Saturday, November 29, 2008

Officer Dennis O'Connell Facing Federal Lawsuit for Police Brutality


A New Haven police officer is facing two federal lawsuits accusing him of brutality and an illegal strip search, while records show he has been subject to a history of complaints of excessive force.

Union officials call Officer Dennis O'Connell "a good cop" who works in tough, violent neighborhoods. But the coordinator for the department's Civilian Review Board said complaints against O'Connell are high.

"One person with eight complaints of the same type could be perceived as excessive," said Reginald Thomas, coordinator of the Civilian Review Board. "It's not the average for a New Haven police officer."

A telephone message was left for O'Connell with Sergeant Louis G. Cavaliere, president of the police union, who said O'Connell declined to comment. O'Connell has been on the force for about a decade and makes about $59,000 per year.

"This is not Mayberry USA or Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," Cavaliere said. "You're dealing with the scum of the earth when you're dealing with people with drugs and guns."

The department has a recent history of scandal. Three detectives were sent to prison for planting evidence and stealing money from crime scenes.

An independent review of the department found problems with investigations of complaints against police. Many cases were closed because those who filed the complaints did not pursue them, according to the report last year by the Police Executive Research Forum, a national group that evaluates police operations.

In one of the lawsuits, five men and a woman say O'Connell used excessive force. One man said he was repeatedly punched in the face and sprayed with chemicals while he was handcuffed, while another said he was beaten unconscious.

Dramese Fair, who is black, also filed a federal lawsuit earlier this year accusing O'Connell and two other officers of subjecting him to an illegal strip search last year.

Eight other residents have filed complaints in recent years accusing O'Connell of excessive force and other misconduct, according to records obtained by the Associated Press.

Attorney Paul Garlinghouse, attorney for the six plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit, said his clients filed complaints with police, but no action was taken. His lawsuit seeks $9.5 million in damages.

None of the eight complaints resulted in any disciplinary action against O'Connell. Internal affairs investigators said the alleged victims did not pursue their complaints or they were unfounded or, in one case, missed a deadline for filing.

Police reports on the incidents contradict versions by the complainants. One of the complainants pushed O'Connell and threw a punch at him, and O'Connell said another man burned him with a cigarette, according to police reports.

Valerie Myles, who alleged that officers beat her and her cousin, said she did try to pursue her complaint but "evidently it disappeared." A police report charging her cousin with drug violations was filled out by Detective Justen Kasperzyk, who was sentenced to 15 months in prison for planting drug evidence and stealing money from a crime scene.

"They are hot to stamp 'not pursued' on these cases," Garlinghouse said.

Fair's lawsuit accuses the city of postponing a hearing to avoid scrutiny of illegal searches and refusing to act on disciplinary complaints against the officers.

City officials said they could not comment on pending litigation. They also declined to comment on complaints that have been closed.

Former Officer Gregory Graham Captured After 2-hour Suicide Stand-off

Panama City, Florida

Gregory Allen Graham, a 34-year-old police officer who became a fugitive after his arrest on child molestation and incest charges was captured Saturday after a two hour suicide stand-off with Panama City authorities.

Graham, a former Fulton County, Georgia police officer was originally arrested on April 4 on two counts of child molestation, four counts of incest, one count of statutory rape, possession of anabolic steroids and attempt to suborn perjury.

Coweta County authorities say Graham allegedly engaged in an ongoing sexual relationship with an under-aged female relative. Authorities also say they found Graham in possession of anabolic steroids and that he repeatedly attempted to influence witnesses in the case. Police first became aware of the alleged activity when the victim's mother reported it to authorities and the victim reportedly confirmed the allegations.

Graham was released on a $50,000 bond while awaiting trial. Court records indicate Graham failed to appear for a Coweta Superior Court hearing on Monday. When Graham failed to appear again on Wednesday, he was declared a fugitive and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

When authorities received word that he might be in Florida, Bay County, Florida sheriff's deputies tracked Graham down to a motel he was staying at along Thomas Dr. in Panama City. Deputies raided the motel room and found Graham's firearms, ammunition and truck, but Graham was not in the room.

Authorities began an intense search of the area for several days that included K-9 units and an air unit who finally discovered Graham lying in a nearby wooded marsh at about 2:00 a.m. Saturday morning. As officers closed in, they discovered Graham had cut his wrists and was holding a hunting knife to his throat. Bay County Hostage Negotiators were called in, who spent approximately two hours talking to Graham before he finally released the knife and surrendered to authorities at about 4:00 a.m..

Authorities revealed they were able to narrow down Graham's wherabouts by tracking a signal from his cell phone.

“We are extremely proud of the extraordinary effort Investigator Jason Fetner and Investigator Matt Kee did in tracking this guy since Wednesday,” said Assistant District Attorney Kevin McMurry. “They worked relentlessly their entire Thanksgiving to apprehend him.”

Graham now sits in the Bay County Jail while he awaits extradition back to Georgia.

Officer Richard Kern Accused of Sodomizing Man Goes to Grand Jury

A case involving a New York City Police Officer accused of sodomizing a man during arrest will go to the grand jury within the next two weeks. Officer Richard Kern,25, is accused of sodomizing Michael Mineo with what he thinks was a radio antenna.

Both police and Mineo state that he ran to try to evade police after he was seen smoking marijuana outside a Brooklyn station. He was reportedly tackled by two police officers before three more appeared before he was held down and assaulted.

Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne states, "His assertion that he was sodomized is not supported by independent civilian witnesses on the scene." Mineo was later taken to the hospital where he was reportedly diagnosed as being anally assaulted.


Two Officers Accused of Forcing Iraq War Veterans to Lick Urine


Two police officers accused of forcing two Iraq war veterans to lick what they and another officer believed was one of the men's urine claim it was the veterans' idea.

The National Guardsmen, Sgt. Anthony Anderson and Spc. Robert Schiman, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit for the June incident in the Wisconsin Dells. It names officers Wayne Thomas and Collin Jacobson as well as another officer, the chief and the city.

In a police report obtained by the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, Thomas told Schiman he wouldn't get a citation, but Thomas wanted Schiman to admit he urinated in an alley.

The report says the guardsmen argued with Thomas, and Anderson put his fingers in the puddle and licked them. Schiman then bit a leaf off a weed in the puddle.

The men claim the officers forced them to do it.


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Bad Cops Get Desk Duty

Some monitor surveillance cameras in housing projects. Others escort prisoners to court or check in patrol cars. And some, true to the police lingo, really do sit behind a desk, shuffling papers and answering phones.

These jobs are known as desk duty, a generic phrase in the Police Department for a range of jobs to which hundreds of officers have been reassigned over the years.

Pulled off the streets, stripped of guns and badges, kept inside four walls and away — as much as possible — from the public, officers who are put on desk duty because their conduct is under investigation find themselves far from the enforcement activities they signed up to do.

“We like to call it the ‘cellblock’ because it is like you are in prison,” said an officer who spent more than 18 months watching surveillance video while authorities investigated an accusation that he had struck a suspect.

The officer, who was eventually cleared of the charge, insisted that his name not be published because he did not want his work history to be widely known.

“It is the worst place in the world if you enjoy being a police officer,” he said. “You sit at a desk and stare at 30 monitors.”

Among those on desk duty now are four officers involved in a run-in in October with a 24-year-old man, Michael Mineo, who says he was sodomized with a piece of police equipment in a Brooklyn subway station. A grand jury is investigating the case.

Those officers joined a netherworld of police work that has sometimes taken others years to emerge from as their cases went through the legal system and then Police Department review.

Levied against anyone from a rookie patrol cop to a 20-year decorated detective, the desk duty reassignment is a great equalizer. There are no assumptions of guilt or innocence or nods to rank.

And, although the colloquial term “desk duty” neatly captures the idea of an officer who is hidden from the public, it often does not involve sitting at a desk. The officers in the Mineo case are performing jobs like watching video cameras and overseeing police vehicles.

“Doing court paperwork, moving prisoners, driving delivery vehicles — it is a range of glamourless jobs,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who is a former police officer and prosecutor in New York City.

“You are unarmed most of the time and everybody knows that you are sort of disabled by the fact that you are not on full duty,” he said. “There is almost a universal stigma to it.”

The Police Department’s chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne, said that it was a necessary tool. “Prudence and good order in a police department dictate that at times certain personnel be relieved of their enforcement duties,” he said.

Not everyone on desk duty is under a cloud; most are officers with clean records who do those jobs full time. When officers are taken off enforcement duties and given desk jobs because of pending charges, it is called modified duty.

In some cases, officers are placed on limited duty when recovering from an injury or for emotional reasons, such as in a recent case of an officer whose child died. But for the most part, those on modified assignment are in limbo, waiting to be cleared and returned to regular duty or on their way to suspension, demotion, transfer or firing if they are convicted of a crime or found to have broken department rules.

After the shooting death of Sean Bell in November 2006, six police officers were put on desk duty doing paperwork for detectives on Staten Island, making phone calls to investigators when there was a homicide in the Bronx, or performing administrative tasks at desks in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Three of the officers were criminally charged, and they were acquitted. An internal investigation and the possibility of going to trial on departmental charges is on hold until the Justice Department decides whether it will bring a civil rights case against the officers.

Police unions have accused the department of using desk duty for political reasons, such as in high-profile cases, which the department denies. Unions have also complained that it is too open-ended, with an officer sometimes desk-bound even after being cleared. Some officers say the department sometimes intentionally assigns officers to desk-duty jobs requiring a long commute, an unofficial form of punishment known as toll therapy.

John D. Patten, a lawyer, defended a sergeant, Thomas Kennedy, who was investigated after a handcuffed suspect fell and hit his head. He was acquitted in court and cleared in an internal investigation but spent a year and a half on modified duty in the Fleet Services Division. “It takes time to resolve these,” Mr. Patten said. “But sometimes it can go fast, too. There are no fixed rules.”

Mr. Browne said officers can be kept on modified duty “indefinitely. But it really depends on individual cases.”

Officers who have been on desk duty say the stigma is hard to erase in a paramilitary organization that values the solidarity that comes with wearing the same uniform and facing the same dangers.

“Modified duty is purgatory,” said Rae Koshetz, a lawyer who once worked in the Police Department handling internal trials and who represents Officer Kenneth Boss, one of four officers who fired at and killed Amadou Diallo, a Bronx man who was unarmed, in 1999.

Officer Boss was acquitted and cleared in an internal inquiry and in court but is still answering phones for the Emergency Services Unit at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. “You are benched,” Ms. Koshetz said. “Your career is derailed.”

“It is a dumping ground,” said the officer from the surveillance unit. “The connotation is that you are a screw-up.”

Lt. Michael W. Pigott, a veteran emergency services officer, gave an order on Sept. 24 to an officer in Brooklyn to fire a Taser at an emotionally disturbed man, who then fell 10 feet and suffered a fatal head injury. The Police Department said the order appeared to have violated guidelines that said Tasers should not be used when a person could fall from an elevated surface.

Soon after Lieutenant Pigott was ordered to work the desk at Fleet Services Division in Queens, which handles police vehicles, he committed suicide.

While Lieutenant Pigott wrote in a suicide note that he feared criminal prosecution, a detective who worked with him, Stephen Dillon, said he seemed hurt by the decision to put him on desk duty and take his gun. Since he was cleared in the Diallo shooting, Officer Boss has been unsuccessfully fighting in court to be restored to full duty with his weapon, saying that his colleagues have ridiculed him with the name “Kenny No-Gun.” The Police Department has refused, saying that the public would be upset if he were rearmed, and that the department would be prejudged if he were ever involved in another shooting.

“I was a very proactive patrol cop and anticrime officer,” he said. “It is demoralizing. It breaks my heart.”

Officer Vinson Walker Accused of Rape

A Garfield Heights police officer faces rape charges, accused of sexually assaulting a woman at his Cleveland home Nov. 16.

The officer, Vinson Walker, was off-duty at the time, police said. Details of what may have happened remained unclear Saturday and Vinson could not be reached for comment.

Cleveland police arrested Walker Wednesday at the Garfield Heights police station. Vinson, 29, was charged Friday with raping a 22-year-old woman.

Officer Richard Heverly Accused of Holding Gun to Man's Head Returns to Work

A San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy facing criminal charges for allegedly holding a gun to a man's head while off duty has returned to work at West Valley Detention Center.

Richard Heverly, of La Verne, was placed on paid administrative leave following his Aug. 10 arrest in Riverside County.

He returned to work at the jail's transportation division on Nov. 4, said sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Beavers.

At about 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 10, tow-truck driver Roger Gilstrap saw a big-rig truck on fire on the 10 Freeway near Eagle Mountain Road, about 50 miles east of Indio.

Gilstrap positioned his truck to block off lanes affected by the burning big rig and called the California Highway Patrol from his cell phone, according to the arrest declaration in Heverly's court file.

While Gilstrap was on the phone with the CHP, Heverly, 42, pulled up beside him in a red Dodge truck.

Heverly flashed his sheriff's department badge and told Gilstrap, "This entitles me to do whatever the (expletive) I want," according to the arrest declaration, which was written by a CHP officer.

Heverly grabbed Gilstrap's cell phone and disconnected the call, then pulled Gilstrap out of the tow truck and handcuffed his right hand, bruising and injuring Gilstrap's wrist, according to the arrest declaration.

Heverly then drove the barrel of a handgun into Gilstrap's ear, and told him, "I have a gun in your ear and I will kill you," according to the arrest declaration.

Heverly twisted the gun into Gilstrap's ear, bruising and cutting the inside of Gilstrap's ear and the surrounding area, according to the arrest declaration.

Heverly then handcuffed Gilstrap's arms behind his back and led him to the passenger side of the truck. He held Gilstrap for 3 to 5 minutes, according to the arrest declaration.

Heverly never told Gilstrap the reason for handcuffing him, according to the arrest declaration. Gilstrap told officers he feared for his life during the encounter with Heverly.

Heverly has pleaded not guilty to four felony charges: assault with a semi-automatic firearm, assault by a public officer, criminal threats and false imprisonment. All four charges carry sentencing enhancements because Heverly used a gun.

San Bernardino County sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Beavers declined to discuss the reason that Heverly was allowed back to work at West Valley Detention Center.

Such details, Beavers said, "are never disclosed because we are not at liberty to discuss any of the findings in an administrative investigation."

Beavers said the decision to place a deputy on administrative leave is made on a case-by-case basis.

"When it is contrary to the best interests of the department for an employee to continue his regular duties, he may be assigned to special duty leave with pay at the discretion of the office of the sheriff," Beavers said.

Beavers said she wasn't aware of any restrictions placed on Heverly while he is off duty, such as restrictions on his permission to carry a gun.

Michael Schwartz, Heverly's Santa Monica-based attorney, said "there's much more to this case than the probable cause declaration."

He declined to comment on the specific allegations against Heverly.

Schwartz also represented Ivory Webb, a former San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy who was acquitted of criminal charges filed after he shot off-duty Airman Elio Carrion in Chino in 2006.

Heverly is next scheduled to appear in Indio Superior Court on Dec. 23 for a felony settlement conference. A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 6.

At a preliminary hearing, the prosecution must present sufficient evidence for each charge against a defendant to be brought to trial. Preliminary hearings typically include testimony.