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The Habeas Citebook: Prosecutorial Misconduct - Header
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News in Brief

Arizona: According to information attained by Hatewatch, the leader of the extremist Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association emailed a video regarding an investigation into his son which could potentially cause the father to be prosecuted. Richard Mack sent a video of his son’s alleged child abuse to Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb on September 26, 2021, suggesting that law enforcement investigate the child’s mother. Mack wrote, “This is the video my son’s ex-girlfriend put together to try to have him charged with child sex abuse. We want to know if there are grounds to go after her criminally for doing this with the girls.” However, according to the Justice Department, “Federal law prohibits the production, distribution, reception and possession of child abuse materials” and “[prohibits] using or affecting any means or facility of interstate or foreign commerce.” An email like the one that Mack sent falls under the category of interstate commerce, and could result in a minimum of 5 years and maximum of 20 years in prison. Stephen Saltzburg, a former Justice Department official, told Hatewatch there was nothing legally concerning about Mack sending Lamb the video “on its face,” but cautioned that the law on dissemination of child abuse materials is broad.

California: An off-duty Los Angeles Special Enforcement Bureau (SEB) cop driving while drunk resulted in two cops being charged. According to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, on August 22, 2022, off-duty SEB deputy Carlos Lopez crashed his patrol vehicle while under the influence. In an effort to cover up the crash, fellow SEB deputy Gregory Davis arrived at the scene, pulled his coworker’s “limp body” out of the wrecked SUV and placed him into Lopez’ wife’s vehicle. She then drove her drunk husband home. The misconduct was ironically discovered by yet another cop from a different L.A. law enforcement agency who called the authorities as he was passing by. Davis, 54, faces one felony count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, one misdemeanor count of giving false information to a peace officer and three misdemeanor counts of delaying and/or obstructing an investigation and was set to be arraigned on September 27, 2023. Lopez was scheduled for a pretrial hearing in East Los Angeles on October 17, 2023, for a previous DUI charge.

Colorado: After two years of frustration and grief following Destinee Thompson’s death, her family decided to file a wrongful death and excessive use of force lawsuit on August 15, 2023, against five Arvada police officers. KCNC-TV reported that the district attorney’s decision not to charge the officers for the death of Thompson, a young mother of three and pregnant with another, was justified because they believed her actions posed an imminent threat. Thompson was mistaken for a robbery suspect on August 17, 2021, and shot while she was trying to leave a parking lot to meet her stepmother for lunch. When surrounded by five officers who wanted to confirm her identity, Thompson locked herself in her minivan saying she was not the suspect. One of the officers busted the van’s window to intimidate the young woman, causing her to panic. She drove backwards then forwards over a curb to leave the scene. The officer who discharged his weapon falsely believed the 27-year-old mother had run over a fellow officer and wanted to stop her.

Connecticut: The New Haven Independent reported on August 15, 2023, that a federal judge has ruled that Maleek Jones, incarcerated for 28 years for a murder, was wrongfully imprisoned. Jones, now 50 years old and convicted in 1995 for the murder of Eddie Harp when he was 19, is awaiting a state decision on whether he will face a new trial or be released. The prosecution’s key witness, Tyrone Spears, gave an account of the shooting that did not match ballistics evidence. Jones’ defense lawyer did not hire an independent investigator despite having available funds. Judge Janet Hall’s decision cited the flawed defense, exclusion of evidence, and the unreliability of witness testimony as grounds for wrongful conviction. Jones can be released by October 10, 2023, if the state does not move for a retrial. The state retains the option to appeal, however, leaving Jones’ future uncertain. Jones’ case forms part of a broader pattern of alleged corruption within the New Haven Police Department over a period from the 1980s to the early 2000s, an era when many Black men were framed and sentenced to long prison terms.

Florida: An Ocala Police Department officer was arrested and charged with aggravated stalking on August 16, 2023, according to WCJB. An investigation began on July 31 when a complaint was made regarding Natawi Chin, 27, by his ex-girlfriend. Chin had left a voicemail for the woman, who also worked in law enforcement, threatening that he would “shoot up” her home. Chin and the woman had dated for a year before ending the relationship. After the breakup Chin became aggressive and accused her of cheating. In the incident that prompted the complaint, Chin noticed another car parked at his ex’s house. He then sent the voice memo saying he was using audio because a written threat could get him arrested. He also specifically mentioned his SWAT rifle and threatened to empty the entire magazine. In a disturbing text exchange, the young woman wrote “IDK if I should be laughing or be scared.” Chin replied, “You should be scared.” Chin was fired the day of his arrest.

Florida: Sgt. Brendan Fitzgerald, 52, with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), was arrested on a charge of obstruction without violence on July 30, 2023. The Tampa Bay Times reported that the belligerent officer got into an altercation over a handicapped-accessible parking spot at a private condo complex in Bradenton Beach. More than a dozen witnesses gave statements to the police about the incident, yet the single person who refused to talk was Fitzgerald. “I’m a sergeant, I know the law kid, I’m not identifying,” Fitzgerald told police. His refusal to identify himself led to the arrest for willfully obstructing an investigation. In response, Fitzgerald said, “This is a joke, you’re a joke, you can’t take me for obstruction. Learn your laws, boy!” The joke was on Fitzgerald after he was arrested, given a $120 bond, and placed on administrative leave. The Bradenton Beach Police Department arrested the feisty sergeant and Sheriff Chad Chronister of the HCSO reacted saying, “Sergeant Fitzgerald’s behavior is inexcusable. He will now face the consequences for his actions.”

Georgia: CNN reported that on August 21, 2023, Bleckley County Sheriff Kris Coody resigned and pled guilty to a misdemeanor of sexual battery stemming from an incident in January 2022 when he publicly groped the breast of Judge Glenda Hatchett. A former chief presiding judge in Georgia, Hatchett became the star of TV shows “Judge Hatchett” and “The Verdict with Judge Hatchett.” She was at a state sheriffs convention in Cobb County when Coody approached her. When she told him that she didn’t know where Bleckley County was, he poked her in the chest and said, “right in the heart of Georgia.” According to Hatchett, “But then he grabbed my breast. He grabbed my left breast. He squeezed it, he then started rubbing on my breast.” Finally, a former sheriff removed Coody’s hand and pushed him away. The traumatic incident caused Hatchett to go to therapy. Coody’s lawyer said that he resigned from his job because he is taking “full responsibility for his actions.” Coody was sentenced to 12 months’ probation, community service, a $500 fine, and has been ordered to complete an alcohol and drug evaluation.

Indiana: In April 2023, a minor revealed to a child forensic interviewer that a friend of the family had tried to video record her in 2020 while using the bathroom. The family friend was Vevay, Indiana police officer Kyle Davis, 37, of Madison. According to WLWT, the victim, 15 years old at the time, was at Davis’ home celebrating his daughter’s birthday when she went to use the bathroom. Davis blocked her and went into the bathroom first. After he exited and she went in, she noticed a recording iPhone directed towards the toilet. The victim came forward with the information after a presentation at her school on child abuse prevention. A months-long investigation into the matter led to Davis’ arrest and appearance in court on charges of attempted voyeurism and exploitation of a child. On July 28, 2023, Davis’ bond was set at $100,000 and he was due back in court for a pretrial hearing in September. Davis is currently on unpaid administrative leave from the Vevay Police Department.

Iowa: Deputy Tom Steck’s resignation was formally accepted by the Webster County Board of Supervisors on August 29, 2023. Steck had previously been placed on administrative leave in November 2022 pending an investigation by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) into allegations made by former Deputy Amy Stringer. According to The Messenger, Stringer wrote that she witnessed “inappropriate and illegal behavior” while working with Steck. In her complaint to the DCI, Stringer specified that Steck had covered up for an informant by providing him with a fake alibi and that he had beaten a person in custody without cause. In another disturbing episode, Steck ordered Stringer to drive by a female co-worker’s home “because Steck wanted to stalk her.” During the investigation, four more women came forth with accusations. On June 20, The Messenger reported that Webster County Sheriff Luke Fleener and Chief Deputy Derek Christie were also named in the complaint. Stringer faced retaliation and was eventually forced to resign because of her initial complaints and the ensuing investigation.

Kentucky: A police officer in the Leitchfield Police Department was arrested on third-degree rape and first-degree sexual abuse charges on July 28, 2023, according to WHAS. Jeremy Taylor Wright, 27, joined the department in April 2022 and graduated from the academy in December of 2022. The rookie officer from Caneyville was investigated after allegations of a relationship with a 17-year-old girl surfaced. Wright resigned when the relationship was confirmed, and the case was transferred to the Kentucky State Police (KSP). Wright was booked at the Nelson Correctional Center but has since been released. The investigation is ongoing and led by KSP Detective Robert Hartley. The state agency reported that more charges are possible.

Missouri: Pleasant Hill officials had to apologize to the community after hiring former officer Jacob Smith. As reported by the Atlanta Black Star, the swearing-in ceremony, welcoming Smith and another cadet into the PHPD, took place on August 14, 2023. The very next day, as the pictures of the celebration were shared around town, one person recognized Smith and remembered posts he had published on his social media pages. The posts were just a month old and featured homophobic slurs, political memes and even one that mentioned decapitating Black people. The following day, August 16, Smith was terminated. Pleasant Hill Police Chief Tommy Wright said his department normally scrutinizes social media accounts as part of the background check, but Smith’s account was “unintentionally” not checked before he was hired. “It was offensive,” Wright said about the post. Wright also communicated his appreciation for the public bringing the matter to city officials saying that “the public input was essential to knowing his department failed in their background check process, and he wants that to continue.”

New Jersey: It may be disrespectful, but it isn’t a crime to give a cop the finger. However, a YouTube video posted by a driver known only as Nathan shows the driver being pulled over by a cop in Westfield after doing so. As reported on August 21, 2023, by Advance Local Media, when asked why he was being pulled over, the cop informed him that he was going 48 in a 35 mph zone. There was a problem with the traffic stop, however. Nathan explained to Officer Ayad Taha that according to his dashboard camera, he had not been speeding. Just before Officer Taha’s sirens rang out and he was pulled over, Nathan sped by the police officer, saluting him with his middle finger. The Westfield Police Department has initiated an internal investigation to determine whether Officer Taha tried to pin bogus charges on Nathan.

New York: Former Suffolk County police chief James Burke, 58, was arrested on August 22, 2023, for allegedly soliciting sex in the Suffolk County’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park. He was charged with offering a sex act, public lewdness, indecent exposure, and criminal solicitation. According to Gothamist, the Suffolk County Park Rangers’ Targeted Response Unit had been patrolling the park because of complaints they received. The arrest report reveals that Burke exposed himself to one of the rangers disguised in plain clothes and suggested that he was interested in oral sex. Burke led the Suffolk County Police Department between 2012 and 2015 during the infamous Gilgo Beach killings. In 2015, he was forced to resign after he pled guilty to violating the civil rights of a handcuffed robbery suspect and then trying to cover up the crime.

New York: According to the Hudson Valley Post, former NYPD cop Gina Mestre, 33, of Mohegan Lake, was arrested on August 15, 2023, and charged with racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to obstruct justice, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and accessory to the fact to murder in aid of racketeering by the Southern District of New York. In June 2020 the dirty cop began a relationship with Andrew “Caballo” Done, the leader of the gang “Shooting Boys.” According to Manhattan federal prosecutors, Mestre tipped Done off that he was the subject of a police manhunt and gave him the name of a witness in a case against him who was eventually assaulted by the gang. In November 2020 Done shot and killed a rival gang member, and it was recorded on surveillance. Because Mestre was one of the officers on the case she was able to send Done the footage and share police strategies with him. Done used the information to flee the country but was eventually sentenced to 35 years in February 2023. Mestre could face a federal prison sentence of 30 years on just one of her charges.

Pennsylvania: Detective Jeffrey Krause and three unnamed members of the Lancaster County Drug Task Force seized tens of thousands of dollars in THC-laced products without cause during raids in April 2023 in Lebanon County, as reported by LNP Media Group. As a result of that action, Smooth Vape, a chain of retail stores owned by John Dolan, filed a lawsuit on August 4, 2023, accusing Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams, Krause, and the three unidentified agents of violating the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments.  The officers entered one of Dolan’s stores and presented a “memo” from Adams authorizing them to seize all delta 8, 9, 10 and 11 varieties of THC products because they were illegal. According to the lawsuit, such products have been legal for years. The “memo” cited the state Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act, which creates confusion around the legality of THC varieties. Smooth Vape claims that the raided store has lost tens of thousands of dollars in business since the seizure.

Tennessee: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation began looking into allegations that a Rutherford County guard was involved in sexual abuse on July 16, 2023. WGNS Radio reported that guard Clifford Carr, 32, had sexual interaction with a minor younger than 13. The investigators found that on two days earlier in July and while he was still a guard, Carr exposed himself to the victim and displayed sexual activity. On July 31, the Cannon County Grand Jury returned indictments charging Clifford Ryan Carr with aggravated sexual battery, sexual contact with a minor by an authority figure, solicitation of sexual exploitation of a minor, sexual battery by an authority figure and indecent exposure. Carr was then arrested and booked into the Cannon County Jail on a $100,000 bond that same evening. Carr is no longer employed by Rutherford County.

Texas: Frisco police ran a vehicle with Arkansas plates on the Dallas North Tollway on July 23, 2023. Hearst Newspapers indicated that the family’s black Dodge Charger fit the description of “recent burglaries and vehicle thefts.” The officer mistakenly used the Arizona database instead of Arkansas, leading police to believe that the vehicle was stolen. Inside the car were a mother and father taking their son and nephew to a youth basketball tournament. When the police sirens rang out, the family pulled over. The officers approached the family with guns drawn and instructed them to show their hands outside the vehicle. The family endured 16 long minutes of police intimidation, including handcuffing the 13-year-old son, and threatening to shoot the father if he picked up a cellphone he dropped. Mercifully for the family, the officers finally realized they had used the wrong state to search for the automobile. The mother posted on her TikTok afterward that she and her family were humiliated and threatened to be shot without reason. Frisco Police Chief David Shilson responding publicly by saying “Our department will not hide from its mistakes. Instead, we will learn from them.”

Texas: According to KDFW, officer Caleb McCollum was suspended for five days after a disciplinary hearing with Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia. The suspension was because of a challenge coin designed by McCollum that the head of the Dallas Black Police Association considered racist. On one side of the coin are the words South Central on top and 15 Years on the bottom. Between those two is a police star with the words Dallas Texas Police Department. On the other side of the coin is what looks to be the Pillsbury Doughboy holding a fat wad of cash in one hand and an assault rifle in the other. The Doughboy is smiling, flashing a handsome row of gold teeth. Behind the Doughboy a purple sedan with giant gold rims is facing a police car. The words South Central and Big “T” Plaza appear, referring to a shopping center that serves mostly Black customers. The controversial design was appealing to the 38 officers who wanted to buy one but never had the chance. The officers were Asian, Black, Hispanic, and White.  

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