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Roundup: Our horrific jails and prisons, courts find new ways to immunize cops from lawsuits, the outrageous police killing of Richard Ward
First, a couple housekeeping items:
The first reader mail post was very well-received, so I’ll plan to do them more regularly going forward. Feel free to email me your questions about . . . whatever you want to ask!
Coming next week: A deep dive into the pitfalls of ballistics matching and forensic firearms analysis.
On to this week’s roundup of news from the world of civil liberties, policing, and criminal justice:
News from our nightmarish jails and prisons: According to a lawsuit, Louisville jailers locked a mentally and physically woman in a small room that lacked running water, ventilation, a toilet, or a bed for 18 hours. She eventually hung herself with her soiled underwear in view of other prisoners — whose pleas for help were ignored. In Alabama, after a prisoner died just a few days before he was to be released, prison officials buried him without first informing his family. It took weeks for them to learn what they had done. Elsewhere in Alabama, a lawsuit alleges that a man froze to death after jailers left him strapped to a restraint chair in a walk-in freezer. By the time he arrived at the hospital, his body temperature was 72 degrees. This comes just a couple months after another lawsuit alleged that another prisoner was “baked to death” in a hot cell. His body temperature at death was 109 degrees. Finally, in New Jersey, a lawsuit and multiple complaints allege that guards at a rehab housing unit were staging their own “fight club,” in which they pitted incarcerated people against one another.
A profile of Gideon’s Army, a Nashville violence interruption and anti-poverty organization.
Mississippi’s overwhelmingly Republican legislature voted to establish a separate court system for the city of Jackson, independent of the city’s established courts. Court officials would be appointed by white state office holders. Jackson is 80 percent black.
A Detroit woman says police officers shot and killed her dog, then stuffed it in a neighbor’s trashcan without telling her. Officers claim the dog attacked them and a K9 unit as they ran through the woman’s yard while chasing a carjacking suspect.
Video suggests the officer wounded in the police raid on the “Cop City” protesters in Atlanta may have been hit by friendly fire.
A new report from the city’s civilian review board finds that during the George Floyd protests, “146 cops violated NYPD rules 269 times during the protests, with 34 demonstrators struck with batons, 28 pepper-sprayed and 59 roughed up with physical force.” Also, “the real tally of violations is likely much higher, the CCRB suggested — there were 609 allegations in which officers could not be identified because they covered their badge numbers or refused to provide their names, or because their supervisors lost track of where they were assigned.” The head of the city’s police union responded that the report overlooks the fact that NYPD cops were mostly peaceful (no, really!).
A proposed Vermont bill would ban no-knock raids in that state.
Report: Georgia police are seizing vehicles from motorists without bringing formal charges or reporting those seizures to any public agency.
A D.C. police officer shot and seriously wounded a man who was sitting in his car after mistaking the man for a suspect in a recent assault. The officer claimed the man “reached for his waistband.” He was unarmed.
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A new ABA study finds that 98 percent of criminal cases end with a plea bargain.
Ft. Worth police chief submits proposal for a “community advisory board” whose members would be chosen . . . by the Ft. Worth chief of police.
Shortly after the pandemic hit, deaths in prisons rose by nearly 50 percent. The study’s author speculate that the figure is likely higher. It’s hard to calculate a more precise number because despite a mandate to track prison deaths, the Justice Department just stopped counting in 2019.
Interesting dive into the surge in police agency spending on public relations positions.
Chicago police officials repeatedly lied about a recent fatal shooting, falsely claiming that the deceased man had exchanged gunfire with them. Note too that a private security guard was able to deescalate a previous confrontation with the man without resorting to lethal force.
The Indiana legislature passed a bill that would permit police officers to prohibit any video to be taken within 25 feet of them. The bill would essentially make it impossible to record a police arrest in an urban area without obstruction. If such a law had been in effect in Minnesota, it may have prevented the George Floyd video from ever happening.
In other bad proposed laws, the West Virginia legislature is considering a bill that would make “obstructing” a police officer in a way that results in the police officer’s death a felony with the same punishment as murder. It would just remove the elements prosecutors otherwise need to prove in a murder case.
Nashville judge excoriates former DA, police officials for their conduct in a wrongful conviction, including ignoring exculpatory evidence that should have freed the innocent man a decade ago. Kicker: The former DA now teaches a class at a local law school about . . . here it comes . . . wrongful convictions!
Here’s a thread about the First Amendment-defying provisions in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ new higher ed bill, which would severely curtail academic freedom at state colleges and universities.
Also from Florida: The good folks at FIRE take aim at a disastrous new bill that would give SCOTUS the opportunity to overturn NYT v. Sullivan, the case that governs the current libel laws. The irony here is that, as the latest revelations from the lawsuit against Fox News make clear, many of the same conservatives pushing to overturn Sullivan would be among the first to be successfully sued under relaxed libel laws.
Under Elon Musk, Twitter has stopped issuing transparency reports that document when governments ask for data.
New data shows that 90 percent of drivers searched and arrested by NYPD are black or Latino. The city is about 40 percent white, and I’d imagine that the percentage of drivers who are white is quite a bit higher. Note too that other studies have shown that though black motorists are more likely to be searched, they’re less likely to be in possession of illegal drugs or weapons.
The latest from Memphis: The supervisor of the Scorpion unit that killed Tyre Nichols has previously been disciplined for excessive force and a domestic incident, and was found to have lied about an illegal search which resulted in a judge dismissing criminal charges against the suspect. Meanwhile, though city officials promised to disband the Scorpion program, most officers were merely reassigned to other units that use similar tactics.
Qualified immunity news: The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a federal appeals court decision granting qualified immunity to police and prosecutors who arrested and tried a man for parodying his local police department on Facebook. This means that in Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky, there’s still nothing stopping the police from arresting you for mocking them. You likely won’t be convicted, but you’d have no civil recourse. In two other First Amendment/QI cases: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently voted to rehear a denial of QI to officers who used an obscure law to arrest a Texas woman for engaging in journalism, and barred another Texas woman from suing after she was investigated by police for criticizing a local mayor. In another, especially infuriating ruling this month, the Fifth Circuit granted QI to jail officials who kept a man incarcerated for weeks after he was supposed to be released. Despite the fact that the man’s rights were clearly violated, and that holding someone behind bars beyond their release date violates clearly established law, the court granted QI because man did not explain in his brief why being imprisoned after you’ve served your sentence is “unreasonable.” Finally, here’s a harrowing story about how a cop sexually abused a kid, how child protective services outrageously retaliated against the kid’s family when they reported the abuse, and how the courts decided that all the government actors involved should be immunized from the family’s attempt to sue them. (If this stuff gets your dander up, be sure to get the new book on qualified immunity by the great Joanna Schwartz.)
How to fight the mass use of license plate readers in your community.
Mississippi lawsuit: Six white sheriff’s deputies raided a home without a warrant, used racial epithets, then handcuffed and tortured two black men with methods that included waterboarding. One deputy then shot one of the men in the mouth.
Four months after Biden’s pre-midterm promise of mass pardons for marijuana possession, he has yet to issue any.
Philadelphia exonerates two men in one week, both of whom were wrongly convicted by the same detective.
Lamar Johnson has finally been freed from a Missouri prison. Despite acknowledgment from both prosecutors and courts that he is likely innocent, Johnson couldn’t win his release because he had exhausted his appeals, and state law didn’t provide a way for him to get back into court. The Missouri legislature had to pass a new law allowing it to happen. Former AG — and now U.S. Senator — Erik Schmitt claimed in a statement that in keeping Johnson behind bars he was merely upholding “the rule of law.” That’s bullshit, of course. As with any prosecutor, the job of a state attorney general is to seek justice, not to cling to procedural technicalities to keep innocent people in prison.
At about the same time, Missouri also went ahead and executed another man, despite the fact that he was still litigating an innocence claim.
Speaking of the death penalty, if he retakes the White House, Donald Trump apparently wants to carry out “group executions,” possibly with beheadings. Some sources say he’s also talking about televising him. Trump wouldn’t have the power to do any of that, of course. But he could still do a lot of damage.
A New Jersey police officer has been charged with aggravated assault for shooting and paralyzing an unarmed man as the man ran away.
Internal emails document how supervisors enforced a ticket quota for Baltimore state police officers. The state had previously denied the existence of a quota system.
The Colorado family of Richard Ward has filed a lawsuit against the Pueblo County, Colorado, deputies who killed him. Ward and his mother were waiting in her car to pick up Ward’s brother from school when Ward got out to stretch his legs. On his way back, Ward briefly entered the wrong car before apologizing to the driver for his mistake. After Ward returned to his mother’s car, an officer approached and put his hand on him. Ward retracted, explaining that he’d had bad interactions with police in the past, including one in which police officers struck him while yelling at him to “stop resisting.” The deputy responded, “We aren’t like that.” About a minute later, the deputy asked to see Ward’s ID. In retrieving his ID, Ward put prescription pill for anxiety into his mouth (I can’t imagine why he’d fell anxious). When he did, the deputy dragged Ward out of the car, threw him to the ground. Seconds later, the deputy shot Ward twice in the chest, killing him. Ward was not armed and was not suspected of a crime. The officers then detained Ward’s mother. The Pueblo County sheriff quickly told the public that Ward had “jumped out” of the vehicle and attacked the deputy. Body cam video, available here, shows that was a lie. The sheriff’s office later awarded the deputy a “purple heart” for the minor injuries he sustained during the altercation.
Debunking of the week:
Police video of the week, #1:
Police video of the week, #2:
Police video of the week, #3:
Today in dog history:
“Bob,” a fox terrier who traveled with the British military, passed away in February, 1860 after he was hit by a cart. Bob accompanied British cavalry during the infamous “March of the Light Brigade” during the 1854 Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. He would later accompanied British troops when they captured Sebastopol and was also awarded a medal for his valor. Though unnamed, Bob is memorialized in the poem “The Dog of the Light Brigade,” by British poet Andrew Motion.
— Source: The Coventry Standard, February 24, 1860
Photo: Grand Canyon National Park