Tag Archives: Police Accountability

‘Despicable’ Baltimore Corruption Scandal To End In Sentencing Of 16 Cops, Civilians

(DCF) Federal investigators obtained the final two convictions related to an expansive corruption scandal inside the Baltimore Police Department Monday night, bringing the total to 16 convicted officers and civilians.

Six members of the city’s elite Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) pleaded guilty to stealing from civilians and selling confiscated guns and drugs back onto the streets. They in turn testified against the remaining two members who claimed innocence. A five-man drug crew, a bail bondsman, and two other civilians have also been convicted, The Baltimore Sun reported. The corrupt officers have yet to be sentenced, but their actions have tainted as many as 850 cases and could result in overturned convictions.

“We recognize that this indictment and subsequent trial uncovered some of the most egregious and despicable acts ever perpetrated in law enforcement,” Acting-Commissioner Darryl De Sousa said Monday. “Let me make it clear: I have ZERO TOLERANCE for corruption.”

Former-Detective Maurice Ward, a GTTF member, testified in January that the group would routinely carry BB guns in their vehicles just in case they needed to plant one on a crime scene. Ward testified to other shocking acts of corruption by the GTTF as well.

City violence has skyrocketed amid the police scandals, with Baltimore suffering 343 murders in 2017, a record rate with the city’s shrinking population. Mayor Catherine Pugh cited the surge in violence when she fired former-Commissioner Kevin Davis and replaced him with De Sousa.

“Crime is now spilling out all over the city, and we’ve got to focus. I am charging De Sousa and his staff to get on top of it to reduce the numbers and to reduce them quickly,” Pugh, a Democrat, said at a news conference. “The fact is, we are not achieving the pace of progress that our residents have every right to expect in the weeks since we ended what was nearly a record year for homicides in the city of Baltimore.”

The eight officers face maximum sentences from 20 to 40 years in prison, while the five-man drug crew could be facing life in prison. The remaining civilians do not yet have scheduled sentences.

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This article was re-published with permission from the Daily Caller Foundation.

Fla. Cop Fired for In-Uniform Cameo with Death Metal Band

Sanford, Fla. Police Chief Cecil B. Smith announced Wednesday morning that Officer Andrew Ricks has been fired from the department after video, seen above, emerged of the officer joining the death metal band Vital Remains on stage for a brief cameo at a November 13 concert at West End Trading Co.

In the clip, Officer Ricks can be seen on-stage with the band displaying the horns-up heavy metal hand gesture and delivering the opening line to the band’s song “Let the Killing Begin.

Chief Smith said according to WFTV, “An incident of this nature erodes the thin fibers of trust which already exist between the community and the police, and it will not be tolerated within the Sanford Police Department.

[RELATED: Officers Involved In Samuel DuBose Coverup Will Not Face Charges]

He (the chief) wanted to make sure the citizens didn’t have an issue with what was being said,” commented Sanford police spokesperson Ronny Neal, noting that the department primarily took issue with the officer’s in-uniform singing of the band’s controversial lyrics.

LEX 18 notes that in July of this year, a Lexington, Ky. police officer’s spontaneous on-duty performance of the lyrically-tame Poison ballad “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” was met with praise by the Lexington Police Department, who shared video of the incident on social media to improve community relations.

Ricks told reporters that he did not want to comment on the matter.

[RELATED: Fired Denver Officer In Excessive Force Case Moves Toward Reclaiming Job]

Officer Ricks, who has no prior disciplinary record in his six years at the Sanford Police Department, was fired two days before he was scheduled to voluntarily resign. He had announced his plan to resign on October 30, prior to the incident. Officer Ricks was fired within 24 hours of Sanford police officials’ November 17 discovery of video of the concert cameo.

Vital Remains vocalist Brian Werner told the music news site Metal Injection, “This is exactly what’s wrong with the world today.

Colorado Bill Would Impose Penalty On Police Interfering With Citizen Recording

In contrast to Texas legislation introduced by state representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) that would penalize a citizen for filming police activity within a proposed 15-foot area, lawmakers in Colorado have introduced a bill that would penalize police officers for obstructing, seizing or destroying citizen recording.

House Bill 15-1290 is one of several measures that have been introduced this month in Colorado in an effort to increase police oversight. HB 15-1290 “creates a private right of action against a peace officer’s employing law enforcement agency if a person records an incident involving a peace officer and a peace officer destroys the recording or seizes the recording without receiving consent or obtaining a warrant or if the peace officer intentionally interferes with the recording or retaliates against the person making the recording. The person who recorded the peace officer incident is entitled to actual damages, a civil penalty of $15,000, and attorney fees and costs.”

Colorado state representative and HB 15-1290 co-sponsor Joe Salazar (D-Thornton) said that “Primarily, it came up as a result of the number of news reports we’ve been seeing about police officers telling people, ‘Give me your camera,’ or taking the data away, and that is unacceptable conduct.”

Last November, man named Levi Frasier witnessed and filmed an altercation between Denver police and a drug suspect. Video captured by Frasier showed an officer delivering multiple punches to the suspect and tripping the suspect’s pregnant girlfriend. Frasier told Fox31 Denver that police seized the tablet Frasier was using to record the incident, and when the tablet was returned the video was missing. Frasier was able to retrieve the video because it had been also stored on a cloud.

In January, a woman named Bobbie Ann Diaz accused Denver police of prohibiting her daughter Brianna from filming at the scene of the death of Jessica Hernandez, a 17-year-old accused of driving a stolen car who was fatally shot by police while she was inside the vehicle. “At that time, (the officers) put Jessie down and they were on their knees yelling at Brianna that she better not record. She better not,” Diaz said.

A spokesperson for the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police said that it doesn’t support a $15,000 penalty because of an existing process in the courts to determine if a police officer acted appropriately.

Legislation to protect the rights of citizens recording police is among several other measures that seek to provide police reform. Other measures to be considered include:

  • Creating a grant program for departments to promote purchase and use of police body cameras.
  • Data collection of officer-involved shootings (OIS), including the demographics and details of the incidents.
  • Providing law enforcement agencies the ability to analyze a prospective officer’s job history before hiring. According to CBS Denver, officers currently can utilize non-disclosure agreements upon leaving a job to prevent access to records.
  • De-escalation training and profiling prevention training for officers.
  • Appointing a special prosecutor to review situations when an officer is not charged for using deadly force or excessive force.

The bills regarding reviewing records of prospective police hires and data collection of OIS cases were advanced on Wednesday by The Senate Judiciary Committee. Another proposal to allow other agencies to investigate a shooting instead of leaving the investigation exclusively to the jurisdiction where the incident occurred was also advanced by the committee.


Villalba Accused Of Blocking Twitter Users Criticizing Police-Filming Legislation, Plans To Make Changes To Bill

Texas Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) recently attracted significant criticism, reportedly even from members of his own political party, due to his introduction of a controversial bill that would create a 25-foot buffer zone between police activity and individuals wishing to film it.

Villalba’s House Bill 2918, if passed, would make filming police activity from less than 25 feet away a crime punishable by prison and/or fines if the person conducting the recording is not a member of FCC-licensed media or an approved newspaper or magazine. HB 2918 would also create a larger 100-foot buffer zone for individuals recording while carrying a handgun.

Breitbart noted that numerous Twitter users said that they were being blocked by Villalba for criticizing his bill or asking questions about it. Among those allegedly blocked was journalism student Kate Rhoads, who was covering HB 2918 and wanted a statement from Villalba. Rhoads was blocked by Villalba after asking “If Title 8, Ch. 38 of the TX Penal Code already makes it illegal to impede police activity, why is HB 2918 needed?” Villalba later unblocked Rhoads and said he would grant her an interview after the public committee hearing on the bill scheduled for Thursday, March 26th.

In response to the complaints from Twitter about the congressman blocking criticism, Rep. Villalba told The Dallas Morning News that “my instruction to staff was, ‘If you get something at all that looks like a troll, delete it.’ That’s why folks who might otherwise be legitimate news sources might have been blocked.” He told the paper that he believes social media is not a good place to debate legislation “because the mooment (sic) you try to explain yourself the trolls come out.”

Villalba or his staff  also deleted his own heated Twitter post that stated:

“To anyone who doesn’t like HB 2918- Deal with it. I stand with cops who keep my family safe. If you don’t like it- vote me out of office.”

Villalba refused to withdraw HB 2918, but told WFFA that he would reduce the buffer zone to 15 feet around police required for everyone, including the media. “All we’re saying is provide what we call a halo. Give them a little room. We’re not saying don’t film. We’re not saying stop. We’re saying just step back a little bit,” Villalba told WFFA’s Inside Texas Politics over the weekend, also noting that he has received “significant death threats” since introducing the bill. He said that due to the death threats he pulled his Texans For Jason Villalba Facebook page.

WFFA reported that Villalba said police had proposed the buffer zone idea to him.

Villalba maintains his position that HB 2918 was created to “ensure that citizens have the right to keep our law enforcement accountable but also provide a level of safety for our police officers that doesn’t currently exist.” Villalba told The Houston Chronicle that HB 2918 will allow police to work without having to take the “interim step” of pushing back obstructive citizens who are filming the activity.

This post has been updated to include Villalba’s response made to The Dallas Morning News regarding Twitter users accusing him of blocking tweets about HB2918.

Texas Bill Would Restrict Filming Of Police, Segregate Independent Journalists

A bill that would require civilians to stand back between 25 and 100 feet before recording and documenting police activity, introduced by Texas Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) earlier this month, has caused significant controversy. HB 2918 would create a 25-foot buffer zone around police activity requiring citizens to film outside of that area. For an individual filming while also carrying a handgun, the buffer zone would be extended to 100 feet. A person caught filming inside of the 25-foot zone could face 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine; a person filming while carrying a handgun inside the 100-foot zone could face up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Texas state law currently prohibits people from interfering with police activity.

Villalba wrote on Twitter that he introduced the bill to protect the police. Villalba also insisted that the bill does not prohibit filming. “I thought that was reasonable, 25 feet,” Villalba said. “I measured that out in my office. It didn’t seem to be terribly disruptive. I’m not trying to limit the ability to film. I don’t have any problems with that.”

Attorney Alicia Wagner Calzada pointed out that “When you think about how long 25 feet is, it’s longer than the average pickup truck, it’s longer than the average room, so you could not photograph a police officer within the same room.” Cazalda said some kind of “reasonable buffer”  may be acceptable but that 25 feet as a rule is arbitrary. “If you’re sitting in the backseat of a car, and someone pulls over the driver, and you want to shoot a video of the interaction between the driver and the cop, obviously you can’t be twenty-five feet away. But you’re also really not interfering by sitting in the backseat running your cell phone.”

One critical provision in the bill seeks to exempt certain journalists from the proposed buffer zone. FCC-licensed radio and TV stations, regularly published magazines and qualified newspapers would not have to abide by the 25-foot rule.

A statement from the ACLU of Texas criticized Villalba’s bill, stating “Texans have a First Amendment right to record police officers in public places as they perform their duties. Many high-profile incidents of police abuse, like LAPD officers’ beating of Rodney King, would never have been exposed to public scrutiny but for the citizen journalists on the scene who dared to record conduct that they believed was wrong. HB 2918 would deprive us of an important check against abuse of power by the police.”

Since the bill’s introduction, Villalba acknowledged to The Dallas Morning News that he should have read the bill closer before filing it, and stated that it has some flaws, such as the language that would subject a violator to arrest. Villalba also admitted there may be a problem with the creating two classes of journalists in his bill and articulated his disapproval of cop-watching groups:

And he said he will work on the bill language that creates two classes of video-makers- one employed by established media and the other consisting of everyone else. Villalba conceded the value of well-meant citizens with cameras and bloggers in pajamas, those people who school themselves on issues and bring things to light over social media. He said he doesn’t want to put the screws to them. What his bill IS aimed at, Villalba said, are cop-watch groups that consist of “agitators posing as journalists in order to interfere” with officers doing their job.

“They follow the police scanner, and as soon as they hear about an arrest,” Villalba said, “they immediately get in the vicinity of the officer and start taunting the officer while the arrest is occurring.”

New Illinois “Eavesdropping Law” Distorts Ability To Record Law Enforcement

A new anti-eavesdropping bill, which would replace a former law that had been struck down as unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court in March, passed the state’s House and Senate last week. The new legislation has been identified by proponents as reform aimed at protecting private conversations, but the imprecise language contained in the law could create new confusion regarding the ability of citizens to record encounters with police and public officials.

The state’s previous law had prohibited the recording of any conversation without consent from all parties involved, which was presumed to protect private conversations from being documented. However, the law applied to all conversations that were unreasonably expected to be private, and one critical consequence of the law was the inability to record interaction with law enforcement and other government officials for the sake of “privacy”.

The old statute criminalized “the recording of conversations that cannot be deemed private: a loud argument on the street, a political debate on a college quad, yelling fans at an athletic event, or any conversation loud enough that the speakers should expect to be heard by others,” according to the court’s opinion. “None of these examples implicate privacy interests, yet the statute makes it a felony to audio record each one.”

The new bill was introduced on December 2nd as an amendment to another existing, unrelated bill. All of the content of the unrelated bill was removed and then replaced with the restrictions on recording.

Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), a sponsor of the new bill, said that “The most important thing the bill does is to restore Illinois to a standard that requires everyone in a private conversation to consent to a recording” and claimed the bill satisfies “the Supreme Court requirement by limiting that to conversations where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Although the Associated Press has reported that the new bill “attempts to protect people from surreptitious and improper recording of their conversations without infringing on the rights of others to disseminate what others say,” independent research organization Illinois Policy Institute has criticized this new bill’s obscure wording, calling the new version “nearly as bad as the old one.”

According to the Illinois Policy Institute, “Under the new bill, a citizen could rarely be sure whether recording any given conversation without permission is legal. The bill would make it a felony to surreptitiously record any ‘private conversation,’ which it defines as any ‘oral communication between 2 or more persons,’ where at least one person involved had a ‘reasonable expectation’ of privacy.” Illinois Policy noted that the law does not clarify when someone should have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” and does not explain what qualifies as a “public encounter”.

The new bill would classify unlawful recording of police, an attorney general, assistant attorney general, state’s attorney, assistant state’s attorney or a judge a Class 3 felony, which can result in a 2-4 year prison sentence. Unlawful recording of a citizen would be classified as a Class 4 felony, which could result in 1-3 years in prison. A felony conviction and subsequent prison sentence has the ability to deter people from recording encounters, especially if they are unsure when it is legal to record conversations.

The bill currently awaits the signature of Gov. Pat Quinn. It is available to read here.