Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Officer Gabriel Villarreal Suspended for Using City Computer to Obtain Woman's Personal Information

A San Antonio police officer accused of using a city computer to glean a woman's personal information and then staging an emergency response to her house has been fired after an investigation revealed he boasted about other women on his patrol car terminal and pulled their personal data as well, according to Police Department records.

After 14 years on the force with no suspensions, Officer Gabriel Villarreal, 43, was indefinitely suspended last week, a punishment tantamount to being fired.

A second patrolman, 10-year veteran Officer Keith Floyd, 41, was found to have exchanged "crude, suggestive (and) disparaging" remarks about women with Villarreal via his patrol car terminal and was suspended Friday for 15 days without pay, police records state.

Assistant City Attorney Robert Reyna said another officer faces a possible 30-day suspension in connection with the same case.

The violations involve at least seven women and occurred through October, November and December 2009, according to the city's findings, which allege the following:

For "personal" reasons, Villarreal researched the criminal history of an apartment manager in his patrol district. In conversations via car terminals, Villarreal and another officer referred to the woman by "nicknames for her breasts."

Villarreal and another officer also held an "extended" electronic conversation about two other women in which "a comment is passed back and forth about whether (Villarreal) 'knocked' or 'knocked it out,' referring to sex."

A few days later, Villarreal ran the registration of a Mercedes-Benz owned by another woman and sent it to a fellow officer. The pair then discussed her "personal physical attributes, her breasts and her attractiveness."

From the registration information, Villarreal then pulled more of that woman's personal data, including calls for police service to her home address, her social security number and her municipal court files.

The same day, Villarreal ran the registration of a Lexus that belonged to another woman; he earlier had suggested to a fellow officer they "go knock" at her residence.

A few days later, Villarreal's car terminal conversations focused on a female San Antonio police officer, whom he suggested should be invited to a "clothing optional" shift party.

The following week, Villarreal brought his wife and daughter to The Art of Shaving, an upscale boutique at The Shops at La Cantera that sells $1,000 razors.

A female employee there sold him nearly $400 in shaving supplies, she told the San Antonio Express-News.

The next day, Villarreal used his patrol car terminal to determine her address, date of birth and cell phone number. Called to assist the public, Villarreal handled that call quickly, left the scene within four minutes and drove to the woman's house while holding the initial call open, according to the city's findings.

Rousing the woman from bed, Villarreal rang the doorbell and told her that someone had called 911 and hung up. He eventually left and drove to another location, where he conducted research on her prior residences and her father, the city alleges.

Over the next two days, Villarreal pulled her cell phone history and calls for police service to her home. Meanwhile, the woman reported the incident to the Police Department's internal affairs department.

The next day, Villarreal and another officer allegedly discussed via patrol car terminals where they should eat lunch, at one point making "inappropriate sexual references" about female officers, police records state.

Villarreal was indefinitely suspended without pay last Monday.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Incidents caught on camera increase department scrutiny of officers

Minutes after a suburban Chicago police officer was charged with striking a motorist with his baton, prosecutors handed out copies of a video showing the beating - taken by a dashboard camera on the officer's own squad car.

In California, after a transit cop and an unruly train passenger slammed against a wall during a struggle and shattered a station window last fall, video from a bystander's cell phone was all over the Internet before the window was fixed.

The same cell phones, surveillance cameras and other video equipment often used to assist police are also catching officers on tape, changing the nature of police work - for better and worse.

Some say cameras are exposing behavior that police have gotten away with for years. But others contend the videos, which often show a snippet of an incident, turn officers into villains simply for doing their jobs, making them targets of lawsuits and discipline from bosses buckling to public pressure.

"We tell our officers all the time you've got to assume that everything you do is going to be videotaped," said Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis. "Everyone has a cell phone and almost every cell phone has a camera."

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said the video her office gave to the media on Tuesday shows police officer James Mandarino, from the Chicago suburb of Streamwood, hitting motorist Ronald Bell 15 times after a traffic stop last month.

In the video, Mandarino is seen firing a Taser at a passenger in the car and then striking Bell, who is on his knees with his hands on his head. Bell suffered a concussion and cuts that required seven stitches.

"It's a wonderful tool," Alvarez said of the video, which she says suggests that both men posed no threat to the officer.

Though police-behaving-badly videos have become popular staples of cable news shows and the Internet, Weis said he doesn't believe his officers are overly cautious out of fears they'll be videotaped - and their superiors are not advising them to be.

Quietly, though, some officers say the prospect of being videotaped makes them hesitate even if they know they should act.

"I've heard from officers who are sent to break up a fight in the street and see a group of people leaning out windows with handheld video cameras ... they go slower and are less aggressive," said Tom Needham, a Chicago attorney who has represented several police officers.

But University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman, who has studied police brutality, said videos are helping hold police accountable.

"My own view is that YouTube has done more to expose the reality of police abuse than all the blue-ribbon commissions combined," said Futterman.

A Chicago police officer who was arrested three years ago in the videotaped beating of a female bartender never would have been charged much less convicted if not for the video, Futterman said. Anthony Abbate initially was charged with a misdemeanor until the video played across the world.

Ronald Bell's brother, Stacey Bell, said he doubts the Streamwood officer would have been charged with felony aggravated battery and official misconduct without the video and his brother still would have faced charges of drunken driving and resisting an officer, which were dropped.

"I believe it would have been six witnesses against an officer and it would have been a different story," said Stacey Bell, who witnessed the alleged beating. The officer's attorney declined to comment.

But some caution that incidents caught on tape can misrepresent police work.

"The work of a police officer, even when done properly is ... not pleasant to watch," said Al O'Leary, spokesman for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association in New York City. "We've had situations, circumstances where an officer doing his job by the book is caught on video is tagged as brutal. Sometimes the work is brutal but necessary."

In California when the Bay Area Rapid Transit officer slammed into a window with a suspect during a violent arrest, the cell phone video - viewed more than 160,000 times on one clip posted on YouTube - ended up exonerating the officer whose actions brought claims of excessive force, a union official said.

"It wasn't the suspect's head that caused the glass to break," said Jesse Sekhon, BART police officers union president. "When you freeze the video and enhance it you see it was the suspect punching it with his hand."

What's more, video viewers rarely hear the frantic 911 call for help, rocks hurled at an approaching squad car or the countless times police have been called to the same house.

In New York City in 2008, a man died after falling from a building ledge when police jolted him with a Taser. Video of the last few moments, including Iman Morales' fall, was posted on newspaper Web sites and played over and over again on local TV.

But before the cameras were running, "this guy was stark naked, running up and down the fire escape, he tried to get into a woman's apartment by tearing out the air conditioner, terrifying the woman," and swung a fluorescent light bulb at police before Lt. Michael Pigott ordered him shot him with the stun gun, said Tom Sullivan, president of the NYPD's Lieutenants Benevolent Association.

Eight days later, Pigott - stripped of his gun and badge and demoted - committed suicide, leaving a note saying he was trying to protect his men. His widow, who is suing the police department, said the discipline humiliated her husband. The department declined to comment.

There is little chance that the videotaped scrutiny of police will slow. In fact, groups with video cameras follow police in cities all over the country, including Orlando, Fla., where George Crossley launched Orlando CopWatch in 2006.

"If we come up on law enforcement, the whole shift knows immediately," said Crossley. "They get on the radio (and say) 'Watch out for CopWatch.'"

Sgt Jerry Blash Who Filed Ben Roethlisberger Report Resigns

The Ben Roethlisberger sexual assault investigation has led to a Milledgeville (Ga.) police officer’s resignation.

According to, Sgt. Jerry Blash, the only police officer who interviewed Roethlisberger in the investigation, resigned Wednesday following the release of investigation documents to the public. Milledgeville police chief Woodrow Blue confirmed Blash’s resignation Friday.

Blash resigned amid reports that he made negative comments about Roethlisberger’s accuser near friends of the Steelers’ quarterback. In addition, photos released one week after the incident revealed Roethlisberger and Blash together smiling just hours before the sexual assault allegation was made.

Blue stated Blash was involved in the investigation until March 12.

Additional documents released Thursday revealed a 16-year-old told officials that Roethlisberger had made sexual advances toward a friend’s sister, but the woman declined the opportunity to speak with authorities.

The allegations against Roethlisberger continue to haunt the quarterback and the Steelers organization as well.

Roethlisberger could face punishment from the league and from Steelers president Art Rooney II for his actions. The team also could face a six-figure fine as a result of the behavior of Roethlisberger and former Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes.

Officer Sidney Garcia Accused of Punching CabDriver

An off-duty city police officer was arrested after being accused of punching a cabdriver in the face on the East Side, the police said.

The officer, Sidney Garcia, 42, was charged with third-degree assault on Friday evening, several hours after the driver of a yellow taxicab reported that he had been assaulted during an argument with five people late Thursday.

Officer Garcia was stripped of his gun and badge, and was suspended without pay for 30 days, as detectives from the Internal Affairs Bureau of the Police Department began an inquiry.

Appointed to the force on Feb. 28, 1994, Officer Garcia is currently assigned to the department’s Applicant Processing Division, where he handles the submissions of candidates to become police officers.

According to the police, Officer Garcia was with four other people on Thursday night when they tried to hail a cab at Third Avenue and 35th Street about 11:20 p.m. When a taxi pulled over, the officer and the others tried to get in.

“The cabby said no,” said a law enforcement official, adding that the driver apparently felt that having five passengers would violate the rules of the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

Words were exchanged as the five people got into the taxi, with Officer Garcia in front, the police said.

“Then, the off-duty cop allegedly hits” the driver in the face, said the official, who requested anonymity because the investigation was continuing.

The cabby drove away after the encounter. It was not until finishing his shift and returning to his garage, about 3:30 a.m., that he came across Officer Garcia’s ID card and shield inside the vehicle, law enforcement officials said. He then contacted the police.

The extent of the driver’s injuries, if any, was not immediately clear, and the police did not identify the driver by name.

Officer Garcia was arrested about 5:30 p.m. on Friday, the police said.

“Our rules restrict the number of passengers to the number of seat belts available,” Allan J. Fromberg, a spokesman for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, said.

“The number of authorized passengers would go on the rate card that’s in the vehicle, the card that goes next to the driver’s license,” Mr. Fromberg said, adding that the agency did not keep “crime stats” on events like assaults against drivers. He declined to comment on what led to Officer Garcia’s arrest.

The police would not say if Officer Garcia had previously faced disciplinary action in the course of his 16-year career.

Since 1984, on average, more than 100 police officers a year have been arrested.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Two More Officers Suspended Over Beating

Prince George's County police said Thursday that they have suspended two more officers in connection with an incident last month in which officers in riot gear beat an unarmed University of Maryland student who had taken to the streets with hundreds of others to celebrate a victory by the men's basketball team over Duke University.

With those suspensions, a total of four county officers have been relieved of their police powers in connection with the attack of John J. McKenna, 21. The March 3 beating was captured on video by another student and has been aired all across the world since McKenna's attorney released it on Monday.

The video shows McKenna skipping on a sidewalk before stopping before a phalanx of officers on horseback. As McKenna backs up, two county officers in riot gear rush him and knock him against a wall; at least one of them hits McKenna repeatedly with a police baton. As McKenna crumples to the ground, the video shows, a third officer rushes in and strikes him repeatedly with his baton.

McKenna suffered a concussion and other injuries, his attorney said.

The FBI, the state's attorney's office and police internal affairs detectives are all investigating the incident.

In addition to the beating, they are focusing on official charging documents filed by Officer Sean McAleavey against McKenna and another student.

The charging documents allege that McKenna and Benjamin C. Donat, 19, assaulted officers on horseback and their mounts, and were injured by horses. Prosecutors dropped charges against McKenna and Donat before the video surfaced.

McAleavey is the only suspended officer who has been publicly identified by officials.

In another development, Maj. Daniel A. Dusseau, commander of the 1st District and the official who was in charge of the police response the night of the beating, is retiring, officials said.

Dusseau, a 21-year veteran, has taken a job in the private sector and will retire at the end of the month, said Maj. Andy Ellis, a police spokesman. Ellis said the retirement is unrelated to the controversy over the College Park incident.

Said Dusseau: "My retirement and movement to another job is something I've been working on since I was eligible to retire and has nothing to do with the incidents going on in College Park," he said.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Former ATF Agent Brandon McFadden Indicted on Drug Charges

A former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent was taken into custody by Tulsa Police on Thursday.

Brandon J. McFadden was indicted by a grand jury for the Northern District of Oklahoma on four counts including conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana; possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute; possessing a firearm during a drug trafficking offense, and money laundering.

According to the indictment, McFadden was employed as an ATF agent from July, 2002, through September, 2009. He regularly investigated potential firearms and drug trafficking offenses, and the indictment alleges that he was guilty of selling drugs, falsifying evidence and lying on the witness stand.

In one case, a man and his daughter were sent to federal prison and have since been released.  The woman's only son was killed by a drunk driver while she was in prison, and she was not allowed to attend the funeral.

Related Story 3/31/2010: Tulsa Police Officer, Former ATF Agent Accused Of Corruption

If convicted, McFadden faces a possible sentence of not less than 10 years imprisonment to life. The McFadden investigation is related to an investigation of corruption in the Tulsa Police Department.
Tulsa Police Officer Jeff Henderson has been placed on administrative leave in connection to this investigation which is ongoing.