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News in Brief

Alabama: Blake Duke, a former Mobile police officer of the month, was placed on desk duty after video taken by a bystander and posted online showed him choking a handcuffed Howard Green Jr. and slamming him into a squad car during an arrest, thefreethoughtproject.com and WWMT.com reported in February 2020. “Why are you choking him?” an onlooker is heard on the video posted by fox10tv.com. Police were trying to arrest Green for three active warrants for harassment or harassing communications. “He also had resisting arrest and disorderly conduct charges added from [the] incident. Green has been arrested more than 20 times since 1993.” Other charges included having no insurance, running a red light, failure to obey, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Police Chief Lawrence Battiste said the suspect might have spit in the officer’s face. “He could be the worst criminal in the world, but our job is to make sure that we treat all citizens in this community with dignity and respect in the performance of our duties,” Battiste said. 

Alaska: The state’s Village Public Safety Officer Program (VPSO) is under fire for failing to recruit, train and ultimately retain qualified police officers for rural areas of Alaska, more than one-third of which have no local cops, ProPublica.org reports. The 40-year-old program uses grant money to pay nonprofits to do the work, but the state has been accused of penny-pinching restrictions. “In 2019, the number of VPSOs fell to an all-time low of 38 — compared with more than 100 in 2012,” the news site reports. CLN has reported that former felons convicted of domestic violence and assault have found work as officers in rural Stebbins. A VPSO Working Group hopes to nix the cap on costs VPSO leaders can bill the state and to “place more certified officers in rural Alaska, increase morale among current VPSOs and retain village-based first responders who know their communities best.”

Arkansas: A Camden Fairview High School resource officer who used a chokehold on a  teen was fired February 13, 2020, arkansasonline.com reports. Jake Perry was dismissed as an investigation continues into the incident, during which student Dekyrion Ellis was lifted off the ground while being choked. “I feared for my life,” he told Time.com. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I blacked out. I really didn’t see anything until he took me back to the office.” The incident was caught on video. Perry had been on the police force between two and three years. The chief, Boyd Woody, told the media that Perry violated departmental procedures.

California: A teen was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Contra Costa cops “brutally choked [him] until he fell unconscious and then [was] beaten even more after — by a cop’s flashlight,” thefreethoughtproject.com reports. According to a lawsuit, filed in federal court in February 2020, “Hernandez was a passenger in the backseat of a stolen car which he did not know was stolen. Sheriff’s Deputy Brandon Battles pulled the car over after noticing it was driving with no lights. When he ran the plates, he found the car was stolen and called for backup. As the video shows, all the teens were ordered out of the car one by one at gunpoint. Hernandez complied with the orders to walk backward with his hands on his head. However, as the video shows, instead handcuffing the compliant teen, Battles put him in a ‘carotid hold’ — a type of neck restraint — until Hernandez lost consciousness.” According to the news site, the claim accuses the county of having “sanctioned and ratified” both the deputies’ use of excessive force and the deputies’ alleged tactics in filing charges of resisting arrest. The county, the lawsuit says, “failed to train and supervise its Deputies properly.” None of the officers in the video faced discipline in this matter.

California: A 16-year-old boy who went out to dinner with his mother and sister shortly after a doctor’s appointment for his epileptic seizures died after police responded. According to thefreethoughtproject.com: When the boy did not return from using the restroom at the restaurant, the mom, Lourdes Ponce, became alarmed. “I stood outside the [restroom] door, I heard him hit the floor, I tried to open the door but it was locked, that’s when I asked for help,” she says. When employees unlocked it, the teen was on the floor having a seizure. “We called paramedics for help, we did not call police. He was not hurting anybody, he was having a seizure,” she says. The police, however, misunderstood what was happening after the boy came out of his seizure. “Suddenly a Caucasian police officer came in pushing my daughter and me and slammed my son David against the wall and started hitting him. The officer didn’t bother to ask what was going on and thought he (David) was on drugs. When we yelled at him and told him that he had epilepsy and autism, the officer instead of helping him, hit him and put my son in handcuffs,” Ponce wrote on Facebook.

Colorado: City of Aurora Police Officer Nathan Meier was discovered passed out in the driver’s seat of his still-running squad car with his foot on the brake March 29, 2019. However, there was no proper investigation for DUI. “What happened with Officer Meier was a product of him being an Aurora police officer,” 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler told KCNC. “The decisions that were made were made to protect him.” According to reason.com: “Some of the officers on the scene also said they smelled alcohol, while others said they did not. Emergency medical personnel suggested that Meier had a stroke or was exposed to an opioid.” One officer told another that he was “a little intoxicated,” but the department “failed to obtain hospital records of Meier’s blood sample or investigate the matter as a possible DUI.” However, internal affairs noted that “Meier admitted to going home to drink vodka, even though he was still on the clock. He also admitted to being impaired.” His blood-alcohol content was “more than five times the legal limit,” washingtonpost.com reports. Meier was demoted and suspended. 

Florida: Jason Gilbert, a former Riviera Beach police officer, faces a first-degree murder charge, WPBF.com reported in February 2020. Investigators allege that Gilbert fatally shot a man in an altercation during the early morning hours of February 16, 2020 outside Blue Boar Tavern. According to nbcmiami.com, “police, deputies responded to a bar located near the 1300 block of North Military Trail where they found a man who had been shot and rushed him to an area hospital where he later died.” WPTV.com says a public defender is representing Gilbert. 

Florida: A former Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy from Boynton Beach is charged with conducting an organized scheme to defraud $50,000 or more, two counts of money laundering and three counts of grand theft, palmbeachpost.com reports in February 2020. Investigators say former cop and Navy veteran Robert “Bobby” Simeone used his not-for-profit charity Children of Wounded Warriors for personal and business gain, reports palmbeachpost.com. Donors, on the other hand, were reportedly told 80 percent to 90 percent of the monies would go to “children of injured or slain military service members, police officers and firefighters,” the news site reports. However, “at least two-thirds of it” went to Simeone, to businesses he ran, such as drug-treatment enterprises tied to previous “patient-brokering charges against him,” the website reports. A review of the charity’s bank records “found total deposits of $73,556. They found that, in 2015, Simeone and a family member, listed respectively as the president and vice president of the charity, had transferred $49,000 of the proceeds into accounts the couple controlled.”

Florida: A student who tried to leave River Ridge High School campus in his pickup truck for an orthodontist appointment was threatened at gunpoint by a school resource officer employed by the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office as the boy sat in his vehicle, washingtonpost.com reports. The 17-year-old told the officer he had an excused absence and would return later in the day with a note. After arguing for several minutes, he tried to pull his SUV around the officer’s golf cart to leave. “You’re going to get shot, you come another f------ foot closer to me,” the deputy said. “You run into me, you’ll get f------ shot.” The deputy and the assistant told the student he was a truant, but the boy’s mother said she informed the school two weeks’ earlier of the scheduled appointment in Trinity. The bodycam video, which has gone viral, drew criticism from the public. The student was suspended, then expelled and sent to an alternative education program.

Minnesota: A school resource officer is accused of hugging and sexually touching female students at Park High School in the St. Paul suburb of Cottage Grove between September 2018 and early October 2019, according to winonadailynews.com. Officer Adam Pelton, 40, of River Falls, Wisconsin, faces three counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and four counts of fourth-degree sexual conduct, all felonies. The complaint alleges the officer initiated hugging and then touched the teens’ buttocks over their clothing; three of the pupils were between 13 and 15 and four were 16 to 17, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom told the Winona Daily News.

Mississippi: Former Walls police chief Herb Brewer was indicted for embezzling city funds and surrendered in February 2020 to Desoto County Sheriff’s Office special agents, fox13memphis.com reports. “Brewer is accused of selling vehicles seized by the police department for less than they were worth and pocketing the money,” Fox 13 reports. “A demand letter worth $6,943.58 was issued to Brewer at the time of his arrest.” If convicted, the northern Mississippi man faces $5,000 in fines and five years in prison.

Missouri: A former Poplar Bluff cop assigned to a middle school faces child porn charges. Ex-lawman Brandon Hopper, 39, and Amber Longhibler, 28, were arrested in February 2020 after a cyber tip led to an investigation by Missouri State Highway Patrol Division of Drug and Crime Control’s Digital Forensics Investigative and Criminal Investigative Units, KFVS12.com reports. Hopper was a school resource officer. “He was charged with sexual trafficking of a child, promoting child pornography and two counts of possession of child pornography,” the news station reports. Investigators said he admitted to sending and receiving child porn and to photographing a nude 11-year-old girl. She faces sex trafficking charges. Both are being held in the Butler County Jail.

New York: In the aftermath of a suicide, NYPD police are being urged to use crisis hot lines if they’re “going through something,” nypost.com reports. The New York Daily News reports that an NYPD officer hanged himself at his Queens home after he was given modified duties and his gun and shield were removed by the department. He is said to have been a 29-year veteran of the force. His “death was the first in the NYPD in 2020, following a string of 10 suicides last year,” foxnews.com reports.

New Hampshire: “What kind of a town lets their chief of police walk out in a snowstorm in his underwear?” That’s what Croydon resident Rick Sampson asked after its police chief, Richard Lee, stripped down to his briefs and boots and started to walk home after the town select board dissolved his job in February 2020. He trekked nearly a mile in temps around 26 degrees when his wife picked him up. He told the New Hampshire Union Leader: “I was told that I had to turn over the keys to the cruiser and my uniform immediately. I had no other means of transportation, as the cruiser is a take-home vehicle, and I have no spare clothes in the office, so I did as ordered.” Lee had been working part-time as the department’s only member since 2000. The decision to dissolve was economic. Selectman Russell Edwards told the Union Leader: “We didn’t feel we were getting the value for our money.” State police, which cover in-town incidents 81 percent of the time, will now cover them 100 percent of the time. Lee will receive one month’s severance pay.

Illinois: A case of mistaken identity had Jaylan Butler on the ground with a police officer’s gun barrel to his temple, washingtonpost.com reports. The incident took place in February 2019 near East Moline. Butler, then 19, was with his Eastern Illinois University swim team and their parked bus near a highway rest stop on the trek home from a regional swim meet in South Dakota. He took a selfie in front of a sign that read: “Buckle Up. It’s the Law.” Police shouted and flashing lights erupted, and Butler was ordered to the ground. The teen complied. The bus driver, Todd Slingerland, unsuccessfully tried to intervene. “If you keep moving, I’m going to blow your f---ing head off,” the cop holding the gun reportedly told Butler, the news site reports. But Butler, now 20, is suing. He contends that police from three agencies violated his “civil rights when they mistakenly detained him while looking for someone else.” The Post reports that “At least one officer jammed a knee into Butler’s neck, and at least one pressed onto his neck while he lay face down in the snow,” quoting Butler’s attorney Rachel Murphy, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which filed the lawsuit. “The officers detained Butler for a prolonged period of time, searched him, placed him in the back of a squad car and threatened a charge of resisting arrest, then let him go without explanation after reviewing his ID, the suit says.” The police chief, Jeff Ramsey, “said officers in the area were searching for a suspect who shot at a vehicle and fled on foot.” The driver says he was told they “were looking for a black male and suspected the bus was being held hostage.” 

Texas: Former El Paso police officer William Ollie Alexander was found guilty of sexual assault in January 2019, and jurors recommended a 10-year suspended sentence. Now Alexander will serve 10 years’ probation for raping a woman he met after responding to a domestic dispute between the woman and her ex-boyfriend at an apartment complex in March 2018, the El Paso Times reports. Alexander and another officer dropped the woman off at a friend’s home, but investigators said Alexander began texting her, then left work early, picked her up and took her to a dark location where he sexually assaulted her. Prosecutors had asked the jury to sentence Alexander to at least 15 years; the victim testified the rape crushed her sense of trust and left her afraid to have children. The ex-officer’s father begged for no jail time. “I understand he made a moral mistake,” William Ollie Alexander III said. “My son is a law enforcement officer. I think you, I and all the men and women of the jury know what happens to law enforcement officers in prison.” In addition to probation, Alexander will have to register as a sex offender and pay a $10,000 fine, KFOX-TV reports.

Utah: Shane Zilles was fired as police chief in Mantua last April, but since then new charges have emerged, KUTV reports. Although he pleaded guilty in a DUI arrest from January 2019 in Cache County, it was recently reported he faced similar charges from Feb. 6, 2020. “The former police chief was booked into Cache County Jail on charges of driving under the influence, five counts of possession of a controlled substance, and driving on suspended/revoked license,” KUTV reports. Zilles was also arrested in August by Logan police.

Utah: A state bill now headed to the full House would prevent children age 11 and younger from being prosecuted and incarcerated, deseret.com reports in February 2020. Utah is one of a few states with no age cutoff in this area, while 32 other states have a minimum age for children who are prosecuted and sent to juvenile court. Many children who land in court have a “history of trauma, mental health issues or disabilities,” Brett Peterson, director of Utah’s Division of Juvenile Justice Services, was quoted as saying. Peterson said the state is behind the curve. “The justice system is not appropriate for elementary-aged children,” Peterson said. “We are talking about sixth graders. We are talking about fifth graders. We are talking about fourth graders.” Last year, there was even a 5-year-old. Of the 90 juvenile cases processed in Utah in 2019, about 60 kids were booked into a detention center. With early treatment, the kids have a chance to turn their lives around, he said. 

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