12/12/2004 Newsletter


  • MPD Mishandles Mental Health Crisis (Michael Porter case)
  • Litany of Vindictive Prosecutions
    • Jhontez Watson
    • Beauty Gresham
    • Philander Jenkins
    • Brenda Jenkins
  • Philander Jenkins Jail Support
  • Taser Use Prompts FBI Probe in Louisiana Case
  • Raytheon "Heat Beam" Weapon for Crowd Control to be Used on Iraqis

This past Tuesday, Minneapolis police responded to calls that a nude man was roaming the Diamond Lake neighborhood, knocking on doors and asking strange questions.  Most folks would recognize that this young man, Michael Porter, 19, was in mental health crisis and needed help.  What he got instead was mauling by a police dog and multiple Taser shocks by the Crisis Intervention Team that is supposed to know how to handle such situations.  Most revolting of all--while Porter lies in critical condition in the hospital, police officials are bragging that their efforts were successful because they didn't kill him.

We've sent the following letter to Chief William McManus and we hope you'll join us in questioning him on the issues we've raised.  If you feel the urge, his phone number is (612) 673-2853, his email is [email protected] or write him at the address below.

Chief William McManus
Minneapolis Police Department
350 South 5th Street, Room 130
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55415

Dear Chief McManus:

As board members and officers of Communities United Against Police Brutality and as concerned members of the community, we write to express our outrage at the actions of members of your department in a recent incident involving a young man named Michael Porter on Tuesday, December 7th.  Anyone who witnessed Porter's behavior as he roamed the Diamond Lake neighborhood naked, knocking on doors and asking bizarre questions, would certainly have realized that this was a man in the midst of a mental health crisis.  When well-meaning neighbors called police to intervene, they surely could not have expected the vicious treatment he received at the hands Minneapolis police officers including mauling by a police dog and multiple Taser shocks.

Why was a canine unit dispatched to the scene of an incident involving a mentally ill man?  What is involved in the specialized training received by Crisis Intervention Team members and why do they continue to rely on Tasers, Freeze Plus P and other dangerous weaponry rather than verbal skills, medical intervention and other techniques to deal with mentally ill people? 

A member of your administration stated that he considered the handling of this incident to be a success because Mr. Porter wasn't killed.  Is this the standard now for success in the handling a mental illness crisis?  Are we to breathe a sigh of relief that this man was only mauled and Tasered but not killed?  We  find it deeply disturbing that your officers seem to have no better way to handle individuals in mental health crisis than to kill or injure them.

There are no independent witnesses who can corroborate the story that Porter attacked the five officers, and there is ample historical evidence that police officers lie to cover their own brutality in such incidents.  The fact that none of the neighbors reported this man acting in a violent manner makes the official version of the story even more suspicious.  After four years of dealing with literally hundreds of victims of police violence, we are skeptical to say the least.

We demand a full accounting to the public for the handling of this case including an explanation as to why a canine unit was dispatched to deal with a mentally ill man. 

People with mental illness are some of the most vulnerable people in this society, and police should be their first line of defense, not their persecutors.  We will not rest until Minneapolis police significantly improve their professional standards and practices and until Mr. Porter and all those brutalized by Minneapolis police officers receive justice.

In recent weeks, court watchers have been getting an inside view of vindictive prosecutions in a number of cases--by both Hennepin County prosecutors and Minneapolis city attorneys.  These agencies will argue that they need discretion in deciding which cases to pursue.  They'll also argue that because they have discretion, they shouldn't be subject to discipline for prosecuting a case.  But then we see these same prosecutors making such ridiculous choices about which cases to pursue that there seems to be an internal, probably unwritten, policy to go viciously after folks who have already been brutalized by the cops.  This is the opposite of discretion and makes these agencies little more than tools of the cops.  Which explains a lot about why these same agencies never prosecute brutal cops.

Some cases in point:

The beating and abuse of Jhontez Watson was captured in a video first aired on KSTP.  That video showed him on the ground in handcuffs when a Minneapolis police officer walked over, moved a bicycle out of the way and kicked Jhontez in the head.  He was then pulled up, prodded and hit with night sticks as he was walked to a police car.  Police slammed his leg in the car door.  Since that incident in June, Jhontez has sat in jail awaiting trial on the charge of felony obstructing legal process (OLP).  Bear in mind that OLP is the favorite cover charge of brutal cops but usually these charges are brought as misdemeanors by the city attorney's office.  The fact that these charges were brought as felonies by the county attorney's office shows that they are just as involved in covering for brutal cops.  Because his charge was a felony, Jhontez' mother was unable to raise the bail to get him out of jail.  Last week, the case of Jhontez Watson finally was to trial--almost.  Just before trial was to start, the county attorney's office dismissed all charges against him and Jhontez Watson left jail a free man after enduring over six months of false incarceration.

Beauty Gresham, stepdaughter of Rickey Jones, was on the scene when an older white man started choking her younger brother Kendrick, 10, and his friend.  Apparently, the man was frustrated that some other children in the neighborhood had broken a window in his garage.  When police arrived, they refused to take any action against the man, who had clearly engaged in child abuse.  When Beauty protested, police arrested her and she was charged with obstructing legal process.  She was in court this past week and within a few minutes her charges, which stemmed from her exercise of the First Amendment, were dismissed.

Philander Jenkins: Ever since this young man was viciously assaulted by officer Jeffrey Jindra in July 2003, the cops and county prosecutors have worked hand in glove to try to nail him for crimes they must KNOW he didn't commit.  He's been charged in a total of three separate cases.  The first two cases crumbled like a house of cards when phony evidence, witness deals, witness harassment and other issues were exposed.  Now we're down to the third case and things aren't going so well for the prosecution.  Philander's lawyer has demanded that the prosecution share all information about deals they made with witnesses.  The judge, Patricia Karasov, ruled that this information must be shared and said that if she learns that it wasn't, she will throw out this case for prosecutorial misconduct.   The prosecution appealed her ruling to the state court but that appeal was rightfully tossed out on its backside. 

Once it became clear their case was about to torpedo, higher ups with the Hennepin County Attorney's Office showed up in court to propose a "deal".  We're naturally suspicious whenever they come with a "deal" but this was laughable even by their standards.  They wanted Philander to plead guilty to two felonies in this current case and a felony in one of the cases that was already dismissed.  He would get out with time served but would be a convicted felon and would be on parole for somewhere in the neighborhood of 9 years--giving them ample opportunity to throw more cases on him.  Philander quite sensibly refused this "deal".  Hearings in this third case resume in January.

In the meantime, as Brenda Jenkins, mother of Philander, prepared for this last round of hearings in her son's case, she learned that she was being charged in the incident over a year and a half ago in which the Sheriff's department raided her house looking for her son.  He was at work at the time and she had just arrived home from her own job.  During the raid, Brenda and her friend were brutalized and then arrested.  After we launched a round of phone calls to the jail, Brenda and her friend were released--he was charged, Brenda was not.  He later went to trial and was found not guilty.  In what was clearly a cheap shot timed to distract her from defending her son, Brenda was charged with--what else?--obstructing legal process.  She went to pretrial week before last and the charges were immediately dismissed.  Keep in mind that just as Philander's brother Willie was to testify as an alibi witness in the previous case, he was beaten at school by a Minneapolis cop and then charged.  Those charges were also dismissed.  MESSAGE TO HENNEPIN COUNTRY AND MINNEAPOLIS PROSECUTORS:  The harassment of the Williams family has grown to the point of absurd and a whole lot of folks know what you're up to.  Knock it off!

We had hoped that this last case against Philander would be wrapped up by now and he would be home celebrating the holidays with his family.  However, since he will spend yet another Christmas in jail, we're asking folks to send him holiday greeting cards.

Philander Jenkins
1147 Shenandoah Lane
Plymouth, MN 55447

Please bear in mind that Philander could be punished if you send any contraband or any overtly political messages.  Please just send him a cheerful holiday card or note.  He has told us over and over that knowing he has outside support is what has gotten him through this whole ordeal.

Videotape could hold key to abuse claim
Jason Brown
[email protected]

December 9, 2004
Lafayette resident Kevin Alexander said he has experienced a myriad of health problems since police used a Taser to subdue him in August. Alexander said he now has trouble walking and turning his head.
In the face of an FBI investigation and possible lawsuits, the Lafayette Police Department remains tight-lipped about how its officers used Tasers against two suspects in recent months.

Questions still surround the events of Aug. 25, when Kevin Alexander claims an officer shocked him with a Taser gun 17 times during an undercover drug sting. Police videotaped the operation, and Alexander said he believes the videotape will prove he is telling the truth.

The police department refused a request by The Daily Advertiser to view the video, saying it is evidence in an ongoing investigation.

Alexander, 27, still remembers what it felt like that night.

"Every muscle in your body just tightens up," he said. "It feels like needles, just billions and trillions of needles sticking in your body. And wherever the prongs are hitting you, you can feel that burn."

Lafayette police said at the time that a Taser gun was used in Alexander's arrest, but not nearly the number of times Alexander claims.

The FBI office in New Orleans confirmed that it has conducted a preliminary investigation into Alexander's claims.

In October, the department again faced questions about Taser use when Dwayne Anthony Dunn died in police custody after officers used a Taser gun to subdue him. Although the coroner's office later ruled that the Taser did not cause Dunn's death, the police department recalled most of its Tasers for about a two-week period to install new software to track Taser usage and review its policy.

Attorneys for both Alexander and the Dunn family said they plan to file a lawsuit against the police and the city.

The city and the police department said they won't comment on pending litigation, but strongly defended Taser use by the department.

"There have been no Taser-related deaths in Lafayette Parish," said Dee Stanley, chief administrative officer of city-parish government.

Devices face increasing scrutiny

Taser guns are devices that can immobilize a person by emitting an electrical shock from as far away as 21 feet.

They have been around since the early 1990s, but the guns have come under fire recently with groups that have called for a halt to their use, such as Amnesty International.

Taser International, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based manufacturer of the guns, denies the Taser has ever caused a single death.

But a study done by The Arizona Republic showed that since 1999, at least 78 people in the United States have died after the gun was used on them. In only eight of those cases, however, have Tasers been cited as the cause of death, the study said.

In Louisiana, the most recent case is in Jefferson Parish, where a 35-year-old man died Dec. 4 after deputies shocked him twice.

The Lafayette Police Department introduced Taser guns to its officers in November 2003, touting them as "just another tool in the officer's arsenal," but no longer is anyone in the department allowed to speak about Alexander's claims or Taser use in general.

"I felt the life leaving my body"

More than three months later, Alexander says he still bears the scars from the night he was the target of an undercover drug operation by Lafayette police and the Lafayette Metro Narcotics Task Force.

Alexander now walks with a limp. Some of the burn marks have faded slightly, while others, on the back of his neck and at the base of his back, rise off of his skin like dark sores that never heal.

On the night of Aug. 25, Alexander said he drove up to the Best Value Hotel on North University Avenue to meet with a friend. He went inside a hotel room and was introduced to his friend's cousin, apparently a police informant.

Shortly after he sat down, police officers--up to 12 of them--burst through the door and ordered him to get down on the floor.

Before he could comply, he said, they used a Taser on him. He immediately collapsed, the shock of the gun causing his body to flail on the ground, he said.

Alexander said officers kept screaming at him not to swallow the dope. He said he told them he didn't have any but they continued to shock him anyway.

"All I remember is they were shocking me," he said. "I felt the life leaving my body."

He said at some point the wire that connects the Taser to the shock prongs broke off. An officer then got down on top of him, he said, and placed the Taser directly to his skin, sending 50,000 volts of electricity through his body with each shock. He claims that is what left the burn marks, about 30 of them in all.

Instead of arresting Alexander, however, police dropped him off at a hospital that night.

In an interview shortly after the event, Cpl. Mark Francis, Lafayette police spokesman, said it was because Alexander's heart rate was elevated from ingesting crack cocaine.

"His only reason for going to the hospital, initially, had nothing to do with the Taser," Francis said.

Alexander later turned himself in to police and was charged with possession of cocaine, obstruction of justice and resisting an officer.

FBI investigating claim

Alexander took his complaint of police abuse to the FBI. Sheila Thorn, a spokeswoman for the New Orleans office, recently confirmed it has concluded a preliminary investigation into the case and forwarded its findings to the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. She would not comment further.

Now, questions about Alexander must go through the police department's lawyer, Jim Pate, an assistant city-parish attorney.

Pate said he was unaware of the FBI's involvement when he spoke to The Daily Advertiser last week.

"We do not know what the FBI is investigating," he said. "I don't know anything about it. No one from the FBI has contacted me."

But Pate would not respond to Alexander's claims.

"We're not to comment on the use of Tasers at the current time," Pate said.

The officers' version of events is contained in a short affidavit from the Lafayette Police Department obtained by The Daily Advertiser.

On the night of Aug. 25, the Lafayette Metro Narcotics Task Force received an informant to contact Alexander and order $100 worth of crack cocaine from him. The informant directed Alexander to the hotel.

When Alexander arrived, he was met by the informant and an undercover officer. The officer gave Alexander money in exchange for what was presented as crack cocaine, the affidavit said. Alexander was then arrested by agents.

There was no mention of Alexander resisting arrest in the affidavit, although officers later said he did. There was also no mention of the Taser being used.

Videotape of incident exists

Alexander's arrest record shows a string of drug arrests in Lafayette, beginning in 1996 when he was arrested on a charge of distribution of cocaine.

Alexander claims the police have harassed him for years. He served time in jail for negligent homicide in 1996 following the death of his cousin when the two were playing with a gun that accidentally went off.

In the affidavit, police wrote that Alexander confessed in a videotaped interview that he had transported crack cocaine to the location for the purpose of selling it, and that he further confessed in an untaped interview that this was not the first time he had done this.

"They lying, man," Alexander said about the affidavit. "It's like they were threatening me to say that I swallowed some dope. Like I told my attorney, "I told them anything they wanted to know to let me up out that room. That whole affidavit is a lie."

Criminal charges against Alexander are still pending as a result of the drug raid, according to Pate. The police department has forwarded the case to the District Attorney's Office. Repeated attempts to contact the prosecutor in charge of the case were unsuccessful.

In accordance with police policy, the drug bust that snared Alexander was videotaped, the police affidavit said.

"He was videotaped because this was an undercover sting operation, and in all of our sting operations we set up video surveillance to conduct a buy/bust operation to be used in court as evidence later," Francis said in an earlier interview.

Alexander realizes that the camera could be a key witness in his case--its credibility hard to challenge even if some doubt the story of someone who has had brushes with the law.

"If they think I'm lying, why don't they show the tape?" he said. "Show the tape."
?The Lafayette Daily Advertiser
December 9, 2004

Editor's Note: It is just amazing how these articles always manage to make these weapons sound so benign.  No word, however, on long-term or even short-term health effects of this device, let alone any standards for use or means of monitoring and preventing abuse.  Note the last paragraph, where plans are revealed for building a smaller unit for use by cops in the US.

Report: Raytheon 'heat beam' weapon ready for Iraq
Boston Business Journal
December 1, 2004

Government defense giant Raytheon Co. has developed the first nonlethal weapon that fires a heat beam to repel enemies and reduces the chance of innocent civilians being shot, a Pentagon official said.

Raytheon, the world's largest missile maker, delivered a prototype to the U.S. military last month. The product is expected to be evaluated from February through June to determine whether to equip U.S. forces with it, Colonel David Karcher, director of the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, told Bloomberg Business News.

With U.S. casualties in Iraq rising, expectations are growing that Raytheon's weapon, called the Active Denial System, could be sent to Iraq in the next year, according to Charles "Sid'' Heal, commander of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. A former Marine, Heal headed nonlethal-weapons training for the U.S. military in Somalia in 1995 and advised Raytheon on the beam's development.

"It's there, it's ready,'' said Heal, who has felt the weapon's beam and compares it to having a hot iron placed on the skin. "It will likely be in Iraq in the next 12 months. They are very, very close.''

The weapon, mounted on a Humvee vehicle, projects a "focused, speed-of-light millimeter wave energy beam to induce an intolerable heating sensation,'' according to a U.S. Air Force fact sheet. The energy penetrates less than 1/64 of an inch into the skin and the sensation ceases when the target moves out of the beam.

The weapon could be used for crowd control and is effective beyond the range of bullets fired by small arms, Karcher said. The effective range of an AK-47 assault rifle is as far as 273 yards, while an M16A2 rifle has a range of 400 meters.

The primary benefit would be protecting U.S. troops, Heal said. The weapon would also limit deaths of noncombatants, he said.

"This forces your adversary to declare intentions,'' Heal said. "U.S. forces get killed because they are reluctant to shoot. It happens in Iraq every day."

"This is where the future is going,'' Raytheon Chief Executive William Swanson, 55, said at a conference in Tucson, Ariz., where he introduced the weapon to investors Wednesday. "This is the ability to protect our troops, and we're talking about the speed of light.''

Raytheon is two years into a four-year, $40 million development contract, Karcher said. How soon the weapon is deployed will depend on the military's interest, and while the technology may be ready, troops must also be trained on it and engagement rules must be decided by a four-star general, he said.

Heal said the military version would cost about $1 million, and the U.S. military could require many.

Karcher said the first prototype cost about $10 million.

Heal told Bloomberg Business News that Raytheon could expand the market by selling a smaller version to law-enforcement agencies. The company is working on a smaller, tripod-mounted version for police forces, and the price would have to come down to a few hundred thousand dollars each to be affordable, he said.

Communities United Against Police Brutality
3104 16th Avenue S
Minneapolis, MN 55407
Hotline 612-874-STOP (7867)

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