A Look at America’s Most Corrupt Police

“The book, by the reporters Baynard Woods and Brandon Soderberg, pieces together the story of the 2017 Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) scandal, in which a federal investigation has so far led to the conviction of a dozen Baltimore Police Department (BPD) officers on charges of robbery, extortion, racketeering, filing false reports, and lying to federal grand juries.

At the center of the story is Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, the head of the GTTF. Jenkins was a hard-charging cop with a fat misconduct file and a talent for turning up illegal guns and drugs. His crew was filled with other bad apples, including one whose habit of excessive force and petty thievery was so well-known that he’s been name-dropped in local rap songs. In addition to committing massive overtime fraud, members of the GTTF padded their incomes by skimming seized cash and targeting drug dealers for robberies. As the book recounts in scenes recreated through court records, wiretap recordings, and interviews, the task force fabricated evidence, lied on search warrant affidavits, entered houses without warrants, and used GPS trackers to conduct illegal surveillance.”

“Woods and Soderberg show the bureaucratic and political incentives that allowed dirty cops to flourish within the Baltimore Police Department. Those incentives exist in many other cities, and it would be a mistake to take it on trust that departments elsewhere are immune to the temptations that let the Gun Trace Task Force fester.”

Michigan Voters Demand That Police Get Warrants for Electronic Data

“Michigan voters Tuesday night had a message for police: Get a warrant. Yes, for their phones, too.

Voters overwhelmingly approved Michigan Proposal 2. The referendum, put to the ballot by lawmakers, amends the state constitution to add “electronic data and electronic communications” to the state’s search and seizure laws.”

Cop Who Fired 16 Rounds at Breonna Taylor Said He Only Surmised That He Had Used His Gun

“Myles Cosgrove, a Louisville, Kentucky, detective who participated in the fruitless and legally dubious drug raid that killed Breonna Taylor last March, told investigators the incident unfolded so quickly that he was not consciously aware of using his gun. That detail, which emerged from audio recordings of grand jury proceedings that were released on Friday, is alarming in light of the fact that Cosgrove fired 16 rounds—including the fatal bullet, according to the FBI’s ballistic analysis.”

“A third officer, Detective Brett Hankison, blindly fired 10 rounds from outside the apartment, an act of recklessness that led the grand jury to charge him with three counts of wanton endangerment. Some of Hankison’s rounds entered the unit behind Taylor’s, which was occupied by a man, a pregnant woman, and a child. Hankison is the only officer who faces criminal charges in connection with the raid. State prosecutors concluded that the other two officers legally used deadly force in self-defense.

Cosgrove’s description of the incident does not necessarily cast doubt on that conclusion, but it does underline the dangers inherent in the armed home invasions that police routinely use to enforce drug prohibition. Those dangers include not only the well-known risk that residents will mistake cops for robbers but the possibility that police will mistake their colleagues’ gunfire for an assault by their targets. In such chaotic circumstances, there is also a risk that police will be injured or killed by friendly fire.

The plainclothes officers were serving a warrant based on Taylor’s continued contact with an ex-boyfriend who was arrested for drug dealing the same night. They approached her apartment around 12:40 a.m. Although the warrant authorized the cops to break in without knocking or announcing themselves, they claim they did both. According to Cosgrove, they waited about 90 seconds before using a battering ram to force entry, beginning with “gentle knocking” and escalating to “forceful pounding,” eventually accompanied by cries of “Police!”

Cameron accepted this account. That was an important determination, since Kentucky’s law allowing the use of deadly force in defense of a dwelling makes an exception for armed resistance to a police officer who enters a home “in the performance of his or her official duties,” but only if “the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person entering or attempting to enter was a peace officer.”

In an interview played for the grand jurors, Walker said he and Taylor were watching a movie in bed at the time of the raid. He said he was “scared to death” when he heard the pounding on the door, which by his reckoning lasted for 30 seconds or so. “Who is it?” he and Taylor yelled, according to his account; he said they heard no response. The New York Times reports that “11 of 12 witnesses on the scene that night said they never heard the police identify themselves,” while “one of them said he heard the group say ‘police’ just once.””

“it is completely plausible that Walker did not realize the armed men invading the apartment were police officers. He reported a break-in during phone calls that night, including a 911 call after the shooting in which a distraught Walker said, “I don’t know what’s happening. Somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.” In these circumstances, it is not surprising that local prosecutors, who initially charged Walker with attempted murder of a police officer, dropped that charge in May.”

“gratuitous risks that all of the officers took that night. The Times notes that Hankison “had not anticipated a firefight” because he “expected one unarmed woman, who had no criminal record, to be home alone.” In a saner world, that expectation would have cast doubt on the tactics that police decided to use, even leaving aside the weak excuse of a search warrant that was built entirely on guilt by association.
Based on scant evidence and the immoral logic of the war on drugs, these officers created the situation in which Cosgrove found himself reflexively firing 16 rounds down a dark hallway. When a terrified man had the temerity to defend himself against a bewildering home invasion, Cosgrove and his colleagues responded with overwhelming force, firing a total of 32 bullets. The legal determination that 22 of those rounds were justified should not blind us to the fact that whole operation was a travesty from beginning to end.”

Half of All False Convictions in the U.S. Involved Police or Prosecutor Misconduct, Finds New Report

“When innocent people are falsely convicted of crimes and later freed, in more than half of the cases, misconduct by police and prosecutors played a contributing role.

That’s the primary theme of a new report, “Government Misconduct and Convicting the Innocent,” released today by the National Registry of Exonerations, which has been tracking all known exonerations in the United States for the past 30 years.”

“what happens when a person is ultimately exonerated and the truth of police and prosecutorial misconduct is revealed? Are the police officers or prosecutors disciplined for their behavior? Often the answer is no. The report analyzed what happened to cops and prosecutors who engaged in misconduct and found that some sort of discipline was imposed in only 17 percent of these cases. Prosecutors are hardly ever punished for misconduct, even though the report notes that they are equally culpable as cops. In only four percent of cases did they find prosecutors disciplined in any way for misconduct. Just two have been fired, three disbarred, and only two have ever themselves been criminally prosecuted and found guilty of misconduct.

Police officers, on the other hand, were disciplined in some fashion in 19 percent of all exoneration cases involving police misconduct. That’s still remarkably low, but police are far more likely than prosecutors to be criminally charged with misconduct in these cases. At least 30 officers have been convicted. That number may seem low, but the report notes that a single police officer may actually be responsible for several false convictions (most notably in Chicago, which has seen mass exonerations over police misconduct).”

” The final quarter of the report is devoted to recommendations: record police interrogations; have forensic crime labs operate independently of police departments to reduce the pressure to fudge results; create special units in prosecutors’ offices to revisit old cases and look for errors; implement open-file discovery and better information-sharing practices with public defenders; and, obviously, institute actual consequences for officers and prosecutors who engage in misconduct that leads to the innocent being convicted.”

Virginia Democrats Declined To End Qualified Immunity. Police Unions Are Alive and Well.

“The Virginia Senate last week passed a comprehensive police reform package that would prohibit the use of no-knock warrants and chokeholds in the majority of cases and make it easier for departments to decertify rogue cops. One thing was noticeably absent, though: a ban on qualified immunity.

Qualified immunity makes it exceedingly difficult to sue public officials when they violate your rights, as it requires that any alleged misconduct be outlined almost identically in a previous court precedent. The doctrine has come under fire from all sides of the political spectrum. In June, Rep. Justin Amash (L–Mich.), joined by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D–Mass.) and several other Democratic members of Congress, introduced a bill in the U.S. House that would have abolished qualified immunity (though it has not received a vote and will likely die without one).”

“But Virginia Democrats’ decision to punt on the issue puts them more in line with moderates in the Republican Party—a testament to the power of the law enforcement lobby.”

“DeBoard might gain new perspective on that if she were to talk to the mother of the 10-year-old boy who was shot in Georgia by sheriff’s deputy Matthew Vickers, who received qualified immunity. Or the parents of the 15-year-old boy on his way to school who was shot in Los Angeles by Officer Michael Gutierrez, who received qualified immunity. Or the man who had a police canine sicced on him—after he had surrendered—by two cops who both received qualified immunity. Or the men who allegedly had $225,000 stolen from them by two officers, executing a search warrant, who both received qualified immunity.

The latter case epitomizes the mental contortions required by the legal doctrine. A unanimous panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit wrote that “although the City Officers ought to have recognized that the alleged theft was morally wrong, they did not have clear notice that it violated the Fourth Amendment.” In other words, officers need case law text to tell them stealing is bad.

Advocates like DeBoard present an apocalyptic vision of a world without qualified immunity, one in which officers go bankrupt from frivolous civil suits and leave the force in droves. That’s not a vision based in reality. For one, losing qualified immunity is not equivalent to losing a lawsuit. It simply provides someone with the right to bring such a suit in front of a jury—a right the American public is technically still guaranteed under federal law. And in the case that a public servant does lose a suit, the municipality nearly always foots the bill.”

Race, policing, and the universal yearning for safety

“poverty and crime are big predictors, but in all the cities we’ve ever looked at, they aren’t sufficient to explain the racial disparities. Crime and poverty matter, but there are still disparities after that. There’s evidence that there’s still bias after that. In some cities, crime and poverty predict about 80 percent of the disparity; in other cities, crime and poverty rates are about 20 percent. And that means there’s a real difference in how much police behavior and policy is a driver of inequality in policing and therefore in criminal justice outcomes.”

A Man Died After Police Held Him on Hot Asphalt for 6 Minutes. He Was Reported for Loitering.

“The Phoenix Police Department (PPD) is conducting an internal investigation after a man was killed when three officers pinned and arrested him on hot asphalt.

Ramon Lopez, who was 28 years old, died on August 4 after being subdued on a roadway for approximately six minutes. It was about 100 degrees that morning, and blacktop temperatures can climb 40 to 60 degrees above outside temperatures.”

“”He’s kinda acting funny, he’s over there sticking his tongue out, I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” a woman told a Phoenix 911 dispatcher that day. “And then he got ripped pants on, and he jumping around…looking at people’s cars.”

“Alright, what is he doing exactly?” the dispatcher asks.

“He’s out there looking at people’s cars,” the woman repeats. “Sticking his tongue out. Holding his, you know, his private parts.”

“You say he’s exposing his private parts?” the dispatcher interjects.

“No, he’s holding it, like he’s scratching on it or something,” the woman replies. Video footage shows him briefly clutching the crotch area of his shorts.

A police vehicle arrived at the scene shortly thereafter. At the sight of the car, Lopez darted across the street and into a convenience store; an officer followed and met Lopez outside as he exited the shop. Lopez ran, throwing a drink over his shoulder that the PPD alleges he stole from the convenience store, though that didn’t factor into his arrest as law enforcement wasn’t yet aware of that allegation. He was tackled onto the hot roadway and subdued by three officers after a scuffle, during which one officer can be heard saying “left arm broken” in reference to Lopez. Officers handcuffed him and placed him in leg restraints after he was no longer moving. Lopez can be heard screaming and groaning in the body cam footage.

“You’re fine,” one officer says.

Additional backup then arrived. At one point, at least seven officers can be seen in the footage, not including the cop whose body cam was recording. After leaving Lopez on the asphalt for a few minutes, officers carried his body into a police vehicle, at which point they realized he was unresponsive. They then dragged his body back out and placed him on the ground. “Wake up buddy,” an officer says as he shakes Lopez’s body.

Fire personnel were called to the scene to provide medical treatment. He was pronounced dead later that day at a nearby hospital. Lopez’s partner said he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia; his mother maintains that, while he had intense anxiety and was starting to seek help from medical professionals, she was not aware of any specific diagnosis.”

“It’s not the first time the PPD has come under scrutiny. The department has developed somewhat of a reputation: They are the subject of a recent lawsuit from a teen who suffered second-degree burns after a cop allegedly pinned her on hot asphalt in August of last year after law enforcement responded to complaints of a fight between high school students. Also last summer, a PPD officer assaulted a young father while a different officer threatened to shoot his fiancé because their daughter was suspected of stealing a Barbie from a dollar store. “Get your fucking hands up,” one officer said. “I’m gonna put a fucking cap right in your fucking head!” An internal investigation resulted in that cop’s firing.

And in May, a Phoenix officer shot a man in the back at least twice while responding to a noise complaint.

Law enforcement certainly has a rightful place in society. But our country’s criminalization of small nuisances, and the corresponding gut impulse to call the police for those routine annoyances, can have deadly consequences. ”

If You Want to Fix Policing, Listen to the Pragmatists

“Reason asked writers who have been on the criminal justice beat for years to lay out serious proposals for reforms with a fighting chance of being implemented in the coming months or years. The result is a robust list that includes calls to abolish qualified immunity (page 18), bust the police unions (page 22), better regulate the use of police force (page 25), rethink crisis response (page 28), end the drug war (page 32), release body cam footage (page 35), stop overpolicing (page 37), and restrict asset forfeiture (page 40).”

The FIRST STEP Act Has Reduced Prison Terms for More Than 7,000 People

“The FIRST STEP Act sentencing reform with the biggest impact in 2019, measured by the number of people affected, was retroactive application of the lighter crack cocaine penalties that Congress approved in 2010. Congress raised the mandatory-minimum weight thresholds, moving them closer to the thresholds for cocaine powder while maintaining a still irrational and unjust 18-to-1 ratio (down from 100 to 1). In 2019, the USSC report says, 2,387 already imprisoned crack offenders qualified for shorter sentences under the FIRST STEP Act’s retroactivity provision. The average reduction was 71 months, making the average sentence for this group 187 months (more than 15 years), down from 258 months (more than 21 years).

The second most significant FIRST STEP Act sentencing reform in 2019 (again, measured by the number of people affected), was its widening of the “safety valve” that allows low-level, nonviolent drug offenders to avoid mandatory minimums they otherwise would receive. The USSC reports that 1,369 defendants benefited from that expansion in 2019. The average sentence for that group was 53 months (more than four years), compared to 36 months (three years) for defendants who already were eligible for the safety valve. The average sentence for federal defendants who receive mandatory minimums, based on data for fiscal year 2016, is 138 months, or more than 11 years.

Two other FIRST STEP Act sentencing provisions had a much smaller impact. The law narrowed the criteria for the enhanced penalties that apply to repeat drug offenders, which reduced the number of defendants eligible for those sentences. The enhanced penalties applied to 849 drug offenders in 2019, 152 fewer than in fiscal year 2018. The FIRST STEP Act also reduced the enhanced penalties, from 20 to 15 years for defendants with one prior conviction and from life to 25 years for defendants with two prior convictions. In 2019, the USSC says, 219 drug offenders benefited from the first reduction, while 21 benefited from the second reduction.

Even rarer were situations where defendants received shorter sentences because of the FIRST STEP Act’s changes to a law that imposes escalating mandatory minimums on drug offenders who have firearms. The USSC says 205 defendants benefited from that provision in 2019, receiving sentences of five, seven, or 10 years rather than the 25-year sentence that previously would have applied.

The FIRST STEP Act was supposed to facilitate compassionate release of elderly or ailing prisoners. In 2019, 145 prisoners were granted compassionate release, five times the number in fiscal year 2018.”

“Even leaving aside the moral bankruptcy of drug prohibition, the FIRST STEP Act fell far short of reforms that have gained bipartisan support in Congress. In addition to making shorter crack sentences retroactive and widening the safety valve, the Smarter Sentencing Act, which was introduced by Sens. Richard Durbin (D–Ill.) and Mike Lee (R–Utah) in 2014, would have cut mandatory minimums for drug offenses in half. That bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with the support of three Republicans and 10 Democrats. The Justice Safety Valve Act, which Sens. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) and Pat Leahy (D–Vt.) introduced around the same time, would have gone further, making mandatory minimums effectively optional by allowing judges to depart from them in the interest of justice. Joe Biden, Trump’s Democratic opponent in this fall’s presidential election, likewise favors abolishing mandatory minimums, along with the distinction between the smoked and snorted forms of cocaine (both of which he supported as a senator).”

After the DEA Robbed Her of $43,000 at an Airport, She Joined a Class Action Challenging the Agency’s Cash Grabs

“After flying from Tampa to North Carolina for a casino reopening last May, Stacy Jones and her husband had dinner with friends, who were interested in buying a car the couple owned. They paid for it in cash. When the couple had to cut their trip short because of a death in the family, Jones put that money, along with cash she had for gambling, in a carry-on bag and headed for the airport in Wilmington, never considering the possibility that she was about to be robbed of $43,000 by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

A local sheriff’s deputy, alerted to the presence of seizable cash by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners, grilled Jones and her husband about the money and deemed their explanation fishy, even after he called their friend, who confirmed the car purchase but was unable to say exactly how many miles were on the odometer. The deputy called in two DEA agents, who interrogated the couple some more and then announced that they were seizing the money based on their suspicion that it was related to drug trafficking.

Jones is the latest named plaintiff in a federal class action lawsuit that the Institute for Justice filed in January, arguing that the DEA’s practice of seizing money from travelers without any evidence of criminal activity violates the Fourth Amendment. The lawsuit also argues that the TSA’s participation in this racket is unconstitutional and exceeds the agency’s statutory authority.”

“”Civil forfeiture allows the government to seize and permanently keep your property, even if you’ve never been charged with a crime,” Institute for Justice senior attorney Dan Alban explained to WFLA. “DEA has a policy of seizing large amounts of cash at airports, regardless if it has any proof the money is connected to drug trafficking. And unfortunately, that sweeps up a whole bunch of innocent people who have perfectly legitimate reasons for traveling with cash.””

“The named plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Terrence Rolin, a 79-year-old retired railroad engineer, who lost his life savings—$82,373—to a DEA seizure after his daughter, Rebecca Brown, whom he had charged with depositing the money in a joint bank account, took it with her while flying from Pittsburgh, where she was visiting him, to her home in Massachusetts. Two months later, after the case attracted national publicity, the DEA agreed to return the money.”