The Takeaway From The Year That Was
January 10, 2017 (Fault Lines) – It’s one thing to opine about what should happen when a story breaks, but it can be another thing entirely to take a look back to see how things turned out. Looking at six posts from the past year may give some insight and perspective.
In Get the Popcorn Ma, we looked at Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson, who “chased” the mayor at low speeds and then filed felony-evading charges against him. Shortly thereafter, a special prosecutor decided, correctly in my opinion, that the charges were bullcrap, and asked for the judge to dismiss them. So the Sheriff decided to look into complaining to the State Bar on the attorney appointed as special prosecutor—which apparently went nowhere. The mayor has been defeated for re-election, so that feud will end.
Todd Gauntner, suspended for 90 days for discharging pistols in the middle of the night out onto Lake Erie, apparently was allowed to return to work as a police officer in Euclid, Ohio. Like I said in the original post, there are some things that demonstrate that you shouldn’t be a cop, and what Gauntner did was one of them. It will be hard to defend a negligent retention claim if he’s involved in anything else.
Former officer Michael Kelley, indicted for Official Oppression for tazing a black city councilman has his jury trial coming up in the 506th District Court in March of 2017. Kelley’s already spoken up, saying that the District Attorney is trying to silence him for supporting former Texas DPS trooper Brian Encinia who was indicted for lying on his report on the arrest of Sandra Bland. The District Attorney points out that Kelley is not a credible witness, since he is facing his own criminal charges from a completely separate incident.
In “Gotta Cover Our Ass,” three Connecticut State Troopers conspired to frame Michael Picard to cover up their harassment of the young man who was protesting their police checkpoint. The State Police have apparently not taken any action on this, but the Connecticut chapter of the ACLU has filed a civil suit against the troopers. And the police union said that the lawsuit was frivolous, because, well, they are the police. I was actually waiting for the union to ask if we were going to believe them or that lying videotape, but alas, they didn’t do that.
In Chicago, an officer, Robert Rialmo, who shot and killed two unarmed people, Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones, filed a lawsuit against the estate of LeGrier. I’m not sure why he did not also sue the Estate of Jones, unless the fact that she was just standing there and got hit by one of his stray bullets somehow dissuaded him. He fired the city-provided attorneys, and he has now counter-sued the city claiming poor training, which I can actually believe, since the city mistakenly put him back on the street while the case was still under investigation. Rialmo’s now disappointed that he’s back on a desk, where it is “boring.”
In February, Dallas activist Avi Adelman was arrested on bogus charges while he photographed an incident at a Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) station. Adelman subsequently filed a lawsuit for constitutional rights violations, which DART has basically blown off, despite finding that the officer, Stephanie Branch, fabricated quotes and probable cause for the arrest. Even more interesting is the fact that, after the lieutenant reviewing the internal affairs investigation recommended that Branch be terminated for lying, the DART chief James Spiller only suspended her for three-days. It is unknown if any of the area district attorneys will allow her to testify at any trial, since they will have to inform defense counsel about the finding that Branch has been untruthful in a criminal case.
All of these stories are similar in alarming ways. Watson’s a nut who has been elected (think of a Sheriff Joe-type) and who is using his office to push his political opponents around. Gauntner, Branch, Rialmo, and the Connecticut State Police cases show that unless an agency is forced to take action, it defaults to protecting the officer instead of focusing on the needs of the public.
Hopefully, things will turn out better in 2017, but I’m not going to put any money on it.