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Free Meek Mill, Philly cops panic over their new DA, LAPD caught planting drugs, 14 year old boy killed on reservation

In Justice Roundup is my weekly debrief rounding up the justice news you need to know.

Free Meek Mill, Philly cops panic over their new DA, LAPD caught planting drugs, 14 year old boy killed on reservation

In Justice Roundup is my weekly debrief rounding up the justice news you need to know.

Rallies & petitions grow for the rapper Meek Mill

I want to preface what I’m about to say by first making it clear that I’m not a Meek Mill fan. I couldn’t name even one song the rapper has ever performed. I said that to say that I am not writing this from the position of a fan, but as an advocate.

What the courts are doing to him right now is absolutely wrong. If you missed it, he was recently sentenced to 2–4 years in prison for violating his parole — which he’s been on for over a decade.

First, allow Van Jones to explain what he did to violate his parole

That’s right — he was literally given a ticket for popping a wheelie on a dirt bike in Harlem. And because that citation violated his parole, he is now being sent to prison.

That’s bogus. It’s a waste of resources and a gross overreach of the criminal justice system. Toward that end, rallies and petitions on his behalf are springing up everywhere. What’s happening to Meek Mill right now is absolutely indicative of just how ugly this system is to everyday people all of the time. We’re just hearing about Meek because he’s famous.

Philadelphia police officers caught threatening newly elected DA Larry Krasner online

Longtime civil rights attorney Larry Krasner was recently elected as the new District Attorney of Philadelphia with nearly 75% of the vote — a resounding mandate in his hometown. People there, and all over the country, want real reforms and Krasner ran on this message.

That’s partly why it is so disturbing that multiple Philadelphia police officers were discovered on Facebook stating that they would not honor him as their DA. Some went so far as to say they wanted to “bitch slap” Krasner.

These officers should at least be suspended for their actions and some should be fired.

Of course Krasner kept the high road. His spokesperson, Ben Waxman, released this statement,

“Larry has said repeatedly that he is excited to work with the good officers of the Philadelphia Police Department, which he believes are the overwhelmingly majority,” Waxman said in an email. “He already works closely with many in the department, including Commissioner Ross and the previous two commissioners. Larry also benefited during the campaign from the endorsement of the Guardian Civic League, an organization of African American police officers. He looks forward to working with the PPD and other law enforcement agencies to ensure the fair application of justice for all people.”

Police reforms in Chicago take one step forward and two steps back

You’d be hard pressed to find people who’ve worked more to create substantive criminal justice reforms than the people of Chicago. That’s partly why it’s so damn disappointing to see what’s happening there. This September the city opened the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) and many across the country are studying it as a model to perhaps duplicate. Unfortunately, because of fine print in the legislation that created the office, not a single report it has created over the past three months has been published — not one.

As it turns out, the newly created system is even less transparent than the old one — and now it could be months, or even years, before the first reports are released. According to Pro Publica, “Under the new ordinance, COPA is barred from posting its investigative reports — and any disagreement or pushback from the Police Department — until the review process has been completed and the officer is notified of the discipline. There is no deadline for that last step.”

To be frank, this needs to be fixed. It needs to go back before the people and be repaired — or people are going to lose complete trust in the new system.

Deputy of the Year charged with sexually abusing children going on trial

As you have no doubt heard, Senate candidate Roy Moore, twice ousted as the head of the Alabama Supreme Court, has been accused of sexually abusing minors. Two NYPD officers were just fired for sexually assaulting a teenager. Kenneth Hatch, once awarded with Deputy of the Year honors in Maine, is now going on trial for 22 different criminal counts around the repeated sexual assault of several different 14 & 15 year old girls.

If men like Kenneth Hatch and Roy Moore continue to get away with such crimes, the lesson it teaches our nation is that children simply are not protected by law from the sexual abuse or horrible men in power.

Outside of Sacramento, Marysville Police Chief Aaron Easton hastily resignedafter it was revealed that he is being investigated for the sexual assault of a young cadet. Again, though, the question comes down to why wasn’t this man fired and will he be held accountable for his actions?

It appears an LAPD officer was filmed planting drugs on someone

Just watch the whole report for yourself:

Jason Pero was just a boy. Known as a sweet, kind-hearted, teddy bear of a child, the 14 year old 8th grader who lived on a Northern Wisconsin reservation was shot and killed by police.

The deputy who shot and killed Pero was not injured. Family members and local leaders are demanding answers. State officials have claimed a knife was recovered from the scene, but family members have raised doubts about it even belonging to him.

What we do know is that a sweet boy is dead and that the officer who shot and killed him would’ve likely found a way to avoid using lethal force in most other developed countries.

Juror Misconduct May Lead to Dismissal of Murder Conviction in Orange County

Juror Misconduct May Lead to Dismissal of Murder Conviction in Orange County

An Orange County, California murder conviction may be thrown out because of juror misconduct. But the office of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas opposes the motion to dismiss, insisting the conviction is valid.

According to R. Scott Moxley at OC Weekly, a juror who helped to convict Eric Ortiz of the 2006 murder of Emeterio Adame earlier this year provided defense investigator Nicole Busse with startling new revelations about deliberations during that case. She claimed that several jurors assured those wavering about a conviction “not to worry” because an appeals court would correct any erroneous decisions made by the jury. Jurors are not allowed to factor in potential future appeal decisions when deliberating.

The individual, identified only as Juror 173, also admitted to conducting her own investigation into the credibility of a defense witness during the trial, another action forbidden by California law. However, this juror then refused to sign an affidavit admitting what she’d done. She asked Busse to rewrite the affidavit to state — falsely — she conducted her investigation post-trial.

Defense attorney Rudy Loewenstein has filed a motion to throw out Ortiz’ conviction, based on the juror’s behavior. According to that motion, the juror told Busse she would lie under oath if asked about her behavior. The motion reads, in part, “This indicates [the juror] is aware that her behavior compromised the integrity of the trial and the sanctity of the jury’s deliberations.”

The juror later took the stand and invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked whether Busse’s claims were true.

Despite these problems with the trial, Rackauckas has stood by the conviction, and aggressively opposed the motion to dismiss. According to Moxley’s article, prosecutors questioned Busse’s credibility, going so far as to interrogate her at her family’s vacation home and to pose personal questions unrelated to the case.

A judge has not yet ruled on the motion.

This was Ortiz’ second conviction, and third trial, for the murder. His case has been plagued with accusations of prosecutorial misconduct from the beginning. His first conviction, in 2014, was challenged after allegations emerged that police and prosecutors illegally placed him in a cell next to an informant in order to obtain incriminating statements. Four deputies refused to testify at a hearing, citing their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, prompting the judge to overturn the verdict. A second trial, in 2016, resulted in a hung jury.

During a third trial in early 2017, Ortiz was convicted of second degree murder. However, he was acquitted of the murder charge of a second man, Benjamin Lopez. During the first trial, he had been convicted of this murder.

Ortiz is currently awaiting sentencing.

As In Justice Today previously reported, Rackauckas’ office has recently been beset by other scandals. Earlier this year, his office was removed from the death penalty prosecution of Scott Dekraai because it failed to turn over evidence to the defense. Several of his investigators have accused the District Attorney of planting snitches in the county jail, interfering in multiple investigations and engaging in cover ups of police misconduct.

A special committee that Rackauckas set up to investigate these charges cited a “win at all costs mentality” among some of the line prosecutors and an overall “failure of leadership.”

These accusations have damaged his standing with the public. Rackauckas already faces one declared challenger in his 2018 re-election bid.

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Commentary: Cy Vance was Re-Elected. Here are Some Ways You Can Hold him Accountable.

Wikimedia Commons user Saffie 55

Commentary: Cy Vance was Re-Elected. Here are Some Ways You Can Hold him Accountable.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance was re-elected last week, an unsurprising twist given that his was the only name on the ballot. In fact, given the lack of official options, Vance’s victory was not so impressive. He still managed to garner only 90% of the vote — almost 20,000 people decided to write-in a candidate rather than vote for him. (Many of the write-ins were for last-minute progressive candidate Marc Fleidner.)

Vance has been roundly criticized lately for not prosecuting Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr., for fraud in 2012. He’s also been criticized for not prosecuting Harvey Weinstein for sexual assault when given the opportunity. But, as I wrote recently in the New York Times, the real problem with Cy Vance is not what he fails to prosecute, but what he does.

Now that he’s officially in office another four years, voters, organizers, and grassroots groups have the opportunity to hold Vance’s feet to the fire. He has quite a well-resourced office, and in 2015 received $808 million from forfeited assets of international banks he prosecuted, giving him the potential to do some major things. Here are just three of the reforms he could focus on.

Reduce Rikers’ Manhattan Population

Manhattan is ranked first in Rikers’ admissions compared to other boroughs, but only third in population. Although Manhattan has approximately 1.6 million residents compared to Brooklyn’s 2.6 million, Brooklyn manages to send 23% less people to Rikers. Most of Manhattan’s disproportionate admissions are because Vance’s office sends significantly more people to jail for non-violent felonies and misdemeanors. About 80% of the defendants incarcerated at Rikers, which has been referred to as “torture island,” have not been convicted of a crime at all.

Vance’s total admits have decreased since last year, which is an improvement. But more can be done, and he should make it his goal to rely less on arrests and imprisonment and more on alternative solutions to incarceration.

Reform the Gravity Knife Law

Vance has been a staunch advocate for maintaining the gravity knife law. The statute, which is outdated and poorly worded, has often been used to arrest people, including carpenters and artisans, for common folding knives that can be purchased at a local store.

Many agree the law should be reformed. Cy Vance is not one of them.

His office has been particularly aggressive in prosecuting this “crime.” According to the Legal Aid Society, during a six-month period in 2015, his office prosecuted four-and-a-half times as many of its clients for gravity knives as did all the other boroughs District Attorneys combined. Of those prosecutions, only four defendants were accused of using the knife unlawfully; the rest were charged with simple possession.

A reform bill was introduced and passed the Assembly and Senate last year before being vetoed. Vance lobbied the state legislature against reform, and has “gone so far as to hold a confidential conference call with senate Republicans to argue against gravity knife reform.”

Many organizing groups have already pushed Vance to end these prosecutions, but the issue hasn’t garnered as much attention as it should. Ordinary citizens should demand that Vance stop prosecuting residents under this antiquated provision.

Address Racial Disparities

In 2014, the Vera Institute of Justice found that there are significant racial disparities in outcomes between white defendants and defendants of color in Vance’s office. Vance promised to try to address those disparities, but has not released significant follow-up data, so it’s impossible to know whether those disparities have improved significantly or not. But the data we do have doesn’t look good — for example, last year, 51 percent of marijuana cases involving black defendants in Manhattan ended in conviction, while only 23 percent involving whites did. (This September, Vance agreed to make some changes to how his office prosecutes marijuana possession.)

Vance has repeatedly lamented racial disparity in the criminal justice system. But his laments are not enough. It’s hard to know the extent of racial disparity in Vance’s office, and the public is entitled to robust and detailed data regarding prosecutions and convictions. But a solution must go beyond data. As more racial disparity comes to light, Vance should be held accountable for rectifying those injustices.

These are just some of the issues that Vance should turn his attention to as he starts his third term as District Attorney. But without outside pressure, he’s unlikely to reform these practices willingly. That’s why ordinary residents should continue to demand action on these issues.

Cy Vance is the head prosecutor in one of the most progressive cities in the country. It is time he acts like it.

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