Category Archives: Police conduct (good and bad)

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

In groundbreaking partnership, Innocence Project trains New Orleans detectives

From: The New Orleans Advocate

They could almost be taken for a class of undergraduates, sitting in the dark hush of a university amphitheater, sipping from water bottles and scribbling notes while a lecturer guides them through a PowerPoint presentation.

Except that these students were only taking a quick break from their day jobs. They are the New Orleans Police Department detectives who investigate rapes, murders and robberies.

And on one recent weekday they found themselves taking part in an unprecedented experiment.

 Under heavy pressure from the federal government to reform, a police force with an alarming record of putting innocent people behind bars has called in an unlikely pair of teachers — two attorneys from the Innocence Project New Orleans, a group best known for freeing the wrongfully convicted. Perhaps no other place needs this education like New Orleans.

Louisiana has the second-highest rate of exonerations of people who were wrongly convicted of any state, according to the National Registry on Exonerations. And Orleans Parish has the highest exoneration rate of any major county or parish in the country.

“We are like an airline that has historically had the most crashes,” said Emily Maw, director of the Innocence Project. “It would be really weird of us not to want to look at what led to those crashes.”

Nationally, more than 1,900 people have been exonerated since 1989, thanks in part to DNA technology and psychological research on false confessions. In Orleans Parish, 18 people have been freed, along with 11 from Jefferson Parish.

Some of that record is the result of the work of Maw’s group, a local offshoot of the national Innocence Project that has repeatedly secured freedom for inmates by unmasking egregious missteps by police and prosecutors — like a crucial report on a murder case that was mysteriously misplaced for years — as well as innocent slips such as false witness identifications.

Given the often adversarial role the Innocence Project has taken against prosecutors and police, it was probably no surprise that a class run by the group’s attorneys began with assurances that they were only there to help the assembled cops.

Innocence 101

“They are here to make your job better,” said Chris Goodly, the commander of the NOPD Training Academy.

Maw and a colleague then walked through the whole litany of mistakes that can lead to a wrongful conviction. To illustrate a point about the unreliability of witness identification, they played a quick, shaky video of a dodgy-looking man setting a bomb. Minutes later, the detectives were asked to pick the bomber out of a lineup.

The results weren’t good, even for this group of seasoned investigators. Only three of 39 got the answer right.

But then Maw, in her characteristically excited English accent, explained what went wrong. The “bomber” was not in the lineup at all. The correct answer was none of the above.

It’s a well-established fact in psychological research on lineups that the power of inadvertent suggestion will foil nearly everyone who runs through a similar exercise.

In fact, thanks to its post-2012 court-ordered reforms, the NOPD requires detectives to instruct witnesses that the perpetrator of a crime might not be in a lineup. One of the detectives who got the answer right was quick to remind her colleagues about that. In the new NOPD, detectives also must videotape formal interviews.

At the same time, the Innocence Project instructors were at pains to avoid laying all blame for poor police work at the feet of overworked officers.

The room grumbled in agreement as Maw told the detectives that wrongful convictions are more likely to come from overstretched prosecutors and cops than from malicious ones.

The NOPD has lost hundreds of officers over the past five years, leading to skyrocketing caseloads for those who remain. Homicide detectives now handle roughly twice the nationally recommended number of cases.

An hour into the class, phones across the room lit up with an announcement. Just across the street from police headquarters, another man had been shot to death.

With nearly half the homicide squad out of service for the training, one detective made the obvious joke: Who was left to handle this one?

Ugly history

The NOPD’s partnership with the Innocence Project follows a string of developments in old cases that showed just how fallible police work can be.

Reginald Adams was freed from prison in 2014 after the district attorney acknowledged that two former homicide detectives had lied on the stand in order to convict him of killing a cop’s wife in New Orleans East in 1979. He has since sued the district attorney and the city over his decades behind bars.

In September, U.S District Judge Sarah Vance ruled in favor of John Floyd, a convicted double murderer who claimed that a homicide detective had liquored him up at a French Quarter tavern before extracting a confession from him in 1980.

And Jerome Morgan has long maintained that police pressured two witnesses to identify him as the killer of a 16-year-old boy at a 1993 birthday party in Gentilly. His conviction was vacated in 2014, and the district attorney has dropped an effort to bring him to trial again.

“I wouldn’t have guessed that (the NOPD) would have been the first one to invite an Innocence Project in,” said Richard Leo, a professor at the University of San Francisco and an expert on false confessions. “They’ve had, as you know, a long history of racism and corruption and misconduct and shady things.”

Indeed, a previous attempt at detente between the Innocence Project and law enforcement fizzled. In 2014, the group announced a partnership with Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office based on the notion that everyone in the system wanted to free the truly innocent. The partnership collapsed a year later, having sprung a single convict.

But Maw insisted that current detectives have no reason to feel offended by revelations of wrongful Orleans Parish convictions from decades ago. Also, many sprang from errors by prosecutors, not police.

 Over two hours of the training, no detectives raised objections to Maw’s points.

“We have been really impressed with how interested and open the detectives have been,” she said. “They want to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. That is the healthiest approach any organization can have.”

‘Impressive’ initiative

The Police Department’s collaboration with the Innocence Project is still in its infancy. But it already has won praise from the federal monitors overseeing a 2012 consent decree mandating NOPD reforms that was prompted in part by notorious cases of police misconduct in the chaos following Hurricane Katrina.

The monitors don’t often dish out praise for police academy classes, but in their most recent report to a federal judge they spoke of the wrongful conviction training in glowing terms. “The topic was important, the instruction was impressive, and the exercises were instructive,” they wrote.

Maw said that in eight sessions, roughly 200 detectives have already taken the three-hour course, and she hopes to train more in the future.

As with many of the initiatives under the federal consent decree, the question of whether the training will improve the Police Department’s record in the long run remains unanswered.

The average exonerated person in Louisiana has spent 20 years in prison before being freed, according to the National Registry on Exonerations, so the answer may lie decades in the future.

Mike Glasser, the president of the Police Association of New Orleans, is doubtful training will help avoid wrongful convictions.

“It’s an ethical issue. It’s not really a professional one,” he said. “We remain confident that we’re ethical and we do the best job possible.”

But James Trainum, a former Washington, D.C., homicide detective who took part in the U.S. Justice Department’s review of the NOPD in 2010, said he wishes he had had the benefit of such training before he investigated his first homicide in 1994.

Trainum has written a book about that case, in which he extracted a false confession from a woman accused of murder. The woman was eventually freed because a homeless shelter’s sign-in logs proved she could not have committed the crime.

When Trainum went back and watched the videotape of his interview, he realized that he had inadvertently fed the woman details of the killing.

“Those are some lucky detectives to be getting that training,” he said. “They’re being taught how to avoid the mistakes that we’ve learned through experience.”

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Trump’s Insistence that Central Park 5 are Guilty Reveals Frightening Ignorance and Worse

Donald Trump doesn’t acknowledge wrongful convictions proven by DNA and by the credible, delayed confession of a convicted murderer and rapist. Insisting on Friday that the Central Park 5 are guilty of the 1989 high-profile horrific attack and rape of an investment banker jogging in Central Park, he revealed he knows nothing about DNA, the dynamics of false confessions, or contemporary understandings relating to criminal justice and wrongful convictions.

Shortly after the crime occurred Trump paid thousands to run full-page ads in newspapers calling for reinstatement of the death penalty in New York. The ads fueled a fever pitch of outrage over a crime that had already stunned the nation. His insistence on inserting his opinion could only exacerbate tempers in a difficult time of race relations.

In his statement Friday, Trump revealed he is woefully uneducated in the realities of criminal justice miscarriages. This is frightening when the need for criminal justice reform has reached an awareness level great enough to find a place in both the Republican and Democrat national political platforms.

For those who study wrongful convictions and even for the informed everyday citizen, Continue reading

Australia – still reliant upon flawed policing techniques.

7762600-3x2-940x627Australia is viewed by many as an idyllic continent, where people can feel safe, and the rule of law prevails. Yet despite being a first world nation, policing can often be outdated and primitive. The use of paid-informants, and the reliance upon supposed ‘jail-house’ confessions has been known to cause wrongful convictions for decades. Yet as recently as 2009, the police of New South Wales used a paid informant to secure a confession from a young vulnerable Sudanese refugee. This supposed confession was obtained while the young man believed the informant had been brought to him to offer support during questioning by the police.

Such tactics not only smack of the worst kind of trickery, they also provide the flimsiest of evidence upon which to base a prosecution. However, this is exactly what the prosecution in the murder case against JB – a Sudanese refugee aged 15 at the time – did. Not only did they rely upon this evidence, they then proceeded to cover it up. It was not disclosed at trial, nor at a subsequent appeal, that the man known as A107 was a police informant, who then avoided his own criminal charges after this assistance with the case against JB.

There is now – belatedly – an inquiry into the police – including the ‘editing’ of contemporaneous notes – and the prosecution (for non-disclosure). This comes 7 years after the jailing of an innocent teenager. The inquiry should be asking why the police, as recently as 2009, were using such methods to try and obtain confessions, and then conspiring to cover their methods up.

Read more here:

Probe launched into wrongful conviction of Sudanese refugee jailed over Edward Spowart murder

 

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Could Jerry Sandusky be innocent?

What if Jerry Sandusky didn’t do it? Hard to believe, right? The evidence against him seemed to be overwhelming. But was it really?
Author Mark Pendergrast argues that much of the sensational 2012 child-abuse case against the notorious former Penn State assistant football coach hinges on flawed repressed-memory theory. In a commentary for The Crime Report here, Pendergrast says it is relatively easy to generate false memories of abuse and documents how that may have occurred in this case.

Johnson, Wheatt, Glover – All Charges Dismissed – After 20 Years

Johnson, Wheatt, Glover – this was the very first case I worked on with the Ohio Innocence Project eight and a half years ago. At the time, it was a GSR case (gunshot residue). The GSR evidence was always highly questionable, but it was a major factor in their conviction. As it turns out, not only was the GSR evidence bogus, but the case is also an example of egregious prosecutorial misconduct.

Please see the story by Maurice Possley on the National Registry of Exonerations website here.

 

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Post Exoneraton Developments in the Debra Milke Case

I hope that by now, everybody knows that Debra Milke, previously convicted and inprisoned in Maricopa County, AZ, for contracting the murder of her young son, has been exonerated.

We’ve posted about the Debra Milke case on this blog several times previously. In chronological order –  here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here(The red link is particularly germane to the subject of this post.)

Pursuant to her wrongful conviction, wrongful imprisonment (22 years on death row), and eventual exoneration, Debra filed suit with five claims against four defendants, including two former Phoenix police officers and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (Bill Montgomery), stating that that she was denied a fair trial and due process of law. The two police officers and the Maricopa County Attorney filed a motion with the court to dismiss the suit. Judge Roslyn O. Silver of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona has denied the motion to dismiss, and is allowing the suit to go forward.

See the story from azcentral here.

You can read the decision by Senior United States District Judge Roslyn O. Silver here:  97-OrderreMotionstoDismiss

 

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Wrongfully convicted man receives $10.1 million compensation

Francisco Carrillo Jr. was exonerated after serving 20 years in prison for a homicide he did not commit. The case involved eyewitness testimony that resulted from unethical police influence on the witness. A re-enactment of the scene showed that it was highly unlikely that the eyewitnesses could have seen the shooting.  Mr. Carrillo was awarded $10.1 million for the 20 years he served in prison. This compensation is the highest amount awarded in the State of California on a per year basis – – about $500,000 per year served in prison for a crime he did not commit.  Link to LA Times article: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-francisco-carrillo-settlement-20160719-snap-story.html

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Exonerated Eight Years After REAL Killer Confesses

 

“Complete and Utter Failure of the Criminal Justice System.” Michigan Radio

Davontae Sanford was 14 years old when he confessed to a quadruple murder after a police interrogation that lasted two days. His parents were not contacted. He attempted to recant, but was convicted and sent to prison. It didn’t help that he had a do-nothing, incompetent defense attorney. (In my experience, bad defense attorneys are responsible for as many wrongful convictions as anything else.)

Eight years ago the real killer not only confessed, and said Davontae had nothing to do with it, but he also led police to the gun that was confirmed to be the murder weapon.

Finally, after eight years, the state of Michigan has overturned his conviction, and he has been released from prison.

See the CNN story here.

What the hell happened (or didn’t happen) here?! We have yet to hear an explanation from the state of Michigan. I can only sit here slack-jawed, shaking my head in disbelief.

Furthermore, I’ll make a prediction. We’ll hear some kind of non-specific boilerplate excuses from authorities, but nothing substantive or fundamental will change in the system as a result of this. A few people may get a “wrist slap,” but then the whole thing will sink into the murky political-bureaucratic swamp and disappear.

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Comment on the Nature and State of the (US) Justice System

While writing the latest post about Jack McCullough‘s exoneration, and while reading Courtney Bisbee‘s latest filing with the US District Court for Arizona, I got to reflecting on my experiences with the justice system over the past eight years, and I thought I would share some of my (unvarnished) observations. Clearly, this will be very editorial. It will probably help to understand my comments to know that I am not an attorney. I am an engineer by training, and that’s what I did for my entire working career – until I started doing innocence work pro bono. So I see the justice system with the naivete’ of someone who is an “outsider” and is not a functionary of the system; but I do see the system as someone who has spent his entire life founded in objective truth and logic and fact. Again, this article will be editorial in nature, and represents my views and only my views. It will also be pretty bleak; however, I see no viable path to fixing the monster we’ve created over the course of multiple decades of politics and the frailties of human nature. This has been bottled up inside me for some time, and the cork has finally popped. And just for reference, my definition of the justice system includes the law, legislators, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and the police.

Continue reading

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…