News in Brief
Arkansas: The taxpayers of Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, face a lawsuit that was filed in response to a video-taped incident of unlawful detention, assault, deprivation of rights and, eventually, conspiracy carried out by police officer Matthew Mercado in December 2016. Railroad worker Adam Finley was stopped by Mercado while working at a railroad crossing for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad and asked why he was there. After ordering Finley out of the vehicle, Mercado pushed him, cursed at him, and handcuffed him, detaining Finley briefly before telling him he would “ride the lightning,” next time. When Finley filed a complaint with the Walnut Ridge Police Department, he was cited for refusal to submit and obstructing governmental operations, which the suit described as a ploy to cover up the incident. On April 3, 2018, Finley was acquitted of all charges in Lawrence County District Court. The lawsuit remains pending.
Alabama: William Jeffrey West, 44, entered a not-guilty plea on April 10, 2018, to charges that he killed his wife, 42-year-old Kathleen Dawn West, with a blow to the head from an absinthe bottle. Prosecutors say her blood and her husband’s fingerprints were found on the bottle. “We have a very strong case,” said Roger Hepburn, an assistant district attorney. Her mother, Nancy Martin, believes that William was not involved in her daughter’s death and that an intoxicated fall is to blame. William West had been a corporal with the Birmingham-Southern College police department before Kathleen’s death.
California: Pleasanton City Attorney Dan Sodergren told the Pleasanton Weekly on April 20, 2018, that the municipality had settled for $285,000 a federal lawsuit brought by the family of 19-year-old John Deming Jr., who was shot and killed by then-Pleasanton police officer Daniel Kunkel in 2015. “While the city had strong legal defenses in this case, ultimately, the matter was settled for financial reasons taking into account the expense of litigation and the inherent uncertainty of a jury trial,” Sodergren said. Kunkel no longer works for the Pleasanton Police Department, though Sodergren declined to detail when or why the officer left the department. Criminal charges were not brought in the case.
California: An appeals court decided in April 2018 that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is not allowed to fire narcotics detective Carlos Arellano, despite evidence that revealed he was involved with a drug-trafficking organization, cultivated marijuana plants, and discussed drug payments in phone conversations. The court did not declare Arellano innocent of the allegations – its ruling only established that conversations caught on a wiretap cannot be used in a disciplinary proceeding. Sheriff’s department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said the agency is considering whether to appeal to the California Supreme Court. Arellano’s paid administrative leave netted him $130,000 in salary and compensation last year, according to records obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Florida: The family of a man who was shot and killed by police was outraged when detectives showed up at the funeral home where his body was located and attempted to use the dead man’s fingertips to unlock his cell phone. “I just felt so disrespected and violated,” said Victoria Armstrong, whose fiancé, Linus F. Phillip, was shot and killed by a Largo police officer on March 23, 2018. Lt. Randall Chaney said detectives were trying to access and preserve data on the phone to aid the ongoing investigation into Phillip’s death and a separate case involving drugs. Greg Nojeim, director of the Freedom, Security and Technology Project at the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Technology, said. “If I was writing the rules on this, it would be that the police would need a warrant in order to use a dead person’s finger to open up a phone, and I’d require notice to the family.”
Florida: Former Broward Regional Juvenile Detention Center guard Darell Bryant will not face criminal charges from Broward County prosecutors for being caught on video punching a small, slight 14-year-old detainee in the face, including breaking his nose in two places. However, the Department of Juvenile Justice found Bryant’s actions to be a case of “excessive force” and the guard subsequently resigned. An April 23, 2018, report from the Miami Herald alleged that Bryant was also one of several guards who encouraged a “Fight Club” among juvenile detainees by offering the teens honey buns, hamburgers or other treats as a reward for attacking another child. Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said, “The behavior of staff toward youth suggests an atmosphere of pervasive violence in the facility, which the state is choosing to ignore. The question is why?”
Georgia: A group of roughly 400 heavily militarized police officers aggressively patrolled a small neo-Nazi rally in the city of Newnan on April 21, 2018, and arrested 10 counter-protestors for refusing to remove the masks they wore to avoid being identified by both law enforcement and neo-Nazis. The lead officer in the arrests said the counter-protesters were breaking a state law regarding masks, likely referring to a law enacted in 1951 to combat the Ku Klux Klan. “The irony of enforcing masking laws to prosecute leftists is just incredible,” said Molly, a counter-protester from Charlottesville, Virginia, who traveled to Georgia to protest neo-Nazis. “And to be roughing up anti-Nazi protesters while handling literal Nazis with kid gloves ... it’s absurd,” she added.
Georgia: An Alpharetta police officer spoke out after being fired for defying his supervisor’s directive to criminally cite any driver who was involved in a minor fender-bender automobile accident, regardless of the severity of damage or injury. When asked what the primary motivation was for being ordered to write so many needless tickets, former Officer Daniel Capps said his supervisor was “just one of those guys who likes writing tickets,” and “gets off on, in their words, causing other people pain.” Alpharetta City Manager James Drinkard said in an April 16, 2018, statement to CBS46, “While the decision to terminate employment was based, in part, on the former employee’s decision to ignore lawful departmental policy and refuse to properly cite at-fault drivers who caused traffic crashes that resulted in property damage, that behavior was part of a pattern of performance and poor decision making that was simply not acceptable.”
Illinois: The City of Chicago paid out $20.3 million in settlements to resolve police-involved lawsuits in the first eight weeks of 2018 alone. For some perspective, an analysis of Chicago’s records shows police misconduct cost the city $2.2 million for the first eight weeks of 2016 and $6.1 million for 2017. According to an April 17, 2018, CBS report, about half of those taxpayer dollars were forfeited to plaintiffs who alleged excessive force, false arrest and illegal search and seizure. Attorney Jon Loevy, who has several cases pending against the city, said, “From an economic standpoint, dollars and cents, it would be cheaper to solve the problem than to keep paying out on lawsuits.”
Illinois: Members of an activist campaign called No Cop Academy organized a sit-in at Chicago’s City Hall on March 28, 2018, to protest Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city’s plans for a $95 million police training center scheduled to be built on Chicago’s west side. Students and community members held space in the lobby for nearly six hours despite attempts by police to restrict the demonstrator’s access to public bathrooms and to confiscate food and drink items delivered to the activists. Organizers collected 877 community recommendations for how the money could better be spent. Fifty-one percent suggested the money be spent on schools and youth resources. Twenty percent suggested the city invest in community spaces, mental health clinics, or substance abuse clinics. Twenty percent suggested the money go toward addressing homelessness and reclaiming abandoned properties that are in disrepair.
Louisiana: State Senator J.P. Morrell is trying to revise Louisiana’s bestiality law to make the language of the bill constitutional, and to clarify what entails bestiality under the law. In an April 9, 2018, vote, the state Senate passed SB236 by a vote of 25-10 and it moved forward for consideration by the House. Sen. Bret Allain said in an email that the bill needs work. He wrote that he and other senators declined to support the bill “from positions related to redundancy with current law and a lack of a mental health / behavioral treatment component to punishment that deals with the root causes of such actions to name a few.” The state technically has an anti-bestiality statute on the books, but the problem is that lawmakers tied it to a homophobic sodomy law, which, like all others nationwide, was rendered unconstitutional after the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas.
Michigan: Longtime Detroit police officer Jerold Blanding has been the subject of multiple controversies ranging from shooting unarmed citizens to shooting a (presumably) innocent pigeon. Blanding once again made news on April 11, 2018 when he was charged with three counts of possession of firearm while under the influence, eight counts of resisting and obstructing the police, and six counts of felony firearm. The criminal counts stem from a January incident in which Blanding was on restricted duty due to the fatal shooting of a teen in 2017. Detroit police found him at the scene of a car crash smelling like booze, slurring his words, and illegally carrying three guns. He apparently knew the crash victim and attempted to obstruct first responders from rendering aid, according to prosecutors.
Montana: On April 18, 2018, three unidentified Billings police officers were disciplined, but not criminally charged, after video footage was discovered of them having sex with former Billings employee Rawlyn Strizich on city property. All the men admitted to the inappropriate conduct. Two of the officers were suspended for two weeks because they were on duty at the time of the encounters, which occurred in the department’s storage facility. The third, who was off-duty when the sexual encounter occurred in his patrol car, received a one-week suspension. Police Chief Rich St. John said sexual misconduct was not the initial focus of the investigation. The video was discovered while Strizich was suspected of stealing oxycodone and other opioids from evidence. She was fired from her job as a city hall clerk in February 2018.
New Jersey: Ruben McAusland, 26, an officer with the Paterson Police Department, was arrested on April 20, 2018, for selling drugs to an undercover FBI agent between October 2017 and April, 2018. According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, McAusland is accused of selling at least 35 grams of marijuana, 48 grams of heroin, 31 grams of cocaine and 31 grams of crack from his patrol car while parked near police headquarters. “It’s a surprising case – that an officer, who is supposed to be preventing the sale of drugs, did just the opposite,” FBI spokesman Will Skaggs said. If convicted of all charges, McAusland could face up to 40 years in prison.
New York: A new website operated by the Legal Aid Society will allow New Yorkers to automatically generate a Freedom of Information Law request to determine if they have been labeled as a gang member in the NYPD’s Electronic Case Management System. “The NYPD’s gang database is black-box of secrecy in desperate need of sunlight,” Anthony Posada, supervising attorney of the Community Justice Unit at the Legal Aid Society, told Pix11.com on April 18, 2018. “This website will complement our current efforts to help New Yorkers – especially those from communities of color – determine if they have been caught in the NYPD’s gang labeling dragnet,” he added. The site is free and can be accessed at legalaidfoil.backspace.com.
North Carolina: In an effort to prevent the “militarization” of law enforcement in the City of Durham, the City Council voted on April 16, 2018, to ban Durham’s police department from participating in military-style training exchanges with Israel. Cops across the country routinely travel to Israel to receive training in policing tactics, but, according to a statement, the Durham Council “opposes international exchanges with any country in which Durham officers receive military-style training since such exchanges do not support the kind of policing we want here in the City of Durham.” Prior to the decision, activists from Jewish Voice for Peace gathered in front of City Hall, calling for “demilitarization from Durham to Gaza.” The activists had previously launched a petition in fall 2017, demanding that the city authorities “immediately halt” any such partnerships with Israeli forces.
Tennessee: On April 17, 2018, Memphis police officers Kevin Coleman and Terrion Bryson were charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to manufacture, deliver, and sell – along with criminal attempt felony and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. The pair was busted following a sting by the Memphis Police Department’s Organized Crime Unit. The investigation began after authorities received a tip that Coleman and Bryson were stealing money and drugs during traffic stops. The investigation expanded when the pair told the undercover officer they wanted $10,000 to “offer security for the shipment of narcotics.” The dirty cops then agreed to protect 2.5 kilograms of heroin, according to the arrest affidavit. Coleman and Bryson were arrested after they escorted the “shipment” to a storage unit and were given an additional $5,000 by undercover officers.
United Kingdom: On April 10, 2018, Detective Constable Richard “Dick” Holder was fired after being caught advertising himself as a sex worker on an adult site. Chief Constable Giles York said the man was on sick leave while he solicited prostitution clients on the AdultWork site, adding that Holder had struggled with “underperformance,” as well as a “pattern of disruptive behavior that has been on the verge of criminal at times” during his police career. Holder was the second police officer in the Sussex area to lose his job after being caught working as a prostitute in the last two years. In 2016, police constable Daniel Moss was suspended from duty after a similar incident.