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Alameda County arraignments head back to Oakland

Alameda County arraignments head back to Oakland

Just ten weeks after Alameda County officials moved all in-custody arraignments to a new courthouse in Dublin, California, the controversial experiment came to an end. Court officials announced this week that arraignments would move back to an Oakland courthouse on September 25.

The initial move to Dublin’s East County Hall of Justice sparked outrage from public defenders and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods told In Justice Today that the move 30 miles outside of Oakland was a “nightmare.”

The inconvenient location made it difficult, if not impossible, for many family members of Woods’ clients to attend arraignments, because of both the time the trip took and the additional cost. The layout of the new courthouse also made public defenders’ work challenging, with few private spaces for lawyers to counsel their clients.

Court officials didn’t specify why they chose to move arraignments back to Oakland, according to the East Bay Times.

Allegations of police corruption in Chicago present a big opportunity for Kim Foxx

Who is she accountable to?

Chicago residents protesting a police shooting.

Allegations of police corruption in Chicago present a big opportunity for Kim Foxx

Who is she accountable to?

Four years after former Chicago Sgt. Ronald Watts pleaded guilty to stealing from an undercover officer, 15 people whose cases were linked to the crooked cop are banding together to fight their convictions. The group recently filed a court petition alleging that Watts played dirty when working on their cases, and that their convictions should be overturned. During a news conference last week, the petitioners’ attorney also said Watts’ known history of corruption calls into question the integrity of all the cases he previously worked on.

Petitioner Lionel White Jr. claims he was convicted after Watts planted drugs on body. He says he was framed a few months after his father filed a complaint against Watts for similar abuses of power. The 14 other petitioners made similar allegations about Watts, who patrolled a public housing complex for years and was reportedly notorious for corruption, according to the Chicago Tribune. In addition to stealing money from a federal informant posing as a drug courier in 2012 — a crime for which he spent 18 months in prison — Watts was known for taking money from drug dealers in exchange for “protecting them.”

The petitioners’ attorney, Joshua Tepfer, argues that this systemic corruption cannot be ignored. “There’s no way to separate the wheat from the chaff,” he said during last week’s news conference. “This is a credibility contest. Who do we believe, the police officers, or these citizens?” Tepfer also noted that people who have spoken out against Watts in the past have been retaliated against.

The 15 petitioners are not the first to challenge their cases due to Watts’ misconduct. At least five other people arrested by Watts and his team of officers have had their convictions tossed out, including White’s fatherTwo of the convictions were overturned this year, at the urging of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, whose first term as the county’s top prosecutor began in December. But with so many cases at stake, the latest petition gives Foxx an opportunity to make a big statement about police corruption in a city where shady police dealings are the norm. It also presents an opportunity for the newcomer to show who she is accountable to: the police or the communities they have historically abused.

From the Guardian’s investigation of police black site Homan Square to local reporting on Laquan McDonald and other victims of police violence, there is no shortage of stories about systemic police abuse and misconduct in Chicago. Nevertheless, egregious police behavior has largely been swept under the rug by the city’s top brass, including Foxx’s predecessor, Anita Alvarez. Not only did Alvarez wait more than a year to charge McDonald’s shooter — a decision made when the city was court ordered to release video of the shooting — but she failed to charge officers responsible for the deaths of 68 people. She undercharged the officer who fatally shot Rekia Boyd, and prosecuted a woman who filed a complaint against officers for sexual harassment. But her actions were also par for the course. As Black Lives Matter activists and journalists have repeatedly pointed out — most recently in response to the Jason Stockley’s acquittal in St. Louis — cops are rarely charged for extrajudicial killings. When officers are prosecuted, they are rarely convicted.

It is the exception, not the rule, when prosecutors choose to hold officers accountable.

As a state’s attorney candidate, Foxx, who previously served as an assistant attorney under Alvarez, promised change. She was highly critical of Alvarez’ handling of the McDonald case, and acknowledged the conflict of interest that exists when prosecutors have to police the police. “To fix that system, and to begin to build public trust in it, we must acknowledge the fact that the Cook County state’s attorney’s office relies heavily on police officers as witnesses and critical sources of information for most of the cases it prosecutes,” she wrote during her candidacy.

As State’s Attorney, Foxx was also committed to reforming the office’s Conviction Integrity Unit early on. In December, she said that the unit had been “compromised” and hired a law professor to design a better system — a move she described as a “top priority.” In May, she tapped a long-time trial lawyer to lead the unit, applauding his “sound judgment, exemplary reputation, and thoughtful and thorough approach.” Since the start of Foxx’s leadership, the office has overturned at least five convictions, including the two cases linked to Watts. Having run on a progressive platform that emphasized officer accountability, overturning 15 convictions could send an even clearer message that corruption — when identified — will not be tolerated.

But it is also a pivotal opportunity for Foxx to make a statement regarding who she is bound to serve: law enforcement or the people who got her elected.

Foxx belongs to a growing group of district and state attorneys elected because they are critical of outdated tough-on-crime policies that have, historically, led to the over-criminalization of Black and Latinx communities. Those communities saw Foxx as a potential game-changer. They launched a massive grassroots campaign, steered by Black Lives Matter activists and Assata’s Daughters, that aimed not only to elect her, but also to oust Alvarez, who had targeted them and protected cops at their expense.

The more Foxx does to right past wrongs within the law enforcement community — even if that could sully her relationship with the police she collaborates with —indicates that she feels obligated to fulfill her pledge to the people who put her in office. It says that prosecuting officers and acknowledging their abuses of power should be the rule, not the exception.

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Ex-DA faces suspension after failing to disclose that cop planted evidence in murder case

Kenosha County Courthouse

Ex-DA faces suspension after failing to disclose that cop planted evidence in murder case

An 85-page report filed with the Wisconsin Supreme Court by retired Circuit Judge Dennis Flynn found that former Kenosha County District Attorney Robert Zapf committed multiple instances of professional misconduct — and that Zapf deserves to be suspended from practicing law and prohibited from ever again being a prosecutor.

The violations go back to to Zapf’s conduct when he was prosecuting Markese Tibbs and Joseph-Jamal Brantly for the murder of Anthony Edwards. Although Zapf had a duty to disclose Kenosha Officer Kyle Baars’ misconduct — which involved planting a .22 caliber bullet and Tibbs’ ID card at a house that was searched as part of the investigation — he did not promptly share the information. In fact, Zapf went so far as to keep Baars on the prosecution’s witness list despite knowing that Baars had resigned as a result of his flagrant misdeeds.

Baars did not testify at trial, although another police officer testified about finding the ID card and bullet, and photos of both were shown the jury with no mention that Baars had planted them.

Zapf only disclosed the information when Brantly’s criminal trial was almost over. By that point, Tibbs had already cut a deal and agreed to testify against Brantly.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Only after the defense had rested did Zapf tell the judge there were problems with that evidence, and that Baars had resigned.”

Despite protestations by defense counsel that the misconduct justified a mistrial, the trial court denied their motion.

Brantley was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison. Tibbs was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

The Wisconsin Office of Lawyer Regulation later filed three counts against Zapf.

Zapf sought to defend himself by claiming that “the evidence planting information was not relevant, material or exculpatory.” Zapf also asserted that he only had to disclose written reports about misconduct, and because he learned about Baars’ “planting” and subsequent resignation orally (from, among others, the Chief of Police), he somehow did not have an affirmative duty to share the information with the defense.

Flynn flatly rejected Zapf’s excuses.

“The extraordinary evidence of a KPD officer planting evidence in a homicide case and then subsequently resigning because of that misconduct was exculpatory evidence in and of itself,” Flynn wrote. “This is so whether the planted evidence is determined to be relevant or not in the case.”

Flynn also emphasized that the role of prosecutors is to ensure “that justice shall be done,” and noted that the Mission Statement for the Kenosha County District Attorney’s Office that prosecuted Tibbs and Brantley says, in part:

… It is important to keep in mind that the District Attorney is the gatekeeper to the criminal justice system. As such, his job is not merely to obtain convictions but to seek justice.

Flynn also dismissed Zapf’s argument that the strength of other evidence against Tibbs and Brantly somehow lessened the degree of his responsibility and ultimate wrongdoing:

The law presumes honesty and integrity by those who make gatekeeping decisions regarding the production of exculpatory evidence. … Respondent confused his belief in the strength of his case and the guilt of the persons he charged with crimes with the right those persons have to fundamental fairness in the trial process.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court, which appointed Flynn as a “referee” to gather evidence, conduct hearings, and offer his recommendations, will make the final decision on Zapf’s culpability and punishment. According to the Wisconsin Courts System, “The Supreme Court reviews referee reports and independently determines whether to accept the referee’s recommendation.”

Baars, the officer involved, eventually pleaded guilty to felony misconduct and was sentenced to a year of probation.

Zapf chose not to seek reelection as Kenosha County District Attorney in 2016.

Thanks to Jake Sussman.

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