Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sergeant Haytham Khalil Pleads Guilty Illegally Using Database

A New York City police sergeant pleaded guilty on Wednesday to illegally entering a federal database and giving information from a terrorist watch list to an acquaintance to use in a child-custody case in Canada.

The sergeant, Haytham Khalil, 34, was charged in November with using a computer without authorization and obtaining information belonging to a federal agency.

According to his guilty plea, Sergeant Khalil, who lives in Brooklyn, borrowed a fellow police officer’s account on Dec. 6, 2007, to obtain access, using a Police Department computer, to a state database called e-Justice. The database permits qualified state and local law enforcement authorities to get access to the terrorist watch list maintained by the F.B.I. and available through the bureau’s National Crime Information Center.

Sergeant Khalil obtained a document from the database that identified a person as being on a terrorist watch list and forwarded it to an acquaintance involved in a custody dispute in Canada, according to the guilty plea.

Sergeant Khalil pleaded guilty before Magistrate Judge Michael H. Dolinger to a misdemeanor, “accessing a computer and as a result exceeding his authority by obtaining information belonging to a department and agency of the United States.” Sentencing was scheduled for April 14.

The maximum sentence is one year in prison; a fine of the greater of $100,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense; and a year of supervised release.

The guilty plea was announced by Lev L. Dassin, the acting United States attorney in Manhattan. The case was prosecuted by the public corruption unit in the United States attorney’s office and was handled by an assistant United States attorney, Loyaan A. Egal.

Rage in Law Enforcement Officers Out of Control

Is it just me, or does the police force in the US seem to be getting increasingly violent everywhere you look?

Last week, 17-year old Virginian was tasered in his own home by police after neighbors phoned in a domestic dispute.

I find it hard to believe that police cadets aren’t taught multiple ways to subdue a possible suspect. Aren’t weapons that can kill you meant to be a last response?

On New Year’s Eve, a twenty-three year old African-American was pulled from his vehicle in his family’s drive way in Texas. After his mother, who came outside to see what was going on, got shoved by an officer, the young man questioned the treatment of his mother. He was promptly shot by the officer.

Family members had difficulty believing a shooting at the home of the only black family on their Bellaire block was completely random. . .

Speculation aside, investigators and the family are trying to figure out why the officer stopped the men in the first place.

‘The vehicle turned out not to be stolen. Why they thought it was stolen and how they got a stolen report is something that is not clear yet. All that will be determined in the investigation,’ said Holloway.

The most heinous though took place on New Year’s Day. The recent shooting of a compliant Oscar Grant in Oakland has caused an uproar and a very public demand for justice.

A BART police officer shot the man at point blank range who was laying on the station platform, restrained by officers. Despite the confiscation of a number of cell phones of witnesses, several managed to make their way into the hands of local reporters covering the story. The officer in question refused to testify before Internal Affairs, resigning so that he could not be compelled to do so. The city’s citizenry await word of what charges, if any, will be filed.

Has police work become more treacherous in recent years that the police are running scared and shooting unarmed civilians? Does law enforcement seem more enticing to certain personalities? Have 8 years of shivving the Constitution left officers thinking they to can act with impunity?

I’m certainly not alone in being concerned.

A new study published this month in the Emergency Medicine Journal reports that roughly 98% of ER docs believe some of the patients delivered by police are victims of police brutality. But since there aren’t any laws requiring this sort of abuse to be reported, unlike parents assaulting their children, doctors look the other way.

That data was collected in 2002, so the nearly 2/3 of physicians that felt they saw at least 2 instance of police brutality a year. . . how many do you think they’re not reporting now?

Police Brutality Lawsuits Settled for $245,000

Two police brutality lawsuits were settled for a total of $245,000, according to agreements recently unearthed by open public records advocate John Paff.

Mr. Paff is a Somerset resident who runs the state Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. He has also pressed the High Bridge and Franklin Township school boards for more openness. Mr. Paff said he came across the Readington documents during a routine investigation into civil cases involving a government agency, which he posts on his blog: Mr. Paff said he thought people might be interested in the payouts because that's information municipalities don't like to advertise.

According to one of the agreements, Readington's insurer paid $200,000 to township residents Christopher Strobel and Valerie Luckstone in January 2008. Mr. Strobel had sued the township and several of its police officers four years earlier, alleging "intentional beating, verbal abuse and threats" during a March 2002 incident.

A second police abuse suit was settled by paying $45,000 to resident Thomas Wachendorf in January 2007. He said township police exercised "unlawful use of force" in arresting him in May 2004. Although the agreement contained a confidentiality clause, it's still subject to the state's Open Public Records Act, a law that ensures a citizen's access to government records.

"I do not think you can draw a straight-line comparison between the merits of the case and the dollar amount," Mayor Julia Allen said of the settlements. She added that such claims are handled in a routine fashion by the township's insurance company. "In the majority of cases, the settlement has nothing to do with the merits of the case -- it's strictly a financial decision made by the insurance company."

The township paid a $5,000 deductible for the Strobel settlement, and there was no deductible for the Wachendorf settlement, according to Township Administrator Vita Mekovetz.
Readington is part of a joint insurance fund, and the settlements didn't seem to have a significant effect on the township's rates, she said.

Police Chief James Paganessi declined comment on the settlements but previously called the suits "baseless."

Christopher Strobel's lawsuit stemmed from an incident when Mr. Strobel was stopped by then-Patrolman Joseph Greco (since made sergeant) while he was walking home on the shoulder of Route 22. According to his complaint, he began telling the officer "about the recent death of his infant daughter" when Cpl. Scott Crater (now lieutenant) and Sgt. Sebastian Donaruma (now lieutenant) arrived. The suit says Mr. Strobel turned to leave because Sgt. Greco had returned his driver's license, and then-Cpl. Crater grabbed him and "threw him face first into one of the police cars."

Mr. Strobel claimed that then-Cpl. Crater, with the help of the two other police officers, again "slammed (his face) into the rear window of the patrol car with sufficient force to shatter it and send Strobel's shoulder through the broken window."

After that, he alleged, the men punched him several times and he fell to the ground. He said he told then-Sgt. Donaruma that the officer was hurting his arm and in return "was kicked in the head and his face was ground into the pavement by the officer's boot." Mr. Strobel claimed that later then-Patrolman Greco told him: "You have no rights here; this is our town and don't you forget it."

The suit contends that Sgt. John Insabella later went to Mr. Strobel's home and coerced his wife, Valerie Luckstone, into signing a false domestic violence complaint against her husband. According to the court papers, she was told to sign "if she wanted her husband released from jail." The couple said they continued to be harassed by township police after the incident.

Charges of obstruction of justice and resisting arrest against Mr. Strobel were dismissed by Lambertville Municipal Court Judge Richard Cushing because the police affidavit failed to show probable cause.

In the other suit settled by Readington, Mr. Wachendorf accused then-Cpl. Crater and then-Cpl. Christopher DeWire (now sergeant) of assaulting him after a traffic stop in his Holland Brook Road driveway. He said they followed him into his driveway and exited their patrol cars "with their handguns partially drawn." Mr. Wachendorf alleges that they ordered him out of his car and, seconds later, pulled him out then "threw him onto the gravel driveway at the edge of the brick patio, and slapped a handcuff onto (his) left wrist." He said his wrist was broken and the fall made him strike his head, breaking his glasses and causing him to lose consciousness.

According to the police department, officers tried to stop Mr. Wachendorf because he was driving an unregistered vehicle, and followed him for 2 miles before he turned into his driveway. In this case, a police video of the stop showed Mr. Wachendorf and the officers tussling. He was charged with resisting arrest, obstruction of justice and eluding police. Mr. Wachendorf entered and completed a pre-trial intervention program, and charges against him were later dropped.

Meanwhile, the incident cost him his teaching job at Mountainview state prison. A tenured teacher who helped inmates prepare for General Educational Development (GED) tests, he was fired for "conduct unbecoming a public employee." Mr. Wachendorf's appeal made it to the Superior Court Appellate Division, where the judges agreed with the administrative law judge's decision that evidence against him, including the police video, supported the charges. That judge also found Mr. Wachendorf's testimony to be inconsistent and not believable.

In both settlements, the agreements state that payments aren't an admission of wrongdoing. But Mr. Paff thinks this kind of information is valuable because it enables local governing bodies to look for patterns in lawsuits.

A third lawsuit alleging township police abuse was dismissed in December 2006.

Six Officer Being Sued for Police Brutality


The City of Peoria and six police officers are being sued because of what lawyers call "police brutality." Attorney Daniel Cusack says his client, Bryce Scott, was beaten, tased and doused with pepper-spray by police after a high speed chase back in May. Cusack says Scott was sitting in his car outside a former girlfriend’s house when police arrived. Cusack tells us his client feared he would be beaten by police, and drove off at a high speed.

Someone anonymously dropped off this squad car surveillance tape to Cusack, showing what he says is unnecessary force. Attorneys are seeking damages in excess of $50-thousand.

Cusack says his client is currently in jail pending drug charges. Peoria Police spokesperson Doug Burgess says the department has not yet seen the lawsuit, and until they do, they have no comment. The case will be heard in court on June 19th in Peoria County.

Information and Video:

Investigator Michael Pray Charged with Shooting Vehicle in His Driveway

A 25-year New York State Police veteran was arraigned Tuesday on two misdemeanor charges in City Court.

Investigator Michael Pray, 61, of Rochester was charged with prohibited use of a weapon and reckless endangerment of property, both misdemeanors, after a Dec. 13 incident.

According to court documents, Pray discharged four rounds from a .45 Glock handgun into a vehicle in his driveway.

Pray is suspended with pay until the investigation is complete, according to State Police. Pray, who is out on his own recognizance, is due back in court Feb. 4 for a pretrial hearing.


Trial Begins for Dwight Toombs Accused of Sexually Molesting Teen


A prosecutor said Wednesday afternoon that evidence will show that Dwight L. Toombs, “while on duty as a Fort Pierce cop, sexually molested and battered (a) 15-year-old girl.”

A defense attorney countered that DNA evidence, or lack of it, “completely clears Mr. Toombs of these charges.”

After 2½ days of jury selection, a panel of six men and two women — six jurors and two alternates — began hearing testimony in the trial of the seven-year veteran of the Fort Pierce Police Department who is charged with three counts of sexual battery, two counts of lewd or lascivious molestation and one count of lewd or lascivious conduct.

Authorities allege that on Dec. 18, 2007, while on foot patrol on Hutchinson Island, Toombs found the girl naked from the waist down in a parked car at Kimberly Bergalis Park with a 20-year-old man.

Assistant State Attorney Victoria Winfield told jurors in an opening statement that Toombs, 33 at the time of the alleged incident, handcuffed the man and girl and then fondled the girl using a glove.

In his opening statement, defense attorney Jack A. Fleischman of West Palm Beach told jurors that none of the tests on items recovered from the site showed a mixture of DNA from both the girl and Toombs.

“It’s easy for the alleged victim to make these allegations,” Fleischman said, “but it’s very difficult for the state to prove it. In fact, they can’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The trial in the St. Lucie County Courthouse before Circuit Judge Larry Schack is expected to last into next week. 

Officer James Ingalls Accused of Having Sex with Prostitute in Front of School


Charges were filed Tuesday against an Indianapolis police officer accused of paying a prostitute for sex at an elementary school while on duty.

James Ingalls (pictured) was charged with one count of felony official misconduct and one count of misdemeanor patronizing a prostitute.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Kristen Harbaugh was approached by Ingalls several times last summer about performing sex for money while Ingalls was in full uniform and driving a department-issued vehicle.

Police said Ingalls took the woman to Garden City Elementary School on Rockville Road near South Lynhurst Drive, where the transactions took place.

As a part-time employee of the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township, Ingalls had the alarm codes and keys to enter the building.

"The woman said, 'He told me he was a man and he had needs,'" said Helen Marchal with the Marion County Prosecutor's Office. "We were able to verify that he was in the building at the time that individual stated they had been there."

Harbaugh said Ingalls would also warn her to stay off the streets when officers conducted prostitution sweeps in that neighborhood.

Police said Harbaugh correctly described tattoos and piercings on Ingalls' chest and detailed alleged encounters in the school nurse's office

In August, Ingalls was suspended from the department without pay and recommended for termination following an internal investigation.

Ingalls had been on the force since 1998. He was turned himself in on Wednesday and was held on $10,000 bond.