News in Brief
California: The death of David Glen Ward of Petaluma was declared a homicide by the Marin County coroner in May 2020, followed by a lawsuit from David’s mother, Ernestine Ward, alleging wrongful death, excessive force and negligent supervision by Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies. Leading up to the fatal encounter, Ward was the victim of a carjacking and theft on November 24, 2019, which he reported to law enforcement, sonomawest.com reports. After Ward recovered his car, a green Honda Civic, he did not tell officers so when an off-duty deputy saw him on the road in the car three days later, police mistook him for the carjacker and pursued him. Ward ended up dead during the traffic stop – even though Ward’s face was still bruised from the carjacking. Then cops “beat, tasered, and choked” him “for nearly a minute. Ward’s body had succumbed to the abuse and he became unresponsive,” thefreethoughtproject.com reports. “As he lay on the ground, completely unconscious, only then did the cops realize Ward was the owner of the vehicle and the victim, not the perpetrator of the carjacking.” An officer said: “This is, this is the owner of the car. This is David Ward. He’s the, he’s the victim.” Sheriff’s Deputy Charlie Blount had attempted to pull Ward out of the car through the driver’s side window, during which he slammed Ward’s head several times against the side of the car and used a carotid restraint on Ward, a body-cam video released by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office shows, after which he became unresponsive. At that point, sonomawest.com reports “an unidentified officer” saying, “He’s not breathing anymore.” The investigative report is now in the hands of the district attorney.
Florida: In August 2015, plainclothes deputies grabbed Mary Ellis DeRossett in a nighttime prostitution sting at her home. When she screamed, her uncle John DeRossett responded with gunfire. The Brevard County deputies did not identify themselves, claims DeRossett, and says he shot in self-defense, wounding Deputy John “Casey” Smith in the gunfight. A Fifth District Court of Appeals ruling in April 2020 agreed, citing Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Said John DeRossett’s attorney Michael Panella: “This order means that John is innocent [on the attempted premeditated first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer], that his actions were justified, and that he never should have been arrested in the first place. It’s a total vindication.” DeRossett and Ellis “were shot and injured in the exchange of over 40 rounds,” floridatoday.com reports. Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey disputed the ruling. “I do respect the judges’ ruling in this case. I don’t agree with it in any capacity. I want to be very clear,” he said.
Illinois: Former Chicago police Officer Glenn Lewellen was granted compassionate early release from a Florida prison because of concerns over COVID-19, chicago.suntimes.com reports. “U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall modified Lewellen’s 18-year sentence to time served for his role in a drug conspiracy, citing the disgraced former cop’s ‘severe obesity, hypertension, and a heart condition,’” the news site reports. “The COVID-19 pandemic, combined with Lewellen’s risk factors, constitute extraordinary and compelling circumstances that the court did not and could not have foreseen at sentencing,” Gottschall wrote.
Illinois: A drop in some types of crime is making headlines during the pandemic. For starters, a decrease in traffic has meant fewer traffic stops, according to the May 20 Chicago Tribune. In addition, arrests for homicides, sex offenses, robberies and aggravated assaults have dipped by 35 percent when comparing the first four months of 2019 to the first four months of 2020. In the city of Vernon Hills in Lake County, for example, the crime rate decreased by 50%, including a 54% decrease in the serious crimes listed above. “Traffic violations have declined by about 67% during those months and retail theft dropped by 52%,” the Tribune reports. On the other hand, the county Sheriff’s Office notes that motor vehicle burglaries soared “178% from March 2019 to March 2020, and 233% from April 2019 to April 2020. Domestic disturbances also increased by 21% from March last year, and 3% in April. Landlord and tenant disputes went up by 50% in both March and April from last year.”
Kentucky: Protests in Louisville the night of May 30 focused on the fatal “police shooting [in March 2020] of Breonna Taylor, an African American who was unarmed when police executed a ‘no-knock’ search warrant at her apartment and returned fire when her boyfriend fired on them,” courier-journal.com reports. “He has said he thought they were intruders.” The protesters had reportedly stockpiled milk and water to use for relief in case they were exposed to pepper spray or tear gas. Amid the protests “two masked men in plain clothes immediately got out and began to smash the milk and water onto the ground in what appeared to be organized by law enforcement.” A bystander captured the incident on video. Another person began to cry. “That’s our water! We are being peaceful,” said a protester. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said there were “Mason jars full of flammable materials included in the protesters’ pile of supplies.”
Minnesota: Journalists were injured the weekend of May 29, 2020, following the May 25 death of police suspect George Floyd. Dozens endured pepper spray, rubber bullets and tear gas at Black Lives Matter protests in metro areas. Linda Tirado, a photojournalist, “was permanently blinded in her left eye” after being struck by a police projectile in Minneapolis, reports theinsider.com, which posted tweets with photos and video of several who were injured around the country. Meanwhile, Tim Walz, the Minnesota governor, denounced the arrests of CNN journalists and gave a public apology.
Mississippi: Madison County prosecuting attorney Pamela “Pammi” Hancock has drawn fiery criticism for wishing ill will on protesters. She “said in a now deleted Facebook reply that she can only hope the deadly strain of COVID-19 spreads in riots,” clarionledger.com reports June 2, 2020. “One of the attorneys in Hancock’s law firm posted the following Facebook message over the weekend: ‘Does covid spread during massive street riots or just in bars and restaurants? Asking for a friend?’ Hancock replied on Facebook: ‘We can only hope the deadly strain spreads in riots.’“ While Hancock insists she was not “serious about anyone dying,” other social media commenters were upset. “One commenter, Monique Harrison Henderson, said ‘this woman makes decisions about which black people to prosecute. Her words matter. People shouldn’t wish death on anyone. But we aren’t talking about other instances here. We are talking about this,’“ clarionledger.com reports.
New York: A New York Police Department officer in Queens was captured on video May 30 pulling the mask off of a peaceful protester and pepper spraying him in the face, New York Media report. “The video was taken during a protest in Queens over the Minneapolis police [May 25, 2020] killing of George Floyd,” pix11.com reports. “The man can be seen with his hands in the air as several police officers order protesters to back up off the street. An officer then walks up to the man, pulls his mask down and sprays him directly in the face while the man’s hands are in the air, the video shows.” Other video in New York City revealed that “police officers, in two separate vehicles, rammed a crowd in a street,” theverge.com reports. Separately, a moving police vehicle slammed someone with a car door and drove away.”
Oklahoma: Oklahoma is “one of at least 26 states that treats domestic violence as a nonviolent offense,” cherokeephoenix.org reports. But that could soon change as a bill lands on Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk: “crimes likely to be added as [violent offenses] are domestic abuse by strangulation, domestic assault with a dangerous weapon, domestic assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and domestic assault and battery with a deadly weapon.” If signed into law, “convicted offenders could serve more time and would receive more scrutiny when they’re up for parole.” Looking at the big picture, however, Stitt touts reform: “We must invest in diversion and treatment programs,” he told tulsaworld.com, citing the need to spend $10 million to break the incarceration cycle, address mental health needs and help with reintegration. “We must release nonviolent offenders from prison who were sentenced on drug charges under old laws.”
Oregon: The Appeal said “it may be the widest election win yet for progressives in a contested prosecutor’s race.” The news site was referring to Mike Schmidt, who was elected district attorney of the 800,000-resident Multnomah County, which encompasses Portland and some of its suburbs, by campaigning on a criminal justice reform platform and garnering a whopping 75 percent of the vote. “He pledged to prioritize addiction and mental health treatment over prisons, ensure that cops who engage in brutality or misconduct are held accountable and review claims of wrongful convictions,” oregonlive.com reports. “He opposes the death penalty and mandatory minimum sentencing, such as Measure 11, and supports policies that aim to keep youths charged with crimes in juvenile court.”
Texas: Based on an anonymous tip, Laredo undercover cops posed as potential clients in need of nail and eyelash services. Then they arrested Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia, 31, and Brenda Stephany Mata, 20, for violating city orders on social distancing by offering cosmetology services in their homes. The women, snared in sting operations on April 15, 2020, were freed from Webb County Jail in a few hours, dallasnews.com reports, and the D.A. declined to prosecute. Another arrestee, Shelley Luther, a Dallas eyelash salon owner, was initially fined $7,000 and seven days in jail for violating the emergency orders. But a chorus of support for her grew. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick offered to pay Luther’s fine and serve the house arrest in place of her jail sentence. In the meantime, Governor Greg Abbott modified his executive orders to ensure confinement is not a punishment for violating a stay-at-home order and made it retroactive to April 2.
Texas: Fallout continues after a former Houston narcotics officer Gerald Goines lied to justify a deadly no-knock drug raid at the home of Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas, and who faces state murder charges and federal civil rights charges. Cases involving search warrants with Goines’ name are being questioned, a total of “at least 91” defendants. “We will continue to work to clear people convicted solely on the word of a police officer who we can no longer trust,” Harris County, Texas, District Attorney Kim Ogg announced via press release. “We are committed to making sure the criminal justice [system] is fair and just for everyone.” Josh Reiss, chief of the Post-Conviction Writs Division at Ogg’s office, said: “We’ve come to the conclusion that every conviction in which Goines was the major player, for the past 11 years, needs to be flipped. The number of cases may grow.” Reason.com reports: “Another former Houston narcotics officer, Steven Bryant, faces state and federal charges because he backed up Goines’ phony story about a ‘controlled buy’ that never happened.”