Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Police Want Expanded Arrest Powers


Sobriety checkpoints. Expanded arrest powers. License plate readers on the highways.

Civil libertarians say personal freedom is under attack in the Texas capital.

The latest move came Wednesday in the Senate, which passed a bill giving the police much broader authority to arrest people. The legislation, approved on a 22-8 vote, would create the new crime of "failure to identify" after being detained.

It comes on the heels of legislation, already passed by the Senate, that would establish police roadblocks to crack down on intoxicated motorists, allow automated police cameras to take pictures of license plates on the highways and permit mandatory blood draws for certain people suspected of drunken driving.

Sponsors of the controversial bills coming out of the Senate say there are enough protections, such as the requirement that sobriety checkpoints be announced in advance, to ensure law-abiding citizens aren't hassled.

But taken together, the proposals represent a significant assault on civil liberties, critics say.

"Our concern is we could be taking a big step backward in terms of the rights of Texans to be left alone," said Rebecca Bernhardt, policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. "The question for Texans is: 'should folks who are following the law be interfered with'?"

The bill expanding arrest powers drew brief but sometimes heated debate in the Senate.

Current law makes it a crime when detained people intentionally mislead police about their identity. It's also a crime to refuse to provide one's identity after being arrested. But it's still legal in Texas for people to refuse to identify themselves as long as they haven't been arrested.

That would change under the bill approved by senators Wednesday. It would make it a crime to refuse self-identification if a person has simply been detained by police. Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, author of the measure, said police need the expanded authority.

"In this time of homeland security issues, if we have a police officer detaining someone ... it is in the best interest of the safety of that officer and our community to find out who that person is," Patrick said.

Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, initially opposed the bill, saying he had a problem with this "show me your papers thing."

"We still live in a free society. I don't want police officers to be able to pull you over and ask you to identify yourself just because that's what they want," Williams said. But Williams ended up voting for the bill after it was amended to say that the police officer had to be acting on a "reasonable" basis when making the arrest.

The amendment did not offer enough protection for opponents, who said the measure could lead to racial profiling or unjustified police harassment.

"We get into some real civil liberty concerns when we're allowing that broad power under detainment only," said Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. "I think we're opening ourselves up to some unforeseen consequences."

Late last month, the Senate riled some civil libertarians when it passed two bills aimed at cracking down on drunken driving. They would allow police to set up sobriety checkpoints in large counties and cities and give law enforcement more latitude in forcing motorists to submit to mandatory breath or blood tests.

Then last week, the Senate unanimously approved a measure allowing the state police or federal law enforcement authorities to set up and operate "automatic license plate identification cameras" on public highways. The bill is supposed to be used for crime prevention but critics say the data and images gathered could be misused.

The bills would still have to be passed by the House and approved by the governor before becoming law.

Some critics also say the proposal to ban smoking in public places statewide is an assault on personal freedom, but that legislation hasn't reached the Senate floor yet.


The failure-to-identify bill is SB1175

The sobriety checkpoint bill is SB298

The license plate camera bill is SB1426

The smoking ban bill is SB544

Officer Michael Couch Accused of Drunk Driving Pleads to a Lesser Charge

An Orangetown police officer accused of driving drunk in Florida has pleaded to a lesser charge, as the cost and methods of investigating the incident involving him and other officers is being questioned by town and police union officials.

The incident in November led Orangetown to spend about $30,000 on an investigation by a Westchester law firm, the town supervisor said today.

Two of the five officers in the car - including a lieutenant - were suspended for a week with pay by the Town Board and penalized upon reinstatement.

The investigation increased hard feelings toward the police administration by many officers, an Orangetown police union official said.

The only officer charged in Florida by police there was Michael Couch, who drove the car. He was with other town officers on a golfing vacation.

Couch's Florida lawyer, Donald Day, said today that Couch this week pleaded no contest to reckless driving, a violation.

Read more about this story tomorrow in The Journal News.

Officer Vanessa Nicole Charged with Bribery & Drug Trafficking

A Rochester police officer has been placed on administrative leave and faces criminal charges.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has charged 31-year-old Vanessa Nicole Mason with the following five counts of misconduct:

- Failed to perform duty
- Exceeds authority
- Warned subject of surveillance and search
-Bribery of a public officer
-Bribery aiding in prosecution of a crime

According to statements heard by the BCA, Officer Mason is accused of tipping-off drug dealers just before a search warrant was served. The complaint also alleges that Mason helped known drug dealers evade other officers while they had drugs on them. Other allegations include taking $10,000 in bribery money to turn her head away from a drug deal as well as drive loads of drugs up to the Twin Cities in her pickup truck.

The police department says it became aware of an allegation of misconduct involving Officer Mason and asked the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to conduct an investigation.

On April 7th, the BCA told the department the incident was reviewed by an independent prosecutor and was criminal in nature.

The RPD then placed Officer Mason on administrative leave. She has been a patrol officer for the past 4 1/2 years.

In 2006, Mason was disciplined for using illegal drugs while off-duty and for not reporting drug possession and use by another Rochester Police Department employee.

She was suspended without pay for 30 days.


Officer Dana Brown Disciplined for Ignoring Underaged Drinking


An Ocala police officer was disciplined for reportedly ignoring underage drinking at a party three months ago.

Following an internal Police Department investigation, Officer Dana Brown, 34, was charged with conduct unbecoming and dereliction of duty. He received a 60-hour suspension and was placed on a year's employee probation.

Police said they could not prove a separate allegation that Brown had sex with a 19-year-old woman at the party.

The officer declined an interview request Tuesday.

The investigation found that Brown, who was on duty Jan. 24, went to the home of a family friend, where there was a party. Brown frequently stopped at the home to check up on the residents although, at the time, he was assigned to patrol the northwest portion of the city.

When questioned about the incident, Brown initially told investigators he was working a traffic detail on State Road 200. He reportedly admitted going to the house, however, after investigators reviewed his log activity and saw he was not working a traffic detail.

He said that he had just arrived when he got a call, returned to his patrol vehicle and left. Witnesses said Brown did arrive at the residence and was there for about 20 seconds before receiving a call and leaving.

The young woman who told officials she had sex with Brown later that day said that when Brown arrived he saw people with drinks in their hands and talked with people who had alcohol. The woman said Brown was there for five to 10 minutes before receiving his call and leaving.

Brown said he didn't see anyone drinking or in possession of alcohol.

The call was canceled and Brown returned to the residence. The young woman, who said she had been drinking, said they talked for a while, then she met him upstairs and they had sex.

In his interview, Brown told investigators that he was alone upstairs and did not have sex with the woman.

Brown and the woman both took polygraph tests, according to the report. Sgt. Chas Maier, who administered Brown's test, said that in his opinion Brown "was not being truthful."

Maier said the 19-year-old woman "showed signs of being truthful" but that the test was inconclusive because her score was not high enough "to absolutely say she was being truthful."

Deputy Chief Rodney Smith said the department could not prove Brown and the woman had sex, so he was not disciplined for it. The suspension and probation were levied because the officer did not address the underage drinking at the residence.

"We hope he learns his lesson," Smith said.

According to Brown's personnel record, he has been on the job close to three years, has a few letters of praise and some minor disciplinary action. He was credited with saving the life of a woman who overdosed a year ago.

13 Chicago Officers Arrested Last Year for Drunk Driving

Thirteen Chicago police officers were arrested last year on drunken driving charges, and five of them were involved in car crashes, two with injuries, the department says.

The disclosure, in response to questions from the Tribune, comes days after a veteran Chicago police detective was charged with reckless homicide and aggravated DUI after two men in their early 20s died in a fiery wreck on the Dan Ryan Expressway. Authorities said his blood-alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit.

Police Supt. Jody Weis, who took office last year after officers had been arrested in two high-profile bar beatings, created a new bureau to evaluate officer conduct and training, pushed for more department-wide messages warning of excessive drinking and approved advanced training for department peer counselors to deal with alcohol abuse issues.

After Friday's crash involving detective Joseph Frugoli, Weis changed departmental policy to require that any officer who suspects another officer of being intoxicated to notify the on-duty watch commander, who must then go to the scene. Internal affairs will also be immediately notified.

"It is our hope that tragic incidents such as the one that occurred on April 10 will be eliminated through continued training, education, treatment, accountability and discipline for those members who violate the well-established rule against becoming intoxicated and getting behind the wheel," Weis said in an e-mail in response to questions.

Frugoli had been involved in two previous crashes in the last four years, but he was never administered a sobriety test after officers on the scene determined he did not appear to be intoxicated.

A department source said this week that top brass may also push for random alcohol testing of officers. That would require changes in the contract with the Fraternal Order of Police, the union representing the rank and file.

Last summer the city proposed in contract negotiations that officers be checked for alcohol abuse if their weapon had discharged. Police are already subject to random drug testing.

So far this year, three officers have been arrested for driving under the influence, police said.

This week, Weis said 15 officers were arrested for DUI in 2008 but later corrected that number to 13. Police declined to release the officers' names.

Consequences for the officers varied, but none arrested last year have yet lost their jobs. In eight of those cases, officers were suspended without pay from 20 to 45 days, police said. In the five cases that remain open, the officers were assigned to desk duties or placed on leave.

Four of the officers were arrested by Chicago police, three in the suburbs and six out of state, police said.

After their arrests, the officers were encouraged to seek help and counseling through the confidential employee assistance program. Police commanders have also been told to encourage officers at roll calls to seek help for substance-abuse problems, and the department is working on developing new "streaming video" to show at roll calls to educate officers about available help.

Weis earlier this week pointed out the small number of officers who have been accused of driving drunk compared to the department's 13,000 officers. Statistically speaking, about one in 1,000 Chicago officers were arrested for DUI last year. That pales by comparison to a national average of one drunk-driving arrest for every 155 drivers, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics.

Still, Weis acknowledged that officers have responsibilities that require them to be held to a higher standard than ordinary citizens.

"The residents of Chicago rightfully expect the police to protect them from drunk drivers, not to become part of the problem," Weis said in the e-mail. "While they are held to a higher standard, police officers are human beings, too, susceptible to the pressures of life and the job, and are not always perfect. When this occurs, it is our responsibility to take appropriate measures to address the problem."

Detectives Investigating Officer Accused of Raping Woman


Issaquah police detectives are investigating a Medina police officer accused of tricking a woman into meeting him at a bar, then raping her.

According to the affidavit for search warrant, the incident began with a traffic stop on Highway 520 last November when an officer pulled over a woman and accused her of driving with a suspended license. While searching her car, the officer said he found marijuana inside.

The woman said the officer handcuffed her and placed in the back of the patrol car. She said the officer opened the dividing partition, and "kept looking at her and telling her she was attractive and beautiful." He also "reached over to fix her scarf and put his hand on her," the document said.

The woman said she told the officer she had not been driving with a suspended license as she had already paid for her previous ticket. She also said she did not want a drug charge on her record. The officer then told the woman not to worry because "the charges would go away," the documents said. The officer cited and released the driver.

Detectives said the officer called the woman the next morning and asked her to meet at the Joker Pub and Grill in Issaquah. He said he had for her a letter to the prosecutor's office that discusses the dismissal of the charges.

The affidavit said the two met at the bar, then headed over to the officer's home near the Issaquah Highlands. The woman said she agreed to go to the officer's home but expressly said she did not want to have sex.

At his home, the woman said the officer put his gun on the table and said, "People are scared of police officers because they have power and authority, and a gun and a badge," the document said. The alleged victim told detectives she thought he was trying to intimidate her.

The officer gave the woman a tour of his home and when they got to the bedroom, the documents state the officer pushed the woman down on the bed, held her down and began to take her clothes off. When she protested, he said, "You don't really mean that," and sexually assaulted her, the affidavit said.

The woman said she didn't know what to do because the man who had raped her was a cop. Detectives only learned of the allegations while investigating another rape case involving the same woman.

Issaquah detectives said in the weeks following the incident, the officer wrote e-mails and sent personal letters to the prosecutor's office, asking for the charges against the woman to be dropped.

Between the November traffic stop and February 9 - the day the charges against the woman were dropped - the officer and the alleged victim exchanged nine calls and text messages, the affidavit said. The woman told detectives she called the officer each time she had a court date to find out why the case had not been dismissed.

Investigators are waiting for phone records to be released before they pursue charges.

"Right now, the investigation surrounds an allegation of rape and official misconduct," said Issaquah Deputy Chief Steve Cozart. "A crime is a crime. We investigate it regardless of who the allegations are against."

The requested phone records are expected to be released within a week.

KOMO News has chosen not to name the police officer since he has not been arrested or charged. He has been placed on paid administrative leave for the duration of the investigation.

May Hearing Set for Corporal Jason King

A South Bend Police Corporal is accused of "conduct unbecoming of an officer."

29-year-old Corporal Jason King will face the Board of Public Safety next month. In a quick meeting Wednesday morning a formal hearing for King was set.

Recently, the Police Chief recommended discipline for King after he tried to cover up beating a man when he fled police in a car. The South Bend Police Corporal is accused of using excessive force and falsifying a police report after a high speed chase.

“The captain reviewed the tape and both he and internal affairs handled investigation simultaneously,” says Captain Phil Trent, spokesperson for South Bend Police.

It was random dash cam check that prompted a disciplinary letter from the chief to the Board of Public Safety.

“This was the shift captain routinely reviewing pursuit videos and use of force video from the in car cameras and he saw what he believed that it was a violation of our duty manual, he passed it up the chain to the chief,” explains Trent.

Back in February a police pursuit started on the southwest side of South Bend's side lasting a mile and half. Police say it ended when the suspect crashed his car. Dash cam video allegedly showed King beating the suspect with his fist while the suspect did not resist arrest.

In the chief's letter to the board he states "the DVD shows no sign of aggression by the suspect" and "he was struck several times in the upper back and head area.”

During King's four years at the department he's been no stranger to the spotlight.

In 2006 he shot and killed a man while being attacked. King was eventually cleared in the shooting. And a year later he was in a car accident, hitting another officer, on his way to a call. He was not disciplined.

Now King will face the board next month in the incident caught on tape.

“We're waiting to see what his opinions are and what he has to say to defend himself,” says Trent.

Currently King is working at the department under light duty for medical reasons.

The chief has recommended he be demoted from corporal to patrolman for a year and suspended for 30 days without pay.

His hearing is scheduled for May 11th. The dash cam DVD of the incident could be released as evidence at the hearing.

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Fugitive Officer Thierry Gourjault Accused of Killing Wife & Children Committs Suicide

A fugitive French police officer accused of killing his wife and two young children in their sleep has committed suicide after being tracked down by police.

Thierry Gourjault, 46, fired two bullets into his own stomach as he was surrounded by officers who found him in a wood in southwestern France.

Police with dog handlers and a helicopter launched a manhunt after Gourjault's wife, their four-year-old son and his 10-year-old daughter from a first marriage were found dead on Tuesday.

Gourjault is thought to have shot his family with his service weapon at their home in the mountain village of Cabanac in the French Pyrenees on Monday night.

He left a note behind saying he planned to take his own life.

As detectives searched the family home for clues, officers began a search to find Gourjault.

He was located in woods around 12 miles from the village, using the tracking signal from his mobile phone.

When officers approached him, Gourjault fired several bullets in their direction, before turning his weapon on himself, police said.

He died as police were attempting to airlift him to hospital.

French media reported that Gourjault had been married to his wife BĂ©atrice, a French Telecom worker, since 2004.