News in Brief
California: The family of a mentally ill man who was shot and killed in 2014 by Lodi, California, police officers Scott Bratton and Adam Lockie settled with the city for $2.65 million on April 24, 2018, after U.S. District Court Judge Troy Nunley denied the city’s efforts to dismiss the case. Attorney Mark E. Merin, who represented relatives of Parminder Singh Shergill in the civil suit, said the family called 911 to request police assistance to transport the Gulf War veteran for mental health evaluation. According to Bratton and Lockie’s accounts, Shergill pulled a knife from his pocket, raised the weapon, lunged at them and threatened to kill them before they shot him 14 times. Four witnesses disputed that version of events; one said, “[Shergill] didn’t move. He was just standing there.” Bratton and Lockie were neither criminally charged nor disciplined for their roles in Shergill’s death.
Illinois: On May 15, 2018, Chicago police officer William Whitley, 61, pleaded guilty to a single count of sex trafficking of a minor. The 27-year veteran cop admitted to soliciting sex from a 14-year-old girl on multiple occasions. According to the plea agreement, Whitley also admitted to paying for sex on multiple occasions with three other girls ages 14 to 17. The federal complaint alleged that Whitley attended sex parties with the teenage girls as part of a trafficking ring arranged by older men. Whitley was stripped of his police authority and placed on paid desk duty at the onset of the investigation; police department records listed him as “inactive” following his court appearance.
Illinois: Macon County, Illinois’ K-9 Training Academy director Chad Larner, quoted in a May 8, 2018, article from The Pantagraph, declared that, should the state legalize recreational marijuana, “a number of [drug-sniffing] dogs would likely have to be euthanized.” Larner stated that there was no guarantee that the 275 certified narcotic detection K-9’s in Illinois could be retrained, because they were typically conditioned not to be social so their work won’t be affected. Pro-marijuana activist Dan Linn, executive director of Illinois’ state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, described the comment as a “red herring.” He said, “The idea that legalizing for adults to have an ounce on them will equal ... all these dogs being euthanized, that seems kind of ridiculous and hyperbolic.” The state decriminalized possession of a small amount of marijuana in 2016 – possessing up to 10 grams of marijuana is a civil offense punishable by a fine between $100 and $200.
Iowa: Oskaloosa police officer Janay Pritchett was arrested and charged with first-degree harassment and domestic abuse assault. A criminal complaint alleges that she displayed a dangerous weapon after harassing her girlfriend, deputy Karissa Smith, and cutting her neck with a pocket knife. An arrest affidavit also claims Pritchett later threatened to shoot Smith. Pritchett was placed on paid leave after bonding out of Mahaska County Jail following her May 4, 2018, arrest. Court documents allege the incident “was physical with both parties pushing, grabbing, and wrestling” after a verbal disagreement. Pritchett had been an Oskaloosa police officer since 2016. She was not on duty at the time of the reported assault.
Kansas: Ness County Sheriff Bryan Whipple was charged with falsely certifying that deputies had received training and selling a firearm to a convicted felon. U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said in an April 25, 2018, release that Whipple, 47, faxed reports to the Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training that falsely claimed Ness County deputies had received training, resulting in a federal indictment for three counts of wire fraud. Whipple also faces a single charge after he allegedly sold a .45-caliber handgun and ammunition to a man he knew had a prior felony conviction. According to the release, the alleged crimes occurred in 2013, 2016, and 2017. The disgraced sheriff could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each wire fraud charge and 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the firearm charge.
Kansas: Governor Jeff Colyer signed a new law into effect on May 10, 2018, that makes it a crime for police officers to have sex with people detained during traffic stops or for questioning. The bill was introduced in the Kansas Legislature by State Rep. Cindy Holscher in February 2018 as an amendment to Section 1. K.S.A. 2017 Supp. 21-5512, and was spurred by two cases where police officers claimed that consensual sex occurred when accused of rape of a person in custody. The new statute makes consent irrelevant based on the roles of the officer and the detainee. “[The law said] there shouldn’t be sexual relations between police and persons in jail, but it didn’t say anything about if they had been stopped on the streets or were in their custody,” Holscher explained.
Maine: Kevin Raymond Curtis had to wait 48 hours for the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office to return the cremated remains of his father, which had been seized as suspected heroin after Curtis’ 2006 Chevrolet Impala was crashed by his friend Jess Legendre on April 21, 2018, with the dead man’s ashes inside. Curtis said, “The kids were really mad when they found out that (the police) took Grandpa, but I tried to make a joke of it. I said, ‘This is the first time he’s ever been in lockup and we’ll just get him out.’” According to the incident report, a white powder escaped from the glovebox of the wrecked car while Legendre rummaged for insurance paperwork, which led police to believe the substance was heroin and Legendre was under the influence. Emergency responders administered two doses of Narcan, an anti-opioid overdose reversal drug, after the man became unresponsive, although Legendre was actually injured by a deployed airbag and not suffering an overdose. Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason said the glovebox was “a rather unusual manner in which to keep the remains of a loved one, for sure.”
Mississippi: A pair of unnamed Laurel, Mississippi, police officers was fired after they violently beat a man who turned back from a police checkpoint on May 16, 2018. Police Captain Tommy Cox said supervisors realized there was a problem with the arrest and began an internal affairs investigation almost immediately after James Barnett was transported to the local jail. In a Facebook post the following day, Barnett described being kicked in the face and head with steel-toed boots and taunted as he lay still without resisting. Cox said the case had been referred to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation for criminal investigation. “The Officers and Administration of LPD take these types of allegations very seriously,” the LPD said in a statement to ABC News.
New Jersey: On June 1, 2018, three off-duty Newark police officers were suspended and one arrested when a private event at the Club Allure nightclub spun out of control. On-duty officers who responded to break up the party charged an unnamed officer with assault. A civilian also was arrested for possession of a loaded handgun. Following the incident, that officer was suspended along with three others who had attended the gathering. No additional details were released. Newark Director of Public Safety Anthony Ambrose said, “The officers involved have three years on the job and will be dealt with accordingly. I will not tolerate officers grossly neglecting or violating the law or behaving in a disorderly manner whether on or off-duty.”
New York: Bronx teenager Javier Payne was only 14 years old, when, in 2014, NYPD Sergeant Eliezer Pabon shoved the handcuffed youth through the plate-glass window of a 24-hour convenience store, puncturing his lung and piercing his heart with shards of broken glass. An internal investigation determined Pabon used excessive force, and he was docked five vacation days. Payne’s mother filed a civil suit against the city, which settled on May 9, 2018, for $1 million. The city will pay $992,500, Pabon agreed to pay $2,500, and the building owner settled for $5,000 because the window was defective. “We still strongly feel that this officer should have been criminally charged for his actions, which were clearly depicted on the video,” said Scott Rynecki, Payne’s attorney.
North Carolina: Asheville Police Captain Stony Gonce was fired on May 1, 2108, after an independent investigator found he intimidated several Asheville Police Department employees and exhibited “hostile” behavior toward others. The termination letter issued by Chief of Police Tammy Hooper details 14 personnel policy violations and quotes complaints – “My family and I are scared. I do not know what he is capable of.” “He is one of the most evil men I have ever met.” “I live in fear of Gonce.” – from a number of city employees who were harassed by the captain, who also formerly headed the city’s criminal investigation division. Gonce has the right to appeal his termination. He had been on paid suspension since March 2018.
Ohio: Bodycam footage from a May 13, 2018, traffic stop shows 45-year-old Ronald D. Wagner II being mauled by a police K-9 after three Canton police officers and an Ohio state trooper questioned him for 15 minutes while pulled over for driving with a homemade paper license plate. Wagner is heard in the video saying, “I’m staying inside my vehicle, where my rights are protected by the Fourth Amendment,” and refusing to answer questions or provide ID before the police broke his window and released the dog. Wagner, who can be heard screaming in the video footage, underwent two surgeries on his left arm after the attack. According to a report from The Maven, Wagner mistakenly thought a 1930 ruling from the Virginia Supreme Court in Thompson v. Smith, 155 Va. 367 (1930), allowed him to drive without a license. Canton Police Captain David Kurzinsky said the incident is under review for possible excessive force.
Tennessee: Investigators say former Nashville police sergeant James Dunaway stole more than $105,000 while executing search warrants at multiple suspected drug houses. According to the investigation, Dunaway took money from five searches between 2015 and his arrest in November 2017. The joint investigation by the FBI and Metro Nashville police revealed that Dunaway used some of the money to buy a 2014 Toyota Sequoia. U.S. Attorney Don Cochran of the Middle District of Tennessee said Dunaway faced up to 10 years in prison and $1 million in fines if convicted of two counts of theft from federal program funds and two counts of money laundering as charged in a May 4, 2018 indictment. Dunaway, who was decommissioned following his arrest, was a 16-year police veteran; he was a member of the Specialized Investigations Division Narcotics Unit and formerly supervised the Madison Precinct’s Crime Suppression Unit.
United Kingdom: Facial recognition software use by law enforcement agencies is growing worldwide. In the United Kingdom, however, a recent test-run of new artificial intelligence at the UEFA Champions League Final week in Wales last June showed the gross fallibility of the government’s facial-recognition technology. The automated system issued 2,470 alerts of possible matches, but of those, only 173 were correctly identified. The other 2,297 suggested matches – 92 percent of faces flagged – were incorrect. A May 9, 2018, blog entry from TechDirt said a spokesperson for the police force “blamed the low quality of images in its database and the fact that it was the first time the system had been used.”
Virginia: In 2016, roughly 11 percent of Virginia residents – almost 900,000 citizens – had suspended licenses at any given time, mostly for unpaid court debts. Another report, released last year by the Legal Aid and Justice Center, found there were 4.2 million people in five states alone whose licenses were suspended for outstanding court fines. A May 19, 2018, article from The Washington Post places this year’s number nationwide at more than 7 million people who have failed to pay court debt and lost driving privileges as a result. The practice has been heavily criticized as an unfair punishment on the poor. In March, 2018, SB 181, a bill sponsored by Sen. William Stanley Jr., which would have reinstated any person’s driver’s license suspended solely for nonpayment of fines or costs, was deferred to 2019 and left in the Appropriations Committee.
Washington: The Pacific Legal Foundation (“PLF”), a public interest law firm, filed suit on May 1, 2018, claiming Seattle’s August 2017 Fair Chance Housing Ordinance is unconstitutional. Landlords who violate the law must go through a “conciliation” process where they might be required to reinstate tenancy, pay damages or provide rent credits. They also must attend training classes intended to reduce “racial bias and biases against other protected classes in tenant selection.” The PLF’s complaint, filed on behalf of a group of small-time landlords, claims that the law violates property owners’ due process rights under the 14th Amendment by exposing them to financial and personal safety risks from tenants with criminal pasts. “The landlords we are representing are especially impacted by their inability to look at criminal history,” said PLF attorney Ethan Blevins. “They have a lot of interest at stake, both personally and professionally,” he added.
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