September 30, 2014

Drug Convictions Overturned En Masse In Philadelphia

On Friday, September 26, a judge in Philadelphia vacated 59 different drug convictions with the blessing of the District Attorney's office. As The Inquirer noted, the court moved briskly, taking no more than a minute per case, in "an assembly-line treatment of cases, which the courts have perfected after years of police scandals."

The cause? All of these cases flowed from arrests made by former Officer Jeffrey Walker during the period of 2004 to 2013. In May 2013, Walker was arrested by the FBI sting after he was caught planting drugs in a suspect's car, stealing keys, and then burglarizing his house.  Walker promptly began cooperating, which has helped turn up six other dirty cops, Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman, and John Speiser.  Walker is awaiting sentencing.

September 29, 2014

Judge: Rikers Guards and Captain Ought to be Fired

Aerial photograph of Rikers Island
Aerial Photo of Rikers Isalnd
In a decision today, Administrative Law Judge Tynia Richard called for six NYC Department of Corrections officers, including a Captain, to be fired, after finding that they hog-tied an inmate, broke one of his vertebra, fractured his nose, and left him with both eyes swollen shut and his face bloody, and then lied about their conduct and falsified their reports. The NY Times called it a "rare rebuke," and they're not wrong.

Vicious guard on inmate violence is not new to Rikers, nor is it uncommon. In fact, it has become somewhat institutionalized. See here, here, and here. What is new is the acknowledgement and rejection of this brazen misconduct. Arrest after arrest of guards for assaults and cover ups appears to be slowly making an imprint on the public's  conscience. It's a welcome change, albeit one that is incurring only incrementally.

September 20, 2014

NYPD Use of Force Stats: Consider the Source

The NYPD is proudly touting statistics that indicate that the use of force by police officers has been declining for the past 20 years. That's great. Unfortunately, it may not be true. As the department has had to acknowledge, the NYPD is relying in large part on self-reporting by officers. Color me cynical, but the sourcing is problematic.

September 12, 2014

OT: The Mets Are Being Sued

This has nothing to do with civil rights or criminal law. But as a long-suffering NY Mets fan (I know, it's a redundency), this pending employment lawsuit screams out for attention. Or maybe I just wanted to vent. Either way, thanks to Above the Law for the piece.

This is a team whose ownship placed all their monetary eggs in the Bernie Madoff basket, leaving the team with all the spending power of a book of green stamps and some coupons for Subway. Rather than sell the team to people with the intellectual or financial ability to operate a professional sports team like competent adults, the Wilpons continued to stumble about; assuring fans they had the money to sign top shelf free agents, while giving away their assets and slicing payroll. While very publicly sacrificing talent level (and wins) for saving, they hiked their ticket prices to match the crosstown rival Yankees and then wondered why the stadium was empty.

September 10, 2014

DWB is a "Measurable Phenomenon"

Driving while black, or DWB, has long been a primary, if unstated basis, for many police stops. Yet, many members of law enforcement and dubious white folks have tried to brush it off as a mere figment of the imagination for overly sensitive black people. But the empirical data is in and the results confirm what many people already knew: DWB is indeed real.

Quick aside: WashPo referring to DWB as a "phenomenon" is a sloppy, if not deliberately, misleading misnomer. Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines the term as "something (such as an interesting fact or event) that can be observed and studied and that typically is unusual or difficult to understand or explain fully." There's nothing mysterious or hard to understand about DWB. It's conscious and/or sub-conscious racism. Sometimes things are exactly what they look like, and DWB is one of those things.

September 7, 2014

NYPD To Wear Body Cameras

Last week NYPD Commissioner William Bratton announced that a pilot program testing out body cameras on NYPD officers will be going into effect. As he points out, it's a technology that cannot be avoided. Interestingly, Bratton's unilateral announcement preempts pending litigation.

Judge Shira Scheindlin's final order in the Stop and Frisk litigation contained a provision requiring the testing of body cameras over a one-year period, and left it to the federal monitor to implement the appropriate plan. That program would have been arrived at with input from an array of plaintiffs' representatives, the NYPD, and other folks. However, these discussions have been delayed by continuing appellate litigation, which has put the court's order in limbo. Following events in Ferguson, and the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, Bratton decided to move forward, albeit without the participation of plaintiffs' counsel, or anyone else.

September 6, 2014

Central Park Five Settlement Finalized

The settlement of the Central Park Five civil case, stemming from the arrest of five young men for the violent rape and assault of a young woman, known as the Central Park Jogger, was formally accepted by the court on Friday. (See here). The $41 million settlement was reached some time ago, and I have made my thoughts known previously.

But with the resolution yesterday came a statement by New York City Corporation Counsel that bears some scrutiny. Specifically, Zachary Carter said,

[The settlement for $41 million] should not be construed as an acknowledgment that the convictions of these five plaintiffs were the result of law enforcement misconduct. On the contrary, our review of the record suggests that both the investigating detectives and the assistant district attorneys involved in the case acted reasonably, given the circumstances with which they were confronted on April 19, 1989 and thereafter.

Carter's statement is notable for it's overt support of the police and prosecutors, an attempt to salve the wounds the settlement most definitely opened up at 1 Police Plaza.

It also caught my eye because it's complete bullshit.

September 1, 2014

J. Edgar Hoover, LBJ, and George Hamilton, together again.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported a fascinating story about how LBJ employed the FBI and his personal attorney/Supreme Court appointee Abe Fortas to investigate actor George Hamilton, back when he was dating LBJ's daughter. A hat tip to Josh Blackman for the info. The full article is here.

J. Edgar Hoover
J. Edgar Hoover
It's a great story. Several years ago, Professor Tuan Samahon of Villanova Law School, who was considering writing a book on Abe Fortas, filed a Freedom of Information Act request for an FBI memo. Samahon thought the document would confirm that the FBI was using info about Fortas's sexual liaison with another man to squeeze Fortas into leaking info about a pending Supreme Court case. He also wondered if the FBI was somehow linked to Fortas's resignation from the Court after only four years on the bench.

Ferguson Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed

The race to the courthouse has begun. As reported a few days ago, six people have filed suit against St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, Ferguson P.O. Justin Cosma, and others, alleging a variety of police abuses during the period of August 11-13. The case is White v. Jackson, 14-CV-1490 (HEA), and is pending in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.