Wednesday, February 24, 2010

David Baker Files Lawsuit Against Officers for Violating His Civil Rights

An Ambridge man says a borough police officer beat him in a holding cell and jammed a gun into his mouth last year, then other officers tried to cover up the assault.

Claiming civil rights violations, David A. Baker, 41, of 614 Melrose Ave. has sued the borough, Police Chief Mark Romutis, officers Richard Heitzenrater, Robert Kuzma Jr. and Michael Slawianowski, and former Borough Manager Kristen Denne.

Heitzenrater and Kuzma are already facing federal criminal charges related to the incident.

According to Beaver County court records, Slawianowski arrested Baker around 4 p.m. Feb. 20, 2009, at 10th Street and Glenwood Avenue after an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old reported that Baker had urinated on a sidewalk across the street from them.

The children reported the incident to a parent; one of the children is a grandchild of Heitzenrater.

Slawianowski said Baker was drunk, disheveled and apparently had soiled himself. Once at the borough police station, Baker refused to get out of the police car, and “officers then grabbed Baker by his jacket and pulled him from the back seat of the patrol car. Once outside the car, Baker fell directly to the ground and refused to stand up.”

Slawianowski also said, “Officers then drug Baker by his jacket into the police garage and then inside the police station,” where he was searched and put in a holding cell.

According to the federal lawsuit, written by Pittsburgh attorney Tony J. Thompson, Slawianowski and Kuzma told Heitzenrater, who had been off-duty, of Baker’s arrest, and he went to the police station. There, according to the suit, Heitzenrater entered the holding cell and hit and kneed Baker in the head and body.

Heitzenrater also “assaulted and terrorized (Baker) by placing the barrel of a firearm into his mouth, thereby threatening him with grave bodily harm and death,” Thompson said.

The lawsuit also alleges that other borough employees didn’t stop the assault and then “conspired to destroy physical evidence capturing the incident, and/or falsified written reports regarding the incident.”

Thompson said Kuzma and Slawianowski allowed Heitzenrater to enter the cell and Heitzenrater and Kuzma, who also had been off-duty, destroyed surveillance video showing the attack.

Thompson also said that “Heitzenrater and other officers of the Ambridge Police Department have a history of acting erratically, violently and with excessive force, and in abusing their authority as police officers.” The borough has been sued by others in the past, accusing officers of violating their civil rights.

Thompson said in the suit that Romutis and Denne “knew or should have known that (Heitzenrater) was not fit to be a sergeant of the Ambridge police.”

Baker suffered severe head injuries and continues to suffer after-effects from the attack, according to the lawsuit.

In November, Baker pleaded no contest to single counts of open lewdness and disorderly conduct and was sentenced to one year’s probation in Beaver County Court. Baker could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Last year, his attorney on those charges, Gerald Benyo, said Baker was in an alcohol rehabilitation program. He added that Baker had about $30,000 in unpaid medical bills related to the beating.

In August, the U.S. attorney’s office charged Heitzenrater and Kuzma with obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. Heitzenrater was also charged with deprivation of civil rights, while Kuzma additionally was charged with accessory after the fact.

The allegations in the criminal case are similar to the lawsuit, with Heitzenrater accused of beating Baker, and then he and Kuzma working the next day to destroy surveillance footage.

Heitzenrater retired from the Ambridge force last spring. Kuzma, with the rank of lieutenant, was suspended without pay, but collected unemployment from the borough.

Slawianowski has left Ambridge and now works as a Leetsdale police officer. Denne resigned as borough manager in January and now works in Johnstown.

Heitzenrater’s attorney, James Ross of Ambridge, said Wednesday he was moving forward with the criminal case “and we have a defense to it,” but would not comment further.

Kuzma’s attorney, Mark Lancaster of Pittsburgh, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Romutis wasn’t available for comment Wednesday.

Officer Thomas Fees Keeps Getting Paid After Arrest

Tulsa Police Officer Thomas Fees has been suspended with pay for three weeks after being accused of pointing a loaded gun at employees of a bar. Viewers have asked why, in this budget crisis, is he getting a paycheck when other officers are not?

News On 6 viewers questioned Fees' paid suspension again after a recent story on a police officer who earned a Purple Heart and has been laid off. People wonder why Fees can't be suspended without pay and that salary given to someone else.

It's all about due process.

On the one hand, you have Officer Thomas Fees, who's been arrested and charged. Witnesses say he got unruly in a bar three weeks ago, and when employees had to physically remove him, he pointed a loaded gun at them.

He's been charged with pointing a firearm and carrying a firearm under the influence. Fees has been suspended with pay. His employment records show he was suspended in 2005 for two days for being confrontational and three days in 2006 for trying to sell a drug used to make meth.

So, why not just suspend him without pay?

"It's not that simple because even though he's been accused, he's still afforded, just as every other person, due process," said Captain Jonathan Brooks of the Tulsa Police Department.

In a case that involves a felony, the city's legal advisor says you can't suspend someone right away with no pay because that's taking disciplinary action from the very beginning. They must wait until the employee has been bound over for trial at a preliminary hearing.

If that happens, the city can also begin the firing process.

On the other hand, you have a guy like Scott Osborn who served 10 years in the Air Force, became a police officer, was shot by a drug runner and awarded the Purple Heart.

He's been laid off almost four weeks. Some argue the city would be better off with someone like him getting a paycheck than Fees.

"Him being paid, yes, money is money but the fact is, he doesn't have a gun or badge, and he is being paid but is required to stay at home," Brooks said. "He can't even show up on premises based on the suspension with pay."

Department leaders say citizens can trust them to police themselves and do the right thing, once the time is right.

Officer Fees' attorney says they are doing their own investigation, and they expect him to have a strong defense to the charges.

His preliminary hearing hasn't been set yet and could take months. He'll keep getting paid until that time.
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Officer Denver Thomas Indicted for Sexual Contact with Teen

Ripley City Council unanimously voted Wednesday night to terminate Officer Denver Thomas.

That happened after Ripley Police Chief Raymond Fridley recommended that Thomas be dismissed from the police force. His termination is effective immediately.

Thomas had been indicted earlier Wednesday by a Jackson County grand jury. The indictment alleges he had sexual contact with a teenager in 2008.

Thomas has been on paid leave from the department since September 2009.

No other information is being released because the case involves an underage child.

Trial Set to Begin for Officer Michael Ficken

A jury trial for officer misconduct allegations against former Prior Lake police officer Michael Alan Ficken is set to begin next week in Scott County District Court in Shakopee.
Ficken, 34, of Savage was charged by the Dakota County Attorney’s Office in June with officer misconduct, fifth-degree assault, disorderly conduct and criminal damage to property. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges.
FickenJury selection is set to start Tuesday morning. Opening arguments are expected to start later that afternoon and the trial will continue into Wednesday.
According to the criminal complaint:
While Ficken was on duty as a police officer, at about 7 a.m. June 10, he allegedly called his former girlfriend, and when she didn’t answer her phone, he drove his squad car to her house. When Ficken arrived at the woman’s home, he saw a vehicle he did not recognize and allegedly ran the license plate, without any known work-related reason to do so.
Ficken then allegedly entered the home and attempted to make contact with the woman, who was in a lower-level bedroom with the door locked. Ficken asked to be let into the bedroom, and the woman said, “No,” the complaint states.
Ficken then allegedly broke through the bedroom door while the woman attempted to hold it shut. While inside the bedroom, Ficken began to yell at the woman and a man who was inside the room with her, according to the complaint.

Officer Jesus Cisneros Accused of Drunking While Still on Duty Before Crash

An off-duty Fort Worth police officer who officials say was drunk when he crashed his city vehicle into another car in December, killing a mother of two, had started drinking while still on duty, an internal investigation has found.

Jesus Cisneros drove his city vehicle, a Toyota Highlander, to three bars from 7 to 9 p.m. Dec. 10 and consumed up to three beers as part of an unauthorized undercover bar detail, according to documents filed with the Civil Service Commission.

Lt. Paul Henderson, a police spokesman, called Cisneros' actions a "gross violation of policy."

The documents say that after completing the bar detail, Cisneros, then off duty, drove to a birthday party at The Pour House, where he drank about four more beers and four shots of alcohol, according to surveillance video obtained from the bar by investigators.

About 2:25 the next morning, Cisneros was driving the Highlander west in the 3800 block of Columbus Trail at more than twice the posted speed limit when he collided with a PT Cruiser trying to turn in front of him, officials have said. The Cruiser's driver, Sonia Baker, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Tests on blood taken soon after the wreck indicated that Cisneros had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.17, more than twice the legal limit.

Cisneros resigned Dec. 21. Police officials, however, took the additional step of suspending him indefinitely — tantamount to firing — so that the sustained allegations would be included in his civil service record, Henderson said.

The indefinite suspension took effect Feb. 18.

"Because he resigned, it closes any potential loophole for him being able to get his job back in Fort Worth," Henderson said.

The allegations

According to the documents, the investigation found four allegations against Cisneros: that he consumed alcohol on duty without necessary supervisory approval; that he drove a city vehicle off duty without authorization; that he was intoxicated while off duty; and that he drove a city vehicle while impaired and in such a manner that resulted in the fatal crash.

Cisneros, who remains free on bail, was charged Feb. 10 with intoxication manslaughter.

Jim Lane, Cisneros' attorney, was out of the office Wednesday and did not return a message left with his staff seeking comment.

Sonia Baker's widower, Mario Baker, referred questions Wednesday to the Noteboom law firm.

Mike Freden, one of the attorneys for Baker's family, said Cisneros' actions were "sickening."

"With each additional fact, his behavior is becoming more and more outrageous," Freden said. "It highlights that there were so many people along the way that could have stopped him from going out there and killing her. It's tragic. We're going to continue to go after every one we possibly can to get justice for Mario and his boys."

Henderson said an investigation of whether any other officers violated department policy while celebrating with Cisneros on the night of the crash is nearing its final stages.
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Officer Roniel Dilone Charged with Drunk Driving

Another NYPD officer has been charged with boozing behind the wheel after he smashed his car in the Bronx, badly injuring his passenger.

Officer Roniel Dilone, who was off-duty at the time, told an EMT at the scene that he had four beers before the crash early Sunday, according to court papers.

He refused to take a Breathalyzer test. His blood was drawn after cops got a warrant, and results are pending.

The 27-year-old cop, who has been on the force for four years, was driving in Throgs Neck when he smashed his Nissan Altima into a parked Subaru - sending it into a tree before his car jumped the curb, court papers said.

He was not badly injured, but his passenger, Allan Reyes, suffered a fractured leg and shoulder and badly bruised his ribs.

Dilone had "a flushed face and bloodshot, watery eyes," according to court papers.

"I was driving, then the next thing, I heard my passenger screaming that he thinks his leg is broken," Dilone told police at the scene.

Dilone was charged with vehicular assault and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.

The NYPD - which did not make the accident public, as normally happens when an officer faces a serious charge - suspended Dilone without pay.

Dilone, who is assigned to the 28th Precinct, was released without bail at his arraignment. He refused to open the door at his Parkchester home yesterday.

"I can't say anything," he said.

His lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

The NYPD has been plagued by a recent rash of cops busted for drunken driving.

Two weeks ago, off-duty Officer Raphael Ospina plowed his Chrysler into a garbage truck in midtown, flipped over and smacked into Tiffany's, according to authorities. Ospina broke three ribs, and two friends in the car were also hurt.

In November, off-duty Detective Kevin Spellman was charged with running down and killing a Bronx grandmother after drinking at a nearby bar. And in September, Officer Andrew Kelly was charged in Brooklyn with killing a preacher's daughter while driving drunk.

Officer Ricardo Orosco Charged with Assaulting Girlfriend

Another sex scandal has rocked the Phoenix Police Department.

Officer Ricardo Orosco, 26, has been charged with unlawful imprisonment, assault and criminal damage after allegedly getting into an altercation with his girlfriend early Tuesday.

"It's an embarrassment, it's a very bleak situation for us," Phoenix Police detective James Holmes said of arresting a fellow officer.

Police say they received a call around 2:45 a.m. from a femaile who said her "boyfriend" had assaulted her and was currently following her with his own car.

The victim told police she and Orosco had been out for the evening and, after returning to his home, said he told her he wanted to have sex.

She told police that after she refused, Orosco forcibly removed part of her clothing and ordered her to disrobe.

"The officer became physical with the victim. He grabbed her, he tore her sweater, threw her down on the bed," Holmes said. "During all of this he tore part of her bra and he did put his hands around her throat and he hit her."

Police said the victim was able to free herself and leave the home, but only after Orosco - trying to get in the car - broke the handles off the driver's side front and rear doors.

It was then, after realizing Orosco was following her, that she called police.

Police said the victim had visible facial injuries but did not require immediate medical attention. Orosco was booked into the Maricopa County Jail.

Officer Maynard Richardson Fired

Des Moines Police Chief Judy Bradshaw says the department has fired an officer charged with attempting to sexually assault a woman in his patrol car earlier this month.

Officer Maynard Richardson faces criminal charges of assault with intent to commit sexual abuse and non-felonious misconduct in office after an incident early Feb. 5.

Police accuse Richardson of placing a 22-year-old woman in his squad car and kissing and touching her without her permission.

In announcing Richardson's firing Wednesday, Bradshaw noted that he had previously been suspended for two days for making an inappropriate comment to a women while on a call in 2009.

The 35-yerar-old Richardson can appeal his termination to Des Moines Civil Service commission. Richardson's attorney, Alfredo Parrish, could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

Information from: The Des Moines Register,
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Deputies Search Orlando Officer's Home for Child Porn

Lake County deputies were at an Orlando police officer's home for a child porn investigation Wednesday. The officer's home is in Tavares. He hasn't been arrested.

Police say there was child pornography downloaded to a personal computer at his home, but the police officer's work laptop was also confiscated.

Lake County sheriff investigators spent Wednesday afternoon searching the officer's home. They took personal computers, went through his patrol car and took his department-issued laptop.

“Right now we are not confirming who is the suspect. Multiple people live here and have access to the computers," said Sgt. John Herrell, Lake Co. Sheriff's Office.

Neighbors said the police officer, whose name has not been released, lives in the home with his two sons, who are 13 and 17 years old.

"He's a man who goes to work takes care of his two boys," one neighbor said.

The Cyber Crimes Task Force got a hit on the house, alerting investigators.

"They are able to determine when child porn is downloaded or transmitted from an IP address," Herrell said.

Investigators are not specific about the porn, but said it's not a case of one teen sending another teen an inappropriate picture.

Officers showed up at the house, were handed over what investigators wanted and left with the officer’s car.

Lake County investigators said the officer is on administrative leave now from the Orlando Police Department and there may be an internal affairs investigation.

Former Officer Martin Abreu Sentenced for Killing Pedestrian

An off-duty Jersey City police officer will spend up to a decade in prison for killing a pedestrian as she crossed a lower Manhattan street.

Martin Abreu, a Jersey City police officer since 2005, was sentenced Tuesday. He pleaded guilty on Dec. 16 to aggravated vehicular homicide.

Abreu's vehicle mowed down Marilyn Huang Feng a year ago as she walked near Battery Park City. The 26-year-old aspiring lawyer died at the scene, and her boyfriend was critically injured.

Authorities said Abreu was drunk, and according to witness accounts, he was driving more than double the speed limit.

Abreu will be eligible for parole in 3 1/2 years. His maximum sentence is 10 1/2 years.

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Former Deputy Robert Grimsley Sentenced to Five Years for Stalking

A 38-year-old former law enforcement officer in South Carolina was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to stalking and assaulting his girlfriend and trying to tamper with evidence against him.

The Morning News of Florence reports a judge on Tuesday ordered ex-Dillon County deputy Robert Grimsley to spend seven years in prison, with the final two years of the sentence suspended if he completes three years of probation.

Authorities say Grimsley was charged with criminal domestic violence in November after grabbing his girlfriend in the home they shared in Latta and kicking her.

A month later, investigators say Grimsley violated a restraining order and asked an officer working the case to switch or destroy blood samples that were collected.

Officer Daniel McBroom Arrested for Drunk Driving

A Clyde police officer charged with drunken driving and speeding has been placed on unpaid leave.

According to the Norwalk post of Ohio State Highway Patrol, a trooper pulled over off-duty Clyde police Officer Daniel McBroom, 38, on Maple Street near Race Street at 12:35 a.m. Friday.

The trooper clocked McBroom going 40 mph in a 25 mph zone. He suspected McBroom was driving under the influence of alcohol and asked him to submit to a test.

McBroom refused, and the trooper charged him with operating a vehicle under the influence and speeding. He has no prior offenses, according to the patrol.

McBroom was scheduled to appear for an arraignment Tuesday morning in Sandusky County District Court in Clyde, but clerks at the court said he obtained a lawyer and his hearing will be rescheduled.

Clyde police Chief Bruce Gower said he was out of town when the incident occurred, so McBroom was told to use a vacation day to cover his Saturday shift. Gower placed McBroom on unpaid leave after speaking Monday with city manager Dan Weaver. McBroom will remain under suspension while the case is ongoing, Gower said.

Officer David Spearman Suspended for Cussing

A Naples, Florida police officer has been suspended for two days after the police chief reviewed the dash-cam video from the officer's patrol car.

Police Chief Tom Weschler was reviewing in-car videos to check a problem with the sound when he stumbled upon an officer making derogatory comments about a fellow officer.

"That kind of behavior will not be tolerated. The citizens deserve better than that," said Chief Weschler.

The chief was reviewing video from Officer David Spearman's vehicle.

The 20-year veteran of the Naples Police Department was responding to a call at the Gordon River Apartments in July 2009.

In the video, Spearman curses several times when talking about the apartment residents and how he is repeatedly being called to the same area.

"I'm glad Schickfus decided to clear his 40 and come down. [Expletive deleted] weasel. He's nothing but a pansy [expletive deleted]. He takes three or four a shift," Spearman said on the video.

"I was concerned when I first started to watch it. The level of stress that he was showing in his voice and knowing Officer Spearman, that's not normally how he reacts. But it was enough of a warning sign that I knew I had to look into it a little further," said Weschler. "We have to hold everybody accountable for their actions here."

The chief says he reviewed about 10 more of Spearman's calls and found his conduct to be much more level headed and professional.

However, the chief says Spearman provided inaccurate information to dispatch and did not take the appropriate enforcement action in one of those calls.

Spearman was suspended for two days and is back on duty.

Two Palm Beach County Officers Arrested

A Palm Beach County Sheriff's Officer has been arrested on drug charges, while another deputy is accused of obstructing justice, state attorney Michael McAuliffe announced Monday.

Deputy Sarah Thompson was charged with three counts of purchasing or possession with intent to purchase oxycodone.

State prosecutors said Thompson bought or possessed the prescription pain pills on three separate occasions -- Jan. 17, Feb. 7 and Feb. 11.

Deputy Carlos Lisboa was also charged with fleeing or attempting to elude a marked police car and resisting an officer without violence.

Thompson could be sentenced up to 15 years in prison for each count if convicted. Lisboa could be sentenced up to five years in prison if convicted of fleeing or attempting to elude a marked police car, and an additional year in the county jail if convicted of the second charge.

Former Officer Kachina McAlexander Sentenced for Firing Weapon At Other Officers

A former Denver Police officer was sentenced to several years in prison for firing a handgun at local law enforcement officers in South Dakota.

Kachina McAlexander, who resigned from her job with DPD last April, was previously convicted of three counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and one count of reckless use of a firearm.

McAlexander was sentenced Tuesday to five years for each of the three counts but the judge suspended three years of each sentence. The judge also ordered that the reduced sentence be served concurrently, meaning McAlexander will now spend two years behind bars unless she is paroled early. The judge told McAlexander she would be eligible after one year.

McAlexander spoke in court Tuesday, apologizing for her actions, saying she was scared and would never try to intentionally hurt another law enforcement officer.

McAlexander was holed up in a Custer, S.D. motel room on March 24, 2009 when local officers arrived in response to a report that McAlexander might be suicidal.

The 10-year DPD veteran is accused of firing her weapon at the responding officers, none of whom was injured.

At the sentencing, the state's attorney said McAlexander had not taken full responsibility for her actions and noted her history of firing guns when emotional.

According to The Denver Post, McAlexander faced weapons charges in 2006 after firing at a television and at the walls of her home in Adams County. Like the March 24 incident, McAlexander was reportedly suicidal at the time.

A judge acquitted McAlexander of those charges and an appeal by prosecutors was not successful.

McAlexander, who originally faced attempted murder charges, eventually pleaded not guilty to the 2009 charges was convicted by a jury. She has been in custody since the trial

Former Officer Robert Brooks Could Get New Murder Trial

A former Calverton Park Police Officer sentenced to life in prison for killing his fiancé, a Normandy Police Officer, could get a new trial. This comes after the Missouri Supreme Court threw out the conviction Tuesday, sending the case back to Jefferson County for a new trial.

Normandy Police Chief Frank Mininni calls Amanda Cates a great police officer and says he still struggles with her death.

Now, Chief Mininni and others are struggling with the Missouri high courts 14 page decision.

"I was shocked. I was in shock, said Mininni reacting to the decision."

The move throws out the conviction of former Calverton Park Police Officer Robert Brooks.

"I don't think you'd be human if it didn't make you angry," explained Mininni.

In August of 2007, Brooks was convicted of shooting and killing his 26 year old fiancé, Normandy Police Officer Amanda Cates.

The incident happened a year earlier at the Crystal City home that Cates and Brooks shared. Cates was a school resource officer at Normandy Middle School. Mininni, who sat through the first trial, says coping with Amanda's death has been tough.

The prospect of another trial is daunting.

Mininni told us, "I think the most difficult part of this is that were going to have to sit in a courtroom with Amanda's family again. Were going to have to re-live everything that happened night."

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors violated Brooks' constitutional rights by using his right to remain silent against him. The court ruled that during the trial prosecutors pointed out that Brooks would not tell them what happened the night of the killing after he was read his Miranda Rights.

The court said those statements by prosecutors implied that Brooks was guilty because he didn't talk.

Joe Yeckel and Michael Gross represented brooks at the Missouri Supreme Court.

"I felt that Mr. Brooks didn't get a fair trial the first go around and the Supreme Court is giving him another opportunity to have a fair trial," said Yeckel.

Memories of Amanda are at the Normandy Police Department and at a nearby park. Mininni says he's still waiting for justice for Amanda.

He told us, "We're confident that the outcome of this new trial will be the exact same as the last trial."

The Normandy Police Department and Cates family have started a scholarship in Amanda's memory.

A spokesperson with the Missouri Attorney Generals Office tells us they haven't decided yet whether to ask for another hearing on the case before the Supreme Court.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Forrest Wegge says he will re-try the case if it comes back to his office.

Additional Charges Have Been Filed Against Officer Jaymin Murphy

Additional charges have been filed against a North Carolina police officer arrested last week and accused of a sexual assault on a girl, authorities said in a news release Tuesday.

Jaymin Lenwood Murphy, an officer in Navassa, N.C., a few miles west of Wilmington, was charged on Thursday after the Brunswick County Sheriff's Office received a report Feb. 15 from the N.C. Department of Social Services that Murphy had sexually assaulted a child between 2005 and 2007 when he lived at the juvenile's home, the news release stated.

The Brunswick County district attorney's office contacted the county Sheriff's Office on Feb. 15 and asked that investigators look into the allegation, filed with the Navassa Police Department.

The Sheriff's Office charged Murphy with first degree rape of a child on Thursday, the release stated.

On Friday, a second girl came forward with a sexual assault allegation against Murphy after learning of his arrest in a news broadcast.

Detectives learned that the second girl was the victim in a case Murphy had investigated in December 2009, while he was employed by Navassa Police Department.

After an investigation into the second girl's allegation, Murphy also was charged with one count of statutory rape, two counts of statutory sex offense, two counts of exploitation of a minor, and three counts of indecent liberties with a minor.

Murphy is currently being held at the Brunswick County Detention Facility in lieu of $1.1 million bail