by Alice Ollstein
May 12, 2015
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne announced Tuesday that he will not bring criminal charges against Madison, Wisconsin police officer Matt Kenny for shooting and killing 19-year-old Tony Robinson Jr. on March 6.
“I conclude that this was lawful use of deadly police force,” he said, pausing frequently to mop sweat from his face. He added: “My decision is not based on emotion. Rather, it is the facts as they have been investigated. My decision will not bring Tony Robinson back. My decision will not end racial disparities that exist in our justice system.”
Ozanne, Wisconsin’s first ever black district attorney, said Officer Kenny was responding to three 911 calls about Robinson, who had punched holes in the wall of his apartment and was running in traffic after taking psychedelic mushrooms, Xanax and marijuana — substances confirmed in a later toxicology report.
Ozanne said Officer Kenny claimed Robinson attacked with his fists in the stairwell of his home, and he feared he would fall down the stairs, allowing Robinson to grab his gun. Kenny then fired seven shots in approximately three seconds, which all hit the front of Robinson’s body at close range. Robinson, who later died from his gunshot wounds at a nearby hospital, was unarmed.
Leading up to the announcement, some community members demanded that Officer Kenny be fired and charged with homicide, and even called for the United Nations to investigate the incident, arguing that a domestic justice system that almost never indicts police officers for deadly force cannot be trusted.
The Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, who have led protests in Madison since Robinson was killed, is holding a “mass action” on Wednesday that will include a march, school walk-outs, and the disruption of business and traffic. A statement on the group’s Facebook page said they would not be demonstrating on Tuesday “out of respect for Tony’s family.”
Madison native Matthew Braunginn, a member of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, told ThinkProgress that the protests hope to connect the dots between the physical and economic violence he sees in his community.
“We are paying our respect to this awful tragedy and Tony’s family, but the ultimate goal is to make sure there are no more Tony Robinsons,” he said. “No matter what happens, this is an individual case that’s a symptom of structural issues.”
Braunginn described some of those structural issues, which he says have made his home state “one of the worst places in the country to live if you’re black.”
Wisconsin has some of the largest racial disparities in the country, including the highest incarceration rate for black men.
Statewide, African Americans are six times more likely to be arrested than people of other races, and black residents of Madison’s Dane County were found to be more than 97 times more likely to go to jail for a drug crime than a white resident.
Economically, the picture is equally grim.
The state has the highest rate in the country of black unemployment, while African American children in Wisconsin are far more likely to be living in poverty and struggling in school.
“The unemployment rate for people of color is absolutely unacceptable. We can’t invest in our own country, but we can invest in killing black and brown people on the other side of the world,” said Braunginn. “We need investments right now in black entrepreneurship and affordable housing. Basically, we need a Black New Deal.”
Noting that African Americans have historically been excluded from federal economic programs, including the first New Deal and the GI Bill, Braunginn said, “Now we need something as massive, as substantial.”
It is not yet known whether Department of Justice will investigate the case or whether Robinson’s family will file civil charges.
Speaking to a crowd of demonstrators at the recent Mother’s Day “Million Moms March” against police violence, Robinson’s grandmother Sharon Irwin railed against how police are “trained to shoot to kill, trained how to murder a person and get away with it.”
“If you wear a badge, you’re supposed to protect us. But we don’t have that happening here,” she said. “Everybody’s lives matter, but they target young black men. They targeted my grandson and thought it would be okay. Well, it’s not.”
Robinson was one of more than 100 people killed by police across the US in March alone, the vast majority of them people of color. Irwin told demonstrators in DC that ending such an ongoing tragedy will require solidarity and sustained protest.
“If one of us is attacked, all of us are attacked. You have to find it in your heart to know that,” she said. “Otherwise, all of us are going to go down. And I don’t want anyone to feel what I feel. Every day I cry.”
Black Lives Matter
Madison Police Officer Who Shot Tony Robinson Will Not Face Charges
May 12, 2015
By MEGHAN KENEALLY
The Madison, Wisconsin, police officer who fatally shot a 19-year-old will not be criminally charged for the shooting since the district attorney announced today that it was a "lawful use of deadly police force."
Officer Matt Kenny fatally shot Robinson on March 6 after police received a disturbance call. Robinson had allegedly been running in traffic and Kenny forced himself into an apartment that Robinson had run into. Robinson and Kenny got into an altercation inside the home and Kenny shot Robinson in his head, torso and right arm, authorities said.
"My decision is not based on emotion. Rather this decision is based on the facts as they have been investigated and reported to me," Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said at a news conference this afternoon.
Ozanne detailed the evidence that he reviewed before making his decision and then described the three 911 calls that were made prior to police being called to the scene. He described how the callers said that Robinson was "tweaking, chasing everybody" and, in another, the caller said that he had been punched in the face by Robinson.
Ozanne said that it was understood that Robinson was believed to be unarmed when he broke into the apartment building, though they believed at the time that Robinson had taken hallucinogenic mushrooms or some other drug. Toxicology tests determined that he had mushrooms, THC or marijuana and Xanax in his bloodstream, Ozanne said.\PHOTO: Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne announces his decision regarding possible criminal charges for the police officer who fatally shot Tony Robinson, May 12, 2015.
During Kenny's interview with investigators, he said that he began to lose his balance when he came face to face with Robinson in the building's stairwell, and he feared that "his firearm would be taken and used to shoot him and possibly the other person in the apartment," Ozanne said.
He also noted that Kenny called in the shooting on his radio and began administering aid because Robinson was still breathing.
Some of Robinson's relatives spoke out about an hour after the decision was announced, expressing their dissatisfaction.
"This is politics, not justice," Robinson's grandmother Sharon Irwin said.
A family spokesman said that while they "fully support the community to express frustration if there is frustration," they "feel strongly that protests should not be violent."
Robinson's death sparked statewide protests in March and some crowds have already gathered in Madison this evening.
The decision not to charge Kenny comes after officers in two other states are facing charges for other fatal altercations.
The South Carolina police officer who killed Walter Scott was charged with first-degree murder and the six police officers connected to the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore are all facing multiple criminal charges, the most serious of which was one count of second-degree depraved heart murder.
Officers in other high-profile cases such as the deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City were not charged, and the decision whether or not to charge the officers who fatally shot Tamir Rice in Cleveland has not yet been determined.
VARGAS: It's supposed to be. It has to be tough. A policeman's job is only easy in a police state. That's the whole point, captain. Who is the boss, the cop or the law?
--Dialogue from 'Touch of Evil' written and directed by Orson Welles (1958)
That's What You Get for Filming the Police
Thursday, 07 May 2015
by Sam Adler-Bell
Truthout | News Analysis
One evening in September 2014, John Prince heard a scream through his window.
He went outside. On the sidewalk in front of his home, a first-floor apartment on Elmwood Avenue in Providence, Rhode Island, two male plainclothes police officers were aggressively questioning a pair of young women.
"The cops were being really rude," Prince said, "asking intimidating questions like, 'What's in your handbag?' and 'Where are you coming from?'"
They ordered the women to sit on the curb. Prince says he saw one of the officers put his hands inside the waistband of one of the women's sweatpants.
"You're not supposed to do that," Prince called to the officer. The officer turned, told him to mind his own business and shove off.
"There is a widespread, continuing pattern of police ordering people to stop taking photos or video in public places."
But John Prince, who's lived in Providence for 45 years, did not shove off. He's a Black community organizer with Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE). (Note: The author has volunteered at DARE, where he met Prince a few years ago.) He and his neighbors have fought for decades to confront a criminal legal system that, in his words, "treats people of color as if they've always already done something wrong."
Instead of "shoving off," Prince did what more and more people in heavily policed communities are doing when they witness what looks like police misconduct. He went inside, got his cell phone and came back out filming.
"Why are you doing that?" one officer asked, angry now.
"I don't like the way you're treating those women," Prince said. The cop told Prince that he and his fellow officers were undercover and instructed Prince to stop recording. Prince insisted that he had a right to film them. The officer demanded Prince's identification.
"Why do you want it?" Prince asked.
"I want to know who's filming me," said the cop. Prince knew he didn't have to show the cop his ID. He refused.
As they argued, another officer arrived on the scene. Seeing that Prince was wearing a Barack Obama hat, the third cop called out, "Hey, Obama!" The joke did not lighten the mood.
The first officer asked for Prince's ID again, more forcefully. At that moment, Prince felt a prick of fear. He took a few steps back.
As he did so, the commanding officer yelled, "Get that phone!" and the two others cops leaped over the fence between the sidewalk and the yard, charging at Prince. He turned and ran toward his house.
According to Prince, the cops caught up to him in the entranceway. One of them slammed him against the wall, badly injuring his neck. As he reached for the doorway to his apartment, one or two of the cops tackled him. His pants fell below his knees as they pushed his face against the ground. Someone grabbed the phone from his hand.
The real problem is not the law, but cops' willingness - and apparent license - to ignore it.
In their statements to internal affairs, the officers admit to jumping the fence and chasing Prince. They don't say what they intended to do if they caught him. The police claim that Prince tripped up the stairs to his house and fell into the entranceway. Detectives Francisco Guerra and Louis Gianfrancesco, the officers giving chase, say they stopped at the threshold of the building and turned around. Gianfrancesco says he found Prince's phone on the steps and placed it on the trunk of Guerra's car. They deny tampering with it.
However, Lisa Reels, who was inside Prince's apartment when all this happened, says she heard the officers tackling Prince. When she came out to see what was happening, Prince was on the floor with his pants around his ankles. The cops were out the door.
Determined to find his phone - and the video - Prince went back outside. There, he says he saw one of the cops delete the video and throw his phone into the bushes.
"That's what you get for interfering with police business," another cop said.
Reporters speak of an "epidemic" of police violence in Black communities. But there isn't one, at least not in the dictionary sense of a disease that breaks out at a particular time. What we have is an old, deadly sickness suddenly subject to an unprecedented degree of exposure. The idea of a sudden "outbreak" of police violence - beginning with the killing of Michael Brown in 2014 or Ramarley Graham in 2012 or Oscar Grant in 2009 - mistakes the moment many White Americans were forced to start paying attention to this crisis for the moment it emerged.
Police violence isn't new - nor is the impunity with which it's treated by the legal system - but the current level of public concern over its prevalence is. And individual acts of filming the police have played a big role in that change.
"There's some newfound awareness because of social media and video cameras," said President Obama on April 28, in his characteristically cautious tone, "that there are problems and challenges when it comes to how policing and our laws are applied in certain communities, and we have to pay attention to it and respond."
The protests in Baltimore were fueled, in part, by video captured by a bystander of cops dragging a handcuffed Freddie Gray into their police van. The 25-year-old can be heard screaming in pain. He was unresponsive when they arrived at the station and died a week later.
"There's no incentive for the cops not to fuck with us in the first place."
Walter Scott Sr., whose son was shot in the back by Officer Michael Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina, weeks earlier, said, "I fell to my feet and my heart was broken," when he first saw footage of his son's death. But he "thanked God" that someone took the video. Without it, the real circumstances of his son's death, he said, "would never have come to light. They would have swept it under the rug, like they did so many others."
William Murphy, Freddie Gray's family's lawyer, echoed that sentiment on April 27. "Thank God for cellphone video cameras," he said, "because now the truth is finally coming out. And it's ugly."
For decades, said American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) senior policy analyst Jay Stanley, "It's been the word of uniformed police officers against the word of accused criminals - who are usually poor, Black or other minorities. Judges, prosecutors and the public have historically taken the side of the police." But videos - usually captured by camera-equipped cell phones - are beginning to change that. "There's a shift," Stanley added, "in what people are willing to believe."
Largely unaddressed in the mainstream celebration of video as a bulwark against police brutality, however, is how the act of pointing a camera at a cop is sometimes itself met with brutality - especially when, as in John Prince's case, the person behind the camera is Black.
Prince's story is a familiar one to Aidge Patterson, who coordinates a Cop Watch program for People's Justice in New York City, training individuals and organizing groups of residents to patrol their neighborhoods and record police encounters.
"When we roll out as a team, it's rare we observe any police violence. It usually puts them on their best behavior to see us in our matching shirts, disciplined and organized," Patterson told Truthout.
And that's the point. "The priority is to deter anything from happening in the first place," he added.
But that's not always how it works when residents film the police by themselves. Individual cop watchers often get arrested and charged with minor offenses - disorderly conduct, obstruction of justice or trespassing. "It's intimidation," Patterson said. "They know folks don't want to go to jail, even if they'll beat the charge later."
"The public servant should be subject to the public eye. Private individuals should be able to maintain our privacy."
The website "Photography Is Not a Crime" collects and maintains an archive of police brutality videos, many of which show cops harassing the person wielding the camera. In a recent video from Vineland, New Jersey, cops can be seen siccing a police dog on 32-year-old Phillip White, who had already been beaten and appears to be subdued. One officer then approaches the person with the camera and says, "Did you see what happened here? All of it? Okay, I'm going to need your information, and I'm going to take your phone." Phillip White died from injuries he sustained during the encounter.
Ramsey Orta - who filmed New York City Police Department (NYPD) Officer Daniel Pantaleo choking Eric Garner to death - has been arrested twice since Garner's murder in July 2014. His mother, brother and wife have all been arrested as well. Orta's aunt, Lisa Mercado, told Democracy Now! that after Garner's death, police cruisers regularly drove by their house in the middle of the night, shining floodlights through their windows. Orta was released from Rikers in April, after prosecutors withdrew a challenge that would have blocked him from posting bail with money raised by supporters online. He believes he and his family have been targeted by the NYPD as retaliation for filming Garner's murder.
And Feidin Santana - who filmed the video that led to the arrest of Officer Michael Slager for killing Walter Scott - says he initially considered deleting the footage and leaving town for fear of retaliation from the police. "The first thing he said to me ... was, how can I get protection," Santana's lawyer told NBC News. "What does he do when the people that are supposed to protect us are the ones that are turned against us?"
Their fears are well founded. Jay Stanley of the ACLU said, "There is a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs or video in public places and harassing, detaining and arresting those who fail to comply." The ACLU has helped people sue departments in Boston, Portland, Philadelphia and other cities for violating their right to film police.
Stanley says the law itself is "crystal clear": You have a constitutionally protected right to film the police in public as long as you don't interfere with their activities. The US Justice Department agrees. As they wrote in a 2012 statement of interest:
The right to record police officers while performing duties in a public place, as well as the right to be protected from the warrantless seizure and destruction of those recordings, are not only required by the Constitution. They are consistent with our fundamental notions of liberty, promote the accountability of our governmental officers, and instill public confidence in the police officers who serve us daily.
Although only four federal courts have explicitly recognized a constitutional right to film police, legal scholars tend to agree with the Justice Department that recording a police encounter is protected under the First Amendment. "Speech about how public officials are conducting their duties lies at the core of the First Amendment's protections," said Evan Bernick and Paul Larkin of the conservative Heritage Foundation, "and filming should therefore be given a wide berth."
The real problem, Stanley suggests, is not the law, but cops' willingness - and apparent license - to ignore it.
Aidge Patterson agrees. "The law and the rights people are supposed to have are different from the realities of how things play out. When the cops arrest our people for filming, they get off. But they still get arrested, still get thrown in jail. There's no incentive for the cops not to fuck with us in the first place."
This problem - that cops rarely face any serious consequences for interfering with a civilian's right to film - is one legislators in Colorado are trying to address with a new bill, part of what has been dubbed the "Rebuilding Trust" package of police reform laws moving through their state legislature.
"If it weren't for people like Ramsey Orta, nobody would know Eric Garner's name."
The bill would create a "private right of action" for Coloradans to sue police for $15,000 in civil damages when an officer interferes with them lawfully filming a police encounter, or when an officer destroys or seizes a recording without consent or a court order. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton, said the bill is a response to reports of Colorado police forcing citizens to give up their cameras, which Salazar, a civil rights lawyer, says is "unacceptable conduct."
Denis Maes, a public policy director of the Colorado ACLU who testified in support of the bill, said its penalties are designed to "get the police departments to pay attention and train police about what they are and aren't allowed to do."
The bill has received some pushback from local police and prosecutors, who say it's unnecessarily punitive. Anne Marie Jensen, a lobbyist for the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, said the union "does not believe that the people who put their lives at risk every day should have different standards of liability than anyone else in government."
Tom Raynes of the Colorado District Attorneys' Council agreed that officers need to be better trained, but insisted that "accountability through lawsuits is a pretty cynical approach to getting this done."
Maes, who served in the Obama administration before joining the ACLU, sees some irony here. "It's always in the name of law enforcement that we, the public, are subject to rampant surveillance, but somehow when the surveillance shifts to us watching law enforcement, there's an immediate, 'Hey wait a minute, not cool.'"
She says today's surveillance paradigm needs to be flipped. "The public servant should be subject to the public eye. Whereas, we private individuals should be able to maintain our privacy."
A few days after his assault, John Prince filed a complaint with the Providence Police Department's Internal Affairs Bureau, at the insistence of an acquaintance in the department. Neither of the women the police detained that night were arrested. They elected not to file their own complaints.
A series of hearings followed in November, and in early April, Prince and his lawyer were informed that two of the three officers named in his complaint were found guilty of violating departmental policies. Sgt. Roger Aspinall - who ordered the others to seize Prince's phone - received a one-day, unpaid suspension, a disciplinary letter and mandatory retraining. Francisco Guerra - one of the officers who chased Prince - also got a letter and retraining, but no suspension. Louis Gianfrancesco, the officer who called Prince "Obama," was not found guilty, but will also undergo retraining.
The department was evasive, however, about the reasoning behind these penalties.
Providence Police Department spokeswoman Lindsay Lague told Truthout that because of the "Police Officer's Bill of Rights," she could not confirm the names of the disciplined officers. She admitted that Prince "was chased by an officer in the hallway," and that the "supervisory officer on scene who gave the orders to do so was appropriately disciplined."
However, she said, "It has not been confirmed if an officer did delete the video off of Prince's phone that evening," and neither Prince's injuries nor the tackling allegations were acknowledged by the Internal Affairs Bureau.
It seems worth noting that "he tripped and fell" is something of a go-to explanation for cops accused of brutality. Indeed, former NYPD Detective Bo Dietl recently offered it as a possible explanation for Freddie Gray's severed spinal cord on Fox News.
The internal affairs process doesn't address whether the police department bears any fault for the violations. However, on October 3, 2014, just two weeks after Prince filed his complaint, the department posted a new "community relations" general order stating:
It is the policy of the Providence Police Department to recognize that members of the public have the right to record police officers in public places as long as the actions of those recording do not interfere with the officer's official duties or with the safety of officers or others.
Lague says this policy was already in development when the incident happened.
Prince says the punishments meted out by internal affairs are not enough.
"One day without pay. Retraining. Some kind of ceremony where they sit around in a circle and talk about what they did - it's not enough," he said. "These men ran up in my house, tackled me, took my phone, deleted shit from it and told me 'that's what you get.'"
If Prince's account is true, the officers may be guilty of First and Fourth Amendment rights violations. An Albuquerque officer was charged with felony evidence tampering for deleting a cellphone video of alleged police misconduct. The City of Baltimore settled a civil suit over a deleted video for $250,000.
"They treated me like I didn't matter," Prince said, "and all they got was a slap on the wrist."
Video will not solve the problem of police violence. Nor can it ensure that victims get "justice" - whatever form that may take. Video may have helped inspire massive demonstrations in Baltimore, but it remains to be seen whether charges filed on May 1 against the six Baltimore police officers who arrested Freddie Gray will stick in court.
And yet, as Aidge Patterson says, "If it weren't for people like Ramsey Orta, nobody would know Eric Garner's name." The same can be said for Walter Scott, for Oscar Grant, for Rodney King.
When you film cops, you take away some of their control over the narrative. As Jay Stanley recently said, "Photography is a form of power, and people are loath to give up power, including police officers."
Cameras - particularly those wielded by regular people and not cops - have helped to address what has always been among the greatest impediments to combating police brutality in the United States: the unwillingness of the criminal legal system to acknowledge Black suffering or believe a story of Black victimhood.
It's yet another cruelty of White supremacy that a movement as beautiful and humane as Black Lives Matter must trade in images of brutalized Black bodies in order to legitimize its grievances in the face of White incredulity. It should not be so. But for now, it is.
Thus, we need to make sure people are safe to film the police in their neighborhoods without being harassed, arrested or assaulted. We need more bills like the one in Colorado - which has been sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper's desk - and more severe penalties for cops like Aspinall, Guerra and Gianfrancesco.
Filming cops, Patterson says, is not only about accountability. "It's also about empowering communities to protect themselves.
"We see it as an act of love," he added, "a way of showing up and letting people know, 'Look, I care about you, and I'm here to try and make sure you go home safe tonight.'"
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
Sam Adler-Bell is a New York-based writer. He researches privacy and surveillance issues at the The Century Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @SamAdlerBell.
Police Departments Retaliate Against Organized "Cop Watch" Groups Across the US
By Candice Bernd, Truthout | Report
Film the Police!
By Lucy McKeon, Dissent | Op-Ed
Texas Wants to Outlaw Filming the Police
By Kevin Mathews, Care2 | Report
Justice Department Will Investigate Baltimore Police Practices
By MATT APUZZO and SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
MAY 7, 2015
New York Times
The request by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake came days after the state’s attorney for Baltimore filed criminal charges against six officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray, who died April 19 after being injured while in police custody. His death set off large demonstrations, arson and looting.
At a policing conference earlier on Thursday, the Baltimore police commissioner, Anthony W. Batts, said he did not object to an outside investigation, adding that he was committed to reforming the Police Department. He said he recognized that Baltimore residents did not trust the city to make changes voluntarily.
“I am willing to do anything it takes to win that trust back,” he said. “If it’s D.O.J., whatever it takes.”
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday that “I’m willing to do what it takes to reform my department.”
Baltimore Mayor, After Freddie Gray Death, Seeks Justice Dept. Police Inquiry
MAY 6, 2015
A frame grab from video showing Freddie Gray being put into a police van during his arrest on April 12.
6 Baltimore Police Officers Charged in Freddie Gray Death
MAY 1, 2015
“The situation in Baltimore involves a core responsibility of the Department of Justice — not only to combat illegal conduct when it occurs, but to help prevent the circumstances that give rise to it in the first place,” Ms. Lynch said on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
There was no immediate reaction from Ms. Rawlings-Blake. Earlier Thursday, the mayor convened business, religious and philanthropic leaders at the intersection of West North and Pennsylvania Avenues, near a CVS store that was looted and burned in last week’s riots, to announce a public-private partnership to improve areas devastated by the unrest. She called it a “once-in-a-generation effort to tackle inequality.”
Ms. Lynch, who took office a week after Mr. Gray died, was in Baltimore this week to meet with community, religious and political leaders about whether to conduct a “pattern or practice” review, which would look into whether police officers used excessive force, carried out street stops based on race or arrested people without probable cause.
Representative Elijah E. Cummings, a Democrat who represents Baltimore — and who lives four blocks from the CVS that was burned — said there was uniform agreement.
“She asked them, ‘How many of you all think we should have a patterns and practices review investigation?’ ” Mr. Cummings recalled in an interview Thursday. “If I remember correctly, all of them raised their hands; there were about 40 of them. And I raised mine too.”
Mr. Cummings said that even before that meeting, he and other members of Congress from Maryland had a conference call with Ms. Lynch shortly after she took office in which he asked for such a review.
The decision by the Justice Department was welcome news to civil rights advocates who had been pressing for a review for a long time. “A range of people and organizations have been asking for this for years,” said Sonia Kumar, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, “but really, I think those calls became louder and more forceful in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray.”
Civil rights investigations often end with court settlements and independent oversight of police departments. They can be powerful agents of change, but they are not immediate, and the Baltimore investigation could take a year or more. A similar investigation into the Police Department in Ferguson, Mo., took seven months, an extraordinarily fast timeline for such cases.
Mr. Batts and the mayor had already asked the Justice Department’s community-policing experts to conduct a voluntary review of the department. The preliminary results of that review will most likely be released in the coming weeks and are expected to recommend changes to training and use-of-force policies. Those recommendations would not be binding, but Mr. Batts said he planned to work with the community-policing experts to make changes to the department regardless of what civil rights investigators did.
A version of this article appears in print on May 8, 2015, on page A14 of the New York edition with the headline: Justice Dept. Will Examine Baltimore’s Police Patterns.
Inquiry to Examine Racial Bias in the San Francisco Police
By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS
MAY 7, 2015
New York Times
The case began when racist and homophobic text messages between 14 officers were found and will be broadened to determine if systemic bias exists within the San Francisco Police Department...nytimes.com
First came disclosures of racist and homophobic text messages exchanged by officers of the San Francisco Police Department. That was followed by the discovery that sheriff’s deputies had been gambling on forced fighting matches between inmates at a city jail.
Then on Thursday, the San Francisco district attorney announced that he was expanding the investigation of the city’s police and sheriff’s departments to examine whether those agencies have a deep-seated culture of systemic bias that has led to unlawful arrests or prosecutions.
In a year in which many of the nation’s major cities have been rocked by protests after the fatal police shootings of unarmed African-Americans, the broadened inquiry made clear that even a city known for its liberal politics can be buffeted by accusations that its officers behaved in a racially biased manner.
Justice Department Will Investigate Baltimore Police Practices
MAY 7, 2015
A Baltimore police officer outside the Western District police station in April.
News Analysis: Police Struggle With Loss of Privileged Position
MAY 5, 2015
Lt. Sekou Millington of the Oakland Police Department trained with a video simulation. He used his Taser to respond to a scenario where a woman stepped away from a man who was holding a large knife.
Police Rethink Long Tradition on Using Force
MAY 4, 2015
Officers Facing Charges Find Themselves on an Unfamiliar Side of the Law
MAY 1, 2015
Demonstrators marched in Baltimore on Thursday in protest of the death of Freddie Gray.
Police Killings Rise Slightly, Though Increased Focus May Suggest Otherwise
APRIL 30, 2015
African-Americans in San Francisco have complained for years about harassment and the use of excessive force by the police. And while African-Americans make up about 5 percent of the city’s population, they account for half of its arrests and jail inmates, and more than 60 percent of the children in juvenile detention, according to city statistics.
In Baltimore on Wednesday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake acknowledged a “fractured relationship between the police and the community” in her predominantly black city and asked the Justice Department to conduct a civil rights investigation of the Police Department to determine whether officers had engaged in unconstitutional patterns of abuse or discrimination.
At a news conference in San Francisco announcing the expanded inquiry, the district attorney, George Gascón, acknowledged that the racist text messages had particularly undermined public confidence in both his office and the local criminal justice system.
He also said he believed that the city’s tradition of inclusiveness would allow it to avoid the tumult in Ferguson, Mo., and other cities where racial bias has been found to have played a role in the actions of police officers.
“In the last few months, we have seen city after city where police use of force or other police activity is coming to the light and indicating that racial animosity and other types of biases play a significant role,” he said. “I think at one point we felt we would be immune from that type of activity.”
Concerns that the San Francisco Police Department may be rife with racial bias were reignited in March when racially inflammatory text messages sent between 14 police officers became public as part of the federal corruption trial of two San Francisco officers.
Mr. Gascón, a former San Francisco police chief, said Thursday that a task force of prosecutors had already been scrutinizing some 3,000 cases — including about 1,600 convictions — related to contacts or arrests made by the 14 police officers during the last decade to determine if biases had led to any unlawful arrests or wrongful prosecutions.
The investigation by the panel, which will add three former judges as investigators, will now be broadened to include an examination of whether entrenched biases exist in the 2,000-member department.
“If just one individual was wrongly imprisoned because of bias on the part of these officers, that’s one too many,” Mr. Gascón said. “What is the potential impact in our justice system when a juror in a criminal trial questions the credibility of the arresting officer on the evidence that is being presented because they believe that this process may have been influenced by racial or homophobic bias? Can justice prevail under such conditions? Probably not.”
The text messages the officers exchanged discussed lynching African-Americans and proposing that African-Americans “should be spayed.” One text read “White Power.” Some referred to African-Americans using a racial slur.
Other texts contained denigrating comments about gays, Mexicans and Filipinos, who make up a significant number of residents in one of the nation’s most culturally diverse cities.
Interactive Graphic: The Race Gap in America’s Police Departments
In recent months, there have also been a number of cellphone videos posted online of San Francisco police officers apparently mistreating citizens — many of them African-American — including one in which an officer nearly tipped a disabled man out of his wheelchair onto the street.
“Shame, shame, shame on San Francisco,” Rev. Amos C. Brown, president of the San Francisco office of the N.A.A.C.P., said at the news conference. “We cannot claim with integrity and honesty that we are first-class, inclusive, loving.”
Greg Suhr, the police chief, had no immediate comment Thursday, but he has moved to fire seven officers who sent and received the racist text messages. An eighth officer has resigned.
“We have cooperated with the district attorney and handed them the requested documents so they could conduct their audit,” the police department said in a statement. “The D.A. has to review the cases and it’s their responsibility to determine if there is any bias in those cases.”
In addition to the text messages, the task force is also investigating gladiator-style fights among San Francisco jail inmates that the city’s public defender, Jeff Adachi, has said were arranged by sheriff’s deputies. The jail guards, according to a report by Mr. Adachi, bet on the fights and threatened inmates with violence or withheld food if they did not take part.
A third area being examined is the possibility that hundreds of convictions in criminal cases may have been compromised by analysts at the police laboratory who appear to have improperly handled DNA samples.
The broadening of the panel’s focus was met with relief by residents who have long questioned police behavior and arrests made in Bayview-Hunters Point and other African-American neighborhoods.
“Fighting for civil rights is really part of the San Francisco culture and legacy and so it only makes sense that we move forward on this,” said Malia Cohen, a member of the city’s Board of Supervisors who has urged a similar inquiry in the past.
The text messages were disclosed in March as part of a federal corruption case against Ian Furminger, the former sergeant who sent many of the messages.
Mr. Furminger, a 20-year veteran convicted in December 2014 of stealing money and property from suspects, has been sentenced to 41 months in prison. As part of the case, prosecutors revealed that he had sent and received a number of the text messages.
The expanded district attorney’s task force will now include Cruz Reynoso, a former California Supreme Court justice; Dickran Tevrizian, a retired federal court judge; and LaDoris Cordell, a former Superior Court judge, who was once a vice provost at Stanford University. The panel is expected to conclude the investigation by the end of the year, officials said.
A version of this article appears in print on May 8, 2015, on page A13 of the New York edition with the headline: Inquiry to Examine the Extent of Racial Bias in the San Francisco Police.