Friday, October 31, 2008

Following up on a violent New Year's Day arrest, Scott Gutierrez and
Levi Pulkkinen put together a piece on Marcel Richardson, a 23-year-old West Seattle man arrested at Seattle Center after a run-in with police. You can get the full story here.

Because of a settlement, obstruction of justice and resisting arrest charges against Richardson will be dropped so long as he stays out of trouble for the next six months. He hasn't yet decided whether he'll file a civil suit against Seattle police or the King County Sheriff's Office.

As it happened, a KOMO/TV crew was covering the Seattle Center New Year's celebration nearby when the altercation began and caught most it on tape. It was one of two videos of the incident, neither of which captures the initial confrontation between Richardson and King County deputies who pulled him from the door of a McDonald's restaurant at Fifth Avenue North and Broad Street.

Richardson had been asking to be allowed to rejoin his friends in the McDonald's, which had locked its doors at police request because of a gathering crowd outside. He'd stepped out to turn off his car alarm and found himself locked out.

According to Richardson, the deputies grabbed him, patted him down and told him to leave. When he demanded they tell him why he was pulled from the door, one of the deputies soaked him with pepper spray.

The video from KOMO – the P-I's news partner – picks up moments after the initial altercation, showing Richardson running half-blind toward a group of police and firefighters. The video from the scene starts about 25 seconds into the clip.

The second video, one shot by Richardson's cousin and shared with us by Richardson's attorney, shows Richardson moments before the incident. He appeared to be calmly talking to a McDonald's clerk, trying to be let back in to the resturaunt.

The video goes on to show an officer striking a friend of Richardson's with what looked like a long-handled flashlight as the young man walked toward Richardson, who was by then pinned to the ground by police. An officer also fired pepper spray at the cameraman.

After-action reports filed by Seattle police describe the scene somewhat differently from the videos, but most capture the chaotic turn that night had taken.

Compared with the video, several reports overstate Richardson's level of resistance moments before he was shot with a Taser. One officer claims Richardson was "still struggling violently" at a time when the video shows him on his hands and knees.

Explaining their reaction, several officers also note that, when they saw Richardson running toward them half-blind, they thought he'd assaulted an officer.

"As he ran towards me, I had to assume that since he was being chased by so many officers and deputies, he must have committed a crime," Officer Phillip Morrison said in a statement.

Richardson's attorney, Michael Schwartz, said the tapes of the incident likely saved his client from a conviction, and at least encouraged prosecutors to seek a settlement.

"I hate to think what would have happened if they hadn't existed," he said.

Video and Story:

Gang that Robbed Drug Dealers Included Real Police Officers

When federal prosecutors earlier this year accused a gang of robbers of abducting, torturing and stealing from dozens of drug dealers, they said some of the robbers posed as police officers. But on Friday, prosecutors said that a real police officer, in full uniform during at least one robbery, was among the group.

In an indictment unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn, the police officer, Jorge H. Arbaje-Diaz, 30, and two other men, Felix Rodriguez and Alfredo Antonio Acosta, were added as defendants to an indictment that charged that a “violent robbery crew” carried out more than 100 armed robberies of drug traffickers over a five-year period and took more than 750 kilograms of cocaine and $4 million.

The indictment adds the names of Officer Arbaje-Diaz and the two others to an indictment originally unsealed on May 6. With the indictment unsealed on Friday, 13 people have now been charged in the case. Eleven of those, including Officer Arbaje-Diaz, have been arraigned and have pleaded not guilty. Two will be arraigned next week.

The group operated between May 2003 and August 2008 in at least six states, including New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, prosecutors charged. They said the group used torture and death threats to get information from the drug dealers.

Officer Arbaje-Diaz used his position to gain access to the victims’ homes, where he and other defendants handcuffed them at gunpoint and threatened to arrest them if they did not say where their drugs and money were stored, according to a statement from the United States attorney’s office.

Officer Arbaje-Diaz, 30, took part in robberies that netted thousands of dollars and multiple kilograms of cocaine, heroin and marijuana valued at $200,000, the statement said.

On at least one occasion, the officer, a three-year veteran assigned to transit duties in the Bronx, wore his uniform and carried his badge, weapon and handcuffs, the statement said.

The new indictment charges Officer Arbaje-Diaz, Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Acosta with conspiracy to violate the Hobbs Act, which outlaws the obstruction of commerce “by robbery or extortion”; possession of and conspiracy to distribute cocaine; and firearms charges. If convicted on all counts, they would face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

At his arraignment on Friday, Officer Arbaje-Diaz was ordered held without bail, and his next court appearance was set for Dec. 15, said Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the United States attorney’s office. The officer’s lawyer, Gregory Cooper, was not immediately available for comment.

The police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, called Officer Arbaje-Diaz’s alleged actions “despicable” and “the highest form of betrayal.”

“It is a huge disappointment, to say the least, to the department,” Mr. Kelly said in a news conference. He said the department would examine the background checks that were done before Officer Arbaje-Diaz joined the force. He has been suspended without pay.

Video Shows Different Account of What Happened


The attorney for the family of a mentally ill man who died in police custody has released a jailhouse video that captures officers' earliest statements about what occurred and appears to contradict at least one Portland officer's account of what happened.

James Chasse died Sept. 17, 2006, after he was arrested following a foot chase in the Pearl District. Officers said they thought the 42-year-old man had urinated on the street and was on drugs.

Chasse, who suffered from schizophrenia, died after suffering 16 broken ribs, including some that punctured a lung and caused massive internal bleeding, according to autopsy results.

In an interview with investigators a few days after the incident, Officer Christopher Humphreys said he shoved Chasse down and then fell onto the sidewalk, past Chasse.

But the video of officers talking at the jail after they brought Chasse in captures Humphreys telling a sheriff's deputy that "we tackled him" and Chasse landed "hard." As Humphreys is heard telling jail staff that the officers tackled Chasse, his partner is seen showing a "bear-hug" stance.

The video, recently enhanced by professionals to make the dialogue intelligible, was released Thursday by Tom Steenson, the Chasse family attorney, and first made public by the Portland Tribune.

Hours after the video's public release, police Chief Rosie Sizer asked the internal affairs investigators who reviewed Chasse's death to re-examine it.

"Because the video contains enhanced audio that has not been previously available to investigators, I have asked the Internal Affairs Division to review all statements made by every member of the Police Bureau to determine if it would be appropriate to open a new investigation," Sizer said in a statement. "If appropriate, I will do so."

The 13-minute video ends with police and jail sheriff's deputies hauling Chasse out of jail. Chasse, who can be heard moaning, died while police were driving him to a hospital.

The Chasse family has filed a federal lawsuit against the city, police and county. A Multnomah County grand jury found no criminal wrongdoing in the case.


Information from: The Oregonian,

Veteran Sgt. Michelle Wagner Charged with Theft


A veteran Manchester police officer accused of stealing money from what sources say was the department's Police Explorer fund was charged with theft Thursday.

Sgt. Michelle Wagner, 33, turned herself in Thursday in response to a warrant charging her with second-degree larceny, Deputy Chief Marc Montminy said in a press release. The charge stems from allegations of "inappropriate financial transactions from accounts that Sgt. Wagner managed," the release states.

Several sources said Wagner took the money from a fund used for Police Explorers. Wagner used to supervise the program for youths who want to learn about police work.

The investigation continues, the press release says; more charges may be filed against her.

Michelle Wagner, Manchester police sergeant Wagner remains on administrative leave with pay, Montminy said in a phone interview. She was placed on leave when the allegations surfaced Sept. 12, he said.

The chief state's attorney's office in Rocky Hill is overseeing the investigation, which Manchester detectives are conducting.

Wagner, a 10-year veteran of the department, was a community relations officer before her recent promotion to sergeant. She has received awards over the years, including a distinguished service medal in 2003 for her undercover work during an investigation of an escort service in Hartford.

Second-degree larceny is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of as much as $10,000.,0,6574120.story

Officer Wesley Birden Arrested for Child Cruelty


The Griffin Police Department has fired a police officer arrested on child cruelty charges.

Investigators were called to Anne Street Elementary School Wednesday. The school reported that a student had excessive bruising. Investigators learned that a plastic coat hanger and a rolled up magazine caused the injuries, police said.

The student told officials Officer Wesley Birden caused the injuries.

Birden and the student reside at the same residence. Their relationship to each other has not been released.

“It was decided that the case would be conducted just as it would for anyone else,” said Cpl. Bryan Clanton with the Griffin Police Department. “Birden has been a police officer for just over a year and there have not been any past reports to my office of this kind of conduct. Our investigation was conducted with the Juvenile Division and the suspect was arrested. Birden was off-duty when the alleged incident occurred and was not acting in the capacity of a law enforcement officer.”

“When an adult disciplines a child, the action should not leave injuries,” said Lt. Mike Natale, Griffin Police Department Juvenile Division supervisor. “Birden exceeded the boundaries of child correction and crossed into suspected criminal behavior.”

Birden was transported to the Spalding County Jail and charged with Cruelty to Children in the First Degree. His employment with the City of Griffin ended with his arrest.

Corrections Officer Todd Robinson Accused of Giving Inmates Marijuana

A corrections officer at State Correctional Institution at Fayette is facing multiple charges after he allegedly supplied drugs to inmates inside the prison.

Todd Allen Robinson, 31, of Uniontown was charged Tuesday before Magisterial District Judge Dwight K. Shaner with possession with intent to deliver marijuana, possession of marijuana and criminal use of a communication facility.

Trooper Mark Yakicic of the state police Organized Crime Western Task Force said the charges were filed against Robinson after an informant inside the prison notified police that Robinson was supplying drugs to inmates for a fee.

In the criminal complaint filed in the case, Yakicic said that on Oct. 23 an undercover state police trooper called Robinson and arranged for him to bring marijuana to an inmate inside the prison.

Yakicic said that on Tuesday, the undercover trooper again called Robinson who said he was willing to deliver the ounce of marijuana to the inmate in exchange for the remainder of a pound of marijuana.

At 7:11 p.m., Robinson met with the undercover trooper at a parking lot in South Union Township and took a pound of marijuana from the trooper and agreed to deliver two ounces to an inmate at the prison, Yakicic said.

The conversation was recorded, Yakicic said.

After leaving the parking lot, Robinson was stopped by state police and taken into custody.

Yakicic said that Robinson allegedly admitted to taking the marijuana and planning to give it to an inmate.

"SCI-Fayette and the state Department of Corrections do not tolerate this type of activity," spokeswoman Rhonda House said Wednesday. "Whenever we are provided with information of this sort, we work with local law enforcement to prosecute these cases."

House said Robinson was placed under suspension Wednesday.

A preliminary hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday before Magisterial District Judge Joseph M. George Jr. Robinson is free on unsecured bond.

Officer Bruce Blanco Arrested for Fixing Ticket

A veteran Suffolk police officer was arrested Friday on charges that he fixed a ticket in exchange for work on his house, the Suffolk police commissioner said.

Bruce Blanco, 48, of Commack, who has 22 years on the force was to be arraigned Saturday in First District Court, Central Islip, on one count of second-degree grand larceny and one count of second-degree bribe receiving.

"The officer is accused of two very serious crimes, both felonies," Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said in a statement. "We have substantial evidence that he fixed a traffic summons in exchange for thousands of dollars worth of work on his house."

Blanco, who is assigned to the Fourth Precinct in Hauppauge, was suspended without pay, Dormer said.

Bruce Blanco, 48, was to be arraigned Saturday in First District Court in Central Islip on one count of second-degree grand larceny and one count of second-degree bribe receiving.

Blanco was arrested at Suffolk police headquarters in Yaphank at 2:45 p.m. and was to be held in custody overnight at the Seventh Precinct in Shirley, police said.

Former Police Sergeant Frank Holder Arrested for Bank Robberies

A former Pomona police sergeant has been arrested in connection with a series of bank robberies in Escondido, Glendora and Rancho Cucamonga.

Frank Holder, 61, was arrested Wednesday afternoon in Rancho Cucamonga after he allegedly robbed a bank, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.

Witnesses inside the bank were able to describe the suspect to deputies at the scene, Eimiller said.

San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies then stopped a vehicle nearby with Holder in it. The suspect description matched Holder.

Holder, a Phelan resident, was identified and booked into Central Detention Center in San Bernardino on suspicion of bank robbery, Eimiller said.

FBI investigators dubbed Holder the "Grandpa Bandit."

Holder got his nickname because witnesses would say, "He appeared to be a grandfatherly figure," Eimiller said.

Holder is set to appear at 2p.m. today in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana.

Pomona Police Chief Joe Romero confirmed Thursday that Holder is a former employee.

Holder transferred in 1974 from the Montclair Police Department to the Pomona Police Department.

He was promoted to senior police officer in 1987 and became a sergeant in 1991, Romero said.

Holder retired from duty in 2004 under honorable circumstances.

"He worked a variety of assignments," Romero said.

News of Holder's arrest came as a shock to people who worked with him, Romero said.

"It is totally out of his character," he said.

Officer Jorge Arbaje-Diaz Charged with Robbery


A New York City police officer was charged Friday with being a member of a robbery crew that specialized in impersonating police and torturing rival East Coast drug dealers until they gave up stashes of cocaine and cash.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn accused Jorge Arbaje-Diaz of committing of a least one robbery while on duty and in his New York Police Department uniform. They also claimed in court papers that the officer made "post-arrest admissions," but didn't elaborate.

Arbaje-Diaz pleaded not guilty Friday at his arraignment.

The arrest "brings dishonor to the proud reputation of the thousands of law enforcement officers in New York who put their lives on the line every day to protect their residents and communities," U.S. Attorney Benton Campbell said in a statement.

Arbaje-Diaz, 30, was arrested and suspended from the force shortly after midnight Friday following a tour as a transit officer in the Bronx. In court, the officer's lawyer asked prosecutors for details of his client's statements and results of a search of his home. But he didn't comment on the case.

The officer was among three men arrested Friday in an ongoing investigation by the NYPD, the Drug Enforcement Administration and New York State Police. Ten other suspects were charged earlier this year in what officials described as one of the more brazen and lucrative robbery operations in recent memory. All 13 are from the Dominican Republic.

The spree netted more than 1,650 pounds of cocaine worth $20 million and $4 million in cash since 2003. At least 100 people were injured.

Investigators say the gang paid informants to provide the names and whereabouts of traffickers around New York City, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida. After that, it conducted surveillance for days or even weeks, sometimes using satellite tracking devices.

Once the crew had a fix on its targets' daily routines, it would use fake squad cars equipped with lights and sirens to trick their victims into stopping. They would invade homes the same way, then handcuff the inhabitants and haul them away at gunpoint.

Arbaje-Diaz — "a vital and active member" of the gang — once "left patrol still wearing his NYPD uniform and carrying his official firearm, badge and handcuffs to meet members of the crew and carry out a robbery," court papers said. "He used his status as a police officer ... to illegally demand access to the homes of his victims."

During interrogations at dingy hideouts, the bandits allegedly bound their victims with duct tape, beat them and held guns to their heads to get them to reveal information. Using bathtubs, they simulated drownings by repeatedly submerging victims' heads, court papers said.

One victim told investigators that during a 2005 abduction, two gang members "applied a pair of pliers to the victim's testicles and threatened to squeeze the pliers if the victim did not talk," the papers said.

Arbaje-Diaz was ordered held without bail. If convicted of robbery, drug dealing, firearms possession and other charges, he faces a minimum of 45 years in prison.

Officer Roosevelt Noble Jr. Arrested for Molesting 14-year old

A former Milpitas police officer who is suspected of repeatedly molesting a 14-year-old girl during a span of two years was arrested Thursday by San Jose police.

Roosevelt Noble Jr., 41, was booked into Santa Clara County Main Jail, where he is being held in lieu of $1 million bail, according to law enforcement officials. The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office will review the case and determine what specific charges will be filed. Noble will likely be arraigned early next week.

Noble was a Milpitas police officer from mid 1992 through 2007, according to Milpitas Police Chief Dennis Graham, who did not discuss any other details about Noble's employment.

San Jose police were informed Monday of the suspected molestation by the county department of family and children's services, which had received an anonymous tip, according to Lt. Mark McIninch of the sexual assault investigation unit. Detectives interviewed the girl and her mother and determined that the inappropriate touching began when the girl was 12 and lasted about two years, McIninch said. Police say the molestation ended in June.

A follow-up investigation substantiated the girl's allegations, McIninch said. Noble was located and arrested in San Mateo County by members of the San Jose police MERGE unit.

Sgt. Steve Brody Charged with Stealing Tastykakes

Morrisville, New York

Men and women in uniform are supposed to enforce the law -- not break it. But Thursday night, SUNY Morrisville Police Sgt. Steve Brody is charged with petit larceny for taking Tastykakes from a Nice N Easy gas station.

The convenience store’s manager thinks it started last spring, though Sgt. Brody has been a regular at the Nice N Easy for years. The store gives any police officer a free coffee. So he'd grab his cup of joe, and buy a newspaper. But then last spring, a staff member noticed Brody was also pocketing a Tastykake many times when he'd come in.

“I had my girl that worked behind the counter bring it to my attention, and at first I was like, ‘No this can't be. I don't believe this,’ “ says store manger Randy Hobson.

It was unbelievable. But when a number of Hobson's employees told him the same thing, he felt he had to confront the officer.

“At that point he firmly denied it, and stopped doing it for a period of weeks -- maybe three or four -- and then it started up again,” says Hobson.

That's when Hobson had security cameras installed. Within about a month, he had 18 separate incidents on tape. He turned those in -- and Brody was charged.

“Regular people have to follow the law. Everybody should have to follow the law and it was more of a principle thing than the $29 my company is going to get back in restitution. That's for sure,” Hobson says.

It's unlikely Brody will ever set foot into that Nice N Easy again, but you may be wondering whether there are any professional repercussions for what he did.

SUNY Morrisville says they can't comment on the incident, but a representative tells us he is still employed by the university.