Thursday, May 29, 2008

Officer James David Burnett Arrested for Domestic Violence

An Oklahoma City officer was arrested late Thursday on suspicion of domestic abuse, police said.

Officer James David Burnett was taken into custody Thursday night after officers responded to a domestic disturbance call at a home in southwest Oklahoma City.

Investigators said officers found Burnett and a woman who had bruises and cuts on her face.

"The officer, David Burnett, has been placed on suspension with pay. He's a 26-year veteran on the police department," said Sgt. Gary Knight.

Prosecutors said they have not filed charges against Burnett.

Oklahoma City police officials said the department is investigating the case.

Two Norfolk Officers Accused of Criminal Offences

Two Norfolk police officers accused of criminal offences have seen their cases sent to crown court.

Stephen Price, 44, of Jasmine Court, Attleborough, face three counts of fraud. He appeared at Norwich Magistrates' Court this morning where he entered no plea. He was released on bail to appear at Norfolk Crown Court on June 25.

Mark Murphy, 39, of Granary Close, Lingwood, also appeared before magistrates. He has already denied offences including assault, carrying a knife in public, possessing ammunition for a firearm without a certificate, harassment causing fear of violence and failing to provide a breath specimen.

He now faces an additional charge of drink driving relating to an alleged incident near Downham Market on March 1. He pleaded not guilty to this offence.

Mr Murphy was released on conditional bail to appear at the crown court on June 25. He will appear at magistrates later on the same day for proceedings relating to the drink driving offence.

Two Philadelphia Officers charged with beating graffiti artist

Two Philadelphia police officers were charged this morning with beating up a 36-year-man they found painting graffiti in August, and falsifying records to make it appear they had not been near the encounter.

District Attorney Lynn M. Abraham announced the charges against Officers Sheldon Fitzgerald and Howard Hill III, both five-year veterans from the 25th district. Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said the pair were suspended without pay and would be fired.

The charges come on the heels of Ramsey's decision last week to discipline eight officers -- including firing four -- for using excessive force in a videotaped beating earlier this month.

Abraham said it was a coincidence that the latest charges were filed now. "I don't time anything," she said.

Abraham said the two officers stopped David Vernitsky, 36, at 12:30 a.m. on August 26 near 4th Street and Wyoming Avenue in Feltonville, where they found him spray-painting graffiti on the wall of a friend who was newly married. She said Vernitsky fled, the officers caught him, beat him, handcuffed him and tossed him in the back of their patrol car, head first.

After running a check on his records and finding no outstanding warrants against Vernitsky, the officers released him. Two friends who had seen part of the alleged assault took Vernitsky to the hospital, where he was treated for a broken jaw that required his jaw be wired shut for five weeks. He also lost three teeth.

Vernitsky was not charged with anything, Abraham said.

The officers then attempted to cover up their encounter by filing a false entry in their patrol log showing they were at another location at the time, Abraham said.

"This is another statement that excessive force will not be tolerated," said Ramsey, who attended the district attorney's news conference.

John J. McNesby, president of Lodge Five of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the allegations against the officers were a "fabrication" and the police union would defend its members.

"Instead of tracking the murder rate in Philadelphia, they should start tracking the persecution rate of Philadelphia police officers for going out and doing their job on a daily basis," he said.

More Cops Accused of Brutality

THERE IS JUSTICE. Then there's street justice.
David Vernitsky said yesterday that he felt like he got a painful dose of both.

"Those officers shouldn't have done what they did," Vernitsky remarked, understatedly.

In a move that rattled the city's law-enforcement community, District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham yesterday filed criminal charges against two police officers accused of busting Vernitsky's jaw after catching him spray-painting a congratulatory message to a newlywed couple on a wall in North Philadelphia.

Not only did the officers unmercifully beat Vernitsky, said Abraham, but they tried to cover up the thrashing by intentionally failing to document the pedestrian stop. After working over Vernitsky, the officers told him to scram, she said. He was not charged with a crime.

Abraham ordered the two officers - Sheldon Fitzgerald and Howard Hill III - to turn themselves in and submit to arrest within 72 hours. The officers, both five-year veterans from the 25th District on Whitaker Avenue near Erie, have been suspended without pay and will be fired, authorities said.

The charges came a week after Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey fired four officers and disciplined four others for their role in a videotaped beating that gave Philadelphia a black eye. Hill and Fitzgerald, who did not return phone messages left by the Daily News, were not involved in the May 5 beating, authorities said.

Ramsey stood stoically by Abraham's side as she detailed the case against Hill, 30, and Fitzgerald, 29, during a morning news conference at the District Attorney's Office in Center City.

"I do think it's an understatement that excessive force simply will not be tolerated in our department," Ramsey said after Abraham finished. "It's very unfortunate in the sense that, in light of the most recent videotaped incident, these things coming in short order."

For the second time this month, Ramsey stressed that the behavior of these officers was not a reflection on the 6,700-member force as a whole.

And once again, John J. McNesby, president of Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police, lashed out at Ramsey.

"This is a disgrace," McNesby said yesterday. "It can't get any worse . . . Instead of tracking murders in Philadelphia, we should be tracking the persecution of police officers. It's open season on police officers. Not only do we have to watch out for the criminals on the street, but we have to watch out for the people we work for."

McNesby said he believes that Vernitsky fabricated the allegations against Fitzgerald and Hill, and asserted that Vernitsky didn't immediately go to the hospital. McNesby also said Internal Affairs investigators have yet to interview Fitzgerald and Hill to get their version of events.

Vernitsky, 37, seemed a bit shell-shocked by the media attention. In the early afternoon, reporters staked out his home in the city's Logan section, then waited for him to arrive at his job at a North Philly packaging company.

Vernitsky responded to questions from a reporter with "yes, "no," and "I don't know" - the latter when asked if he planned to file a civil lawsuit. He said he wished the officers had simply arrested him for the graffiti, rather than attack and release him.

Vernitsky's police encounter began at about 12:30 a.m. last Aug. 26, near 4th Street and Wyoming Avenue, where Fitzgerald and Hill spotted him spray-painting on the wall of a beauty-supply business.

He had just attended a wedding in Port Richmond with some other buddies and wanted to scrawl a tribute to the couple. He had spray-painted the first few letters when Fitzgerald and Hill drove by in a police cruiser, according to Abraham.

Hill, who was driving, made a quick U-turn and Vernitsky ran off. That's when Fitzgerald jumped out of the squad car, chasing Vernitsky. When Fitzgerald caught up to Vernitsky, he knocked him down and kicked and punched him, Abraham said. Hill then exited the car and joined his partner, she said.

"The two officers began to pummel and kick and beat Mister Vernitsky," Abraham said.

The officers then handcuffed Vernitsky, then 36, and threw him into the police car. They searched his pockets and demanded to know if he was wanted for any crimes, Abraham said.

When the officers learned Vernitsky was not on a wanted list, they returned his identification and told him to get lost, she said.

Vernitsky's friends caught up with him about half block from the graffiti spot. They took him home, and later to the Albert Einstein Medical Center, where he was hospitalized for five days for a broken and dislocated jaw, bruises, and injuries to his face, ribs and groin, Abraham said.

The next morning, Vernitsky's mother contacted Internal Affairs, which launched an investigation and later referred the case to city prosecutors, Abraham said.

Abraham charged Fitzgerald and Hill with aggravated assault, a first-degree felony, simple assault, reckless endangerment, tampering with public records and criminal conspiracy. Abraham said the officers could face substantial prison time.

In addition, Ramsey has reopened a previously closed citizen complaint filed against Fitzgerald and Hill in 2007. That complaint waged allegations similar to Vernitsky's, said police spokesman Lt. Frank Vanore.

"There was a complaint in their history that was very similar to this allegation," Vanore said. "In light of this case, the commissioner wanted it reopened."

Internal Affairs investigators were unable to sustain the allegations in that case because the victim was uncooperative, Vanore said.

Yesterday, Kelvyn Anderson, deputy director of the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission, said Abraham's actions against Fitzgerald and Hill were highly unusual, if not unprecedented.

"It's certainly rather extraordinary for the district attorney to take such a step," Anderson said. "Obviously they felt that they had enough evidence to do so. It will be interesting to see what happens from here."

Hill comes from a law-enforcement family. His brother is a police officer in the 15th District in the Northeast and his father is a retired corrections officer.

Howard Hill Jr., 52, defended his son yesterday, calling him an honest and hardworking man who defended his country while in the Army.

"It almost seems like a witch hunt," Hill Jr. said.

"What aggravates me is he is not being given the benefit of the doubt. The district attorney is turning around and making it sound like he's already been convicted, and that's wrong. That's defamation of character."

He said his son learned about the allegations against him on April 18. His son came to him, his head in his hands. When he looked up at his father, he had tears in his eyes. He swore that the allegations were untrue, Hill Jr. said.

"I said, 'As your father, I want to know the truth.' I asked him straight out," Hill Jr. said. "You can tell when you have a kid when there is something they are telling you that's not the truth. I can just look at him and know. He's got one of those faces."

Hill Jr. said his son explained that if he had used force against someone, there'd be a reason and the person would be arrested.

"It just doesn't add up," Hill Jr. said. "The whole thing stinks to high heaven."

Hill Jr. questioned what kind of man, especially a 36-year-old, would be out in the middle of the night spray-painting a wall.

Vernitsky has had a few prior brushes with the law. In 2006, he was charged with criminal mischief. A judge sentenced him to 25 hours of community service. In 1997, he was charged with arson, reckless endangerment, risking catastrophe and criminal mischief. He was found guilty of criminal mischief only and got one year probation, court records show.

Deputy Michael Galvan Pleads Guilty to Rape and Embezzlement

A Stanislaus, California Deputy waved his right to a hearing in rape and embezzlement case.

Sheriff Deputy Michael Galvan, 31, was a former school resource officer accused of rape and stealing public money, pleaded guilty to 2 felonies this morning in Stanislaus County Superior Court, as part of a plea deal that will result in a 16 month sentence.

Deputy Galvan, of Turlock said little more than "yes, sir" and "no contest" as he entered pleas. Judge Donald Shaver promised concurrent sentences for two serious felonies, assault under the color of authority and embezzlement.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris dropped three other charges in return for Galvan's plea: rape with threat of use of authority, misappropriation of public money and possession of a dangerous weapon.

The prosecutor said he offered the deal so the victim and her children would not have to testify at trial.

"This is the best resolution for everybody involved," Harris said.

In a legal claim that is the precursor to a lawsuit, the woman said Galvan threatened to have her children taken away from her if she complained about him. An affidavit supporting an arrest warrant said Galvan was the subject of an FBI sting because a gang task force received complaints about him.

The victim, who is referred to as Jane Doe in a criminal complaint, due to the nature of the charges. She may address the court when Galvan is sentenced June 24.

The judge ordered Galvan to pay restitution to replace $1,149 he pocketed during a sting operation at Hanshaw Middle School, where Galvan had been posted. The deputy has been on unpaid leave since he was arrested, on the job, on Dec. 1, 2006.

Galvan has no prior record, so he likely will serve half of the time, or nine months, behind bars. He will be on parole for three years after his release and will not be able to hold a public service job again.