News in Brief
California: A series of racist and anti-Muslim posts on social media allegedly has ties to a private group of active and retired San Jose Police officers calling themselves 10-7ODSJ, a reference to the police code for “off duty,” mercurynews.com reports. In June 2020, four of them were placed on leave while the police department investigates. News of the group surfaced in an anonymous blog post on Medium, an online platform, alleging the postings “included disparaging comments about Black Lives Matter protesters and Muslims,” KCBS Radio reports. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Police Chief Eddie Garcia and the San Jose Police Officers’ Union condemned the group. So did the D.A. “No one who expresses these types of disgusting, racist comments should ever wear a badge,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen offered in a statement. “This Office’s Conviction Integrity Unit will immediately begin a comprehensive review of every case in which these officers — active or retired — played a role. Anyone who writes this kind of trash has no role in our criminal justice system.” Raj Jayadev, a member of a local police watchdog group that supports diverting police funds from police to community programs, told KCBS Radio: “This wasn’t necessarily just only about four rogue, racist police officers, this was about institutional racism that was protected by the department for years.”
Colorado: A memorial for Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died in a police encounter, did not receive the dignity it deserved. As mourners gathered in late June 2020 for a peaceful vigil, police arrived in riot gear and deployed pepper spray. Said MSNBC journalist Chris Hayes: “People congregated to pay tribute to him, to call for accountability for his death, and to play their violins in his honor. And then Aurora police basically recreated the dynamic of McClain’s death.” The young man who taught himself to play guitar and violin died Aug. 24, 2019, after going to buy iced tea for his brother at a nearby convenience store. Walking home, he was stopped by cops because a 911 caller said he was waving his hands and wearing a ski mask. An officer who insists McClain reached for an officer’s gun, restrained McClain in a now-banned carotid hold. Paramedics were called but McClain “went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital, and was taken off life support on August 30,” thecut.com reports. “His family said at the time that he was brain dead, and covered in bruises.” No charges were filed against the officers as of June. McClain had no weapon.
Delaware: Gov. John Carney signed an executive order in June 2020 to ban the use of chokeholds by law enforcement in the state, including Delaware State Police and Capitol Police. Order No. 41 also “increases community engagement; requires additional de-escalation and implicit bias training; and increases the availability of crisis intervention services for law enforcement officers,” delawarebusinessnow.com reports. “Carney’s order also will formally prohibit executive branch law enforcement agencies from sharing mugshots of minors, except when public safety is at risk; require transparency around use-of-force protocols; and mandate participation in the national use-of-force database.”
England: A screening of 525 of Hampshire’s police staff found that nearly 70 percent of them are overweight. According to the BBC, an email from Chief Superintendent Lucy Hutson “warned staff of the health risks following a recent health screening” program. However, the force insisted the screening included only 8% of its staff, that it’s “not representative of our workforce as a whole” and that the unit has “very low sickness rates.” Meanwhile, research underway during the lockdown has found obesity “doubles the risk of needing hospital treatment for coronavirus,” dailymail.co.uk.
Florida: Former Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert “Bobby” Simeone was sentenced in May 2020 to five years in prison for stealing money from Children of Wounded Warriors, a nonprofit in Boynton Beach, according to the Associated Press. Simeone, a U.S. Navy veteran, pleaded guilty to 30 felony charges related to three criminal cases. As reported in the April 2020 issue of CLN, Simeone was accused of stealing nearly $50,000 to pay kickbacks to lure patients into a drug treatment center he operated in West Palm Beach. “Court records show detectives found $73,556 in deposits were made to the charity, Wounded Warriors, between 2015 and 2019, and $49,037 in transfers from the charity were deposited into Simeone’s personal and business accounts,” nbcmiami.com reports. Simeone’s attorneys say there was no evidence of patient brokering.
Florida: Former Miami Gardens Officer Jordy Yanes Martel is under fire for excessive use of force after bystander cellphone video showed his encounter January 14, 2020, with Safiya Satchell outside Tootsie’s Cabaret. Satchell was accused of being disrespectful of wait staff. Yanes was charged with four counts of battery and official misconduct. Video shows that Yanes reached into Satchell’s SUV, dragged her out and pressed “his knee on her neck” and twice stunned her with a Taser, the Miami Herald reports, leaving her with cuts, bruises and abrasions. Yanes also was charged with misconduct for “filing two reports containing false details” about his interaction with Satchell as an off-duty cop. “He had arrested her on charges of battery on a cop and resisting with violence — charges that have since been dismissed.” The former cop’s defense attorney alleges Yanes “was ‘punched in the mouth’ by a woman who was ‘clearly intoxicated.’” Yanes was booked and released from the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center.
Florida: As thousands protest for criminal justice reform, one police chapter made a pitch to troubled cops. According to a June 8, 2020, CNN report, the Brevard County chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police addressed a June 6 Facebook message to “Buffalo 57” and “Atlanta 6,” saying that it was “hiring.” The “‘Buffalo 57’ appears to refer to the 57 police officers in Buffalo, New York, who resigned from the force’s emergency response team following the suspension of two officers who were captured on video pushing a 75-year-old protester to the ground. ‘Atlanta 6’ refers to the six Atlanta police officers who were booked, five on felony charges, after being accused of using excessive force on two black college students who were leaving a protest in their car. In a video recording of the incident, the officers are seen breaking the vehicle’s windows, pulling the female student out of the car and tasing the male student.” This was followed by another Facebook post: “Lower taxes, no spineless leadership, or dumb mayors rambling on at press conferences... Plus... we got your back!” the Brevard County F.O.P. added in its post. In a follow-up Facebook post, the FOP “made the same offer to the Minneapolis police.”
Illinois: On June 1, 2020, 13 Chicago Police Department officers were captured on surveillance cams lounging, napping, heating coffee and snacking just hours after looters vandalized the strip mall where they were hanging out, reason.com reports. Police Superintendent David Brown did not mince words: “This kind of conduct means if you sleep during a riot, what do you do on a regular shift when there’s no riot? What are you doing when there’s no crisis?” The officers had commandeered the offices of Rep. Bobby Rush (D–Ill.), much to the dismay of Rush and Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “They even had the unmitigated gall to go and make coffee for themselves and to pop popcorn—my popcorn—in my microwave while looters were tearing apart businesses within their sight and within their reach,” Rush was quoted as saying. Rush and Lightfoot were “in total alignment in righteous anger” over the officers’ disrespect.
Iowa: A man going door to door in Nevada, Iowa, while carrying a large sword was handcuffed, tased by police and died, Ames Tribune reports in June 2020. Jason James Kruzic, 51, was instructed by officers to drop the sword but he reportedly said: “It stays in my hands.” As paramedics arrived to remove the Taser barbs and treat him, Kruzic stopped breathing. He was then transported to Story County Medical Center, where he died, according to police. “He was just a good guy — he wasn’t going to hurt anybody,” said Samantha Axley, 33, who knew him.
Kansas: After witnessing police abuse in 2005, Brandon Johnson went on to become a Wichita City Council member and a police reform advocate, kansas.com reports. In June 2020, Governor Laura Kelly tapped him to helm the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training, which regulates police officers, kansas.com reports. The board “grants and revokes the professional certifications of officers and also determines the basic training required to become an officer.” Johnson said “his interest in community activism started with his own arrest at age 19, when he was punched, wrestled to the ground, handcuffed and jailed for objecting to officers’ abuse of a young man … after a Riverfest concert,” kansas.com reports. “Excessive force was being used on him,” Johnson told the newspaper. “He had knees in his back and was crying for his mother. I saw a supervisor who was Black and kind of yelled at the supervisor like, ‘Hey, this is wrong, he doesn’t need to do all that.’”
Massachusetts: A police officer who gave support on social media to her niece taking part in a Black Lives Matter rally has lost her job. “Florissa Fuentes, who had recently joined the Springfield Police Department’s Special Victims Unit, was fired on June 19 after a May post she made while not on duty,” according to thehill.com. The image on Instagram, Masslive.com reports, “showed her niece protesting in Atlanta. Flames leap up in the background and her niece holds a sign that reads: “Shoot the F--- Back.” A friend’s sign reads: “Who do we call when the murderer wears the badge?” Later, Fuentes removed the post but said she had “no malicious intent.” Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said “the post was hurtful to many of her co-workers.” Fuentes, who was on workplace probation, was given a choice to resign or be fired on the heels of attending a police department united rally and photo shoot in Springfield. “I felt used,” she told Masslive.com. “The commissioner waved at me from her car while I was there. They all knew what was happening.”
Michigan: On June 28, 2020, a peaceful rally and march in southwest Detroit against police brutality took an unexpected turn. According to the Detroit Free Press, “a Detroit police officer drove an SUV through a crowd of protesters after they surrounded the vehicle and began pounding on it. With the overhead lights flashing, the officer behind the wheel gunned the accelerator, sending protesters flying onto the pavement while others scurried out of the way as the vehicle lurched through the crowd. At one point, the SUV jerked to a stop and then sped away with at least two protesters on the hood, throwing them to the ground a dozen yards later. One of the men thrown from the hood clutched his leg and limped after he stood up. The other man appeared unharmed. Both men continued to march back to Patton Park.” The rear window on the police car was smashed, the newspaper reports, and both incidents are being investigated. Speakers from civil rights and other groups talked of inequalities and the need for solidarity.
Nevada: Assembly Bill 236 is expected to shrink the number of non-violent offenders and parole/probation violators that Nevada incarcerates through various changes and greater access to treatment and diversion programs, according to Nevadaappeal.com. “The law makes significant changes to Nevada’s burglary statutes, recognizing for example breaking into an unoccupied vehicle isn’t nearly as serious as burglarizing an occupied home. It also raises the dollar amount needed to qualify as a felony theft from $650 to $1,200.” Another bill provides “compensation for people who were wrongfully convicted and deprived of their freedom.” Bill “AB267 would compensate those wrongfully imprisoned up to 10 years with $50,000 a year, up to 20 years $75,000 a year.” The legislation “was the product of nearly two years’ work with thousands of hours of staff time donated by the Crime and Justice Institute.”
New York: New police accountability measures in the state include a ban on chokeholds in the wake of protests over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. The executive order, signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, calls for police departments to “develop a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs” by “April 1, 2021, including bias awareness and use of force. Local departments must engage the public in their plans and receive the approval of local officials to be eligible for state funding,” npr.org reports. The Rev. Al Sharpton, who was present at the signing, credited protesters. “We were told, ‘You start with demonstration to lead to legislation and then reconciliation.’ Without the legislation, the demonstration is just an exercise,” Sharpton was quoted by npr.org.
New York: NYPD has suspended police officers who were filmed clashing with protesters. “A police inspector who was filmed hitting a peaceful protester in the back of his head with a metal baton during a demonstration is being charged with assault,” abcnews.go.com reported, citing Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s announcement in June 2020. In addition, “NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea announced disciplinary action against officers who were filmed assaulting protesters during last weekend’s demonstrations in the city. “
Oregon: Six police reform bills supported by Governor Kate Brown in June 2020 are bound for approval. The legislation was put forth by the People of Color Caucus. The only bill receiving “pushback from police unions” was the arbitration bill, KATU.com reports. “The bill deals with law enforcement discipline. It would ensure disciplinary actions can’t be reversed by an outside arbitrator.” House Bill “4203 limits use of force if it restricts a person’s ability to breathe,” KATU.com reports. Other bills deal with tear gas and reporting police who act unethically.
Texas: One-fourth of the Houston Forensic Science Center staff were reported “out of commission due to COIVD-19,” according to chron.com on June 30, 2020. That means “the Houston Forensic Science Center is dangerously close to having to limit its responses to crime scenes,” according to chron.com, quoting Dr. Peter Stout, the agency CEO and president. “Of 200 total staff, 10 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus,” he said June 29. “Another 12 are self-quarantining while they await test results. None of the exposures appear to have been transmitted through their work.” The agency manages the city’s forensic laboratory and crime scene unit, which operates 24/7. With people off work, the demand is great on the smaller unit remaining and “tired people make mistakes,” Stout said.
Vermont: Reform might be on the horizon as the state Senate passed a bill in June 2020 to ban chokeholds by cops and adopt use-of-force guidelines. Police also would have to comply with racial data reporting requirements under a second bill, WCAX.com reports. “While the Legislature had been considering similar proposals for some time, they were given new urgency in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing. Both bills still need to be considered by the House,” WCAX.com reports.
Virginia: Alexandria Police Officer Jonathan B. Griffin was arrested June 30, 2020, for unjustified use of force, according to alexandriava.gov. Police announced “a misdemeanor charge of assault and battery in connection with a January incident where a person taken into protective custody for a health evaluation was forced to the ground.” Griffin was placed on leave.