Archive for March, 2008

Chesapeake Police Chief Retires

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

The police chief in Chesapeake, Virginia is retiring. Probably for the better, given this bit from the article:

He helped create six community advisory groups but stopped short of citizen oversight, which would have allowed citizens to investigate policy and complaints.

That did not sit well with the Chesapeake chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. March Cromuel Jr., president of the chapter at the time, said he believed oversight would build community trust.

“I would like to see cameras in all police cars and a citizen review board before he leaves,” Cromuel said.

Justice opposed it, and still does. “At any time, a complaint can be lodged against us that can bring in the state police, the FBI. The department is open. We don’t operate in any clandestine fashion now. We can’t have citizen groups running a police department,” he said.

Never mind that the police department actually works for the citizens. So no cameras in patrol cars, and no citizen review boards.

And I’d beg to differ about Chesapeake PD not operating in a “clandestine fashion.” A few weeks ago, based on a tip from some people I spoke with during my visit to Chesapeake, I filed an open records request asking for any internal investigations of “wrong door” raids conducted by Chesapeake PD. I also asked for any complaints filed against Det. Shivers. My interest is to see if there’s a pattern of the department’s narcotics officers taking shortcuts, and conducting forced entries raids without doing the appropriate corroborating investigation, as certainly seems to be the case in the raid on Ryan Frederick’s home.

I was told that all personnel matters at the department are confidential. All complaints against individual officers are confidential, all internal investigation into officers misconduct are confidential, and any records of internal investigation into mistaken or botched narcotics raids are confidential. It’s all confidential. Not only that, but that confidentiality follows an officer to the grave. And it applies even in cases like Ryan Frederick’s, where the suspect is facing life in prison or the death penalty, and where the case boils down to weighing the suspect’s credibility against that of the police officers who raided his home. All confidential.

It’s probably good for Chesapeake that this guy is retiring. And even better that the city manager has ordered a top-down review of police department procedures.

Another Isolated Incident

Friday, March 28th, 2008

Two, actually. Both involve police intercepts of packages using the DHL delivery service on the campus at Duke University.

In the latest, police intercepted a package of marijuana bound for a fraternity house, then raided the place in full SWAT attire when one of the fraternity members signed for it. One of the residents describes the raid:

I am writing to share both my relief over the dropped charges against my housemate, senior Eric Halperin, as well as my continued anger at the blatant abuse of power by the Durham Police Department. On the morning of Feb. 27, our home off East Campus was raided by a team of State Bureau of Investigation agents and members of DPD. Without warning, our front door was knocked down and a handful of fully armed officers entered our home. Subsequently, we were ordered to the ground at the behest of assault rifles, dragged across the floor, hand-cuffed and forced to strip naked. In carrying out their search warrant, police officers destroyed hundreds of dollars of our personal property. Upon failing to find anything incriminating, my friend, Halperin, was falsely charged with drug trafficking without any investigation or evidence, except his signing for a DHL package not addressed to him.

It took a month, but police have now dropped all charges against Halperin. The earlier incident followed almost the same formula, except it took place in a dorm room. In that case too, the charges against the Duke student were dropped.

Even assuming it’s appropriate to arrest a college student who signs for a package of marijuana addressed to someone else, why the SWAT tactics? Did the police department really think the fraternity was going to put up a fight? (Note: It was also the Durham police department that gave us this photo—discussion on that here.) Last month, there was a similar incident at LSU, in which a SWAT team raided a college student’s home based on an anonymous tip that there might be some pot inside. They found nothing.

For some righteous outrage on the case, check out the "Liestoppers Board," a site set up by the parents of the wrongly accused Duke lacrosse team.

Afternoon Links

Thursday, March 27th, 2008
  • San Antonio “tactical unit” using routine traffic stops in high-crime areas as an impetus for drugs and weapons searches. Probably won’t surprise you to learn that (a) there have been complaints, (b) they’re much more likely to use force against brown-skinned people than white-skinned people. But hey, they’ve seized more than $1 million!
  • Yer’ typical alarmist article about all the money flowing into the presidential election. My typical response: So long as the office of president grows increasingly powerful and influential, people will be willing to pay more and more money to (a) make sure their candidate wins, or (b) make sure whoever wins knows who they are.
  • Anyone else wanna’ call bullshit on this article?
  • The latest from Chesapeake. I’m not sure this tells us much of anything right now. But note it. Might become relevant later. It’s also interesting (and encouraging) just how skeptical the comments threads at the V-P site have become of the police department’s story.
  • World’s oldest audio recording.
  • Oliver Stone, call your agent! Forensics experts say someone other than Sirhan Sirhan killed Bobby Kennedy.
  • California tax collectors are stuck between collecting taxes on medical marijuana sales and the DEA’s continuing crackdown on the drug.

  • More Kathryn Johnston Fallout

    Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

    Another nacotics cop pleads guilty to covering up botched drug raids:

    A 23-year Atlanta Police Department veteran pleaded guilty on Monday to conspiring to violate civil rights by searching a private residence without a warrant, federal prosecutors said.

    Wilbert Stallings, 44, of Conyers, a sergeant in the department’s narcotics unit, faces up to 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

    […]

    Prosecutors said that in October 2005, Stallings led a narcotics team executing a search warrant at an apartment on Dill Road in Atlanta.

    Also on the team was Gregg Junnier, one of two narcotics officers who have pleaded guilty to charges in Johnston’s death. Junnier had obtained the warrant for one apartment in the 2005 incident, prosecutors said. The team found some marijuana behind the apartment but not inside, they said. Stallings and Junnier then decided to search an adjoining apartment but no one was home and they found nothing inside.

    Stallings told the team to leave the apartment and shut the door so it would appear there had been a break-in, prosecutors said.

    Prosecutors argued the the incident was part of a pattern of conduct by Stallings and his team, which included misrepresenting unregistered drug informants as registered ones in order to secure warrants.

    Seems Atlanta PD’s narcotics division went about breaking down doors whenever its officers damned-well pleased.

    It’s good that all of this is coming out. But other cities should take a lesson, and not wait for someone to be killed before looking at their own narcotics divisions, and the way warrants are served. For example, it’s troubling that the city of Houston doesn’t even track the number of times its narcotics officers mistakenly raid the wrong house. Had Atlanta’s department required its officers to track the number of times they raided a house in which no drugs turned up (one of the recommendations I make in my Overkill paper), they may have been clued in that something was wrong well before the raid on Kathyrn Johnston’s home.

    There’s no reason why large cities shouldn’t keep a database that tracks every search warrant from the time it’s requested through its execution. That database should be available not only to the police, but also to judges, who could consult it to see if a particular officer or unit has a history of taking shortcuts or of executing fruitless raids. It should also be subject to open records requests. I don’t mind keeping the names of informants secret, but they should at least be assigned identifying numbers, so we can see if the same informant has a history of giving bad information, and if police are continuing to use that informant, anyway.

    It was something of a fluke that all of this has come out about Atlanta. As we’ve seen in other cities where a botched raid has inspired further investigation, these sorts of shortcuts in the investigations leading up to home-breaching drug raids are disturbingly common.

    Militarizing Mayberry

    Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

    Arcata, California (population 17,294, with one murder since 2002) will have a town hall meeting tonight to determine if the town needs a SWAT team.

    Dog Cleared of a Being a Dog

    Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

    Owner won’t be charged for his dog attacking cops during drug raid. Happened in Britain, which may have something to do with why the dog isn’t dead. Money quote:

    PC Clark admitted the scene had been peaceful until officers smashed the door down.

    Isolated incidents

    Friday, March 21st, 2008

    Here is a map of the United States with 299 colored pins on it, with each one representing a botched paramilitary police raid.

    Death of an innocent. Death or injury of a police officer. Death of a nonviolent offender.
    Raid on an innocent suspect. Other examples of paramilitary police excess. Unnecessary raids on doctors and sick people.

    Source: Radley Balko, Botched Paramilitary Police Raids: An Epidemic of Isolated Incidents, 1985–2006.

    New Professionalism Roundup

    Thursday, March 20th, 2008
  • On-duty cops in Nevada show up at a pool hall to rough up a guy who was arguing with one of their buddies. Unfortunately (for them), he wasn’t your typical out-of-town schmoe. He was a federal agent. And now he’s suing.
  • Police chief in small Wisconsin town asks on-duty detectives to find out the identity of a local anonymous blogger who was criticizing him, the town, and the department.
  • What do you do when your star witness insists there was no crime? Apparently you harass the hell out of him. Even if he’s a 13-year-old boy with developmental problems.
  • Another arrest of a man taking photos of a drug raid. If you’re wondering, yes, I think citizens should be free to record and photograph undercover police, too. To give one example, if David Ruttenberg hadn’t recorded the multiple attempts to frame him by undercover Manassas Park police, they’d likely have framed him into several felonies by now.
  • Using the “obstruction” arrest to cover police misbehavior.
  • Deputy drifts over center line on a hilly road, wipes out a group of bicyclists, killing two and critically wounding another. It’s a terrible story, but note what happens next. Other police show up and tell the deputy to “stop talking” before he further implicates himself. They then escort him from the accident scene before investigators arrive. How many other people would get that kind of treatment?
  • A California jury awarded a 72-year-old man $90,000 after California Highway Patrol officers entered his house and roughed him up while looking for a stolen motorcycle. They had the wrong house. Which would probably explain why he was described in the police report as “agitated” after they improperly and forcibly entered his home. Here’s the infuriating part: After the jury award, the judge cut the award to around $13,000, just enough to cover medical expenses related to the incident, which included two surgeries. The judge tossed out all punitive damages.

    Also, per the link above, note that the man was initially arrested for “obstruction,” even though police had the wrong house, and he wasn’t suspected of any crime.

  • Email From a Former Cop

    Monday, March 17th, 2008

    Good stuff:

    I read your article on the police raid. My father was a cop for 35 years and a police chief for 20 of that. He was the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. I am also a former police officer. We both discussed many times the problems with police departments becoming paramilitary forces. He was chief in a military town and had many former military on his department. He fought constantly to keep them from becoming too military like.

    One of the problems we both saw in the early 90’s were departments leaving the formal police uniforms with leather belts and holsters in favor of the dark blue fatigues with nylon mesh belts and holsters. This put police in a more fighting posture.

    The final point my father was adamant about was the police 7 point hat. He said this hat was unmistakable in identifying an officer in any situation. His officers were not supposed to leave their vehicles without putting on their hat. Many departments have abandoned these expensive hats in favor of baseball caps. In a crowd there may be dozens of dark ball caps.

    I worked as an officer in Wilmington NC where that college kid was killed. In the early 90’s both the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Dept and the Wilmington Police Department were heading toward the more aggressive styles of uniforms and tactics.

    Thanks for the article. I do not think most people realize the value of good cops and the danger of bad ones.

    I get into this a bit in Overkill. Even subtle changes toward a more militaristic culture can have a lasting effect on the type of mindset with which police officers approach their jobs. I’ve heard this complaint before from older cops–that the switch to more military-style fatigues also accompanied a shift to a more aggressive form of policing.

    Officer Charged in Lima SWAT Shooting

    Monday, March 17th, 2008

    Only with misdemeanors, but to be honest, I’m a little surprised.

    I actually don’t know whether this is appropriate or overly lenient. The reason it’s hard to tell is that we’re closing in on three months now, and the Lima police still won’t say what happened to make the officers shoot an unarmed woman holding an infant.