Some States Are Finally Getting Serious About Addressing Police Misconduct

“The nation has finally learned what it takes to remove a bad officer from a police force and provide some modicum of justice in a police-abuse case. We need only capture on video an officer slowly snuffing out a man’s life, have that video go viral, endure some of the most far-reaching protests and riots in modern history and, then, after nearly a year of soul-searching and debate, wait for a jury to render a verdict.”

“The causes of that incident, however, took place long before the awful scene we watched unfold last May.
“(A)nyone who looked closely at Chauvin’s record would have known—should have known—that one day something bad was likely to happen while he was on the job,” noted Jonathan Last in a column this week in The Bulwark. Chauvin “had 18 official complaints against him in his file—these are only the ones that citizens actually got up and followed through on registering.”

In discussing police reform on social media and with friends, people often will say, “Police departments should just fire dirty cops.” That’s the right idea, of course, but legislatures and courts have created a multi-layered system that makes it nearly impossible to accomplish that seemingly simple task. Public-safety debates become emotional and divisive, so it becomes difficult to pass reforms that advance that common-sense outcome.”

The Supreme Court just made it harder for cops to shoot people with impunity

“Imagine, for example, that a police officer randomly opens fire on two innocent bystanders, with no justification whatsoever for doing so. One of those bystanders is struck in the arm and successfully flees; the other is struck in the leg and thus is unable to escape the officer.

Under Roberts’s rule, both of these bystanders could bring a Fourth Amendment suit against the officer. But under Gorsuch’s rule, only the person struck in the leg could do so. Whatever the framers intended to accomplish when they drafted the Fourth Amendment, it’s hard to imagine that they wanted to write such an arbitrary distinction into the Constitution.”

“practical effect of Torres…means that officers who use excessive force can be subject to Fourth Amendment suits, even if the plaintiff in that suit successfully escaped the officer.”

Why progressives are lining up against new criminal penalties for domestic terrorism

“There are existing federal laws that criminalize domestic terrorism. The Patriot Act, which was enacted in the wake of 9/11, defined domestic terrorism as criminal acts that are “dangerous to human life” and are “intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion” or “to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.” Experts say that the storming of the Capitol fits that definition.

But no existing laws make domestic terrorism a “chargeable offense on its own” with attached criminal penalties, as the Congressional Research Service recently noted. It can, however, be an element of other federal crimes, such as assault and firearms offenses, and result in an enhanced sentence.

Some have argued that’s not enough to effectively prosecute domestic terrorism. Richard Zabel, a former deputy US attorney overseeing terrorism prosecutions in New York, wrote in the Washington Post that current law “limits our societal condemnation of the defendants and their dangerous ideologies.” The threat of domestic terrorism — which was not prioritized by former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly refused to denounce white nationalists and told those who stormed the Capitol, “We love you” — would be taken more seriously if it were easier for prosecutors to charge people as domestic terrorists, Zabel and others have argued.

But civil rights groups, including the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, are raising concerns that the harms of enacting those legal authorities outweigh the benefits: They argue it would enable law enforcement to target political dissidents, and those in marginalized communities who are frequently the victims of domestic terrorism, in violation of their constitutional rights.

“Such a law is not needed given the broad reach of existing criminal statutes,” Mara Rudman, executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement. “It will not solve the problem of domestic extremism and is likely to lead to unintended harms. … As lawmakers explore options for cracking down on these lawless and hateful acts, they should take care to ensure that the solutions do not create new risks for the communities they are trying to protect.””

The Chauvin Verdict Is a Reminder That We Still Need To Abolish Qualified Immunity

“It’s remarkably rare for a police officer to face criminal charges for the misuse of force. We know that Chauvin had 22 complaints filed against him by the time he was arrested for Floyd’s death, and that he was allowed to remain with the MPD through all of them.

When it comes to fatal encounters, we have a slightly better idea of the disparity: Only about 139 officers since 2005 have been charged with murder or manslaughter in relation to an on-duty shooting, though about 1,000 fatal police shootings occur each year. Of the officers charged, a small minority are convicted.

Counting fatal encounters omits many more victims of police misconduct who live to tell about it. The data we do have paints an incomplete but unsettling picture, as police departments often refuse to make public reports against officers. A report from ProPublica is instructive: “In 2018, the [Civilian Complaint Review Board] looked into about 3,000 allegations of misuse of force [in the New York Police Department],” wrote Eric Urmansky last summer. “It was able to substantiate 73 of those allegations. The biggest punishment? Nine officers who lost vacation days.”

In other words, people whose rights are violated by police can’t always count on the criminal courts or even police departments to reprimand their employees; civil suits are often the only avenue to justice. Yet thanks to qualified immunity, those individuals often find that road blocked off, too.

The legal doctrine, manufactured by the Supreme Court, protects government officials from federal civil rights lawsuits if the official’s specific behavior was not “clearly established” as a rights violation in a precedent handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court or by another court within the same circuit. In other words, for a plaintiff to sue a police officer in federal court, a prior plaintiff must’ve already sued over the exact same violation and won. Any plaintiff who sues after being harmed in a remotely unique way risks being told that the officer who harmed them could not have been expected to know they were violating the Constitution.”

“Chauvin might seem like an example unbefitting of this discussion—the City of Minneapolis settled with Floyd’s family for a reported $27 million. Had the case not been filmed and highly publicized, as in the above examples, that might not have happened.

“Incredibly, had the city not chosen to settle the lawsuit, Derek Chauvin would have had a very plausible chance of getting the suit thrown out on qualified immunity grounds—even after being convicted of murder,” says Clark Neily, vice president for criminal justice at the Cato Institute. “There is no preexisting case in the Eighth Circuit under which it was ‘clearly established’ that pinning a suspect under one’s knee for nearly ten minutes until they lose consciousness and their heart stops beating violates the Fourth Amendment.”

The video footage here was the game-changer—something that victims aren’t always afforded. It’s also something that government officials may take issue with. In 2014, officers in Denver, Colorado, attempted to force a bystander to delete a film he took of them beating a suspect during an arrest. Though a federal court ruled those cops violated the First Amendment in doing so, it gave them qualified immunity.”

A California Man Died After Cops Knelt on His Neck During a Mental Health Call. Then the Department Tried To Hide It.

“On December 23, cops responded to a call from Isabella Collins, Quinto’s sister, who reported a mental health crisis. A wrongful death claim filed by the family against the city of Antioch mentions that Quinto made a plea upon seeing the officers: “Please don’t kill me,” he said. He would be dead just moments later, after the cops knelt on Quinto’s neck for five minutes, according to the suit.

The claim notes that Quinto “had been suffering from depression, anxiety, and paranoia for the previous few months” and that the evening of December 23 brought on an episode of paranoia. “What are you doing?” he kept asking people in the house, following them as he feared they would leave him alone. Quinto’s sister phoned the police for help; Quinto’s mother, Maria Quinto-Collins, calmed her son by sitting with him on the floor as she held him “onto her chest with her hands clasped behind his back.”

Upon arriving, the officers removed him from Quinto-Collins’ arms and put him on the floor before one placed his leg on Quinto’s neck. “This is what we do to keep them calm,” he said.

That cop eventually got fatigued, and so the second officer replaced him, at which point Quinto began to bleed from his mouth. “At no time while being restrained did Mr. Quinto resist physically or verbally,” the suit says.

Video footage taken by Quinto-Collins shows police turning over her lifeless son to reveal blood dripping on his chin as they try to shake him awake. “What happened?” Quinto-Collins asks. “Please, please…What is happening? Does he have a pulse?”

Quinto was later transferred to a hospital, where he died three days later.”

“It’s an investigation that the public may never have known about if the police department, which attempted to conceal the information from both lawmakers and community members, had its way.”

The many ways Muslim prisoners are denied religious rights in prison

“a federal judge affirmed that Jake Angeli, the Capitol rioter known as “Q Shaman,” should be granted his request for organic food while being held in a Washington, DC, jail, citing his religious beliefs. It is puzzling that Angeli’s accommodations were met, not only because the DC jail found no research to show that an organic diet was a tenet of Shamanism — but also because it’s deeply hypocritical given the treatment of so many Muslim prisoners in this country who are denied, among other things, halal food. This demonstrates how so many white practitioners of faith are not just immune to discrimination, but are even awarded favors when it comes to treatment in prison.”

Justice Department Finds Rampant Sexual Assaults and Constitutional Violations in Country’s Largest Women’s Prison

“The largest women’s prison in the country subjects incarcerated women to pervasive and frequent sexual assaults, violating their Eighth Amendment rights, the Justice Department concluded in a scathing and graphic report”

“”Incidents of staff sexual abuse of prisoners at Lowell are varied and disturbing,” the report says. “Some staff abused prisoners through unwanted and coerced sexual contact, including sexual penetration, and groping. Prisoners were forced or coerced to perform fellatio on or touch the intimate body parts of staff. In other instances, staff demanded that prisoners undress in front of them, sometimes in exchange for basic necessities, such as toilet paper.””

“For prison advocates and families of incarcerated women at Lowell, the report has been overdue for years.
“The families of women incarcerated at Lowell have literally been begging for years for someone—anyone—to listen to their allegations of rampant sexual abuse,” says Greg Newburn, Florida director of policy for the criminal justice advocacy group FAMM. “The conditions there are beyond horrifying, and yet for years their cries for help were ignored.”

Newborn says the report only underscores the need for independent oversight of prisons.

“Anyone who bothered paying attention knew this was happening, and nobody did anything about it,” he says. “How many women have to be sexually assaulted in prison before our leaders act?””

House passes police reform bill

“The bill would prohibit racial and religious profiling by law enforcement at every level while banning chokeholds at the federal level and no-knock warrants in federal drug cases. The federal policies would be tied to law enforcement funding for governments at the state and local levels.

The measure would also eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement, mandate data collection on police encounters and create a nationwide police misconduct registry to hold accountable problematic officers who are fired or leave an agency.”

“the bill’s fate in the upper chamber is still uncertain, as Democrats would need at least 10 Republicans to send the legislation to President Joe Biden’s desk.”