Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Don Ickes Files Lawsuit After Being Tasered

An Osterburg man who said he was doing tax research before being tasered at the county courthouse is suing Bedford Borough and one of its officers.

And the tape recorder that got Don Ralph Ickes in trouble in the first place – if admissible in court – may have captured key evidence in the case.

Ickes said he went to the Bedford County Courthouse on Feb. 13, 2008, to visit the law library.

Told that it was closed, he went to the tax assessor’s office to review tax maps.

Borough police Officer Dean Kensinger Jr. saw Ickes there and asked to speak with him in the hallway.

According to the lawsuit Ickes filed in U.S. District Court in Johnstown, Kensinger said “(Ickes) was violating the law by using a tape recorder in public without the consent of those who may be recorded.”

Ickes replied that he was recording his research. With the tape machine still running, Ickes said he was not violating the law and started to walk away.

“Officer Kensinger then grabbed the plaintiff and forcefully attempted to stop him from leaving the area and to force him to turn off his tape recorder,” the suit claims.

Ickes said he pulled away, they parted and Ickes questioned the officer, saying he had not violated any laws.

“Officer Kensinger then tasered plaintiff multiple times, which caused plaintiff to fall to the floor in great agony and pain,” the lawsuit claims.

He then was arrested and taken to jail. The suit says Ickes began to have breathing problems and spent four days in UPMC Bedford Memorial. Upon leaving the hospital, he was jailed again but posted bond and was released a day later.

Ickes is suing Kensinger for arrest and imprisonment without cause and use of excessive force, and the borough for failing to ensure the officer was properly trained. He is seeking unspecified monetary damages.

Borough Manager John Montgomery said Wednesday he wasn’t aware of the case and said it would be turned over to attorneys.

Ickes’ criminal case still is pending. He faces charges of intercepting communications, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Officer A.R. Caruana Arrested for Making Threats

A Raleigh police officer is charged with assault after an off-duty arrest.

Police Chief Harry Dolan said in a statement Wednesday that officers went to a disturbance call around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in the 10000 block of Heather Meadow Lane.

When they got there, they say their investigation found that 32-year-old A.R. Caruana had been pointing a gun and making threats.

Caruana was arrested and taken to the Wake County Jail.

The chief said Caruana was off-duty at the time of the incident and his service weapon was not involved.

Caruana joined the department on June 4, 2000, holds the rank of senior officer, and has most recently been assigned to the department's Gang Suppression Unit.

Police say the dispute that led to the charges was a domestic related incident and not related to Caruana's law enforcement duties. The investigation continues.


Police Taser 14-year-old Autistic Boy

The family of a 14-year-old autistic boy is suing police and his school after authorities Tasered him until he lost consciousness.

The student attended Creekside Middle School in Carmel, Ind., and remains unnamed in the complaint. He is described as having "affective disorder and has been diagnosed with autism, manic-depressive disorder and bipolar disorder."

According to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, the boy's mother, Dianne Bell, was late dropping him off for school and called to tell the administration. However, the student received detention and became "frustrated and began to act out."

"During this outburst he is saying outrageous things," Bells' attorney, Ronald Frazier, told the Indianapolis Star. He said the student said he would call his gang as retaliation against his teachers.

"They know there is no gang there," Frazier said. "They know he has no way of acting on what he is saying. They are taking these idle threats and calling police."

The family claims the school district did not abide by established procedures for dealing with the outbursts

"When a child like (the Bells' son) starts to have emotional problems, the (individual procedure) is supposed to be followed," Frazier told the Star. "It has specific steps that are to be taken in order to keep the child from melting totally down."

The administration dialed 9-1-1 instead.

The family claims Carmel police officer Matthew Kinkade restrained the 5-foot, 90-pound boy and forced him onto a bench in the school lobby. When his outburst continued, the officer allegedly Tasered the boy two times – leaving him unconscious.

"Officer Kinkade used unreasonable and excessive force by failing to follow policies and procedures that were in place for dealing with autistic children," according to the complaint.

The Police Department claims the school never notified officers of the boy's condition, although school officials say they did.

"Autistic children have a great difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling because they don't understand social cues," Frazier told the Star. "(The Bell child) gets confronted with violence, with Tasers, and he is flipping out because of his sensory overload."

Noblesville Police Department Lt. Bruce Barnes trains officers in the use of Tasers.

"You can use the Taser anytime anybody is punching, kicking or threatening to punch or kick," Barnes said. "We can use it when we tell someone to do something, they refuse, lesser-force options are not available and they are a credible threat to you."

Barnes wouldn't speculate about whether the autistic boy actually posed a legitimate threat to police, according to the report.

Sheila Wolfe, director of the Indianapolis-based Autism Education and Training Center, told the Star school officials and police who responded to the outburst actually made it worse.

"You need to step away and leave them alone so that they can decompress," she said. "I have a hard time believing that a trained officer would Taser a child with a disability if they fully understood the situation they were walking into.

"I know from experience that the people in Carmel (Clay schools) know better. As a school system, they have the expertise and they have the people available that know better. I'm surprised."

The Bell family is now suing the Carmel Police Department, officer Matthew Kinkade and Carmel Clay Schools. They are seeking damages for medical expenses, pain, suffering and mental anguish.

Family of Iman Morales Suing the City for Tasering Death

The family of a Brooklyn man who died after police Tasered him is suing the city, a cop and the estate of another officer who killed himself for $10 million.

Relatives of Iman Morales, 35, want the money and a review of police protocols and training in the use of Tasers.

"He didn't deserve any of this," said Morales' mother, Olga Negron, 55, who was at the scene when her mentally ill son was struck and then fell headfirst from a ledge onto the concrete 10 feet below. "It was horrible."

The suit names the city; the estate of Lt. Michael Pigott, who ordered the Tasing, and Officer Nicholas Marchesona, who fired the 50,000-volt electroshock as Morales was teetering on a 10-foot-high ledge Sept. 24.

A remorseful Pigott committed suicide days later. Marchesona was promoted to detective five weeks after Morales died.

Police have said the incident violated department guidelines, which prohibit stun gun use "in situations where the subject may fall from an elevated surface."

"What went wrong, clearly, was the training," the family's lawyer, Seth Harris, said Wednesday. "They have to train how to properly use this weapon."

He questioned why the Brooklyn district attorney's office didn't open a criminal probe.

A spokesman said the district attorney accepted cops' version that Morales' death was a tragic accident.


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Trooper Leslie Hoover Arrested for DUI

A South Carolina Highway Patrol officer has been arrested in Spartanburg County, charged with DUI.

The SC Department Of Public Safety tells us Officer Leslie Hoover, who is from Lexington County, and works in the Insurance Enforcement Team of the Highway Patrol, was taken into custody at around 6:30 this evening.

Troopers stopped him on Interstate 26 at John Dodd Road in Spartanburg County, after a motorist called 911 to report a car swerving.

Two troopers pulled him over, and say he failed a field sobriety test.

Troopers tell us he was in his personal car, not a patrol car.

He has been booked at the Spartanburg County Detention Center.

Public Safety tells us, the Public Safety Director has taken steps to terminate Hoover.

The High Cost of Police Brutality


Abusive cops are costing already cash-strapped cities across the U.S. millions of dollars in settlements but civil rights activists and attorneys warn that the payouts will continue unless the criminal justice system begins to prosecute its out-of-control officers.

“Obviously we are in a major budget crisis, which has personally affected me,” said author, activist and syndicated columnist Dr. Earl Ofari Hutchinson, referring to a local community college Spanish class he had signed up for, but was cancelled due to state budget cuts.

“Already within a space of three months we’ve seen how this crisis has gotten bigger and bigger and people are hurt by this. This is not just some abstract numbers, but this affects real peoples’ lives. We’ve seen how it affects healthcare, education, welfare, and jobs—whether public or private—public services, DMV, mental health facilities and processing job applications.There is real pain and suffering,” Dr. Hutchinson said.

On Feb. 4, the Los Angeles City Council authorized a $12.85 million settlement to demonstrators who were injured when officers from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) used excessive force to break up a peaceful May Day rally in MacArthur Park last year.More than 300 claims were filed against the city.

That same day in Oakland, Atty. John Burris filed a $1.5 million claim against the Bay Area Rapid Transit District and former transit officer Johannes Mehserle.Mr. Mehserle shot and killed 22-year-old Oscar Grant, III in the back while he had apparently been subdued.

Atty. Burris filed the claim on behalf of five others who were with Mr. Grant that New Year’s Day and alleged that they were also abused by BART police.

On Jan. 28, the L.A. City Council also approved a $20.5 million settlement for four LAPD officers who charged that they were wrongfully prosecuted during the 1990s Rampart corruption scandal. But previous settlements to Rampart victims of police misconduct totaled about $75.5 million.The notorious scandal was uncovered when Rafael Perez, a member of the CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) Gang Unit, testified as a police informant that he and other officers often falsely accused and framed gang members for crimes.

“Cities and counties around the nation are hurting badly but is that to say that it’s going to make the LAPD any better in terms of how they police, hire and promote in terms of more minority sensitive?I don’t think so.I just think it’s going to increase the liability of taxpayers,” Dr. Hutchinson said.

If cities have to pay $12 million settlements, they simply rob Peter to pay Paul. “They will pull the money from somewhere else, library, park, playground service hours.They’ll find it by not funding after school nutrition programs.It has a rippling effect and it is caused by a mandated court order,” Dr. Hutchinson said.

According to the non-partisan California Budget Project, which works to improve “public policies affecting the economic and social well-being of low- and middle-income Californians,” people who have been and stand to be impacted by the current statewide budget crisis include:

• 1,544,710 public school students, due to cuts to five of the largest funding allocations;

• 66,140 low-income children dropped from the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids Program;

• 418,840 low-income seniors and persons with disabilities who would lose the state cost-of-living adjustment for Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment cash assistance grants;

• 61,590 low-income children in 2008-09—and a total of 112,140 children by 2009-10 —who would lose Medi-Cal coverage due to increased paperwork requirements; and

• 249,220 children enrolled in the Healthy Families Program, which provides low-cost health coverage for children in low-income working families.

In Chicago the mayor has put city employees on unpaid leave to help fill a budget shortfall. But a little over a year ago, Chicago officials agreed to pay $19.8 million to four men who suffered police torture under then-commander Jon Burge.Some $30 million has been spent to settle assorted lawsuits connected with the case, which stretches back to abuses during the 1980s and 1990s. Mayor Richard Daley proposed a two-to-three day furlough for more than 4,000 non-union workers to ease the city’s budgetary crisis.

The $30 million payout doesn’t count millions of dollars spent defending Mr. Burge after he was fired by the police department in 1993, said a staffer at the People’s Law Office, which has represented torture victims. City attorneys and private attorneys were paid to defend a man whose firing bore witness to his guilt, said the staffer. This doesn’t even count the human toll, which is worse, because of how Blacks, Latinos and the poor are abused by officers, said the staffer.

Big price tags for cop abuses aren’t new

Current budget problems may cause taxpayers to take a look at how their money is spent, but in Chicago $18 million was paid to the family of LaTanya Haggerty, a Black woman shot to death by police in 1999. In 1995, a New York Times editorial noted that in the “cash-starved” Big Apple, brutality settlements and court judgments cost the city $87 million over five years. The Rodney King beating cost Los Angeles $3.8 million in a settlement and estimates for property damage hit $700 million after riots when officers involved were acquitted. In 2001, the city of New York shelled out $7.125 million in the infamous Abner Louima case, in which the Haitian immigrant was assaulted with a plunger by officers in a precinct bathroom.

“This is shameful because right now if you’re already suffering from a $150 million budget deficit and you have three or four huge lawsuits, you have to find that money, so it makes sense to train and educate officers on the front end rather than pay for settlements on the back,” said Ronald Hampton, executive director of the National Black Police Association.

“All their priorities are turned upside down and instead of discouraging more police brutality from occurring, they are basically encouraging it.The money could have been used to offset all of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s budget cuts,” said John Parker, west coast coordinator of the International Action Center, in Los Angeles.With the exception of the Grant case, it is rare that police officers face any possible penalty for excessive force and misconduct, Mr. Parker said.

Police watch groups say that another challenge to police misconduct is being able to track the numerous settlement cases and how they balance with criminal prosecutions of officers.

Information about settlements may be secret

The ease or difficulty of getting records of payments in police misconduct cases depends on the particular state and state law, according to Brigitt Keller, executive director of the National Police Accountability Project. For example, Ms. Keller said, in Massachusetts, settlements paid out of the city’s budget are public record and the terms can be made available with a public records request.However, settlements paid through insurance companies may be confidential.

According to civil rights attorneys, since many abuse cases never make it to trial, the real costs of these settlements are unknown.“Many civil rights cases are dismissed on summary judgment, a method that individual judges use to dismiss or get rid of cases.Many are dismissed by White judges, often in federal court, and there’s no recognition by the judge of the racial issues in the case,” said civil rights attorney Christopher Cooper, of Merrillville, Ind., outside of Chicago.Lawyers’ best advice to plaintiffs, especially if they are Black, is for them to take the settlement or risk having their case tossed out, he said.

Atty. Michael Haddad, who has been fighting civil rights cases for 17 years, said the settlements are only the tip of the iceberg because attorneys probably talk to 100 people who say police abused them before they can take one case. “It’s so hard to prove these cases because the juries like to give police the benefit of the doubt … so the high cost is high but the human cost is much higher because the vast majority of victims never get compensated,” said the Oakland-based lawyer.

Unfortunately, Atty. Haddad added, the settlements create budgetary problems because most cities don’t plan for it, but some cities have insurance that kicks in after so many millions. They could save so much more if they spent money to prevent the misconduct in the first place, he said.

Atty. Haddad said that in a 2004 lawsuit he filed in Oakland, the police chief acknowledged a longstanding pattern of improper strip searches of people on the street.After four years, his firm uncovered some 40 victims of the strip searches. In 2008, although a federal judge ruled that the policies were unconstitutional, the city has not revised the policy and continues to use it.

“Now they’re facing a very big case with these 40 plaintiffs and probably will end up having to pay a significant amount of money to these victims,” Atty. Haddad said.

Legal challenges to police abuse expensive, rare

Kenavon “KC” Carter, an Austin, Texas-based criminal defense attorney, said it is important to understand that the battle against police brutality will not be won with lawsuits alone.“It’s going to take community organizing, public education and a legislative strategy to put pressure on police departments and city councils to hold their officers accountable,” he said.

According to Atty. Carter, it takes at least $50,000 to even bring a civil rights lawsuit alleging police brutality.Such cases are difficult to win because police officers are protected by the principle of qualified immunity, he said.“All an officer has to say when they’ve shot some brother down in the street, in the back, is that they had to make a split second decision, and that decision was to use deadly force.The courts allow them to get a pass,” he said.

“A lot of civil rights organizations, ACLU, NAACP and others are really picking and choosing cases to litigate on because they’re so expensive.They’re not successful and really not an effective strategy on holding police accountable for the conduct of their officers.”

Atty. Carter established Hip Hop Against Police Brutality Project under the sponsorship of the Texas ACLU’s Police Accountability Office. What he has found throughout his legal career is that along with city councils,the real power brokers for police misconduct are district attorneys and police chiefs from civil settlements to criminal prosecutions.

District attorneys are elected officials, so if communities are dissatisfied with their performances, one option is to vote them out, Atty. Carter said.The problem is, however, police officers have strong police unions that put a great deal of pressure on police chiefs, district attorneys and whoever they feel is a threat to cops who step out of line.

On the other hand, Atty. Carter added, citizens have to give good D.A.s political cover when they try to do the right thing.“D.A. Craig Watkins in Dallas, Texas, who is Black, has reopened and overturned 20 wrongful convictions placed on the books by the former D.A. because he saw a pattern of wrongdoing, but now he’s under pressure by the rest of his class of prosecutors to ease up.He’s going to be in trouble in the next election if people don’t stand up and when we finally have somebody really about justice, doing the right thing, we can’t afford to leave him out to dry,” he said.

In its 1999 report entitled, “Shielded From Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States,” Human Rights Watch indicated that race has played a central role in police brutality in the United States. “In the cities we have examined where such data are available, minorities have alleged human rights violations by police more frequently than white residents and far out of proportion to their representation in those cities. Police have subjected minorities to apparently discriminatory treatment and have physically abused minorities while using racial epithets,” the document read. Human Rights Watch hasn’t followed up on that major report made a decade ago because of money problems and has discontinued domestic monitoring of police misconduct.

Officer Richard Fiorito Accused of Framing Man

When James Dean Jr. left a North Side police station after his arrest for driving on a suspended license in February 2007, he thought the day’s problems were behind him.

A sergeant at the Town Hall police station near Wrigley Field warned him not to drive again, according to his lawyer, Jon Erickson.

Dean asked if he could get his coat from his car and the sergeant said yes, Erickson said.

Dean got into his car and Officer Richard Fiorito ordered him to move it, Erickson said. When Dean complied, the officer switched on the emergency lights on his squad car and pulled over Dean, arresting him for making an illegal U-turn, driving on a suspended license and driving under the influence, according to a lawsuit Dean filed Tuesday in federal court accusing Fiorito of framing him.

Dean said the police would not have initially released him on a personal recognizance bond if he were drunk, pointing out that he was arrested for DUI only four minutes after leaving the station. All the charges were eventually dropped by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, his lawsuit said.

“This has been going on for years and it’s time to put a stop to it,” Erickson said.

The city’s Law Department, which is defending the 60-year-old Fiorito in a separate traffic-related lawsuit, would not comment on Dean’s lawsuit because the city’s lawyers have not seen it, spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle said.

In the past year, two other officers have been the subject of internal police investigations for their DUI arrests.

Joe D. Parker, 59, an officer in the Chicago Police Department’s Traffic Enforcement Unit, has been placed on desk duty, sources said. Prosecutors have moved to dismiss dozens of Parker’s DUI arrests.

Officer John Haleas, meanwhile, has been charged by Cook County prosecutors with perjury, official misconduct and obstructing justice. He is accused of failing to take important steps in making a DUI arrest in 2005. Prosecutors said Haleas failed to perform a field-sobriety test and lied in his reports. As a result, they have dropped more than 50 cases stemming from DUI arrests made by Haleas, 38.

Erickson said he believes officers have an incentive to make false DUI arrests: overtime from court appearances. He thinks they also do it to gain recognition from anti-DUI organizations such as the Schaumburg-based Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, which has named Parker, Haleas and Fiorito “top cops” in making DUI arrests. In 2006, Fiorito made 230 DUI arrests, according to AAIM.