News in Brief
Arizona: Tucson has a new ordinance topunish those who fail to stay outside designated crime scene perimeters, the Tucson Star reports. The law aims to halt “cop haters” with cameras, but the potential fallout is a stifling of First Amendment rights. While people should not provoke police, critics worry the new law could stop cellphone filmers or “First Amendment auditors” from filming at crime scenes and holding police accountable by posting the footage online. According to the Tucson Star, the ordinance states “A. Police officers or Community Service Officers conducting enforcement activity, investigations, and other police-related activities may restrict 2 individuals from physically entering crime scenes or areas immediately surrounding where such enforcement activity, investigations, and other police-related activities are taking place. Police Officers or Community Service Officers may establish the boundaries of a restricted area by using physical barriers, placing visual markers like caution tape, or expressly communicating that an area is temporarily restricted for police activity” and “B. If a Police Officer or Community Service Officer has established a restricted area, it shall be unlawful for any person to enter the restricted area without a Police Officer’s or Community Service Officer’s express permission to enter; or to refuse to comply with a Police Officer’s or Community Service Officer’s request or direction to leave the restricted area.” So-called crime scene “provocateurs” are “part of a loose network of people who call themselves ‘First Amendment auditors’ and claim they’re protecting the public’s right to monitor government activities. About a dozen such people are operating in Arizona, a former participant told the Star.” Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus said he backs the public’s right to film cop encounters, “so long as it’s done from a safe distance at crime scenes that often are chaotic by nature.” The new Class 2 misdemeanor is punishable by up to a $750 fine.
California: Rancho Cordova Police Officer Brian Fowell is accused of pinning and punching a 14-year-old boy over a Swisher Sweet tobacco product before handcuffing him and citing him for underage tobacco use in April 2020. The boy bought the tobacco from a stranger but handed it to the cop when confronted. A video of the incident shot by the boy’s friends reportedly shows the officer grabbing the teen by the throat, thefreethoughtproject.com reports. “He’s on top of me and it looks like he’s about to hit me. Like, I’m reacting like any other normal human being would,” the teen told Fox40. “It could’ve been better on both of our parts in this situation.” The officer attempted to handcuff the boy. “So when he did that, I pulled my right hand back and that’s when he started getting aggressive and trying to fight,” said the teen. Fowell has since been reassigned outside the police department, fox40.com reports.
Colorado: Mental Health Colorado has expanded its focus to include criminal justice, thanks to David and Laura Merage’s The Equitas Project, mentalhealthcolorado.org reports. “Behaviors associated with poor mental health and addiction are mistaken for, and treated as, willful criminality,” said David Merage. “Rather than supporting people’s health and providing access to quality care and education, we default to law enforcement and incarceration, where health declines further and poor behavior is exacerbated.” The work of Equitas includes “coordinating with prosecutor offices nationally to prevent incarceration of people who have unmet mental health needs.” In addition, the Model Law Writing Work Group, “which is a select group of national experts redefining civil commitment law to improve the ability to stabilize and provide care for people experiencing mental health crises” will work under the auspice of Mental Health Colorado.
Connecticut: The city of Westport has put the brakes on an Orwellian-like program of using “pandemic drones” to monitor citizens 24/7 to see if they are heeding social distancing, NBC reports. Police pulled back after opponents compared the drone program to “living in a police state in China.” The drones could “monitor people’s temperatures from 190 feet away and detect sneezing, coughing and heart and breathing rates amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” NBC reports. Supporters, however, defended Draganfly technology, saying it “does not employ facial recognition or collect individualized data, single out individuals and is not used for surveillance or contact tracing.” Meanwhile, New York has used drones to check whether residents were heeding social distancing.
Florida: Davie Police Chief Dale Engle is on leave and under investigation by the town manager after “suggesting that a Broward County sheriff’s deputy died from the coronavirus because he was gay, according to a complaint,”nytimes.com reports. He was put on leave on April 11 “pending further review of allegations brought forward by the Fraternal Order of Police,” town Administrator Richard J. Lemack told the media. Engle allegedly “belittled” his officers at an April 7 briefing on the coronavirus. He ordered them to a parking lot in formation. He allegedly yelled “about their ‘baseless’ concerns,” the complaint said before mentioning Shannon Bennett, a Broward sheriff’s deputy who had died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, four days before. Engle “suggested that Officer Bennett had contracted the coronavirus and died from it because ‘he was a homosexual who attended homosexual events,’” the complaint said. Bennett, nytimes.com reports, “left work early on March 23 because he was not feeling well. He tested positive for the coronavirus on March 27 and died on April 3, according to the Sheriff’s Office.”
Georgia: A Cartersville police lieutenant who served as a school cop resigned amid an investigation into inappropriate behavior with girls at Cartersville Middle School, ajc.com reports April 28, 2020. Lt. Ryan Prescott is accused of sending dozens of texts and Snapchat messages to preteen girls. The assistant superintendent contacted police Chief Frank McCann, who ordered the investigation. The Atlanta Journal Constitution says “School officials were aware of messages between Prescott and three middle school students.” Prescott taught several classes, including “Sexting and Social Media.” Prescott told investigators that an eighth-grader showed him how to Snapchat, and his goal was to “build a ‘trusting’ relationship with the student (who set up his account) since he had concerns about her being bullied,” ajc.com reports. Investigators reportedly found “20 pages worth of Snapchat and text messages.” In some instances, he claimed to be “drunk” texting but denied this in an interview. No criminal charges were filed.
Illinois: Ariel Roman, an unarmed 33-year-old man, was tackled and shot by police in February 2020 after he illegally walked from one subway car to another on Chicago’s public transit, cbsnews.com reports. Bystander video “shows officers tackling Roman, pepper spraying and Tasering him as he tries to wriggle from their grasp,” according to cbsnews.com. Roman can be heard saying, “I did nothing to you.” Footage shows the man shot in the stomach walk up the escalator and then collapse when he is then shot in the back. Roman’s attorney said his client was having an anxiety attack. Officers Melvina Bogard and Bernard Butler have since been relieved of their duties as the Civilian Office of Police Accountability investigates. “Two days after Roman was shot, the Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office dropped resisting arrest and criminal narcotics charges against Roman at the request of then-interim Police Superintendent Charlie Beck,” cbsnews.com reports.
India: The long arm of the law in the northern city of Chandigarh has an unusual weapon that looks like giant tongs, npr.org reports April 30, 2020. Now in the prototype stage, it features a pole with a movable, two-pronged claw for catching a suspect around the waist. Police, clad in face masks, tweeted a video of it and a message: “VIP Security wing of Chandigarh Police has devised this unique way of tackling non-cooperating corona suspects and curfew breakers. Great equipment, great drill !!!” Head constable Gurdeep Singh told NPR: “We call it a ‘social distancing clamp’ or a ‘lockdown-breaker catcher.’” He added: “This is especially used in instances where we suspect that someone has the coronavirus and they are not cooperating with us.” In the city of Nagpur, officers forced curfew breakers to do exercise squats in the street and in Rishikesh area police made foreign backpackers “write ‘I did not follow the rules of lockdown. I am very sorry’ 500 times,” npr.org reports.
Iowa: A state audit of former Des Moines County Chief Deputy Jeff White has uncovered unauthorized purchases, desmoinesregister.com reports. Investigators say White used county money to buy about $7,400 in computers, drones and bullets for a personal gun. He has “returned about $3,100 worth of items he bought, Iowa Auditor Rob Sand said. Items valued at over $4,200 were not returned or could not be located in the sheriff’s office. Some of the items that remain unaccounted for include an Apple computer and ammunition.” White had been chief deputy since 2001 but retired in 2018.
Kansas: Former Kansas City Officer Kelly Sapp, 53, was charged in March 2020 with making a false report, a misdemeanor. Police questioned his story about being shot in the chest by an unknown gunman Sept. 14 while he patrolled a shopping center moonlighting as a security guard, the Associated Press reports. And “police swarmed the area looking for a shooter after Sapp radioed he needed help.” However, his story did not match security video, the AP reports. He told police that bullets came from a wooded area. His court date had been set May 28.
Louisiana: Former sheriff’s deputy Jonathan Colgin “pleaded guilty to hiding information about a dealer from whom a friend was buying steroids,” WWLTV.com reports. Colgin made the plea via video conference on April 16, 2020, according to the Shreveport Times. He faces “one count of withholding information about a felony while he was a Bossier Parish deputy,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Shreveport. Colgin is accused of “concealing a federal crime in connection with a steroid distribution scheme,” the Times reports. Investigators said that in August 2016 Colgin “was assigned to investigate an individual shipping anabolic steroids through the U.S. Mail. Colgin identified Brant Landry as the individual shipping the steroids and learned of the details of Landry’s steroid trafficking, including the location where Landry produced the anabolic steroids. During his assignment to the investigation, Colgin also learned that a friend was obtaining steroids from Landry.” Colgin did not identify Landry in his reports and “admitted that he concealed his friend’s role and conduct from law enforcement.” Although Colgin is free on bond, he could receive three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Michigan: St. Joseph County Prosecutor John McDonough was arrested and charged with OWI after crashing his SUV into a fence May 11, 2020 near Three Rivers, mlive.com reports. Deputies reported damage to the vehicle and to a fence on Lovers Lane. In addition, McDonough was charged with having an open container of alcohol in his vehicle.
New Hampshire: A Peterborough police program that maps homes that contain surveillance devices has drawn concern by the ACLU. “Jeanne Hruska, the political director for the ACLU of New Hampshire, said the program is a big step toward creating a surveillance state in which people are monitored by authorities without warrants, subpoenas, or any form of notice,” unionleader.com reports. “This is deeply alarming to me,” Hruska told the newspaper. Cops said the list would give police more resources to respond to crimes.
New York: Judges Robert Cicale of Suffolk County and Marc Seedorf of Westchester County have resigned after being told removal proceedings would commence against them, the ABA Journal reports April 6, 2020. Both were suspended without pay last year. Cicale “pleaded guilty in September 2019 to second-degree attempted burglary for trying to steal the underwear of an intern who worked for him when he was a town attorney,” ABA Journal reports. He was discovered “on the street carrying several pairs of the woman’s soiled underwear” and later disbarred. Seedorf “pleaded guilty to tax evasion in December 2019 after he was accused of failing to file tax returns from 2005 to 2015.” He resigned March 12, 2020, and was scheduled for sentencing in July. Both have agreed to never seek a judicial post.
New York: NYPD sent 1,000 officers out to enforce social distancing mandates the weekend of May 1, 2020. Two plainclothes officers in the East Village tussled with a couple as they attempted to handcuff them outside a deli over social distancing. Officers “observed a bag of alleged marijuana in plain view,” an NYPD spokeswoman said. According to nydailynews.com, after pinning the suspect, “one officer gets up, draws his Taser and approaches a bystander while yelling, ‘Move the f--k back right now... Don’t flex.’” The man was punched “multiple times in the face and body” before being pinned “to the ground by his neck.” A woman in the background could he heard yelling “Stop.” The incident is under investigation and one officer “placed on modified duty,” said NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea. “Shea said the NYPD issued 51 summonses for social distancing violations on [May 2], in addition to these three arrests,” Gothamist.com reports.
New York: The city’s tip line to report breaches of social distancing hit a snag in April 2020. “Snitches” lashed out with “dick pics” and crank complaints, nypost.com reports. “The inundation of off-color texts was so large the city had to temporarily shut down the service,” nypost.com reports. “The city has begun vetting everything before dispersing the information to precincts,” an NYPD source told nypost.com.
Texas: El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Easter was arrested by Colorado Springs Police in April 2020 and charged with second-degree assault in connection with a domestic violence investigation, KKTV.com reports. Easter, 50, who is part of the sheriff’s office Court and Transport Section, is now on administrative leave as internal and criminal investigations take place. He was booked into the El Paso County Jail.
Utah: Three Utah County prosecutors — Craig Johnson, Chase Hansen and Pona Sitake — resigned in early February 2020 during an investigation that alleged that defense attorney Dennis Pawelek paid for their Utah Jazz tickets in February 2019 in the lower bowl, which was valued at hundreds of dollars, The Salt Lake Tribune reported March 17, 2020. The fact that the trio quit came amid an HR misconduct investigation into allegations they received “inappropriate gifts.” In addition, a human resources probe involved “Sitake, who was investigated last fall for a sexual harassment complaint alleging he took photos of women in court and shared them in a group message where men debated whether they were attractive.” Utah County Attorney David Leavitt told the newspaper that “in a criminal justice system that heavily relies on plea deals instead of jury trials, it is an inherent conflict of interest for prosecutors to receive anything of value from their courtroom opponents.” However, the “prosecutors denied that Pawelek buying them Jazz tickets had any influence on how they did their work, and said they did not often interact with Pawelek in court.”
Washington, D.C.: A DEA special agent with a penchant for rowdy yacht parties and prostitutes in bikinis allegedly laundered millions of dollars “for the very Colombian drug cartel he was fighting against,” washingtonpost.com reports February 24, 2020. “Former DEA agent Jose Irizarry was arrested on charges of conspiring to launder money, as well as honest services wire fraud, bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, conspiracy to commit identity theft and aggravated identity theft. His wife, Nathalia Gomez-Irizarry, was also arrested” and “charged with conspiracy to launder monetary instruments.” The details are in a 35-page indictment, which was “filed [in February] in the U.S. District Court in Tampa, prosecutors accuse Irizarry of working with a Colombian public official and the head of a drug trafficking and money-laundering organization who would eventually become the godfather to Irizarry’s children.” Investigators say the couple ran “a shell company” from their home in Miramar, Florida.