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“Official Justifications For Savagery”: Police Officers Must Be Held To Higher Standard Of Conduct

The omnipresence of video cameras hasn’t restrained the impulses of violent police officers, it seems, but cameras have at least repudiated the narratives that have saved so many police from prosecution. In several cases, video footage has offered a truth that defies official justifications for savagery.

Because he was wearing a body camera that contradicted his account (stunning, yes, that he was aware he was being recorded), Ray Tensing has been charged with murder in the July death of Cincinnati motorist Samuel DuBose, whom Tensing, then a University of Cincinnati police officer, had stopped for a traffic violation. Tensing claimed that he shot DuBose because he feared for his life, but the footage doesn’t appear to show him in any danger.

Yet, the decision by Tensing’s superiors to prosecute him merely lays bare the remaining inequities in a criminal justice system that is by no means just. It is quite rare for police officers to be convicted and sent to prison for their unjustified violence, no matter the evidence against them.

(Indeed, it is still quite rare for police officers to be charged in the deaths of civilians. So far this year, 558 civilians have died at the hands of police, according to The Washington Post, which says that officers have been charged in only four cases, all of which were captured on video. In three of the cases, the victims were black, while the officers were white. In the fourth, the civilian was also white.)

Indeed, the criminal justice system is one of the last bastions of blatant racism, a pastiche of prejudices, wrongheaded stereotypes, and all-too-human assumptions. The implicit and explicit biases that color black people as dangerous and anti-social tend to let police officers, especially white officers, off the hook. Their crimes often go unpunished.

Perhaps you remember the trial of four Los Angeles cops in the brutal 1991 assault on Rodney King. Videotaped by a passer-by as they repeatedly beat and kicked a prostrate King, they were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force. Yet, none were convicted in a Simi Valley courtroom.

Two of the four, Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell, were later convicted after federal authorities charged them with violating King’s civil rights.

Still, U.S. District Court Judge John Davies was clearly sympathetic to the two men, saying that King had “contributed significantly to provoking the offense behavior.” While they faced up to 10 years in prison, he sentenced them to 30 months.

Now fast-forward a quarter-century. In May 2015, Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo, who is white, was acquitted of manslaughter in the 2012 deaths of an unarmed black motorist, Timothy Russell, and passenger, Malissa Williams. After other officers had ceased shooting and Russell had stopped his car — he had led the officers on a high-speed chase — Brelo jumped onto the hood of the vehicle and fired 15 shots.

The U.S. Department of Justice, by the way, considered that case when it issued a report that found the Cleveland Police Department had engaged in a long-running pattern of unnecessary force. More than 100 police officers pursued Russell’s vehicle because they believed they heard gunfire coming from the car, but Justice found it likely that the car had backfired.

Nevertheless, Cuyahoga County Judge John P. O’Donnell ruled that the “state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant, Michael Brelo, knowingly caused the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.” (O’Donnell presided over a bench trial — or trial without a jury.)

Law enforcement defenders would undoubtedly note that neither Rodney King nor Timothy Russell was a paragon of virtue. Both motorists failed to stop their vehicles, choosing to flee police. Their conduct was clearly wrong.

But neither King nor Russell took an oath to protect and serve. Neither man was given the badge and gun that ought to suggest a rigorous moral code and a significant degree of restraint.

In other words, police officers should be held to a higher standard of conduct. And if they behave like murderous thugs, they should be treated as such. Until they are, justice remains tantalizingly out of reach.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, August 1, 2015

August 2, 2015 Posted by | Police Brutality, Police Shootings, Police Violence | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Record Shows Gov Scott Walker’s Office Stonewalled DA Inquiry Of “John Doe Criminal Investigation”

Milwaukee County prosecutors opened the secret John Doe criminal investigation more than two years ago after being stonewalled by Gov. Scott Walker‘s office when he was county executive, according to a newly released record.

The document appears to cast doubt on some of Walker’s claims about his role in launching and cooperating with the investigation.

On May 5, 2010, Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf filed a petition with court officials asking if his office could initiate a secret investigation into what happened with $11,000 in donations intended for Operation Freedom, an annual event honoring veterans.

By making it a secret John Doe investigation, Landgraf wrote that prosecutors might get better cooperation from Walker’s office, which had been “unwilling or unable” to turn over records and information needed in the investigation. He said he would need to subpoena county records and officials.

“It may be the County Executive’s Office is reluctant to provide information to investigators due to a fear of political embarrassment,” Landgraf wrote, noting that Walker was then running for governor.

But Ciara Matthews, spokeswoman for the governor’s recall campaign, said the filing was inaccurate.

In 2009, Matthews said, Walker had his former chief of staff, Tom Nardelli, contact the DA’s office over concerns about what a local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart had done with donations it received from the county for Operation Freedom.

“Multiple follow-ups were made by the chief of staff to the district attorney’s office to offer assistance in that investigation, and any statement to the contrary is not correct,” Matthews said.

The document was included in a court filing this week by the lawyer for Timothy Russell, a former top-level Walker aide who has been charged with embezzling more than $25,000 intended for Operation Freedom and two political candidates. His attorney, Dennis Krueger, wants a judge to dismiss the charges against his client because they involved matters that reached far beyond the original scope of the John Doe probe.

The investigation has led to criminal charges against three former Walker aides, an appointee and a major campaign contributor.

On Thursday, Walker’s former county spokeswoman, Fran McLaughlin, was granted immunity as part of the investigation. She is the 13th individual to receive immunity in the case.

Walker’s current spokesman, Cullen Werwie, also has been given immunity to testify behind closed doors.

Records show McLaughlin was given immunity after she invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions to avoid self-incrimination. Her attorney, Michael A.I. Whitcomb, refused further comment.

“I can’t say anything,” Whitcomb said.

Landgraf’s 2010 petition provides new information about the origins of the two-year probe, much of which is veiled in secrecy.

Walker has repeatedly brushed aside questions about the John Doe by claiming credit for launching it.

“Another interesting thing for people tuning in tonight is to know,” Walker said during last week’s recall debate, “this investigation started because my office asked for it nearly two years ago.”

Prosecutors have previously acknowledged that investigators met with Nardelli and another Walker aide in 2009 over Operation Freedom. Nardelli told the DA’s office that Purple Heart’s treasurer had refused to provide any records or accounting of the event’s finances.

But Landgraf’s filing is the first public suggestion Walker’s office later reversed course and quit cooperating.

“As part of the pre-Doe investigation, Investigator Jeffrey Doss sought to obtain documentation that would form the basis of tracing the funds from Milwaukee County to the Order,” Landgraf wrote in his May 2010 petition. “The Office of the County Executive has been unwilling or unable to provide such documentation. It is unclear at this juncture why the Office of the County Executive has not produced (or has not caused another Department to produce) these records.”

Landgraf noted in the petition that the media also would be interested in the investigation if they knew about it, adding that Walker was then running for governor. In fact, the Journal Sentinel wrote about the missing money a month later.

He said publicity about the probe could be “particularly unfair” to Walker.

“It is therefore my opinion that the formality and the secrecy of a John Doe proceeding will increase the likelihood of complete and frank statements by persons who may – in an informal, non-secret setting – feel uneasy about providing a candid, voluntary statement,” Landgraf wrote.

Earlier this year, prosecutors charged Kevin Kavanaugh, a former Walker appointee to the Milwaukee County Veterans Service Board, with five felony counts alleging he embezzled $42,232 from his Purple Heart chapter, for which he was treasurer. The money was supposed to help underwrite the costs of Operation Freedom.

Kavanaugh has pleaded not guilty.

Other records in Russell’s filing this week show that former Appeals Court Judge Neal Nettesheim, who is overseeing the John Doe investigation, agreed to expand the scope of the investigation at least seven times between May 11 and Nov. 30, 2010. In fact, prosecutors first expanded the investigation just three days after the case was opened, presumably in response to a No Quarter piece about a Walker staffer posting favorable comments about her boss on blogs and websites while she was on the job.

“To expand the scope of a John Doe proceeding to include investigating illegal campaign activity and a subsequent theft allegation unrelated to the time, circumstances and witnesses to the original 2006 theft clearly exceeds the scope and intent of the John Doe statute,” wrote Krueger, Russell’s attorney, in his motion asking Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Hansher to throw out his client’s charges.

Krueger also said in his filing that prosecutors have informed him that Russell remains a target of the investigation, despite having been already charged earlier this year.

By continuing to investigate his client in the John Doe after charging him, Krueger said, prosecutors increase their ability to “leverage the defendant into accepting a plea or (face) the prospect of defending against additional charges.”

Landgraf declined to comment on the filing, saying he had not yet read it.

 

By: David Bice, No Quarter-Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 31, 2012

June 2, 2012 Posted by | Wisconsin | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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