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As Incidents of Police Misconduct and Abuse Pile up Nationwide, Justice for their Victims Remains Fleeting

Officer Marco Becerra

As Incidents of Police Misconduct and Abuse Pile up Nationwide, Justice for their Victims Remains Fleeting

A staggering 1,094 people have been killed by American police so far in 2017. At the current pace, this will make 2017 the second deadliest year ever measured for police violence. As I’ve said many times here, and across the country, most Americans can’t name a single victim. Trump has all but sucked the wind out of the entire news cycle.

The State of Virginia could soon free over 200 inmates after a local newspaper investigated the state’s unfair application of its three-strikes law. Because of the way the law is currently being applied, hundreds of non-violent offenders are serving longer prison sentences than some convicted murderers.

Body camera policies across the country are failing. For police departments that actually took the step toget the cameras, many, including the Denver Police Department, allowofficers to use the footage from their cameras as “cheat sheets” as they write their reports. Because officers are allowed to see the footage before they write their reports, they have the opportunity to explain away what the footage may or may not have caught and create stories around the footage. A better policy would be to require officers to write their reports without access to the footage, then compare the two for accuracy.

It’s not enough to have body cameras — the policies governing them have to be progressive as well.

Activists and organizers in Austin, Texas, and around the country, are smartly targeting the police contracts in their city. Unbeknownst to everyday people, those contracts often go out of their way to protect even the bad apples in local police departments. Because, in most cases, the contracts only come up for renewal every four or five years, the opportunity for local activists to have a say in the negotiations doesn’t come around very often. This process needs to be open and transparent for all to see.

Very few police officers are ever held accountable for even the most egregious shootings and acts of violence. Over the course of this past week, that trend has continued in many cases where families and victims expressed genuine hope for justice.

A Dallas cop who was filmed wrongfully shooting a mentally ill man in the gut was sentenced to just two years of probation. The cop and his partner told multiple lies about the incident and should’ve received hard time.

Another Texas cop fired his gun through the wall of his apartment, critically injuring a sleeping neighbor. He admitted it, but was found not guilty of recklessly shooting a firearm. If the neighbor had accidentally shot the cop while he was sleeping you and I know the neighbor would be jail right now.

In both of those shootings the victims suffered from life-altering injuries, but the cops got off without serving even a day of jail time.

Minnesota, with the family of Philando Castile, is continuing the national trend of refusing to hold the cops accountable criminally while paying out enormous sums of money to those families on the back end.

All over the country police officers continue to be charged with horrific sex crimes. These are all from this past week alone:

A cop from Yuma, Arizona was arrested for raping a woman in San Diego.

A California cop who was charged with three felony counts of statutory rape just resigned. How was he not fired?

A Utah cop was arrested and charged with having sex with an underage boy.

A Connecticut cop was charged with sexually assaulting a juvenile inmate.

A Wisconsin cop was charged with sexual exploitation of a child.

A Hawaii cop was sentenced to jail for soliciting a prostitute.

Shaun King is a writer in residence with the Fair Punishment Project. He is a father, writer, humanitarian, political commentator and activist who lives in Brooklyn. He was previously Senior Justice Writer for the New York Daily News. The views and opinions expressed in this article are Shaun’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Fair Punishment Project.

Tennessee Sheriff Launches ‘Busted Bingo’ To Round Up People With Warrants

“Kiss your boyfriend goodbye.”

Sullivan County Sheriff Wayne Anderson, host of Busted Bingo

Tennessee Sheriff Launches ‘Busted Bingo’ To Round Up People With Warrants

“Kiss your boyfriend goodbye.”

The men in black are coming for you.”

So says the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department in Tennessee, which recently announced a game to decide who to round up and jail for outstanding warrants. Entitled Busted Bingo, the game has the look and feel of a typical televised lottery. But instead of money or a tropical vacation, victors are rewarded with an “all-inclusive stay at the Sullivan County Correctional Facility.”

Busted Bingo is hosted by Sheriff Wayne Anderson and posted on YouTube. In episode one, a man with a thick country accent explains the game’s purpose, as an upbeat country theme song blares in the background: simply put, the department has “too many warrants.” In order to pick and choose which ones to enforce, the department created a board with 24 numbered mugshots and Anderson selects a corresponding numbered ball from a spinning wheel. The lucky person’s photograph, birth date, alleged offense, and home address are then plastered on the screen for all to see.

“Girl, you might as well cowgirl up,” Anderson tells the first winner. “Come on in. Kiss your boyfriend goodbye. Give your mama a big hug. ‘Cause if you don’t, we’re gonna come and get ya.”

According to the Herald Courierthe sheriff’s department has over 17,000 warrants — 7,572 of which are active. Anderson considers Busted Bingo an “innovative way” to inform the public and fulfill his statutory duty to serve the warrants.

The first episode of Busted Bingo has amassed more than 38,800 views, and garnered some positive audience feedback. But the game has also sparked outrage among many viewers who consider it unprofessional, reductive, and harmful.

“People do bad things, but making light of their humanity due to those usually small infractions, is far worse,” said one critic on YouTube. “Go arrest who you need to, to keep the community safe, but this kind of trivialization of American justice is just f***ing gross,” said another.

But Anderson is undeterred by the negative comments. “I know some people didn’t like it,” he said. “No matter what you do in this job, you’re always going to have critics. I think it’s going to work out really good.”

In fact, there is no end in sight for the game. The sheriff’s department intends to serve all 24 warrants and then start from scratch.

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Man Declared “Factually Innocent” of Murder is Granted a Full Pardon

The pardon vote removes any “residual stain” on his record.

Man Declared “Factually Innocent” of Murder is Granted a Full Pardon

The pardon vote removes any “residual stain” on his record.

A Nevada man who spent 21 years in prison has been pardoned over the objections of Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson.

Fred Steese was convicted in 1995 of the 1992 murder of Gerard Soules, a former trapeze artist who performed a poodle act at the Circus Circus Casino in Las Vegas. Steese, who had briefly been Soules’ assistant and lover, was in Idaho when the murder occurred. But prosecutors argued his look-alike brother was actually in Idaho while Fred Steese killed Soules in Las Vegas.

Steese and his brother, Robert, had been estranged for years and prosecutors never brought Robert Steese into the courtroom or showed jurors a picture of him. Nonetheless, after deliberating for two days, the jury convicted Steese.

The two prosecutors who secured the conviction against Steese are now judges.

In 2012, federal public defenders filed motions to throw out the convictions after discovering evidence in the prosecutors’ files that Steese hadn’t been in Nevada during the days before the crime. They also found proof in those files that Robert Steese had been in Texas at the time of the murder, making it impossible for him to have impersonated his brother in Idaho.

That evidence was never handed over to the defense before the original trial. It led a judge to declare Steese “factually innocent,” by ordering the first ever “Order of Actual Innocence” in Clark County.

“Given everything additional that we now know,” Judge Elissa Cadish noted in her ruling, “I am finding that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt with that evidence.”

But the Clark County District Attorney’s Office continued to insist Steese was guilty and charged him with Soules’ murder again. This led to what Vanity Fair has called “an arcane plea deal,” known as an “Alford plea,” whereby Steese pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to the time he’d already served, while continuing to maintain his innocence. By accepting this deal, Steece remained a convicted felon, and prosecutors did not have to concede they had erred in prosecuting an innocent man. Steece also lost the right to sue the state for wrongful conviction.

“Fred Steese’s case exposed the rot in the system that robbed him of two decades of his life,” wrote Megan Rose in an earlier Vanity Fair story. “Yet even then prosecutors worked to keep it hidden, forcing him into an almost incomprehensible choice: risk freedom to fight for an uncertain exoneration that might take years, or cop to a crime he didn’t commit and walk away.”

Fortunately, Steese’s time as a convicted felon ended earlier this month when the Nevada Board of Pardons Commissioners granted him a full pardon. The Pardon Commission is composed of the seven members of the Nevada Supreme Court, Governor Brian Sandoval and Attorney General Adam Laxalt. Sandoval and all seven members of the Supreme Court voted in favor of the pardon.“Let there be no residual stain on his record,” Nevada Supreme Court Justice Lidia Stiglich stated in supporting the pardon.

Laxalt’s was the sole vote against the pardon. He insisted he did so because the district attorney, Steve Wolfson, believed the pardon to be “absolutely unwarranted.”

Kathy Nasrey, Soules’ sister, told Commissioners at the hearing that she believed Steese was innocent, and deserved to be pardoned. “I am simply here to right a wrong and to restore the life of Mr. Frederick Steese, knowing my brother would want this done.”

Nasrey told Commissioners she had long believed Steese to be guilty and had even written an angry letter after learning that Judge Cadish ruled him “factually innocent.” But, over time, she decided that prosecutors had misled her and that Steese had not committed the murder. She also admitted to struggling with the knowledge that her brother’s actual killer was likely free and would never be held responsible.

Although no one has now officially been found to be responsible for Soules’ death, the Clark County District Attorney’s Office says it considers the murder of Gerald Soules to be a closed case.

Steese struggled to find work after he was released from prison because he had a criminal record, and was homeless for a time. He was eventually hired as a truck driver by a company willing to employ convicted felons.

“I’m a new man now,” Steese said in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal after the pardon was made official. “It’s lifted a black cloud over me.”

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