1/27/2005 Newsletter


  • Anatomy of a Character Assassination: Benjamin DeCoteau Case
  • Jordan Group to Create Cop Spy House, Use Kids as Human Shields
  • The People vs. the Minneapolis Police
  • Ricky Powells Court Watch
  • Michael Langel Court Watch
  • Alisa Smith Court Watch
  • Settlement Reached in Stun Gun Death
  • Two Bad Federal Rulings in Cop Searches

Benjamin DeCoteau, 21, was killed by Minneapolis police officer Mark Beaupre this past Saturday, January 22, 2005. Circumstances surrounding the shooting are disputed, with some witnesses stating that Benjamin was shot as he was fleeing.

You would never know this from the media coverage of this shooting. Since it happened, the cops and their allies--including certain self-appointed "community representatives"--have pumped out a steady stream of lies and insinuations meant to vilify Benjamin and justify the cop's actions. The mainstream media have dutifully lapped up these rumors and outright lies and reported them as if they were facts, with no verification whatsoever.

We, however, have spent time with the family, sat in Benjamin's room and gotten to know something about him as a person. He was the loving oldest brother of six kids, who often babysat and entertained his younger siblings. He was shy, deeply spiritual and loved nature and, especially, eagles. His room is filled with family pictures, dream catchers and statues of eagles. His mother is adamant that he was never part of a gang--he avoided them and worked hard to steer his siblings away from them, too. His mother, brothers and sisters are devastated at losing him.

The vilification of people who have died at the hands of police is not new. Virtually every single person who was killed by the cops in this town has had the added indignity of having their name dragged through the mud and their families have suffered unnecessary additional grief at a time they are most vulnerable and least able to stand up and fight back on behalf of their family member. The police department uses the media to make the first strike, which taints the entire investigation and insures there will be no justice for the person who was killed or their surviving family members. They do this by insinuating that the deceased was a "gang member" or by eluding to involvement in crimes the person was never charged with when they were alive. They then pronounce the killing justified before an investigation has even started. How can the dead defend themselves against such assaults on their personhood? How can their families trust that an unbiased investigation will be conducted, especially now that these investigations are done internally, with no neutral oversight?

This particular family is blessed because Benjamin's mother is a strong woman who is already working hard to see that the truth comes out and who will see that her son receives justice even in death. However, in most of these cases, any measure of justice happens long after the media has forgotten about the case. We won't forget, however, and we'll make sure you don't either. In the meantime, we ask that you keep an open mind and that you view any media coverage of this and other cases of death at the hands of police with a discerning eye. Learn to recognize the pro-police spin of these stories and regard it for what it is.

CUAPB has obtained a document showing that a Jordan neighborhood homeowner's association, JACC, is making arrangements to rent the house at 1620 26th Street and turn it over to the Minneapolis Police Community Response Team (CRT), the undercover cops unit, to secretly monitor their neighbors. At the same time, this neighborhood has received a $975,000 CityKids grant for life skills training and summer programs for local youth. The document indicates that they would run this youth program out of the same house as a way to obscure the presence of the undercover cops and that the kids would provide free labor to maintain the house, do laundry, clear snow and provide lawn care. This house will be dubbed the Community Learning Center--but it seems to us it is the cops who will do most of the "learning."

A note at the bottom of the document sums things up this way: "I would ask that all of us keep the use of that house by the police somewhat quiet. We don't want to alert people that the police will be there. I think that having other activities there will provide a better cover for the police to do their surveillance. Having activities there makes it reasonable that people are coming and going at various times. Letting it stand empty except for the CRT Team going in some of the time makes it a bit more suspicious and invites vandalism."

CUAPB stands fore square against these kinds of schemes that pit neighbor against neighbor in an ugly snitch network and that use innocent kids to cover for the cops. Inevitably, kids will become part of this network as cops prod them for information about their parents and neighbors. We question the use of funds from the CityKids program to create a free work force to maintain a secret cop substation and to cover for the presence of cops. Finally, we are very concerned about the physical safety of the kids who will be in this same space with cops engaged in undercover spying, especially as the activities at that house become known.

We strongly encourage Jordan residents and others to contact Police Chief McManus at 612-673-2853 and the JACC to express their opposition to this plan. Unfortunately, we don't have contact info for JACC but will share this information once we obtain it.

Our class action lawsuit, which we have dubbed "The People vs. The Minneapolis Police" to indicate that this is a community effort, is moving forward quickly. A set of demands have been submitted and there have been some preliminary negotiations. What's needed now are examples of incidents people have had with the police. People can tell their stories and participate in the lawsuit anonymously.

Bear in mind that this is a very different kind of lawsuit--the purpose is not about money but about obtaining changes in police department policies and practices. The stories people tell will be used to illustrate problems with existing policies and practices and why they need to change.

If you have had an incident with the Minneapolis police within the last 10 years, we want to hear from you. Please call our hotline at 612-874-STOP (612-874-7867) to tell your story.


February 10
1:30 p.m.
Hennepin County Government Center
Ricky Powells
In August 2004, Ricky was coming home to his apartment building when a woman in the building mistook him for a drug dealer who had been hanging around, and called police. Ricky heard this and called police himself, inviting them to search his apartment as he was confident they would find nothing.

Instead, officers Kingsbury and Kocher arrived and beat him, bashing his head into the floor, breaking a tooth and inducing a seizure in this young man, who suffers from a serious chronic illness. Per usual police procedure, he was charged with assault on the cops. This case goes to trial February 10th.

February 22
9:00 a.m.
Hennepin County Government Center
Michael Langel
Michael was caught by police, beaten, and set upon by police dogs, then put in the squad with a bag over his head. He suffered multiple dog bites and other injuries. He was charged with fleeing and goes to trial on February 22nd.

March 14
9:15 a.m.
Hennepin County Government Center
Alisa Smith
Alisa is the young woman who had the misfortune of having her head bashed through the window of a cop car. As a result, she has been charged with FELONY obstructing legal process (OLP). We've long reported that the favorite charge to cover brutality is OLP--I guess if the cops are especially brutal, they have to charge it as a felony. Jill Clark is Alisa's attorney. This trial is likely to be the court watch event of the season.

We received the announcement below for an event that may be of interest to our readers. While we agree with the choices of Mike Quinn and Coleen Rowley as individuals with moral courage, we have concerns about the inclusion of John Harrington in this panel. As the new St. Paul police chief, Harrington has been quick to provide cover for brutal cops and has shown much less interest in police accountability than his predecessor.
The Justice and Peace Studies Program at St. Thomas presents a discussion among 3 exceptional Law Enforcement people on:

Community Policing and Moral Courage
Thursday, February 24, 2005, from 7-9 pm in the OEC main Auditorium Featured Speakers are:
John Harrington, Chief, St. Paul Police Department
Mike Quinn, ret. supervisor, Minneapolis Police Academy
Coleen Rowley, retired FBI attorney, and one of Time Magazine's "people of the year" for her moral courage.

For more information on this program or on the JPST program, call 651-962-5925 or 651-962-5724

Family of inmate to receive $500,000; 2 counties admit no liability in incident.
Associated Press
January 21, 2005

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The family of a man who died after a jailer shocked him with a stun gun has reached a $500,000 settlement over his death.

James Borden, 47, died in November 2003, less than 30 minutes after Lawrence County police brought him to Monroe County Jail for violating a home detention order. Jail reports said Borden was "uncooperative," prompting jailer David Shaw to shock Borden six times with a stun gun.

Lawrence and Monroe counties agreed to the settlement but would not admit liability. The settlement does not include Taser International, the Arizona-based maker of the stun gun.

Monroe County Coroner Dave Toumey ruled Borden died of a heart attack brought on by an existing heart condition, drug intoxication and electrical shock.

Attorneys for Shaw and Taser International have denied Borden's death is connected to the use of the stun gun.

Half of the settlement will go to Borden's estate, to cover attorney fees and potential future litigation against Taser International. The rest will go to Borden's family, including his five children.

Prosecutors have charged Shaw, the jail officer, with felony counts of battery with a deadly weapon and battery causing serious bodily injury.

Editor's Note: We've been watching the news for a case in which Taser International will be sued for the role of their device in the deaths of numerous people. Perhaps this will be the case.

In line with the ongoing assault on all civil liberties jump-started by the Patriot Act, federal courts have shown an increased willingness to erode our Fourth Amendment rights. What does it mean for our society when the state can track your every move, can search your car without probable cause, can listen in and record your phone conversations, can read your email and snailmail, and can find out what you check out of the library and what you read on the internet?
Ruling gives cops leeway with GPS
Decision allows use of vehicle tracking device without a warrant
By BRENDAN LYONS, Staff writer
First published: Tuesday, January 11, 2005

In a decision that could dramatically affect criminal investigations nationwide, a federal judge has ruled police didn't need a warrant when they attached a satellite tracking device to the underbelly of a car being driven by a suspected Hells Angels operative.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge David N. Hurd clears the way for a federal trial scheduled to begin next month in Utica in which seven alleged Hells Angels members and associates, including several from the Capital Region, face drug-trafficking charges.

The use of satellite tracking devices has stirred controversy and Hurd's ruling differs from a decision last spring by a Nassau County Court judge, who decided police needed a warrant when they used the technology to follow a burglary suspect.

The biker case broke open here last year with a series of raids and arrests across upstate New York. The case began in Utica, but was expanded to include an organized crime task force that spent more than a year building a methamphetamine-trafficking case against a group of alleged outlaw bikers from Troy to Arizona.

During surveillance of the group, detectives attached a global positioning satellite device to a vehicle driven by Robert P. Moran Jr., an Oneida County attorney and Hells Angels associate with a law office in Rome. They put the device on Moran's car for two days in July 2003 after he returned from a one-day trip to Arizona, where police say he purchased a large quantity of methamphetamine.

Over those two days, Moran drove across New York state and allegedly made drug deals with suspected Hells Angels members in places such as New York City and Troy, according to court records.

Hurd opined that authorities wouldn't need a warrant had they decided to follow Moran, so using a GPS device was merely a simpler way to track his car "as it traveled on the public highways," he wrote. "Moran had no expectation of privacy in the whereabouts of his vehicle on a public roadway. Thus, there was no search or seizure and no Fourth Amendment implications in the use of the GPS device."

Hurd's ruling follows a line of reasoning that's widely supported by many law enforcement agencies. Police contend using tracking devices is no different than if they followed a suspect's vehicle in their own cars or by using helicopters.

Kevin Mulroy, Moran's attorney, said the issue, which has brought conflicting rulings across the nation, is unsettling.

"I think it's something the Supreme Court of the United States is going to have to hear," said Mulroy, a Syracuse attorney who was formerly an Onondaga County Court judge and assistant prosecutor. "One would think that before the police could install devices on your property, to monitor your movements, they would need a court order."

A similar controversy arose in Washington two years ago, when that state's Supreme Court determined police had the right to attach a satellite tracking device to a murder suspect's car, but only after obtaining a warrant.

Detectives attached a GPS device to the man's car for almost three weeks. When they downloaded the data, it indicated he had driven to an isolated area north of Spokane. Police searched the area and found the body of the man's 9-year-old daughter. He later was convicted of her murder, and the verdict was upheld.

GPS devices are increasingly becoming a tool for law enforcement. Still, their use has been controversial because police agencies are not routinely obtaining court orders to install the devices, which rely on orbiting satellites and cellular phone networks to pinpoint their target. In many states, law enforcement agencies also are using them for less surreptitious missions, such as tracking sex offenders and parolees who are enrolled in electronic monitoring programs.

It's not clear what effect Hurd's decision will have on their use, but it's apparently the first federal ruling regarding GPS devices and the need for search warrants.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Grable, who is prosecuting Moran and the others, did not return a telephone call for comment.

The use of GPS devices by police most recently made national news in the Laci Peterson case. Scott Peterson, the Modesto, Calif., woman's husband, was convicted of murdering her on Christmas Eve 2002. In that case, police obtained a court order to attach tracking devices to three vehicles driven by Peterson, who drove to a waterfront near where the bodies of his wife and the baby boy she was carrying were later found.

While the GPS data was admitted in the Peterson case, courts across the country are tackling the issue as defense lawyers challenge their reliability and whether police have a right to install them without a warrant. Similar technology helps police track cellular telephones, which also are being used by police to find fugitives and others.
Court broadens police search powers in Illinois case
Star Tribune
Published January 24, 2005

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court gave police broader search powers Monday during traffic stops, ruling that drug-sniffing dogs can be used to check out motorists even if officers have no reason to suspect they may be carrying narcotics.

In a 6-2 decision, the court sided with Illinois police who stopped Roy Caballes in 1998 along Interstate 80 for driving 6 miles over the speed limit. Although Caballes lawfully produced his driver's license, troopers brought over a drug dog after Caballes seemed nervous.

Caballes argued the Fourth Amendment protects motorists from searches such as dog sniffing, but Justice John Paul Stevens disagreed, reasoning that the privacy intrusion was minimal.

``The dog sniff was performed on the exterior of respondent's car while he was lawfully seized for a traffic violation. Any intrusion on respondent's privacy expectations does not rise to the level of a constitutionally cognizable infringement,'' Stevens wrote.

In a dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg bemoaned what she called the broadening of police search powers, saying the use of drug dogs will make routine traffic stops more ``adversarial.'' She was joined in her dissent in part by Justice David H. Souter.

``Injecting such animal into a routine traffic stop changes the character of the encounter between the police and the motorist. The stop becomes broader, more adversarial and (in at least some cases) longer,'' she wrote.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist did not participate in consideration of the case.

The case is another in a line of Supreme Court cases involving the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches or seizures.

But civil liberties advocates have argued that allowing greater police powers in this case would be more troubling. That's because police often use traffic stops as a pretext to question motorists about suspected illegal activity for which they have no proof.

In Caballes' case, he was pulled over for driving 71 mph on a stretch of Interstate 80 with a 65 mph limit. The state trooper noticed air freshener in the car and asked for permission to search Caballes' trunk. Caballes refused, but officers searched it later anyway after the dog indicated there were drugs in the trunk.

The troopers subsequently found $250,000 worth of marijuana, a find that Caballes argued was unjustified because they had no reason to suspect he had drugs. His conviction was later thrown out by the Illinois Supreme Court, a ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed.

The case is Illinois v. Caballes, 03-923.

© Copyright 2005 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

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

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