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Baltimore Police Dept. is a Micro System of Our Society

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

 

 

police-chase_mediumFollowing the Justice Department’s scathing report on the Baltimore Police department’s patterns and practices of civil rights violations and unconstitutional practices on blacks, women and the mentally ill, gender bias, inadequate training and a culture of years of profound blatant racism, there has been an outreach for ways to improve the Baltimore Police department. Improving the department will not be an easy fix after decades of malfeasance. And finding the answers will be like trying to end systemic racism in the overall society and fabric of America—only on a smaller scale.

In the fourteen months following the April 12, 2015 arrest of Freddie Gray, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) investigated the department and found the Baltimore Police intentionally discriminated against residents, used excessive force, made unconstitutional stops and arrests and targeted African Americans, youth and mentally challenged individuals. And the Baltimore Police did not limit its illegal actions to blacks but further engaged in gender bias policing when it came to investigating sexual assaults. In terms of supervision of police, DOJ found the department failed to supervise, had inadequate policies, an inadequate system to even investigate complaints against officers and engaged in retaliatory practices. In essence, the entire Baltimore police department was a dysfunctional organization that harassed and destroyed the lives of many residents, many of whom did not commit any crimes.

The Justice Department analyzed documents, spoke to police officers and Baltimore residents who had encounters from 2010- 2015. It did not review the Freddie Gray case as part of this investigation.

As a former Baltimore prosecutor, I knew of some of the patterns and practices resulting in unconstitutional arrests for failing to obey, trespassing, loitering, resisting arrest and other similar crimes.   During the time that I prosecuted, police officers were often advised that most of these charges lacked probable cause for an arrest. Yet, as I recount in a October, 2015 Washington Post Op ed, Baltimore police seemed to routinely arrest residents despite admonishments by judges and prosecutors.

 

The numbers involved in the report were staggering. Most of the illegal and unconstitutional practices involved a segment of the population involving two districts representing 11% of Baltimore’s population. Hundreds of residents were stopped 10-30 times, with no arrest. And for those who think African Americans commit crime in greater numbers than whites, the report disputed that misconception. In pedestrian stops, one male in his mid-50’s was stopped 30 times without an arrest. It was as if stopping and harassing blacks was a game or sport for police. I guess it really was for some officers.

In vehicle stops, the report found that whites twice as often had contraband versus African Americans. And in pedestrian stops, whites were 50% more likely to have contraband. Yet, of criminal cases, African Americans represented 86% of all criminal offenses although they make up 63% of the Baltimore population. And as reported previously, African Americans use drugs in the same amounts as whites. Yet, police arrested African American 5 times more.

 

In reading the DOJ report, even as a former prosecutor, I was shocked at some practices which I didn’t know existed. Police would stop individuals and ask for identification. In some cases, if no identification was found on an individual, police would detain and take the individual to police station to finger print to learn their identity. This is not Nazi Germany in the 1940’s where certain groups of people are required to have ID. Yet, the Baltimore policing, in some instances, resembled the stopping of Jews by Nazis.

 

One of the most egregious practices was that of public strip searches. I had no idea that such inhumane and barbaric treatment of individuals occurred. And it made me sick to my stomach to read in detail what some African Americans endured at the hands of police. One woman was stopped for a busted tail light. She was ordered to remove her clothes, bra, panties and given an anal cavity search, in full view of everyone watching on the street. She ultimately received a reprimand. In another instance, a teenager was ordered to remove his boxer shorts in full view of his girlfriend while the police publicly strip searched him-and found nothing. He filed a complaint. And later, when encountered by the same officer in a McDonald’s restaurant, the officer, in retaliation, required him to pull down his pants and grabbed his groin.

 

For those who think these were a few rogue police officers—think again.   If it were only a few rogue officers, the Department of Justice would not have determined a pattern and practice existed in the Baltimore police force.

And although the DOJ report analyzed police data from 2010-2015, the practices occurred over a long period of time. In Baltimore, former mayor Martin O’Malley commenced a “zero tolerance” policy in the 1990’s which many officers continued through 2015. Zero tolerance led to the illegal stopping, detaining and unlawful despicable practices outlined in the DOJ report.

All present and past Baltimore lawmakers are responsible for the broken system. The Baltimore City leadership from mayors to the police commissioners are responsible for allowing the racist, Nazi like system to exist. Baltimore paid out millions of dollars to settle many lawsuits due to unconstitutional police practices. Those settlements were authorized by the Baltimore Board of Estimates and approved by the Baltimore City Councils and Mayors.

The one hopeful reason for change is a Department of Justice consent order, once reached, will be closely monitored by a monitor, be binding on all future administrations and enforced through the federal court. I just don’t know how you prevent systemic racism in our society.

For those interested in commenting, email Community.Baltimore@usdoj.gov.

 

2013-debbie-hines-newsWashington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former Baltimore prosecutor. She appears on Al Jazeera, BET, C-Span, MSNBC, PBS among others speaking on justice, gender and race.

 

 

Ryan Lochte and Three U.S. Swimmers in Hot Water

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

 

 

RyanLochte

Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte filed a police report for a robbery committed on him and three other U.S. swimmers in Rio for the Olympics.  According to various accounts of the swimmers which differ,  he and the three other swimmers were robbed at gun point of their money and wallet.  But their credentials and cell phones were not taken.

 

As a former prosecutor, when I first heard the details of Ryan Lochte’s account of being robbed, it did not ring true to me.  In other words, I didn’t think it passed the smell test of being quite true.  The one thing that stuck out was his cavalier attitude about having a gun cocked to his head in a foreign country known for its crime and violence. Lochte mentioned that he refused to lay down on the ground as allegedly instructed by the gun man or gunmen.  And then after the gun was cocked to his head, he did so and was like “whatever”.   Trust me the last thing someone with any bit of intelligence would do is treat an armed robbery in a nonchalant manner.  And now the whole story appears fabricated after authorities saw  CCTV video footage of the swimmers in the gas station doing the damage, allegedly assaulting a guard and damaging a door and other property, and not the other way around. That coupled with the video of their return to Olympic village with wallets intact—and not with a robber, as Lochte claimed, presents some further issues.  Lochte says he did not lie.

 

And so yes, the Rio authorities were correct to detain the swimmers as they would any other person suspected of filing a false police report.  Lochte had already left Rio.  I don’t know about the law in Rio or Brazil but filing a false report is a crime in most U.S. jurisdictions.  It is a misdemeanor. And most people file one to cover up some other true incident—as might be the case with Lochte and fellow swimmers.

 

A Rio 2016 spokesperson defended Lochte and his teammates. “These kids tried to have fun, they tried to represent their country to the best of their abilities,” Mario Andrada told reporters. “They competed under gigantic pressure. Let’s give these kids a break. Sometimes you take actions that you later regret. They had fun, they made a mistake, life goes on.”   At 32, Ryan Lochte is hardly a kid.  And he and his fellow cohorts should not be treated like as if they were kids pulling a prank.  If what is being reported is true, it was anything but boys will be boys. It is likely a criminal act—not a kid’s prank.

 

In contrast, if the parties involved had been African American Olympians, I dread to think of what the headlines might have read.  I am sure it would have talked about “thugs”, persons “up to no good” as said about Trayvon Martin, raised by a single mother with no father in the home, “robber” as Michael Brown was called and other nefarious statements used to describe the actions of African Americans even when they are the victims.  There has been nothing but support for the white swimmers who may have committed multiple crimes while representing the U.S. I would have liked to see some of that support for Gabby Douglas who was bashed online for not placing her hand over her heart during the National Anthem.

 

I surmise that the swimmer crew might have needed to account for their time missing in action and also possibly their lack of money-allegedly used to cover their you know whats.  Money was allegedly used to pay  for property damage and to persons to prevent the story from becoming public.  If so, that money was not well spent.

 

I do not want any American to be subjected to possible prosecution in a foreign country.  That’s a scary proposition. But I also don’t want someone who is representing the U.S. in the Olympics committing an assault, destroying property in the host country, paying money to conceal their acts and then possibly lying about it to authorities to defend what some now call a “kid’s prank.”

UPDATE: Ryan Lochte and Jimmy Feigen  have been indicted for filing a false report. Lochte denies the charges.  According to the AP, two of the swimmers have now stated the police report was a fabrication.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a  trial lawyer, legal analyst /political commentator and former Baltimore prosecutor.

 

What Michelle Obama’s Speech Means to Me

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

MichelleObama2016DNC

On the first night of the 2016 Democratic convention, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke as a mother, a wife, First Lady and an intelligent black woman. As an African American woman, her words resonated to me in ways far beyond her text.   In her authenticity, Michelle Obama spoke truth to power, gave a history lesson, a lesson on motherhood and shared her hopes for the future of our country. And she left me and perhaps others feeling a little more hopeful than I’ve felt in a while.

First Lady Michelle Obama spoke about how she has lived the past 8 years in the White House, a house built by slaves, where her two daughters play with the dog on the White House lawn. As a U.S. history major, I know most, if not all, of Washington was built by slaves. But the essence of her speech for me was an acknowledgment of how far this country has come in 151 years since slavery ended. For a black woman to be able to address the Democratic National convention and reference the history of slavery before millions  is phenomenal. And she did it in a matter of fact, non-preaching way. But her point was not missed on me. In recognizing the labor of slaves in building the White House, Michelle Obama acknowledged one of the many gifts that my ancestors gave to this country. Despite all of our country’s many transgressions, there can be no denial that change has come to America with the Obamas in the White House.

Michelle Obama spoke loving of raising her two daughters, only ages 7 and 10 when they first arrived at the White House in January, 2008. And since that time, they have both grown into “beautiful and intelligent women.” She raised them in a political climate where many persons targeted, lied, ridiculed and bashed their entire family with racist rhetoric. But Mrs. Obama as an exceptionally strong and intelligent black woman taught her daughters their motto is, “when they go low, we go high.” It is a lesson that has been taught by many black mothers down through the ages in this country. Throughout history, when many whites refused to treat blacks with dignity and equal rights, the response often by blacks was never to stoop to the levels of racism and ignorance but to rise above it. It is a lesson that my own mother taught me. As Maya Angelou so eloquently stated in her poem, “You may write me down in history with your bitter, twisted lies. You may trod me in the very dirt. But still like dust, I’ll rise.”

Mrs. Obama was on stage to make the case for Hillary Clinton as the next Democratic nominee for president. And she intertwined her own story of her daughters in making the point. She spoke of Hillary Clinton’s work as a children’s advocate over the years. And she spoke of how her daughters could now take for granted that a woman could be president of the United States.

Perhaps the most inspiring and historically uplifting statement was left unspoken. The oldest daughter of the first black president will be able to vote for the first woman president in 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

Do Black Lives Matter to Police?

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

GunOn Wednesday, July 6, I went to bed upset and angry after learning of another police shooting and killing of Alton Sterling, a 37 year old father of five, who was gunned down by police officers outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I woke up on Thursday to discover that another black man, 32 year old Philando Castile, was shot and killed by police officers outside St. Paul, Minnesota for attempting to get his driver’s license and registration, after being stopped for a broken tail light. Both incidents were caught on tape. In the case of Castile, his girlfriend who was in the vehicle at the time, livestreamed the aftermath while emotionally distraught. And in the case of Sterling, video exists of the shooting incident. It appears now that police shootings and killings of African Americans are coming fast and furious.

 

In the case of Alton Sterling, a store owner stated that as Sterling lay on the ground shot, a police officer removed a gun from Sterling’s pocket following the killing. As usual, the officers have been placed on administrative leave and the Justice Department is investigating. In Castile’s case, he was trying to comply with the officer’s demands to provide his license and registration during a routine car stop when he was shot and killed in front of his girlfriend and her young daughter. These two senseless police killings of African Americans are added to the list of many others in the U.S.

Castile’s mother is quoted as saying her son was just “black in the wrong place.” But that begs the question of where is the right place in the U.S. for African Americans to avoid being shot and killed by police. I doubt if anyone has the answer. Castile’s girlfriend says that the police are not here to protect and serve but to “assassinate” African Americans. Many persons are calling the police shootings and killings of African Americans as the 21st century lynchings.

According to recent reports, 1150 persons were shot and killed by police in 2015. Of those, almost one third were African Americans. Yet, African Americans only make up 13% of the U.S. population. Charges were only brought in 3% or 34 cases out of the 1150 killings. These senseless killings of blacks run the gamut from college educated Jonathan Ferrell in Charlotte, NC, who was seeking help from the police following a car accident to 50 year old Walter Scott, who like Castile, was stopped by police for a busted tail light. Scott was running away from police when he was shot in the back by then officer Michael Slager. He is awaiting trial on murder charges. And without having bystander citizen video, Slager would not have been charged. From Eric Garner in NY, LaQuan McDonald in Chicago, Samuel Dubose in Cincinnati to 12 year old Tamir Rice, playing on a playground and the many other innocent and unarmed blacks killed at the hands of police, there is an apparent epidemic of police brutality perpetrated at blacks in the U.S. Nowhere is safe. And no black person is safe from police brutality.

In order for a police shooting or killing to be justified, the police officer must fear the loss of his or her life or serious bodily injury. And in the cases of unarmed blacks shot and killed, that’s what police officers purportedly state—despite video often showing the contrary.

 

Historically, many blacks have been killed since slavery times through the civil rights era and up to present times. But the question is where do African Americans turn to for help when the protection needed is from those police who took an oath to serve and protect citizens? Law enforcement officials are often quick to decry that blacks don’t like police and don’t want police intervention. Most African Americans are not anti-police. However, African Americans are anti-injustice.

The problem of police brutality is becoming mainstream news—although many in the African American community have known about the problem for many decades. And without videos by civilians and social media, the problem would not be receiving the present attention. The U.S. must go beyond seeing the problem of police killing blacks to seeking viable solutions. Black lives must matter to the police.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor who is often seen in the media speaking on criminal justice issues.

Supreme Court Sweeps in Final Week

Monday, June 27th, 2016

supcourt_building

The  Supreme Court decided important cases today on political bribery, abortion rights and gun rights. The highest court struck down a restrictive Texas abortion law and vacated former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell’s bribery conviction. It upheld a federal gun law that forbids gun ownership if  convicted of domestic violence.

 

The court ruled that Texas’ HB2 draconian abortion law is unconstitutional and struck down the abortion law which unduly interferes with the rights of women to obtain an abortion. In a decided ruling of 5-3, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas HB2 law which placed strict standards against abortion doctors, clinics and almost closed all access to abortion in Texas is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court rejected Texas’ argument that the law was intended to protect women’s safety. The law was written to block women’s access to abortions in the State of Texas.

While Congress or the Senate has failed to pass any meaningful laws on gun control, the Supreme Court made clear today that no absolute right exists for gun ownership for those who have committed and been convicted of domestic violence. The Supreme Court upheld a federal law which prohibits people convicted of domestic violence from legally owning guns. In a blow to gun rights advocates, the Supreme Court made clear that the law covers intentional acts of domestic violence and those that are committed in the heat of an argument, whether misdemeanor or felony conviction.

In upholding the federal law, the Supreme Court affirms that the second amendment is not an absolute right to bear arms for those convicted of domestic violence—however it occurs. And the Supreme Court also indirectly inferred that those who are victims of domestic abuse are entitled to have gun right ownership stricken from their abusers. In many jurisdictions, local state laws also forbid the ownership of guns by those who have committed an act of domestic violence. And individuals are required to turn into law enforcement authorities any guns that they already possess.

 

Governor McDonnell at CPAC; Attribution Gage Skidmore

Governor McDonnell at CPAC; Attribution Gage Skidmore

In what was expected by many legal observers, the Supreme Court vacated the bribery conviction of Bob McDonnell with a decisive 8-0 ruling and dealt a likely death blow to Virginia federal prosecutors. By way of background, McDonnell while in office, received multiple gifts from business man Johnnie Williams consisting of loans, a paid wedding reception for his daughter, jewelry, vacation and golf trips. More specifically, the McDonnells received almost $200,000 of gifts and cash consisting of:

 

  1. $50,000 loan, without loan papers, used to pay of the McDonnell’s’ credit card debt
  2. $20,000 additional loan
  3. $15,000 payment to a caterer for the McDonell’s daughter’s wedding
  4. Round trip tickets for the McDonnell’s daughters to attend an out of town bachelorette party
  5. A lavish shopping spree in New York for Mrs. McDonnell to buy couture designer clothing and accessories for the Governor’s inauguration
  6. A Rolex watch, specifically requested by Mrs. McDonnell to be engraved for her husband, after seeing one on Williams’ arm
  7. Golf outings costing thousands of dollars
  8. Use of private jets
  9. Shares of stock

 

The Supreme Court did not focus on the gifts but focused on what constitutes official duties in exchange for the gifts–which is bribery if gifts are accepted in exchange for “official acts”. The highest court sparred McDonnell from jail by stating the official acts under federal corruption law means more than setting up business meetings, a launch at the governor’s mansion of Williams’ business and talking to others. And without more actions, it does not meet the bribery standard.

 

While the Court left open that McDonnell could be retried, it is not likely that will occur as the entire case rested on the theory that the Supreme Court struck down. What the Supreme Court stated is that it’s acceptable for lawmakers to receive the massive amounts of gifts that McDonnell received without any case, controversy or matter that may be pending. And the ruling also may have some implications for recently convicted politicians and those awaiting trials on bribery issues.

 

In all, Monday was a busy day of rulings for the Supreme Court.

 

Debbie Hines at the Capitol

Debbie Hines at the Capitol

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a lawyer, legal analyst and member of the Supreme Court bar.

Freddie Gray Case Shows Need for Justice Department Oversight

Sunday, June 26th, 2016
Credit: Murphy, Falcon and Murphy

Credit: Murphy, Falcon and Murphy

As I sat through the three trials of Baltimore police officers charged with the death of Freddie Gray, it became apparent that the Baltimore police department needs serious independent oversight. Baltimore police cannot police their own police. Just like Freddie Gray,  Dondi Johnson was another individual who sustained a fatal spine injury in a Baltimore police van.  Johnson and others like Gray’s family received civil settlements. Since 2011, Baltimore City has paid over $13 million in police brutality cases, including alleged rough rides. These incidences, while difficult to prove a “rough ride” theory in a criminal court, should be the subject of Department of Justice oversight. The Department of Justice launched its investigation into the practices and patterns of the Baltimore police department in May, 2015.

In the Freddie Gray trials, the state could not prove a rough ride existed, one where the van driver intentionally goes on a maniac driving pattern to rough up the prisoner in the van. The state’s neurology expert, Dr. Morris Soriano, testified that without extreme force, Freddie Gray’s injuries would not have occurred. And Soriano further opined that Gray could not have caused his own injuries.   And I’ve heard of Baltimore residents talk about prisoners being given rough rides, while handcuffed and shackled in the van without a seat belt. I seriously doubt if those who sustained injuries or ended up becoming paralyzed are fabricating stories, having freak accidents or causing their own paralyzing injuries.

Judge Barry Williams stated that Caesar Goodson, the van driver in Gray’s case, had no reason to give Freddie Gray a rough ride. Williams cited that Gray had done nothing to Goodson, like spitting on him, for Goodson to have a motive for a rough ride. Judge Williams needs to come out of his ivory tower a little more often. There is no motive necessary for police to treat African Americans and other minorities with disdain.   One need only look at the cases of Eric Garner, Walter Scott, LaQuan McDonald, Samuel DuBose and many others whose lives were taken by police without any motive. And the Baltimore police are known among many in the African American community of treating African Americans with less than humanity and dignity for decades. If motive is a criteria that a Baltimore judge needs to determine police misconduct, there will be no police misconduct found in brutality cases.

The more troubling aspect is the Baltimore police policy on seat belts. While seat belts are required by law in Maryland and most states, they are not required by law in police vans. Baltimore police officers have general orders to use seat belts but apparently, according to court testimony, have discretion to refrain from using them. And most Baltimore officers do not use seat belts citing safety reasons. Even when Gray was found to be lethargic, Goodson and officer Porter still refrained from securing him with a seat belt. There is no use for mandatory police general orders if Baltimore police can use their discretion to ignore them. Even a defense police expert from Charlottesville, VA testified in the Porter trial  that chief of police general orders are intended to be followed.

The most troubling issue in the Gray trials is the police discretion to call a medic, if requested by the prisoner. Testimony revealed that police are not to use their own judgment when a prisoner requests a medic. Officer Porter testified that Gray stated the words “help”. Porter asked Gray if he needed a medic to which Gray replied “yes”. According to the testimony, Gray appeared lethargic. Yet, Judge Williams found there was no need to call a medic or for Goodson to drive to a hospital less than 3 miles away, as Gray did not exhibit any physical injuries such as blood. This essentially leaves the discretion within the police officer’s control as to whether or not to call a medic or transport a prisoner to a hospital. Many injuries such as strokes, mental issues necessitating hospital care, asthma, breathing issues, neck injuries and internal injuries like Gray sustained will often show no outwardly visible signs. Leaving it to the police officer’s discretion may, in cases like Gray, result in serious life threatening injuries or death. Police cannot be the sole arbiter of injury. No harm would result from a police medic being called in these cases. And a life could possibly be saved.

These issues are only several that were raised in the Gray trials which necessitate that the Department of Justice place oversight authority over the Baltimore police. The Justice Department has extended oversight reform following investigations of other police departments, including Ferguson, following Michael Brown’s death, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Detroit and over 20 other cities. And oversight authorities often extends for years. The Justice Department has legal authority to investigate police agencies for systemic problems and force them to implement reforms.

Following the verdict in the Goodson case, the Baltimore police union tweeted a tweet showing their delight in the acquittal while mocking State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby—as a lone wolf. It has since been deleted. There is no need for frolic and partying by Baltimore police where a young man’s life was taken while in police custody. There is a need for Justice Department oversight of the Baltimore police department to change culture, make necessary reforms and prevent the loss of other lives.

debbie-hines-reel-2015Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former Baltimore prosecutor.