Category Archives: Police Corruption

Another Updated Police Misconduct Guide

I have posted Ben Rosenfeld’s updated guide for those deciding whether to file a civil rights lawsuit against the police.  It’s available in the “Practice Areas” page of my law practice website.

You can also download a copy of the guide here.

Police Misconduct Victim’s Guide

I have posted an informal guide for victims of police misconduct, courtesy of the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project (NPMSRP), on the “Practice Areas” page of my law practice website.

A copy of the guide can be downloaded here (PDF) as well.

A True Subversive

The story of Adam Stoddard, the sheriff’s deputy in Arizona who lifted a document in open court from the files of a defense attorney is by now well-known, particularly among the legal community and especially the criminal defense bar.  If you haven’t seen the video of the officer’s despicable conduct, I invite you to do so here:

The latest on this is that the judge in whose courtroom Stoddard worked ordered him to jail for contempt of court after Stoddard refused to apologize to the attorney for stealing the document from her case file.  Stoddard was recently released from custody and praised by his boss, the infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County.  For what, I’m not entirely sure.

The most disturbing thing about Stoddard’s conduct is the sense of entitlement and arrogance he exhibited throughout the incident, continuing through the hearing.  That is, it doesn’t seem like Stoddard thought he did anything wrong at all.  That it was his duty to pry into the defense attorney’s files because, well, she’s a defense attorney, and her clients are the scum of the earth.

Just Another Day at the Office

I was helping out on a criminal matter that resulted in a good outcome for the client.  What started as a multi-count indictment with gun and drug possession charges and a fairly lengthy sentence, ended in the client’s release for time served.  The attorney I was working with even managed to reinstate his probation even though the client had been “revoked” before the criminal case came about.  This outcome was largely the product of shoddy police work and the prosecutor, to his credit, knew it; hence, the reduced charges.  Client ended up pleading guilty to misdemeanor obstruction.

To the general public this result may seem like familiar examples of the criminal justice system run amok and criminal defense attorneys up to their usual tricks .  Even the judge, who accepted the plea but had almost no knowledge of how the police trampled on the client’s constitutional rights in their haste to rid society of another criminal element, was taken aback by the deal the client received from the prosecutor.  To hear the incident recounted during the plea proceedings, one would be hard pressed to think otherwise: guns and drug-like substances were recovered, client’s friend fleeing the scene, client slamming the door on the police and then attempting to flee himself.  But what was not disclosed and what really turned the case around was how the police violated god knows how many constitutional and statutory provisions against unreasonable searches and seizures when they searched the apartment client was at without a valid warrant, and the one they eventually did get was just as good as no warrant at all when they failed to comply with appropriate procedures.

The unfortunate thing is that the public will, for the most part, never learn of what the police did and, for that matter, didn’t do, in the client’s case.  The fortunate thing though is that the client had  attorneys who did find out what happened (not always a given) and raised hell with the prosecutor about it as was their duty under the Constitution.

Lovely Rita Meter Maid

Jaqueline Fegan, a traffic ticketing supervisor, recently won a $1.553 million jury verdict against the City of Chicago in a rather unusual civil rights suit.  Fegan alleged that police had falsely arrested and battered her after she refused to rescind a parking ticket that a subordinate of Fegan’s had issued to an officer’s private car.  The Chicao Sun-Time has the story here, the Tribune, here.

Apparently a heated argument ensued when Fegan refused to comply with the officer’s demand that the traffic ticket be “non-suited” and the officers ultimately arrested Fegan for what they claimed was a jaywalking offense.  In the process, Fegan claims they injured her wrist and shoulder and also conspired to cover up the episode by crafting a story that Fegan was the one who was throwing her clout around and had fought back against and injured the officers.

One wonders why the City took the case to trial rather than settle.  Perhaps the City attorneys thought they had the moral highground here: police officer ticketed while on official duty?  If so, they were sorely mistaken.  I would argue that arresting a colleague, especially for the dubious crime of “jaywalking,” after a heated argument about rescinding a traffic ticket, is indefensible before most juries.   It’s unclear from news reports how the judgment was apportioned, i.e., compensatory or punitive damages, but I imagine a large chunk of it was directed at punishing the rather outlandish actions of the officers.

If you’re interested in learning more about the case, the complaint can be downloaded here.

Intermission is Now Over

Sorry for the long delay in posting.  Things have been a bit hectic around here but I hope to continue posting regularly.

Here’s what you may have missed in my absence though:

A federal judge in the Northern District of Georgia sentenced Joshua David Lowe, an ex-jail sergeant at the Polk County Jail, to 21 months in prison for beating an inmate who was strapped to a restraining chair.  A fellow jailer and witness to the beating said that the inmate was “spewing blood” and that there was “blood everywhere.”  Lowe pleaded guilty, which, perhaps, explains the unusually lenient sentence.  And let’s not forget that Lowe is a law enforcement officer, after all, who is nothing but well-intentioned.  The case was prosecuted by the United States Attorneys Office, one of several that has been brought by the feds in recent moths (see here and here).  Of course, police brutality against inmates, whether it’s of the violent or non-violent variety, are common, and one wonders why the feds don’t pursue more of these cases.  Because what happens at the county jail stays in the county jail.  Ultimately, it is up to the better officers, those with a conscience and a heart who see their colleagues go to town on an inmate, to break this cycle of secrecy and violence.

Texas continues to make its mark as the capitol of injustice in criminal and death penalty prosecutions.  The 2005 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham who was convicted of setting fire to his home and killing his three children has returned to the media spotlight after Texas Governor Rick Perry took some swipes (some would say unwarranted) at Willingham, calling him a “monster” and a “bad man.”  This came after Perry pulled some strings last minute to change the composition of an official forensic science commission that was about to issue a report on whether Willingham really did commit arson and murder his three kids.  Grits for Breakfast has the story here.  Texas injustice also made news with the release of Richard Miles, who was serving 15 years in prison for shooting two individuals, one of whom died.  The release came after Centurion Ministries, a prisoner advocacy group, uncovered police files that show that someone else – not Miles – had actually confessed to the shooting.  Evidence that was withheld by the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office headed by Craig Watkins.

“We F****ed Up”

Scott Greenfield over at Simple Justice picked up a story on Anthony Arambula who was shot in the back 6 times by the police who mistook him for a robber.  Of course, the cover up, as they say, is often worse than the crime.  And here, the police apparently tried everything short of bribing witnesses to cover up their tracks.  The incident took place in Maricopa County which also happens to be playground of infamous Sherrif Joe Arpaio.

According to the report of the incident by Courthouse News Service:

A homeowner says a Phoenix police officer shot him six times in the back during a 911 home-invasion call, and the 911 tape recorded the officer’s partner saying, “That’s all right. Don’t worry about it. I got your back. … We clear?” The family says the officers were not aware that the 911 call was still recording as they spoke about covering up the shooting.

In their complaint in Maricopa County Court, Anthony and Lesley Arambula say an armed intruder “crashed through the front window” of their home on Sept. 17, 2008 and ran into one of their son’s bedrooms.

Anthony, worried about his son who was still in his bedroom, says he “held the intruder calmly at gunpoint” and called 911.

Phoenix Police officers already in the neighborhood heard the crash of the Arambulas’ window. When they approached the house, Lesley says, she told Sgt. Sean Coutts that her husband was inside holding the intruder at gunpoint. Lesley says Coutts failed to pass on that information to the two other officers.

Inside the house, the Arambulas say, Officer Brian Lilly shot Anthony six times in the back while he was still on the phone with the 911 operator – twice when he was on the ground. 
The officers ran into the bedroom after Anthony told them, “You just killed … you just killed the homeowner. The bad guy is in there.”

The entire Courthouse News Service article can be found here, Steve Greenfield’s take, here.

“It’s a good day for civil rights.”

An appeals court in Boston upheld a $102 million verdict in a classic case of police misconduct.  As reported by the AP:

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a $102 million judgment against the government for withholding evidence that could have cleared four men who spent decades in prison — including two who died there — for a murder they didn’t commit.

Joseph Salvati, Peter Limone and the families of Henry Tameleo and Louis Greco sued the federal government for malicious prosecution after U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner ruled in July 2007 that Boston FBI agents withheld evidence they knew could prove the men weren’t involved in the 1965 killing of Edward “Teddy” Deegan, a small-time hoodlum who was shot in an alley.

“While we reject its finding that the government is liable for malicious prosecution, we uphold the court’s alternate finding that the government is liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress,” the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said on Thursday. “We conclude that the awards, though high, are not so grossly disproportionate to the harm sustained as to either shock our collective conscience or raise the specter of a miscarriage of justice.”

Read the full story here (AP) and here (Boston Globe).

You Have the Right To Remain Silent, You Have the Right to … Wait, Hold that Thought

The Tampa Tribune picked up a story of a memorandum recently circulated within the Tampa Police Department that provides guidelines for officers looking to skirt the protections of Miranda v. Arizona and its familiar set of warnings.  Opponents of the new policy have blasted the Tampa PD, calling it a recipe for violating constitutional rights, while the police describe it as a necessary tool to aid in the investigation of crimes.  In case  you’re wondering, here are some of the suggestions offered in the memorandum as to how police could seek to elicit incriminating statements, Miranda or no Miranda:

•The Miranda warnings must be given at the outset.

•There must have been a sufficient lapse of time between the invocation of the right to remain silent and the resumption of questioning; two hours is enough, perhaps less.

•The second round of questioning should be at a different location/setting.

•The second round of questioning must concern different crime(s).

According to the story, the memo was written in response to a recent Supreme Court decision, which was not named but is mostly likely the one in Kansas v. Ventris.  In Ventris, the Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution may use statements elicited by the police from a defendant for impeachment purposes, i.e., to undermine his credibility ever after the defendant he has invoked his right to counsel.  Scott Greenfield over at Simple Justice had a nice take on the decision which it was first issued.

I am doubtful the new policy being implemented by the Tampa police will actually result in more closed cases.  Such legally dubious tactics rarely do.  What I am fairly certain of, however, is that Tampa defense attorneys will challenge police-initiated interrogations, and the resulting statements, with more frequency, which, in turn, will lead to more litigation and longer delays for criminal defendants looking to have their cases resolved.

Thinning The Thin Blue Line

TalkLeft picked up an interesting post over at the Dallas Morning News’ Crime blog on police corruption.  It relates to a recent story where a Dallas police officer “doused” a man with pepper spray in what appeared to be a fit of rage and when confronted about the incident by superiors claimed that the spray canister had “malfunctioned.”  The truth did not come to light until a rookie officer belatedly blew the whistle on the spray-happy officer.

In analyzing why the rookie officer failed to immediately report the incident – his excuse was fear of retaliation –  the blog post  distinguished between two types of police corruption: “noble cause corruption” and “bad corruption.”  Quoting a police misconduct expert:

“Bad corruption” would be something like taking a bribe or robbing a drug dealer, and they would not hesitate to report such criminal behavior.

The line gets blurry when dealing with so-called “noble cause corruption” — the idea that police are at war and the ends justifies the means, i.e. raiding a drug house without having probable cause to do so or roughing up a gang member.

It’s in those cases that officers often suddenly get the “I didn’t see or hear anything” syndrome.

As with anything else, once an officer crosses that line, it’s a slippery slope to doing something far worse.

At the risk of starting a chicken-or-the-egg debate, I wonder whether noble cause corruption will actually result in more crime.  It is true that the tactics employed in situations of noble cause corruption will free an officer from the restraints, i.e., search or arrest warrants, that might otherwise prevent him from catching a suspect.  And in the short run that may mean higher arrest rates and good PR for the police department.  But in the long run, such corruption will almost certainly turn the community against the police, whose reaction to the unjust treatment will be more crime.