Category Archives: Police conduct (good and bad)

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Another $40 Million Settlement for Wrongfully Convicted

As reported this morning in the Chigago Tribune (here), the Illinois State Police has agreed to pay the state’s highest wrongful conviction compensation to date to five men wrongfully convicted of the 1991 rape and murder of Cateresa Matthews in Dixmoor, Illinois.

The five men — Robert Veal, Robert Taylor, James Hardin, Jonathan Barr, and Shainnie Sharp, who became known as “The Dixmoor Five”— were teens when arrested for the crime and were exonerated when DNA testing linked to another known felon. Two of the five had served sentences of ten years and three served nearly two decades before their release.

The federal lawsuit alleged that both State and Dixmore police ignored evidence of another perpetrator and coerced a confession that implicated the four others from 15-year-old Robert Veal, who “had an IQ of 56 and developmental disabilities.” The lawsuit alleged that the police “threatened and abused” some of the other teens, including beating 15-year-old Robert Taylor into confessing. Continue reading

Albuquerque Police Out-Of-Control

We have posted often before about issues of police overreach and misconduct – phony lineups, ignoring evidence, fabricating evidence, coercing confessions, lying on the stand, and more.  However it seems the Albuquerque, New Mexico police department has set a new standard for police overreach.

Albuquerque has an officer-involved shooting rate 4 times that of Chicago and 8 times that of New York.  The Albuquerque police have killed 26 people in just the last four years, and the city has paid out $30 million in civil judgements – so far – as a result of those killings.  However, in the last 30 years, not a single Albuquerque officer has even been charged, much less convicted, of using excessive force.

Watch the CNN video here, which shows the murder of a homeless man by the Albuquerque police.  Warning – this will make you angry.

The US Justice Department has been investigating, and the Albuquerque police department will soon be operating under consent decree with the USDOJ.

David Ranta Family Sues NYPD for $15M Over Wrongful Conviction

David Ranta spent 23 years in prison for a murder he did not commit – as a consequence of false eyewitness identification, a bogus lineup, a jailhouse snitch, and police tunnel vision.

The David Ranta case has been previously reported on this blog here, here, here, and here.

The David Ranta family is now suing the NYPD for $15 million for their suffering.  See the Huff Post story here.

Adrian Thomas “Not Guilty” in Second Trial

Adrian Thomas was originally convicted of causing the death of his 4-month old son in 2008.  This was largely a result of his confession under interrogation by the police in Troy, NY.

As previously posted on this blog, Thomas was subjected to a 9 hour highly coercive interrogation by the Troy police:  Blatantly Coerced Confession Results in Conviction Reversal.

Thomas’s confession was even the subject of the documentary film Scenes of a Crime.

In a second trial, just concluded June 11, 2014, Adrian Thomas was found not guilty.

See the Times Union story here.

 

Brooklyn, NY, Conviction Review: Seventh Man Set Free, After 17 Years in Prison

The New York Times reported yesterday (here) that Roger Logan, 53, has been exonerated and released from prison as a result of the ongoing probe of 90 murder cases by a conviction review unit under the direction of Kings County District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson. Logan—the seventh man to be released since Thompson took office on January 1, 2014—had steadfastly maintained his innocence during the 17 years he served in prison following his conviction and sentence of 25 years to life.

Logan had been convicted of the 1997 shooting of Sherwin Gibbons, who was killed in the vestibule of a Bedford-Stuyvesant building.

The Conviction Integrity Unit is looking at all 57 murder convictions involving former detective, Louis Scarcella, whose unorthodox tactics and unraveling convictions have prompted serious scrutiny, as well as other convictions stemming especially from the 1980s and 1990s, a time of rampant crime and violence. Continue reading

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Even a “Disney World” Defense Can’t Overcome a (False) Eyewitness

Jonathan Fleming was convicted of murder in New York in 1990.  He was just recently exonerated and released after spending 24 years in prison for the murder he did not commit.  The story has recently been reported on this blog with the Fox News story here.  You can also read the CNN story here and the AOL story here.

Fleming had an alibi for the time of the crime.  He was at Disney World with his family.  The hotel staff remembered him, his family vouched for him, and he had a hotel receipt for a collect phone call from the hotel on August 14, 1989 9:27 p.m., which was just 4 1/2 hours before the shooting in New York.  But despite all that, because he was identified by an “eyewitness,” he was convicted.  Quoting the CNN story, “The prosecution … produced a witness who said she saw Fleming commit the crime.”

The reason that I wanted to highlight this particular case is because it’s yet another example of how eyewitness testimony, even though false or mistaken, will trump a solid alibi.

This is not a rare occurrence. Data from the National Registry of Exonerations shows that false or mistaken eyewitness identification is a contributing factor in 43% of wrongful convictions.

And to top it off, in this particular case, the phone call receipt was found in the prosecution’s case file, but was never produced – can you spell “Brady violation?”   And — the “eyewitness” was offered a deal for her testimony, and then recanted 2 weeks after the trial; but of course, her recantation was not allowed by the court.

Does this stink, or what?!  I’m tempted to launch into a much broader exposition on the failings of the justice system, but will save that for a future post on “the nature of innocence work.”

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Thanks to courts, police perjury remains major problem

According to an old lawyer joke, the best way to tell when a lawyer is lying is to look to see if his lips are moving. That rule seems to apply to cops on the witness stand, too. But “testilying” is no laughing matter. It is undoubtedly a significant factor in many wrongful convictions.

Proving it to the courts’ satisfaction, though, is another matter. As Radley Balko notes here, “The problem isn’t that cops aren’t capable of telling the truth. The problem is that the courts have treated cops as if they’re incapable of lying.”

Alan M. Dershowitz said the same thing in an op-ed in 1994. “Some judges refuse to close their eyes to perjury,” he wrote, “but they are the rare exception to the rule of blindness, deafness and muteness that guides the vast majority of judges and prosecutors.”

Balko argues that this could be changing, thanks to increasing prevalence of video cameras that catch cops in lies, as happened recently in a Chicago-area case. But until video cameras are everywhere, some cops will probably continue to lie as long as the courts allow them to get away with it.

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Jury Awards $36M in Wrongful Conviction Suit to Two NY Men

A jury in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, New York, yesterday awarded John Restivo, 56, and Dennis Halstead, 59, $18 million each—$1 million for every year they spent in prison—following their wrongful convictions in the 1984 rape and murder of 16-year-old Theresa Fusco. All charges had been dismissed in 2003 after DNA testing of evidence, which was conducted over ten years, excluded the men and implicated another, unidentified perpetrator.

After a four-week trial in the federal civil rights lawsuit, the jury concluded that Nassau County lead detective, Joseph Volpe, now deceased, had engaged in official misconduct, including fabrication of hair evidence and withholding of exculpatory evidence in the case. Continue reading

Louisville to Pay Whistleblower Cop $450,000

Louisville Metro Government has agreed to pay $450,000 to former police detective Barron Morgan who says he was demoted to patrol officer on the graveyard shift for trying to help an imprisoned woman prove her innocence on a homicide charge.

” … after Kentucky State Police, who had investigated the 1998 murder, complained that Morgan was assisting the Innocence Project, a Louisville police commander “cursed” him and he was ordered to stop cooperating.”

Read The Courier-Journal story here.

 

New Motion, Old Story: Court Urged to Vacate Conviction in 1982 Murder

A controversial case that imprisoned three men including a former Woonsocket Rhode Island police detective may see a new outcome more than thirty years after the crime. A lengthy motion filed in Superior Court by lawyers for Raymond Tempest Jr., 61, seeks to have his conviction of the 1982 murder of Doreen Picard vacated after DNA testing of a hair found in the victim’s hand proved not to be from Tempest.

For those who have studied wrongful convictions, reading the 76-page motion brings a troubling sense of déjà vu. If the motion is granted, it will be an Continue reading

Police lying: an endemic international problem?

It is starting to feel in the UK like ‘another day, another story of police lies’. In what feels like just a few months we have had media coverage of (to mention just a few) scandals where, for example, police have been caught falsifying reports of an altercation that they ‘witnessed’ when they were not present (see Plebgate scandal...). We have the ongoing revelations over police lies and their coercion of others to lie in the Hillsborough disaster cover-up (see Hillsborough inquiry...). It is suspected that these tactics were honed during the Miner’s Strike when striking miners were ‘fitted up’ (see Miners Strike….). Such tactics clearly have continued for years with many undercover police officers lies leading to convictions  (see undercover policing....) as well as the recent revelation that high profile victim Stephen Lawrence’s family were put under police surveillance during the inquiries into the police failures after Stephen’s murder (to try and discredit the family and their campaign for justice). This all comes on top of the almost run-of-the-mill stories of police ‘collusion’ with one another after fatal police shootings, with the introduction of body-worn cameras to enable the police to be ‘more transparent’ about fatal shootings. In fact, the introduction of police body-worn cameras has been posited as a boon for police as it will cut down on false allegations from the public. However, is it perhaps more likely that police body-worn cameras may serve to make the police more honest? Will they be able to lie with camera footage of the real altercation readily available?

0In Omagh, Northern Ireland, the introduction of CCTV cameras in the town has led to the uncovering of police lies leading to miscarriages of justice – with solicitors claiming that miscarriages may be ‘endemic’: increasingly, CCTC footage is being shown to demonstrate that the police account of events is unreliable – even untrue (see story here…) Of course this has not been a good week either for police south of the border in Ireland, having been found to have been illicitly tape recording phone calls made to police stations (see here…). The other side of the world, in New Zealand, they are calling police lies and false evidence which have led to convictions as ‘failings’ and ‘sloppy police work’ (see here…Police failures led to wrongful conviction).

We have all known for years that there are ‘rotten apples’ and that wrongful convictions have often had police misrepresentations, if not outright corruption and lying, at their heart. However, the question must surely now be asked: is lying among the police an endemic international problem? If so, what can be done about it? These questions are already beginning to be murmured in corners of the UK, I think it is now time to get such questions out in the open. These are challenging times for the police, and if we are not to lose trust in them completely, I believe some hard questions must be asked and answers demanded.

 

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Interrogations may be getting worse instead of better

False confessions are a leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States, and many of them are obtained by detectives using the pervasive Reid technique of interrogation. But if you think that law-enforcement officials are beginning to realize the inherent flaws of a system that gets people to confess to crimes they didn’t commit, guess again.

In a thought-provoking blog post here, forensic psychologist Karen Franklin says she is actually seeing Reid technique “taken to more and more extreme levels” because of American courts’ “tacit encouragement” of deceit and the watering down of Miranda rights.

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

  • In the UK, bid to overturn arson convictions due to police misconduct
  • In Texas, exoneree Anthony Graves seeks a court of inquiry to examine alleged misconduct by the prosecutor who wrongfully convicted him

Dog Scent Lineups – “The Worst of Junk Science”

pointerIt was just a year ago that we posted about dog scent lineups.  At the time, we called it “one of the junkiest of the junk sciences.”  This opinion is echoed in a law suit filed just this week by a Texas woman, Megan Winfrey.  Ms. Winfrey spent 6 years in prison before her murder conviction, based on a dog scent lineup, was overturned.  Her suit calls dog scent lineups “the worst of junk science.”

Interestingly, the primary defendant in Winfrey’s suit is former Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Deputy Keith Pickett.  Pickett was identified in our earlier post as being the most infamous and notorious dog handler performing bogus dog scent lineups.  Four other officers, including the San Jacinto County Sheriff, are also named in the suit as being complicit in her wrongful conviction.

You can read the NBC News story about the Winfrey suit here, which contains a link to the actual law suit.

Blatantly Coerced Confession Results in Conviction Reversal

Adrian Thomas was convicted of murdering his 4-month old son Matthew.  The conviction relied in part on a confession that Adrian Thomas made during a 9-hour interrogation during which he was lied to and coercively threatened by police investigators.  Despite the fact that other evidence may indicate guilt, there is no ethical, moral, or logical excuse for these police tactics.

This is a significant decision relative to false confessions.

The story from the Albany, NY Times Union follows:

Court of Appeals reverses Adrian Thomas murder conviction

Posted on February 20, 2014 | By Robert Gavin
 In a potentially landmark ruling, the state’s highest court on Thursday unanimously overturned the murder conviction of Adrian Thomas, who was convicted in 2009 of killing his 4-month-old son in Troy, and blocked his statements from any retrial.

Thomas is serving 25 years to life in Auburn Correctional Facility for second-degree murder.

Thursday’s 7-0 decision followed arguments before the Court of Appeals on Jan. 14 during which attorneys for Thomas, 31, questioned the extent that police lied to the defendant while questioning him about the condition of his son. Thomas was interviewed by Troy police for more than nine hours in what his attorney, Jerome K. Frost, said was a cruel hoax.

Police are allowed to lie to suspects, but not to  the extent that a confession is given involuntarily. To secure Thomas’ confession, a Troy police sergeant told Thomas his confession was needed to save the life of his son, Matthew, whose death was a certainty.

On Thursday, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman wrote that evidence was sufficient to convict Thomas, but that the case must be sent back for retrial because “we conclude that defendant’s inculpating statements were not demonstrably voluntary.”

On Jan. 14, Frost told Court of Appeals that police falsely told his client 67 separate times that they knew the baby’s injuries were accidental — and 140 times that he would not be charged. A key part of Thomas’ appeal was his lawyers’ argument that the trial judge should have allowed an expert on false confessions and police interrogation techniques to testify on his client’s behalf. The judge rejected it.

“The rule is you don’t threaten a person’s vital interests, such as the freedom of his spouse, taking away his children,” Frost had argued.

The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court upheld Thomas’ conviction in 2012