2/13/2006 Newsletter

Contents:

  • Class Action Lawsuit in Court
  • Public Hearing on MPD Taser Purchase
  • Thomas Evanstad Court Watch
  • Lennie Senter Court Watch
  • Misusing the Courts to Punish Complainers and Protect Brutal Cops
  • Surveillance Prompts a Suit: Police v. Police

CLASS ACTION SUIT GOES TO COURT!  BE THERE!
FEBRUARY 15 & 16, 9:00 a.m.--PACK THE COURTROOM!
Federal Court Hearing on Our Community Lawsuit
Federal District Court
300 S 4th St, Minneapolis
This is the community class action lawsuit that was filed when it became clear that the city had hijacked the federal mediation process.  The purpose of the lawsuit has been to force policy and practice changes within the Minneapolis police department.  The city has settled on a number of the community's demands but there are still some issues outstanding, including justice for Darryl Robinson, the main named plaintiff in the lawsuit.  This will be a meaty, exciting court hearing and we need to pack the room to the rafters.  Plan now to be there.

Darryl was beaten by a Minneapolis cop while another watched, when all he had been doing was walking down the street.  His eardrum was ruptured when the officer stomped on his head and the cop who did it then poured seltzer water into his ruptured ear, causing excruciating pain.  The cops left him lying in the alleyway and never charged Darryl with any crime or even filed a police report. 

Darryl took himself to the hospital and demanded to make a complaint against the officer.  MPD sent a sergeant to HCMC to interview him, but somehow the audiotape of that interview got "lost."  Darryl tried to follow up, but no one at the City would do anything.  Someone even told him that if he kept asking questions, he would be harassed.  Darryl contacted us when it was clear the MPD was not going to do anything to investigate criminal charges against one of their own.  He feels that this shows a systemic problem in the MPD, and we agree.  That's when Darryl decided to be part of a legal action designed to force changes.

Darryl is a brave man and a true hero to the community.  Since becoming the named plaintiff, he has been harassed repeatedly and has even had to give up driving due to constant traffic stops.  Yet he has continued to stand strong in his demand for justice and for changes within the Minneapolis police department.  This court hearing will be the opportunity for the community to hear first hand Darryl's story along with issues related to accountability within the MPD.  COME TO COURT AND STAND WITH DARRYL AND OTHERS WRONGED BY POLICE VIOLENCE AND MISCONDUCT.


NEW TIME!
Public Hearing on MPD Purchase of Additional Tasers
February 15, 2:00 p.m.
City Council Chambers
Minneapolis City Hall
350 S. 4th Street, Minneapolis

We've been letting you know about this very important public hearing on whether the city of Minneapolis should spend $163,000 on 160 new Tasers for the Minneapolis police department.  We just learned that the city plans to slightly gum up the works on this public hearing--which was originally scheduled for 1:30--by holding a joint meeting between the PS&RS committee and the HE&E committee on a new report about the Civilian Review Authority's procedures and policies.  At this point, it appears the public hearing on Tasers won't start until about 2:00.  However, this joint meeting regarding the CRA is likely to be plenty spicy so we'd encourage you to come at 1:30 for that and stay for the Taser public hearing.

Here's the scoop on the Taser public hearing and our concerns:

The MPD wants to buy 160 new X26 Tasers.  These Tasers use a special technology that makes them even more powerful than the M26 model they now use (and believe us, those Tasers are bad enough).  They currently have 150 Tasers in their arsenal.  Chief McManus stated at the previous committee meeting that they would be replacing 100 of these with the new purchase--which means they would end up with 210 of these dangerous weapons.

Across the country, there have been over 200 deaths after Tasering.  In our own area, seven deaths have occurred after Tasering.  The mechanism for death is generally ventricular fibrillation (V-Fib), a condition in which the heart beats in an extremely rapid, uncoordinated fashion so it is unable to pump blood throughout the body.  The only solution is defibrillation, which must occur in minutes.  For this reason, many experts are warning against routine Taser use and others--including police departments--are either requiring the availability of defibrillators on the scene of any Taser use or are banning the devices outright.

In addition to deaths, Tasers have also caused numerous head, neck and other orthopedic injuries (from people falling without the ability to catch themselves) and burns.  There are also reports of lingering neurological problems and one report of fetal death after Tasering of a pregnant woman.  Little is known about the long-term effects of Tasering and, for these reasons, Canada and other countries have banned the use of Tasers on children, the elderly, pregnant women and other vulnerable populations.

Current MPD policy requires that only CIT (crisis intervention team) officers carry these devices.  It is not clear that the MPD will retain this policy.  We also have concerns that Tasers will end up in the hands of school resource officers, the cops who patrol Minneapolis public schools.

It is very important that the council hear your opinion on these weapons and whether we should add more of them to the police arsenal.  The public hearing on this matter will be on February 15th at 2:00 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall.  We'll already be downtown at the federal court for our class action lawsuit hearing, so some of us will take a break from court to testify at this hearing.  It's important that you join us.  If you're not able to be there, please take a minute to let your council member know your feelings on this topic.  Go to http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/council/ to find your council member's email address and phone number.


COURT WATCH OPPORTUNITIES

Thomas Evenstad
Friday, February 24, 10:00 a.m.
Federal Courthouse
300 S. 4th Street, Minneapolis
Thomas Evenstad was arrested on a probable cause hold.  He never even knew what he was being held for and had never been to jail.  That night, he was placed in a cell with several other inmates who would not allow him to sleep in the bunk the deputy had designated for him and intimidated him into sleeping on a mattress on the floor.  The next morning, a deputy came in and screamed at him as he rolled up his bedding.  That deputy forced Evenstad to remove his clothes and then took him out of the cell and began beating him.  The deputy was joined by others, including a supervisor, who also beat and verbally abused him.  When Evenstad threatened to complain to the media, he was put into a cold isolation room, still naked and without bedding, and left there for a day.  After that, he was moved to the hole.  While there, he was beaten multiple times and when he pushed the emergency button or attempted to get medical care for his injuries he was sentenced to even longer periods in the hole.  He was also harassed nightly with deputies taunting him over a loudspeaker.  All of this was witnessed by other inmates.  It appears that these tactics were used to prevent him from accessing the telephone and from having his injuries documented.  One nurse has come forward to admit that jailhouse nurses were told to change their documentation to back up the deputies and reduce liability.

Injustice within the "justice system" is not confined to police brutality and misconduct.  It happens in the jails and it happens in the courts.  But we can stop it by exposing it to the light of day.  This case is an important effort to bring conditions at the jail--where people are literally in the belly of the beast--into public view.  It deserves your support.

Lennie Senter
Tuesday, March 7, 9:00 a.m.
Ramsey County Courthouse
15 W. Kellogg Blvd, St. Paul
Lennie was driving in St. Paul when he was pulled over.  Police claim he did not "pull over fast enough" though he has proof to the contrary.  They pulled him from his car and threw his wallet and money on the sidewalk.  They then beat, pepper-sprayed and Tasered him repeatedly.  He passed out and woke up in a squad.  At the jail, he was beaten again and held all night in cuffs. He suffered from kidney damage and a broken shoulder.  He was later charged with 4th degree assault on a police officer--a bogus charge often used on people who were beaten by police.  At the arraignment, he pled not guilty and because he wouldn't accept the deal offered, he was placed under a $60,000 bond, which he couldn't raise.  He spent 54 days in jail and is now going to trial.  He is representing himself and is determined to clear his name. It's extremely important that people go to court and support this man.


USED AND ABUSED
Misusing the Courts to Punish Complainers and Protect Brutal Cops
The City of Minneapolis has a big problem.  They can't seem to reign in their cops, some of whom seem to have uncontrollable urges to beat, harass, and otherwise violate the rights of and abuse community members under color of law.  These urges, however, have consequences and one of those is that people on the receiving end tend to sue the city.  And while many people in the dominant culture don't give much credence or concern to complaints of abuse, they are quick to notice huge hunks of tax dollars going to pay for damages to recipients of the abuse.

Enter the courts.  Under a State supreme court case known as Heck v. Humphrey, if a person is convicted of a crime then that justifies pretty much anything the cops did to them.  "Hmmm...," the crafty city or county prosecutor says to him or herself.  "If I can just put some charges on the person--no matter how flimsy or unfounded--and then talk them into taking a deal, their case against the cops goes away."  While it seems like a huge conflict of interest--shouldn't the prosecutor be concerned with all law-breaking, no matter by whom?--this is not idle speculation, folks.  We've seen it so many times that we are generally shocked when someone who was beaten by cops ISN'T charged.  Efforts of said crafty prosecutor are aided and abetted by fabricated police reports (written sometimes months after the fact), manipulated evidence with little to no chain of custody, tapes that are magically erased or lost and, sometimes, by public defenders and even private attorneys who are a little too wedded to the system to really fight for their clients.

Need proof?  How about the Dontay St. James case: he was shot four times through his closed apartment door by a cop who looked like he was hopped up on steroids.  There were lots of witnesses.  Was the cop charged?  NO!  But Dontay, who nearly died from his injuries, was put through the wringer of being charged with felony assault on the cop who shot him!  Or, how about the case of Alicia Smith?  She ran to a police car for help when she was escaping a domestic assault.  The cop apparently got startled.  He not only knocked her down with the door of car but then he slammed her head through the back window of the squad.  If that wasn't bad enough, she was then charged with felony assault of the cop.  See a pattern here?

In both the St. James and Smith cases, juries found them not guilty of the charges.  This same thing happened to Al Flowers, who was beaten outside the Urban League in front of many witnesses including prominent politicians.  MPD and park police coordinated their story and concocted reports and Hennepin County Medical Center also played a role by putting Flowers under a special hold and by doctoring the medical records to match what the cops wanted them to say.  Once Flowers was found not guilty, he went forward with a case against the police.  You'd think that he'd now get some justice, right?

Well, the system doesn't give up that easily.  Rather than doing the sensible thing and trying to negotiate settlements, the city attorney's office seems to practice a scorched earth policy of forcing people all the way through most of the trial preparation, lining up witnesses, paying experts, etc. before they will finally start to talk about settlement.  And why?  This appears to be the preferred strategy to wear down the victim, thus possibly lowering the settlement dollars.  After all, how many people can afford to go on waiting and waiting to cover their medical bills, lost wages, etc.?  You and I and anyone else with sense would say, "if you're worried about costs, why not just reign in your cops in the first place?"  But that would require going up against the Police Federation--something very few politicians have the guts to do.  "Besides," they ask themselves, "if we make the cops behave themselves, who will control the homeless, the poor, Black folks, and the rest of the 'huddled masses'?"  Yes, folks, there are people in the world who think this way.  The proof is that even when one of these cops costs the city a wad, they aren't prosecuted, they aren't fired--plenty of time they are even promoted or given a medal.  So, clearly, they're doing what somebody wants them to be doing.

The point of this diatribe is that the police, prosecutors, judges and even sometimes lawyers for the abused work in concert to prevent justice from happening and to perpetuate the system.  That's why we advocate looking at all parts of the system.  Cops bring people into the system but the system doesn't stop there.  We need people looking at all parts of the system and exposing the interrelated roles all of these parts play in perpetuating injustice.  That's how we'll get real justice for people abused by police.
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IS TURNABOUT FAIR PLAY?
Surveillance Prompts a Suit: Police v. Police
By JIM DWYER
February 3, 2006

The demonstrators arrived angry, departed furious. The police had herded them into pens. Stopped them from handing out fliers. Threatened them with arrest for standing on public sidewalks. Made notes on which politicians they cheered and which ones they razzed.

Meanwhile, officers from a special unit videotaped their faces, evoking for one demonstrator the unblinking eye of George Orwell's "1984."

"That's Big Brother watching you," the demonstrator, Walter Liddy, said in a deposition.

Mr. Liddy's complaint about police tactics, while hardly novel from a big-city protester, stands out because of his job: He is a New York City police officer. The rallies he attended were organized in the summer of 2004 by his union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, to protest the pace of contract talks with the city.

Now the officers, through their union, are suing the city, charging that the police procedures at their demonstrations--many of them routinely used at war protests, antipoverty marches and mass bike rides--were so heavy-handed and intimidating that their First Amendment rights were violated.

A lawyer for the city said the police union members were treated no differently than hundreds of thousands of people at other gatherings, with public safety and free speech both protected. The department observes all constitutional requirements, the city maintains.

The lawsuit by the police union brings a distinctive voice to the charged debate over how the city has monitored political protest since Sept. 11. The off-duty officers faced a "constant threat of arrest," Officer Liddy testified, all but echoing the complaint by activists for other causes that the city has effectively "criminalized dissent."

The lawsuit is one of three recent legal actions in which the city has been accused of abuses of power that the plaintiffs say crimped free expression, a charge that officials say is belied by the reality of noisy sidewalks and streets, crammed year-round with parades and rallies.

At the core of all three cases are questions about the expanded powers the police were granted after the 2001 attacks, and how much the department needs to know about the politics of people who are expressing their views.

In 2003, a federal judge eased long-standing and strict limits on surveillance of political activity at the request of lawyers from the city's corporation counsel office, who argued that the Police Department needed broader authority to use such tactics to fight terrorism.

Since then, police officers in disguise have taken part in demonstrations, an approach the Police Department says it used before receiving the expanded powers; other officers have made hundreds of hours of videotapes of people involved in protests and rallies, very few of whom were charged with breaking any law. Neither form of surveillance, the city argues, violates the Constitution.

The three pending cases--two of them brought by civil liberties lawyers and the third by the police union--are the first to demand judicial scrutiny of those tactics.

Among those three, the police union was the earliest to challenge the city, and its case has the most striking dynamic: the very people asked to fight terrorism are claiming that the city's new antiterrorism tools have been bluntly and illegally applied to the exercise of their own civil rights.

"It puts the whole issue into stark relief," said Elizabeth McNamara, a lawyer who represents the P.B.A. and other unions in the suit.

In July and August 2004, a few dozen off-duty officers joined at times by firefighters popped up at places where Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was scheduled to appear, chanting and handing out leaflets about labor negotiations.

The unions maintain that their demonstrations, in the weeks before the 2004 Republican National Convention opened in New York, embarrassed the mayor just as the national press corps was turning its attention to the city, and that the Police Department responded by cracking down. They are seeking a court declaration that their rights have been violated, as well as damages.

Lawyers for the city say that police union members pestered truck drivers making deliveries, obstructed sidewalks near the mayor's home, and taunted the mayor's press secretary by saying they knew where he lived. The Police Department, the city lawyers say, is neutral about political messages and used barricades and other crowd control methods only to protect the rights of the public and to keep order.

However, the police union said it had uncovered evidence that the department took a keen interest in what the demonstrators were saying, not just how they said it.

During a deposition of the chief of department, Joseph Esposito, who is the department's top uniformed official, Ms. McNamara read parts of a report prepared by the department's Internal Affairs Bureau, which noted that the protesters included members of the Police and Fire Department unions.

"In Paragraph 4, it says that members of both departments called out to the mayor for pay raises," Ms. McNamara said, according to the court transcript, "In Paragraph 5, it notes that the protesters clapped and cheered when former Mayor Koch appeared."

She asked, "What would be the basis for them recording the content of the protesters' demonstrations?"

Chief Esposito responded, "Just to record what they observed."

At a hearing in Federal District Court in Manhattan, Ms. McNamara said the videotaping was punitive. "There was no basis whatsoever for employing the Internal Affairs Division to videotape the police officers except as a means of political harassment," she said. "There wasn't suspicion of criminal activity."

Mark Muschenheim, a lawyer for the city, said that Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly ordered the videotaping for legitimate reasons. "There were threats made to the mayor's press secretary during these demonstrations," Mr. Muschenheim said. "That was a decision made by the police commissioner because the demonstrations were getting out of hand."

At Chief Esposito's deposition, Ms. McNamara asked, "Would there be any reason, to your knowledge, for them to be taping the protest to zoom in and individually photograph each officer at the protest?"

"I don't know," he replied.

"Do you know any legitimate reason for such documentation of individuals at the protest?" Ms. McNamara asked.

The chief replied, "Document presence for further identification in the event there was misconduct."

No criminal activity or misconduct was observed at the union demonstrations, Charles Campisi, the chief of the Internal Affairs Bureau, testified, but the videotapes will remain on file. "The purpose of keeping records is to document the observations, what you've done," he said.

In 2003, a federal judge found that the Police Department had scrutinized the beliefs of antiwar protesters without legitimate reason. After antiwar rallies in February and March 2003, 12 people who were arrested said they were questioned on their political thinking by detectives.

Police officials said basic information was needed for a database that would identify centers of protest organization to help deploy officers at future demonstrations. When the practice was made public, Commissioner Kelly said that while he did not know about it, there was nothing unconstitutional about the questioning. Nevertheless, he said the information was not needed.

The dozen people who submitted affidavits said the interrogations went far beyond basics. Among the questions, they said, was whether the country would be better off if Al Gore had been elected, whether they hated President Bush, whether they belonged to other antiwar groups, what schools they attended, and whether they were politically active. The police denied asking those questions.

The judge, Charles S. Haight of Federal District Court in Manhattan, noting that all the protesters gave roughly the same version of events, said he believed that they were telling the truth, even if Commissioner Kelly and his deputy for intelligence, David Cohen, were not aware of the practice.

In the P.B.A.'s lawsuit, now in pretrial proceedings, Ms. McNamara tried to show that it was unusual for the Internal Affairs Bureau to keep an eye on off-duty police officers. If a group of police officers were going to have "a baseball game, would I.A.B. be called in to monitor to see whether they might engage in illegal activity?" Ms. McNamara asked Chief Esposito.

"Generally speaking, no," he replied.

Asked if Internal Affairs officers with video cameras might intimidate an officer, Chief Esposito said, "I don't think so."

However, Joseph Alejandro, a police officer and union official, testified about the videotaping, "It sends a chill down a police officer's back to think that Internal Affairs would be taping something."

Although city lawyers have not yet addressed the claims in the union's lawsuit at any length, they argued in a related case that the police should be allowed to make and keep videotapes of political gatherings. A group of civil rights lawyers charged that such videotaping violated a standing court order that settled a class action lawsuit, known as Handschu, that put limits on police surveillance. Many of those limits were eased in 2003. The city says that nothing in the United States Constitution forbids police videotaping of people in a public place.

"Even if the N.Y.P.D. were to identify the person whose images were captured on videotape, or disseminated the photographs to other police agencies, a constitutional violation has not occurred," wrote Gail Donoghue, a senior city lawyer.
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Communities United Against Police Brutality
3100 16th Avenue S
Minneapolis, MN 55407
Hotline 612-874-STOP (7867)


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