News in Brief
Arizona: Mariah Valenzuela has filed legal notices against the city of Phoenix and Maricopa County over Phoenix police officer Michael McGillis’ use of force during a January 16, 2020 traffic stop, abc15.com reports. The officer, driving a white van, stopped Valenzuela for allegedly veering across the center line, then repeatedly demanded her ID but didn’t tell her why she’d been stopped.He allegedly forced her to the ground to handcuff her, then slammed her against her car, injuring her face and head, abc15.com and azcentral.com report. “Why don’t you act like a lady?” the officer asked. Said James Palestini, Valenzuela’s criminal defense attorney: “I was shocked. It was incredibly troubling to see a police officer that is supposed to protect the public to act the way he did — in such an aggressive manner.” Valenzuela was cleared of suspicion of DUI and the county attorney’s office told The Guardian that it was “dismissing the felony resisting charge,” citing review of bodycam video. Police said McGillis did not violate its use of force policy and that Valenzuela refused to cooperate.
California: Protesters marched in July 2020 to ask for justice in the death of Mely Corado, who was killed in a police shootout at Trader Joe’s in Silver Lake where she worked. Protesters asked that the LAPD be held accountable for her death. Corado was struck by a bullet while police were in pursuit of an armed suspect, a motorist, Gene Atkins. They fired inside and one of their bullets struck her. “Atkins is now facing charges for Mely’s murder, under the theory that he set off the chain of events that led to her death,” kcrw.com reports. Along the way, marchers stopped in the middle of main thoroughfares in Atwater Village and Silver Lake, many of them holding sunflowers, Corado’s favorite flower,” npr.org reports. The Corado family said it wants the two LAPD officers involved in the shooting to be charged.
California: A 49-year-old Visalia police office has been arrested and charged with three misdemeanors: two counts of sexual battery and one count of battery, abc30.com reports July 23, 2020. “Scott Nelson, a veteran police officer, was placed on paid administrative leave [July 22] after being arrested on allegations he groped a woman multiple times at the Visalia Elks Lodge in 2019,” visaliatimesdelta.com reports. “Nelson was cited with a promise to appear in court later this fall. He won’t be booked behind bars. However, he won’t be patrolling the streets and could lose his job if convicted. He could also be forced to give up his guns for up to 10 years, if convicted.” The alleged groping took place at the lodge, but it took a year before charges were filed. Sexual assault advocate Bree “Mervin described the touching as ‘repeated’ and ‘unwanted.’” And “The woman told police she thought Nelson inappropriately touched her at least five times over a two hour period—at one point grabbing her breasts,” abc30.com reports. After the victim filed a complaint, she said Nelson began “harassing” the woman and referred to her as a “whore” to other lodge members, prompting her not to return.
California: San Diego deputy sheriff Aaron Russell, 23, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder under a “new law that sets tough standards around the use of deadly force by police,” washingtonpost.com reports in July 2020. And “[i]t’s the first time a San Diego officer has been charged with murder over an on-duty shooting, KNSD reported.” The 36-year-old victim, Nicholas Bils, suffered mental illness and had a lifelong fear of police. He had no weapon when he escaped from a park ranger vehicle in May 2020 and ran along a street, nytimes.com reports. The fatal shooting took place after an incident at a park. While putting golf balls, Bils was told by officers that his dog could not be off leash, plus the park itself was closed because of the pandemic. Bils allegedly swung a golf club at park rangers and ran. Once in the rangers’ car, he unlocked the door and fled. He was shot five times as he ran with his water bottle and lunch. “When a life is taken, we must make decisions based in facts and law, and not ones that are influenced by the status of the accused as a peace officer nor the status of the victim,” San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said in a statement. The officer pleaded not guilty and was released on bail.
Delaware: A University of Delaware student has filed suit against a police officer who she says “humiliated her while arresting her in class” in September 2019, Delawareonline.com reports. The lawsuit says the student, then 19, “was purposefully plucked from her class, berated, humiliated and slammed against a wall to cause embarrassment — all over a potential underage drinking charge that was later dropped.” Named in the suit, which seeks money for damages and injuries and alleges “intentional infliction of emotional distress” are Newark, Delaware, police officer Morgan Fountain, the University of Delaware and Newark city government as defendants. The suit alleges the officer came up behind the plaintiff and her friend who were walking one night. She tried to stop the plaintiff and the friend who was on crutches. Although the teen ran, the officer “threatened to have her [friend] kicked out of school” if she didn’t divulge her friend’s identity, according to the lawsuit.
Florida: A Key West couple — Jose Antonio Freire Interian, 24, and Yohana Anahi Gonzalez, 26 — who had tested positive for COVD-19, were arrested at their apartment after defying an isolation order issued by the Florida Department of Health-Monroe County requiring them to stay at home for two weeks and to wear a mask around others, local10.com reports. The apartment property manager handed over camera footage from the common area showing them coming and going. According to The Washington Post, “the couple was taken to the Stock Island Detention Center on two second-degree misdemeanor charges: breaking quarantine during a public health emergency and violating emergency management.”
Florida: James Kaminski, a K-9 officer and longtime veteran of the North Palm Beach Police Department, is on paid administrative leave. He posted $50,000 bond after he was booked in June 2020 on lewd and lascivious molestation charges, cbs12.com reports. He has been accused of sexually molesting an acquaintance “between the ages of 12 and 15,” the Palm Beach Post reports in June 2020. According to a sheriff’s office report, “the person, who now is 24, told police in upstate New York, where the individual is in college, that Kaminski” had molested her starting in summer 2011. Kaminski’s attorney told the newspaper that his client “was involved in an on-going consensual sexual relationship with my client as an adult. Mr. Kaminski is looking forward to the opportunity to clear his name.” Police also say an internal affairs investigation is underway regarding possible violations of department policy.
Georgia: Former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe, who was charged in the June 12, 2020, shooting death of Rayshard Brooks in a Wendy’s parking lot, was granted a $500,000 bond June 30, cbsnews.com reports. He faces 11 charges, including murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He was fired less than 24 hours after the fatal shooting. According to CBS: “Rolfe was attempting to arrest 27-year-old Brooks, who had fallen asleep in his car and failed a sobriety test, when Brooks grabbed another officer’s Taser and fled. Rolfe opened fire, fatally shooting Brooks in the back. Video appeared to show Brooks turning and pointing the Taser just before the shooting. The second officer involved, Devin Brosnan, has been placed on administrative leave and charged with aggravated assault and oath violations.”
Illinois: Collinsville trooper Nolan Morgan was arrested on drug charges after mushrooms — specifically around 259 grams of psilocybin mushrooms—were found at his home July 3, 2020, newsweek.com reports. “Morgan was charged with possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver and manufacture of a controlled substance. These are both Class X felony charges in the state of Illinois, which is the most serious felony short of murder. The penalties for a Class X felony include a minimum sentence of six years in prison and a maximum sentence of 30 years, in addition to a maximum fine of $25,000.”
Maryland: Baltimore Police homicide unit Sergeant James Lloyd was held on July 31, 2020, “after allegedly extorting, kidnapping and threatening to arrest a home contractor whose work he was unhappy with and whom he drove to a bank to withdraw money for a refund,” the Baltimore Sun reports. “You are going to give me my money back, and I’m going to give you freedom,” Lloyd told the contractor, according to charging documents and the Sun. “Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said Lloyd would be suspended without pay and an internal affairs investigation has been launched.” The officer was allegedly unhappy about a patio the contractor had constructed and insisted on a refund. He told the contractor he had details about his driver’s license being suspended and could arrest him. “Then, authorities said, he made the victim get into Lloyd’s car. The victim told police that he feared being arrested and complied with Lloyd’s demands of going to the bank and getting a certified check for the refund, officials said.” Lloyd’s attorney said there was “no criminality” by his client.
Minnesota: Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who awaits trial on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the death of George Floyd, is now facing felony tax charges. “Chauvin and his estranged wife were each charged with nine counts of aiding and abetting false or fraudulent tax returns and failing to file returns,” slate.com reports. “According to the complaint, the Chauvins did not report $460,000 in income dating back to 2014, including income the former cop derived from off-duty security work. His wife, who filed for divorce on June 1, a week after George Floyd was killed, worked as a photographer and Realtor at the time.”
Minnesota: Governor Tim Walz recently signed state Legislature-approved police reforms into law, including a ban on neck restraints, pbs.org reports. The bill “bans chokeholds and fear-based or ‘warrior-style’ training, which critics say promotes excessive force. It imposes a duty to intercede on officers who see a colleague using excessive force and changes rules on the use of force to stress the sanctity of life,” according to pbs.org.
Missouri: Velda City police officers Matthew Schanz and Christopher Gage face charges of first-degree assault and armed criminal action from a traffic stop that began when the officers spotted a vehicle with expired temporary tags Feb. 25, 2020, near West Florissant, KSDK.com reports. The man they pulled over, according to police, drove toward the officers. Both Schanz and Gage fired shots at the man, striking him more than once.
New Jersey: Six bills to strengthen criminal justice reform have come before the state legislature, including a “repeal of mandatory minimum sentences for certain non-violent crimes, including drug offenses, that have disproportionately affected communities of color, both Black and Hispanic,” according to nj.com on July 26, 2020. In addition, more commission recommendations sought “would allow sentencing judges to consider a defendant’s youth at the time of the offense as a mitigating factor; create a new ‘compassionate release’ program that builds on the current medical release program; provide the possibility of release for offenders who were sentenced to 30 years or more of imprisonment while juveniles, and [improve] the data collection capacity of the Department of Corrections.” The recommendations come from the state’s Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission, which is composed of “judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, community stakeholders, corrections officials, faith organizations and victim’s rights advocates.”
New Mexico: Former Las Cruces police Officer Christopher Smelser faces a second-degree murder charge in the death of Antonio Valenzuela, a Mexican American. The charge had been increased from involuntary manslaughter. Smelser, who is White, is accused of killing the suspect after placing him in a chokehold following a foot chase that began when Valenzuela fled a traffic stop. After the chase, Smelser can be heard on police video saying, “I’m going to (expletive) choke you out, bro.” Smelser was fired. According to CBS: Smelser attorney Amy L. Orlando “called the new charge sad and suggested it was a political move meant to grab headlines. ‘Officer Smelser used a technique that was sanctioned by the department. He was trained in the technique. And of a sudden it’s banned after and he’s a criminal,’” the lawyer told The Associated Press.
Oregon: Nick McGuffin, who served nine years in prison for the murder of his high school sweetheart, Leah Freeman of Coquille, saw his 2011 manslaughter conviction overturned in 2019 “due to findings of unknown male DNA evidence not disclosed during the trial,” nbc16.com reports. Now he’s filed a “federal civil rights lawsuit against police in the Coquille, Coos Bay, and Oregon State Police Departments and the Coos County Sheriff’s Office,” nbc16.com reports. McGuffin’s attorney Janis Puracal “claims officers fabricated evidence, coerced witnesses, spread rumors, and withheld evidence that would have cleared her client of the crime.” The lawyer expects the case to go to a jury trial.
Rhode Island: Were two arrests made by police at a protest July 23, 2020, appropriate? That is what the civilian board with police oversight powers in Providence will consider, according to WPRI.com. “Police allege Najeli Rodriguez, 18, hit a sergeant with her bullhorn during the protest, leading police to charge her with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and simple assault. Her lawyer Shannah Kurland denies the charges, saying Rodriguez was targeted by police because she was protesting against them. The other arrest was 28-year-old Jonas Pierre, who police say shoved an officer while trying to interfere with Rodriguez’ arrest. Police say he had multiple knives on him, and he was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, simple assault, obstructing an officer and a weapons charge.” At least one council member was upset by what happened. “Teenagers should not to be held without bail,” City Councilor Kat Kerwin wrote on Twitter the Friday of Rodriguez’s release. “Peaceful protesters should not be held without bail. No one should be held without bail.”
Texas: Dallas police Senior Corporal Daniel Collins was arrested in July 2020 on a charge of transportation of child pornography. The officer assigned to the department’s auto theft unit was arrested by Homeland Security Investigations, Dallas police report, and was reported at the Tarrant County Jail. Collins has been with the department since 2007. He is on administrative leave pending the results of an internal affairs administrative investigation, the department said.
Virginia: A grand jury in July 2020 indicted Fairfax County police officer Tyler Timberlake on three counts of assault and battery for assaulting a noncombative Black man, WTOP.com reports. The officer, who is White, responded to report of a man that said he needed oxygen. The man seemed disoriented as he paced in circles around a street, body-cam video showed. Officers and EMT responders at the scene attempted to get the man into an ambulance. According to WTOP.com: “As the officer is attempting to learn whether the man needs medical attention, Timberlake walks into the frame, appearing to have just arrived, and deploys his stun gun on the man multiple times. Timberlake is also seen in the footage holding the man down with his knees as he tries to put handcuffs on the man.” The indictment alleges Timberlake fired a Taser dart into the man, struck his head with a “fist and/or the butt of a Taser device” and then hit the man with another dart while on the ground. The Fairfax Fraternal Order of Police 77 called for the resignation of Chief Ed Roessler for his comments excoriating the officer after the incident. They accused the chief of not being “fair and impartial,” instead crossing “the line from Chief of Police to that of a politician playing dress up.”