News in Brief
Arizona: After shooting more people than any other U.S. city or county police department in 2018, the Phoenix Police Department (PhxPD) will now be the subject of a “pattern and practice” (P&P) investigation announced on August 5, 2021, by the federal Department of Justice (DOJ), according to a report by local TV station KNXV. Largely abandoned under the administration of former President Donald J. Trump (R), P&P investigations were authorized by Congress in 1994. The Attorney General selected by President Joseph R. Biden (D), Merrick Garland, decided that the record number of police shootings by PhxPD merited their resumption, after a $150,000 taxpayer-funded study found no conclusive reason why the total of 44 shootings in Phoenix in 2018 was more than New York City, Philadelphia and Dallas combined. So, DOJ investigators will look at all use-of-force incidents to determine whether PhxPD has engaged in retaliatory or discriminatory behavior against citizens, especially those who are homeless or disabled. The announcement was welcomed by Mayor Kate Gallego (D) and state House Democratic Leader Reginald Bolding, who called it “a critical step toward accountability for persistent misconduct that has gone unchecked for far too long.”
Bulgaria: Video shown to the Bulgarian Parliament on August 13, 2021, reignited a firestorm of controversy over police brutality that had been smoldering since cops brutalized a large group of peaceful anti-government protesters in the capital of Sofia in the summer of 2020. According to a report by Balkan Insight, four police officers were charged on August 15, 2021, with beating protesters rallying against the government of former Prime Minister Boyko Borrisov, whose GERB party was ousted from leadership on July 22, 2021. As many as 126 protesters were arrested in a single day in September 2020, though police have denied using excessive force. Meanwhile, 1,500 kilometers away in Belarus, Deutsche Welle reported that many of the nearly 2,000 people detained in a Minsk prison in August 2020 are still suffering from the brutality that cops inflicted on them after protests erupted over alleged irregularities in the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko. A former Soviet soldier who has been in office since 1994, he dismissed the claims as “fake” and “untrue.”
Eswatini: On July 16, 2021, in the African nation of Eswatini, King Mswatti III—the continent’s last absolute monarch—unleashed a violent police response to anti-monarchy protests. According to a report by Reuters, the king railed against the protestors as “satanic,” calling them a backward influence in the tiny country of just over one million. Known in English as Swaziland, the nation is landlocked by South Africa and Mozambique. Police had put down a similar protest two weeks earlier, but stepped up their more recent response with teargas, water canons and shots fired into the air. The protests were organized by pro-democracy leaders to coincide with Sibaya, an annual ritual in which the king hears selected grievances from his impoverished subjects at one of several palaces across the country housing him and his 15 wives. He pledged about $35 million USD toward repairing damage from the protests, estimated at nearly six times that amount.
Florida: A year after his father—who was also a Sheriff’s deputy in Palm Beach County, Florida—went to prison in 2020 for murder, another now-fired county deputy is headed to a cell for attempting to rape a woman while responding to a call at her home. According to a report by the Palm Beach Post, the former Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office (PBSO) deputy, 42-year-old Jason Nebergall, will serve two three-year terms concurrently after pleading guilty on July 15, 2021, to one count of battery and another of attempted sexual battery in the 2016 incident. He will also have to register as a sexual predator. A 2018 conviction for the same crime was tossed when the victim mentioned in her testimony DNA evidence that had been excluded from the trial. Nebergall’s father, former PBSO Deputy Carlton Nebergall, Jr., is serving a 13-year sentence for the fatal shooting of his estranged son-in-law, Jacob Lodge, in 2018.
Idaho: An Idaho Falls Police Department (IFPD) officer was charged on August 2, 2021, with felony involuntary manslaughter after fatally shooting an innocent man in his own backyard during a manhunt. According to a report by the Idaho Statesman, it happened during a search on February 8, 2021, for 22-year-old Tanner Shoesmith, who had been pulled over for a broken taillight and fled on foot. Officer Elias Aurelio Cerdas, 26, chased him to a neighborhood where Joseph “Joe” Johnson lived. Joined by other officers, Cerdas learned that Shoesmith’s criminal history included a violent confrontation with law enforcement. The group followed his cellphone signal to Johnson’s backyard, where the homeowner and father of four was wearing a black T-shirt like Shoesmith’s. Police said he had a gun, too. Cerdas shot him, and Johnson died at the scene. Shoesmith was then found in a shed a block away. IFPD conducted an investigation that cleared Cerdas, but the state Attorney General reviewed it, a decision IFPD called “irregular and seemingly arbitrary.” After his indictment, Cerdas was not arrested but merely subpoenaed to appear at his arraignment on August 23, 2021. He is on “limited duties” pending the outcome of his trial. Shoesmith has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest.
Illinois: In August 5, 2021, a Chicago Police Department (CPD) officer who shot an unarmed man in the back for jumping between cars on a moving Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) train was hit with battery and official misconduct charges. According to an Associated Press report, Officer Melvina Bogard, 32, was stripped of her police powers shortly after the February 2020 incident by Interim CPD Superintendent Charlie Beck, as a bystander’s video went viral of Bogard’s shooting of short-order cook Ariel Roman, then 33, as he attempted to flee up an escalator. Calling the video “extremely disturbing,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) supported Beck’s decision. Bogard’s partner on the CTA detail, Officer Bernard Butler, was also relieved of his police powers after the incident. Both officers, along with the city, were named in a March 2020 lawsuit filed by Roman alleging they used excessive force after observing him jumping train cars in violation of city law. Before shooting him, the officers tackled, pepper-sprayed and tasered him as he tried to explain that his activity was in response to anxiety he was suffering. Roman’s lawsuit also notes that before CPD hired Bogard, it knew she had assaulted another fast-food worker in 2015.
India: In a shocking speech on August 8, 2021, India’s Chief Justice, Nuthalapati Ramana, said “the threat to human rights and bodily integrity are the highest” in the one place people expect to feel safe: police stations. According to a report by the Guardian, Ramana was speaking to the National Legal Services Authority when he decried “custodial torture and other police atrocities” that weigh especially heavy on the poorest citizens in the sprawling nation of 1.3 billion. Less than a week earlier, the government had recorded its 348th in-custody death over the preceding three years, plus another 1,189 torture victims.According to Ramana, the poorest Indians are the least educated, so they are least likely to take advantage of free legal representation, leaving them dependent on their accusers—the police—to navigate the criminal justice system. He urged the public defenders in his audience to do a better job of promoting their services. But lawyer Vrinda Grover, who is also a human rights activist, said easing the government’s ban on police prosecutions and going after bad cops is what’s really needed to “create a deterrent and make police stations a refuge for victims rather than sites of custodial violence.”
Michigan: A former Detroit cop who took a bribe to spare a drug dealer was sentenced to 18 months in prison on August 6, 2021. According to a report by MLive.com, Michael Mosely was a 19-year veteran of the city police department when he pleaded guilty in February 2020. His sentencing was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. After Mosely and other officers in the department’s Major Violators Unit executed a search warrant on April 3, 2019, they found a stash of illegal drugs and obtained a signed confession from the drug dealer. But over the next six weeks, Mosely took $15,000 in payments from the dealer and eventually returned his signed confession. The policeman was arrested that same year.
New Jersey: The prosecutor’s office in Passaic County, New Jersey, announced on August 13, 2021, that an officer with the Clifton Police Department (CPD) had been indicted for sexually abusing a child. According to a report by Trenton radio station WKXW, the officer, 40-year-old Frank Castro-Ramirez, faces multiple charges, each punishable with prison time. If convicted, he will also be under parole supervision for life as well as public registration requirements of Megan’s Law. The victim, a relative of the suspect, was allegedly assaulted at her home several times between May 2019 and April 2021, when she went to police. She was 14 when Castro-Ramirez first kissed her, she claimed, adding that he then forced her into sexual intercourse and even correctly describing a tattoo he has near his groin. He denied the allegations to investigators, saying that “everyone knew” of his tattoo. CPD Lt. Robert Bracken said Castro-Ramirez is currently suspended without pay. He had worked for the department as a patrolman since 2013.
North Carolina: If a former North Carolina judge lives to be 97, he will finally be able to stop registering as a sex offender. That’s part of the sentence he received on August 16, 2021, along with two years in prison, for ejaculating on a 14-year-old boy. According to a report by the Asheville Citizen Times, the former judge, 67-year-old attorney Daniel Ray Green, was also disbarred and forbidden to have any contact with the victim. The two knew one another before the March 30, 2019, assault in an Asheville motel room, where Green also gave the boy alcohol and showed him pornography. After the boy escaped and texted his mother, who notified police, investigators found semen with Green’s DNA at the crime scene. Up to then, Green had been an “acolyte master” at his Episcopal church and had hosted foreign exchange students for thirty years. While completing his prison term and a three-year supervised release, he will undergo sex offender treatment. He must also reimburse the victim $3,715 for his medical expenses.
Pennsylvania: A 64-year-old former Marine is making his fifth annual march from Philadelphia to Washington, DC, to demand police reform legislation from Congress. But according to a report by the Philadelphia Inquirer, when Jamal Johnson began the first leg of the 150-mile trek for this year’s “Stop Killing Us” march on August 9, 2021, he was not alone: Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and Councilmember Jamie Gauthier marched by his side. Earlier this year, Johnson parked in a chair outside City Hall in the winter cold to urge Mayor Jim Kenney (D) to take action to curb a rising number of police shootings. Once in DC, Johnson plans to lobby members of the Congressional Black Caucus for money to slow the flow of illegal guns into the city. He began marching in 2017 after David Jones, an unarmed 30-year-old Black man, was shot in the back and killed as he ran from a traffic stop by former Philadelphia Police Department Officer Ryan Pownall, who is white. Pownall’s trial for murder in that case will hinge on how credible it was for him to consider Jones a potential felon, since Pennsylvania law does not permit the use of deadly force to stop a fleeing suspect otherwise.
Texas: When Texas Rangers arrested 23-year-old Forest Hill Police Department (FHPD) Officer Logan Barr on July 28, 2021, he became the eighth Dallas-Fort Worth-area officer charged with killing someone since 2017. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that when Barr fired his rifle at Michael Lee Ross, Jr., on June 8, 2021, the 32-year-old suspect was holding a knife but was at least 20 feet away from Barr and his FHPD sergeant, whose order to fire a non-lethal weapon Barr disobeyed. His indictment follows the more famous case of Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who was sentenced to a ten-year prison term for the fatal shooting in September 2018 of neighbor Botham Jean in his own home, which she mistook for her own. The other indicted cops and their victims include Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean, who killed Atatiana Jefferson in her home while responding to a welfare call in October 2019; Arlington police officer Ravinder Singh, who fatally shot Margarita Brooks when he fired at her dog during a welfare check in August 2019; Farmers Branch officer Michael Dunn, who fatally shot Juan “Johnny” Moreno in his moving truck in June 2019; and Arlington police officer Brau Tran, who shot and killed O’Shea Terry after another officer had pulled him over in September 2018. The last of the eight, Balch Springs officer Roy Oliver and Farmers Branch officer Ken Johnson, were found guilty in separate fatal shootings, respectively, of teens Jordan Edwards in 2017 and Jose Cruz in 2016.
Virginia: After a violent arrest caught on cellphone video on August 11, 2021, the police chief in Tazewell, Virginia, put two officers involved on administrative leave and asked Virginia State Police (VASP) to investigate. According to a report by TV station WVVA in nearby Bluefield, West Virginia, VASP is also investigating how and why a FedEx driver got involved in the arrest of Anthony Fuller, repeatedly punching and kicking him while he was detained by two officers with the Tazewell Police Department. The two cops said they responded to a call from an auto shop and found Fuller under the influence of an unknown substance, at which point he resisted arrest, necessitating their use of force. But witnesses—including the person who shot a cellphone video of the incident—say Fuller was cooperative right up to the moment the officers and the unnamed FedEx driver began using excessive force. Fuller’s family reported that he suffered broken ribs in the beat-down plus a cracked eye socket, for which he was not receiving adequate care, they added, at the Tazewell facility of the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority.
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