Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Police Indifference                         

The courts have spoken a number of times on the issue of police training.  In doing so, the judiciary has given direction for law enforcement agencies to follow when deciding a minimum level of training. As a street cop, the “minimum standard” might not seem relevant to the general public. Ask yourself, “What self-respecting law enforcement officer trains to the least acceptable standard?” The answer is obvious, “A great many.”   

Title 42 § 1983 of the United States Code, Civil Action for Deprivation of Rights, states in part:             

“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress”.                                                         

Here is a case in point.

On the morning of November 15, 1982, two District of Columbia police officers, William Hayes and Ronnie Motley, traveled to Maryland in an attempt to locate Don Parker, for whom an armed robbery felony warrant was outstanding. Hayes and Motley intended to interview Betty Parker not suspecting that Don Parker might be present since the two did not live together. The officers did not bring with them the arrest warrant because they mistakenly believed that their arrest authority in Maryland was curtailed.

When the officers went to the door and identified themselves to Betty, she brought Don Parker to the door. The officers explained the purpose of their visit and asked Parker to accompany them back to D.C. Parker denied any wrongdoing and initially refused to leave with the officers because they did not have in their possession the arrest warrant. Finally, Parker agreed to return with the officers but asked to be allowed to change his clothes. Parker was allowed into his bedroom where he escaped through a window.

Once the officers realized they had been duped, they chased Parker around the neighborhood in their unmarked police car. Parker commandeered an automobile that had collided with the officer’s car. Operating under the erroneous assumption that Parker was threatening the driver of the car and that he was armed, Officer Hayes yelled for Parker to “Freeze!” Parker continued to turn towards Officer Hayes, and Hayes fired at him four times hitting him twice. Admittedly, Parker shouldn’t have run towards the police officer.

The Parkers sued the District of Columbia and the two officers involved in United States District Court for the District of Columbia alleging assault and battery under state law and violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arising out of the District’s failure adequately to train, discipline, and supervise its officers in matters of extra-jurisdictional arrest and disarmament. Prior to trial, the Parkers dropped their state law claims against the individual officers. The case went to the jury, which found in favor of the District on the state law claims, but against the District with respect to the section 1983 claims awarding Parker $425,046.67. The District appealed and the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision.

The court affirmed that the District of Columbia officers involved in the Parker fiasco were indifferent to following the dictates of their training. 

In Monell v. New York City Dept. of Soc. Serv., the Supreme Court held that a municipality is liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 only when execution of its policy or custom causes a plaintiff to suffer constitutional injury. The Court determined that “proof of a single incident of unconstitutional activity is not sufficient to impose liability under Monell, unless proof of the incident includes proof that it was caused by an existing, unconstitutional municipal policy, which policy can be attributed to a municipal policymaker.”

The District argued that inadequate training cannot amount to a custom or policy giving rise to liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as required by Monell and that even if it could, the Parkers’ proof does not support a finding of such custom or policy. The Court of Appeals disagreed and held that “this case does not involve a single incident that gives rise to an inference of inadequate training. It involves a sad series of mishaps linked to a policy of sorely deficient training, supervision and discipline.”                   

The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s conclusion that “liability may be imposed on a municipality upon a showing of ‘deliberate indifference’ exhibited by a pattern of inadequate training, supervision, and discipline of police officers provided that there is a causal connection between such inadequacies and the risk of harm to others.”         

The court also said, “The incidents giving rise to the case at bar present the requisite ‘fully packed’ scenario. Inadequately trained officers in terms of both arrest procedure and physical aptitude committed a series of mistakes resulting in serious injuries to an innocent man. There were no consequent sanctions or even reprimands. From these facts, a clear pattern of inadequate police training and discipline emerges.”

 The Court of Appeals spent a significant amount of time discussing evidence on Officer Hayes’ general physical training and, specifically, his disarmament training. The Court of Appeals concluded that it illustrated the District’s deliberate indifference to adequate training. Expert testimony suggested that Hayes could have subdued Parker without use of deadly force. Hayes’ failure to do so evidenced a serious deficiency in the officer’s training program.

This decision brings to mind of two recent cases where the police fired their guns at people they thought would do them harm.      

Michael Brown was unarmed and yet Officer Daren Wilson of the Ferguson Police shot him dead as Brown was running towards him. He could have shot him in the leg or shoulder but instead he shot him in the chest and in the head so that he could kill him. The indifference on the part of the police was that they left Brown’s body on the road for hours while his mother looked on before they removed the young man’s body. That inaction on the part of the police was really unnecessary.

Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy in Cleveland was fatally shot by police officer Tim Loehmann after he saw the boy brandishing a hand gun that turned out to be a replica toy gun. The officer called to the playground outside a city recreation center saw the pistol sitting on a table or bench, and watched the boy grab it and put it in his waistband, An officer fired twice into the boy’s abdomen within seconds after the boy pulled the fake weapon from his waistband  (which shoots nonlethal plastic projectiles) that was lacking the orange safety indicator usually found on the muzzle from his waistband but had not pointed it at police. The boy did not make any verbal threats but grabbed the replica handgun after being told to raise his hands.

Unfortunately, the 911 operator failed to inform the police that the boy’s gun was probably a fake gun.

As Tamir Rice's 14-year-old sister rushed to her brother's side upon learning he'd been shot, police officers tackled her, handcuffed her and placed her in a squad car with the Cleveland officer who shot Tamir. Samaria Rice, was threatened with arrest herself as she "went charging and yelling at police" because they wouldn't let her run to her son's aid.

The conduct on the part of those two police offers on the scene is the epitome of indifference.

Where in these police departments does it say in their training that bodies of persons killed by the police must be left there they fell and remain there for hours in view of their parents and friends? Where does it say in their training that mothers of dying children can’t be next to their dying child?

“The treatment of the family is unacceptable,” said Councilman Jeffrey Johnson, who appeared alongside the family at the news conference. “It just shows the lack of training when we shackle a grieving sister, threaten a grieving mother and not even take care of a child lying on the ground.”

The family says Loehmann and Garmback "refused to provide any medical attention to Tamir for at least four minutes as he lay on the ground alive and bleeding. Cleveland police Chief Calvin Williams has previously said that four minutes after Tamir was shot, a detective and FBI agent arrived and the FBI agent administered first aid. Paramedics arrived three minutes later.  

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the officers are a first-year rookie and a 10-year department veteran. Both men should have re-acted differently. The paper said that they police should have tasered the boy instead of shooting him in his chest. Young boys playing with replica guns are commonplace in America and police are expected to approach them safely if an investigation is warranted, not shoot them dead within two seconds after they leave the squad car. 

The officer who shot the boy was Officer Tim Loehmann (the rookie) who later said that he believed the boy had a real firearm. The officer's father has said his son had no other choice. His father neglect to mention that police supervisors in the Independence Police Department decided that Loehmann lacked the maturity needed to work in their department. Loehmann resigned in December 2012 after meeting with his supervisors about their concerns.  Apparently, he displayed a pattern of a lack of discretion and not following instructions. He had been with the Independence police force for only six months. He later joined the Cleveland police which obviously either didn’t do a pre-employment search or did but didn’t care that such an officer wanted to join their police force.  Now they may be regretting having hired him.

The U.S. Justice Department released findings recently from a nearly two-year investigation of Cleveland police, which found its officers use excessive and unnecessary force far too often.

When a call came in about a boy waving a handgun, which he said was probably a fake gun, the 911 responder twice asked whether the boy was black or white before dispatching officers. Was it racism that prompted that question?

The Cleveland case is similar to one last year in northern California. In that case, prosecutors didn't file criminal charges against a sheriff's deputy who shot and killed a 13-year-old boy carrying a pellet gun the officer mistook for an assault rifle. 

On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner died in the Tompkinsville neighborhood of Staten Island, New York, after a police officer put him in an apparent chokehold for about 19 seconds—a tactic banned by the New York City Police Department (NYPD).

Garner was initially approached by Officer Justin Damico on suspicion of selling "loosies", single cigarettes from packs without tax stamps. Garner expressed to the police that he was tired of being harassed and that he was not selling cigarettes.

Officers on the scene made the move to arrest Garner. Officer Daniel Pantaleo, also on scene, put his arms around the much taller Garner's neck, applying an apparent choke hold shown in a video recording of the event, which has since gone viral. While lying face down on the sidewalk surrounded by four officers, Garner is heard repeating "I can't breathe" 11 times. 

Whisper it in my ear that none of the officers heard the suffocated man crying out, “I can’t breath.” They were indifferent to his pleas.

According to Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, an ambulance was immediately called to the scene and Garner was transported to Richmond University Medical Center. He went into cardiac arrest while he was in the vehicle and was pronounced dead approximately one hour later at the hospital

After the incident, city medical examiners concluded that Garner was killed by neck compression from the apparent choke hold, along with "the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police". Contributing factors included bronchial asthma, heart disease, obesity, and hypertensive cardiovascular disease.

Did the police department neglect to inform its officers that neck holds and compressions against the chest will bring about death by suffocation? If they did, then were these officers in the Eric Garner incident completely ignorant of the mandate or alternatively, indifferent to the serious consequences that will take place for the person they are applying such force upon? 

I don’t think I am being facetious when I suggest that signs should be posted on the streets that read; WARNING: DANGEROUS POLICE OFFICERS ROAMING THE STREETS.  Hey. Some of those officers are as dangerous as gun-carrying criminals.  Run from them if you can but if you are too close to them to escape, then lay flat on your belly with hands behind your back and cry out in a whimpering voice, “Please don’t shoot me.” With luck, the officer may not shoot you. But don’t twitch because if you do, your luck will run out. 

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