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News in Brief

Arizona: Claims for $300,000 were filed in September 2021 against the city of Chandler, Arizona, in advance of a lawsuit planned by two activists arrested during a protest against police brutality six months earlier. According to a report by the Phoenix New Times, the men, Darien Barrett and Phil Martinez, accuse city cops of violating their civil rights by targeting them for their political activism and using excessive force against them during their arrests—even allegedly serving them toilet water when they asked for something to drink at the city jail. The two were arrested on March 12, 2021, while protesting the police killing of Anthony Cano two months earlier. Police wrote in their probable cause statement for Barrett’s arrest that he was “holding an umbrella and wearing all black”—apparently to tie him to a fake gang Phoenix police had fabricated to get similar warrants, called ACAB for “All Cops Are Bastards,” whose members were said to dress the same way. After her testimony to a grand jury about the mythical gang led to false charges against other protestors, Maricopa County prosecutor April Sponsel was placed on leave by District Attorney Allister Adel. Sponsel is now suing her boss, whom she says was in on the lie and threw her “under the bus” when it came to light.

Colorado: Colorado’s Fifth Judicial District has a new chief judge, after 54-year-old Mark Thompson was removed on October 16, 2021—the same day he was charged with felony menacing using an assault weapon. According to a report by the ABA Journal, Thompson was replaced by newly appointed interim Chief Judge Paul Dunkelman, who placed Thompson on leave and signed a one-line order to keep records secret for now in his case. Thompson’s summons to appear in court said that on July 25, 2021, he placed an unnamed person in “fear of imminent serious bodily injury by use of a deadly weapon … namely: an AR-15 style rifle.” He was not arrested, so there was no probable statement to provide more details, which were also not forthcoming from prosecutors for fear of disrupting their ongoing investigation or causing undue harm to Thompson’s reputation.

District of Columbia: Officials with federal Customs and Border Protection (CBP) conducted 135 investigations into employees affiliated with controversial Facebook groups, but fewer than half were subjected to discipline, according to an October 2021 U.S. House of Representatives Oversight Committee report. As detailed by CNN, the agents were among nearly 9,500 members of a Facebook group called “I am 10-15”—an apparent reference to CBP code for “Aliens in Custody”—where one CBP agent posted “a sexually explicit doctored image and derogatory comments about a Member of Congress,” the agency reported, earning a 60-day suspension. Only 60 CBP agents were disciplined over their activity on the social media site, with 43 receiving unpaid suspensions and just two removed from their jobs. CBP’s Discipline Review Board had proposed removing 24 agents, including one who posted “offensive images of an alt-right and white supremacist symbol and sexualized images of a Member of Congress.”

District of Columbia: A woman formerly employed by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in the nation’s capital was sentenced to jail on October 6, 2021, for taking bribes to provide identities of traffic crash victims to personal-injury lawyers. According to a statement by the federal Department of Justice, that information was publicly available prior to 2015 to “runners” who would then deliver it to their attorney clients. After DC moved to restrict the practice that year, 46-year-old MPD Officer Kendra Coles began taking bribes from the “runners” to continue providing them the information, earning $40,000 over the two years before an October 2017 audit revealed she had accessed the information database 3,367 times just in the preceding six months. She was ordered to forfeit the $40,000 and spend 78 weekend days in jail. In an unrelated charge, Coles also admitted to insurance fraud in filing a claim for a vehicle she and family friend had “disappear” before she filed a claim for its loss. She was ordered to pay $6,000 to the insurer she defrauded in that case.

Florida: An FBI agent in Florida who investigated sex crimes against children was himself charged with sex crimes against children on August 26, 2021. According to a report by regional TV station WGN, Supervisory Special Agent David Harris, 51, allegedly exposed himself to a 14-year-old girl in a “lewd and lascivious manner” when he was on vacation in St. George Island in February 2021. He is currently in jail in Ascension Parish, Louisiana, one of five jurisdictions in three states where the crimes allegedly occurred. He was charged in Florida, where he is employed and also serves as a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, after investigators obtained “conversation excerpts” from his government-issued electronic devices in which he admitted his “sexual preference to underage females” as well as his “exploits” in St. George Island, charging documents stated.

Illinois: A Black Chicago cop suspended from the police union for taking a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is going toe-to-toe with the embattled union leader to demand the suspension be expunged. According to a report by Vice, the suspension of 26-year-old Chicago Police Department (CPD) Officer Carmella Means from Lodge 7 of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) ended on August 10, 2021, but she still wants Lodge President John Catanzara to reverse it. It was Catanzara’s threat to suspend any FOP member who showed support for BLM that sent Means to her knee outside the lodge headquarters in June 2020 to pose for a photo that she posted to social media. Catanzara followed through on his threat and summoned her to appear for a disciplinary hearing in January 2021. When her attorney demanded to know what rule she was being disciplined for breaking, Catanzara responded by banning attorneys from the hearing. It eventually took place without Means, who was suspended in absentia. Meanwhile, WGN-TV reported that Catanzara was stripped of his pay in February 2021 as CPD moved forward with firing him over a false police report he filed as well as offensive social media posts, including video of him making political statements in uniform, in violation of CPD rules. Catanzara has since aligned himself with officers resistant to vaccine mandates that CPD instituted to fight COVID-19, encouraging them to defy CPD’s order to reveal their vaccination status by October 15, 2021, until a judge that same day issued a restraining order to muzzle him.

Kansas: With a $100,000 settlement reached October 15, 2021—for a toddler shot in the foot by a cop firing into a fleeing vehicle—the Kansas City Police Department (KCPD) has paid out $9.55 million to settle brutality and excessive-use-of-force claims since 2014. According to a report by the Kansas City Star, the two largest settlements—totaling $6.3 million—stemmed from separate shootings of Black men, both of which involved former KCPD Officer Dakota Merrill. Another $725,000 was paid to a 15-year-old boy after Sgt. Matthew Neal knelt on the teen’s head during his arrest. Neal is one of five KCPD officers facing criminal charges for using excessive force during incidents which all involved Black men.

Kentucky: A Kentucky constable was sentenced to 140 months in federal prison on October 18, 2021, after being convicted of planting drug evidence to make false arrests. According to a report by the Lexington Herald Leader, the position of constable is an elected one with no remuneration except a share of property or cash seized from criminals. In 2018, the FBI began investigating Constable Michael “Wally” Wallace, 47, over concerns he schemed to falsely convict people of drug crimes and take their property. Agents found 5.9 grams of methamphetamine at his home and another half-gram in the trunk of a vehicle belonging to his co-conspirator, Gary Baldock, who was also convicted and died in jail. The two were outed in a sting operation when they fabricated symptoms of intoxication to justify strip-searching and citing an undercover agent. Wallace maintains his innocence and has vowed to appeal his conviction.

Louisiana: September 20, 2021, turned out to be a bad day for a diminutive Black woman outside New Orleans, according to a report by local radio station WWNO. After fending off an attack from three neighborhood boys, 34-year-old Shantel Arnold was stopped and manhandled by a White Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office (JPSO) deputy responding to a bystander’s 911 call on her behalf. Arnold was slammed to the ground repeatedly by Deputy Julio Alvarado, a 16-year veteran of JPSO who has been involved in nine federal civil rights lawsuits alleging excessive use of force. JPSO opened an investigation, but warned in a statement that an anonymously made video of the incident circulating on social media had been “selectively edited” to hide the fact that Arnold was intoxicated and resisted arrest after Alvarado heard from bystanders that she had been the aggressor in a brawl reported by a 911 caller.

Louisiana: Jared Desadier, a former cop in Monroe, Louisiana, indicted on federal civil rights charges for allegedly kicking a restrained man in the head during a 2020 arrest, was arraigned on November 2, 2021. The victim, Timothy Williams, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit over the incident on May 3, 2021, according to local TV station KNOE. The FBI has been investigating the case, which Williams says reflects systemic racism in the Monroe Police Department (MPD). He is Black, and Desadier is white. New MPD Chief Vic Zordan says it’s really about bad apples: Desadier and the interim chief on the job at the time of the arrest, Reggie Brown, whom Zordan fired, saying he buried the case to improve his chances of getting the job permanently. If convicted, Desadier faces a prison term up to 30 years.

Louisiana: Results delivered the first week of November 2021 of a new FBI-ordered autopsy showed that a Black man who led Louisiana State Police (LSP) officers on a high-speed chase did not die in the ensuing crash, as LSP claimed. Instead they showed that 49-year-old Ronald Green succumbed to injuries sustained after the May 2019 wreck, when he was beaten, restrained and dragged by a group of white LSP officers. That beating was not mentioned in the official report of Green’s death and did not come to light until two years later, when LSP finally released footage from the officers’ body-worn cameras showing them Tasering and punching Green even as he tried to surrender, yelling, “I’m your brother! I’m scared!” He was then put in ankle shackles and dragged, before being left lying face-down on the ground for nine minutes until his body went limp.

Massachusetts: Under a settlement reached on October 19, 2021, Boston agreed to pay $1.3 million to a Black man whom city cops arrested in 2019 when they presumed he was driving while intoxicated but who was actually suffering a stroke. According to a report aired by Boston radio station WBUR, the payout, one of the largest in city history, went to Al Copeland, who was 62 at the time he felt ill and pulled his car to the side of the road in hopes someone would help him. Instead, Boston Police Department (BPD) officers found him and arrested him, saying they smelled alcohol on him, though he actually hasn’t had a drink since 1995. They left him in a holding cell for five hours to “sleep it off” before taking him to Tufts Medical Center, where their diagnosis that he was drunk was apparently accepted without corroboration, and Copeland remained untreated in the emergency room another seven hours. The delay in treating his stroke cost him an extended period of rehabilitation that also forced him to give up his job. BPD investigators determined that two officers and a sergeant neglected their duty, but no one has yet been disciplined.

Minnesota: A Minneapolis cop who crashed into a car during a July 2021 chase and killed the innocent driver made his first court appearance on November 9, 2021. As reported by local TV station KSTP, Officer Bryan Cummings faces second-degree manslaughter charges in the death of 40-year-old Leneal Frazier. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Cummings had pursued a robbery suspect over 20 blocks, reaching 80 mph when his cruiser struck Frazier’s car and killed him. An accident reconstruction report attributed the fatal collision “to (Cummings) for failure to operate his vehicle with due regard for the safety of other motorists.” Coincidentally, Frazier’s niece, Darnella, shot the cellphone video of George Floyd’s killing that ignited nationwide protests against police brutality in 2020.

New York: A former New York City cop pleaded guilty on October 12, 2021, to his role in a conspiracy to import and distribute Mexican methamphetamine in the city and neighboring Westchester County, along with Chinese gamma-butyrolactone, a “date-rape” drug also known as GBL. According to a report by TV station WNBC, John Cicero had left the city police department by the time his confessed crime began in 2017. He and three other men then started importing and selling the drugs, with Cicero arranging deals during phone calls to a prisoner in custody of the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. The scheme came to a halt when he was arrested in February 2020 in a Wall Street hotel where he was registered under a false identity. At the time he was found with drugs, drug ledgers, a fake ID, a bank card and credit card making equipment, as well as reams of personal information about victims whose identity he assumed. The one-time cop now faces up to 40 years in prison.

Oklahoma: On November 5, 2021, an Oklahoma jury convicted two former officers with the Wilson Police Department (WPD) of second-degree murder for using a Taser on a suspect 53 times and killing him. According to a report by Law & Crime, the victim, 28-year-old Jared Lakey, died minutes after he was arrested on July 4, 2020, by the two now-fired WPD officers, Joshua Taylor, 27, and Brandon Dingman, 35. They were responding to a 911 call that a man was running naked and screaming down the street. A report by the state Bureau of Investigation concluded that Lakey was tasered “numerous times while merely lying naked in the ditch, presumably for not rolling onto his stomach and complying with the officers’ commands to ‘Put your hands behind your back.’“

Texas: A federal judge sent a former cop in southern Texas to prison for ten years on October 7, 2021, after he pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography of his 14-year-old victim that he made using cameras hidden in her bedroom. In pleading as he did—just one day after his April 2021 indictment—32-year-old Joel Alex Sandate avoided prosecution on a separate charge of sexual exploitation of a child, according to a report by Law & Crime. Sandate incriminated himself when he dropped “a Micro SD card on the floor of the Police locker room” at the Primera Police Department where he worked, his plea agreement admitted. A fellow officer found it and viewed its contents, which included video of the girl in “various states of undress.” That was enough for agents from the Department of Homeland Security to obtain a search warrant that turned up a pair of cameras hidden in the girl’s bedroom and another pair of matching cameras in Sandate’s truck. In addition to his prison term, he was ordered to pay $4,320 to the victim in restitution plus a $10,000 special assessment. Once released, he will have to serve 20 years on supervision and register as a sex offender.

Thailand: A Thai police colonel known as “Joe Ferrari”—for his luxury car collection—was one of seven officers charged on November 3, 2021, with killing a suspected drug dealer they were allegedly extorting for money. According to a report by the San Francisco Chronicle, Col. Thitisan Utthanaphon and the other officers were also charged with extortion, dereliction of duty and confining a person against his will. The incident allegedly occurred on August 5, 2021, at a station north of Bankgog where Thitisan is in charge. He was allowed to maintain his innocence in an unusual post-arraignment press conference, even though the country’s Anti-Money Laundering Office had seized assets from him worth $3.9 million.

Washington: Misdemeanor criminal charges were filed against Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer on October 19, 2021, over a 911 call he made to falsely report a death threat against him by a Black newspaper carrier in his Tacoma neighborhood. According to a report by Courthouse News, the incident occurred early on the morning of January 27, 2021, when the carrier, Sedrick Altheimer, noticed Troyer following him and asked why. The situation quickly escalated, with Troyer, who is white, calling Altheimer a “porch pirate.” He then made the 911 call, to which 14 local law enforcement officers responded, surrounding the newspaper carrier, who told them, “I’m a Black man in a white neighborhood and I am working!” A subsequent report by former U.S. Attorney Brian Moran faulted Troyer for being untruthful and showing bias in the incident. Altheimer filed a civil rights suit against Troyer and the county on September 27, 2021. If convicted on the criminal charges, Troyer faces a jail term up to 364 days and a fine up to $5,000. 

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