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News in Brief

California: A federal jury awarded a man who suffered severe head and face injuries in an encounter with a San Diego detective $1.5 million in November 2020. San Diego’s City Council, meanwhile, is expected to “approve a $2.5 million settlement, the money awarded by the jury and nearly $1 million in attorney’s fees and litigation costs,” The San Diego Union-Tribune reports February 8, 2021. The man, George McNally, alleged false arrest and excessive force when a detective, Daniel Riis, pepper sprayed and pinned him to the ground face-first at the Fashion Valley trolley station on July 8, 2016, as McNally was en route home after a night of drinking with pals. One of the people threw a heavy iPhone charging block, which landed near officers with a deafening sound like a gunshot. “After McNally was thrown to the ground, he was arrested for resisting arrest and public intoxication, but prosecutors declined to file charges,” the Union-Tribune reported. McNally sustained two broken teeth, a wired jaw, plus neve damage from the blow. The weeklong trial included video of the incident. An audit “recommended the city adopt a more centralized, analytical approach to preventing police misconduct, sidewalk falls, water main breaks and collisions involving city vehicles — the main causes of large payouts.”

Colorado: A 157-page report released in February 2021 by Aurora officials revealed police had “no legally justified reason to stop, frisk or use multiple chokeholds” on pedestrian Elijah McClain, who died in police custody Aug. 24, 2019, The Washington Post reports. The Black man was walking home wearing headphones, plus a face ski mask because of a chronic health condition, when a 911 caller reported seeing a “sketchy” individual. “Investigators determined that officers had no legal justification for stopping McClain on the basis of the 911 call, nor did they have a constitutional basis for searching him, forcing him to the ground and eventually restraining him with multiple carotid holds, a maneuver that restricts blood flow to the brain.” McClain told them, “Alright! I can’t breathe, please stop!” Responding paramedics also were cited in the report for giving McClain the powerful sedative ketamine without evaluating him. In addition, instead of using Internal Affairs to look into the death, the Major Crimes Unit was involved. “The MCU report ‘stretched the record to exonerate the officers rather than present a neutral version of the facts.’”

Georgia: Democrats in the Georgia Legislature appear laser-focused on criminal justice reform. According to The Moultrie Observer: “Their bills range from straight-forward changes such as more training for officers in de-escalation techniques and a ban on using choke holds during arrests, to more complicated overhauls including a citizen-led review board for officer-involved shootings and outlawing private prisons.” In addition, “Democrats are also pushing Kemp and Republican lawmakers to join them in backing legislation to ban no-knock warrants, a controversial police tactic that was involved in the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman from Louisville, Ky., who was killed in an apartment raid last year.” Republican lawmakers, have bills of their own. They are “aimed at tightening rules to end or shorten probation terms,” notes Lisa McGahan, policy director for the nonprofit Georgia Justice Project. “We have too many people serving under community supervision. You can’t access economic opportunity with that handicap.” A bill to help end probation early for first-time offenders cleared the state Senate in February 2021.

Idaho: An Idaho Falls police officer investigating a felony battery suspect shot the wrong man. KTVB reported on February 9, 2021, that police “received information that the suspect was possibly hiding in the backyard of a home in the neighborhood, according to [Chief Bryce] Johnson. They surrounded the home and approached the backyard with their weapons drawn. As they approached, Johnson said, officers heard yelling and entered the backyard where they encountered a man wearing a black shirt armed with a firearm. Officers gave instructions for the man to drop the gun.” Eventually, “officers and deputies determined that the man who had been shot was not the suspect but was actually the resident of the home where the shooting happened. The suspect was later arrested after he was found hiding in a shed of a nearby home.” The chief expressed sorrow: “There are no words to express how heavy our hearts are today,” he stated.

Illinois: Additional convictions connected to former Chicago Sergeant Ronald Watts were thrown out in February 2021 at the request of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. “For the last several years, prosecutors have been re-investigating cases connected to Watts and Officer Kallatt Mohammed, who were convicted in federal court after they were recorded during a sting operation taking $5,200 from an FBI informant,” Chicago Sun Times reports. Tinere Johnson was among those whose conviction was vacated, ABC 7 reports. Watts, who framed innocent people for drug crimes, was sentenced to 22 months. Johnson was pregnant in March 2008 when “Watts set her up on drug charges.” She told ABC 7: “I’m two, three months pregnant with my first child, so I was really scared and really mad and shocked that these people really did that to me,” but she pleaded guilty to avoid a prison term. Finally, the Cook County State’s Attorney Conviction Integrity Unit vacated the convictions, a total of 109 so far, the state’s attorney told ABC. Foxx said her office will not abide by “convictions that were ill gotten by corrupt law enforcement.” Watts and others on the department’s “tactical team have been accused of routinely extorting residents and guests at the Ida B. Wells housing project for more than a decade in the early 2000s,” WTTW.com reports. “If they didn’t pay up, the cops would then allegedly plant felony-level drug amounts on them and lie about it under oath.”

Iowa: Several officials in Armstrong, Iowa, have been charged with felony and misdemeanor counts, The New York Times reports February 14, 2021, including the city’s police chief, Craig Merrill; Connie Thackery, the former clerk; Tracie Lang, city clerk; and Greg Buum, mayor. They “face charges related to misappropriation of funds, fraudulent public records, concealing embezzlement and the deployment of a Taser against a civilian in exchange for cash.” The charges cap a four-year investigation by Emmet County Sheriff’s Office, with help from the state Criminal Investigation Division. Merrill was in custody in Martin County, Minn., where he was charged as a fugitive, reports the Times, citing jail records.

Maine: Jeffrey Bishop retired January 30, 2020, from the Calais Police Department after being accused of selling fentanyl and hydrocodone found at Narraguagus High School in Harrington, reports News Center Maine in February 2021. Bishop is charged with four counts of aggravated furnishing of scheduled drugs, plus one count of unlawful trafficking in Schedule W drugs. “According to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency (MDEA), the charges are aggravated due to alleged trafficking within 1,000 feet of a school and alleged furnishing of the drugs to a minor.” Documents report that the 17-year-old was told by her mom to “pick up medication from her ‘uncle’ driving a black Dodge truck. The girl gave the unmarked pill bottle to her coach. According to reports, the “mother and Bishop met up roughly seven times to exchange the hydrocodone pills.” After serving a search warrant of his home, agents reportedly found “110 hydrocodone pills not prescribed to Bishop. The pills were found inside his police duty bag according to the court documents.” During the investigation, “three small bags containing a total of about 800 milligrams of a powder containing fentanyl also were recovered.”

Maryland: A former Baltimore police detective and Gun Trace Task Force member named Ivo Louvado was sentenced to 14 months in prison in February 2021, the Baltimore Sun reports. Investigators say he lied to “federal agents about stealing and selling cocaine more than a decade ago — a revelation that could upend a massive gang case.” Brian Murphy, his lawyer, “maintained that the incident was a one-off that had haunted his 47-year-old client for years.” However, “investigative actions that rely on his credibility are now suspect,” baltimoresun.com reports.

Minnesota: A petition drive to replace the Minneapolis Police Department made headway in February 2021. A month later, in a 11-2 vote, the City Council adopted a measure to allow voters to decide the department’s future. “It now heads to the court-appointed Charter Commission for review,” startribune.com reports. The proposal calls for creating a Department of Public Safety that bridges the connection “between public safety and health by integrating various public safety functions of the city.”

Nebraska: Legislation to boost police transparency and to beef up training to 40 hours a year garnered support from big law enforcement groups but not smaller ones, due in part to the cost, the Associated Press reported in February 2021. “The measure would also ban police chokeholds, mandate psychological evaluations for new hires, bar departments from employing officers before they’re certified and require agencies to adopt use-of-force policies.” Sen. Terrell McKinney, of Omaha, supported the bill, endorsing a public database to “assure the public that officer misconduct is punished.”

New York: It’s official: “no charges will be filed against Rochester police officers in connection with the March 2020 death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who was in the midst of a mental health free fall during his encounter with the police,” npr.org says. The medical examiner’s office, USA Today reports, “ruled it a homicide, caused in part by asphyxiation, the controversial diagnosis of ‘excited delirium,’ and PCP use,” and then a grand jury did not bring an indictment. Said State Attorney General Letitia James: “The system was built to protect and shield officers from wrongdoing and accountability. The system too often allows officers to use deadly force unnecessarily and without consequence and that is a system that at its core is broken.” Meanwhile, there is a push to get some laws changed, including banning “spit hoods” like the one placed on Prude.

New York: An anti-loitering law nicknamed “walking while trans” because it led to police harassing and arresting law-abiding people identifying as trans is now history. According to NPR: “The new measure effectively takes off the books a 1976 law that sought to prohibit loitering for the purpose of prostitution. Politicians and LGBTQ advocates say the law resulted in decades of discrimination by law enforcement.” In 2018 alone, “91% of people arrested under the statute were Black and Latinx, and 80% identified as women.” In a recent move, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez stated “his office would vacate ‘walking while trans’ bench warrants and the underlying charges in the borough.”

North Carolina: Iredell District Court Judge Christine Underwood ordered in February 2021 the Town of Mooresville and its police department to return Jermaine Sanders’ money that was seized under civil asset forfeiture or go to jail, FOX 46 Charlotte reports. The judge’s decision follows actions taken November 16, 2020. “The Mooresville Police Department was called out to a hotel where they searched an unoccupied rental car and seized a small amount of marijuana as well as approximately $17,000 belonging to a Connecticut man, Jermaine Sanders, whose daughter resides in Iredell County,” the news site report. However, just after the police were put on notice challenging the seizure of money, Fox 46 reports that “the police sent a check for the money to the federal government under the authority of the controversial civil forfeiture law.” Said Sanders’ attorney Ashley Canon: “What they did was circumvent the system by giving it over to the federal government because they anticipated coming into court and being able to say, ‘Sorry, we don’t have that money anymore. You’re going to have to chase it in the federal system.’” And that is difficult. “The consequence of that is people are forever without their money, even if, ultimately, their case is dismissed or they’re found not guilty or otherwise their case goes away. The federal government can still keep that money,” she said.

North Dakota: The Grand Forks Herald reported in December 2020 that Belfield city leaders were planning a citizen survey before deciding whether to disband its police department — namely Police Chief Steve Byrne and his K-9 Thor. “It’s been difficult to hire and maintain officers, so in the meantime, our police chief has been working alone,” Belfield Mayor Marriann Mross told KFYR-TV. “If the Belfield City Council moves forward with this action, the Stark County Sheriff’s Office will absorb Byrne into its department,” the Herald reports.

Ohio: In a twist on Valentine’s Day, a sheriff’s office used social media to entice scorned lovers to turn in those with active warrants by offering their location, News 5 Cleveland reported in February 2021. “The Gallia County Sheriff’s Office, located in southern Ohio, posted the ‘contest’ … encouraging individuals who have “ex-Valentines” with active warrants to enter them into the ‘contest,’ which offers a reward of ‘free transportation, a historic bed and breakfast weekend stay, and some of our finest cuisine.’” News 5 said the office posted on Facebook: “If you have an EX-Valentine and KNOW they have an active warrant, give us a call and let us be their Cupid.”

Oklahoma: Tyler Wesley Davis, assistant chief of the Hydro Police Department, has been arrested on multiple child sexual exploitation charges, KFOR.com reports in January 2021. The 35-year-old Tyler “was arrested at the Hydro Police Department on three counts of first-degree rape, three counts of rape by instrumentation, three counts of distribution of obscene or indecent writings/pictures, two counts of forcible sodomy, and one count of violation of the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act.” KFOR reported that Davis was booked into jail. Hydro police gave cooperation and support to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation during its investigation. The age of the juvenile was not released.

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia police Officer Gregory Campbell allegedly plowed into a house February 6, 2021, injuring two occupants and killing a dog while he was off duty, according to abcnews.go.com. He was arrested and charged with driving under the influence, the network reported. “A 53-year-old woman and her 45-year-old husband were both struck by the vehicle while inside their home. The woman was pinned under the car and had to be rescued by firefighters,” authorities told ABC News. She had been listed in critical condition. The officer was driving a 2014 Dodge Dart when he allegedly lost control of the vehicle and went airborne. He suffered a laceration to his head upon crashing the car.

Texas: Plano police Chief Ed Drain dropped a misdemeanor charge of “pedestrian in the roadway” against an 18-year-old Black man walking home from his job at Walmart in icy and snow conditions February 16, 2021. Commenters on social media called the arrest “shameful” and “embarrassing,” cbslocal.com reports. The man, wearing a short-sleeve shirt and carrying a plastic bag of groceries, was stopped by cops for a “wellness check” but the man told officers he didn’t need help and declined to answer their questions. Body camera video showed officers detaining Rodney Reese in an alley and then handcuffing him before taking him to jail.

Texas: Georgetown cop Samuel Tejeda, and his wife, Ashley Tejeda, “face two counts of sexual performance by a child — a second-degree felony in Texas,” nypost.com reports in February 2021. The two are accused of having a sexual relationship with a minor and recording it. “Arrest affidavits obtained by KXAN in Austin allege that Tejada had sex with the teenager multiple times in her backyard and the couple’s home in Jarrell, Texas. The station reports that the 17-year-old is related to one of Tejeda’s coworkers at the Georgetown Police Department.”

West Virginia: Christopher Osborne, who was employed by the Marmet Police Department and Charleston Fire Department, was arrested in January 2021 and charged with two felony counts of second-degree sexual assault, according to WSAZ TV News Feb. 3, 2021. The victim, who is a juvenile, told state troopers that she was forced to have sex against her will at the Danville Fire Department, the news site reports. “Troopers reviewed surveillance footage which showed Osborne and the victim leaving the TV room of the department together and then entering the bunk room together,” WSAZ reported. Osborne was initially suspended and then fired following a criminal investigation. 

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