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News in Brief

Arizona: On the heels of a record 44 cop shootings in 2018, a new policy now requires Phoenix police who draw and point their guns to “self report,” azcentral.com reports. And after they document their actions, “a supervisor will review each incident,” theroot.com reports. “When a gun is pointed at someone, that’s a traumatic event,” Police Chief Jeri Williams told a news conference. “I think this is a first step in being [...] that accountable, transparent organization that is willing to share what we do and how we do it.” The National Police Foundation supports self-reporting “after officer-involved shootings more than doubled in 2018,” the organization said early in the year. The policy “comes two months after a tense community meeting where residents vented about a well-publicized incident, in which video showed an officer pull a gun on a family during a shoplifting investigation outside a Phoenix dollar store in May,” CNN reports. In addition to self-reporting, over 1,700 cops have received body cameras and “all patrol officers will undergo an eight-hour training program to teach them how to better assist individuals in the midst of a mental health crisis.”

California: A report by a rookie Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy that he was shot in the shoulder in the department’s Lancaster station parking lot triggered a massive manhunt and the lockdown of the area in August 2019. The problem: The story was fabricated, thefreethoughtproject.com reports. Angel “Reinosa claimed the shots came from a sniper in a nearby apartment building that houses people being treated for mental illness,” the new site reports. “This likely led to the rights of innocent individuals being violated as the department blamed the facility’s proximity to the station.” Likewise, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris rushed to judgment. “It’s insanity to allow such a facility to exist in that particular location,” he said. “Reinosa confessed when investigators confronted him with the evidence that indicated the shooting was bogus,” latimes.com reports. “He admitted to cutting the holes in his shirt,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva told the news site. “We know the ‘what’ and the ‘how.’ We don’t know the ‘why.’”

Louisiana: DEA special agent Chad Scott convinced a Houston drug dealer (a confidential informant) to buy a $43,000 truck — a Ford F-150, no less — so he could seize it through asset forfeiture and then use it for work, reason.com reports in August 2019. An indictment against him also said “that from at least 2009 to 2016, Scott and two other members of a New Orleans drug task force conspired to steal money from suspects and from the DEA’s evidence locker, and to falsify records to cover their tracks.” A New Orleans jury agreed and found the now-former agent “guilty of seven counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and falsifying government records.” Among other things, federal prosecutors said Scott adjusted the records “to make it appear that he had taken the truck in Louisiana,” reason.com reports. They “also accused Scott of convincing two drug traffickers to lie on the stand about a third defendant’s involvement in a drug case, in exchange for more lenient sentences. The third defendant’s conviction was later overturned.” Scott’s conviction, said FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Anthony T. Riedlinger in a news release, “reinforces the message that no one is above the law. Scott’s actions were selfish and placed an unnecessary stain on an otherwise stellar agency.”

Georgia: Sheriff’s Deputy Brison Strickland of Cartersville was suspended and then fired from the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office as well as arrested alongside fiancée Kristen Smith, yahoo.com reports. The two were captured on video and audio cursing out apartment neighbor Haley Truncer, who posted the tirade to Facebook, yahoo.com reports. This was preceded by Truncer asking the two to turn down their music after midnight. “There was music and stomping and a microphone, like there was some karaoke going on,” she told Fox 5. “Her footage shows Smith and then Strickland — who were joined by an unidentified child — telling her to ‘f*** off’ and demand to know where she lives,” yahoo.com reports. “When Truncer threatens to call the police, they respond, ‘We are the f****** police, b****’ and appear to lunge at her.” Strickland was arrested on charges of simple assault and “disorderly house”; Smith was arrested and charged with simple assault and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors.

Georgia: An Atlanta cop, who choked an unarmed 15-year-old boy until he was unconscious—and then lied about it — was sentenced to 20 years, with five years to be served in prison, according to The Atlanta Journal Constitution in August 2019. Officer Matthew Johns, who was fired in July 2017, pleaded guilty in July 2019 to “three counts of aggravated assault, one count of aggravated assault/strangulation, two counts of making a false statement and two counts of violating oath of office in connection with the 2016 incident,” according to ajc.com. The assault, which was caught on officers’ dashcam video, followed a high-speed police chase of a stolen BMW “until a Georgia State Patrol trooper struck the vehicle from behind, causing it to spin out.” Passenger “Antraveious Payne got out of the car and laid on the ground with his hands up, showing he did not have a weapon and was willing to surrender, prosecutors said,” ajc.com reports. Likewise, three other suspects did not resist. Johns, however, kicked Payne “in the head three times before pressing his knee into the teen’s neck, rendering him unconscious, authorities said.” The teen sustained a serious concussion, plus neck strain and bruises and cuts. “No matter what he was doing, it doesn’t give [Johns] the right to kick my son and punch him,” the teen’s mom, Zabora Brown, told WSB-TV Atlanta.

Illinois Tens of thousands of pot convictions will be automatically expunged in Cook County, Illinois, according to the Chicago Tribune. “Possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana will be legal in Illinois beginning in 2020. Code for America will scan conviction data for records eligible for expungement and complete paperwork for prosecutors to present to judges,” abajournal.com reports. “Expunged records will not appear on routine background checks, potentially making it easier for affected people to find jobs and housing,” the Tribune reports. “The expunged marijuana convictions also will not appear in law enforcement databases.”

Iowa: Robert Smith resigned from the Durant Police Department following outcry over dashcam video showing him pulling over a motorcyclist, raising his firearm and knocking the man and cycle to the ground even as the biker was surrendering. The biker was charged with eluding a law enforcement vehicle. At the time of this September 2017 incident, Smith was actually an Iowa state trooper. According to a July 2019 report at desmoinesregister.com: “Allegations of excessive force and false testimony against Smith came to the public’s attention after Cedar County Sheriff Warren Wethington banned him and other Durant officers from bringing suspects to his jail in May. The problems date to Smith’s 30-year career as a trooper with the Iowa State Patrol, which allowed him to resign after an internal investigation last year before his hiring in Durant.” Wethington plans to push for Smith to be charged criminally for his actions in the incident, plus decertified as an officer in Iowa, desmoinesregister.com reports.

Massachusetts: Twitter erupted with criticism over Boston police who destroyed several wheelchairs in an August 2019 “sweep” of South End homeless people and drug users, according to boston.com. In addition, “city officials faced heated criticism for their actions during a South End community meeting ... regarding drug use and homelessness in the neighborhood. ‘You are targeting the disabled who cannot survive on the streets!’ one person shouted.” The raid, in fact, was “targeting Boston’s transient community living along a stretch” dubbed “Methadone Mile” or “the Mile,” named for its “concentration” of health services serving people who use opioids, according to theappeal.org. “At least 34 people were arrested as part of the sweep on Aug. 1 and Aug. 2, many of whom were taken into custody over old warrants. During the operation, homeless people were pushed from Atkinson Street and then told to return to the same street for no discernible reason. As a result, those displaced are unable to find a place to sleep, which has caused justified frustration and confusion about where the city expects them to go.”

Michigan: Royal Oak cop Michael Pilcher, who detained a black man for almost 20 minutes after a white woman complained to police that he stared at her across the street and possibly took photos, has resigned, dailytribune.com reports. “The woman,” freep.com reports, “called 911 and reported feeling uncomfortable after 20-year-old Devin Myers circled her vehicle on Aug. 13. Myers says he had parked his car and was walking to a restaurant when he was stopped by police. He believes he was racially profiled.” The probationary officer who stopped and questioned the black man drew the ire of The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, which sought his firing. “The situation in which Mr. Myers found himself — an African American man accused of ‘suspicious behavior’ by a Caucasian woman as he merely attempted to have a meal at a local restaurant — is all too familiar,” coalition spokesman Kenneth Reed stated. Prior to his resignation, the police department said the employee was to receive remedial training. A police supervisor who responded to the Inn Season Café was disciplined, the Detroit Free Press reports. A video of the incident went viral on social media.

Oklahoma: Debra Hamil, 65, ended up tased and arrested during a traffic stop after she refused to sign an $80 ticket for a broken tail light on her truck, nbcnews.com reports. In a bodycam video, she tells the Cashion officer: “You are full of shit because you’re not placing me under arrest.” Hamil drove off with the officer in pursuit. Hamil pulled over. The officer drew his gun and ordered Hamil to exit her truck, but she refused. The officer opened the truck door, then “pulled her to the ground by her arm,” nbcnews.com reports. She kicked him. He shot her with his stun gun and repeatedly yelled, “Put your hands behind your back.” Hamil refused and said she would stand up. “No, you will not .... You’re gonna get it again,” said the officer. Hamil was charged with “one felony assault on a police officer and one misdemeanor for resisting arrest,” NBC affiliate WGBA-TV reports. Her attorney Edward Blau called the officer’s actions “egregious and unnecessary.”

Pennsylvania: A Pittsburgh district attorney is refusing testimony from undercover detectives involved in a bar brawl with several members of the Pagans motorcycle club, according to lawandcrime.com. “The four detectives were allegedly working undercover at Kopy’s Bar on the South Side of Pittsburgh when they started a brawl without getting the okay from their superiors. This news comes after the DA’s office learned that detectives David Honick, David Lincoln, Brian Martin, and Brian Burgunder had been reinstated to the Pittsburgh police department. They’ve reportedly been moved from the narcotics division to the violent crime unit.” According to lawandcrime.com, “police Sgt. Matthew Turko arrived and pepper-sprayed more or less indiscriminately into the melee. Stephen Kopy, the owner of the bar, claimed that the bikers didn’t instigate the fight and that he was ‘offered no care or assistance’ after being hit by residual pepper spray.”

South Carolina: Richland County Sheriff’s Deputy Derek Vandenham is accused of “communicating to have sex with a 15-year-old” — while participating in an undercover child sex investigation, lawandcrime.com reports. The 34-year-old lawman was arrested by fellow officers. Sheriff Leon Lott said the now-fired officer was “working on-duty” in his vehicle when taken into custody in August 2019. The sting that included Vandenham was called Operation Relentless Guardian, which allowed officers to disguise themselves as underage teens and to contact them online. “When officers discovered they were talking to Vandenham,” lawandcrime.com reports, “they alerted Lott who told them to continue speaking with him. In order to catch Vandenham, investigators switched the location of where they were sending other suspects.” The sting yielded four arrests, in addition to Vandenham. Said Lott: “That was something that made me sick to my stomach to know that one of my deputies that I trusted and that we put out here in this community was one of these monsters.”

Texas: A deputy sheriff who began playing the online video game Minecraft with a 15-year-old girl starting when she was age 12 now faces charges of sexual exploitation of a minor, nypost.com reports in August 2019. Police said Matagorda County sheriff’s deputy Pasquale Salas, 25, solicited the Massachusetts girl for hundreds of sexually explicit images and video of herself through social media platforms. He also is accused of sending sexually explicitly photos of himself to the girl. In 2016, he allegedly started threatening the girl “by telling her he would release any illicit images if she did not continue to send them,” nypost.com reports. Salas, according to usatoday.com, “referred to himself as ‘daddy’ to the girl, according to an affidavit filed Wednesday, and outlined a list of rules for her to follow, including not being allowed to talk to boys without his permission. The girl, who met with law enforcement June 3, provided a typed list of “rules” that Salas made. The list said: ‘THINGS TO REMEMBER: (a) You belong to me; (b) You’re my property so I can treat you however I want, whenever I want; (c) I’m Proud of You . ... Punishment included ‘gagging, choking’ and other sexually explicit actions.” Eventually, Salas “threatened to physically harm and rape her and her sister if she didn’t obey his orders, prosecutors allege.” When she repeatedly tried to end contact, he also threatened her, the affidavit reads.

Washington, D.C.: A child and youth program assistant employed by the Department of Defense at Ramstein Air Base in Germany was sentenced in August 2019 by a federal judge in Washington to two years of prison, followed by five years of supervised release, airforcetimes.com reports. Joseph Robertson, 38, pleaded guilty June 6, 2019, to one count of abusive sexual contact with a child who was 13 to 14 years old. This occurred in the summer of 2016 on “multiple occasions, including touching the minor’s genitals over the minor’s clothing,” the news site reports, while Robertson accompanied children from the Ramstein youth center to a swimming pool in a neighboring community. The investigation of Robertson, of Sanford, North Carolina, was conducted by U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the FBI, overseen by the Seattle Division’s Tacoma Resident Agency Child Exploitation Task Force. The case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, an initiative of the Department of Justice.

Washington: Renton police officer Tanuj Soni faces charges after he allegedly asked a confidential informant in a park to take off her clothes, and then “slapped and groped” her, seattletimes.com reports in August 2019. He was charged with fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation and abuse of office in King County Superior Court. Soni used his position to entice the woman to a park in the “middle of the night under the guise of discussing a case with her,” Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Charles Sergis wrote. “When Des Moines Police officers arrived, they noted that Soni appeared heavily intoxicated and was wearing shorts, an inside-out T-shirt and no shoes. Officers said Soni told them the woman was his confidential informant and they were hanging out when she started ‘freaking out’ and ran, according to charges. Soni told police he ran after her to calm her down.” His bail was set at $50,000. 

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