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News in Brief

Arizona: An Arizona prosecutor, Juan Martinez, has a reputation for taking ethically questionable actions in his work. Most recently, in his prosecution on behalf of the state against Jodi Arias (convicted of murder), he engaged in sexual relations with two women covering the case in hopes that they would write positively about him and against Arias. Additionally, during this case, Martinez leaked information about a juror who did not vote in favor of a death sentence, plus he contacted another juror who was dismissed during the sentencing retrial. He received nude photos from her and asked for confidential information concerning what the jury had discussed. There’s been no thorough investigation of Martinez’ behavior since complaints have been presented to the bar association throughout the past few years. Critics of the State Bar of Arizona say there is a pattern of not holding Martinez accountable now and in the past, when concerns about his behavior also surfaced. The Attorney Discipline Probable Cause Committee will decide on sustaining the dismissal, overturning it, or requiring a more thorough investigation from the bar.

California: Pasadena police Lieutenant Vasken Gourdikian was arrested and charged on March 2, 2018, for illegally selling over 100 firearms from March 2014 to February 2017. He pleaded not guilty and was released on $100,000 bail. Gourdikian has used his police status to buy guns that are inaccessible to the general public in order to resell them for profit. Sixty-two firearms were found after a raid of Gourdikian’s home. For about a year, he had been on paid leave but that ended with his arrest.

California: On March 12, 2018, California police officer Israel Sanchez was charged with three counts of sexual assault. The 41-year-old cop, based in Monterey Park, assaulted three women (ages 19 to 28) during the summer of 2014, forcing them to expose themselves and groping them. Sanchez was already on unpaid administrative leave for three counts of sexual battery by restraining, three counts of assault under the color of authority, three counts of false imprisonment by violence, and one count of soliciting a bribe.

Connecticut: In late March 2018, Stephen Rilling, a detective with the Fairfield Police Department and son of Norwalk’s mayor, pleaded guilty to several misdemeanor charges. He was originally accused of stealing thousands of dollars in heroin and OxyContin pills from the department. He resigned from the department and pleaded guilty to lesser charges of misdemeanor possession of narcotics and fourth-degree computer crime. He was sentenced to a suspended five-year sentence with three years’ probation. According to investigators, from June 2016 to February 2017, Rilling signed out over 225 folds of heroin, more than 800 OxyContin pills, and a few packets of cocaine from the department’s evidence room.

Delaware: The Dewey Police Department of Delaware has acquired a collection of military supplies, weapons, and machines through their 1033 program, which gives local law enforcement access to surplus military gear. Although the 11-member department only covers a small Delaware town of 400 residents, the number of supplies and vehicles outrageously outnumbers its needs. Additionally, police want supplies that are not applicable to their oversight of ruling. For instance, they have requested boats for water rescues despite the existence of a beach patrol and the Coast Guard already tending to those rescues. The 1033 program is militarizing police departments, distracting from their duty to serve their community.

Florida: In Palm Beach County, Fla., Chief Assistant State Attorney Brian Fernandes of State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s office has been accused of managing and supervising the office “by fear and intimidation.” For instance, he forced one attorney to cancel her planned vacation to work over a weekend. He also forced another employee to work so hard she now has to take medication. Following these accusations, Fernandes is at the center of an investigation led by another Chief Assistant State Attorney, Adrienne Ellis. According to Ellis, there are now about two dozen complaints against Fernandes. The investigation continues as the prosecutors prosecute one of their own.

Florida: The Florida Senate voted on a new bill to allow judges to deviate from Florida state mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for drug trafficking offenses. Particularly, the concern in the new bill is in regard to opioids, as lengthy prison sentences are not an appropriate method of punishment or treatment for users. Currently, Florida’s sentencing guidelines — set in the 1990s — would require a 25-year minimum sentencing in jail if a person were to sell one bottle of prescription drugs. While Florida’s prison population costs the state about $2.5 billion a year, this bill makes way for reformed legislation that can reduce those costs. It’s especially important because only 17 percent of drug offenders have previously been incarcerated for violent offenses. Other new Senate bills seeking to reform the system are in the works, including Senate Bill 570, which would reduce the 1,000-foot drug-free school zone law to 250 feet.

Georgia: Columbus prosecutors have been accused of practicing discriminatory actions against black defendants and jurors. In the jury selection process, Columbus prosecutors have been writing “N”s next to the names of prospective black jurors and “W”s next to prospective white jurors. The use of “N” is not the only racial slur and insult used to uplift white jurors while pinning racial slurs to potential black jurors. Specifically, Muscogee County prosecutors Douglass Pullen and William Smith are under investigation for racial discrimination. The Superior Court of Muscogee County ordered disclosure of their jury-selection notes from capital trials of black defendants they oversaw. In Muscogee County, Johnny Gates is serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of Katrina Wright. Gates’ attorney is demanding a new trial as four black people could have served on his jury but were excluded as was done in six of seven death-penalty defendants in the 1970s. Yet the discrimination did not end in 1970; these practices are still happening in 2018.

Georgia: Arrested again, suspended Sheriff Jeff Hobby of Georgia was accused of secretly taping conversations between prisoners and their attorneys. These warrants come from July 13, 2017, to Feb. 26, 2018. Previously, Hobby was charged for ordering deputies to conduct an illegal drug search, during which some of the deputies faced sexual allegations of touching high school students’ private parts. Worth County committed to a $3 million lawsuit settlement brought by 900 students affected by the drug search. Hobby turned himself in on March 9, 2018, after receiving 66 charges of eavesdropping and illegal surveillance and one count of violation of oath of office.

Kansas: Wichita police officer Dexter Betts was charged with felony aggravated battery in late March 2018. The charge is a result of his shooting of a nine-year-old girl inside her own home as he attempted to shoot the family dog, a 35-pound miniature English bull terrier. Police were called to the victim’s home for a domestic disturbance. As the dog charged Betts, he opened fire despite the fact the little girl was in the line of fire. He missed the dog, but the bullet ricocheted off of the floor with a fragment striking the girl in the forehead. After watching body cam footage of the incident, a local reporter said that Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay told her that “what he witnessed was not only morally wrong but against their protocols and training.”

Kentucky: In Pikeville, Kentucky, State Police are trying to censor what the media talks and writes about the department, officers, issues and events concerning the department. Shane Jacobs, Kentucky State Police spokesman, has sent demands to various media outlets, insisting on pre-publication approval of news on police or police matters. Jacobs’ actions are a threat to the people, media, and the press’ First Amendment rights.

Louisiana: A former officer of Gretna Louisiana, Daniel Swear challenged his lieutenant and the police department for their encouragement and enforcement of daily quotas for ticketing. He was instructed by Lieutenant J.R. Rogers to achieve goals of one arrest and one summons per day as a means to boost revenue. Swear did not agree with the department’s informal policy and filed a complaint to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the state attorney general. In January, the case went to court where complaints against individual officers were mostly dismissed, but a lawsuit against the city was granted by U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown. It could be founded as a constitutional violation as the case proceeds.

Maryland: A former Pennsylvania police officer was sentenced to one year in prison and a subsequent three years of supervised release for mail fraud. Marco DeCamillo, 41, received the sentence on March 9, 2018. He falsely claimed his business, Mad Dragon Tactical, sold body armor that could protect against armor-piercing rounds. The armor has to be certified by the National Institute of Justice. Altered ballistic test sheets were found at DeCamillo’s home, and DeCamillo revealed in an interview with the FBI and Homeland Security investigators that he knew his armor was not NIJ certified. He sold about $169,000 worth of armor that was falsely claimed as NIJ certified. In addition to his sentencing, he is ordered to pay $124,000 in restitution.

New Jersey: Steven Stadler of Atlantic County claims officers unlawfully beat him and sicced a dog on him following his burglarizing of a car wash in 2013. On February 28, 2018, the police chief at the time of Stadler’s burglary and beating, Ernest Jubilee, admitted in court a lack of follow up on the officers flagged for repeated use of excessive force. Three officers were involved in the beating of Stadler, in addition to one dog, which resulted in an excessive amount of force. Internal and external investigations of the department have taken place, and a trial continues.

New York: In New York, a $15 million notice of claim was filed on February 26, 2018, against the Bronx District Attorney’s Office for misconduct, including neglecting work to shop, drink, and have sex. Since the time Crystal Rivera was hired in 2007 as a crime analyst for the District Attorney’s Office, she claims witness to unethical and scandalous behavior. District Attorney Darcel Clark, is not an exclusion from this; rather, she is accused of participating in the unethical practices. Rivera’s lawyer states, “What they are doing is taking advantage of the people in the Bronx, and it’s time something’s done about it.”

Tennessee: Nashville Mayor Megan Barry resigned on March 6, 2018 in the midst of a sex scandal involving the former head of her police security detail, Sgt. Robert Forrest. The couple engaged in a two-year extramarital affair. Forrest received overtime pay for personal time spent with Barry not related to official business. Immediately before resigning, she pleaded guilty to a felony theft charge in connection with the illicit affair. In her plea deal, Barry will reimburse the city $11,000 in unlawful expenses, and she was sentenced to three years of probation. Forrest also pleaded guilty to a felony theft charge. As part of his plea deal, Forrest must reimburse the city $45,000 he received in pay while with Barry, but not on official business.

Texas: In March 2018, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg publically acknowledged that a former Harris County prosecutor, Dan Rizzo, withheld critical evidence that would have established an alibi for Alfred Dewayne Brown who was sentenced to death for the October 2005 murders of a Houston Police Officer and a store clerk. He was eventually freed in 2015 after having spent nearly a decade on death row. The evidence that Rizzo may have intentionally withheld the vital evidence at trial only came to light in connection with Brown’s civil lawsuit against the DA’s office. Brown’s civil attorney characterized the alleged misconduct that helped land Brown on death row as “horrifying” abuse of power, and his lawyer at his criminal trial tweeted, “Vindication.”

Wisconsin: As a police officer, Dominique Heaggan-Brown fatally shot Sylville Smith in 2016 while on duty. This former Milwaukee police officer, age 26, has also been charged with various sex crimes. Original charges included sexual assault of an intoxicated or unconscious victim; a second round of charges were for false imprisonment, three counts of soliciting prostitutes, and two counts of nonconsenting photos of an inmate. Because it is a complicated case, the judge charged Heaggan-Brown with the second round of charges. He was given three years in prison for the sex crimes. After Heaggan-Brown was acquitted for the shooting of Smith, Smith’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against both the former officer Heaggan-Brown and the city of Milwaukee. 

 

 

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