Monday, December 14, 2009

Former Officer Marcus Tafoya Accused of Hitting People at Party

The father of a returning Iraqi war veteran testified on Monday that he saw a former Fresno police officer inappropriately hit several people at a party for his son.

David Rendon told jurors that after an argument broke out during the party for his son George, he saw officer Marcus Tafoya hit at least four people with his baton.

But under cross-examination, Rendon admitted that he locked the screen door of his house after Tafoya went inside, and that he wanted to go get his gun.

Rendon said if he had gotten the weapon, he would have done what he had to do to keep Tafoya from harming anyone else.

Rendon denied yelling, "I know Jerry Dyer personally -- you wait until he hears about this" -- referring to Fresno's police chief.

Late Monday afternoon, police Sgt. Richard Brown testified that when he went to the party scene that night, Officer Tafoya appeared to be upset, and he looked disheveled -- as if he had been in a struggle.

Tafoya is accused of eight counts of assault and one count of burglary in connection with that party and three other incidents.

He was fired from the police department two years ago.

Officer Jack Tiller Accused of Child Abuse

A Walkerton police officer has been accused of child abuse, in an incident that was reported last week to St. Joseph County police.

Jack Tiller, an officer with the Walkerton Police Department in far southwest St. Joseph County, is accused of abusing his daughter at the family's home, allegedly punching her in the arm and face, throwing her to the ground and spitting on her after the girl and Tiller's wife got into an argument Dec. 8.

Sgt. Bill Redman, St. Joseph County police spokesman, said the girl complained to an officer at Penn High School, who reported seeing bruises on the girl's arm and head.

According to Redman, the girl told police the fight occurred after she kept her father waiting to pick her up at the school.

St. Joseph County Prosecutor Michael Dvorak said the case has been received by the prosecutor's office Special Victims/Family Violence unit, but no charging decision has been made yet.

Tiller's current status with the Walkerton Police Department is not known, as Police Chief Gary Layer was out of the office today and other officers could not comment on the case.

Town Council member Glenn Jerrell said the suspension of a police officer would be discussed before the council.

"I'm making no comment about it," Jerrell said, when asked if Tiller had been suspended.

Tiller is the former town marshal of Roseland, but left in October 2007 because the city's budget problems resulted in payroll not being met.

In December 2007, Tiller was the subject of a grand jury investigation after he was accused of battering then-Roseland Town Council member David Snyder during an arrest, but no charges were ever filed in the case.

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DC Officer Accused of Hit and Run

Police are saying little about an incident in which a D.C. police cruiser apparently hit a teenager during a chase -- and then left the scene.

Dominic Turner, 18, suffered broken ribs, internal bleeding and a back injury when he was hit Saturday night. He returned home Monday afternoon, with a walker, after two days in the hospital.

"It was hard and fast. It caused me to vomit (from) the impact," Turner said. "I'm just glad I'm still here."

It all began, according to Turner's family, when a group of men, including Turner, were standing outside a family gathering holding cups. Police saw them and told them to drop the cups. That somehow evolved into a police chase. Turner was struck about 8:30 p.m. Saturday in an alley near 20th and Newton streets NE.
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A witnesses told the family the police cruiser hit Turner and the officer got out of the cruiser, walked over to the teen, grabbed him and then got back in the cruiser and took off.

"They were the people who were supposed to look out for me, but I became a victim," Turner said.

Witnesses went to get Turner's parents a the family gathering. The parents and relatives ran to the scene, finding Turner doubled over in pain, they said. The police and police cruiser were gone.

"When we arrived, it was the first responders there: ambulance and fire. And then, like 10 minutes later, the police were back," said Turner's mother, Darhisha Jackson Milton.

Milton and her husband, Gregory Milton, Turner's stepfather, said they were stunned by the police's alleged behavior.

"He should have done something instead of just leaving him there," Gregory Milton said. "He didn't do anything. He just hit him and then left."

According Turner's mother, their relatives, who had gathered at the scene, asked the police officers "'Who hit him?'" She said one officer -- after about 10 minutes -- said, "'Ma'am, I'm the one who hit your son.'"

Turner's relatives photographed the damaged cruiser when it returned to the scene Saturday night.
Jackson Turner said she didn't get the officer's name. Relatives took pictures of the damaged cruiser, number 5023. There was a long impact mark on the right side, including a broken side-view mirror.

"The mirror that was broken on the side of the car, was on my ribs and my stomach was on a light post," Turner said.

D.C. police did not directly confirm or deny the allegations. Gwendolyn Crump, the acting director of the MPD's Office of Communications issued a written statement:

"Multiple statements were taken following the incident and there are discrepancies over what occurred. The matter and the allegations are being investigated by the Internal Affairs Division. We cannot comment further. "

Turner graduated in May from Washington Math, Science, and Technology High School. He says he plans to start classes at Prince George's Community College next month.

Officer Phillip Setty Under Investigation for Being at Party where Underage Drinking was Taking Place

A local police officer is under investigation after pictures caught him in a compromising situation.

Photographs of a West Alexandria police officer dressed in uniform at a Halloween party where underage drinking was allegedly taking place.

The officer is Phillip Setty, a rookie policeman who's only been with the West Alexandria Police Department for a little over a year.

In fact, it was after work that he showed up at a Halloween party at an apartment in Bellbrook and pictures were taken that show what happened.

The 23 year old officer posed for pictures with several party goers, some holding alcohol. Setty also pretended to arrest one young woman also dressed up in a police uniform. In one photo, she has a drink in her hand while sitting on officer Setty's lap. In others, the female appears to be drinking shots.

The problem with that was found on her own myspace page along with several of the photographs. According to her profile, she is only nineteen and was drinking alcohol along with another person who claimed to be underage, while Officer Setty was present at the party.

Chief Charles Webb said, "We were just notified of this, this morning."

Some West Alexandria residents said they are disappointed in the alleged actions of a man who is supposed to be held to a higher standard. "Well, I think he should be dismissed," said Gene Moore.

While officers are investigating to determine if any crime occurred, the chief said he is worried about what the pictures suggest. "He is placed on administrative leave until we investigate it," said Webb.

There are also departmental policies on when and where police officers can wear their uniforms. Chief Webb said, "If you are going home or something it's acceptable, but if go to a party as this officer allegedly did, that is definitely not within our policy."

Setty is currently on unpaid administrative leave.

Former Officer Jose Sanchez Sentenced to 8 years for Molesting Teen

A former police officer in a San Antonio school district was sentenced to eight years in prison for molesting a teenage girl.

Jose Sanchez was working for the Edgewood Independent School District in 2007 when the victim, who is now 20, told authorities that Sanchez had sexually assaulted her from the time she was 11 to age 16. The incidents were not related the 59-year-old's job, but he was suspended and later resigned.

Sanchez pleaded no contest to sexual assault last month and was sentenced on Monday.

City Settles Lawsuit in Police Misconduct Case

Police told Jason Giandomenico to stay away from a Hawthorne liquor store. He admits to ignoring the order, but said that was no reason for an officer to break his jaw.

In October, the city paid Giandomenico $275,000 to settle his legal claim.

The payout propelled Hawthorne's settlements in police misconduct cases over the past five or so years beyond the $2 million mark, according to a Daily Breeze analysis.

Tommy Kang, the officer involved in the confrontation with Giandomenico, was responsible for more than a quarter of the city's payouts. Kang, a Medal of Valor recipient, is no longer with the force.

In another incident, Kang fractured Alex Rivera's neck during a domestic disturbance arrest at his home in 2007. Rivera, who claimed he was struck and hogtied by Kang, settled his case against the city in August for $340,000.

Kang was also named in two other claims stemming from the same shooting outside a bar on Christmas Day in 2003.

The city did not settle those claims, filed by a bystander shot in the foot and the family of a gunman killed by the officers.

The bystander filed a federal lawsuit, but a judge dismissed it on its merits without awarding anything, according to court records.

Kang and his partner received the Medal of Valor for the shooting in 2004.

It does not appear from the records that any one officer, aside from Kang, stands out as overly aggressive.

In all, his actions have cost the city $615,000.

Since 2004, the city has paid $2,117,200 to settle 15 claims of excessive force and other civil rights allegations.

It is difficult to compare Hawthorne's figures to other South Bay cities because of vastly different demographics and crime trends. However, one similarly sized city with nearly the same number of sworn officers has paid out only $20,000 in a single police misconduct case over the same time period.

Some Hawthorne officials, who asked not to be named, expressed concern about the payouts. They cited the expense to taxpayers, as well as public safety concerns.

A police spokesman, though, said there is nothing disturbing about the record.

"Compared to the amount of arrests and crimes in our city, and what our police officers are faced against every day, we feel that is not an unreasonable number, compared to neighboring cities," Lt. Mike Ishii said.

"If you take this into account, I would say it shows that, by and large, our officers are doing an effective job fighting crime and keeping the streets safe under difficult conditions," he added.

Ishii and City Manager Jag Pathirana said every significant incident of excessive force or civil rights violations is met with an appropriate response, which has included additional training and, in some cases, discipline of officers.

"We do learn from our mistakes," Pathirana added. "Corrective action has been taken every time."

Ishii confirmed that, as of Sept. 30, Kang was no longer employed by the city. He said he could not elaborate on the details of Kang's employment status because it is a personnel matter.

However, experts say that personnel actions and large settlements bring validity to such claims.

"If they're settling them at these numbers, I would say these claims are probably meritorious," Karen Blum, a professor at Suffolk University School of Law in Boston, said of Hawthorne.

Cases alleging police misconduct and civil rights violations are generally difficult for plaintiffs to win, Blum said.

But Blum, city officials and lawyers on both sides of police litigation know that many decisions to settle are based on economics.

"Of course, the downside to that is you look out the front door and there's a line of lawyers looking for their settlement check. A city can get a reputation," said Bruce Praet, an attorney at Ferguson, Praet & Sherman in Santa Ana who specializes in defending cities in police misconduct litigation.

"Anybody can file a lawsuit for anything and it's not infrequent that people who engage in confrontations with law enforcement, frankly, have little to lose by filing a lawsuit - and plenty to gain," added Praet, who does not represent Hawthorne.

Before a lawsuit can be filed against a government entity in state court, a legal claim must be filed. Once a claim is denied - or sometimes ignored - a lawsuit can be filed.

However, federal civil rights lawsuits do not require the filing of a government claim first.

In Hawthorne, City Attorney Russell Miyahira said, each settlement recommendation is made with "prudent risk management decisions."

Any characterization that the city has settled "a lot" of cases for a substantial amount of money is wrong, he said.

"Anybody can make a claim of misconduct," said Miyahira, who declined to discuss individual cases. "A lot of them are unfounded."

In one unusual case, however, Hawthorne paid a $40,000 settlement to a man who never even filed a claim for injuries he received during an arrest.

Omar Hill tried two times to file a federal lawsuit without an attorney, but it appears from court records he couldn't afford the filing fees and was never successful.

Hill's 2006 arrest was captured on video by a patrol car camera. According to sources who viewed the footage, Hill is first seen on the ground in handcuffs with officers holding him down.

When the patrol car stops, another officer enters the frame, runs to Hill, and kicks him in the head, face and back.

It's not clear why Hill was being arrested. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation show he is a repeat offender who has had several prison commitments.

Records show he is serving six years for an assault with a firearm conviction.

Miyahira, the city attorney, confirmed that Hill was offered a settlement even though no claim was filed.

Praet, the defense litigator, said the city's decision to approach Hill with an offer is not uncommon in his line of work.

"We're going to take care of that person, do the right thing and pay their medical expenses and make them whole," Praet said.

However, Thomas Beck, who specializes in police civil rights cases, said he has never heard of a government agency offering that much money when a legal claim has not been submitted.

"The reason that happened is because of that piece of tape and the behavior of those cops," Beck speculated.

In August, at the request of Mayor Larry Guidi, Miyahira authored a memo to the City Council detailing the 13 cases settled at that point by the city during the previous five years.

Guidi declined comment, calling it a "personnel matter."

Pathirana, though, said he knows the facts of each case and said the settlements are "unfortunately, the cost of doing business."

Pathirana noted that the city is responsible only for the first $250,000 of any settlement under its insurance policy.

That means that, of the 15 settlements, about $1.2 million was paid by Hawthorne taxpayers.

Nearly half of the money was to settle one claim.

A former Hawthorne couple received $1 million earlier this year after a rough arrest resulted in a broken jaw for Anthony Goodrow, who also claimed his medical care was delayed and officers submitted false reports to justify his arrest.

That incident led to a police misconduct investigation by the District Attorney's Office that is still ongoing.

The other 14 settlements ranged from $2,000 to the $340,000 paid to Rivera, with most being less than $100,000.

The majority claimed false arrest, with a handful stemming from injury complaints.

In 2004, a $50,000 settlement was paid to then-Gardena Councilman Steve Bradford. Bradford, recently elected to the state Assembly, claimed he was wrongly arrested in 2002 because he is black.

No Hawthorne Police Officer Association representatives returned telephone calls or e-mails.

The Daily Breeze analysis also included a review of claims, lawsuits and settlements in three other South Bay cities in the last five years.

Although no two cities are exactly alike, Torrance, Gardena and Hermosa Beach were chosen because they compare similarly to Hawthorne in terms of police force size, crime statistics and demographics of the residents.

As of September, the city of Torrance, which is the largest in this analysis with 246 sworn officers and a population of nearly 141,600, had paid more than $1.5 million to settle 11 cases during the same five-year period.

One case accounts for nearly half of the money. The city paid $700,000 to family members of two burglary suspects who were shot after hiding out in a tool shed during a search in 2008.

Three other claims stemming from officer-involved shootings account for a bit more than $600,000, according to city records.

Gardena, which has 91 sworn officers serving nearly 92,500 residents, settled one misconduct claim in the same time period by paying $20,000 to a schoolteacher who said he was wrongly arrested because he is black, according to records and the man's attorney.

Hermosa Beach, a smaller city with just 39 sworn officers serving a population of approximately 18,500, paid $426,500 to settle four claims.

Nearly half of that money, though, was paid in recent weeks to settle a claim stemming from an August 2004 incident of alleged excessive force that sparked a federal investigation.

Although Hermosa Beach's demographics are not comparable to Hawthorne's, the city was included in the review because of its reported history of excessive force accusations that arise from alcohol-fueled confrontations at Pier Plaza.

Hawthorne, with a population of about 92,455 and 96 sworn officers, recorded four homicides, 919 assaults and 378 robberies in 2008. During that same year, Torrance had two homicides, 109 assaults and 173 robberies, while Gardena reported three homicides, 141 assaults and 230 robberies.

Still, Beck, the lawyer who specializes in police civil rights cases, said he doesn't believe Hawthorne police officers behave differently than officers in other cities.

"They don't stand out as having any more problems than any other agency," he said.

Former Officer Maceo Simmons Re-Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison

A former Jackson police officer has been re-sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for sexually assaulting a woman while on duty in 1999.

The Clarion-Ledger reported that U.S. District Judge William Barbour Jr.'s ruling came Thursday in the case against Maceo Simmons.

The sentence is the third for Simmons in the same case since his 2005 conviction. Previous sentences were thrown out on appeal, based on how much prison time Simmons should have received under federal guidelines and the judge's discretion to deviate from them.

Simmons initially was sentenced to 20 years and later re-sentenced to life in prison.

Former Officer Maurice Morris Convicted of Attempted Sexual Battery

A former Riviera Beach K-9 officer was convicted today of attempted sexual battery, bribery and official misconduct and now faces an absolute maximum of 35 years in prison when sentenced in January.

Jurors convicted Maurice Morris following a trial last week featuring dueling stories: A prosecutor alleging he had sex with a female driver following a traffic stop, then disposed of two traffic tickets he had written her.

The defense argued that in an attempt to help her, Morris simply visited the woman's home to check her claim that she had a letter proving she didn't know her license was suspended. And that now she is inventing a story that he raped her.

Charged with sexual battery, punishable by up to 30 years in prison, jurors appeared to compromise with a lesser charge, finding him guilty of attempted sexual battery.

Morris' defense attorney, Nicole Sauvola, who could not immediately be reached following the verdict, has said she firmly believes in her client.

"He is not just not guilty. He is innocent. No good deed goes unpunished."

Assistant State Attorney Daliah Weiss argued at trial that Morris' brazen arrogance led him to have sex with the woman, an unsophisticated, vulnerable lady already in trouble with the law.

The woman was driving with a suspended license and on felony probation when she was stopped by Morris that morning in October 2008.

"She was ripe for the picking," said Weiss.

Weiss emphasized the missing traffic tickets — shown in the police dashboard video as last being handed to Morris — and his DNA being found in the woman's underwear.

It was not semen found there, though, but rather skin cells or another source that a DNA expert concluded Morris could not be excluded as a contributor to.

"Missing tickets. Rape. There you have it," Weiss argued before jurors. "And his DNA in her underwear."

According to Morris's story, and he did testify at trial, after he let the woman drive off after the traffic stop that morning, he happened to run into her again, her frantically waving him down as he drove home.

The GPS system in the patrol car he was driving showed he was at her home one hour and 23 minutes.

Too long to just read a letter, argued Weiss before jurors.

Too long for how the victim testified the sex act happened, said defense attorney Sauvola outside court. "She made it sound like two seconds," Sauvola said.

Weiss argued it is unbelievable that Morris would just happen to run into the woman once again, and let her drive off a second time with a suspended license, never calling for any kind of back-up or assistance.

Sauvola, Morris' attorney, emphasized irregularities in the DNA evidence in the case. For one thing, the woman turned in a different pair of underwear to police — a silver G-string, not the black undies, the wide band of which was visible in the video, she wore during the traffic stop.

On the first forensic testing of the silver G-string, no DNA was detected. But six months later in re-testing, some was then found, Sauvola said.

The woman was unable to identify Morris in either a photo lineup or in court — evidence, argued Weiss, that she had no motive to just make up a story of rape to get back at him. "And what was she angry about? Not getting a ticket?" Weiss said.

Under Florida law, it is considered a sexual battery without consent when a law enforcement or corrections officers "in a position of control or authority" or convincing the victim of their control, have sexual relations with someone.

Morris took an early retirement from the Riviera Police Department following his arrest. His alleged victim was recently jailed on unrelated attempted murder charge.

Officer Jose Villarreal Arrested for Falsifying Documents

A Homestead police officer has been arrested, accused of falsifying documents to obtain U.S. citizenship.

Miami-Dade jail spokeswoman Janell Hall said 31-year-old Jose Villarreal was still in jail Monday on $250,000 bail. He was arrested and charged last week with official misconduct, uttering forged instruments and false official statements.

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Villarreal, who was born in Mexico, turned in a birth certificate with false information about his birthday, his middle name and his mother's name. He later applied for a law enforcement certification, using a copy of his citizenship certificate, which authorities say he falsely obtained.

Authorities said Villarreal, who was hired by Homestead police in 2006, has been placed on administrative leave with pay.

Police officers must have U.S. citizenship to work on the force.

Douglas Boucher Dies After Being Tasered

Mason police have called a news conference for 2 p.m. to discuss an incident Sunday in which a man died after officers used a Taser on him during a confrontation outside a Speedway gas station.

The incident occurred outside the Speedway gas station on the corner of Tylersville Road and U.S. 42.

Mason police identified the man as Douglas Boucher, 39, of Mason. Boucher was pronounced dead at West Chester Medical Center shortly after the 11:15 p.m. incident.

A Mason police officer suffered a head injury in the incident and was taken to Bethesda North Hospital. The officer, whose name was not released, was treated and released.

Police said that officers were inside the Speedway getting a drink Sunday when Boucher arrived. A worker asked police to talk to him because he had caused trouble there.

Officers ordered Boucher out of the store, according to Mason police. Once he was outside the store, Boucher became combative with officers and hit one officer in the head, prompting officers to use the Taser on him, police said.

Boucher stopped breathing shortly after the Taser was used. Police gave him CPR and a Mason EMS squad rushed him to West Chester Medical Center, but he could not be revived.

Reached at their home in Marion, Ind., Boucher’s parents declined comment, saying they were still trying to learn all the details. “ I don’t even know what happened yet,” said Ernest Boucher, 68. “I know what they say, but I don’t know what happened.”

Douglas Boucher and his ex-wife, Sheryl Olszewski, divorced in 2005 but remained amicable. They have an 8-year-old daughter, Kathryn, who still lives in Mason with Sheryl Olszewski and her husband, Michael Olszewski.

The couple gently broke the news of her father’s death to the girl on Monday morning.

“Our daughter was his light and inspiration and they enjoyed their visits tremendously. Today is a sad day for her,'' according to a statement by Sheryl Olszewski.

She said her late husband as a musician who played bass for a couple of local bands. “He was a very passionate person – passionate about his daughter, his music and living life fully,” the statement reads.

Mason officers, who all carry X26 Tasers, have never had problems with the stun gun since they began using them in spring 2007, the department said.

Police increasingly are using Taser stun guns and other kinds of non-lethal weapons to subdue people. Taser stun guns use a replaceable cartridge containing compressed nitrogen to deploy two small probes that are attached to the gun. The devices transmit controlled pulses of electricity that are designed to incapacitate a person without affecting the heart and other vital organs.

Deaths after Taser use have stirred debate over police using electric-shock devices to subdue combative people.

The National Institute of Justice issued a June 2008 report saying that a study launched in 2006 showed use of shock devices is not risk-free, but "exposure is safe in the vast majority of cases."

Last year, the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office ruled a shock from a Taser played a role in the death of a 24-year-old Miami University graduate in an encounter with Oxford police.

Butler County Prosecutor Robin Piper concluded the officer did not use excessive force or violate police procedures in subduing Kevin Piskura, 24, of Chicago.

Hamilton County Coroner O’dell Owens ruled three factors caused Piskura’s death: A heart rhythm problem, acute alcohol intoxication and recent physical exertion, and the application of the Taser.

Tuscalossa Officer Accused of Sexual Assault

A Tuscaloosa police officer was put on paid leave Sunday after a victim of an alleged sexual assault identified the officer as the suspect, according to the Tuscaloosa Police Department.

The alleged sexual assault occurred Sunday at 6:45 a.m. in Vance, and the Tuscaloosa Metro Homicide Unit is investigating, the Tuscaloosa News reports. No investigator with the Tuscaloosa Police Department is part of the case, according to a news release.

The officer, whose name was not released, has not been arrested, and is on paid leave pending the outcome of the investigation, according to the Police Department.

Officer Jesus Sanchez Charged with Sexual Battery

A Salinas police officer and former Alisal High School soccer coach waived his right to a preliminary hearing Tuesday and was ordered to proceed to trial, his defense lawyer said today.

Officer Jesus Manuel Sanchez, a 10-year veteran of the police department, was arrested in July on suspicion of three counts of sexual assault with intent to rape. Prosecutors opted to charge Sanchez with two counts of sexual battery instead.

If convicted of those two counts, he faces a maximum prison term of five years.

Andrew Liu, his private Salinas attorney, said today that Sanchez is expected to appear in court Jan. 12.

Sanchez is charged with committing the crime against the same woman twice over a three-year span between May 1, 2002 and May 31, 2005.

He is accused of committing the crime both near Sherwood Hall and at El Sausal Middle School, part of the Salinas Union High School District.

Sanchez was the coach of the Alisal High School boys varsity soccer team for five years before leaving the position in 2008. During his coaching years, Sanchez was named The Salinas Californian's All-County Boys Coach of the Year four times.