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News in Brief

Alabama: Former Oneonta police Sergeant Nicholas “Shane” Osborn, who met a boy on the online app Grinder in 2017, was sentenced in May 2019 for multiple sex crimes, court records show. Osborn pleaded guilty and “was sentenced to 20 years in prison on convictions for electronic solicitation of a child and second-degree sodomy,” al.com reports. “He also was sentenced to 10 years for enticing a minor for immoral purposes and a year for reckless endangerment. The sentences are to run concurrently.” Osborn, 40, allegedly drove the 15-year-old to a church parking lot while he was on duty and committed the sex acts, al.com reports. He was then indicted a few months after being arrested for drunken driving. In court, he entered a blind plea, which is a guilty plea not knowing what the set sentence will be. Osborn had been with the Oneonta Police Department from 2001-2017.

California: After serving 17 years in prison for an attempted murder he did not commit, Lionel Rubalcava left Pleasant Valley State Prison a free man, sfchronicle.com reports. The bittersweet moment on May 15, 2019, was a long time in coming. Initially, based on erroneous eyewitness testimony, Rubalcava was sentenced to life in prison for a drive-by shooting in 2002 that left a man paralyzed. However, “The conviction integrity unit within the Santa Clara County district attorney’s office re-opened Rubalcava’s case to examine the new information presented by the Innocence Project, including a statement from the victim that he had only seen part of the perpetrator’s face for a few seconds during the shooting and wasn’t positive Rubalcava pulled the trigger,” sfchronicle reports. “There were really two tragedies that happened that day, with two victims,” conviction integrity unit leader David Angel told the San Francisco Examiner. “The first victim is the gentleman who was shot and has been in a wheelchair since that day. The second was Mr. Rubalcava, who was wrongfully convicted for this and lost 17 years of his life.” The turning point came after Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1134 in 2016, which “allows defendants to petition for a new trial based on new evidence.”

California: A first-ever major-city ban on the use of facial recognition technology by police and municipal agencies was recently enacted in San Francisco. The city’s board of supervisors voted 8-1 for the ban, a nod to right-to-privacy advocates. “Aaron Peskin—the city supervisor who announced the bill—described the ban as a strong message to the rest of the U.S. about the use of such technology,” thedailybeast.com reports. “‘I think part of San Francisco being the real and perceived headquarters for all things tech also comes with a responsibility for its local legislators. We have an outsize responsibility to regulate the excesses of technology precisely because they are headquartered here.’”

California: It’s no surprise that some people receive draconian sentences for low-level drug offenses. Last year, Kim Kardashian West, the “queen of criminal justice reform,” spotlighted that injustice when she helped Alice Johnson, who was serving a life sentence for a first-time drug offense, gain clemency. More recently, she helped 17 incarcerated adults gain freedom within 90 days. According to buzzfeed.com, Kardashian has been helping to fund a legal team via the 90 Days of Freedom Campaign, in response to enactment of the “First Step Act, which allows some people imprisoned on federal drug offenses to seek sentence reductions, particularly those serving life terms.”

Colorado: Kelly Clark, 41, has filed an excessive force lawsuit against Waylon Lolotai, the city of Boulder and the Boulder Police Department after an incident in which she and others filmed Officer Lolotai and three other cops being heavy handed while arresting a man in 2018. After Clark stepped up to get a better view, Lolotai “yelled at her to get back and shoved her, caused her to become airborne and slam into the ground,” the Boulder Daily Camera reports. After the encounter, Lolotai then falsified charges against Clark, which were dropped. While the department denies the officer did anything wrong, “Lolotai has a history of aggression and complaints,” thefreethoughtproject.com reports. In March 2019, the news hub reported that “Lolotai was caught on video once more savagely attacking an innocent epileptic man who was filming police harass a group of homeless folks.”

Colorado: Zayd Atkinson, a black college student who was picking up trash by his Boulder, Colorado, home was taken aback by a white cop, John Smyly, who pulled a gun on him for no apparent reason. A cellphone video of the March 1, 2019 incident taken by someone who lived in the same building went viral. “You have a gun in your hand,” Atkinson, clearly upset and yelling, tells the cop in the video. “Yes I do because you’re not listening,” the officer says. “Drop the weapon. Drop it.” But “I don’t have a weapon!” the man responds on video. On the video, Atkinson is heard saying: “You’re on my property with a gun in your hand threatening to shoot me because I’m picking up trash. You’re not going to get away with murder. Not today. I don’t have a weapon. This is a bucket. This is a clamp.” The man taking the video, according to usatoday.com, is heard vouching for the man: “Go home! This is ridiculous! What am I watching?” Atkinson was not arrested, but backup officers drew their weapons. Meanwhile, Smyly resigned before an internal investigation found he violated department procedure. Atkinson’s lawyer told the Boulder Daily Camera: “If you or I did what Officer Smyly did to Zayd Atkinson, not only would we be immediately fired, we would be criminally prosecuted,” Siddhartha Rathod said. “The city of Boulder is paying this officer nearly $80,000 for violating the constitutional rights of Zayd. …”

Georgia: Cellphone video of an April 2017 traffic stop just outside Atlanta, in which Gwinnett County police officers hit and kicked a 21-year-old man, ended with the lawmen being fired and charged. The video revealed now-former police Sergeant Michael Bongiovanni striking motorist Demetrius Hollins in the face while Hollins had his hands up, foxnews.com reports. It also showed then-Master Police Officer Robert McDonald stomping on Hollins’ head while he was face down on the ground handcuffed. Bongiovanni, who pleaded no contest, was convicted of aggravated assault and battery and “will serve six months in work release, followed by five months’ home confinement,” foxnews.com reports, as well as probation for the battery charge and aggravated assault charge. McDonald’s trial date has not yet been set, nytimes.com reports. After the firings, the prosecutor’s office then-solicitor-general “dismissed 89 cases in which either McDonald or Bongiovanni were the main officer or a necessary witness.”

Hawaii: A former Honolulu police officer indicted for sexually assaulting a 5-year-old girl will get five years’ probation, not jail time, according to announcement of a plea bargain in May 2019, according to usnews.com. Sentencing for Teddy O. Van Lerberghe, 45, who pleaded no contest to seven felonies, is set for August. He “must register as a convicted sex offender for life.” He could have faced up to 100 years of prison. The girl, records show, was repeatedly raped between 2004 and 2008, when the victim was younger than 14. Van Lerberghe served as a police officer at the Honolulu Police Department from 2007 until he was terminated from the department in May 2016.”

Illinois: More than 60 people wrongfully arrested by now-former Chicago police Sergeant Ronald Watts and his crew have been exonerated, CBSnews.com reports. The incredible story dates to about 2003, when the cop would plant drugs on people and extort money from them to avoid arrest. Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx last year issued an apology. The full story, reported May 24, 2019 on Whistleblower: Breaking the Code of Silence, starts with Chicago officer Shannon Spalding, who was trained by Watts in 1996. When she later went undercover, she and her partner learned from arrestees that Watts was running the narcotics trade — and that it went on for years, so they began investigating. After Watts was caught robbing a drug courier with an FBI wire of $5,200, he and his partner Kallat Mohammed were convicted, with Watts sentenced to 22 months and Mohammed, 18 months, behind bars.

Michigan: A man convicted of driving while intoxicated can pick jail over probation, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled. “Joseph Bensch pleaded guilty to two separate drunken driving cases in Lenawee County,” reports The Associated Press. “In one case, he was sentenced to six months in jail followed by six months in an in-patient treatment program. In the other case, he was sentenced to two years of probation with many conditions. The sentences were supposed to run at the same time. But Bensch’s lawyer objected to probation in the second case,” knowing there’s a 1975 precedent allowing someone to decline probation in favor of jail. The court, in a 2-1 opinion, agreed, but noted the “issue rarely arises.”

Mississippi: After a mother learned her 15-year-old daughter had been repeatedly sexually assaulted by a Jackson police officer over several months, she tried to get the department to do the right thing. However, before accused officer James Hollins, 29, could be held accountable, he fatally shot himself on Memorial Day, the day after he was placed on administrative leave, local media report. “Attorney Lisa Ross, who is representing the mother of the alleged victim, noted during a press conference that the police department took no action against the officer despite seeing actual video evidence of the officer raping the girl in his squad car,” thefreethoughtpoject.com reports. Both the chief and the department should be “held accountable,” she said. “What he did to this young girl was unconscionable and there’s no telling how many others are out there. We want people who have seen something to say something.”

New York: Former Sunray, Texas, Police Chief Timothy Dean is facing a double homicide trial after prosecutors say he drove 1,600 miles from Texas to upstate New York and gunned down his wife’s ex-boyfriend, 28-year-old Joshua Niles, and Niles’ fiancée, 24-year-old Amber Washburn, over a child custody dispute. Niles was granted temporarily, full custody of the two young children he had with Charlene Childers. Childers, who is Dean’s wife, “was expected to be tried with her husband, but pleaded guilty [in March] to a reduced charge of manslaughter” and criminal possession of a weapon, The Associated Press reports. Dean, meanwhile, has turned on Childers, attacking her credibility. Dean used to be a police chief but lost his job after being charged with one count of injury to a child in May 2018, washingtonpost.com reports. Bron Bohlar, a Sunray police officer who prosecutors say helped the suspects, pleaded guilty in February 2019 to second-degree conspiracy in connection to the homicides, according to washingtonpost.com. At her trial, Childers told the jury that Washburn was never supposed to be killed. When she heard about the murders, she called Niles’ family and drove to New York to be with her two children. “I got what I wanted,” Childers reportedly told the court.

New York: Retired New York City vice Detective Ludwig Paz, who allegedly oversaw a $2-million-a-year prostitution and gambling ring that involved seven police officers and 41 others, will soon be sentenced. The 51-year-old pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted enterprise corruption and one count of promoting prostitution. Paz also agreed to turn over $20,840 in illegal profits. His wife, Arelis Peralta, pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted enterprise corruption and was sentenced to 364 days behind bars. Paz’s arrest and conviction was the result of “a three-year investigation that began with an anonymous officer’s tip to the Police Department’s internal affairs unit,” nytimes.com reports. Even with 50 wiretaps and 100 surveillance and undercover investigations, Paz managed for years to dodge police raids, thanks to tip-offs and the “blue wall of silence.” Once he goes before Justice Ronald D. Hollie in the State Supreme Court in Queens, Paz could face up to 12 years behind bars.

New York: An NYPD cop, who was already on probation for perjury in 2018, was charged in April 2019 with sexual abuse for reportedly “undressing a woman while she slept in his car,” nypost.com reports. Ex-detective Kevin Desormeau, 35, was arrested in connection to the April 7 attack in Midtown, police said. The woman, 34, fell asleep inside his parked car on West 36th Street. When she awoke, her breasts were exposed and the ex-officer’s pants were down. She tried to “pull her top back up,” but “Desormeau grabbed her wrist with his hand, according to the court document.” In addition, “The victim also had scratches to her neck, chest and shoulder, court records state,” nypost.com reports. Last year, the officer got into trouble by lying about a gun bust in Washington Heights, resulting in three years’ probation, while his partner was sentenced to 60 days in jail in the same case. Both are no longer on the force.

Texas: Baytown residents are calling for justice after a police officer  gunned down an unarmed 44-year-old woman near her apartment in May 2019, according to media reports. By late in the month, Officer Juan Delacruz was back to work after a three-day administrative leave. The fatal shooting occurred when the cop was trying to arrest Pamela Turner for outstanding warrants near her apartment, thefreethoughtproject.com reports. Her May 13, 2019, death sparked a “call to action” during a eulogy given by the Rev. Al Sharpton at her funeral 10 days later in Houston. The shooting was captured on cellphone video by a witness and uploaded to social media. Turner is heard screaming, “I’m walking! I’m actually walking to my house!” and, after a scuffle, is heard saying, “I’m pregnant!” although police said she was not. According to washingtonpost.com, the cop shot Turner “after she hit him with his Taser during an attempted arrest. ... Turner’s family has presented the Hispanic officer as the aggressor, saying he was Turner’s neighbor and knew she had paranoid schizophrenia.” 

Wisconsin: A $2 million settlement was reached with the family of 22-year-old Derek Williams, who died eight years ago in the back of a police cruiser handcuffed, “begging for help and gasping for breath,” after he was arrested for fleeing police investigating a robbery, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports in May 2019. The money will help Williams’ three young children. While an initial investigation cleared the officers involved of wrongdoing, the medical examiner’s office changed the cause of death from natural to homicide. “The inquest jury recommended misdemeanor charges of failure to render aid by law enforcement against three officers: Richard Ticcioni, Jeffrey Cline and Jason Bleichwehl,” the Journal Sentinel reports. “Special Prosecutor John Franke did not charge them, saying he did not think he could prove a case.” Ticcioni was identified as the officer who pressed his knee to Williams’ back during the arrest in which Williams said he couldn’t breathe, according to reason.com. “Cline told Williams, ‘You’re breathing just fine,’ even though video from the squad car showed Williams struggling to breathe for several minutes before he died. 

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