News in Brief
Alaska: Police here can fly over property but they “cannot use cameras and drones for aerial searches of property without a warrant,” the Alaska Court of Appeals ruled. “The ruling stems from a 2012 case in which Alaska State Troopers received a tip about marijuana being grown on a property near Fairbanks,” scnow.com reports. Then they used a helicopter and a telephoto lens to capture images of the tree-obscured property, photos that they used to obtain a search warrant and arrest owner John William McKelvey. His attorney “filed a motion to suppress evidence, claiming that taking photos from the air to obtain a warrant invaded his client’s right to privacy. The trial court rejected the argument, and McKelvey was found guilty on two charges. The case was heard by the Alaska Court of Appeals in 2018. McKelvey attorney Robert John said the appeal ruling confirmed police in the air ‘can only investigate with their naked eye. They cannot employ technology. They cannot employ drones.’”
Arkansas: Arkansas County Sheriff Todd Wright resigned in late August 2020 after an audio recording surfaced of him repeatedly using the “N” word in a grocery store in DeWitt. Wright had reacted to a casual conversation between Desiree Middlebrooks and a store worker, Nick Clark, who is Black. “That encounter,” arkansasonline.com reports, “led to a racist rant between Wright and Middlebrooks that she secretly recorded as he made verbal threats against her, expressed rage and used racial slurs.” The sheriff, who served the office for 26 years, surrendered his badge and gun August 28 at a special Quorum Court meeting at the Arkansas County Courthouse. “I’m a Christian man. I read my Bible everyday,” said Wright. “I am by no means a racist. That video does not show the true picture of me.” Spectators at the meeting, and protesters outside, as well as a former police officer called for his resignation.
Arkansas: Even with fewer people on the road during the pandemic, police in Arkansas are still killing people at the same rate as before, arktimes.com reports. A new ACLU report titled “The Other Epidemic: Fatal Police Shootings in the Time of COVID-19,” finds “fatal shootings by police are so routine that, even during a national pandemic, with far fewer people traveling outside of their homes, police have continued to fatally shoot people at the same rate so far in 2020 as they did in the same period from 2015 to 2019,” arktimes.com reports. “Further, the analysis reveals that Black, Native American/Indigenous, and Latinx people are still more likely than white people to be killed by police.” The shootings occur over a range of offenses, including traffic and minor offenses. The report calls for setting “independent oversight structures with teeth” to ensure officer accountability.
California: On August 31, 2020, two Los Angeles sheriff’s office deputies fatally shot a bicyclist, Dijon Kizzee, who was fleeing after cops tried to stop him for an alleged vehicle code violation, though it was unknown which one. “According to the department, the man then punched a deputy, though police have not provided any evidence to substantiate this claim,” theguardian.com reports. “The man dropped a bundle of clothes and the deputies spotted a black handgun in the bundle, at which point both opened fire,” sheriff’s Lieutenant Brandon Dean told the newspaper. The 29-year-old was then handcuffed, but his body was “left in the streets for hours,” theguardian.com reports. “Following the shooting, more than 100 people marched to a sheriff’s station on Imperial Highway. Some said they didn’t think the shooting was justified while others chanted ‘Say his name’ and ‘No justice, no peace,’ the LA Times reported.” The killing “was one of more than 10 fatal police shootings in the LA region since the George Floyd protests erupted at the end of May,” theguardian.com reports.
Florida: Clara Paulino, 56, of Miami Shores died after she became trapped in her husband’s Miami Police SUV for about four hours as outdoor temperatures soared into the 90s, miamiherald.com reports. The tragic accident in August 2020 occurred after Paulino went to the vehicle around 1 p.m. while her husband Aristides slept inside their home after completing his midnight work shift. She found herself trapped in the back seat facing locked doors that had a self-locking mechanism and barred windows and a cage that separates the front and back seats without her cellphone. The locked doors can only be opened by lifting a handle from the outside. “It is unknown whether it (the vehicle) was locked or she unlocked it to look for something. Nobody really knows why she was back there or how she got back there ... it’s not a weird thing (for a spouse to go in car), it’s our take-home cars in our driveway, every day,” Matt Reyes, the vice president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, told CNN. The Miami-Dade Police Department is investigating.
Florida: Leased office tower space costing $35,000 a month is the new home for Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and his top brass, the Palm Beach Post reports in August 2020, “paying a rate double that of less prestigious office space,” while the sheriff’s existing headquarters is renovated. In addition, Bradshaw paid $4.4 million for a Piper twin engine aircraft. The lease deal was brokered for the sheriff’s office by Illustrated Properties, which lists the sheriff’s wife, Dorothy Bradshaw, as a sales associate on its website, though it was reported she did not receive a commission. Money for leasing the 10,000-square-foot floor comes from drug-asset forfeiture accounts, not property taxes, Bradshaw told the Post, and is expected to initially accommodate 15 executives.
Illinois: Ninety-five percent of adults in the U.S. want criminal justice reform. That’s according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, miamiherald.com reports in June 2020. “The survey, conducted June 11-15, showed 29% believe in a complete overhaul, 40% say there should be major changes, 25% say there should be minor changes, and 5% say no changes are needed,” according to miamiherald.com. However, the survey found that more Blacks support a complete overhaul. “Of Black Americans surveyed, 57% said there needed to be a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system, while 26% of white Americans said the same. Meanwhile, 83% of Blacks described the problem of police violence as “extremely/very serious,” compared to 39% of whites. Forty-three percent of Blacks said they support reducing law enforcement funding, compared to 22% of whites, according to the poll.” Of police misconduct, 65 percent of those polled thought that cops who cause death or injury are “treated too leniently by the justice system.”
Kentucky: Former Trigg County Sheriff Jason Barnes pleaded not guilty at his arraignment September 9, 2020, in Trigg Circuit Court. Barnes faces a grand jury indictment alleging he gave alcohol to an underage person in February 2020 and hampered the testimony of a potential witness, WLKY.com reports, citing the state attorney general. “Months later, Barnes ‘knowingly practiced deceit with the intent to affect the testimony of a potential witness,” that office reports. Barnes “faces a Class A misdemeanor charge of unlawful transaction with a minor and a Class D felony charge of witness tampering.”
Maryland: U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow ruled in September 2020 that the city of Baltimore illegally took part of Ashley Overbey Underwood’s settlement in a police brutality case. Underwood should receive the remaining half of her $63,000 settlement — or $31,500 plus interest, “not the $1 the city wanted to pay” after she broke a gag order, Baltimore Brew reports. The case dates to 2012 when Underwood called 911 to report an attempted home burglary. In response, police beat her and her mother. Charges were dropped but it took years to expunge them from her record, affecting her ability to gain employment. City Council member Brandon Scott apologized to her at a public hearing. It took a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland to challenge “the use of so-called ‘gag’ orders to settle police misconduct suits,” according to Baltimore Brew. “After years of legal wrangling, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2019 that using non-disclosure agreements to silence plaintiffs was an unenforceable violation of their constitutional rights, describing the payments as ‘hush money.’ The city chose not to challenge that decision, but a final resolution of the Underwood case had dragged on amid negotiations over legal fees and the [Mayor Bernard] Young administration’s continued refusal to pay Underwood the remainder of her award.” Said Deborah Jeon, legal director for ACLU of Maryland: “This order finally brings about well-deserved resolution for Ms. Underwood who, throughout this long ordeal, never wavered in her commitment to fundamental free speech rights, notwithstanding the City’s bullying and thievery.”
Mississippi: Police officers Desmond Barney, Lincoln Lampley and Anthony Fox have all been indicted on second-degree murder charges by a grand jury in the January 2019 death of George Robinson, 61, in Jackson. Barney and Lampley pleaded not guilty in August 2020. Robinson was spotted sitting in his car by the Jackson Police Department cops Jan. 13, 2019, and arrested on misdemeanor charges after police suspected a drug transaction. The three cops allegedly “removed Robinson from his vehicle [for noncompliance], body-slammed him on the pavement, and repeatedly struck him in the head and chest,” the clarionledger.com reports. After that, Robinson went home to a motel but was hospitalized hours later. He died a couple of days afterward. The coroner ruled the death a homicide by blunt force trauma. On the day of his arrest, the officers had been on a manhunt in the fatal shooting of a minister during a failed robbery. Lampley still works at the Jackson Police Department; Barney and Fox now work for the Clinton Police Department. Robinson’s family has filed suit.
Ohio: Alicia Kitts of central Ohio was arrested and tased when a school resource officer said she declined to leave the stands at her son’s middle school football game after refusing to wear a face covering, nytimes.com reports. “Get off of me!” she screamed as Logan Officer Chris Smith tried to handcuff her, a video in September 2020 shows. Kitts told the officers she was asthmatic and therefore couldn’t wear a mask. Police released a statement: “It is important to note, the female was not arrested for failing to wear a mask; she was asked to leave the premises for continually violating school policy.” Kitts was charged with resisting arrest and criminal trespassing. However, Kitts’ lawyer, “Maurice A. Thompson, said in a statement that officials from the Logan-Hocking School District ignored Ms. Kitts when she told them she had asthma and disputed the justification that the officer was enforcing a school policy on masks,” nytimes.com reports. “Mr. Thompson said the school had no written policy of its own and that the officer was attempting to enforce a statewide policy for mask-wearing. However, he noted, the state policy exempts individuals with respiratory problems’ Mr. Thompson said, and the school district ‘misapplied the law, and misapplied it haphazardly and violently.’”
Pennsylvania: A Redding police officer has been indicted on manslaughter charges in a fatal 2018 shooting of an unarmed man, WCVB.com reports. The incident began when an officer and other cops arrived at a mixed-use lot that included a gas station, repair business and residential apartments after receiving a report of an alleged domestic assault and battery that featured Alan Greenough, 43. But police couldn’t get near Greenough. He had locked himself in his home but later escaped through a window. Officer Erik Drauschke saw someone fitting the man’s description in a parked car. “Mr. Greenough allegedly exited the car with both of his hands inside his sweatshirt pocket. Mr. Greenough allegedly came quickly toward the defendant, refusing to take his hands out of his pockets and yelling ‘...Shoot me, shoot me…’ The defendant allegedly began to back up, then fired twice, striking Mr. Greenough in the chest,” Ryan said in a release. The young man died of his injuries.
Texas: Shaun Lucas has “became one of the rare police officers charged with fatally shooting someone while on duty,” washingtonpost.com reports. On October 5, 2020, Texas Rangers charged the 22-year-old Wolfe City officer with murder in the death of unarmed 31-year-old Jonathan Price. The officer, who is White, had responded to a call October 3 about a possible disturbance at a convenience store in Wolfe City, a town northeast of Dallas. Price, according to news reports, had been trying to diffuse a heated dispute inside the store. Lucas attempted to detain the Black man, who “resisted in a non-threatening posture and began walking away,” the state Department of Public Safety reports. Lucas used a Taser, then shot Price whose hands were raised. The Rangers called Lucas’ actions “not objectionably reasonable and, therefore, not justifiable force.” The officer was fired “for his egregious violation of the City’s and police department’s policies,” the Post reports. #JusticeForJonathan went viral on social media and supporters held a vigil for Price, a city employee, personal trainer and former university football player. A lawyer for the officer claims Price physically resisted and attempted to grab Lucas’ Taser.
Utah: Salt Lake City police Officer Nickolas Pearce faces a second-degree felony charge of aggravated assault after he ordered police dog Tuco to sic Jeffrey Ryans during a domestic violence call April 24, 2020, sltrib.com reports. “Get on the ground!” one officer yelled, as the police canine barked. “Get on the ground or you’re going to get bit!” Bodycam feed shows Ryans “was on his knees with his hands in the air,” sltrib.com reports. The dog bit and tore at Ryans’ leg, even as another officer handcuffed him. “Prosecutors began reviewing the case in late August after The Salt Lake Tribune published body camera footage that showed the attack,” sltrib.com reports. The charging document notes the officer praised the dog for its actions. In September 2020, the city’s Civilian Review Board concluded that Pearce violated policy, but Pearce argued he thought Ryans was going to fight. Meanwhile, the city’s “use of police dogs to apprehend suspects was also placed on hold as the city reviewed its policies and practices.”
Washington: A Seattle Police Department officer who last year earned more than the mayor, the police chief or any other city employee, is in the news. Officer Ron Willis made $414,543.06 in 2019, seattletimes.com reports. “He was paid for 4,149 hours of work, not including vacation or sick leave,” according to the news site. “That total means he was paid for working an average of 80 hours a week, about twice as many hours as a typical full-time employee. Willis was paid for working between 90 and 123 hours a week for seven weeks straight last summer, according to a Seattle Times analysis of department data. On six occasions, Willis was compensated for more than 24 hours in a single day, according to the data.” Regarding pay, a 2016 audit report reveals there can be a potential “lag between when an officer worked and when the overtime is entered.”