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News in Brief

Arizona: KNXV Phoenix reported that on October 20, 2023, former prosecutor April Sponsel had some interesting things to say at the State Bar trial against her. She was fired for conspiring with law enforcement to falsely charge protestors as gang members. She adamantly denied any wrongdoing and saw nothing wrong with improperly charging innocent pedestrians with fabricated crimes. Ryder Collins was one civilian who Sponsel pursued gang charges against. On the night of the protest, the nurse was taking pictures of the sunset behind the buildings because photographing cityscapes is his hobby. When the protest passed, he watched from the sidewalk and never participated. Sponsel still insisted that Collins was a secret gang member of the ACABers (All Cops Are Bastards) that she and law enforcement colluded to create. Sponsel testified, “People can be out there taking photos of the sunset and then go home and murder their spouse. Does that necessarily mean they were innocent of murdering their spouse because they were taking pictures of the sunset earlier in the day? No.”

California: Claudiu Murzea was awarded Cathedral City Officer of the Year in 2015. According to Beacon Media News, however, seven years later Murzea engaged in illegal conduct not consistent with that honor. On May 11, 2022, Murzea and other law enforcement personnel were searching the hotel room of a felon. While the cops searched, the detainees were asked to leave. According to the affidavit, they were then placed under Murzea’s supervision. Later, investigators discovered that one of those individuals whom Murzea was watching had drugs on him, but strangely those drugs were never booked into evidence. Turns out Murzea had kept them and two hours later overdosed on fentanyl behind the Cathedral City Police Department. As soon as Murzea recovered, he was fired. The disgraced officer was first arrested and charged in connection with the drug case in November 2022. On October 20, 2023, the 46-year-old detainee asked the judge at a preliminary hearing to reduce his $1,000,000 bail, ordered because he was accused of stealing fentanyl and then ingesting it, as well as assaulting and harassing his former girlfriend. Superior Court Judge Steven Counelis agreed to reduce the bond to $100,000 but did find there was sufficient evidence to warrant a trial on a criminal threats count and misdemeanor charges of battery on a domestic partner and violating a domestic violence restraining order.

California: According to a press release from the United States’ Attorney’s Office Central District of California, on October 12, 2023, John Abel Baca, 47, who served as a law enforcement agent with the Inglewood Police Department for 21 years, admitted to distributing cocaine on two instances. The first occurred in April 2021, when he hooked up a witness for cooperating with his investigation. The second time, May 2021, he sold one kilogram of coke to that same witness for $22,000. The witness wound up talking to the FBI. He told them that Baca had offered to sell one kilogram of coke, two kilograms of “White China” heroin, and an infinite supply of black tar heroin. According to the witness, Baca’s impressive stash was attained through numerous traffic stops. Baca formally pled guilty to one count of distribution of cocaine on October 17, a crime with a maximum sentence of 20 years.

Connecticut: Yale Daily News reported that on September 28, 2023, Maleek Jones walked out of a New Haven courthouse after 31 years of incarceration for a crime he did not commit. During those long years, Jones, a Black man, continued to assert his innocence saying the police framed him. In 1992, Jones, 19, was arrested for the murder of Eddie Harp who was gunned down in his car. According to the film “Free Maleek,” Gene John told a person eight hours after the murder that he and an accomplice had killed Harp. The person gave this information to New Haven police who then illegally suppressed the confession. Gene John died six months later. Jones would be convicted in 1995 and sentenced to 65 years in prison. During his years behind bars, Jones exhausted numerous legal appeals to try and overturn the court’s decision. In 2015 he had a breakthrough – his case was reopened after he successfully appealed for New Haven’s federal district court to listen to the previously suppressed evidence. Thirty-two people in the state of Connecticut had been exonerated since 1989 - 16 of them from New Haven. According to the 2023 ruling from Judge Hall, detectives from New Haven illegally suppressed witness testimony and encouraged false testimony during Jones’ trial.

Connecticut: WVIT reported that the suspect for a rash of more than 30 burglaries across three states was finally behind bars as of September 28, 2023. The “serial burglar” would use lock-picking tools and target safes and cash registers at restaurants in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Once the Glastonbury Police Department received assistance from the state police Western District Major Crime Squad, Patrick Hemingway, 37, was identified, and eventually arrested, through cellphone tower data and surveillance images. The arrest warrant application also says that Hemingway ran his vehicles’ license plate numbers through the COLLECT system 75 times to determine if he were being investigated by law enforcement. Hemingway was charged with computer crime in the first degree and making a false statement. The sticky-fingered cop is being held on a million-dollar bond and was expected to make a court appearance on November 15, 2023. According to court documents, Hemingway had been on the Glastonbury police force since the beginning of 2019. He was employed with the New Britain police force before that, from 2009.

Florida: Seventeen Broward County deputies appeared before a judge on October 13, 2023, on charges of defrauding the federal government out of about half a million dollars in pandemic relief funds. According to WFLA Tampa, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony initiated the investigation of all 5,500 employees of the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) to discover whether any fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans had been filed. Roughly 100 of those employees had applied for PPP loans. After scrutinizing those employees, the investigation uncovered 17 employees who provided false information for eligibility. U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe stated, “The proceeds of the loans were not to be used to purchase consumer goods, automobiles, personal residences, clothing, jewelry, or for cosmetic surgery,” when he announced the charges against the BSO employees. Those law enforcement deputies have since been suspended. At a news conference Sheriff Tony said, “At the end of the day, they will be gone.” PPP was designed to help Americans struggling because of COVID-19 economic hardship by granting billions of dollars in forgivable small-business loans.

Florida: Former police officer Frank Pichel is running for a seat on the Miami City Commission. His opponent is Alex Diaz de la Portilla who is facing several charges of abusing his position for personal gain. According to the Miami Herald, on October 23, 2023, Pichel was charged with aggravated assault with a firearm. A witness told police that he saw Pichel removing Portilla campaign signs from yards. After a campaign worker approached him, an argument ensued. That was when Pichel pulled out a gun and said in Spanish, “I’ll shoot you and nothing is going to happen to me because I used to be a police officer.” Police spoke to witnesses and viewed surveillance footage available. After Pichel threatened the campaign worker, he checked himself into a nearby hospital. When questioned by police, Pichel refused to say anything, and was arrested. Pichel has engaged in questionable behavior since 2000 when the Miami police department suspended him after he allegedly instructed a public service aide to file a false police report to cover up a beating that led to a prisoner’s death.

Illinois: According to the United States Attorney’s Office Eastern District of Missouri, on October 20, 2023, Justin Bradley Durham, 42, a former deputy sheriff from Phelps County, was indicted by a grand jury on one count of sexual exploitation of children, two counts of possession of child pornography, and two counts of tampering with evidence. According to court documents, Durham induced a minor girl to engage in sexual conduct and record it during 2014. Another girl was also mentioned in court documents. The motion says that he offered the first girl money for inappropriate photographs. He then paid her $200 to come to his house and engage in sexual activities. Durham met the second girl while responding to a call requesting police assistance. The investigation revealed a trail of women with claims against Durham. Some included allegations that Durham stopped women in their cars and then demanded sexually explicit images or sex. The sexual exploitation of children charge carries a penalty of at least 15 years in prison. The child pornography charges each carry a penalty of between 5 and 20 years in prison, and the altering or destroying records charges each carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Durham is also accused of deleting files in his DropBox account and destroying his iPhone to impede an FBI investigation.

Kentucky: On September 25, 2023, a camera filmed former Louisville jail guard Terry Henderson in his police cruiser making a U-turn in the middle of an intersection and then crashing into law enforcement agent Andrew Young who was driving home after his shift. As reported by WDRB, after the wreck, when Henderson was at headquarters, he badly failed a breathalyzer test. He blew a .15 and then a .17, more than twice the legal limit. Oddly enough, he then was allowed to leave the station. In 2019, Henderson was fired as a Louisville Metro Police recruit for crashing his car. The car was still running, and Henderson was slumped over the wheel when officers found him. On that bad day, he blew a .257, more than three times the legal limit. Later that year, he was charged with another DUI. Despite his destructive addiction, Metro Corrections hired Henderson in August 2021. The past two years, Henderson’s personnel file with Metro is littered with reprimands for being tardy and suspensions for not showing up to work. Henderson was also disciplined for using excessive force on a female detainee, accused of hitting the woman five times. The August 3, 2022, incident report called the use of force “completely unnecessary and avoidable.” His latest suspension is currently under investigation.

Maryland: AP News reported that Maryland police officer Justin Lee was arrested on October 19, 2023, for assaulting law enforcement during the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Lee, 25, of Rockville, Maryland, an officer with the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD), was charged in a seven-count indictment with felony offenses of civil disorder and assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers. According to MCPD, Lee was on administrative leave at the time of the arrest for having shot and killed a teenager suspected of stabbing four people in an incident at a thrift store when the teen ran at him brandishing a butcher knife. That shooting occurred in June 2023. Lee had applied with the MCPD in July 2021, six months after the riot at the Capitol. He was hired in January 2022. The background check did not reveal his participation in the insurrection.

Massachusetts: The Peace Officer Standards and Training (“POST”) Commission, a developing police watchdog in Massachusetts, has banned five former police officers from ever working in law enforcement in the future. Of these five officers, four were also convicted on felony charges, automatically decertifying them. According to MassLive reporting, the five Massachusetts decertified officers were Darren Senecal, Christopher Curtis, Carlos Vieira, James Quilty and Daniel Whitman. Senecal was formerly a part of the Mount Wachusett Community College Police Department and had recorded fraudulent entries in the nightly campus police log more than 50 times in 2021. Instead of patrolling the campus on foot, he would sit in the student lounge. Curtis got angry with a fellow driver on the highway. The driver then received a phony traffic ticket for almost $800. Viera was found guilty of sexually exploiting a 13-year-old and was sentenced to 10 to 12 years. Quilty was accused of inappropriately touching a female dispatcher. Whitman pleaded guilty in 2022 to a group of federal financial charges regarding an indoor shooting range he was planning to open. MassLive reports that POST commissioners have suspended more than 40 other officers since they began exercising their power around the beginning of the year. Most of the suspended officers face felony charges, and if found guilty, their policing certification will be revoked.

Minnesota: As reported by the Star Tribune, an unidentified 28-year-old Minneapolis Fifth Precinct law enforcement agent, during an apparently boring overnight shift, sent a dick pic to a woman that he met on a dating app. He then asked what she thought about giving oral sex to a cop in uniform. The woman was receptive to this “romantic” invitation and sent the cop her location. First, though, she requested a picture of his face. The cop obliged with a selfie from his car. Keep in mind, this entire conversation transpired in text messages which were submitted to the Police Department’s Internal Affairs. A few minutes later, the cop wrote that he had arrived at her apartment. The messages transpired over a two-and-a-half-hour period of the cop’s shift which caused the department to question whether the cop left an emergency call while on duty in order to receive oral sex. On October 7, 2023, the cop was removed from city property after reporting for work. The officer of six years remains comfortable on paid leave. According to a spokesperson, the city has commenced an investigation in the matter.

New Mexico: At an October 17, 2023, news conference, Las Cruces Interim Police Chief Jeremy Story acknowledged that the officer who shot and killed Teresa Gomez had used aggressive and profane language during the incident. According to Dan Abrams’ Law & Crime, the chief did not share the officer’s name, but the family’s attorney identified the suspect as Felipe Hernandez. In the video footage from October 3, Officer Hernandez approached a parked car at a public housing facility for the elderly and disabled. Inside were Gomez in the driver’s seat and a male riding shotgun. The footage shows Hernandez cursing as he scolds the two and then ordering Gomez to step out of the vehicle. When he threatens to Taser her, she steps out. The encounter becomes more tense after Hernandez recognizes the man in the car as someone who was not allowed to be on that property. The bike patrol cop again uses foul language to berate the passenger. Gomez asks to return to the car and then turns on the engine and starts to drive away. That was when Hernandez fired three shots into the car, killing Gomez. Hernandez, who had been involved in use-of-force incidents before, has been placed on administrative leave.

Oklahoma: According to The New York Post, the chief justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court recommended on October 10, 2023, that Lincoln County District Judge Traci Soderstrom be removed from office. This was the reaction from the Oklahoma high court after discovering that Soderstrom had sent 500 text messages during a high-profile trial. Soderstrom, 50, is new in the position, having been elected in November 2022. During a June murder trial Soderstrom was seen on surveillance footage playing on her phone and sending unprofessional messages about the proceedings to her bailiff. The case concerned the beating and murder of 2-year-old Braxton Danker. When the deceased toddler’s mother took the stand as a witness against her boyfriend, Soderstrom texted – “Can I please scream ‘liar, liar?” The texts then became even more unprofessional. One questioned whether a juror was wearing a wig. Another text regarded the teeth of a witness. When one police officer testified, Soderstrom texted a praiseworthy “pretty” and then “I could look at him all day.” The judge even responded with a laughing emoji to the bailiff after the bailiff “made a crass and demeaning reference to the prosecuting attorney’s genitals.” Soderstrom was suspended with pay pending the outcome of a hearing by the Court on the Judiciary which will decide whether to remove her from the bench for gross neglect of duty, gross partiality in office and oppression in office.

Texas: KTRK Houston reported that when Sgt. Christopher Bush resigned from his position on October 10, 2023, he became the third employee of the Patton Village Police Department to lose his job in the last two months. Mind you, Patton Village, 35 miles northeast of Houston, only has about 1,600 residents. Those three law enforcement officers composed 25 percent of the town’s entire police force. Bush was arrested on DWI charges. Some critics question why he was hired in the first place. In 2018, Bush was fired from his role as a firefighter in Bellaire and Westfield for a social media post in which he suggested that migrants be hunted at the border. Carlos Molina Torres is another Patton Village policeman who was recently let go. Among other charges, Torres is accused of impersonating a Harris County Sheriff’s Office deputy when handing out an eviction notice. In addition, a warrants sergeant was fired due to an administrative conduct issue. Over ten years ago Patton Village made headlines when its mayor and other city officials misused city funds for personal gains. Resident Mandy Moody said at the time, “This city has always been in trouble. You say Patton Village, and everybody cringes.”

Virginia: Boltsmag reported that despite a slew of bribery and fraud charges, Culpeper County Sheriff and MAGA republican Scott Jenkins, a self-styled “constitutional sheriff,” is still running in the November 7 election but as an independent. According to federal prosecutors, in 2019 Jenkins was trying to fatten his re-election war chest. One supporter suggested that Jenkins deal with Rick Rahim, who apparently had deep pockets, but came with “a little baggage,” such as previous criminal convictions that prevented him from owning guns. According to texts, Rahim wanted Jenkins to get him his guns back and make him an auxiliary deputy – a volunteer officer that performs similar duties of a paid deputy, and thus, receives firearms, body armor and a badge that says deputy sheriff. In exchange, Rahim paid $6,000 in cash and a loan for $17,500. According to the allegations, Jenkins has accepted more than $70,000 since 2019 in exchange for allowing people to play cops. In September 2020, Jenkins posted a message to the official Culpeper Sheriff’s Facebook page asserting that Black Lives Matter activists were “not peaceful and at heart violent.” After such comments, Black residents did not feel safe under the protection of Sheriff Jenkins. Jenkins’ opponents – Joseph Watson and Tim Chilton, both former local law enforcement officers, have raised concerns about Jenkins’ involvement in controversial programs like ICE’s 287(g) initiative.  

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