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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.

Why Walter Scott’s Killer May be Re-Tried–Even if Found Guilty

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016


 

 

 
Debbie Hines on MSNBC explains the Michael Slager trial and the implications of the lone juror holdout.

Former Charleston, SC police officer Michael Slager, who is on trial for the murder of Walter Scott, after firing 5 shots into Scott’s back, while fleeing from the officer, may get an early Christmas present—his freedom. As of Friday, a jury of 11 white persons and one lone black juror failed to reach an unanimous verdict. Eleven of the jurors support a conviction of either first degree murder or voluntary manslaughter. One lone hold-out states in a letter given to the judge that he or she is unable to come to a guilty verdict and won’t come to a verdict (paraphrased). Judge Newman did not order a mistrial on Friday, December 2. Instead, Judge Newman instructed the jury to go home over the weekend and continue deliberations on Monday, December 5. Michael Slager may have already won his freedom and the right to a new trial with the help of the one lone dissenting juror.

The video taken by a bystander witness showed Slager firing shots into the back of Walter Scott as he ran away 17 feet from the officer, after being stopped for a busted tail light on his car. The video further shows Slager attempting to plant a Taser gun at the feet of Scott following the shooting. No evidence in the trial showed that Scott ever had possession of the Taser. Slager’s testimony stated that he was in fear of Scott. No case is ever a slam dunk. However, this case is a classic example of a first degree murder case. Nonetheless, the jury is deadlocked.

In a case where a jury becomes what it feels is deadlocked, most judges will give or read what is called the “Allen charge” which tells the jurors to continue to deliberate and to keep an open mind. The Allen charge does not allow the other 11 jurors, as in the case of Slager, to coerce the lone juror into changing his or her mind. That would be sufficient grounds for an appeal.

There are several points that are interesting in the Slager trial. In all jury trials, whether criminal or civil, the judge instructs that the foreperson should send notes to the judge whenever there is a question or issue with deliberations. The foreperson speaks for the jury through written notes. So, it is interesting that the lone juror chose to write a separate note to the presiding judge. And it is even more interesting that the note possessed all of the appropriate legal buzz language needed to assist the defendant, in the event the lone juror changes his or her mind and votes with the other eleven for a conviction.

While I hate suggesting conspiracy theories, I do find it strange, for lack of a better word, that this one lone juror has almost made it his cause to declare the defendant not guilty. While that is the right of any particular juror to vote his or her conscience, it seems that there might be more here with this lone juror. The note suggests almost some form of legal training to state the appropriate buzz word language to give a new trial to the defendant, even if a guilty verdict is reached.

Unless a juror later speaks to the media, which often does occur in many high profile cases, the public does not know any information about the juror such as education, occupation, age or other material information. That information is solely known to the lawyers, judge, parties and court room clerks. This lone hold-out appears to be going above and beyond what a hold out juror usually does by letting the foreperson advise the judge of the circumstances.

As the days and perhaps weeks go on, we may come to learn more about the lone hold-out juror. For now, that juror has given Michael Slager his freedom whether through a mistrial, if declared, or a guilty verdict, if rendered. The tone for grounds for appeal are clearly already set by this lone hold-out juror, if he/she has a change of mind to convict Slager.

Judge Newman has indicated if a mistrial is declared, the case will be re-tried. While it is important for closure to the family of Walter Scott that a verdict be rendered, declaring a mistrial now will save the family more heartache down the road. If a guilty verdict is rendered next week, the defendant will undoubtedly appeal.   It is better to declare a mistrial now that having to redo a trial several years later.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former Baltimore prosecutor. She can be seen on MSNBC, CBS, PBS, Al Jazeera, BET, Fox 5 DC and other news outlets.

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Dear Police: Black People are Humans Too

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

 

Black-Lives

September proved to be a killing month of African Americans at the hands of police. Thirteen year old Tyree King running away from police in Columbus, Ohio, Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma with hands upon while being shot, Keith Lamont Scott, suffering with a brain traumatic injury in Charlotte, North Carolina and Alfred Olango, suffering from an epilepsy attack in San Diego County, are the most recent and notable names known in the media. The Guardian and Washington Post have kept as accurate a tally as possible since there is no federal database of police shootings and killings. In 2016, almost 800 persons have been killed at the hands of police. In 2015, it was 990. It averages roughly 1000 lives taken each year by police. From the period of 2005-2015, 54 police officers were charged with either manslaughter or murder. That averages out to 5 police officers charged per 1000 killings each year.

 

It seems as if the recent wave of police killings of unarmed blacks are coming fast and furious in September. It really never seems to let up, leaving many African Americans and those persons standing on the side of justice, swirling with an array of emotions from anger, sadness, sorrow, numbness, stress, tension, anxiety and a host of every other imaginable emotion. I know at times, I have gone through the entire gambit of emotions.
There is much talk and little action being done. While Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spoke on the recent killings, neither said what they would do as President to change the culture of racism and injustice. Trump during the first Presidential debate stated he would bring back stop and frisk. Stop and frisk measures were declared unconstitutional because the outrageous practices racially targeted blacks and Hispanics, in addition to doing nothing to deter crime. Trump proudly announced his endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police which actively supports police officers who have shot and killed innocent persons. And Clinton mentioned during the debate that systemic racism must be addressed. How to stop the killings of unarmed blacks is the big question.

 

The silence among fellow police officers is what is most troubling to me. Silence is the same as condoning the shooting deaths of unarmed African Americans. Charlotte’s Police Chief said the video of the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott did not “definitively” show a gun was shown. Few officers ever speak out against injustice. In the shooting death of Walter Scott last year in Charlotte, NC another police officer supported former officer Michael Slager’s account that Scott had a gun pointed. It was not until video taken by a bystander revealed both Slager and his partner lied. Scott was running away at the time with his back towards the officer. More officers need to speak the truth. If as some contend, that it is only a few bad ones, one would think other officers would be more vocal and speak out. The code of blue appears more powerful than standing with justice. Zero tolerance by police departments is another way to bring justice to an unjust situation. Police are being provided with body cameras but many somehow conveniently find it impossible to always wear them or turn them on. There are now police officers who are finding ways to prevent a dash camera from video. If police were given no warnings to wear and turn on body cameras or else termination, perhaps they might remember to wear and use them. Instead police are given free pay and leave time when a killing occurs and placed on administrative duty—a paid vacation or desk duty.

 

I know that I am sick and tired of seeing innocent lives taken at overzealous and racist police officers. As Desmond Tutu once said, “ If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” And for most police officers, they have become implicit in the killings of innocent and unarmed African Americans by choosing to remain silent or condoning their fellow officers’ actions. So they have chosen to stand with injustice rather than truth. As long as police are silent and victims appear powerless, there will be more unrest in America until the boiling pot completely boils over.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal commentator, speaker and former Baltimore prosecutor. She frequently appears on MSNBC, BET, CBS, C-Span, PBS among other news outlets. Her Op-Ed articles appear in the Huffington Post, Washington Post and Baltimore Sun.

Colin Kaepernick Did the Right Thing

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

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San Francisco  49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to again  sit down during the singing of the national anthem  due to his stance against this country’s unfair, unjust and racist treatment of African Americans and people of color. And in the process, a firestorm has erupted on line and off line. Many support his stance and others decry that it is unpatriotic. Some question his motives. Others say that he should do more than just a silent protest. Then there are others who say the silent protest is inappropriate.

Regardless of what persons think about Kaepernick’s actions, he has every right under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to protest in the manner that he chooses. It is really a mild form of protest—except that Kaepernick is a public sports figure. And that is causing the hail storm of comments and controversy.

Kaepernick’s stance came about from his concern of police killing black people and people of color with impunity while continuing to receive a pay check. From 12 year old Tamir Rice, 17 year old Laquan McDonald, 18 year old Michael Brown, 22 year old Oscar Grant, 25 year old Freddie Gray, 43 year old Eric Garner, 50 year old Walter Scott , just to name a few, the police have no age discrimination when it comes to killing blacks. Kaepernick dared to take a stand against these actions.

For those who know history, this is not the first time that an athlete or public figure has spoken out against discrimination in the U.S. The “greatest” Muhammad Ali was vocal against racial discrimination. In the 1960’s, Ali spoke about why he wouldn’t go to Vietnam to fight for our country stating our country would not fight for his rights here in America. And over 40 years later, there is still discrimination against returning black veterans who have fought abroad for our country. Many of those veterans gave online support of Kaepernick’s actions.

At the 1968 summer Olympics, U.S. Olympians gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos raised their hands in the Black Power salute and lowered their heads in protest of racial injustice and inequality in the U.S., during the playing of the nation anthem. Both were later vilified by many at home in the U.S.

Symbolic silent protests on issues are not just made by black athletes. Recently last year, many officers of the New York City police department  stood but turned their backs on New York Mayor De Blasio as he spoke during an officer’s funeral. Some police officers felt that De Blasio disrespected them when he spoke about warning his son Dante to be wary of cops and the dangers posed by them for African Americans.  De Blasio ‘s son is biracial.  The lesson that De Blasio gave his son is one that many African Americans must teach their children daily about police.

 

In President Obama’s first term in office in September, 2009, South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson shouted out “you lie” to the president during his speech. Wilson’s response was in response to President Obama’s statement on undocumented immigrants. While the comment was distasteful, disrespectful and downright racist, Rep. Wilson has a constitutional right to protest President Obama. His protest actions against the leader of the U.S. far exceeded the present actions of Colin Kaepernick. And the House of Representatives issued a formal rebuke—albeit along party lines.

For many African Americans, the reasons behind Kaepernick’s actions come as no surprise. When then Senator Barack Obama was running for office in 2008, Michelle Obama made the statement that “for the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.” She was almost instantly bombarded for her comments—viewed as negative by many white individuals. Yet, for me, when she made those comments, they resonated with my feelings about our country.

And standing in the cold frigid air in January, 2009 during the first inauguration of President Obama, I felt my first sense of patriotism and pride in the U.S. that I had felt in likely decades—far longer than I can even remember. I remember clutching the small American flag given to me. That moment was a very tiny speck on my patriotic spectrum. I woke up the day after the inauguration and saw that I was in the same America that discriminates daily against African Americans and people of color.

With all the police killings against African Americans and racism and hatred spewed daily towards African Americans, including against President Obama, I support Colin Kapernick’s actions. And he did the right thing.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal/political analyst and former prosecutor. She appears on Al Jazeera, BET, CBS, C-Span, Fox 5 DC, MSNBC, PBS and others.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.