A growing number of police agencies around the country require officers to use audio or video devices to document their interactions with people. While this can help provide evidence for trial or to exonerate officers accused of wrongdoing, it can also serve as a powerful check on police misconduct.
That’s precisely what happened in Fullerton, California, when an audio recorder carried by Officer Manuel Ramos captured him telling a mentally ill and homeless man that he was going to beat him.
According to the L.A. Times, Ramos “turned on the department-issued digital recorder strapped to his equipment belt when he responded to a call of suspicious behavior at a bus depot shortly after 8:30 p.m. July 5. The department’s policy calls for officers to activate their recorders, about the size of a deck of cards, almost any time they engage someone while on duty.”
When Ramos arrived at the bus depot, he encountered Kelly Thomas in the parking lot. According to the district attorney’s account, Ramos did not search Thomas for weapons because it was clear he was unarmed, but grew increasingly hostile as Thomas struggled to follow Ramos’s commands.
Video footage of the incident shows Ramos standing over Thomas and pulling on latex gloves. “See my fists?” Ramos is heard saying on the recording. “They are getting ready to f— you up.”
According to Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, Ramos and several other officers then went on to beat Thomas with a baton, to punch and knee him repeatedly as he was pinned down, to shock him multiple times with a stun gun, and to strike him in the face with the stun device eight times. After several days in the hospital, Thomas died of a crushed thorax. No traces of drugs or alcohol were found in his body.
According to the D.A., the audio recording provided irrefutable proof that Ramos was intent on hurting Thomas, and led prosecutors to file the second-degree murder charge against Ramos.
According to news reports, Ramos is being held on $1 million bail and faces life in prison if convicted on the second-degree murder charge. Another police officer, Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, was also criminally charged in connection with this incident. Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter and using excessive force. He pleaded not guilty and was released on $25,000 bail.
Queens prosecutors have agreed to open a “full investigation” into the possible wrongful conviction of Tejpal Singh for a 1996 drive-by shooting.
The case dates back to Aug. 25, 1996, when two men, Kamaljit (Goldie) Singh and Ramjit (Rocky) Singh were shot in a drive-by in the Richmond Hill section of Queens. Goldie died, but Rocky survived. He and another eyewitness, Sukjinder (Kala) Singh, identified Tejpal Singh as the triggerman.
According to the Daily News, a private investigator recently recorded Rocky saying he really didn’t know who shot him and that he was pressured by prosecutors to finger Tejpal. The investigator also said that Kala Singh told him if he said what had really happened that night it would help overturn the conviction, but he only offered to tell the truth if paid.
Additionally, the investigator tracked down the driver of the black SUV from which the deadly shots were fired — he not only told the investigator that Tejpal was not even in the car, but he identified two others as the real triggermen.
To make matters worse, an ex-NYPD sergeant has sworn under oath that he wanted to arrest somebody else for the crime but that prosecutors wouldn’t let him, and that a detective’s DD-5 form that could have undermined the prosecution’s case against Tejpal was never produced to his attorney.
Singh is currently serving 25 years-to-life sentence.
A complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Justice in November 2008 called upon DOJ to formally investigate whether the Suffolk County Police Department was operated in a discriminatory manner by ignoring reports of bias crimes from the Latino community, and utterly failing to take any action to protect local Latino residents who were being repeatedly targeted and attacked solely because of their ethnicity.
When members of the “Caucasian Crew,” a group of white Long Island teens who were subsequently convicted of attacking and killing Marcello Lucero on November 8, 2008, admitted to having engaged in “beaner jumping” – i.e., looking for Mexicans to beat and rob – as a weekly pastime for the preceding year and a half, it begged two questions: how could the Suffolk Police Department not know about it, and if they did know about it, why hadn’t they done anything to stop it?
On Wednesday, the Department of Justice sent Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy a 28-page letter report which details the deficiencies in the manner that the Suffolk County operates its police department, and which the DOJ believes resulted in the discriminatory mistreatment of Latinos. The DOJ concluded that “[t]he tendency to brush off attacks as ‘just kids being kids’ fails to recognize the severity of criminal conduct in which minors may engage, as seen from the murder of Marcelo Lucero, whose attackers were high school-aged youths.”
The DOJ “strongly recommend[ed],” among other things, that the SCPD revise the use of roadblocks in the Latino community, ensure adequate training for officers, and take significant steps to lessen officer bias against Latinos.
DOJ’s investigation continues to determine whether the County violated the civil rights of its Latino residents.
In Kachalsky. v. Cacace, 10-cv-05413, Judge Cathy Seibel of the Southern District granted summary judgment against plaintiffs raising a Second Amendment challenge to New York’s restrictive concealed carry laws. After Heller, where SCOTUS rejected the District of Columbia’s total ban on handguns outside the home, courts are still left to hammer out what types of restrictions pass Constitutional muster. At issue here is Section 400.00(2)(f) of the New York State Penal Law, which requires that New Yorkers who wish to carry a handgun make an application to the State, in which they must show an “actual and articulable” — rather than a “merely speculative, potential, or even specious” – reason why they need a weapon. Plaintiffs in Kachalsky are represented by Alan Gula of Virginia, and Vincent Gelardi of Gelardi and Randazzo, Rye Brook NY. It will be interesting to see what the Second Circuit does if it takes up the issue.
In some states, such as Illinois, using the video camera on your cell phone to record police misconduct may violate the state’s eavesdropping laws, and land you in jail. Of course, the inequity in this is apparent, since police departments routinely use video surveillance to record the public. While doing so may help protect the community on the one hand, on the other it is vitally important for the community to be able monitor the police in order to curb abuses of police power – so much so, in fact, that the First Circuit recently pronounced that there is an unambiguous and clearly established First Amendment right to videotape the police carrying out their duties in public.
In fact, in First National Bank v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765, 783 (1978), the U.S. Supreme Court held that “the First Amendment goes beyond protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.”
In recognizing the clearly established constitutional right to videotape the police, the First Circuit concluded that “[g]athering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others served a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting the free discussion of governmental affairs.”
Indeed, over 30 years ago, in Bellotti, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that “freedom of expression has particular significance with respect to government [activities] because … the state has a special incentive to repress opposition and often wields a more effective power of suppression.”
In view of this authority, it is no surprise to learn that the ACLU of Illinois has raised a constitutional challenge to the Illinois statute prohibiting the public from recoding police misconduct.
A police officer in Santa Fe, New Mexico has been caught on security camera having sex in public with an unknown female. The officer was in his uniform and was having sex with the female on the hood of a car in the middle of the day.
Frankly, it’s a good thing this was captured by a security camera, because the cop probably would have arrested the videographer…
Yesterday, a federal judge denied the majority of New York City’s motion for summary judgment on claims that the NYPD engages in the widespread pattern of unconstitutional stops and frisks of black and Latino men, and held that a jury must resolve whether the alleged pattern or practice was so common as to imply the acquiescence of senior policy-making officials in the NYPD.
In the 86-page decision in the putative class action of Floyd v. The City of New York, 08 Civ. 1034, Southern District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin stated that the plaintiffs in the case alleged “a disturbingly large racial disparity in who is victimized” by the NYPD practice of stopping and frisking individuals without reasonable suspicion.
“It is deeply troubling if thousands of New Yorkers are being stopped each year without reasonable suspicion, and even more troubling if African-American and Latino New Yorkers are being singled out for such treatment,” said Judge Scheindlin in her decision.
City officials in Rock Hill, South Carolina plan to rewrite a city law that makes it illegal to “oppose, resist, or interfere with any police officer in the discharge of the police officer’s official duties.” As presently written, the law allows police to arrest someone for not obeying any police orders, irrespective of the legality of those commands.
For example, if a citizen of Rock Hill is having a political discussion with a neighbor on his front lawn, and a police officer walks by and tells him to shut up because he disagrees with the citizen’s political views, that citizen can be arrested for disobeying the officer if he continues to engage in political speech; by doing so, he would be “opposing” the officer’s directive, and in clear violation of the ordinance.
Sheesh. Have the lawmakers in Rock Hill heard of the First and Fourth Amendments? Evidently not. And they apparently didn’t realize either that the ordinance likely violates due process for being unconstitutionally vague. A sad state of affairs, indeed.
According to the Charlotte Observer, no timeline has been given for rewriting the ordinance.
The First Circuit just issued a sweeping and great decision, holding that there is a clearly established First Amendment right to videotape the police. The plaintiff in this case was arrested for openly using his cellphone to record the police making an arrest on Boston Common. He was charged with, among other things, illegal wiretapping.
Read more about it HERE. Also, this decision can only bode well for the ACLU’s recent case against the Baltimore Police Department on behalf of a Howard County man who says that his video camera was confiscated at the Preakness last year after he recorded police officers arresting a woman.