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News in Brief

Canada: Techdirt reported that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (“RCMP”), a division of that country’s federal law enforcement akin to the FBI, used malware to spy on people’s personal communications. The report came after the RCMP admitted to doing so in the summer of 2022. The admission fits into a pattern of behavior by the organization, with the RCMP only owning up to such invasive surveillance after carrying out spying regimes for extended periods of time. In this case the specific tech in question was used between 2018 and 2020 and was only revealed after an oversight inquiry was launched. The secrecy around these technologies and their use in Canada have even resulted in cases against criminals, including members of organized crime, being dropped. These cases were let go of in order to keep defendants from looking too closely at the evidence levied against them, procured by the secret surveillance technology.

Connecticut: A police officer in New Haven was in hot water after a June 18, 2022, incident left a prisoner paralyzed from the neck down. Pinac News reported that police officer Oscar Diaz, placed a man named Richard “Randy” Cox, 36, into the back of a police van after arresting him. The back of the vehicle had no seat belt, featuring only some bars where prisoners were meant to hold on as they were transported. However, video shows that as Diaz was driving fast with Cox in tow, a car edged into his lane, prompting him to slam on the breaks. The force of the sudden stop sent Cox flying forward, slamming his head into the wall of the van and leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Diaz called for an ambulance to meet them at the jail when they arrived, but once he and other officers dragged Cox from the back of the van, they brushed off his complaints and accused him of being drunk. The officers left him on the floor of his cell, saying that he was “perfectly fine.” The incident was put under investigation and Cox received legal representation. The New Haven police indicated that the vans would be put out of use until seatbelts could be secured inside.

Florida: A former Deputy Sheriff in Santa Rosa pleaded guilty in the summer of 2022 to lying to the FBI and unauthorized use of law enforcement computer systems, CRWE World reported. The two pleas by Scott P. Haines, 50, were made separate from each other, with the lying guilty plea being issued in federal court and the unauthorized-use-of-systems plea being issued in state court. The federal charge came after Haines became entangled in the finances and property management of an elderly woman, and collected rent from tenants for her, only to deposit the money in his own bank account. He admitted in court that when he was confronted by the FBI about this scheme, he made materially false claims with regard to the accusations. In the state court, he admitted to improperly using the National Crime Information Center database. He engaged the system, reserved for official law enforcement and analyst uses only, for personal uses.

Indiana: The U.S. DOJ reported that on July 8, 2022, a New Castle police officer was indicted on one count of witness tampering and three counts of deprivation under color of law. The officer, Aaron Strong, 44, was formally accused of violating the civil rights of an arrestee and two detainees by using excessive force, including with weapons, and injuring all of them. He was also accused of attempting to tamper with a witness in connection with an investigation into one of his alleged assaults. If he is found guilty of tampering, he could face up to 20 years in prison. Each of the deprivation charges also carries a potential of ten years. The charges came as the result of an FBI investigation into the alleged assaults and tampering.

Louisiana: KNOE, a news channel serving Monroe, reported that a former police officer in Monroe pled guilty on July 1, 2022, to violating the civil rights of an arrestee. Former Officer Jared Desadier, a white man, admitted that he engaged in an unprovoked attack on Timothy Williams, a Black man, during an arrest on April 21, 2022. On the night of the attack, police officers had taken Williams in for questioning when they discovered drug paraphernalia on his person, prompting him to run. The subsequent chase ended when an officer caught up and ordered Williams to the ground. The man complied, laying down on his stomach with his hands behind him. But as the arrest was taking place Desadier ran up and kicked Williams in the face without reason. Desadier admitted in his guilty plea that he knew at the time he had no reason to use force, aware that Williams posed no threat. His sentencing was set for November 21, 2022. The maximum sentence is set at ten years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine. [See: CLN, Jan. 2022, p. 50.]

Maryland: A former Baltimore police officer was sentenced to nearly two years in prison on July 12, 2022, for deprivation of civil rights. CRWE World reported that Keith Allen Gladstone, 53, was also sentenced to three years of supervised release for his part in an evidence planting scheme. On March 26, 2014, Gladstone received a call from another police officer, panicked after running over an arrestee. Gladstone responded by obtaining a BB gun and driving to the scene, where the arrestee had already been taken to the hospital. Gladstone planted the BB gun and it was recovered by the crime lab. The arrestee was eventually charged and detained for ten months on charges including possession, use, and discharge of a gas or pellet gun. The charges related to the pellet gun were eventually dismissed in January 2015. He later told another police officer to lie about what happened on that night in 2014 if ever questioned by investigators. [See: CLN, Mar. 2020, p. 50.]

Maryland: The U.S. Att. Off. in the District of Maryland reported that in July 2022 criminal charges for conspiracy and drug trafficking were filed against a Baltimore police officer. The officer in question, Steven Umberto Angelini, 41, was accused of selling oxycodone, fire-arm parts, a ghost gun, and ammunition; and buying narcotics in exchange for providing sensitive law enforcement information to a coconspirator in the case. Angelini, a 16-year veteran of the Baltimore PD, was accused in court filings of colluding with members of the Infamous Ryders Motorcycle Club. One of the coconspirators was the president of the club’s Maryland chapter, to whom he offered sensitive law enforcement information in exchange for cocaine. The court filings indicated that investigators believe Angelini had been part of the conspiracy since at least early January 2022. The affidavit filed in July also alleged that Angelini sold a privately made gun with no serial number and ammunition to the Club member. He faces up to 20 years for the conspiracy and distribution charges, and between five years and life for the charges related to the ghost gun.

Maryland: A police officer in Prince George’s County was sentenced to a year in prison in connection with the paralyzing of a Black man during a traffic stop. Yahoo Life reported that officer Bryant Strong, 29, will also serve three years of probation after assaulting Demonte Ward-Blake, 25 at the time, during an arrest on Oct. 17, 2019. The arrest came during a traffic stop, when police pulled Ward-Blake over for having expired tags. During the stop one of the officers present unholstered a gun, angering Ward-Blake because his girlfriend’s daughter, six-years-old at the time, was in the back seat. The officers called for backup, at which point Strong arrived on the scene. Though Ward-Blake was compliant with the officers’ orders to be handcuffed and placed to sit on the curb, he shouted at the police repeatedly. So bothered were the officers that Strong elected to arrest him for disorderly conduct and take him to a patrol car. At some point during the arrest Strong angrily slammed Ward-Blake head-first into the concrete, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Strong’s defense claimed it was an accident and other officers testified on his behalf. But he was still found guilty in May 2022 of reckless endangerment, misconduct in office, and second-degree assault. Ward-Blake lived nearly fully paralyzed for two years before being killed in a separate shooting in 2021. [See: CLN, July 2022, p. 50.]

Massachusetts: A police officer in Fall River accused of domestic abuse appeared in court in connection with a DUI on July 14, 2022. WJAR, a news channel serving Providence, Rhode Island, reported that an officer named Andrew Crook was brought to court for a hearing regarding cases of assaulting his wife and driving under the influence. Crook’s wife had accused him of threatening to kill her and assaulting her, resulting in a broken foot. He had previously been scheduled to appear on the 14th for the abuse charges, but the afternoon before called 911 to report that he had had a car crash. He was charged with the DUI in court the next day, to which he pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors argued against releasing him, but the judge ruled Crook could be released if he met the conditions that he attend 30 days of drug and alcohol rehab and stay with a relative  in order to have absolutely no contact with his wife.

Michigan: A Grand Rapids police officer was fired on June 10, 2022, after being charged with the second-degree murder of an arrestee less than a week earlier, CNN reported. Former officer Christopher Schurr was terminated from his position due to the April 4, 2022, killing of Patrick Lyoya, 26, during a traffic stop. The incident occurred when Schurr was attempting to arrest Lyoya, a Black man. Videos caught much of the interaction. Police believed that the car Lyoya was driving matched the description of a stolen vehicle, pulled it over, and requested to see Lyoya’s driver’s license, at which point Lyoya attempted to run. But when Schurr attempted to catch him using his taser, the two entered into a scuffle, during which Schurr believed Lyoya had control of his taser. Schurr, from his position on Lyoya’s back, shot Lyoya in the back of head, leaving him dead. Later investigation revealed that Lyoya had three warrants open, a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit, and his driver’s license had been revoked earlier in the year. Law enforcement officials in the state recommended Schurr be suspended without pay and arrested.

New York: In a July 14th, 2022 report on court filings, TechDirt detailed a case in which an NYPD police officer allegedly murdered his autistic son after prolonged abuse. The court documents lay out allegations that officer, Michael Valva, and his fiancé Angela Pollina, routinely abused Valva’s three sons, Tommy, six, Anthony, eight, and Andrew, four. The pair specifically targeted Tommy and Anthony, for being on the autism spectrum. The boys were allegedly subjected to periods without food and water, physical assault, and being shut out in the freezing garage overnight. Valva only had custody of the children because he had levied unsubstantiated claims of physical abuse by his ex-wife, Justyna Valva, toward the boys. She went on to file complaints with Child Protective Services (“CPS”), who she claims shut out her allegations. CPS filed a lawsuit against her for abuse, but a judge dismissed the case for lack of evidence and ordered CPS to investigate her claims, which were corroborated. Michael Valva and Pollina faced prosecution after Tommy froze to death in the garage on Jan. 17, 2020. A judge waved immunity for the CPS workers involved in the case. [See: CLN, Aug. 2021, p. 50.]

North Carolina: A former police officer in Sylva was indicted on July 5th, 2022, for excessive force, WLOS, a news channel serving Asheville, reported. Patrick Elijah Trantham, 23, was accused of assaulting and seriously injuring Ugo Fabia Pinacho Vasquez on Feb. 14, 2021, during an arrest. The indictment came after investigations were caried out by the local PD leadership and state officials. Two days after the incident, once the first investigation had been launched, Trantham was suspended, and soon after resigned. Vasquez was alleged to have sustained injuries including hematomas on his head, a lumbar sprain, and a mildly deviated septum. Trantham’s court date was set for Sep. 12, 2022.

Ohio: A Montgomery County assistant prosecutor was charged on July 15th, 2022, with rape, gross sexual imposition, and sexual battery. WHIO, a news channel serving Dayton, reported that John Amos, 50, resigned later that day as a result of the charges, which arose as a result of an investigation into his conduct launched in June 2020. The incident at the center of the case allegedly took place in April 2013, court documents indicate. Amos had originally been placed on leave before his resignation. Officials have attempted to bring in a prosecutor from a different county to handle the case, but their initial efforts were frustrated when their first pick left their position before the case review was finished. The county will continue to pursue prosecutors from another county for Amos’s case.

Pennsylvania: A former police chief in Weissport was sentenced on July 15th, 2022, for raping a child. The former officer, Brent Getz, was found guilty in March 2019 of aggravated indecent assault of a child, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, and rape of a child. Getz’s coconspirator pleaded guilty on Nov. 16, 2022, and was sentenced in April 2022 to ten-to-20 years with a period of probation. As for Getz, the former police chief with be forced to register as a sex offender for the remainder of his life, serve 16-to-32 years in prison, and serve three consecutive years of probation.

Texas: The blog, The Brown Harper, reported that two rounds of indictments in February and May of 2022, accused no less than 21 police officers in Austin of assault during the George Floyd protests in 2020. Some of the accusations include using beanbag ammunitions that severely injured protesters. One protester alleged that he was permanently injured from trauma to the brain after being shot by police. Another alleged that she lost a finger to one of these rounds. Altogether, about $13 million in settlements have been doled out as a result of the lawsuits and some officers face charges of aggravated assault, which could land them 20 years. Those 21 make up the bulk of a recent slew of Austin PD indictments which also include seven additional officers accused of violence in the past few years. Some of these accusations include homicide. One such case is that of Javier Ambler II, who was killed during a traffic stop in 2019. Ambler, the father of two boys and a former college football player, was pulled over for failing to dim his headlights and informed the police officers of his heart condition. Despite this, his finger was broken and he was tasered during the interaction, resulting in his death. His was not the only death in recent years, either. [See: CLN, Jun. 2021, p. 50.]

Vermont: VT Digger reported on July 19th, 2022, that a recent semiannual state report on law enforcement revealed that five state troopers resigned in the second half of 2021 as the result of investigations and one was fired. Three of the troopers who resigned were David Pfindel, Shawn Sommers, and Raymond Witkowski, all of whom were caught with fake COVID-19 vaccination IDs. The three were part of the report from the State Police Advisory Committee that identified 19 misconduct allegations, two that were listed as unfounded, twelve listed as founded, and five listed as completed. Another resignation was due to an apparent romantic relationship between colleagues. The other colleague in that case received a reprimand. The final resignation came in relation to an excessive force investigation. The sixth police officer in question was fired as the result of sexual harassment accusations and breaking department polices. The issue of the three caught with false vaccinations was referred to the FBI office in Albany, New York, which oversees Vermont. 

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