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Blacks Go to Jail for Killing Dogs; Whites Stay Out of Jail for Killing Blacks

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

Black-Lives

I was on Twitter last night when I found out that Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby had been acquitted for killing Terence Crutcher, an unarmed Black man.  There have been so many police killings of unarmed Blacks with so few charges brought or guilty verdicts that I have become numb.  But yesterday’s verdict of Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby struck a raw nerve.  As a former prosecutor, I respect law abiding police; I detest those officers who lack the temperament, skills and self-control to wear a police uniform.

 

Terence Crutcher is just the latest unarmed Black victim in a decades long string of Black victims killed at the hands of police without justice.  On September 16, 2016, Betty Shelby stated she fired her gun killing Terence Crutcher out of fear.  That is the standard response by police officers used in these cases.  It’s as if it’s in their police training manual of what to say when you shoot and kill a Black person.  Nine white jurors and three Blacks evidently believed her version.  Crutcher had his hands up when he was shot by Shelby, as evidenced on two videos.

 

After the trial of former police officer Michael Slager, I have come to believe that most police officers can get away with murder of blacks with impunity.  With a video and a bystander filming and watching on, a jury could not reach a unanimous verdict in Slager’s trial.  Slager was caught on tape shooting Walter Scott in the back as Scott ran away. Slager gave the same verbatim response as Shelby that he feared for his life.  How one fears for his or her own life as the perceived threat is fleeing –defies logic.  A jury trial ended in a mistrial.  Slager later plead guilty to federal civil rights charges, thereby avoiding a re- trial and a state trial. He will be sentenced later this year.

 

And then there’s the other side of the coin.  Blacks receive jail sentences for killing dogs or stupidly and accidently shooting themselves. NFL quarterback Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison for harming and killing dogs.  And former NFL player Plaxico Burress received a two year sentence for accidently shooting himself while at a night club.  Due to New York’s stringent gun laws, Burress likely pled guilty.  With both being black, Vick and Burress also likely pled guilty due to the likelihood of a guilty verdict against a Black man, if tried.  A jury will more likely render a guilty verdict against a Black man for killing a dog or almost killing himself that against a white police officer for killing an unarmed Black.

 

While I am not a Black man, I fear for all Blacks who encounter a police officer under circumstances that a white police officer can assert his fear.  That’s just about any circumstance imaginable.  Racial disparities exist in the killings of unarmed blacks versus whites.  According to statistics, African Americans killed by police are more likely to be unarmed than whites.  In 2015, 40% of all unarmed persons shot and killed by police were Black men. Yet, Black men make up only 6% of the U.S. population.

 

I would like to end on a positive note. But I am outraged at the constant loss of unarmed Black lives by police officers who cower under the guise of  their own innate racism.

 

 

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

High Stakes for Third Baltimore Police Officer Trial

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016
Credit: Murphy, Falcon and Murphy

Credit: Murphy, Falcon and Murphy

The stakes are high for Baltimore City prosecutors as the third of six high profile police officer trials in the death of Freddie Gray starts on Monday, June 6 with Officer Caesar Goodson, the van driver. Prosecutors were unable to obtain a conviction in the first two trials of Officers Porter and Edward Nero. Porter’s case ended in a mistrial and Nero’s trial ended in an acquittal of all charges.

Goodson is considered to be the most culpable of the six as he is the only officer charged with the highest charge of second degree “depraved heart” murder. And Goodson was driving the van in which the prosecutors allege the injuries occurred. Whether prosecutors will be able to convict Goodson of any charges remains to be seen. There is no doubt that high pressure is on the prosecutors in this case.

There are several key things to watch for in Goodson’s case. First, Goodson did not give a statement to any investigators. And he has an absolute right to remain silent at his trial. The state bears the burden of proof of all the elements of the charges. Edward Nero did not take the stand in his defense and his trial ended with a not guilty verdict by Judge Barry Williams. The state will not be able to use any prior words against Goodson. And they must rely on the testimony of Officer William Porter. It is always difficult in a circumstantial case where the defendant gives no prior statement. It is usually in the best interest of a defendant to refrain from giving a statement to police.

 

William Porter, in his own trial, stated that he told Goodson that Western police district would presumably refrain from taking Freddie Gray in his medical state. Porter’s police vehicle was trailing behind the van and stopped to assist with Gray in the back of the van. Other officers testifying in Nero’s trial stated that the seat belting of an arrestee was the van driver’s responsibility. The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that Porter must be compelled to testify in Goodson’s case. And Porter has been granted limited immunity for his testimony.

The state’s case revolves around a criminal negligent homicide theory of failing to seat belt Freddie Gray. The state contends that Baltimore police general orders mandated the use of seat belts in vans several days before Gray’s arrest. And the orders referenced the use of seat belts for detainees over a year preceding Gray’s arrest. A key factor in Goodson’s case as with the other officers is his knowledge of the general orders and any training. The Baltimore police department had no way of tracking if any of its officers read or opened the emails.

 

The Baltimore City medical examiner determined and ruled that Freddie Gray’s death was a homicide. Proving whether or not Officer Goodson is guilty of second degree murder will be an uphill battle—to say the least. The charge of second degree depraved heart carries up to 30 years in prison. While the jury will not know or be advised of the maximum penalty for the charge, they will be more cautious of convicting an officer of a second degree murder charge for something the officer failed to do—as opposed to something the officer did. While many persons speculate that Goodson took Gray on what is often termed a “rough ride”, purposefully driving erratically and escalating and stopping abruptly, there is no proof in the state’s case to show that it occurred. That would have made for perhaps a better second degree murder case. However, the case  does not appear to raise to the level  for a conviction of  second degree murder. And a jury will not likely convict Goodson of second degree murder without a stronger case.

That leaves the charges of manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has staked her future on this case. I would not want to be in her shoes.

Update: I will be attending and covering the trial starting with opening arguments. Further updates will be given next week as the trial begins.

Bio: Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former Baltimore prosecutor. She frequently appears on air on Al Jazeera, MSNBC, BET, Fox 5 DC, PBS, NPR, Sky News, TV One among others. Her op-ed articles appear in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Huffington Post and Women’s Media Center.

 

George Zimmerman is Like a Bad Dream that Won’t End

Friday, May 13th, 2016

GeorgeZimmermanCourtPicJust as Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, was getting past her 5th Mother’s Day without her son, Trayvon, George Zimmerman was getting ready to sell the gun he used to shoot and kill her son. Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012. Earlier this week, it was reported that Zimmerman was set to auction the gun with Gun Broker.com. They later withdrew the gun as an auction item.  But there’s always someone willing to do gun business, and another company, United Gun Group, listed the gun for auction on the same day that the other company withdrew it.

 

Zimmerman once again shows he has no remorse for taking the life of Trayvon Martin.  Zimmerman’s position appears to be that the gun is his property and he can choose to sell it if he desires.   And while Zimmerman may have the legal right to sell his property, he should seriously ponder if he should morally be selling the gun he used to take the life of an innocent teenager. Trayvon Martin was merely walking home from a store with iced tea and a bag of Skittles candy when Zimmerman encountered him.

 

A moral compass clearly does not exist within George Zimmerman.  And it shows a lot about our society that someone would want to auction Zimmerman’s gun and someone may want to buy the gun used to take a teenager’s innocent life as a collector item. Although Zimmerman was found not guilty on July 13, 2013, it doesn’t change the fact that the gun was used to take the life of a teenager whom Zimmerman felt did not belong in his Sanford, Florida neighborhood.

 

For me as an African American, selling the gun used to kill Trayvon Martin is akin to selling a noose used to hang around a black man’s neck by a white man who escaped justice.  Historically, Zimmerman’s act is similar to what occurred following some lynchings of African Americans in the Jim Crow south.  History records show that some whites who witnessed the hangings of blacks as a public activity later sold items such as photographs of the lynching and the body parts of the victim.  Or perhaps imagine if today an accused rapist who was later found not guilty decides to sell personal items of the victim worn during the alleged sexual assault.  Yes, it’s sickening and repulsive. And Zimmerman’s act is also sickening and repulsive.

 

George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin because he had no regard for human life.  And by attempting to sell the gun used to kill Martin, Zimmerman continues to show he has no regard for humanity.  He only has a desire to continue to be seen in the public spotlight, regardless of his reprehensible acts.   And it’s likely that we haven’t seen the last of George Zimmerman.

 

George Zimmerman is like a bad dream that won’t end. My heartfelt thoughts of support go out to the family of Trayvon Martin who must continue to grieve the loss of their son amidst the shenanigans of George Zimmerman—one bad dream after another.

 

UPDATE: Zimmerman’s gun used to kill an innocent teen was sold for over $120,000 according to accounts from TMZ.  And beforehand, Zimmerman verbally attacks the parents of Trayvon Martin for not properly raising their son.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor. She covered the George Zimmerman trial on multiple media outlets.

 

 

 

 

Former Baltimore Prosecutor’s Perspective on Freddie Gray-1 Year Later

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016
Credit: Murphy, Falcon and Murphy

Credit: Murphy, Falcon and Murphy

On April 19, 2015 Freddie Gray died from spinal injuries sustained on April 12, 2015 after being found unconscious 45 minutes after being placed in a Baltimore police van. In the one year since Freddie Gray’s death, there has been no accountability for his death.  Six police officers were charged in the death of Gray on May 1, 2015. Whether Baltimore prosecutors will be able to convict any of the six officers still remains a mystery.  The death of Freddie Gray is only one part of what the Freddie Gray case exposed about Baltimore.

 

On May 1, 2015, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged 6 police officers in the death of Freddie Gray with charges ranging from second degree murder, manslaughter, second degree assault, and various counts of misconduct.  The first trial of William Porter ended in a mistrial in December.

 

While some legal scholars and analysts derided Mosby for overcharging the officers and swiftly charging them weeks later following the incident, as a former Baltimore City prosecutor, I disagree with their criticism.  What the criticism fails to recognize is that the officers were charged, unlike in the other high profile police death cases of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner.  And in the Chicago case of LaQuan McDonald, it took evidence of an apparent cover up of a video tape before officers were charged in his death. While there may be a dispute as to whether the charges against the six Baltimore officers will result in any convictions, it should be up to a jury to decide the fate of the officers—not the State’s Attorney.  It is the job of the State’s Attorney to proceed whenever there is probable cause to proceed with charges against an individual and if the case merits prosecution.  The message that Mosby sent is no one is above the law, including police officers.

 

The first trial against Officer Porter exposed the mismanagement of the Baltimore Police Department. Officers routinely disregarded police internal orders such as the ones on safety and seatbelt restraint which would have saved Gray’s life.  New Baltimore Police Chief Kevin Davis must change the police culture and earn the respect and trust of the citizens which he and his fellow officers serve.  Acknowledging and addressing rough rides is one aspect. The act of “manically” driving a prisoner unrestrained in a police van has long been the subject of suspected police abuse and mistreatment—suspected in Gray’s case.

 

 

While a conviction in any of the six officers’ cases may send a morale boost to some Baltimore residents, it will do little for the Baltimore’s economy.  The primary election to elect a new mayor is April 26, 2016.  The winner of the Baltimore Democratic mayoral primary will likely become the next mayor of Baltimore. An opportunity and challenge exists for the new Mayor of Baltimore.

 

The real challenge will be whether a new mayor will be able to help the Freddie Grays in Baltimore and the deplorable depressed areas in many parts of the city caused by economic plight.  Census statistics show that almost 25% of Baltimore residents live below the poverty level. It will take more than a conviction in the police officers’ cases to address the ills in Baltimore caused by years of neglect in many parts of the City.

 

And no matter who is elected mayor, the City of Baltimore will need and continue to need funding from the State of Maryland to turn around decades of economic plight.  Job training, economic stimulus, drug treatment, affordable and decent housing and jobs must come to Baltimore.  Republican Governor Larry Hogan’s administration intends to invest $135 million to fix the City’s broken transit system for better connection to jobs plus adding jobs in the process.  More state help is needed to address jobs, education, drug treatment and housing.

 

As much as I want to see criminal justice done in the case of Freddie Gray, economic justice must also come to the residents of my beloved hometown of Baltimore City.  That should be the real legacy of the aftermath of the Freddie Gray case.

 

Debbie Hines at the Capitol

Debbie Hines at the Capitol

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former Baltimore City prosecutor.  She is frequently seen on air on Al Jazeera, BET, CBS, CCTV, Fox 5 DC, MSNBC, Sky News, TV One, among others.  Her Op Ed’s appear in the Washington Post, Huffington Post and Baltimore Sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tamar Rice Never Stood a Chance with Police

Monday, October 12th, 2015

police-chase_mediumJustice is often elusive when it comes to blacks killed or injured by police whether 12 years old or 112. So it should come as no surprise when two reports issued over the weekend indicate the same will likely be true for 12 year old Tamir Rice. Tamir was shot and killed on November 22, 2014 by police officer Loehmann while he was playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland Park. A 911 call alerted that someone probably a “juvenile” with a “fake gun” was in the park. Tamir was holding a toy gun and killed within seconds of the officer arriving on the scene to investigate. And like so many before him, these reports indicate the officer was acting reasonably when Tamir was shot. The reports and passage of time since Tamir’s death leads one to almost conclude that once again justice will be denied without an indictment, arrest or trial.

Two reports, both commissioned by the Cleveland prosecutor’s office came to the same result—that the officer acted reasonable in shooting and killing Tamir Rice within a matter of seconds. One report was conducted by a Colorado prosecutor and another by a retired FBI expert. A decision on a whether to seek an indictment has not been announced.

I have friends and clients who ask what should they tell their teenage sons to protect them when confronted by the police. Unfortunately, there is not much that can be said. What do you tell a 12 year old—not yet a teenager old, going out to play on a playground? Do you tell him to be careful because otherwise he may be killed by the police? How would you prevent this incident from happening? Most encounters of a deadly nature or serious injury with police have little to do with sagging pants, Afrocentric hair styles, manner of speech, college degree or anything else that would make sense.

 

The standard on review seems to bend in favor of the police and not the innocent victim—who was otherwise doing nothing to provoke the police. The standard appears based on what the police officer  believes is reasonable fear for one’s life. And that statement alone will likely justify a 12 year old being killed playing in a park. Did Tamir look scary to the police while playing on the playground? How does a child playing instill fear in a trained police officer? Is it that all black men and boys look threatening to police?

 

Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently stated there was a need for local police departments to keep better tracking of killings done by police. There is no way to know the magnitude of a problem without understanding the underlying statistics and facts. And there should be federal database—not echoed by Lynch. We need to know how many Tamirs, Freddie Gray’s, Michael Browns and Walter Scotts were killed by police.   We need to know the circumstances surrounding these incident. That is the only way we can begin to recommend effective policy, protocols and procedures to change the present police culture.

 

It is the police who need to change. Police policies must be implemented to combat against the racial stereotypical thinking among many police—both black and white. Until the police change, more Tamir Rice’s will be singled out and die at the hands of police.

 

 

America’s compass for justice is lost anytime a 12 year old black child cannot play on a playground or in a park without being shot and killed by a police officer.  It is as if blacks once again have no rights that the police should and will respect.

 

Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor. She often appears on air on Al Jazeera America, MSNBC, PBS, CBS News, C-Span, BET, Fox 5 News and others addressing legal and political issues on race, gender and class.

 

Money is not Justice for Eric Garner

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015
Baltimore Circuit Court House via Flickr by Kirsch

Baltimore Circuit Court House via Flickr by Kirsch

A New York City grand jury declined to indict officers on criminal charges for the chokehold death of Eric Garner while the city settled the case for millions before the family ever filed a lawsuit.  Garner’s case settled for $5.9 million on Monday. Wrongful death cases take into consideration money to award a family for their loss and criminal cases seek justice and fairness.

 

Some argue that the amount of Garner’s monetary settlement was too high while others say it was not enough money.  Wrongful death settlements consider the economic loss to family heirs and the pain and suffering to the deceased before death. The family demanded $75 million in their statutory letter to New York of their intent to file a lawsuit before the 1 year statute of limitations—on Friday.  The family may still seek damages against the first responders for allegedly inept first responder assistance. No amount of money equates justice for Eric Garner and his family.

 

Garner died in Staten Island on July 17, 2014 at the hands of officers who arrested him for allegedly selling loose cigarettes while holding him in a chokehold seen on video.  His case prompted the “I can’t breathe” movement sparking demonstrations in New York and across the country on excessive police force and killings of unarmed black men.

 

Garner’s settlement without criminal ramifications against the officers is not uncommon.  The 2013 police shooting case of Jonathan Ferrell settled for $2.25 million in May, 2015. A Charlotte, NC police officer shot Ferrell 10 times killing him as he allegedly sought police help following an automobile accident.  Officer Randall Kerrick goes on trial for voluntary manslaughter on July 20, 2015.  A Cleveland police shooting case settled for $1.5 million for each victim in 2014 for the wrongful deaths of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell. The recent trial of officer Michael Brelo for their deaths ended with a not guilty verdict in 2015.  Brelo was the only officer who went to trial while over 60 officers chased the victims in police cars with 137 shots fired at the unarmed victims.

 

 

In Baltimore, since 2011, 102 victims of excessive force, mostly non-fatal by police received almost $6 million in settlements or lawsuit judgments, according to the Baltimore Sun.  However the payouts for these police settlements require confidentiality—the victims’ families are silenced to receive a settlement.  In many cities, a confidentiality clause in settlements paid with public funds is not legal.

 

 

Civil settlements for wrongful death cases make no admission of guilt or acceptance of liability.  These settlements always contain a clause that the municipality does not accept liability for an officer’s acts.   And a criminal trial against an officer—assuming there is one, cannot use the settlement agreement.  Payment of money does not mean guilt. In most police involved on duty killings, there is rarely a trial. And the monetary settlement is often all that a family receives for the death of their loved one.

 

 

In order for police excessive force to change, the system must change.  It is rare for police to be charged with on duty killings. According to the Washington Post, of the 1000’s of fatal police shootings  occurring every year, prosecutors only charge 4 or 5. More prosecutor offices must evaluate police cases fairly and bring charges, where appropriate. This means treating the cases before the grand jury as any other case without deference to the police officer or regard for the prosecutor’s political reputation. It’s up to a jury or judge to determine guilt at a trial. Where there is potential or previously shown bias, a separate legal office other than the local prosecutor should review police cases.  Every prosecutor’s office should not be relieved of police involved excessive force cases, as some proponents suggest.   Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, an exception to the norm, charged six officers in the case of Freddie Gray who sustained fatal injuries in a police van on April 12.

 

The saying that money can’t buy love applies similarly with fatal police cases.  Money can’t buy justice.  Justice happens when prosecutors file charges against police for unjustified on duty police killings.  And a jury convicts police for those killings.  A system that only pays out money due to police killings but fails to charge and convict officers is a broken one.  It must be fixed.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor.