“A Long Island woman says in a lawsuit that her 29-year-old son died in a drunken driving crash because police decided not to arrest him on DWI charges earlier that night…. Restaurant chain Ruby Tuesday’s is also named in the lawsuit, because [the late Peter] Fedden was drinking there before the two crashes, according to [Fedden family lawyer Harry] Thomasson.” [NBC New York, auto-plays]
The Costa Mesa, Calif. police union scandal breaks wide open with new court papers shedding light on the conduct of a law firm representing the union. [Orange County Register] Two private investigators hired by the law firm called in a fake DUI on the town’s mayor and attached a GPS to a councilor’s car to track his movements, according to the county district attorney’s office. [Daily Pilot] We’ve been covering the scandal for more than two years here, here, and here.
More: union gumshoes alleged to have set honeytrap for opposing councilmember. [Matt Coker, OC Weekly] It’s like Costa Mesa Confidential!
P.S. And yet more from the “playbook”: “keep the pressure up till that person assures you his loyalty then move on to the next victim.” [Steven Greenhut, San Diego Union-Tribune ("Yes, 'victim'")]
The coroner’s inquest, familiar to readers of Agatha Christie, might be worth importing to the U.S. to look into police-caused deaths [Josh Voorhees, Slate, on ideas of Paul MacMahon]
Related: “The Grand Jury System Is Broken” [John Steele Gordon, Commentary, written post-Ferguson, pre-Garner]; New York Times “Room for Debate“; New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asks for authority to take over prosecutorial authority in police shootings [WGRZ (auto-plays), New York Observer, Paul Cassell]; Harvey Silverglate via Todd Zywicki (don’t gut grand jury protections). And from Michael Bell, “What I Did After Police Killed My Son,” Politico: “In 129 years since police and fire commissions were created in the state of Wisconsin, we could not find a single ruling by a police department, an inquest or a police commission that a shooting was unjustified. …As a military pilot, I knew that if law professionals investigated police-related deaths like, say, the way that the National Transportation Safety Board investigated aviation mishaps, police-related deaths would be at an all time low.” (& Wisconsin aftermath)
Eric Garner, asphyxiated during his arrest on Staten Island, had been repeatedly picked up by the NYPD for the crime of selling loose cigarettes. Washington Examiner:
The crime of selling “loosies” was not considered a serious one in the past. Many corner stores in New York City once sold them quietly upon request. But former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s cartoonish anti-tobacco crusade changed that and everything else. Smoking in public places was banned. Punitive taxes and a legal minimum price of $10.50 were imposed in an effort to push prices ever-upward, so that a brand-name pack of 20 cigarettes now costs as much as $14 in New York City.
As a result, the illicit sale of loose and untaxed cigarettes became more commonplace.
I noted at yesterday’s Repeal Day panel at Cato that according to figures last year, New York’s unusually high cigarette taxes had brought it an unusual distinction: an estimated 60 percent of consumption there is of smuggled or illegal cigarettes, much higher than any other state. Another way to think of it is that New York has moved closer to prohibition than to a legal market in tobacco. [earlier 2003 Cato study]
In his history of Prohibition, Last Call, Daniel Okrent cites (among many other law enforcement misadventures) the fatal shooting of Jacob Hanson, secretary of an Elks lodge in Niagara Falls, New York, in a confrontation with alcohol agents — though Hanson had a clean record and was not carrying alcohol. At the time, many saw Hanson’s death as reflecting poorly on the Prohibition regime generally. For some reason, though, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has drawn fire from some quarters for making a parallel observation about Garner’s death. [BBC; note however that while Garner's frictions with the local NYPD seem to owe much to his repeated cigarette arrests, the proximate event leading to his arrest seems to have been his attempt to break up a fight]
Yale’s Stephen Carter: “On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce.” [Bloomberg View via Ilya Somin]
Even when it’s all caught on video, in daylight, with witnesses. Even when the cop blatantly broke the NYPD’s very clear ban on chokeholds. Even when the victim was heard “gurgl[ing] that he could not breathe” and the cop was heard bantering afterward with colleagues.
The confrontation between officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. had several elements that worked to bolster Wilson’s defense, including evidence that Brown had assaulted Wilson in his car and contradictions in the testimony of eyewitnesses. By contrast, the case for a Staten Island grand jury to return at least some charge in the choking death of Eric Garner at the hands of officer Daniel Pantaleo would seem considerably stronger. (Garner had tried to break up a sidewalk fight before police intervened, then argued with police and was uncompliant when they intervened; in accounts after the death, police said he had frequently tangled with law enforcement because of his habit of hanging out on the sidewalk selling “loosies” — single cigarettes out of their packages, a tax violation.)
Some of yesterday’s Twitter discussion:
(This morning, New York Post columnist Bob McManus does defend it.)
It’s like a parody of one’s worst expectations: President Obama refuses to curtail the federal police militarization program, instead calling for a big hike in federal spending on aid to local departments with the usual micromanaging strings attached. [The Guardian] The administration has now gathered some useful information on the Pentagon’s 1033 surplus-gear program, but still has no plans to improve data gathering on police use of lethal force [Washington Post editorial] More from USA Today: “The Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union, has waged an intense lobbying campaign to keep the surplus equipment flowing,” and its executive director specifically speaks up in favor of the transfer of armored vehicles and personnel carriers. More: Trevor Timm.
Related: Conor Friedersdorf gathers stories of cops reinstated in union arbitration from Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Miami, Sarasota, and other cities. He concludes:
I’d rather see 10 wrongful terminations than one person wrongfully shot and killed. Because good police officers and bad police officers pay the same union dues and are equally entitled to labor representation, police unions have pushed for arbitration procedures that skew in the opposite direction. Why have we let them? If at-will employment, the standard that would best protect the public, is not currently possible, arbitration proceedings should at a minimum be transparent and fully reviewable so that miscarriages of justice are known when they happen. With full facts, the public would favor at-will employment eventually.
You can’t tackle the excessive force problem credibly unless you tackle the power of the police unions. Period.
PBS NewsHour “read and analyzed more than 500 pages of witness testimony and compared each statement to those given by [officer Darren] Wilson,” pulling together the results in this chart, which illuminates points where the witness testimony tended to help Wilson’s defense and where it did not; perhaps most surprising is how many questions he was apparently not asked. Prosecutor Robert McCullough managed the grand jury proceedings almost in the manner of a defense lawyer for the man facing charges, a strategy extremely unlikely to be repeated in the great majority of grand jury proceedings where the accused is not a police officer [Jacob Sullum] And Conor Friedersdorf notes that if you were looking for poster cases of wrongful use of lethal force for which police were not held accountable — even when there was video or other strong documentary evidence — many other cases would stand higher on the list than that of Michael Brown.
Washington, D.C. listeners, tune in at 10 a.m. this morning (Tuesday) when I’ll be a guest again on Diane Rehm’s award-winning radio show, discussing developments in Ferguson, Mo., including a grand jury’s decision that officer Darren Wilson won’t face charges in the shooting of Michael Brown. Other guests include Julie Bosman, reporter, The New York Times; Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel, NAACP Legal Defense Fund; and Andrew Ferguson, associate professor of law, University of the District of Columbia School of Law. (bumped Tuesday morning to keep at top of page)
I’m quoted in this Reason TV segment by Zach Weissmueller on the problem of municipalities that stake their finances on overzealous fee collection:
“When you have towns like those in St. Louis County that get in some cases, 40 percent of their municipal revenue in fines and fees, they have chosen a very expensive way of taxing their population, one that creates maximum hassle and maximum hostility,” says Walter Olson, senior fellow at the Cato Institute and publisher of the blog Overlawyered.
Aside from Ferguson, Mo., the piece uses as examples the notorious Los Angeles suburb of Bell, Calif., exposed in a scandal as being run for the benefit of its managers, and — a smart choice — Detroit, a city with a long-time adversarial stance toward its small businesses and others trying to do everyday business in the town:
…what really grants Detroit this honor is “Operation Compliance,” an initiative pushed by former mayor David Bing aimed at bringing all of Detroit’s small businesses up to code through costly permitting. The initiative launched with the stated goal of shutting down 20 businesses a week.
“An Alabama man who sued over being hit and kicked by police after leading them on a high-speed chase will get $1,000 in a settlement with the city of Birmingham, while his attorneys will take in $459,000, officials said Wednesday.” [Reuters/Yahoo] Readers may argue about whether this kind of outcome is fair, but note that it seems to happen more often, rather than less, in this country (with its putative “American Rule” that each side pays its own fees) than in other industrialized countries which tend more to follow “loser-pays” or “costs follow the event” fee principles. One reason for that is that the U.S. does not actually hew consistently to the so-called American Rule; across wide areas of litigation, including civil rights suits, it follows “one-way shift” principles in which prevailing plaintiffs but not prevailing defendants are entitled to fees, and whose encouragement to litigation is greater than either the American Rule or the loser-pays principle.
Related: The Pennsylvania legislature is moving to adopt a rule adopting one-way fees for some cases in which municipalities trample rights protected by the Bill of Rights’ Second Amendment, provoking peals of outrage (“dangerous,” “outrageous,” “threatens municipalities’ financial stability,” etc.) from elected officials few of whom seem to be on record objecting to one-way fee shifts when plaintiffs they like better are doing the suing. [Free Beacon]
Kansas: “A federal jury Tuesday awarded a former McPherson police officer who was found sleeping on duty almost $1 million in wages and damages. Matthew B. Michaels alleged the city violated his civil rights, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act and the Kansas Wage Payment Act. He was fired from the McPherson Police Department in July 2012. Michaels said he was discriminated against because of a sleep apnea disability.” [McPherson Sentinel]
It’s been more than a year since police shot John Geer, and the Fairfax department still won’t release the name of the officer who killed him. This has all been happening in the national media’s own backyard, the suburbs of Washington, D.C. [Robert McCartney, WaPo] In Ferguson, Mo., a delay of several days in releasing the name of the officer who shot Michael Brown was among the grievances that set off protests and confrontations that made world news; yielding to pressure from police associations and unions, many departments have adopted policies against releasing the names of officers involved in shootings either for an initial period or even indefinitely while an investigation remains open. Writes Alexander R. Cohen: “We’ve seen more patriotism from the people of Ferguson than from the people of Fairfax on this issue.”
P.S. Also, from Slate Star Codex, how Ferguson turned into a Referendum on Everything.