Police Misconduct and Public Accountability

Police Misconduct Public AccountabilityWhy is it difficult to prosecute police officers for criminal misconduct even when the abuse is severe and unequivocal?

A news item from WSVN-TV in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale points to one reason:

A homeless man’s attorney said surveillance video shows deputies used excessive force in his arrest. Gerald McGovern, 58 [said he] did not attack them, as charged. Instead, they attacked him. The public defender’s office said the surveillance video clears McGovern and implicates BSO [Broward Sheriff’s Office]. . . . A witness, Roberto Aguilara, backed up McGovern’s claim.

Note the omission. The news report names the alleged victim, the witness, and (elsewhere) the lawyer but not the accused deputies. Nor do their names appear in subsequent stories about an official investigation into allegations that the deputies used excessive force.

Few people outside law enforcement are familiar with Police Disclosure Laws (PDLs), which in most states, including Florida, block the release of information about an officer’s alleged misconduct until internal investigations are completed. Even then, the laws are often broadly interpreted to block such release. Some states do not make information public unless criminal charges are filed or the officer is dismissed. Other states leave the issue entirely to the police department’s discretion.

The declared purpose of restrictive PDLs is to protect accused officers. With sympathetic courts ruling in favor of PDLs, police unions staunchly defend the practice of granting officers more privacy than others who are criminally accused. A news story from the New Orleans Times-Picayune offers a glimpse into the vigor of their defense:

Police unions trying to block news organizations’ access to internal police investigations of New Orleans officers also are waging a campaign in the civil and criminal courts to keep such records out of the hands of the city’s public defender’s office. Steve Singer, general counsel of the Orleans Public Defenders, said his office has filed public records requests for the New Orleans Police Department’s Public Integrity Bureau files of arresting officers in the cases of more than 50 defendants. The office also has sought subpoenas through Criminal District Court to obtain some of these records.

Obstruction of Justice
Critics argue that PDLs obstruct justice. The laws allow police officers to violate rights because they can avoid both transparency and accountability. The laws deny victims information that may be necessary to sue or otherwise press a legal case against officers. And by shielding important aspects of accusations—for example, whether the unnamed officer has been similarly accused in the past—the laws discourage the reporting of police abuse, especially by the media, for whom a significant delay in obtaining information makes a story grow cold. In turn, the lack of coverage encourages the public to believe misconduct is rare; thus those abused by police are doubly victimized by having their accounts dismissed out of hand.

On what legal basis do police departments refuse public access to information on misconduct by their officers?

Almost every state uses the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as a model for its own statutes on the public disclosure of government records. FOIA was intended to give the public a general right of access to information held by government agencies. Nevertheless, the nondisclosure about police misconduct is generally justified by reference to two common exemptions: the “investigative record” and “privacy right” exemptions. The investigative record exemption can be invoked even after an investigation is completed.

Strong arguments can be made against both exemptions.

The Investigative Record Exemption
The police units that investigate accusations of misconduct are called “internal affairs” or something similar. But are such accusations an internal, private matter rather than one of compelling public interest? The question becomes more urgent when the alleged misconduct is criminal or involves the violation of constitutional protections such as the right to due process.

When anyone is given a gun and broad authority to use it in public, that same public needs to know if the gun and the authority are being misused. The public also needs to know the particulars of how abuse accusations are being investigated. For example, has a particular police department established such a high burden of proof that virtually no accusation against an officer can be sustained?

This compelling public interest is usually overridden by the argument that releasing information would have a “chilling effect” on law enforcement. In the essay “The Public’s Right of Access to Police Misconduct Files,” attorney Lynne Wilson comments, “A number of federal courts have seriously questioned the empirical basis for a finding that public disclosure of internal disciplinary files causes a ‘chilling effect’ on law enforcement. One judge said that ‘if the fear of disclosure . . . does have some real effect on officers’ candor, the stronger working hypothesis is that fear of disclosure is more likely to increase candor than to chill it.’”

The Privacy Right Exemption
The police are tax-supported public servants with the authority to violate your privacy rights. As such, officers should expect to receive a public review of their performance while on duty. The intent of the privacy exemption in FOIA is the preservation of “personal” privacy, such as sexual preference, that is not of legitimate concern to the public. But in its use by police departments, the privacy exemption closes off examination of the professional behavior of public servants.

“It would be difficult to imagine a subject-matter of more legitimate concern to the public than how its police departments are managed,” Wilson writes. “At least one state court has held that police officers have no privacy rights in misconduct records because the records, by definition, ‘involve events which occurred in the course of public service . . . matters with which the public has a right to concern itself.’”

In short, on-duty police conduct is not an internal or private matter but one of overriding public concern.

wendy mcelroy

Everyone is vulnerable to police misconduct. Drivers can be arbitrarily pulled over; anyone can be stopped on the street and questioned. If you encounter the police, being “within the law” will not protect you against an overzealous or hostile officer who does not like your attitude. Making officers accountable for their actions is your greatest protection. Police Disclosure Laws are part of what appears to be a continuing attempt by police to avoid accountability.

Wendy McElroy

Wendy McElroy is an author and the editor of ifeminists.com. See her homepage for more information.

Republished with author’s permission from The Freeman Online.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Comments

  1. says

    Free Speech is important because all the posts here involve civil rights abuse and those who complain in real forum are retaliated against. Reporting here knowing that your complaint could be effective in a proper jurisdiction is the act of cowards who only can speak under cover of anonymity.

    You care enough to post here, well you can file suits or complaints with the attorney general and other agencies and make them openly deny your redress, or act upon it and then tell the world!

    The person who posted this story is awakened and enlightened enough to help society. However, most people will not even respond to this because they believe that Obama or a Bush politician will solve problems with America. Both sides of the spectrum are responsible for civil rights violations due to corruption. That is the basis of the argument between libs and cons.

    However, the basis for civil rights violations and corruption is premised upon reality and not a party line goose stepping desire to be those in control of who will deal out the corruption, because posters on this CL web site in Politics prove that they ignore the basis of corruption and the civil right cases that do not develop from postings on CL but actual filings of complaints with due process at proper agencies. This First Amendment exercise is brilliantly capitalized on by malicious officials seeking to down play prima facie examples of officials caught violating civil rights by depriving due process without bias, or what is called “equal protection” under the 14th amendment. Those in power have found that “fixing tickets” can be enhanced to fixing felonies, and covering up graft, and influence peddling. When officials intimidate citizens for complaining about injustice in decisions they make, they must have a rational basis for that decision. The Supreme Court has actually defined the acts to determine “rational basis theory.” So it is easily discerned by looking at facts if the complaint is frivolous. The process to rectify an injustice to prove that officials lack a “rational basis” can cost under $100,000.00 to find out per case. Officials know this and here in the USA it is popular to deny remedial due process, because they have immunity anyway, and the chances they are held liable out way the risk. Ultimately officials accused will claim 11th amendment immunity, or “so what we violated rights, we are immune, and you can not touch us with deterrence!”

    I filed a complaint against a local government for allowing a mental patient arrested on close to a dozen felonies and near ten thousand of dollars of vandalism. There were four separate criminal trials during a year period where this guy was on a rampage, but has a money family and friends who are county officials. The sheriffs and D.A. originally had him in a quarter million dollar bail. But the DA was outvoted and a new one stepped in where witnesses stated in affidavits that the new DA Vern Pierson was to fix this guys felonies, here is a site that explains some of this, ; http://www.eldoradocountymentalhealth.com Eventually, against all odds, every trial was fixed, and after the fact, alleged theft/robbery and murder threats of employees was ignored and the police let him go after calling in the apprehension! This guy was untouchable to innocent victims, under 2 dozen, who were barred due process and “victims bill of rights” that had just been enhanced by voters under a proposition! A Judge James Wagoner found out that some of the crime victims filed a Grand Jury complaints GJ07-007 alleging and providing prima facie evidence of obstruction of justice and covering up police corruption and favoring armed and dangerous mental patients who they allowed to repeatedly threaten witness with murder and assault them. Judge James Wagoner, without jurisdiction reached from his bench and court room, and barred an appointment to testify to a Grand Jury and also signed an order threatening to arrest and sanction crime victims for testifying or complaining to the grand jury. The this violates Stump v. Sparkman precedence which opens this judge up for liability, the Attorney General hired him lawyer and is defending him. It was not known that Wagoner was to be the trial Judge at the time of the complaint. Wagoner openly violated Judicial Canon with bias and conflict of interest by ordering that witnesses who alleged wrong doing that he had influence over would be arrested if they spoke. It is not known if James Wagoner has heard of the First Amendment, though he is an acting Judge. The counsel on Judicial Performance, based on a complaint against Wagoner by his victims, took a “corrective action” against this corrupt judge, but did nothing that was visible as punishment, and he still is on the bench which shows that the Judicial Counsel ratifies the acts of judges who are criminals who obstruct justice and tamper with jury’s.

    You as a citizen can contact the http://www.cjp.ca.gov and make your small complaint regarding this to Cynthia Dorfman who signed the letter of the “corrective actions.” Let them know that you do not approve, or you could be affected later if you have to use their services. Their complaint process is simple and you do not have to be a party according to their rules on file there. Your complaint could be that you do not approve of the State CJP [counsel on judicial performance] ratifying criminal acts by judges. Also I have a document from Robin Seeley of the CJP alleging that Wagoner falsely created a jury instruction to acquit a criminal defendant, by ordering the Jury to believe the criminal defendant was truthful and honest. The man in the above web site is armed to the teeth, and Wagoner in his court rearmed this man illegally, even thought 5 separate restraining orders preventing this was in affect for several more years, and that this man was diagnosed with mental disorder barring gun ownership. Why would a judge do this? We also provided a link from a Mental Health worker, Robert Bloom expressing his frustration that the elected Sheriff and D.A. were covering this up, because he made it clear that they were aware.

    When I contacted my assemblyman Ted Gaines in an interview on the Radio Station KFBK, on air he said he was against the county he represented actions. But instead of helping as he told the public, he ordered CHP he had influence with, to raid my home. Fortunately for me I had guests. They entered, had no warrant; no probable cause, and they were not accusing me of a crime. They had back up of about 8 El Dorado county Sheriffs who assisted them. This was very frightening and we thought they may shoot us! Why so many cops when we did nothing or make no threats to our representatives, and this is recorded on radio archives. They were here to tell me, “you can no longer contact your representatives.” They then left leaving us fearful of our government, but I realized that I have no hope for a future now knowing that I have not constitutional rights. But if I had no guests, what would they have done? And why the expensive show of force just to tell me something that is illegal for them to do. We have since abandoned our home, but continue to pay the mortgage.

    So I continue till the day I die to expose this. We are not imprisoned, but our humanity and lives have been stolen from us by abusive officials, and they lose not a wink of sleep over this.

    When I read stories about this Chinese dissident, I wonder why nobody is reporting our own dissidents such as Richard I. Fine, an attorney who successfully sued L.A. Judges for taking 50,000.00 each for years illegally winning all the cases from the contributors. They jailed him on contempt and held him in prison without bail or a hearing or a criminal charge from the age of 68 to 70, 18 months. He could have died in prison. He did nothing. They released him and allowed the criminal judge who kidnapped this man using tax dollars and official police to do his dirty work to ‘step down.” http://www.google.com/#hl=en&expIds=17259,17291,27213,27615,27868,27886,27927,28066&sugexp=ldymls&xhr=t&q=richard+i+fine+us+political+dissident&cp=37&pf=p&sclient=psy&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=richard+i+fine+us+political+dissident&gs_rfai=&pbx=1&fp=e18ec2db23988f7d Fine lost his home and his business, only because he spoke out against corruption. This is a warning to attorneys who are controlled by the BAR association. Even the name BAR is synonymous with what they are doing. They are barring citizens from effective management to deter corruption.

    I filed a civil suit and found that they keep dismissing my claim allowing me to amend it, but they never address my objections or judicial notice leaving grounds for appeal. Their tactic is to wear down and frustrate complainants. They’ll have to imprison or kill me before I let this go. If there is another country who would accept me, I would gladly leave and let you who do nothing be the next victim. At least in other countries they are not hypocrites who brag about justice for all and democracy. Perhaps some would even have the decency to put me out of my misery! It is intolerable to live like this with this victimization that is not even perpetrated on animals. Fish and Game protect animals better than our own courts protect civil rights! They have misconstrued my case, not out of confusion but out of willful malice, because I object repeatedly and show them their error by case law and statute, yet they have ignored 100% of my objections or judicial notice and written documents that must be Judicially noticed without discretion, proving my claim of abuse of power under the color of law, that denied my constitutional rights due to their vindictive animus. It is as if I am not even a part of my case! They are not hearing my complaint which is unconstitutional!

    Now I have to file another Judicial Counsel complaint, and that worked in state court, and I won a favorable corrective action against Judge James Wagoner by doing so with them but they did nothing to the judge, except tell me they took a corrective action. Perhaps a fine I don’t know, they will not state it, but they said that this will interfere with future appointments, which is better than nothing.

    We will see how dirty the Federal Judicial system is. Judge England gave my case to a Magistrate Brennan but violated law by not gaining my consent, yet he too is above the law and ignored that law as well as many other laws and canon violations. This Brennan Magistrate is a former prosecutor. I am a civil right plaintiff and he is acting with the defense showing vindictive animus to misconstrue my case to non actionable claims, right out in the open. He is protecting his fellow colleagues and he as “absolute judicial immunity for corruption” see Stump v. Sparkman. What prevents him from being honest? Nothing, if he has no conscience! I have my complaint, but they are stating my claims are different as if they counterfeited my complaint with one they created. I found that this is common from a reader on CL who gave me this web site stating this is a trend to frustrate civil right complainants http://www.knowyourcourts.com So what we have here is all over the country right out in the open, Judges are dismissing most claims by refusing the Hear, or more properly stated, willfully barring First Amendment “redress of grievance” by simulating due process, a claim made in our Declaration of Independence they called “judicial tyranny” and “mock trials,” “a right inestimable and formidable to tyrants only.”

    You can also write the Federal CJP at the ninth circuit, but do not call them bad names or insinuate they are crooked, because their guidelines state, that “they will dismiss your complaint if you do. Up front they are barring your reaction to a “grievance.” Thus, If you “redress your Grievance” you cannot act “aggrieved.” If you don’t act aggrieved, you obviously have no grievance? Very clever deception! Isn’t being Aggrieved, a first amendment right? Well the Ninth Circuit in the Judicial Counsel Complaint has openly stated, “your first amendment right to being aggrieved, does not apply in the Ninth Circuit.” So you can see why civil right cases have no chance in the first place. Clinton was right, “it depends on the meaning of is.” Well what is the meaning of Grievance, and does that not include understandable emotional reaction to injustice?

    Most of the posters on craigslist have good intentions. But they do not file complaints in a real forum which takes courage. I don’t know if they are cowards, but I do know that they all blame the other “party” for the problems of the world. Put your money where your mouth is and learn the elements of civil right claims. They are at the Ninth Circuit court web site and they are the jury instructions. Unfortunately the courts do not pay attention to them until by some miracle or bribe they make it that far, but they are clear and show the elements and site precedence that controls courts who are not on the take or against civil liberty. http://207.41.19.15/web/sdocuments.nsf/civ?OpenView&Start=1&Count=250&Expand=11#11

    I urge you posters on CL to write the CJP of that state or federal jurisdiction and complain about what you are reading. If you have questions and need proof of claim, I am sure it can be forwarded to you by the victims. I would provide that evidence myself. I have a written document from the late Senator Dave Cox who acknowledges our local government attempted to induce him into a conspiracy to prevent our redress of grievance by forwarding documents that were fraudulently written to discredit us as criminal defendants which was not true at all. I have many official documents that prove my claim! It is smoking gun and irrefutable, yet I am not being heard! The Sacramento Republican Party investigated this and Helen Bauman’s Secretary Brenda Bailey at the Board of Supervisor D2 in the County admitted the fraud and blamed an elected republican sheriff and D.A. as the ring leaders. The Sheriff has since abandoned his post as elected sheriff, and the Board of Supervisor was barred from a legislature candidate bid, and she was later arrested on unrelated charges. However, their involvement with us has been covered up as high as the State Attorney General, now Governor who told us to file these complaints and follow procedure up the chain of command and then was influenced peddled and violated and ignored Civ.Cod.Proc. 52.3 intervention. Your tax dollars buy you nothing if you are disfavored as a civil right victim. They protect the rights of perpetrator officials and cover up what they did, right out in the open, and if anybody would investigate, you would have no problem finding a prima facie case do to the overt callousness of these confident officials who know they are protected and act with vindictive animus malice. The problem is that investigators have to stick their necks out and scrutinize possible future employers. This will ruin a career, and nobody in high places wants somebody on their team that will report their indiscretions. A job in civil service internal affairs requires sell out personalities who can sleep while turning a blind eye! Shame on you!

    I urge CL posters to stop blogging or complaining to thin air, which does nothing to stop local corruption. Those locals eventually learn at low levels, how to play the ruthless corruption game. Your inaction allows them to move on. Ted Gaines for instance is now a Senator! He is a criminal constituent who molests their civil rights! The press is silent and allows this. CL and other web blogs is the only ear for an audience, and some of you must act and write complaints to the CJP which is your right, and you don’t have to be a party to the acts to complaint.

    Find a case such as mine or other case you have empathy for and write on their behalf after a bit of due diligence on your part. You would be surprised at the benefit you will receive. So far I know one person who has destroyed a few careers due to helping us, and this came by accident I’m sure. But the world is a better place, though the effect is miniscule, others will not face the officials who are now black listed! Get on the band wagon where real results can adorn your scrap books!

  2. garry walsh says

    Stormtrooper/thugs get paid more per year than their IQ’s for a reason: to keep the polulation under the thumb of your corporate rulers. Do u think these thugs would get punished for doing just that? In Aamerican jpolice forces fear is a hugh component of population control. In Canada our Toronto and Ontario police thugs ran amuck at the G-20. The Toronto police chief/thug is in serious trouble for breaking the law. Heads will roll.There is serious political ramifications (it may cost our Prime Minister his job) Its so nice to live in a democracy. I live in a city where police are polite and seek public co-operation (Vancouver. BC) The previous thug/police chief has been replaced with a wise and able man whos influence as spread thru the ranks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *