Roundup: A guide to the Tyre Nichols case, some progress in Arizona, and the harrowing police shooting of Jason Harley Kloepfer
This week’s roundup comes to you in three parts.
First up, some housekeeping and personal news:
First, I’m hoping to start a regular mailbag feature here. So AMA. Send me your questions about my work, the issues I cover, stuff I like, stuff you’ve read here, recommendations. Have at it.
Second, some professional news: I’ve accepted a journalism fellow position at the Quatrone Center at Penn Law. The scholars at Quatrone are doing some really groundbreaking and fascinating work, and I’ll be collaborating with them on some in-depth journalism/data projects. Very excited about this.
Third, I wrote a review of the documentary Riotsville, USA for the Daily Beast. It’s a harrowing and sadly familiar look at the early days of police militarization, and how little has changed since.
Finally, I had an essay in the New York Times about the long and sordid history of elite police units like the SCORPION unit that killed Tyre Nichols. Hope you’ll check it out.
Here’s the second part — ongoing coverage of the fallout from the murder of Tyre Nichols.
Humanizing Tyre Nichols: Here’s a profile of who Nichols was. Here’s the story of the video of Nichols skateboarding that went viral. And here’s a thread from a journalist who interviewed him in 2018 in a story about the California DMV.
The Memphis cops shouted at least 71 different, often contradictory orders at Nichols over 13 minutes, often while in the process of beating him. Kinda’ puts the whole “just comply and you have nothing to worry about” claim into perspective.”
We shouldn’t forget what the Memphis police department originally said about the incident, how utterly removed that statement was from the video, or that without the video, we’d be seeing none of the accountability we’re seeing now.
What the Nichols murder means for qualified immunity reform.
NPR report: Memphians say police abuse in the city is common. They describe police battering down doors to houses that don’t match the address on the warrant, to motorists beaten to the point of requiring medical attention for petty traffic violations.
Here’s another report finding that residents of Memphis had been complaining about the SCORPION unit’s aggressive tactics for months.
Interesting headline from December: “Memphis Police have no duty to investigate crimes, says attorney for city.” This was a case in which police failed to investigate a rape and murder, after which the rapist went on to strike again. Unfortunately, the attorney is probably correct on the law, at least under current Supreme Court precedent. But you can imagine how residents might be frustrated by a department that devotes resources to an aggressive “anti-crime” unit that harasses people during pretextual traffic stops, but can’t muster the resources to test a rape kit.
At about the same time Memphis started the SCORPION program, Atlanta police introduced a similar “aggressive” anti-crime unit called Titan. Atlanta had a similar group called the Red Dogs in the 1990s and 2000s. The program was disbanded in 2011 after multiple scandals, including an aggressive and allegedly homophobic raid on a gay gym, sexually assaulting motorists, and inadvertently beating a fellow cop who happened to be undercover. Memphis’s police chief was an officer at APD during the Red Dog era. Meanwhile, here’s a fawning local news report from Fulton County, Georgia about yet another elite police group called SCORPION, this time at the county sheriff’s department.
Here’s a thread on the nutty pundits Fox News has invited on to comment on the Nichols murder.
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Finally, the rest of your roundup:
Video appears to show New York parole officers stealing $6,000 from a woman’s closet.
Philly cops get full pay and a 20 percent bonus when they can’t work due to injury. The police union had a few go-to doctors to diagnose such injuries. That resulted in a jaw-dropping 15 percent of the force on paid injury leave. After the Philadelphia Inquirer published an investigation, the union-picked doctors were dismissed, and injuries dropped by 30 percent.
The Aurora, Colorado, cop who threatened Elijah McClain with a fatal dog bite during the police encounter that ended with McClain’s death is back on the job. Also this month, an Aurora cop who was found passed out drunk in his squad car was promoted, and another cop was arrested for punching a disabled woman.
The week in exonerations: New York judge vacates convictions of two men convicted on the eyewitness testimony of a man who lied about his poor eyesight. And in Hawaii, a man convicted with bitemark evidence and snitch testimony for a 1991 murder has been exonerated by DNA testing.
Emails showed that several Arizona Republican legislators were conspiring with Ginni Thomas and others to overthrow the 2020 election results. They have responded by exempting their emails from the state’s open records law.
Ron DeSantis wants to make it easier to execute people. This seems to be a recurring theme among Florida’s law-and-order politicians, despite the fact that the state has the worst executions-to-death-row-exonerations ration in the country.
Federal appeals court: No constitutional violation if the police arrest you and detain you for three days because they mistook you for someone else.
Meanwhile, a federal judge has ruled that DeSantis violated both state and federal law when he removed reformist St. Petersburg prosecutor Andrew Warren from office. Unfortunately, the judge also ruled that the federal courts lack the jurisdiction to overturn DeSantis’ decision.
Axon — formerly known as Taser — assembled an “ethics board” to evaluate its new program to market taser-armed drones to police agencies. The board voted against the program. Axon proceeded with it anyway, and 75 percent of the board resigned.
A non-exhaustive list of all the people the right has accused of “grooming.”
Some good news: The new governor and attorney general of Arizona are getting to work on criminal justice reforms. First, they’ve suspended the death penalty in the state, and have launched an investigation into how it’s carried out. And second, they’re opening in inquiry into the state’s notoriously awful prisons. What a difference a few hundred votes can make. For some, it’s literally life and death.
Another data point in favor of violence interruption: After the city funded a program called the Group Violence Reduction Strategy in West Baltimore, gun violence dropped by 33 percent, while remaining static in most of the rest of the city.
ACLU report: Law enforcement officials in Arizona “sent over 140 illegal subpoenas to money transfer companies compelling them to turn over their customers’ private financial data, which is then put into a huge database. As of 2021, this database contained over 145 MILLION records of transactions.”
Report finds “systemic failures” in how the Oakland Police Department conducts investigations of officers misconduct.
Former FBI agent says the agency’s continuing opposition to releasing Leonard Peltier is driven by a “vendetta.”
In 2017, Alabama’s parole board granted parole in more than half the cases it heard. It now grants parole in less than 10 percent, and spends about 5 to 6 minutes hearing a typical case.
The head of NYC jails wants to ban physical mail and replace it with fee-based e-correspondence, and he’s citing silly myths about fentanyl to justify it.
Arizona officials arrested a man on drug charges, and took his young, diabetic but otherwise healthy son into state custody. Two weeks later, the man’s son was dead after falling into a coma. The man suspects that state officials neglected to properly monitor his son’s insulin.
Elsewhere in Arizona, local police arrested a woman for investigating them and publishing her findings on Facebook. Incredibly, the federal courts aren’t sure if this is a violation of the First Amendment.
Lawsuit: Louisiana woman says she was coerced into becoming a police informant, then was raped by drug dealers after police failed to monitor the sting.
Texas Governor Greg Abbot has put a longtime law-and-order activist and longtime critic of reformist judges on the state’s judicial oversight board.
Nearly half the sheriffs in Louisiana are violating the state’s open records laws.
Tweet of the week:
Twitter thread of the week:
Video of the week. This is one of the more egregious police shootings I’ve seen in a while. Fortunately the victim, Jason Harely Kloepfer, survived. Here again, there’s a stark contrast between the video and the police press release and initial local media coverage of the incident. Video matters. (Warning: Video is disturbing.)
This week in dog history:
When diphtheria hit Nome, Alaska in the winter of 1925, residents feared the disease could devastate the village. The closest supply of anti-toxin was in Anchorage, about a thousand miles away. Nome’s harbor was frozen over, and air transport wasn’t feasible in winter — the only airplanes at the time were open-cockpit. So state officials recruited teams of dog sledders to transport the serum over 674 miles of frigid, icy terrain. As the common story goes, the team that was supposed to handle the second-to-last leg of the trek was led by a Siberian wolf mix named Balto.
As musher Gunnar Kaasen accepted the fur-wrapped batch of serum from the previous sled team, a blizzard hit, and temperatures dropped to 50 below zero. Facing blinding, snow-driven winds, Balto was forced to navigate by scent instead of sight. At one point, a gust of wind flipped the sled, forcing Kaasen to quickly dig through the snow to find the serum. When the 13-dog team finally completed their harrowing 80-mile stretch, the next next sled team that was to relay the medicine failed to show. So Balto and his pack trudged on another 53 miles, arriving in Nome at 5:30 am on February 2nd. The relay became the inspiration for Alaska’s annual Iditarod race. It’s also credited with popularizing the effectiveness of vaccine.
Balto and Kaasen became national heroes. Balto in particular was celebrated in Hollywood, and got to attend the unveiling of a statute of himself in New York’s Central Park. He was the subject of numerous children’s books, and a 1995 animated movie.
But controversy would follow. Other mushers who participated in the relay alleged that Kaasen had lied about the musher who was supposed to follow him refusing to show. Instead, they claimed, Kaasen was supposed to wake him, but didn’t in order to take the glory for himself. And as it turns out, Balto was actually on loan to Kaasen from another musher named Leonhard Seppala. Moreover, it was Seppala and one of his teams, led by a dog named Togo, that took the serum on the longest and most perilous part of the relay. Seppala also expressed doubt that Balto could have been lead dog. He’d later say Balto never showed much promise as a sled dog, and suggested a less photogenic dog named Fox had likely been lead. Seppalo and Kaasen, who had been good friends, never spoke again.
After the fame subsided, Balto and his sled mates were purchased by a vaudeville sideshow in Los Angeles, where they were neglected and abused. They were rescued in 1927 thanks to a fundraiser by the Cleveland Plain-Dealer and the city’s zoo. Balto and his mates lived out their lives in relative comfort at the Zoo. He died in 1933.
In recent years, there has been an effort to correct the historical record to recognize Togo and Seppalo as the true heroes of the Iditarod, as well as to recognize the contributions of native Alaskan sled teams that have largely been overlooked. New York now has a statute of Togo as well, and Togo also got his own feature film in 2019. Togo’s taxidermied body is on display at the Iditarod Trail Headquarters in Wasilla.
Spot the moose. Denali National Park, Alaska