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De Blasio, Bratton Oppose Council Efforts To Regulate NYC Police

New York City Police Commissioner Williams Bratton says proposed legislation to curb alleged abuses by officers was an unwanted intrusion into his management, the Wall Street Journal reports. The issues involved, including chokeholds, "are the purview of the police commissioner and the police department, and not of legislative control,” he told the City Council yesterday. Of nine measures under consideration, one would make it illegal for members of New York Police Department to use chokeholds. Their use is already banned by the department, though they aren’t illegal.

Other bills would require officers to ask permission before making certain searches and to identify themselves by name, rank and command during a street stop or encounter. Mayor Bill de Blasio doesn’t support the chokehold bill, the consent-to search measure or the identification bill. If the council approves the measures, they could result in de Blasio’s first vetoes since he took office 18 months ago. De Blasio is already undertaking broad changes to the NYPD, dramatically reducing the number of police stops and retraining the force after the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died last July after being placed in an apparent chokehold by a police officer. Last week, de Blasio agreed to increase the size of the force by 1,300 officers and he rolled out a neighborhood policing plan to further address concerns about public safety. The City Council ww would go further.

 

 

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FBI Opens Corruption Inquiry At NY Prison Where Two Escaped

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened a corruption inquiry focusing on employees and inmates at the maximum-security prison in northern New York State where two convicted killers escaped this month, the New York Times reports. The FBI investigation, which an official said was focused on drug trafficking and other possible criminal conduct, is likely to raise the scrutiny of prison officials, their conduct and the apparent lack of security and oversight at the institution in the months preceding the escape.

FBI agents agents had been assisting the State Police and the state prison agency in their investigation of the escape, but the expansion of the agency’s role into a separate corruption inquiry, first reported by CNN, was not publicly disclosed until the manhunt had concluded. News of the federal inquiry came after Gov. Andrew Cuomo reiterated that the state’s inspector general, Catherine Leahy Scott, was conducting a full investigation into the policies and procedures at the prison and the circumstances that led to the escape. There are questions about how officers who patrol the honors cellblock where David Sweat and Richard Matt were housed could have missed the inmates’ preparations, which are believed to have gone on for weeks or months. 

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Seattle Chief Orders Probe Of Officers' "De-Escalation" Comments

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole has asked her internal-investigations unit to review comments made by two officers in a New York Times video and story on de-escalation training, the Seattle Times reports. On the video, a Seattle police trainer expresses sympathy when he is aggressively challenged by skeptical officers. “I agree. I agree. Don’t shoot the messenger. This is what the DOJ is saying, not me,” the trainer says, referring to new mandatory training to curb excessive use of force required in a 2012 consent decree between the city and U.S. Department of Justice.

In another part of the video, an officer undergoing the training describes a personal experience. “I pulled my gun out and stuck it right in his nose and I go, ‘show me your hands now.’ He showed me his hands. I just de-escalated him from doing something.” Another trainer then pointed out that department policy doesn’t equate de-escalation with use of force. The video appeared online, linked to a Sunday story in the New York Times on the growing national trend of de-escalation training in law enforcement and the difficulty of teaching it to officers. The investigations unit will determine if a full investigation should be conducted to determine if discipline is warranted.

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Faulty Jury Instruction Forces FL Judges To Throw Out 100 Murder Cases

Bad wording in jury instructions forced Florida judges to throw out more than 100 murder and attempted murder convictions, a Tampa Bay Times examination of state records found. Dozens of killers and would-be killers have received new trials or the chance to make plea agreements. More than a quarter have received shorter prison sentences, sometimes dramatically shorter. An Orlando man, serving life in prison for killing a longtime friend, had his sentence cut to 18 years. A man who shot and permanently disabled a retiree had his 30-year sentence reduced to 12 years

The faulty phrase, which remained in jury instructions for 16 years, forced many victims and their family members back into court to relive the worst tragedies of their lives. Attorney Richard Summa, who filed the original appeal over the problematic wording, said, "It's absolutely frightening that something like that can go on and on and on." From 1994 to 2010, Florida's standard instructions stated that jurors could convict someone of "manslaughter by act" only if the suspect "intentionally caused the death of" the victim. Contrary to Florida law, it said jurors could find defendants guilty of manslaughter only if they actually intended to kill their victims. The faulty jury instructions effectively made it harder to convict someone of manslaughter than of the much more serious crime of second-degree murder, which can carry a life sentence.

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Justices Back Sedative In Lethal Injections; Dissent Opposes Executions

The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the use of the controversial sedative midazolam in lethal injection executions, voting 5 to 4. Justice Samuel Alito said for the majority that arguments the drug could not be used effectively as a sedative in executions are speculative. Two dissenting justices said for the first time that they think it's "highly likely" that the death penalty itself is unconstitutional, reports the Associated Press. The court's majority in the case from Oklahoma found that the sedative midazolam can be used in executions without violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The drug was used last year in executions in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma that took longer than usual and raised concerns that it did not perform its intended task of putting inmates into a coma-like sleep.

In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, "Under the court's new rule, it would not matter whether the state intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake." Alito responded, saying "the dissent's resort to this outlandish rhetoric reveals the weakness of its legal arguments." In a separate dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said the time has come for the court to debate whether the death penalty itself is constitutional. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Breyer. Four states have used midazolam in executions: Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma. Also, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Virginia allow for midazolam, but they have not used it in executions.

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St. Louis Chief, Prosecutor Taking More Local Crime Cases To The Feds

Frustrated with a mounting homicide total and a new state gun law, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson and Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce are turning to the feds for help, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The U.S. Attorney’s office has issued federal charges in dozens of gun possession cases after an amendment to the Missouri Constitution made it difficult to get state charges against convicted felons caught with guns. Dotson also is taking some homicide cases to U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan because he believes federal judges and juries are tougher on crime and defense attorneys aren’t so willing to take a gamble at trial, even when witness credibility issues are a concern. He said his detectives were looking for ways to take a case federal from the beginning of a homicide investigation.

“If I have a choice, and there is a nexus to a federal crime, I’ll take it to federal courts because I have better outcomes in federal courts,” Dotson said. “There is more consistency in sentencing from the federal courts, and defendants must serve 85 percent of their sentence. I’m dealing with a state court where a guy can shoot at a cop and get (probation).” Callahan said the crime rate in the city and the passage of Amendment 5, a gun rights law put before voters last year by the Missouri Legislature, were compelling him to get involved. “Our role is to not get in the way but help where we can,” he said. “And right now, because of the increasing gun violence coupled with crime, in part created by a state legislature that has a complete disconnect with urban violence, there is a bigger role for us to play right now and we’re there to play it.

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Guards Report More Rikers Violence After End Of Solitary For Teens

The culture at New York City's Rikers Island jail complex makes reforms difficult, says the Marshall Project. “Jail has a smell,” says one correction officer. "Worse than a sewer. The island is its own island that people on the outside could never understand.” Gangs at the jail are especially powerful now. Bloods dominate, but they, like other gangs, have begun to splinter violently into smaller subsets. Some correction officers believe that recent reforms have hamstrung their ability to do their job. They say the end of solitary confinement for 16- to 17-year-olds has resulted in more violence because they’ve lost the biggest consequences for misbehavior.

Both inmates and officers think that a new generation of COs, many of whom have taken a substantial number of college courses, is less street-smart,  less equipped to deal with the brutal realities of the job, and more likely to clash with inmates. City correction commissioner Joseph Ponte says it will take years of recruiting, retraining, rethinking and spending to fulfill Mayor Bill de Blasio's promise to make Rikers a “national model of what is right again.” Says Ponte: "We put in new leadership with a new direction, we’ve seen great reductions in use of force, in every category. We looked at at basic training, staff hiring, at how did we manage staff probationary periods, what was the oversight and how did that work? All of those things have just been dysfunctional for some time."

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TCR at a Glance

Treating Mentally Ill Offenders

June 30, 2015

An Illinois lawsuit claims “deliberate indifference’ to the needs of the state’s 11,000 mentally ill prisoners.

Locked Up and Alone

special report June 29, 2015

Is isolating troubled kids solitary confinement? A California debate draws national attention.