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News in Brief

Alaska: A plan to shift the response to mental health crises away from police and into the hands of mental health professionals made strides in November 2020. The Assembly approved money to launch a mobile crisis intervention team. In Anchorage, it would operate at the fire department and be funded by alcohol tax revenue, alaskapublic.org reports. “The Anchorage Police Department currently sees more than 7,000 mental health crisis calls a year. These range from a person at risk of suicide to someone experiencing an episode of psychosis,” according to the website. Among the supporters is Jason Lessard, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness Alaska and a partner with the Anchorage P.D. on trainings for crisis intervention team officers. “Anytime you have a response to a crisis situation, and you show up with a badge and a gun and a cruiser, it oftentimes heightens that situation — [there’s] stigma involved, the person feels like they’re doing something criminal,” he told alaskapublic.org. “They may not be doing something criminal at all, but when the response is law enforcement, it puts that person on defense.”

Arkansas: Lang Holland resigned as police chief of the city of Marshall after journalists uncovered profanity laden post-election posts on Parler, a social media app, according to arkansasonline.com. He reportedly posted death threats to “all Marxist Democrats,” plus “Take no prisoners leave no survivors!!” The lawman declared President Trump the victim of an Election Day coup, and posted: “Do not forget what these Marxist Democrat b* have tried to do. When you see one in public get in their face do not give them peace. Throw water on them at restaurants. Push them off sidewalks. Never let them forget they are traitors and have no right to live in this Republic after what they have done.” Holland apologized for the posts, said Kevin Elliott, the city’s mayor.

California: Newsweek is reporting that a prisoner firefighter who battled several California wildfires, faces deportation by ICE: “Bounchan Keola, a 39-year-old permanent U.S. resident whose family is based just outside San Francisco, is among the many inmates who were fighting at the front lines of several wildfires in California this year. Keola suffered a ‘traumatic neck injury,’” according to medical records, The Guardian reported. “With around two weeks left before his prison release, he was sent back to prison in Sacramento where he was not treated or monitored by doctors. He took ibuprofen every day while in prison to help with his injury, according to Keola.”

Florida: Following an internal affairs investigation, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office suspended Connor Haugh 10 days for unwarranted use of force after he fired nine shots at a suspect in 2019 who drove away from a motel on Federal Highway in Lantana, palmbeachpost.com reported in November 2020. Deputies were conducting surveillance when they allegedly thought they saw a drug buy. Another “deputy, Richard Segedin, now 39, was cleared of any misstep” during the November 1, 2019 incident.

Florida: The mother of a Black teen killed by a Brevard County sheriff’s deputy was hit with a bullet at her son’s burial service in November 28, 2020, abc13.com reports. Quasheda Pierce, whose 18-year-old son Sincere Pierce died November 13, was at the memorial, saying goodbye as her son’s casket was buried at Riverview Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Cocoa, Florida. The silence gave way to gunfire. Her leg was struck with a bullet. A 16-year-old also sustained a leg injury, due to an accidental discharge from a concealed firearm, deputies say. “The round penetrated and exited his leg prior to impacting Quasheda Pierce’s leg,” sheriff’s spokesperson Tod Goodyear said in a statement. “ The initial tragedy occurred after a traffic stop over a suspected stolen vehicle. “As the deputies got out of their patrol cars and approached the vehicle, the car backed into the street and the deputies drew their weapons” abc13.com reports. The driver, Angelo Crooms, did not heed commands to stop. “Sincere Pierce, who was in the back seat of the car, and Crooms were both wounded in the incident and taken to a hospital, where they were pronounced dead.” Relatives of the boys said the vehicle was loaned to them by a family friend. An investigation continues.

Georgia: A group of residents asked the Clayton County Board of Commission in October 2020 to adopt a police oversight panel after Roderick Walker, a Black man, was beaten and charged with battery and obstructing officers during a traffic stop in which he was a passenger, news-daily.com reports. Clayton County sheriff’s Deputy Brandon Myers was fired for “excessive use of force” during the incident, which began when Walker was asked by Deputy R. Riddick for his ID for reportedly not wearing a seatbelt. Walker failed to show an ID and attempted to flee when Riddick tried to handcuff him, ajc.com reports. Myers was bitten. Myers reportedly “gave several closed-fist and elbow strikes” to Walker. Bystander video showed Walker held on the ground by two White deputies, one of whom punches him, abcnews.go.com reports. Walker was freed from jail after being initially denied bond because of warrants in Fulton County.

Indiana: CNN reports that an Indianapolis officer who shot a 21-year-old Black man dead in May will not face charges in the case, a special prosecutor declared. “Dreasjon Reed, 21, was killed following a high-speed vehicle pursuit and a foot chase, days after video of Ahmaud Arbery’s death in Georgia ignited protests against systemic racism,” CNN reports. However, “a special grand jury did not find probable cause to indict Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Officer Dejoure Mercer, who police said is also Black.” Mercer said Reed reached to his waist. “Mercer tased him and he fell,” said Lt. Jeff Hearon. Shots were fired, but it’s not clear who fired first. “He definitely did not deserve to be shot like that,” Jazmine Reed told WRTV. “I know my brother didn’t think they were going to shoot him down like that. He was scared. You hear him say it.”

Kentucky: Brad Schuhmann is the third Louisville Metro Police officer to plead guilty to sexually abusing a minor while employed as a mentor in the department’s juvenile Explorer program, wdrb.com reports. The officer faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine after pleading guilty in federal District Court to a misdemeanor charge of sexual abuse. “Schuhmann, who retired from the department earlier this month, will be sentenced March 10, and prosecutors indicated they would recommend six months incarceration. The judge will ultimately decide the sentence,” according to wdrb.com. The 31-year-old “said little in court but admitted he ‘subjected’ a juvenile female in the Explorer program to ‘sexual contact’ at her home and other places in 2010.” Ex-officers “Kenneth Betts and Brandon Wood have both already been convicted of federal and state crimes and are in prison.”

Massachusetts: State legislators in early December 2020 were on the verge of passing crime bill legislation in response to national protests against police violence, nbcboston.com reports. “This is a landmark decision that begins to address the inequities that we have seen in our police institutions for a long time,” said Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, who chairs the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus and was one of the six conference committee members who negotiated the final version. “Like everybody has said, one bill is not going to address every issue, but we are confident that this bill starts to begin the process of holding police accountable in a transparent way and having an independent body investigate police misconduct when and if it occurs.” The new law would “create a Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission responsible for setting police standards across the state, certifying law enforcement officers, and investigating potential wrongdoing by police.”

Nevada: Voters in the state recently passed an amendment to reform pardons. “The passage of Question 3 amends the constitution to change how Nevada commutes sentences and pardons individuals convicted of most crimes,” nevadaappeal.com reports. “The amendment will require the board to meet four times annually and remove the governor’s power to veto the majority’s decisions.” Only 27 states have a pardons board. “Nevada is one of four states where the governor is part of the board,” nevadacurrent.com reports.

New Mexico: As police face scrutiny for their use of force on unarmed individuals, the BolaWrap is a nonlethal restraint gaining attention. The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office recently opted in. “Twenty BCSO deputies are now carrying a BolaWrap, a handheld device that shoots a Kevlar wire, which wraps around a suspect several times and restricts movement – a device that looks like something Batman would use to take down bad guys,” The Albuquerque Journal reports. Parts include an ankle strap, a chest harness and a stiff nylon covering with vertical steel rods that wrap around and immobilize the legs, police said. In an interview with the BBC last year, John Raphling, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, predicted that “as we’ve seen with tasers and other less lethal weapons — they will be used to expand police violence. Rather than giving more power to police, we should be rethinking what the role of police is in our country.”

New York: Former Colombo crime family hit man and criminal informant Gregory Scarpa Jr., 69, has been granted compassionate release, according to nydailynews.com. The convicted New York “mobster-turned-snitch” had a cancerous tumor removed from his throat, leaving a hole, and is showing signs of developing dementia, nydailynews.com reports. Surgeons removed Scarpa’s salivary glands and so he “regularly chokes” on his food, to the point where he has to do the Heimlich maneuver on himself, the judge wrote. “I do not minimize the evil acts Mr. Scarpa committed over the course of his criminal career,” Edward Korman, a federal judge wrote, in ordering Scarpa’s release.

Pennsylvania: Dauphin County Deputy Sheriff Christopher Reid faces charges of felony drug manufacturing/delivery, as well as a misdemeanor drug charge and endangering the welfare of children, pennlive.com reported December 1, 2020. “Investigators said they discovered he was hiding firearms, drugs and thousands of dollars in cash in his basement wall,” according to the news site. Susquehanna Township police led the month-long investigation, assisted by the Dauphin County Sheriff’s Office. A hearing had been scheduled Dec. 17, 2020.

South Carolina: At least three Democratic sheriffs in South Carolina and Georgia promise to end 287(g) “agreements with the federal government under which sheriffs can question people about their immigration status and detain them on immigration charges,” vox.com reports. “The election of these sheriffs, who made cutting ties with ICE a central message of their campaigns, is a triumph for immigrant rights activists,” the news site reports. “They view it as a signal that the public doesn’t think local law enforcement should be involved in efforts to deport members of their communities and spread fear among immigrants.” About 50% percent of requests to detain unauthorized immigrants “were directed at people who had committed misdemeanors and traffic offenses,” Migration Policy Institute found.

South Dakota: The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office Facebook site has closed its commenting section after South Dakotans criticized the office for filing a lawsuit to block a voter-approved recreational marijuana constitutional amendment. The lawsuit, filed by Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom, says Amendment A is not actually an amendment but a “revision” of the constitution. In addition to negative comments about the lawsuit, the website rating plunged to 1.8 out of five stars. “That’s what we voted on, it’s what we approved,” South Dakota voter Larry Phillips told KOTA TV. “They’re trying to go against what people of South Dakota approved and throw their opinions over that. And that’s not right.” South Dakota is the first state to adopt medical and recreational marijuana at the same time, becoming effective July 1, 2021. “Between now and then, the state legislature will have to set up regulatory structures in the state,” KOTA TV reports.

Utah: A police officer who ordered his canine to bite a Black suspect after the man was on his knees with hands raised is one example of a “pattern of abuse” uncovered by a Salt Lake City audit of police dogs and cops, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. A legislative committee in October 2020 voted to explore a bill on uniform training and certification of police canines and their handlers, but one lawmaker’s comments drew criticism. As quoted in the Tribune: “I don’t have a lot of sympathy,” Sen. Don Ipson told his colleagues on the law enforcement and criminal justice committee. “We don’t want to harm the public. But if they don’t want to get bit, stay home.” In response, “The Alliance for a Better Utah released a statement condemning Ipson’s remarks about police dogs, saying the Legislature’s job is to develop policies that protect Utah and end patterns of law enforcement abuse. ‘It is absolutely appalling that Sen. Ipson would make such a terrible statement in support of police violence,’” alliance policy director Lauren Simpson stated. “Suggesting that people should just ‘stay home’ if they don’t want to experience police brutality is truly one of the more obscene things to be uttered recently by a sitting lawmaker in Utah.” Ipson later apologized. Committee co-chairman Rep. Lee Perry “said legislative staff are looking into other states that do have state certification for police canines” and “are exploring what they may adapt to Utah’s own needs and best practices regarding the matter,” stgeorgeutah.com reports. The officer in the case cited above was “charged with a felony after The Salt Lake Tribune published bodycam footage of the arrest.”

Virginia: Unarmed motorist Bijan Ghaisar was shot and killed in 2017, but the two U.S. Park Police officers who ended his life are in the news. According to washingtonpost.com, Officers Lucas Vinyard, 39, and Alejandro Amaya, 41, are claiming in court motions that they fired their weapons in self-defense when Ghaisar tried to flee a traffic stop. However, video taken by Fairfax cops places “them on the side of or behind the Jeep for at least the first volley of shots.” Ghaisar hung on in a coma until doctors removed him from live support, washingtonpost.com reports. “In November 2019, the Justice Department announced it would not file federal civil rights charges against the officers but said its decision did not preclude other authorities from seeking charges.” Next, a grand jury was empaneled, which charged both cops “with one count of involuntary manslaughter and reckless use of a firearm.” Both officers were placed on administrative leave, “pending the outcome of the criminal case,” according to Park Police. Ghaisar had tried to flee the scene of a fender bender, then “officers approached with guns drawn.” The “authorities said 10 total shots were fired, five by each officer, though only nine can be heard on the video.”

Wisconsin: City of Wauwatosa police Officer Joseph Mensah, who fatally shot three people in five years while on duty, was allowed to resign, npr.org reports in November 2020. While the shootings were ruled justified self-defense, they have not been without complaints. The first incident on July 16, 2015, involved Mensah, along with officer Jeffrey Newman, who shot 29-year-old Antonio Gonzales, who wielded a sword he would not drop. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports “a citizen complaint was filed by the family of Jay Anderson Jr., whom Mensah fatally shot in a Wauwatosa park in 2016.” In October, Mensah fired shots at Alvin Cole in a parking lot after a mall disturbance. The 17-year-old “was seen with a gun inside the mall and then pulled out a handgun, which was determined to be stolen, from a fanny pack and as he was running ‘the gun fired, apparently accidentally, striking Cole in the arm,’” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. The incident prompted protests, as well as a single shot fired into a house. The resignation was to have taken place Nov. 30 based on an agreement with Mensah, the local peace officers’ association and the police department. “Now is the time for all of us to come together and heal,” stated Mayor Dennis McBride. 

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