen institutions and combat crime,” says Andrew Hudson, senior associate at Human Rights First, an advocacy group in New York. “CICIG has become a model because it is equipped with a unique set of tools. The key is that it’s embedded into the local context and it’s doing field-based investigations while also strengthening the Guatemalan institutions.”
More than 80 San Francisco police officers have criminal histories or misconduct records that the Police Department withheld and prosecutors did not disclose to defense attorneys in cases in which officers testified, a failure that could put hundreds of felony convictions in jeopardy, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The potential fallout could be far more severe than that caused by the cocaine-skimming scandal at the police drug lab, which prompted prosecutors to dismiss more than 600 narcotics cases.
"We are not potentially talking about possession of cocaine cases - we are potentially talking about very serious felonies," said Lael Rubin of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office who oversees that county's disclosure process and leads training seminars on the subject for prosecutors in California. "This is huge," said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, whose lawyers represent the majority of felony defendants tried in the city. "It will make the problems at the crime lab look like small potatoes."