Posted by copwatch | Fri, 01/07/2011 - 1:52am story
Cops are far less likely than civilians to pay for their crimes. Seven recent incidents bring that point home.
January 3, 2011, AlterNetBy Nellie Nelson
It's no surprise that cops are far less likely to face consequences for brutal behavior than civilians are. But a closer look at several recent incidents brings home just how unlikely police are to pay for their crimes. Some cops are shooting unarmed people, sexually assaulting women, stomping, choking, yelling racial slurs and giving false testimony. Sometimes it appears that courts have begun cracking down on police violence -- the last few months of 2010 saw some unprecedented jury verdicts for cases against police officers. But verdicts and sentencing have still been mild compared with civilians on trial for the same crimes.
Here are several recent examples of police facing light consequences, or no consequences, for unjustifiably violent behavior.
1) A New Orleans police officer shot the unarmed Henry Glover in the chaos following Hurricane Katrina. When Glover’s brother and friend tried to get medical assistance for him at a temporary police base, the police there refused to treat him, and instead beat the two men. When Glover died, one of the cops grabbed a bunch of flares and set his body on fire in the car he’d been brought to the base in, as at least one other officer looked on.
On December 9, 2010 a jury gave a lenient verdict to David Warren, the cop who had shot Glover. They convicted him on a manslaughter charge, not murder, even though they had found him guilty of the shooting and had the option of a more serious verdict.
Two other officers were found guilty of charges related to covering up the incident, including perjury and writing a false police report. One of the two was convicted for burning Glover’s body. The jury let off several other cops who had refused Glover medical attention. Warren remains in prison, while the other two officers are free on bail. The three await sentencing in March.
It took extensive reporting and federal intervention for the case to get to court. The U.S. Department of Justice indicted the NOLA officers after a collaboration of reporters from ProPublica, Frontline and the Times-Picayune had uncovered the suspicious story a few years earlier.
Of the 12 officers who knew of the incident, not a single one spoke out against the massive collusion and cover-up. A reporter who worked on the case for over two years argued that the intimidating behavior by the police is reminiscent of an authoritarian regime.
2) A South Carolina woman says that in September, police officer Tyrone Roberts knocked on her door on the pretext of questioning her about a car accident she had been in earlier that day. Once in her home, she reports that Roberts sexually assaulted her. She describes trying to get help from Robert’s co-workers, but instead of aiding her, she says the lieutenants belittled her, saying she didn’t “look like” a rape victim. The officers allegedly denied her right to an advocate and threatened to imprison her for five years if she didn’t recant the rape allegations.
The State Law Enforcement Division has finally begun investigating the case.
3) Last spring Seattle detective Shandy Cobane was caught on videotape yelling racist slurs and stomping on the head of a Latino man. A week after that incident (before the video was widely available), Cobane is alleged to have turned around in the seat of his patrol car and begun choking a man who was handcuffed and in custody in the back.
Cobane continued to work until he was suspended after a public outcry following the widespread release of the video. But in September he was cleared of hate crime charges. On December 14, the city attorney decided not to charge Cobane in the stomping incident. Cobane has been “reassigned” as the department continues an internal investigation.
In the choking incident, the Stranger newspaper reports that the arrested man stated in his declaration, “I am very scared that I will be hurt or killed before I have a chance to testify in court.” The man described Cobane to a Seattle TV reporter: “There's something wrong with him. I think that he's out of control. I think he displayed psychotic behavior that night. I think it’s very clear someone like that shouldn’t be a public servant at all."
4) Cousins Dewayne Ewing and Kevin Barnes have been incarcerated for years for kidnapping and rape -- even though the DNA evidence that put them there is suspect. It appears that an Oakland, CA police officer gave false testimony about the location of Ewing’s DNA in order to get a warrant to arrest him. The cousins have notably different features from the likely rapists, who were recorded on an ATM video the evening of the assault.
According to a statement, Ewing’s DNA was found near the crime scene (a public park he had visited weeks before the rape occurred), but it did not match the DNA found on the rape survivor. Ewing’s and Barnes’ hair and fingerprints do not match hair and fingerprints found in the car where the kidnapping and assault were allegedly carried out.
The officer believed to have given false testimony said Ewing’s DNA was found in the car, not in the park bushes where it was actually discovered. The incident occurred during the time the notorious police unit, Oakland Riders, were planting and fabricating evidence in many cases that took place throughout the city.
There is no evidence against Barnes. The case has dragged on for three-and-a-half years with no trial so far, though a hearing on the results of DNA testing was held on November 30. Ewing’s mother, Louise Smalls, told AlterNet that a DNA expert was subpoenaed on that date. The expert gave only a partial report, and the rest will be continued on January 18.
Smalls said the prosecution seemed shocked that so many friends and family of the cousins came to the hearing. She found it encouraging that well-known civil rights attorney Dan Siegel was in attendance, and said that he “sees a lot of discrepancies other attorneys haven’t seen.” Siegel may represent Ewing and Barnes in upcoming proceedings.
5) The killing of Oscar Grant by transit cop Johannes Mehserle has been making headlines for more than a year now. Despite the huge publicity garnered by the case, Mehserle still got an absurdly low sentence for the crime. In the wee hours of New Year’s Day 2009, Mehserle shot the 22-year-old Grant in the back as he lay facedown on a train platform with his hands behind him. In November, Los Angeles judge Robert Perry gave Mehserle the lightest possible sentence, even throwing out part of the jury’s apparent findings.
The verdict appeared to be that Mehserle had used a gun in the crime, interpreted by the Alameda District Attorney’s office to mean that he was eligible to serve up to 14 years with a gun enhancement. But in sentencing, the judge decided the gun use was accidental, and gave Mehserle a sentence that amounted to seven more months in prison. Grant’s family and supporters already felt the involuntary manslaughter verdict was too light and unjust, and protests erupted across California after the sentencing.
Judge Perry has a reputation of generosity toward cops: in LA’s notorious Ramparts scandal of widespread police corruption, he awarded parole to former officer Rafael Perez. The LA Times described Perez as a central figure in that scandal. Perez had stolen three kilograms of cocaine from LAPD evidence, but he had served less than three years and hadn’t appeared to have earned sufficient work credits for parole.
Perry recently made a slight diversion from his trend, however: on Dec. 3 he refused to grant bail to Mehserle, essentially keeping him behind bars for the remainder of his short term.
What helped the case get attention was that Mehserle’s actions that night were caught on video by several passengers and by security cameras.
6) On December 1, a former New Orleans police officer was sentenced to eight years in prison for shooting at unarmed Katrina survivors who were stranded on the Danziger Bridge. It is one of the longer sentences for an officer, though it may be reduced. A man who lost his mentally disabled brother in the incident felt that justice and the rule of law “just didn’t exist.”
A couple days after the skies had cleared and the levees had broken, several officers drove to the bridge, allegedly responding to reports of shooting there – though even a CNN anchor admits there’s some doubt. The officers weren’t in uniform and reportedly did not identify themselves. They shot at the people who were gathered there, killing two and severely injuring four – one woman lost her arm due to the shooting, and a man had a colostomy after the incident. No one was found to have had a gun.
The police department eventually conducted an internal investigation, but all charges were dropped on a technicality. Suspicious of the internal goings-on, the FBI stepped in to investigate the department’s investigation. So far the eight-year sentence is the only conviction, but it may be lessened since the officer will be a star witness in a June trial for six other officers at the incident.
7) On December 12 in Long Beach, CA, police shot and killed an intoxicated man who was wielding the nozzle of a garden hose. The man, a surfer and a father, had opted to not drive drunk and was waiting on some steps in front of a friend’s house, according to his sister. The police say he pointed the nozzle at them, and two officers shot him, using a handgun and a rifle.
Already it appears that the cops involved are getting special protection: on December 31 a judge sided with the police union requesting that the names of the officers not be released to the LA Times. The Long Beach city attorney says that city policy would normally be to release names once administrative and criminal proceedings are done, according to NBC. In nearby Pasadena and Los Angeles, police department policies are to release names of officers, though the police union has been fighting those departments to keep cops' names mum. Keeping public servants anonymous makes accountability that much more challenging -- even civilians do not enjoy that level of privacy.
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Often, the racial aspect of these incidents is ignored, like Mehserle’s fellow officer who called Grant “bitch ass n--” a minute before Grant was shot, or when Seattle detective Cobane yelled “I’m going to beat the fucking Mexican piss out of you homey, you feel me?” while stomping on a Latino man. Police officers of all colors perpetuate racism on people of color.
The ability to videotape more conveniently than ever before is beginning to illuminate police behavior, and police are responding with a backlash. Cases of civilians taping police and getting arrested for it are on the rise. But as public servants (nominally), cops do not have much legal ground nor precedent to prevent taping of them. Videotaping without consent is illegal only in private.
Only a small number of cops commit assault, of course. [ Not, "of course"] But with judges and internal investigators acting permissively and turning a blind eye to police violence, there’s no way to put the brakes on those who do. As long as all police have little or no consequence to acting in horrific ways, far too many of them will keep doing so.