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Injustice Roundup: My Weekly Roundup of Stories on Abusive Police Officers, Prison Guards, and Prosecutors

Injustice Roundup: My Weekly Roundup of Stories on Abusive Police Officers, Prison Guards, and Prosecutors

Police brutality is roaring ahead

I use this database to track police brutality in the United States. Many other databases exist, but this simple one is the most up to date and links to local news stories covering each case. Take those news stories with a grain of salt, though, because they tend to only cover the law enforcement narrative early on.

In a few days we will cross over 1,000 people killed by American police this year — keeping 2017 to be one of the deadliest years for police brutality ever measured.

NFL team owner compares players to prison inmates he needs to put in check

As the National Football League continues to bungle its response to players protesting police brutality and injustice in America, team owners are scrambling to meet about how they can somehow stop the protests. In a brilliant new piece for ESPN Magazine revealing the behind the scenes talks, something very disturbing came out.

Bob McNair, the largest single donor to Donald Trump in the NFL, compared the protesting players to prisoners. Here’s the full context…

The three most conservative owners, each Trump donors, are speaking — Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, Daniel Snyder, of the Washington Redskins (I hate even typing that name), and Bob McNair of the Houston Texans. And the conversation goes like this:

As Jones spoke, Snyder mumbled out loud, “See, Jones gets it — 96 percent of Americans are for guys standing,” a claim some dismissed as a grand overstatement. McNair, a multimillion-dollar Trump campaign contributor, spoke next, echoing many of the same business concerns. “We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” McNair said.

Some may say, “that’s just a figure of speech,” but aren’t all words figures of speech? That Bob McNair, of all metaphors, chose to compare protesting players to inmates running the prison, is disturbing. I’ll leave it at that.

Please take some time out to watch this video

I love social media, but it often reduces very complex conversations about the criminal justice system to points that simply don’t translate well on such mediums. The teams from Participant MediaThe New Yorker, and The Marshall Project came together to produce a project they are calling “We Are Witnesses.” It’s one of the best things out today and I really do hope you will take time out today (or soon) to watch it.

It has powerful, personal, up-close interviews with people from every aspect of the criminal justice system giving you a searing and transparent look into it better than almost anything out there right now.

These two NYPD officers should be in jail for rape right now

My colleague Natasha Lennard of The Intercept wrote a very important pieceabout two NYPD officers who should absolutely be in jail for rape right now. I’ve mentioned this case before, but this is the best piece out on it. The officers, Richard Hall and Edward Martins, claimed they each had consensual sex with a teenager they had in custody. Lennard, rightly so, blows this foolish alibi wide open. Sex can never be truly consensual when someone is in police custody — PERIOD. The teenager reported that she was raped. The rape kit came back positive. The DNA of each officer was found.

This case is open and shut. It’s a disgrace that they still have jobs and it’s a failure of the system that charges have not yet been filed.

In a separate case, a 15 year old cadet in an LAPD training program has filed a claim against the city in a sexual abuse scandal rocking the department.

UPDATE: These officers have now been indicted.

Private prisons companies now holding their meetings on Trump properties

The GEO Group is the largest private prison company in the country. Their stock has been soaring since Trump took office. Now, they’ve moved literally their annual meeting to Trump’s Florida golf resort — which brings in the largest stream of revenue in the Trump organization.

We live in a time where people, politicians, and corporations clearly no longer feel like they have to disguise their motives or feelings anymore. The GEO Group has multiple very lucrative federal contracts and it is a disgrace that they now just openly hosting their meetings on a Trump property — which many legal experts continue to express is a clear conflict of interest.

Three California officers arrested for a beating of an unarmed teenager that they lied to cover up

Three officers participated in a brutal assault of an unarmed, non-violent, compliant teenager in 2015 before wrongly arresting him. He did nothing wrong. Thankfully it was filmed. Here’s some of the account from the LA Times,

Jensen, 50, and Hutchinson, 31, knowingly lied in the reports they wrote about the incident and later when they testified at the boy’s trial, prosecutors allege. Jensen also faces a charge of violating Aguilar’s civil rights by using excessive force.

In his report of the incident, Jensen falsely claimed he struck Aguilar after the teen attempted to punch him in the face, according to the charges against the men. And he wrote that Aguilar had come within an “arms length” of the officers who were escorting his father.

Hutchinson gave a similar account in his own report, falsely saying the boy had run to within a few feet of the other officers and then yelled at onlookers in an attempt to “incite unrest” as he was being led away, federal authorities said.

$44.7 million verdict reached in Chicago police misconduct case

While cities like Chicago continue to claim they don’t have the funds to properly support public education and recreation, they continue to pay hundreds of millions of dollars out in police misconduct settlements/verdicts. Chicago Police Officer Patrick Kelly shot Michael LaPorta, an unarmed non-violent man, rendering him paralyzed for life. Kelly, who has a disturbing history, has long claimed he didn’t shoot LaPorta, but that he shot himself. The civil jury wasn’t buying it. It’s outrageous. And now they’ve awarded LaPorta the largest police misconduct verdict in a city that has had thousands of them.

It’s a type of victory for LaPorta, but he’s paralyzed and Patrick Kelly is still free. That’s not fair punishment.

Shaun King is a writer in residence with the Fair Punishment ProjectHe 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.

New Data Throws Fuel on the Fire for Nashville Bail Reform

The majority of people who face misdemeanor charges remain behind bars just because they are poor

New Data Throws Fuel on the Fire for Nashville Bail Reform

The majority of people who face misdemeanor charges remain behind bars just because they are poor

Talk of bail reform in Nashville is getting an assist from recently released data showing that the majority of individuals arrested for misdemeanors remain in jail until their cases are concluded.

According to News Channel 5about 21,000 people were charged with misdemeanors last year in Nashville, but only 8,565, or approximately 40%, were released on bail. The new statistics add momentum to the ongoing push for bail reform in the city. As In Justice Today previously reported, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and the Civil Rights Corps are calling for an end to money bail in Nashville.

Public Defender Dawn Deaner said there are essentially two criminal justice systems in Nashville, one for those who can pay bail and the other for those who can’t.

“The primary problem with a money bail system is that it simply keeps people in custody solely because they’re poor, or living in poverty and they don’t have the financial means to get out of custody,” Deaner said, arguing that bail reform is clearly needed in Nashville.

But District Attorney General Glenn Funk disagreed, insisting that the statistics were misleading. He maintained some of those not released on bail weren’t in jail for very long. He also said many who stayed in custody longer faced serious misdemeanor charges, such as domestic assault.

“Everybody that’s just charged with a misdemeanor come to court the very next day. Most folks that have their case in front of a judge, either the bond gets reduced, resolved, or sometimes dismissed,” Funk said.

Funk has previously said he’s opposed to keeping people in prison because they’re poor, but he’s also against eliminating cash bail.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, and Alec Karakatsanis, executive director of Civil Rights Corps, said the current bail practices are likely unconstitutional and need reform. In an op-ed published this summer in the Tennessean they made the case for reform.

“In 2016, the average amount of secured money bail imposed on people charged with misdemeanors in Davidson County was more than $5,000. Thousands of people are jailed in Davidson County simply because they cannot pay the amount of money demanded in exchange for their liberty,” the editorial said.

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Oklahoma Sheriffs Prepare for a Showdown Over Criminal Justice Reform

Will the state with the second highest incarceration rate get its act together?

Wikimedia Commons

Oklahoma Sheriffs Prepare for a Showdown Over Criminal Justice Reform

Will the state with the second highest incarceration rate get its act together?

Oklahoma had the second highest incarceration rate in the nation in 2014,and the number of people shepherded into its prisons and jails has continued to grow since. In April, the number of people under the supervision of the state’s Department of Corrections hit a record high of 62,000, with state prisons filled to the brim. Confronted with this grim reality, it has become clear to Republicans and Democrats that there is an urgent, dire need for reform. But in order to advance legislation, which now has bipartisan support from legislators, the governor, and constituents alike, lawmakers have to contend with members of the law enforcement community — who refuse to let bills pass without a fight.

Last Thursday, the same day Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered a speech to the state’s sheriffs about the national and state “crime problem,” the leader of the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association called on his colleagues to brace for a major legislative battle in the near future. “This is going to be probably one of the biggest defensive years that this association has ever had,” Executive Director Ray McNair said. He referenced potential cuts to fines and fees and efforts to turn certain felonies into misdemeanor offenses. “You have no idea the importance of being out at that Capitol.”

McNair’s plea to foil reform efforts was echoed by Rep. Scott Biggs (R), chair of Oklahoma’s judiciary committee. Noting their experiences with crime and sentencing, Biggs asked sheriffs to mobilize and pressure legislators to say no to reform. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is an issue. This is a fight that is not going away,” he said. “But would you believe the Governor and her DOC director want to reduce penalties and early release for those individuals who disgrace the American flag. I don’t think that’s something that Oklahoma really, truly believes in, but that’s something they want to do.”

In many ways, the problems with Oklahoma’s criminal justice system mirror the problems detailed in every state grappling with mass incarceration. Detention facilities are teeming with people who come from poverty and communities of color and who were charged or convicted for low-level offenses. In December 2016, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber Criminal Justice Reform Task Force reported that Oklahoma County, home of the state’s largest municipality, Oklahoma City, housed 2,581 people in a jail designed to hold 1,200. Many people who hadn’t been found guilty of a crime were too poor to make bail and were coping with substance abuse and mental illness. The Task Force concluded that drug and alcohol offenses accounted for the majority of felony, misdemeanor, and municipal charges that people were locked up for.

Statewide, criminal statutes have classified hundreds of minor offenses as felonies that lead to draconian sentences, with an average of 26 new crimes established annually from 2010 and 2015. But according to Brad Henderson, legal director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, growth in the state’s carceral population isn’t a new phenomenon driven by recent legislation. Rather, it is a trend that has been ongoing since the 1990s. The current bloated system can be attributed to outdated tough-on-crime policies, he says.

“The impact of things like mandatory minimums, truth in sentencing — the so-called three strikes you’re out rule — can be exponential,” Henderson told In Justice Today. “You end up with people who suddenly are going in for longer and longer sentences. And those sentences are stacking on top of each other.”

Within the past two years, state lawmakers and constituents on both sides of the aisle have recognized a need for reform. Last November, voters passed SQ 780 and SQ 781, public referendums that reclassified simple drug possession and low-level property offenses as misdemeanors instead of felonies, and provided funding for rehabilitative services. Both went into effect in July. But the victory was coupled with a major legislative defeat in May. Multiple reform bills that had large-scale bipartisan support failed to pass, forcing lawmakers to try again next year. “These [were] bills that were trying to ratchet down very bad over-incarceration policies that we’ve had for years,” Henderson said.

Biggs, the very same legislator calling on sheriffs to organize, is typically viewed as the culprit who stopped the bills dead in their tracks, earning McNair’s praise last week. As the leader of the judiciary, Biggs ultimately held the bills so they wouldn’t come to a floor vote, where they were likely to pass. But Biggs didn’t act alone, Henderson says. The House speaker or president pro tempore are authorized to circumvent chairmen who use their power to hold up the passage of legislation. But they didn’t.

Regardless of who is responsible for the past, sheriffs vowing to fight new bills could complicate reform in the future. In many other local legislative battles, law enforcement groups — representing hundreds and thousands of sheriffspolice officers, and prosecutors — have successfully lobbied politicians to block a wide range of reforms that had bipartisan support.

It is too early to say how many sheriffs will support the call to action, and the extent to which they will pressure lawmakers. But if McNair gets his way, every member of the association will fall in line. “We can’t have the same 10 or 11 people show up at the Capitol,” he said. “What we do out at the Capitol affects all 77 sheriffs.”

Thanks to Burke Butler.

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