Wash. Post: Justice Dept. launches investigation into the Chicago Police Department’s use of force

The Justice Department will investigate the Chicago Police Department to see whether the force “has engaged in a pattern or practice of violation of the Constitution or federal law,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced Monday.

“Our investigation is focused on use of force and the accountability within the police department,” Lynch said.

The probe follows similar federal civil rights investigations that were launched in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, in the wake of unrest in both cities. In Chicago, federal investigators will look at how officers use deadly force and examine any racial or ethnic disparities in how force is employed, as well as how the department handles discipline and allegations of misconduct.

This investigation into the country’s second-largest local police department comes less than two weeks after the Chicago force came under the national spotlight because of recently released video footage showing a white police officer fatally shooting a black teenager. The Washington Postfirst reported Sunday that the Justice Department would open this investigation, putting Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s force under the microscope of his former colleagues in the Obama administration.

Read the rest of the article at the Washington Post; the Wall Street Journal also reported a similar story.

ABC News: Chicago Cops’ Versions of Teen’s Killing at Odds With Video

ABC News recently provided an update to the story of Laquan McDonald:

Police officers who watched a colleague shoot a black Chicago teenager 16 times filed reports depicting a very different version of events than what dashcam footage showed, portraying the teen as far more menacing than he appeared in the video.

The city released hundreds of pages of documents late Friday pertaining to the October 2014 killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Jason Van Dyke, a white police officer. Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder last month, only hours before the department released the video under a court order, sparking protests and accusations of a cover-up.

Chicago Sun-Times quoted the Mayor of Chicago, responding then to the investigation by the Federal Government: Continue reading

Boston Globe: Lowell bank to repay borrowers in discrimination settlement

Lowell bank to repay borrowers in discrimination settlement: “Sage Bank, a small community bank in Lowell, will spend $1.2 million to settle allegations by the US Department of Justice that it charged African-American and Hispanic borrowers more for their home loans than their white counterparts.

The bank denied any wrong-doing and said it did not intentionally discriminate against minority borrowers. It is changing its pricing policy.
African-American borrowers on average paid about $2,450 more and Hispanic borrowers $1,440 more than whites under the bank’s pricing structure, which was in place between 2011 to 2014, according to the civil complaint and consent agreement filed Monday in US District Court in Boston.

‘Sage Bank’s loan pricing policies created the risk that borrowers would be treated differently based on impermissible characteristics like race and national origin, and that was in fact the result,’ said Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a statement.

The bank paid loan officers more money for generating loans from borrowers who didn’t have a continuous work history or readily available tax returns, under the belief that these loans required more work, said Peter Conrad, the president of Sage Bank. Many of these borrowers were African-American and Hispanic, Conrad said.

That cost was passed on to these minority borrowers, and was not unusual among mortgage lenders, he said.

The bank will refund more than 500 borrowers affected by the policy, under the agreement. Sage has less than $200 million in assets.”

Chicago Shooting & NYT: The Real Problem with Police Video

The New York Times in a recent opinion page stated that “A CHICAGO police officer shot and killed a teenager named Laquan McDonald in October of last year, but most of us learned about Mr. McDonald only last week, after a judge ordered the release of police video footage of his death. That is also when prosecutors finally brought first-degree murder charges against the officer. Clearly, such footage has considerable power.”

Why did it take a year for the release of the video which prompted first-degree murder charges? Perhaps it is obvious but as the New York Times states, it is because the police own the video footage recorded by most of these camera programs and, as described in the article, the body cameras.

About a third of police departments in the United States have started to use body cameras, and they typically have almost complete control over the programs. Police departments decide when cameras should be rolling, how long the footage is stored, who gets to see it and how it can be used in the future. Individual officers operate the record button, and their supervisors decide what happens when those officers fail to comply with the department’s recording policy (usually, not much).

The author of the article, a staff attorney at the Bronx Defenders went on to write about the issues facing the New York Police Body Camera Program:

Continue reading

ABA Journal: Long-held beliefs about arson science have been debunked after decades of misuse

The ABA Journal Reports….”Since 1989, 31 people have officially been exonerated—at least in part on the basis of new evidence that they did not commit arson, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

But the registry is not all-inclusive. It doesn’t list the names of people like Louis Taylor, freed in 2013 after serving 42 years of a life sentence for a 1970 fire at a Tucson, Arizona, hotel that killed 29 people. Or James Hugney, set free earlier this year after serving nearly 36 years of a life sentence for a 1978 house fire that killed his 16-year-old son.

Nor does it include the name of Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texas man executed in 2004 for the 1991 arson murder of his three young daughters in a house fire that at least eight experts have since concluded was probably an accident….

And the actual number of people in prison for arson crimes they didn’t commit may be much higher because nobody knows how many individuals have been wrongfully convicted of arson-related offenses based on faulty fire science evidence. Most are indigent and have nobody to take up their cause. And arson convictions, as a rule, are particularly difficult to undo.

Arson cases are not like typical murder or rape cases, where DNA evidence may still exist that not only can establish one’s innocence but also implicate another. In arson cases, evidence is usually consumed in the fire. And a fire investigator can rarely rule out arson as the cause of a blaze, which is often a requirement for overturning a conviction.

a

Lentini, who has compiled a list of 55 cases in which he has been able to help people who have been falsely accused or wrongfully convicted of arson, estimates that there may still be as many as a “few hundred” innocent people in prison for arson-related offenses” Read the rest of the story at ABA Journal

Miami Herald: Amid a series of police-involved shootings in Miami-Dade, a search for patterns …

“Over one six-day stretch over the past two weeks, South Florida police officers shot seven people. Two of them died. Four who survived were teenagers. Three of the teens were inside a truck. One of those shot was a reputed gang member. The two who died suffered from mental illness.”

The Miami Herald published the above content on November 22, 2015.

NYT: Appeals Court Rules for Transcripts in Eric Garner Case to Remain Sealed…

The New York Times continues coverage on Eric Garner, the African American man who was choked to death by a New York City Police Office: “The decision by the Court of Appeals, in a six-word ruling published on its website, ended a yearlong legal effort to pry open records from the private proceeding. The grand jury declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo or other New York police officers involved in wrestling Mr. Garner to the ground during an arrest in July 2014 on Staten Island. Mr. Garner, who was suspected of selling loose cigarettes on a sidewalk near the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, was declared dead about an hour later at a hospital.

The court’s ruling leaves in place another decision by an intermediate appellate court. In July, a four-judge panel of the Appellate Division in Brooklyn ruled unanimously against releasing the information, which was being sought by the city’s public advocate, the Legal Aid Society, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the N.A.A.C.P. The appellate judges cited the “dangers inherent in violating the secrecy of the grand jury process.”

The grand jury’s decision last December spurred protests across New York and beyond, and amplified national calls for changes in police practices and to the grand jury system. Grand juries, which by law operate in secret, have rarely brought charges against police officers for fatal on-duty actions. Continue reading

Wash. Times: Ill. attorney general asks Chicago to release shooting video

CHICAGO (AP) – The Illinois Attorney General’s Office is asking the Chicago Police Department to release the video that shows an officer shooting a black teenager 16 times last year, killing him.

In a letter released Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General Neil Olson says the department failed to offer evidence that releasing the video would interfere with an ongoing investigation of the October 2014 shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Read the article here.

This is not surprising in light of the recent Department of Justice report that Black Americans are more susceptible to non-fatal force by police officers: the study “found that an annual average of 44 million U.S. residents older than 16 had at least one face-to-face contact with police between 2002 and 2011. About 75 percent of those who had encountered force from the police perceived the force to be excessive.”  Continue reading

Wash Post: D.C. police framed man imprisoned 27 years for 1981 murder, U.S. jury finds

A federal jury on Wednesday found that D.C. police framed an innocent man for a 1981 rape and murder, making the District liable for damages after he was imprisoned for 27 years.

Jurors found that two D.C. homicide detectives fabricated all or part of a confession purportedly made by the wrongly accused Donald E. Gates to a police informant. The detectives also withheld other evidence from Gates before he was convicted in the fatal attack on a 21-year-old Georgetown University student in Rock Creek Park, jurors found.

Gates, now 64, was exonerated in the June 1981 killing and released from prison in 2009 after DNA testing.

Following Wednesday’s verdict, Gates’s attorneys said the detectives’ conduct warranted investigation into their handling of other cases. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District declined to comment on the verdict or whether the decision exposes the detectives to criminal investigation for perjury.

“It feels like the God of the King James Bible is real, and he answered my prayers,” Gates, who lives in Knoxville, Tenn., said as he left the courtroom. “Justice is on the way to being fulfilled. . . . It’s one of the happiest days of my life.”

Read more here

Wash. Post: Uneven Justice, Police Killings and Mixed Verdicts

“Society is loath to convict cops who kill, so civil court is often the best place for victims’ families to get results. But there, some get millions, and some get nothing.” Read the whole store here: Uneven Justice – Fatal shootings by police lead to a wide range of settlements for families… “The Washington Post tracked civil lawsuits filed by 46 families after fatal shootings in which the officers were criminally charged. Most families received awards, with a median value of $1.2 million. The amounts ranged from $7,500 to $8.5 million.”

The article details several police killings. In all of these cases, civil and/or criminal charges were brought but the results were drastically different depending on the victim. The Washington Post is now maintaining a database, the number of people killed this year by police at 838 as of the publishing of this article. Although thousands are dead, the Washington Post reports, few police officers are prosecuted. Indeed, “[m]ost of the time, prosecutors don’t press charges against police — even if there are strong suspicions that an officer has committed a crime. Prosecutors interviewed for [the aforementioned] report say it takes compelling proof that at the time of the shooting the victim posed no threat either to the officer or to bystanders.” Lay this against the backdrop of police killing of Jeremy Mardis, just six years old….

Continue reading