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Tag: civil rights

Why South Carolina Cop Got Caught Killing Unarmed Walter Scott

Michael Slager

By Scott Lemieux
The Week

He probably would have gotten away with it.

That’s the sobering reality of the video of South Carolina police officer Michael Slager shooting Walter L. Scott as he ran away, not posing the slightest threat to the officer. The utter indifference to human life evident in the video, shot by Feidin Santana, is horrifying. As Scott’s father put it, “The way he was shooting that gun, it looked like he was trying to kill a deer.” After Scott was felled by at least one of eight shots, Slager occupied himself with handcuffing Scott and possibly trying to plant evidence rather than making any immediateattempt to save his life. The phrase “cold-blooded killing” could have been invented for this shooting.

After the video surfaced, the relevant local authorities, to their credit, actedpromptly and justly. Slager was fired by the police department and charged with Scott’s murder by the district attorney. The killing was denounced by South Carolina’s Republican governor and its two Republican senators. In this case, clear video evidence pierced the thin blue line.

And yet, if it wasn’t for the pure chance of Slager’s actions being videotaped, he probably would have gotten off scot-free. Without videotaped evidence, stories of officers fearing for their lives before using deadly force can be difficult to dispute, and local police departments have little incentive to conduct extensive, critical investigations of the self-justifications of officers who kill. Even worse, they do have incentives to cover up even the most serious police misconduct.

“Americans are bombarded with evidence that police officers who use excessive or fatal force will go to great lengths to protect themselves and make sure they face no legal repercussions,” says Heather Ann Thompson, a professor of history at Temple University who specializes in issues of criminal justice. “From the state police’s bloody retaking of Attica in 1971, to the recent police officer killing of a citizen in South Carolina, cover-up is the first line of defense.”

This tendency to cover up represents a very serious systematic problem. A great deal of the criminal justice system depends on the honesty of law enforcement officials. Many criminal prosecutions depend on police testimony, and we often must rely on the investigations of local police when potential cases of misconduct arise. Pervasive dishonesty both lets individual bad actors escape punishment and undermines essential law enforcement activities.

Justice Department Blasts Ferguson Police for Discrimination, Abuse of Power

Michael Brown

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

A long-awaited report on Ferguson found numerous constitutional violations that called for new oversight, retraining of employees and abandoning the current approach to policing.

The New York Times reports that the Justice Department criticized Ferguson police for routinely making unlawful searches, hurling racial insults and treating anyone as a criminal for questioning the tactics.

While a separate report found no civil rights abuses against the white officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, the Justice Department described a discriminatory environment that led to months of protests.

“Seen in this context — amid a highly toxic environment, defined by mistrust and resentment, stoked by years of bad feelings, and spurred by illegal and misguided practices — it is not difficult to imagine how a single tragic incident set off the city of Ferguson like a powder keg,” Mr. Holder said.

The report means Ferguson must make changes or face a federal civil rights lawsuit.

Justice Department to Release Highly Critical Report of Ferguson Police

Michael Brown

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The Justice Department is preparing to release a highly critical report of police in Ferguson, accusing them of making discriminatory traffic stops and creating an environment that bred animosity among African Americans, The New York Times reports.

The report, which could be released as early as this week, says Ferguson police disproportionately ticketed and arrested African Americans, while also relying on them for fines to help balance the budget.

The report follows the police shooting death of Michael Brown in August, which led to months of protests.

But the Justice Department does not plan to charge the officer, Darren Wilson, following a civil rights investigation.

What’s different about this report is it will “give the context for the shooting, describing the mounting sense of frustration and anger in a predominantly black city where the police department and local government are mostly white,” The New York Times wrote.

Justice Department Closes Trayvon Martin Shooting Case without Civil Rights Charges

Trayvon Martin

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com
 
The federal investigation into the shooting death three years ago of Trayvon Martin has ended without hate-crime charges against the gunman, George Zimmerman, The New York Times reports. 

The Justice Department closed the civil rights investigation.

The family is devastated, said Benjamin L. Crump, the lawyer for Martin’s family.

“This is very painful for them; they are heartbroken,” Crump said. “But they have renewed energy to say that we are going to fight harder to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anybody else’s child.”

The investigation was launched to determine whether there was enough evidence to show Martin was killed because of his race.

The Justice Department interviewed 75 witnesses and reviewed evidence.

FBI Finishes Investigation of Ferguson Police Shooting That Killed Unarmed Michael Brown

Michael Brown

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com 

The FBI has wrapped up its long-anticipated investigation into the police shooting of unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, a U.S. official told the Associated Press.

It’s not yet clear whether the Justice Department will pursue a federal civil rights case against former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. But legal experts and government officials agree that it’s unlikely that charges will be filed because of the incredibly difficult legal standard.

The New York Times reported that Justice Department lawyers plan to recommend against prosecuting Wilson, but that Attorney General Eric H. Holder has not yet made up his mind.

A grand jury cleared Wilson in the Aug. 9 death of Brown, setting off protests nationwide.

FBI Agents Handling Civil Rights Investigation of Eric Garner’s Death Are Experienced With Such Cases

Eric Garner with his children, via National Action Network

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com 

The FBI team handling the civil rights investigation into the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man killed by a white NYPD officer, has plenty of experience with long-term probes and public corruption cases. 

CNN reports that the New York-based agents are taking a “free look” into the July death of Garner, who was killed while being placed in an illegal chokehold.

A grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer led to protests nationwide.

One of the agents specializes in long-term investigation in the white-collar crime division.

The FBI will be reviewing the actions of the officers to determine whether the civil rights of Garner were violated.

 

FBI Plans to Take Months to Investigate Chokehold Death of Eric Garner

Eric Garner with his children, via National Action Network

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com 

The FBI’s investigation into the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York City will take several months and only recently got off the ground, ABC News reports.

The federal government hasn’t set a timeline for the probe, which will be watched nationwide as protests continue to spring up after a grand jury decided not to indict the officer.

The FBI is beginning to collect evidence from the State Island district attorney’s office.

The federal probe is running concurrently with an NYPD internal investigation.

The FBI investigation is focused on whether a hate crime was committed when police officers were engaged in the July 17 altercation, which was caught on cell phone video.

Justice Department to Launch Civil Rights Investigation into Eric Garner’s Death

Eric Garner with his children, via National Action Network

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com 

Soon after a grand jury declined to indict a white New York City cop in the death of Eric Garner, a black man who was selling cigarettes, the Justice Department will conduct its own civil rights investigation.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a press conference today that Attorney General Eric Holder was preparing to closely examine the case to determine whether civil rights charges are warranted, the Huffington Post reports.

“They made clear that the investigation initiated by the U.S. attorney would now move forward, move expeditiously, and be a thorough investigation,” de Blasio said.

The announcement comes after a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantelo, who placed Garner in a chokehold after arresting him on July 17 for selling single cigarettes.

In a video, Garner can be heard screaming, “I can’t breathe,” before his body went limp.

A medical examiner determined Garner’s death was a homicide caused by the chokehold.

Statement From Attorney Eric Holder:

Good evening. I want to provide an update regarding the case involving Eric Garner, a Staten Island resident, who died tragically in July.

Since Mr. Garner’s death, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the Civil Rights Division and the FBI have been monitoring the local case closely while allowing the local investigation, led by the District Attorney’s office in Staten Island, to proceed first.

Earlier today, the grand jury declined to return an indictment in this case. Now that the local investigation has concluded, I am here to announce that the Justice Department will proceed with a federal civil rights investigation into Mr. Garner’s death.

This afternoon I spoke with the widow of Eric Garner to inform her and her family of our decision to investigate potential federal civil rights violations. I have been in touch with President Obama and Mayor de Blasio regarding our decision as well.

Our prosecutors will conduct an independent, thorough, fair and expeditious investigation.

In addition to performing our own investigative work, the Department will conduct a complete review of the material gathered during the local investigation.

Read more »