Archive for the ‘Police Issues’ category

“Real Men Of Genius”

May 17, 2007

Today we salute you, Mr. Moronic Mule:

Birmingham Police Wednesday announced the seizure of 7 kilos of cocaine and the arrest of two men from a Tuesday morning traffic stop on Interstate 20/59.

Captain Michael Fisher, head of the department’s vice and narcotics division, said the cocaine has a street value of $175,000.

The men whose, identities were not released, have been arrested, but not charged. They are being held in the Birmingham City Jail, Fisher said.

The drugs were discovered in hidden compartments during a traffic stop after the men were pulled over for speeding in a 1995 Buick Park Avenue. They were near the 1st Avenue North exit on I-20/59 and said they were en route to Atlanta from Dallas.

The men, who displayed suspicious behavior, consented to a search.

O.k., the speeding is dumb enough. But why in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks would they consent to a search when they knew they had umpteen thousand dollars worth of cocaine in the car? When I was in law school and read about stuff like this, my reaction was always something like “yeah, they ‘consented,’ right, during a beat down, maybe.” Now, though, I’ve interviewed enough clients to know that, nope, these guys probably just went ahead and told the cops to search the car. Why? I still don’t know, but for some reason people in that situation think it’s going to help them if they let the cops search the car. Like the cops are going to say “Oh, well, we found all this cocaine, but because you were honest with us, we’ll let you go this time.” As these guys are in the process of finding out, that’s delusional. When it comes to requests to search, the only safe response is to just say no.

Anyway, criminals don’t have a monopoly on stupidity. The second salute is to this swat team (thanks Loretta):

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Update: “No Child Left In Handcuffs”

January 23, 2007

Back in August, I posted about a lawsuit in which an elementary school student was suing the school resource officer because the sro, in response to the student’s smarting off to a teacher, cuffed the student and threatened to throw her in jail.

A reader sent me a link to the results of the lawsuit:

An Alabama police officer did minimal harm to a nine-year-old girl by handcuffing her after she threatened a teacher, a jury has ruled, awarding the student only $1 in damages.

Laquarius Gray prevailed in the liability portion of a one-day trial on her civil rights claim as U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon found that, as a matter of law, the officer illegally detained her during a physical education class at a Tuscaloosa elementary school.

Sheriff’s Deputy Antonio Bostic, who worked as a resource officer at several schools, claimed he heard Gray threaten to punch a coach who was trying to get her to do jumping jacks exercises. “[T]his is how it feels to be in jail,” he told her while she was in handcuffs for at least five minutes.

But on the issue of damages, the jury apparently agreed with the defense, which argued in a briefthat “the Defendant did not cause anything more than de minimis physical injury to the Plaintiff.” Gray’s lawyers presented no expert testimony on damages.

The nominal compensatory award amounts to less than a slap on the wrist for Bostic. Last year, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Gray had suffered “an obvious violation” of her Fourth Amendment rights in denying summary dismissal of the case.

“[T]he handcuffing was excessively intrusive given Gray’s young age and the fact that it was not done to protect anyone’s safety,” the opinion said, concluding that, “Every reasonable officer would have known that handcuffing a compliant nine-year-old child for purely punitive purposes is unreasonable.”

This does not mean Bostic escapes all responsibility for his unlawful actions.

Congress long ago realized that 1) every violation of a constitutional right is a serious matter, but 2) those violations sometimes don’t result in monetary harm, and 3) going to court is an expensive process. So, to encourage the vindication of rights, Congress provided (at 42 USC 1988) that prevailing parties in civil rights cases can recover their attorney’s fees from the losing side. And, as this case illustrates, that is perfectly fair. Someone has to bear the costs of vindicating the victim’s rights, the question is who: The victim of the unlawful activity? The attorney who spent his time and effort arguing the victim’s case? Or the bad guy? Surely it ought to be the bad guy. After all, the whole situation is his fault.

Anyway, given that in this case the liability was clear and that it has involved all the time and energy of an appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, those fees ought to be fairly substantial.

Don’t Bring A Knife To A Gun Fight

November 14, 2006

Back in August, four men entered the home of Ricky Gross – a father of seven and a former sailor in the US Navy – and shot him a total of fourteen times, twelve of them in the back. Two other people witnessed the event and both say that Gross was unarmed and had not threatened anyone. Gross died from the injuries.

Nevertheless, District Attorney David Barber announced yesterday that there would be no criminal charges against the four assailants. The coroner, who was not at the scene, said there was a knife on the floor near Gross’s dead body. An autopsy revealed that Gross was drunk when he was killed. The assailants say Gross threatened them. Clearly, then, this was a case of self defense and there is no need to arrest anyone or to submit the case to a grand jury.

Not so clear? Oh yeah, the assailants were cops.

My previous comments on this case are here, and here.

Time To Waterboard The Mayor?

September 22, 2006

In the news today

Birmingham City Councilman Roderick Royal clashed with Mayor Bernard Kincaid on Thursday, accusing the mayor of not sharing information on the investigation of last month’s police shooting death in Inglenook.

Royal in a council work session said Kincaid knew more than he was sharing about the Aug. 26 police shooting death of 38-year-old Rickey Gross in Inglenook.

Given that 1) torture is what Jesus would do to fight the terrorists, and 2) you are more likely to be killed by a cop than by a terrorist, then, clearly, Councilman Royal should consider using alternative interrogation techniques on the Mayor should the Mayor continue to stonewall efforts to obtain information related to this terrible threat to our freedom.

Back To Alabama Legal News

September 20, 2006

Sorry my last three posts were not really on topic. I’ll stay on course today, starting with this post.

But first, I have to comment on last weekend’s Oklahoma/Oregon game. For the one person who may not know (the story has even made it to NPR), Oklahoma was up by 13 with about two minutes left. Oregon scored with a minute to go, leaving them down by six. They successfully recovered an onside kick, marched down the field, and scored a touchdown to take the lead by one. But there was still time left. Oklahoma took the ensuing kickoff to something like Oregon’s twenty-five yard line. They lined up for the winning field goal, but Oregon blocked it. Game over, Ducks win.

Except that the onside kick clearly – I mean, no doubt about it, everyone is in agreement – did not go ten yards before Oregon recovered it. (There is also a dispute over whether or not they recovered it at all). That means Oklahoma should have gotten the ball. Which means Oregon would not have scored, and so the Sooners would have won.

All I want to say is that I am sick of hearing the Oklahoma folks whine about how the officials stole the game from the Sooners. It was an aweful call, and if it had been made correctly, Oklahoma would have won. But the bad call did not of itself cause the loss. Oregon only got to make the kick because Oklahoma just gave up a thirty yard touchdown scramble to the Duck’s qb. Even after the kick, Oregon still had to go fifty yards in less than a minute to score a touchdown. Oklahoma’s defense – not the officials – allowed that to happen. Yet Oklahoma still could have won the game, but they botched the field goal. Bottom line, imho, is that Oklahoma allowed Oregon to be in position for the bad call, and after the call, a championship team would have preserved the win. They would have stopped Oregon, or made the field goal. Oklahoma did neither. They did not deserve to win.

Now, on to the legal stuff. This was in the paper on Sunday:

The Alabama Bureau of Investigation routinely investigates cases when a law enforcement officer shoots someone.

There may have a legitimate reason to close those records to the general public while the investigation is going on. But it’s hard to understand why they should remain closed after an officer is exonerated.

Yet that’s the case. A grand jury can see the ABI report. The local law enforcement agency that employs the officer in question can see it. But the public has no right to look at the document without a court order, according to the ABI.

That bothers me. Cops are public officials, and so in my view everything related to their employment and job performance ought to be open to public inspection. We are, after all, their employers.

But what I really want to point out is the difference between this result – the records of investigations of possible wrongdoing by copsare not public – and the result when a regular citizen gets arrested. In that case, the record is public, no matter the ultimate outcome. Acquitted, charges dismissed, nolle prossed: It does not matter, the record is there for anyone to see. That creates all kinds of problems. The individual is going to have a harder time finding a job, getting into a school, obtaining a professional license, and doing just about anything that involves a background check. These results are justifiable when the arrest results in a conviction, but they are very harsh when there was no conviction. 

What makes it even worse is that Alabama does not have a procedure for expunging records. Some, maybe most, states have specificprocedures for sealing records of an arrest when the arrest did not result in a conviction. Not Alabama. Some judges will do it, others won’t and in all cases, the DA’s approval is pretty much mandatory. In JeffCo, at least, that approval is very hard to obtain. The result is that once you have a record of an arrest in Alabama, you will always have a record of an arrest in Alabama regardless of whether or not you were ever convicted of a crime.

B’ham Police Waiting For Stun Guns

August 28, 2006

The cause, as with pay increases for the police, appears to be foot-dragging by the Mayor’s office. On this occasion, though, I hope the delay continues indefinitely. 

It’s not that I want the cops to be without a necessary tool; it’s that the Taser Guns, though marketed as a non-lethal way to control suspects, have killed a lot of people. The company that makes them is based in Arizona, and the Arizona Republic has investigated the weapons:

The Arizona Republic, using computer searches, autopsy reports, police reports, media reports and Taser’s own records, has identified 167 cases in the United States and Canada of death following a police Taser strike since September 1999. In 27 cases, medical examiners said Tasers were a cause, a contributing factor or could not be ruled out in someone’s death. In 35 cases, coroners and other officials reported the stun gun was not a factor. Below is a synopsis of each case. The Republic requested autopsy reports for all of the cases and so far has received 50. 

If these things kill people, fine. But market them as lethal lethal and train the officers to use them as lethal force. Do not market them so that officers think like this:

Allen Treadaway, president of the Birmingham Fraternal Order of Police, said Tasers offer police a non-deadly option to control suspects. Without such an option, he said, both suspects and officers are at a greater risk.

Tasers don’t offer a non-deadly option, they offer a most-of-the-time non-deadly option. The problem is that the officer, thinking Tasers are non-deadly, will use it in a situation that calls for non-deadly force. But there is a good chance that the force will in fact be deadly. So the officer – through no fault of his own – ends up using deadly force where such force is not justified.

The result? Yet another unnecessary killing. Surely that’s the last thing B’ham needs.

No Child Left In Handcuffs

August 8, 2006

Alabama’s schools are in the news today:

An impressive 87 percent of Alabama’s 1,364 public schools met state standards in reading and math, according to the latest progress reports of test results released Monday.

The local districts were no exception

More area schools met all of their academic goals this year, according to progress reports released Monday by the state Department of Education.

Jefferson County had 92 percent of its schools to meet all of their goals, up from 57 percent last year.

In Shelby County, 97 percent of the schools met their goals this year, up from 70 percent last year.

Birmingham this year had 80 percent of its schools to meet their goals, compared to 40 percent last year.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, schools must make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, each year on state assessments. Schools must meet state goals in reading, math and additional indicators. If any school fails to make AYP two years in a row in the same component, it enters school improvement status.

All three districts met AYP this year.

You can get commentary here, and here. My opinion? The results mean teachers have improved at feeding random facts to students, and students have improved at regurgitating them on standardized tests. Does that mean anyone is getting a better education now than they would have five years ago? Who knows.

Anyway, the real reason for this post is a case recently decided by the Eleventh Circuit.

Basically, during gym class at a Tuscaloosa school, nine (9) year old Laquarius Gray was not properly performing her jumping jacks. The teacher – Coach Williams – told her to go stand near a wall. She responded with something like “I bust you in the head.” Coach Williams and another coach, being  grown men, in no way felt threatened by the nine (9) year old’s empty words:

Neither Coach Horton nor Coach Williams was afraid of Gray or believed that Gray would actually carry out her threat. When asked whether he was “ever afraid that [Gray] would commit an act of violence towards [him] or Ms. Horton,” Coach Williams replied, “No, sir.” Similarly, Coach Horton replied “No,’ when asked if she was “ever afraid that Ms. Gray would physically assault you or another student?” When asked, “[W]hen Ms. Gray told Coach Williams that she was going to bust him in the head she’s not actually physically capable of doing that, is she,” Coach Horton agreed. Coach Horton planned to talk with Gray about the incident and give her a warning. Coach Horton testified that she would not have been required to write Gray up, give Gray detention, or send her to the principal’s office “because it wasn’t that major.”

So that was it right?  Wrong. Enter the school resource officer: Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Deputy Antonio Bostic. He decided to teach the nine (9) year old girl some respect:

Deputy Bostic told Gray to turn around, pulled her hands behind her back and put Gray in handcuffs. Deputy Bostic tightened the handcuffs to the point that they caused Gray pain. Deputy Bostic told Gray, “[T]his is how it feels when you break the law,” and “[T]his is how it feels to be in jail.” Gray began to cry. Gray stood with the handcuffs on for not less than five minutes, with Deputy Bostic standing behind her.

In discovery responses, Deputy Bostic averred that he detained and handcuffed Gray “to impress upon her the serious nature of committing crimes that can lead to arrest, detention or incarceration” and “to help persuade her to rid herself of her disrespectful attitude.” Deputy Bostic’s discovery responses also stated that he “did not feel the need to apologize to LaQuarius Gray for telling her that she committed a misdemeanor in my presence and showing her what would happen if a less generous officer than I were to arrest her for her actions.”

I am frigtened for all residents of Tuscaloosa County if Deputy Bostic is considered lenient. A nine year old girl – 9!! – smarts off to her teacher before she obeys his command. The remark is so innocuous that the teacher disregards it. Yet this guy slaps the cuffs on her and accuses her of criminal activity. Never mind his disregard of the Fourth Amendment, his actions show an extreme lack of good sense.

Thankfully, he is going to face a lawsuit for his irresponsible actions. The use of the cuffs violated the Fourth Amendment:

We likewise conclude that Deputy Bostic’s conduct in handcuffing Gray, a compliant, nine-year-old girl for the sole purpose of punishing her was an obvious violation of Gray’s Fourth Amendment rights. After making the comment, Gray had complied with her teachers’ and Deputy Bostic’s instructions. Indeed, one of the teachers had informed Deputy Bostic that she would handle the matter. In addition, Deputy Bostic’s purpose in handcuffing Gray was not to pursue an investigation to confirm or dispel his suspicions that Gray had committed a misdemeanor. Rather, Deputy Bostic’s purpose in handcuffing Gray was simply to punish her and teach her a lesson. Every reasonable officer would have known that handcuffing a compliant nine-year-old child for purely punitive purposes is unreasonable.

Here’s hoping that not only the reasonable officers, but officers like Deputy Bostic learn that lesson.