Posts Tagged ‘police accountability’

Ben Baker, 43, of Chicago was convicted of drug possession in 2005 and sentenced to 14 years in prison, but last year, the Exoneration Project discovered evidence that the investigators framed Baker.  He was eventually released from the Robinson Correctional Center this week and sent home.  Baker’s legal team knew for more than a day that he was no longer convicted of what a corrupt officer framed him for, but Baker had no idea.  He said, “I was coming from the gym, from a fitness class they provide there. I was standing, waiting.  The officer told me to pack my stuff. I was going home. I told him, ‘Stop playing.’ ”

“This is what we do this work for.  This conviction should have never happened, but we are delighted that once the case got on their radar, the state’s attorney’s office acted quickly and decisively,” said Joshua Tepfer, a lawyer with the Exoneration Project.

Sergeant Ronald Watts and a number of officers on his squad testified that Baker was selling drugs out of one of the city’s public housing buildings, the Ida B. Wells building.  Baker has always maintained his innocence and said that the authorities were framing him.

At trial, he testified that Sgt. Watts had previously tried to frame him for drug-related cases when he refused to give Watts $1,000 for “protection”.   Baker refused to pay the money and got out of those false charges later.  He subsequently complained to another officer Alvin Jones, but he didn’t know that Jones was part of the scheme.  Jones responded it was all “part of the game…you win some, you lose some.  Next time we get you, it will stick.”

Watts and the other officers testified that Baker was lying and the jury convicted him.

Officer Douglas Nichols, who worked under Watts’ command, testified that he saw Baker with drug bags packaged for distribution and tried to capture him, but he fled.  Officer Robert Gonzalez, also a member of Watts’ team, testified that he arrested Baker in the lobby after Baker got away from Nichols and that he found heroin, crack cocaine, and $800 in his pocket.

Baker told the court that Watts and his officers were the ones with a criminal empire in the housing complex.  They often stole narcotics proceeds and shook down dealers for “protection money”, and even pinned cases on innocent residents if they refused to play ball with them.

At the sentencing hearing, the trial judge fully believed the officers stating that he thought Baker’s accusations were unfounded.  He sentenced Baker to 18 years, but that sentence was later reduced to 14 years.  The accusations “[hold] no water at all,” Judge Toomin said.

It turns out that the criminals were the ones wearing the badges in this case. (more…)

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A white police officer from North Charleston, South Carolina has been charged with the murder of an unarmed African American man after a video surfaced showing him shooting him in the back as he ran away.  Michael Slager, 33, claimed he feared for his life because the man stole his stun gun during a scuffle following a traffic stop.  The video clearly shows Slager shoot Walter Scott, 50, eight times as he is running away.

The shooting comes on the heels of other high-profile shootings of unarmed men in New York, Cleveland, Ferguson, and elsewhere.  The deaths have set off a national debate about the lethal use of force by police, particularly in cases involving African American men.

“When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” Mayor Keith Summey said during a news conference, “And if you make a bad decision, [I] don’t care if you’re behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision.”

The shooting unfolded after Officer Slager stopped Scott, who was driving a Mercedes-Benz with a broken taillight.  Police reports say that Scott ran from the scene and Officer Slager followed him into a grassy lot behind a muffler shop.  He fired his Taser at Scott, but it did not stop him.  Moments later, a struggle ensued where the police reports claim that Officer Slager shoots Scott after he gets his Taser and he fears for his life.  Slager reports on his radio:  “Shots fired and the subject is down.  He took my Taser.”  The police officers reported they attempted to save Scott’s life.

If it wasn’t for a video taken by a bystander, that would be the end of the story, but not the truth.

The video begins in the vacant lot moments after Officer Slager fired his Taser at Scott.  Wires, which carry the electrical current, can be seen in Scott’s body as the two men tussle.  Scott frees himself from the struggle, turns, and runs.

That is when the video shows, Officer Slager shoot Scott.  Scott is about 15 – 20 feet away and facing in the other direction.  Scott is shot 8 times and falls to the ground.  The officer runs back to where the scuffle occurred, picks something up (believed to be the Taser) and plants it near Scott’s body.  Afterwards, Slager handcuffs Scott as he lays dying.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the state’s criminal investigative body, has begun an inquiry into the shooting. The F.B.I. and the Justice Department, which has opened a string of civil rights investigations into police departments is also investigating.  The Supreme Court has held that an officer can use deadly force against a suspect running away if there is probable cause that suspect “poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”

Scott has a minor criminal record, failing to pay child support, not showing up to hearings, etc.  His most serious offense was in 1987 when he was convicted of assault and battery.

“He has four children; he doesn’t have some type of big violent past or arrest record,” said Chris Stewart, a lawyer for Mr. Scott’s family. “He had a job; he was engaged. He had back child support and didn’t want to go to jail for [it].”

Police reports say that officers attempted CPR and first aid, but the video shows officers not administering aid at all.  Scott is face down with handcuffs on for several minutes before another officer puts on blue medical gloves touches Scott.  A third officer arrives later with a medical kit, but does not perform CPR.

Scott’s brother said, “How do you lose your life at a traffic stop?”

Susan Sarandon, among others, were arrested protesting the verdict of the Amadou Diallo shooting trial.

A Daily News analysis of NYPD police shootings started with the death of Amadou Diallo in 1999, an unarmed man who was killed in a flurry of bullets and ends with the death of Akai Gurley in a Brooklyn stairwell last month.  A Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner, a father of six, and a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown, stunned the nation and fueled countrywide protests over police brutality.  A Daily News investigation found that 179 people were killed by on-duty NYPD officers over the past 15 years.  Only 4 of the shootings led to indictments and only 1 led to a conviction (with no jail time).

Nearly 16 years ago, Amadou Diallo, 22, was gunned down in a hail of police bullets.  Diallo, an African immigrant, was standing in the lobby of his Bronx apartment building when 4 police officers misidentified him as a suspect in a sexual assault.  They ordered him to show his hands, as Diallo reached for his wallet, the officers fired 41 bullets, killing him.  The officers were all acquitted of murder.

Diallo’s mother, Kadiatou, said, “We can come together not only to protest…but for something positive…We’ve been through this so much…It seems like we just move on and…pretend like nothing is happening.”

Earlier this month, it was an emotional scene at Brown Memorial Baptist Church as family members mourned the loss of Akai Gurley (left), 28, who was killed by a rookie cop in a dark public housing stairwell.  Gurley, the father of a 2-year-old was unarmed, when he was killed inside the Pink Houses on November 20th in an incident described by the NYPD as “an unfortunate accident.”  Holding his flash light in one hand and his drawn gun in the other, Officer Peter Liang was patrolling the stairwell.  He reached for the door to the 8th floor landing when his gun discharged.  The bullet reportedly ricocheted and struck Gurley who had just entered the stairwell one floor below.  Liang reportedly did not call an ambulance, but instead began texting his police union representative.  He and his partner, Shaun Landau, were radio silent for 6 1/2 minutes after Akai was shot.  A police commander and an emergency operator, responding to a 911 call from a resident, tried to reach them without success.

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson is readying evidence to present to a grand jury soon.

In addition, the officers were not supposed to be performing what is known as a “vertical”, a floor to floor public housing patrol.  Instead they were supposed to be policing the exterior in response to increased violence in the area.  When the officers finally radioed the shooting in, they reported an accidental discharge, but didn’t make it clear they struck a person in need of medical care.  The stairwell was pitch black because the lights had not been fixed by the NYC Housing Authority, they were finally fixed a few hours after Gurley’s death.  While the shooting was probably an accident, the conduct after the shooting could be considered negligence.

Since 1999:

  • At least 27% of all fatal police shootings in New York involve an unarmed victim.
  • 86% of all fatal shootings have an African American or Hispanic victim.
  • 2012 had the highest concentration of fatal shootings by the NYPD, 18 people were killed.
  • More than 25% of off-duty fatalities involved an unarmed victim, usually a case of mistaken identity or innocent bystander.
  • Roughly 20% of the cases involved a person who is mentally ill.

Only NYPD Officer Bryan Conroy was convicted, in 2005, of criminally negligent homicide for killing Ousmane Zongo, 43, a married father of two.  He was killed during a raid on a Chelsea warehouse suspected of counterfeiting goods.  Zongo was not even suspected of wrongdoing.  He worked at the warehouse and happened upon Conroy who was disguised as a postal worker.  Conroy drew his weapon and shot Zongo 4 times.  Conroy’s first trial, was a jury trial, and it resulted in a hung jury.  His second trial was a bench trial, in which the judge convicted him and sentenced him to probation and community service. (more…)