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News in Brief

California: Two San Diego Police Department (SDPD) officers repeatedly punched a homeless Black man they were arresting on May 12, 2021, after they allegedly caught him attempting to urinate in public. According to a report by the Washington Post, the incident was captured on a cellphone video recording made by a bystander concerned about the apparent use of excessive force against 34-year-old Jesse Evans. Most public restrooms in the area remained closed at the time to combat the spread of COVID-19. Evans never got to urinate. He was arrested and booked on charges of resisting arrest and battery of a police officer. An SDPD Internal Affairs investigation has been opened against the two officers, who remain unidentified. NBC News reported on May 22, 2022, that San Diego County District Attorney Cheryl Sueing-Jones was declining to file felony charges against Evans.

Florida: A Florida judge resigned on May 14, 2021, just over three weeks after the state Supreme Court rejected a settlement he had reached with judicial investigators in which he admitted to “misuse of court staff”—to perform personal errands—and excessive absences from work. According to a report by CNN, 11th Circuit Judge Martin Zilber admitted to the state Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) that he had missed nearly one out of every seven days he was supposed to be on the bench in his Miami-Dade courtroom between January 2019 and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Zilber also confessed to “intemperate” treatment of court staff by asking them to do his personal shopping, pick up event tickets for him and get his car registration. He had a pregnant employee wheel his preferred chair up several floors to his courtroom dais. Zilber stipulated to the findings by JCQ, which recommended on April 9, 2021, that he write letters of apology to his staff and bailiff, undergo retraining, pay a $30,000 fine and face a public reprimand plus a 60-day suspension without pay. But his former judicial assistant, Dixidela Dent, filed a motion on April 16, 2021, asking the Florida Bar to hold a grievance hearing on the matters. The Supreme Court then rejected the stipulation agreement on April 22, 2021, and ordered JCQ to conduct a full hearing. After Zilber resigned, JCQ moved to dismiss the charges against him.

Minnesota: Rejecting an agreement from prosecutors calling for a lighter sentence, a federal judge in Minnesota sent former St. Paul cop Brett Palkowitsch to prison for six years on May 21, 2021, for his brutal attack on a crime suspect, according to a report by Minnesota Public Radio. In June 2016, Palkowitsch ordered 57-year-old Frank Baker out of his parked vehicle with his hands up because he thought Baker fit the description of a suspected robber. Baker was not the suspect, but he complied. Yet Palkowitsch released a K-9 dog on him anyway. While the dog mauled him on the ground, the officer kicked Baker, leaving him with broken ribs and collapsed lungs. Baker sued the city and won a $2 million settlement. St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell fired Palkowitsch after the attack, but he was reinstated on a challenge from the police union. Axtell also testified against his officer at Palkowitsch’s 2019 trial for use of excessive force, firing him again when he was found guilty in November of that year. U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright ordered him to report to federal prison on June 21, 2021.

Missouri: According to a May 27, 2021, report by the St. Louis Post-Dispatcher, a Republican in the Missouri state legislature coerced a “sexual favor” from a teenage girl while on duty at his former job as a Bowling Green Police officer. The 2015 incident involving Rep. Chad Perkins (R-Bowling Green) was detailed in a report obtained from Frankford Police Department Chief Josh Baker under an open records request. An attached memo dated April 19, 2021, asked state House Speaker Rep. Rob Vescovo (R-St. Louis) to look into the “ongoing criminal activity.” Perkins, 42, was elected to his first term in late 2020. The year before, while he was working as a sheriff’s deputy in Pike County, a co-worker, Det. Joe Minor, received copies of messages between Perkins and the unnamed young woman, by then 19, referencing the earlier incident and indicated an ongoing affair. Perkins said their relationship was “consensual.” Baker accused Perkins’ former boss, Pike County Sheriff Stephen Korte, of obstructing an investigation into the incident in order to “do everything we can to get Chad elected.” Perkins countered that Baker was motivated by revenge for Perkins’ failure to endorse Baker’s wife in another local 2020 election. One of the bills Perkins sponsored in his freshman term would make it a felony for police officers to have sex with a detainee or prisoner.

New Jersey: On May 16, 2021, prosecutors in Monmouth County, New Jersey, announced charges against a Long Branch Police officer accused of running a meth lab out of his home. According to a report by the New York Post, fellow officers of Christopher Walls, 50, made the discovery when they were called to his home for a domestic disturbance and someone in the household tipped them off. In addition to supplies and equipment necessary to cook the drug, they also discovered meth-making instructional books, explosives and poison. The 19-year-veteran officer also a half-dozen guns, a high-capacity magazine and ammunition in an unsecured safe. Because a minor child lives in the house, Walls is facing an endangerment charge in addition to seven others for firearms violations and drug-making. If convicted, he could spend up to 60 years in prison.

New Jersey: The former Chief of Police in Bordentown Township, New Jersey, was sentenced to 28 months in prison on May 26, 2021, for lying to the FBI during its investigation into a Black teen’s injury during his 2016 arrest. According to a report by the Philadelphia Inquirer, a jury also agreed that 64-year-old Frank Nucera, Jr., committed a hate crime when he slammed the 16-year-old suspect’s head into a door jamb. Other officers noted the boy was not resisting arrest. Another jury in October 2019 had already determined that Nucera lied about the incident to the FBI, though it deadlocked on more serious hate-crime charges. Nucera still faces retrial on those charges. The most recent jury determined that racism motivated the chief when he deprived the teen of his civil rights, after listening to 81 recordings secretly made by other police officers. In those, Nucera can be heard making anti-Black statements, while also expressing solidarity with white supremacist views he attributed to former President Donald J. Trump (R).

New York: At a pre-trial hearing on May 18, 2021, for former New York Police Department Officer Michael Valva, 40, his housekeeper testified that his dog was sleeping in a heated room in his Long Island home on the night in January 2020 that his 8-year-old son, Thomas, froze to death in the unheated basement. According to a report by the U.S. Sun, Tyrene Rodriguez also testified that she saw Valva’s 42-year-old wife, Angela Pollina, take the crying child to the basement just before Pollina reported that he had stopped breathing. A 911 call recording was also played at the hearing, in which Valva claimed his son had injured himself in a fall. Paramedics were unable to save him. Police arrested the couple that night. A video taken at home two days before his death showed Thomas and his ten-year-old brother, Anthony, shivering in the freezing-cold basement. Assistant Suffolk County District Attorney Keriann Kelly said teachers at the boys’ school had reported in February 2019 that both were so malnourished they were dumpster-diving for food. She called Thomas’ death “not only foreseeable but preventable.” The child’s mother, Justyna Zubo-Valva, filed a $200 million wrongful death suit in June 2020 against the county and its schools, alleging that they ignored evidence of her son’s abuse before he died.

Ohio: On June 14, 2021, the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct recommended that the state Supreme Court serve a one-year suspension without pay on a municipal court judge for abusing his contempt authority. According to a report by TiffinOhio.net, Judge Mark Repp got slapped for his high-handedness with Alexzandria Orta, who was in his courtroom on March 11, 2020, to observe a hearing for Trevor Danner, the father of her children. After making several off-the-cuff remarks directed at or about Orta which insinuated she was a drug abuser, the judge ordered her drug-tested, failing to specify anything she had done to raise his suspicion. She refused, and he found her in contempt, sending her to the Seneca County Jail. He later tried to rescind the contempt order. But by then Orta had filed a complaint in the 3rd District U.S. Court of Appeals, which took over the case, ruling on September 21, 2020, that Repp had engaged in an “invalid exercise of his contempt power.”

Pennsylvania: The Chief of Police in West Hazelton, Pennsylvania, resigned on June 2, 2021, after pleading guilty to federal charges that he threatened a citizen with false arrest in retaliation for unflattering Facebook posts. According to a report by Reason, Brian Buglio, 45, made the threats in March 2021 against Paul DeLorenzo of East Stroudsburg after DeLorenzo made posts accusing the chief of foot-dragging in a case and of committing a violent crime. Buglio responded with a threatening voicemail to DeLorenzo, who then met with the chief and asked for an explanation, reporting to the FBI what Buglio replied: “Well, you like to post fake things and fake stories about me, so I could make up a fake arrest and put you in jail.” The FBI referred the matter to the local U.S. Attorney, who charged Buglio with violating DeLorenzo’s First Amendment rights under color of law. Less than a week later, Buglio resigned. He had worked for the police department since 1996.

Rhode Island: On May 6, 2021, a Rhode Island police officer was convicted of assaulting a man he had taken into custody, according to a report by the Associated Press. The incident happened at the Cranston Police Department on March 5, 2020, when Officer Andrew Leonard, who is now 40, was booking Gian Mattiello after his arrest following a domestic disturbance. When Mattiello began goading the officer, Leonard punched and kneed him, according to video of the scuffle and two other officers who witnessed it. Leonard was sentenced to a year in jail, which was suspended, and placed on probation.

Tennessee: On May 24, 2021, the former assistant district attorney of Tennessee’s 1st Judicial District pleaded guilty to soliciting a sexual favor as a bribe to expunge a prostitute’s criminal charges. According to a report by Chattanooga TV station WRCB, 50-year-old William McManus, Jr., admitted that, while still on the job in 2018, he dismissed shoplifting and meth-possession charges against a Washington County woman from whom he had bought sex before, accepting addition commercial sex services in exchange. When sentenced in November 2021, he will face up to ten years in prison and a fine up to $250,000.

Texas: During a dramatic standoff with police and a SWAT team in Houston on May 21, 2021, a Harris County Constable’s deputy admitted to child sex abuse, also fingering two co-workers in the crimes before he then committed suicide. According to a report by the New York Post, one of the co-workers whom Deputy Robert Johnson implicated was his girlfriend, dispatcher Christina McKay. She was also the one who first alerted their superiors to his criminal behavior during her performance review. One week later, she called police to report that she was with Johnson at a lake and that he was suicidal. When officers and a SWAT team arrived, they cornered him on a bridge, where he made his confession before fatally shooting himself in the head. Johnson was an eight-year veteran with the Constable’s office. In addition to McKay, police arrested another Constable’s deputy, Chonda Williams, the other co-worker Johnson said was involved in child sex abuse with him. Both women were fired and turned over to police in Alvin, where the alleged abuse happened.

Texas: According to a May 15, 2021, report by the Washington Post, Richard Lee Jackson, the former District Attorney for Dallas County, Texas, is now the fourth prosecutor in the country disbarred for misconduct that led to a wrongful conviction. In 2018 the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the state bar determined that he withheld exculpatory evidence in the trials of two homeless Black men, Dennis Allen and Stanley Mozee. Both were convicted in 2000 of killing Rev. Jesse Borns the year before. After a long struggle by the Innocence Project and Jackson’s successor, Craig Watson, the wrongfully convicted and imprisoned men were exonerated and freed in 2014. Jackson had wrangled ever since to avoid culpability, despite the fact that the original trial jury never heard from witnesses to Borns’ slaying who couldn’t pick Allen or Mozee out of a lineup and who gave descriptions of the actual suspects that neither man matched. Jackson’s office also made secret deals with defendants in other cases in exchange for false testimony used to convict the two men. He surrendered his law license after the state Supreme Court revoked his bar card on April 13, 2021—but only to avoid the expense of further defending his innocence, his attorney insisted.

United Kingdom: On June 8, 2021, London Metropolitan Police Constable Wayne Couzens, 49, pleaded guilty to the kidnapping and rape three months earlier of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, according to a report by Vice.com. As previously reported in CLN, the diplomatic security officer—he sometimes worked on the detail protecting the 10 Downing Street residence of the Prime Minister—was arrested and charged with kidnapping, rape and murder when Everard’s corpse was found in a wooded area about a week after she disappeared on March 3, 2021 (See CLN, Jun. 2021, p.50). Couzens did not enter a plea on the charge of Everard’s murder, which touched off a wave of protests against the violence ordinary women face everyday.

Wyoming: The Wyoming Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR) ruled on May 12, 2021, that a prosecutor should be disbarred for nine violations of professional conduct rules during the trial of a man whose conviction was reversed, according to a report by the Sheridan Press. Because defendant Josh Black already had two convictions in California, he was given a life sentence as an “habitual criminal” when convicted of assault in Teton County in 2015. Two years later, when the state Supreme Court reversed his conviction, it found evidence of misconduct by former Teton County Attorney Becket Hinkley. Black was freed, but Hinkley picked up his case again. This time Black pleaded no contest to the assault charge to get out of jail by March 2020. Meanwhile the prosecutor passed up opportunities to settle his misconduct charges because they all involved paying money to Black, who had already gotten “a Christmas gift from my screw-ups,” Hinkley said. The state Supreme Court will now consider BPR’s recommendation that he be disbarred. Black said he will seek exoneration from his conviction. 

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