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News in Brief

Delaware: Wilmington police Corporal Thomas Oliver Jr. faces charges of second-degree rape, extortion and official misconduct. The 11-year police department veteran allegedly pulled up to a female pedestrian in October 2018 and told her to sit in the patrol vehicle passenger seat, according to delawareonline.com. According to court documents, he exposed himself to her and ordered her to give him oral sex under threat of arrest on an outstanding warrant, the documents say. The woman “stated she could not remember the exact words used by the officer,” the documents say. “She felt it was obvious if she didn’t comply she would be taken to jail.” Only after she complied was she permitted to leave, the records show. “The charges that have been filed are deeply troubling and disheartening,” Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy said. “The charge that one of our officers abused his authority to victimize a member of the public in this manner is sickening.” The officer was arraigned on a $66,000 cash-only bail.

Florida: Social media expressed outrage over online cellphone video of a black teen being pepper-sprayed and head-slammed into pavement by a white Broward County sheriff’s deputy in April 2019 outside a MacDonald’s in Tamarac. According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel: Prosecutors said 15-year-old Delucca “Lucca” Rolle “will not face any charge just hours after they met him and one of his attorneys, Sue-Ann Robinson. The Broward Sheriff’s Office had accused Rolle of aggravated assault against an officer, but the charge made ‘no sense,’ Robinson said. And that was underscored by ‘what we can all see from the video,’ she said.” The video on reddit.com showed the J.P. Taravella High School student being punched in the head and having his head banged into the pavement, “while another deputy helped restrain and handcuff him.” Two of the officers involved in the boy’s arrest were suspended while the Broward State Attorney’s Office investigates. Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney speaking for the boy’s family, wrote on Instagram that Rolle was struck by deputies after he “‘picked up a cellphone that fell out of the pocket of a black boy who was being arrested.’ In response, the deputies ‘pepper-sprayed, brutally beat, and arrested him.’” The other teen was arrested on a trespassing charge, the Sun Sentinel reports, and the hashtag #JusticeForLucca went viral.

Florida: Former Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja, who fatally shot stranded motorist Corey Jones in the wee hours of the morning, was sentenced in April 2019 to 25 years in prison, to be served concurrently, for manslaughter and attempted first-degree murder. He “was the first Florida law enforcement agent in nearly 30 years to be convicted and sentenced for an on-duty killing — and one of only a few officers nationwide,” according to The Associated Press. Prosecutors said the plainclothes cop never identified himself or showed a badge when he approached Jones’ stalled SUV on an interstate ramp. Instead, he acted aggressively, prosecutors said, and Jones might have thought he was being robbed before he pulled his gun and tried to run. Raja’s lawyers allege that Raja did identify himself and acted in self-defense. “Prosecutors charged Raja with manslaughter, saying his actions created the confrontation and showed ‘culpable negligence,’” cbsnews.com reports. “They also charged him with attempted murder, saying that although they couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt which of Raja’s six shots killed Jones, the second volley [of shots] was a conscious effort to kill him as he fled.” Evidence included an audio of the victim talking to a tow-truck dispatcher on a recorded line.

Georgia: LaGrange is in the headlines for injustice toward the poor.  Those who are in arrears on court fines risk losing water, electric, and/or gas services. It’s actually part of the city utility ordinance. “The fear and the panic is palpable for people who are in danger of losing their power, losing their water, losing other utilities’ due to unpaid fines tacked onto their bills by the city,” a Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) attorney told Rewire.News. “LaGrange takes unpaid fines from the municipal court—typically for small violations, such as driving with a suspended license or failure to register a pit bull—and tacks them onto utility bills, using the threat of losing water and electricity to try to get residents to pay.” Ernest Ward, former head of the Troup County NAACP in LaGrange, and others are vocal opponents to this institutional racism. The NAACP joined Project South, the SCHR and individual plaintiffs in an appeal of the district court’s dismissal of their 2017 discrimination lawsuit against the city. Reports Rewire.News of the 2017 suit: “The plaintiffs’ attorneys found 90 percent of the residents subject to the court debt policy were Black (the city’s population is just 48 percent Black), and a 2016 report by the LaGrange Daily News found they largely lived in the segregated Black part of town.”

Iowa: Michelle Murphy Rivera sabotaged a sex abuse case when she appeared drunk on the job last year as the Clarke County attorney, “slurring her words and stumbling on her feet” and smelling of alcohol, a criminal complaint says. She was arrested, charged with public intoxication and paid a fine, while the defendant, who was set to plead guilty to sexual abuse of a minor, was set free from jail. “Under state law, defendants in Iowa must get a trial within a year of their arrest—but, after the judge ruled that the trial couldn’t proceed with a drunk prosecutor, that year-long deadline expired and the accused was free to go,” dailybeast.com reports. In March 2019, the now-former county attorney pleaded guilty to OWI, “her second admission in an alcohol-related charge in months,” desmoinesregister.com reports.

Louisiana: Highly decorated Bossier City police officer Terry Yetman faces 20 felony counts of sexually abusing a dog and 20 counts of sexual abuse of an animal by filming sexual acts with an animal, state police report. State troopers confiscated his dog named Boss in December 2018, and a search warrant of his electronic devices found “evidence of animal sex pornography,” dayton.com reports. In addition, the Bossier City Police Department officer and Domestic Task Force member faces 31 counts of possessing pornography involving minors, according to The Shreveport Times. “Sadly, however, it appears that Yetman led a double life and while he was ‘championing the rights of domestic violence victims,’ he was initiating and filming his own violence and abuse at home,” thefreethoughtproject.com reports. The bestiality case prompted In Defense of Animals, an international organization, to collect more than 20,000 signatures in a petition for the maximum penalty if Yetman is found guilty. Yetman turned himself into authorities after a sheriff’s office investigation and a search warrant by the Louisiana State Police Special Victim’s Unit found electronic evidence, kutv.com reports. Bond was initially set at $620,000. 

Massachusetts: Newton District Court Judge Shelley Joseph and Trial Court Officer Wesley MacGregor allegedly helped a defendant avoid ICE officials and deportation, according to an indictment in April 2019. Both are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice, obstruction of a federal proceeding and perjury. Joseph, a former criminal defense attorney, allegedly helped the suspect by requesting a courtroom recording device be shut off so he wouldn’t be arrested, masslive.com reports. The suspect was facing arraignment and “charged with being a fugitive from justice from Pennsylvania and narcotics possession.” The court officer “allegedly used his security card to let the suspect exit the courthouse and avoid arrest by an ICE officer, who was prevented from entering the courthouse lockup area.” Both pleaded not guilty. Joseph was suspended without pay, cbsnews.com reports.

Missouri: The ex-sheriff who illegally tracked about 200 cellphone users before and after he was elected to office, including law enforcement officers and a judge, was sentenced in April 2019 to six months in federal prison, plus four months’ house arrest and three years of post-release supervision, according to riverfronttimes.com. “Mississippi County Sheriff Cory Hutcheson admitted to wire fraud and identity theft and agreed to resign ... as part of a plea deal,” The New York Times reported in November 2018, following an investigation by the FBI and state police (CLN, p. 42). “Beginning in 2014, when Hutcheson was a deputy, he applied for thousands of searches and illegally accessed hundreds of people’s information [using security company Securus], prosecutors say. To get around Securus’ requirements, he uploaded fake documents that he notarized himself, warrants that had nothing to do with his target and sometimes even random documents,” riverfronttimes.com reports. Hutcheson also faced lawsuits from his time as jail administrator. A $270,000 settlement in 2018 followed the death of a young female prisoner who overdosed. Another settlement involved a pregnant prisoner whose medical help went ignored for four days before her baby was stillborn.

New Hampshire: As if being poor isn’t enough of a hardship, New Hampshire has its own collection entity to squeeze indigent criminal defendants who require the services of court-appointed counsel to pay part of their legal representation. It’s known as the Department of Administrative Services’ Office of Cost of Containment, and it exists by statute. According to UNH Law professor Albert “Buzz” Scherr, writing on seacoastonline.com, “While squeezing blood from a stone is never an efficient strategy, the morality here is what is particularly egregious. It’s not just that the OCC collects money from people who are poor, it’s that it collects money from poor people even if they have been acquitted or had all charges against them dropped.” In addition, “the OCC sometimes attempts to collect money even when a person’s financial affidavit lists zero income and assets. And, until a recent New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling, the OCC sought to jail people who owed counsel fees and didn’t pay fast enough.” A bill before the New Hampshire Legislature would bring criminal justice reform in this area, at least for those who are found innocent or who have seen their charges dropped. “The OCC collected and processed $2.2 million in FY 2017 and $2.1 million in 2018,” according to the bipartisan bill.

Michigan: Former Michigan state trooper Mark Bessner was sentenced May 13, 2019, to five to 15 years in prison in the 2017 death of Damon Grimes in Detroit. The 15-year-old boy crashed an all-terrain vehicle into a parked truck after Bessner fired a Taser from the passenger seat of a moving patrol car in pursuit, cbsnews.com reports. He died of blunt force head trauma. The sentence followed Bessner’s conviction for involuntary manslaughter after a second trial in April 2019. The cop told authorities he thought the teen was reaching for a gun in his waistband. However, no weapon was found. Wayne County Circuit Judge Margaret Van Houten rebuked Bessner: “You abused the public’s trust. ... It is the few officers like you who have caused the distrust of police officers that plagues our community in Detroit, the state of Michigan and throughout the country.” Bessner had a history of Taser misconduct and involvement in 40 use-of-force incidents within four years, freep.com reports. “He was warned by superiors to be more careful with his Taser use,” the judge said.

Michigan: A Detroit cop turned up inebriated at a Michigan State Police training session. And not just any training, but DataMaster—aka breathalyzer—training. He voluntarily blew into a breathalyzer and it registered a .08 blood alcohol level, according to WNEM. “The officer was not arrested because he didn’t have his gun at the time, and his partner drove him to the session,” lawandcrime.com reports. He was, however, dismissed from the class.

Mississippi: Extortion ended with a six-year prison sentence for 58-year-old Tallachatchie County Sheriff William Brewer Jr., kstp.com reports. Prosecutors said an unnamed drug dealer had a 15-year illegal partnership with Brewer and that the dealer “robbed other dealers of drugs and money, giving stolen money and proceeds from drug sales to the sheriff of the rural Mississippi Delta county,” kstp.com reports. Last November, the now-former lawman pleaded guilty to extorting a bribe of $6,500 in June from the drug dealer. He was sentenced in April 2019. “The FBI converted the unnamed drug dealer into an informant and recorded the informant telling Brewer of fake plans to rob a methamphetamine dealer,” kstp.com reports. In addition to prison, U.S. District Judge Michael P. Mills ordered Brewer to forfeit $42,000 and to serve three years’ supervised release. “William Brewer violated his oath, dishonoring himself, his badge, and every honest lawman who wears a badge,” U.S. Attorney William “Chad” Lamar stated. “The citizens of our state and Tallahatchie County deserved better.”

New York: Anthony Delacruz, a cop who forced his victim to surrender his pants while robbing him, was sentenced to eight years in prison in April 2019, according to Brooklyn.news12.com. A month earlier, a Brooklyn jury convicted the now-fired New York Police Department officer on charges of robbery, assault and falsely reporting an incident. Delacruz told cops he exchanged gunfire with a group of robbers while he was o duty May 26, 2016, outside a club, insisting they took his gold ring and chain and Rolex, nbcnewyork.com reports. Club surveillance video shows a dierent story—that of Delacruz pointing his gun at Justin Eilely and demanding that he disrobe, leaving him only wearing boxers and a T-shirt. He also stole the victim’s cash and cellphone and whipped him on the face with a firearm, nypost.com reports. District Attorney Eric Gonzalez called Delacruz’s actions “truly abhorrent.”

New York: Former Congressman Anthony Weiner must register as a Level-One sex offender, a New York City judge ruled in March 2019. Level One, the lowest sex offender status, means he is a low risk to reoffend “under the state’s version of what’s known as Megan’s Law,” according to forensicmag.com. The one-time rising Democrat pleaded guilty in May 2017 to one count of transferring obscene material to a minor. After serving a 21-month prison sentence, he was sent to a halfway house but released early for good behavior, thedailybeast.com reports. The sexting scandal with a 15-year-old girl came to light in 2016 when then-FBI Director James Comey cited emails involved in the Weiner case to reopen an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private server less than 14 days before the presidential election; the investigation ended days later, with Comey saying that nothing new or damaging had come to light.

Tennessee: Chattanooga police officer Cody Thomas is facing a lawsuit seeking $3 million in damages for his actions on April 13, 2018, when he was called to Vance Avenue after a neighbor reported a man named “Polo” was waving a gun, timesfreepress.com reports. The officer mistook Nate Jamal Carter as the suspect even after Carter told him he wasn’t Polo, hit him with a Taser as he walked away, and then pointed a firearm at him, News Channel 9 reports. A suit was filed in Hamilton County court by Carter against the City of Chattanooga, accompanied by police body camera footage. Thomas is accused in the suit of false arrest, unreasonable seizure, excessive force and injury and filing a false report. The suit also reports that Thomas threated to shoot Carter’s dog. The Taser knocked “him face-down onto his front porch,” causing him injury. Thomas was suspended for 80 hours and then returned to the force. Earlier this year, he was named in another lawsuit for alleged excessive force.

Washington, D.C: A video that shows a 9-year-old boy fleeing from police and then being handcuffed and sobbing has led to a review of police practices relating to children. According to a Washington Post article in April 2019, “the child’s mother, Autumn Drayton, says the incident began when her son was leaning against a car and the officer asked him to move, the report says. Her son, whose name was not released because he is a minor, then called the officer a slur and ran.” Drayton told Fox 5 DC that she “was traumatized for my son having to go through that. His use of force was unnecessary. My son was not a threat. He was not committing a crime. He was not harming anyone. It should have never been to that.” 

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