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Category Archives: Demanding Police Accountability

Cops Who Stop Drivers to Give Them Stuff Are Abusing Their Power And Is Illegal. What Can Happen You Asking.

A white cop walks up to a car he has just stopped and asks the driver, a black woman, “Are you aware of why I pulled you over today?” The puzzled driver replies, “No, sir.” The cop asks her if she is “familiar with Vehicle Code 1739.” She is not, so he explains that “it’s actually against the law to drive on a hot day without an ice cream cone.” The driver laughs, either out of relief or amusement, as the cop hands her an ice cream cone. “Oh, my God!” she says repeatedly, laughing into her hand. She shakes the officer’s hand as he wishes her a nice day.

Since viral videos of cops interacting with motorists usually involve abuses of power such as random searches, money grabs, bogus arrests, or the unjustified, occasionally fatal use of force, this episode, which was recorded in Halifax, Virginia, as part of Police Chief Kevin Lands’ “attempt at developing better relations between police and the communities they serve,” may seem like a refreshing change. But it also involves an abuse of power, albeit one disguised by benign intentions.

First, it’s not clear there was a legal reason for pulling this woman over. WSET, the ABC station in Lynchburg, reports that Halifax police stopped about 20 drivers in one day “to hand out ice cream instead of tickets.” It makes no mention of any traffic violations that might have justified the stops. Neither does the local CBS station. On Lands’ Facebook page, where the video of the laughing motorist has been watched 7.7 million times, he describes the drivers who got ice cream as “speeders,” which suggests cops ended up ignoring violations that supposedly were serious enough to pull people over. The woman in the video does not even get a warning, and there is no mention of any actual legal violation.

Cops have wide latitude to stop vehicles, but that latitude is not unlimited. “When the police pull over a car, that’s a Fourth Amendment ‘seizure’ of the driver, any passengers, and everything inside,” notes George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr at The Volokh Conspiracy. “To justify that seizure, the police need at least some cause either that a driver committed a traffic violation or that a person in the car is involved in a crime or wanted in connection with a serious crime. If the police have that cause, they can stop the car regardless of whether they want to write a ticket, investigate a crime or give the driver an ice cream cone. But the police can’t pull over the car without any cause, even if they want to do something nice, such as give the driver a gift.” Kerr also notes that the “something nice” could easily turn into something not so nice if a gift-bearing cop happens to notice illegal drugs or other evidence of lawbreaking.

The Halifax ice cream stunt reminds me of a program launched last year by the Macomb County, Michigan, sheriff’s office that involved handing out gift cards to teenagers as a reward for good driving. In that case, the stops were clearly unconstitutional, since the teenagers were targeted for driving well—exactly the opposite of a legal justification. Other examples of cops pulling people over to give them stuff ostensibly involve actual traffic violations. In this 2014 video, a police officer in Lowell, Massachusetts, who gives a driver Christmas presents for her kids says he pulled her over for illegally tinted windows. In another video from the same year, a Covington, Louisiana, police officer gives a woman a $100 bill stamped “Secret Santa” after pulling her over, supposedly because she failed to stop completely at an intersection. He adds that giving her the present was “the real reason” for the stop.

The latter two examples would be deemed constitutional under the standard set by the Supreme Court, which says reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation makes a seizure legal even when it is not the real motivation for the stop. But these supposedly heartwarming interactions are still abuses of power. If police would not have stopped drivers for these minor violations unless they had gifts to hand out, they are deliberately inconveniencing people and causing them needless anxiety for the sake of a publicity stunt. The distribution of gifts is beneficent on the face of it, but it is a demeaning kind of beneficence given the inherently unequal relationship between a citizen and an armed agent of the state with the power to forcibly detain him. If someone without a badge (or with a fake one) made people pull their cars over so he could give them ice cream cones, he would be treated as a criminal, and the fact that he was only trying to put smiles on their faces would not be an admissible defense.

National Guard, DEA, State Police Raid 81-yo Cancer Patient’s Organic Garden to “Protect us

Edgartown, MA — In a gross display of wasted taxpayer dollars, dozens of Massachusetts National Guard personnel, operating under a grant from the DEA, alongside Massachusetts State Police, descended into the backyard of an 81-year-old cancer patient in a raid last week — to protect society from the dangers of his four marijuana plants.

Paul Jackson, 81, of Martha’s Vineyard, grows cannabis to make medicine. His plants, along with several other plants, became the target of law enforcement last week in a crackdown on hardened criminals who’d dare to grow a plant that helps them.

Jackson was in his backyard last Tuesday when plainclothes men and a helicopter descended on his property. With no warrant, and without showing identification, these heroes ripped Jackson’s plants from the ground.

“They just come charging through and start cutting it down,” Jackson said in an interview with the MV Times.

According to the MV Times, Mr. Jackson, a lifelong Islander and renowned organic gardener with over 300 ribbons from the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair, expressed both bewilderment and disgust when he spoke to The Times on Friday.

“I told them they don’t know what they’re doing, they’re destroying it and it could be used for good purposes,” he said. “I know because I went through it before. You wrote about it in The Times. I had the article framed, took it out to show them; I said, ‘This is proof of what it does,’ but they didn’t want to hear it.”

As the Times reports, Mr. Jackson was referring to a February 2013 article,” Love, life, and death: A Martha’s Vineyard marijuana story,” in which he described how cannabis tea had helped Mary, his wife of 53 years, through the pain of pancreatic cancer and the ravages of chemotherapy. Mr. Jackson said they forsook the morphine prescribed by her doctors, and substituted cannabis tea for pain management.

“I never ever saw pain in her face,” he said. “She was eating and happy, right up until she died. You had to see it to believe it. People don’t understand it. It’s a beautiful plant and it works beautifully.”

For years, Jackson has been growing this beneficial plant to help his wife, himself, and other friends in the area.

“There’s another fellow I’ve given it to, his wife has cancer bad,” he said. “They mix it with her food and it’s really helping her. Another fellow had a tube down his stomach and his wife would pour [tea] down his tube for the pain. And it worked. At least there’s no damn pain in it. I gave another guy some, he was taking seven different pills a day. I talked to him a month later and he said he’d gotten rid of three of those pills. It works on all kinds of different things.”

However, these poor people will now suffer thanks to the public service provided by the government in their attempts to stamp out this miraculous plant.

While medical marijuana is legal in Massachusetts, to a certain extent, Jackson says he grows his own because it’s far healthier.

“The people that are selling it are using chemicals that react with the chemotherapy,” he said. “Mine is much better because it’s organically grown. I saw it with my own eyes, I couldn’t believe how well it worked.”

In the interview, Jackson noted that he doesn’t smoke the plant and will continue to consume it, in spite of the immoral laws that prohibit it.

“I don’t like smoke and I don’t like dust,” he said. “We just make tea out of it. But if I need to make the tea, I’ve got it. I don’t sell it. I will continue to have a certain amount in case somebody close to me needs it.”

When word began to spread about this embarrassing action to eradicate a beneficial plant, spokesmen from the agencies involved in the raid began denying they had a hand in it.

After their heroic mission to rid Martha’s Vineyard of cannabis, Colonel James Sahady, Public Affairs Officer for the Massachusetts National Guard, said in an email to the Times, “The order was initiated by the DEA and Massachusetts State Police as part of pre-planned eradication missions throughout the year.”

However, Sahady later issued another statement claiming that the DEA was not involved.

On top of the National Guard’s flip-flop, the Times reports:

On Tuesday, two Massachusetts State Police spokesmen checked into the matter and said there was no evidence of State Police involvement. “It was not us,” Officer Tom Ryan told The Times.

In a follow up email received on Thursday, State Police spokesman David Procopio said the operation was initiated by the State Police. “We routinely request the assistance of the National Guard in these operations,” Mr. Procopio said in an email to The Times. “Our Narcotics Inspection Section conducts these operations regularly across the state. We utilize a trained spotter in a helicopter to search for marijuana grow sites. Once one is located, the spotter directs ground units to the plants, which are confiscated and taken by State Police for eventual destruction. These seizures occasionally result in criminal prosecutions, but many times do not, if the plants are seized from rural or wooded areas that can be accessed by many people (as opposed to just growing in some homeowner’s backyard).”

Mr. Procopio said State Police seized 392 plants, “which are slated for destruction as part of our next narcotics burn.”

Although the helicopter was parked at Martha’s Vineyard Airport last Tuesday night, there are no records of landing fees or fuel purchases paid by a government agency, according to airport manager Ann Crook.

“The idea we’re so frivolously spending money on marijuana interdiction, especially now when it’s about to be rolled back, is extremely frustrating. How many books or school lunches could have been bought instead of having these plants ripped up?” Bill Downing, spokesman for MassCan/NORML said to the Times.

Downing’s sentiment is a very real concern as the war on drugs has spent upwards of a trillion taxpayer dollars since its inception. Every one of those dollars spent ruining the lives of otherwise entirely innocent people.

At any one time, 59,300 prisoners charged with or convicted of violating marijuana laws are behind bars. Of those, 17,000 are behind bars for possession ONLY, not trafficking.

Enforcing marijuana laws costs an estimated $10-15 billion in direct costs alone — not to mention the sustained costs of incarceration of the individual who has done nothing to harm anyone. It is estimated that the money spent enforcing useless marijuana laws is double what we spend on education in this country.

Countless lives are ruined every year as the state locks people away or worse, for possessing a plant. The time is now to end this violent ridiculousness before another innocent life is ruined or taken in the name of controlling what people can put in their own bodies.

Dallas Cop Breaks Rank, Says Blacks Wrongly Arrested to Fill Quotas, Warns National Guard May Be Next

Following the murders of five officers in Dallas, the media and public alike lamented that the attack had ironically been perpetrated against ‘one of the most progressive police departments in the nation,’ thanks to Chief David Brown at the helm — but a current Dallas officer has now come forward with allegations much to the contrary.

Officer Nick Novello serves in the Dallas Police Department, and has for 34 years, but the leadership of Chief Brown, the officer says, has been anything but the rosy portrait of unity he paints in public.

In fact, even before the fatal shootings earlier this month, bitterness and animosity over Brown’s leadership decisions have marred morale in the department. Novello accuses Brown of making sweeping choices concerning schedules and more without consulting anyone — and, as a consequence, officers are overworked and underpaid.

But a rather striking accusation tears apart Brown’s supposed outreach to the black community: Novello says distrust of the department by African-Americans has been fueled by a number of wrongful arrests to fill drug and public intoxication quotas.

Brown extended an invitation to black protesters angered over police shootings, saying, “We’re hiring. We’ll give you an application. We’ll help you resolve some of the problems you’re protesting about.

“And we’ll put you in your neighborhood …”

But, as Novello noted in an interview with the Daily Mail, “If he wants them to sign up, he had better stop criminalizing them for things like having small amounts of marijuana.

“Some officers fit people up by arresting them for being intoxicated when they refuse to show their IDs and that leads to a criminal record and difficulties finding a job

“Officers are under pressure to reach targets. There has to be an end to the arrest and ticket quota that exists within the Dallas Police Department.”

He added sharply, “I am sick and tired of the public face of togetherness the chief puts on when he knows there’s a lot of bad feeling behind the scenes.”

Policing for revenue, Novello explained, has rendered the department ineffectual in dealing with issues of greater importance — worse, he feels filling quotas contributes to predatory policing by emboldening officers with power over the people they should be protecting.

“There is a lot of anger out there that we have an inability to police ourselves and we will protect a rogue cop as a police department,” Novello said.

“A lot of the black community are supportive of the police, and that is wonderful, but a large number say police can’t police themselves,” Novello continued. “Not only can’t we police ourselves, we go out of our way to protect the predator cop.

“In my estimation, the quota system is corrupt. You are telling the officer who has a great deal of power that he is required to exercise that and generate funds for the city. Arrests generate money.

“As a beat cop, I see the computer, I see the calls holding, I see the inability to dispatch and deal with real-time needs.”

Beyond ticket and arrest quotas, officers already furious over long hours, low pay, and understaffing became enraged and protested when Brown made sweeping shift changes. Those changes to hundreds of officers’ shifts prompted four police associations — the Black Police Association of Dallas, the Dallas Fraternal Order of Police, the National Latino Law Enforcement Organization’s Dallas chapter, and the Dallas Police Association — to call for Brown’s resignation.

But the chief’s refusal to give up his job only caused resentment among the force to fester.

“We are vastly understaffed,” Novello said. “Last month we lost 48-50 officers, which is unheard of. One officer left to go drive a Coca-Cola truck. Another who was 43 years old retired after 14 years saying, ‘I’m out, I’m out.’ Morale is very low.”

Officers left in droves, in part, due to trauma over the slaughter of five of Novello’s colleagues. Keeping the DPD sufficiently staffed, Novello warned, has become a matter of grave importance — without enough cops in the department, “the only viable solution would be that we embrace the assistance of the National Guard or some federal agency to help police the streets of Dallas,” though, obviously, that “would be very unpalatable because it would mean the loss of state, city sovereignty.

“As a police officer, I can look you in the eye and say, ‘We have got your back, we are out there patrolling’ … but no, we are not. I can recall a number of days when I went to detail in the morning and there might have been seven of us there and after they put officers on special assignment, there was one or two police officers for the whole district.”

Despite the veteran cop’s criticisms of his chief, he emphasized he doesn’t want to “besmirch the man and I have nothing personal against him. I harbor no anger at him […] But I have no confidence in the man at all. He is very dictatorial. He is not open to questions. It is his show.”

Brown, as the Daily Mail noted, has boasted about lowered rates of homicide and violent crime in Dallas in recent years — in fact, 2015 marked the 12th consecutive reduction in crime and a low homicide rate not seen since 1930. But Novello said Brown was just “grandstanding. He knows it is all about public perception.”

Rank-and-file officers, Novello explained, do a fantastic job and aren’t part of his critique of the department, but as for the problems directly affecting the force,

“I believe the public has a right to know. A real right to know and not just receive managed information.”

As for whether he had concerns about whistleblowing, Novello said being honest about what’s actually going on behind the scenes has greater importance than even his keeping the job. Were he to be terminated for speaking out, Novello said,

“I believe it would give me a platform to speak. Anything I speak about … I can prove everything I say.”

Quotas of varying types — whether by race, as what another whistleblower cop from the NYPD alleged and caught on tape, or by type of offense, as described by Novello — undoubtedly drive the issues of police violence and systemic racism through profiling. As The Free Thought Project reported previously, Philando Castile — the black man shot by an officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota — had been pulled over a whopping 52 times by officers prior to his killing. As the Washington Post noted, these stops — all non-violent, non-criminal ‘offenses’ — had generated $6,588 in fines and fees for the city from one man.

Policing in the U.S. now revolves around revenue-generation, and until that changes — and these official and unofficial quota systems with it — the cycle of violence and resentment will inevitably continue.

Sheriff Pulls Gun On A Jack In The Box Employee Burger Was Taking To Long? WTF?

Santa Clara, CA — A video was anonymously posted online this week showing a Santa Clara County Sheriff’s deputy involved in a standoff with police after he decided to pull his gun on a Jack in the Box employee.

Benjamin Lee, 33, was arrested about 2:40 a.m. earlier this year after he drunkenly drove into the Jack in the Box order line and apparently thought his status as a cop could speed up his service.

According to witnesses, Lee became very frustrated that the drive-through line was taking so long. When he finally reached the window to order his food, he pulled out his gun instead of his wallet.

Naturally fearing for their lives when assaulted with a deadly weapon by a cop, the employees called 9-1-1. Lee, obviously thinking he did nothing wrong or feeling that he was above the law, sat and waited for his food.

However, before Lee’s food would arrive, officers with the Santa Clara police department would show up.

When officers arrived, a tense standoff ensued as they pinned their AR-15s on Lee’s car and his passengers. Eventually, however, police would take them in without incident. Anyone else accused of the same crime would likely have experienced a deadly fate.

Lee was arrested on suspicion of DUI and brandishing a weapon. When the vice president of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, Roger Winslow, released a statement on the incident, he conveniently failed to mention the assault with a deadly weapon.

“Our deputies make arrests for these crimes regularly. They see firsthand the consequences caused by impaired drivers,” Winslow said. “DUI by anyone is unacceptable; doubly so when it involves a deputy sheriff. We are held to a higher standard and rightly so.”

He then cautioned the public not to rush to judgment.

“We fully expect that appropriate action will be taken after all the facts are determined,” he said.

However, it is unclear if any ‘appropriate action’ has been taken. Following his arrest, Lee was placed on paid vacation, also known as administrative leave.

The Free Thought Project contacted the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Department to inquire about Lee’s status, but they did not comment on his status or charges. It can be assumed that this officer, drunk on his perceived authority and alcohol — who threatened the lives of fast food employees with a gun for not making his burger fast enough — is still receiving a taxpayer funded paycheck.

Police officers pulling guns on food workers in not uncommon. After this incident happened in January, the Free Thought Project was given a video by a Pizza delivery driver who was held at gunpoint by a cop and nearly killed while delivering pizza.

In 2014, officer Scott Biumi pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to 10 years probation for pointing a gun at teenagers in the drive-through line at a McDonald’s.

Also in 2014, Tuscon Police Officer, Kyle James McCartin, was drunk and belligerent when he walked into a Giant Gas Station wearing his bulletproof vest and began pointing his pistol at the clerk.

For assaulting innocent people with deadly weapons, none of the officers mentioned above spent a single day in jail.