6/9/2009 Newsletter


  • Federal Appeals Court Hearing: False Reporting Law
  • Help with our Booth at Juneteeth
  • Public Hearing on Brutality and Misconduct by Minneapolis Police
  • TruthToTell Three-Part Radio Series: Cop Culture - Fear and Loathing in the Streets
  • Manifest Injustice: The Fong Lee Cases
  • Probing Bias Behind The Badge
  • Never, Never, Never, Never Give Up Your Rights
  • Ruling Allowing Taser Use to Get DNA May Be Nation's First
  • Racism Even Applies to Cop on Cop Violence

Federal Appeals Court Hearing: False Reporting Lawsuit

Wednesday, June 10, 8:30 a.m.
Federal Court, 316 Robert St, St. Paul

Three years ago, the state legislature passed a terrible law criminalizing the "false" reporting of police brutality. So far, it's been used against people who reported incidents of sexual assault by police, even when there was biological proof that their complaints were true. In other words, this law allows cops--the same ones you're complaining about--to use the criminal justice system against you if you dare to complain. The law goes even further: it states that if you "cause to be reported" to a law enforcement officer, you could be prosecuted. That means this law applies to reporters, lawyers and others who tell the stories of others who have been brutalized. Clearly this is meant to chill free speech and criticism of public officials and provides yet another barrier to meaningful oversight of the cops. We sued the state of Minnesota over this law. Plaintiffs include this editor (as someone who reports on police brutality incidents in this newsletter and is an officer of CUAPB), two journalists who cover the police brutality beat, a person who was charged under this law after being sexually assaulted by cops, and a lawyer who litigates police brutality cases. Despite the fact that a nearly identical law was overturned in California, a freedom-hating federal judge ruled against us, essentially saying that if we hadn't been charged yet we can't sue but if we have been charged we should "seek justice" by fighting against the charges in court. This is an outrageous ruling as no one is required to defend against civil rights violations in criminal court but also because it doesn't address the fact that the potential for charges has a chilling effect on free speech long before someone is prosecuted. This hearing on Wednesday is our federal appeal before a panel of three judges. Federal appeals are fairly rare occurrences and should provide some fascinating court watching. The hearing is short--we get only 15 minutes of oral argument--so please be on time.


Help set up and staff our booth at the Annual Juneteenth Celebration

Sunday, June 14th
Boom Island, 724 Sibley St NE, Minneapolis
Juneteenth is a celebration of the unofficial end of slavery, some two years after Lincoln's emancipation proclamation when word finally reached Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. This date is recognized across the US as African American liberation day. One of the largest annual celebrations is here in Minneapolis and we have a wildly popular booth every year. It you can dedicate a few hours to help us with the booth, you'll have fun, meet lots of cool people, and your efforts will really be appreciated. Set up is early--we'll be meeting at Walker Church at 7:00 a.m. to load up and car pool to Boom Island. The festival itself runs 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and we'll need help staffing the booth and tearing down afterwards. If you can help, please reply to this email to let us know or just show up on Sunday either at Walker in the morning or at the booth during the festival. This year we will focus on stolen lives around the state as well as the RNC 8 case.

Public Hearing on Brutality and Misconduct by Minneapolis Police

Monday, June 15 6:00 p.m.
Minneapolis Urban League, 2100 Plymouth Avenue

It has become apparent that Minneapolis police are out of control. There have been multiple killings of community members in outrageous circumstances over the last few years. Just in the last few months, calls to our hotline have shot up sharply and are filled with horrific tales of abuse. Between the defanging of the Minneapolis civilian review authority, the abuses of the gang strike task force and the utter lack of willingness on the part of the mayor and city council to hold this police force accountable, local control of the police no longer seems possible. We are gathering testimony for the purpose of seeking federal receivership of the Minneapolis police department. Come and share your story with the community for the purpose of seeking justice.


TruthToTell Three-Part Radio Series:
Cop Culture - Fear and Loathing in the Streets

Wednesdays June 10--17--24, 11:00 a.m.
KFAI Radio 90.3FM-Minneapolis/106.7FM Saint Paul and STREAMING at <http://www.KFAI.org>
TruthToTell examines the dark and isolated world of local police culture and the nature of law enforcement in general. •Why has this paramilitary subset of civil society grown so insular, more secretive and more rageful and violent? •How can we address the increasing federal conscription of local law enforcement agencies to violently put down legitimate political dissent – while stoking the deepening paranoia over those who disagree with increasingly rightwing and racist policing? •Why are we seeing more and more deception in police reports, shredding of documents, disappearing evidence and confiscated money? •Why can’t we convict renegade cops and redress their abuses? •Is there or has there ever been a bright line between some officers and the alleged offenders they arrest and charge? •Where is accountability in law enforcement? •Is it recoverable? Cops don’t live in the places they patrol anymore. What role has that played in the dissociation between police and the people they "protect?" TTT's ANDY DRISCOLL and LYNNELL MICKELSEN talk with current and former local and federal law enforcement, defense community, critics, policymakers, residents and reporters about what we can do to change these occupying armies back to community policing. Join us for this three-part series.


All white, rural jury rules that cop was in fear for his life

Despite significant evidence of police racism and misconduct, an all-white rural jury ruled that Minneapolis cop Jason Andersen was likely in fear for his life. The way jury instructions were set up, this allowed them to block the Lee family from receiving any justice in the case. The instructions were scripted into a series of questions so that a yes answer would mean that the jury would stop, not go on to the next question and would be ruling in favor of Andersen. The first question was "under a 'reasonable police officer' standard, knowing that police have to make split-second decisions, do you believe Officer Andersen was in fear for his life?" Further down the series of questions was whether deadly force was justified. Nowhere in the list of questions was the issue of the throw down gun mentioned.

Of course, just answering yes to that first question meant that jurors had to ignore the fact that Andersen was running AT Fong Lee the entire time and that he moved closer to Lee with each gunshot. It wasn't hard for them, after the judge encouraged them to draw on their (white) life experiences in deciding. Few whites have life experiences that are comparable to what people of color deal with at the hands of police.

Answering yes to that first question meant that jurors never had to deal with the question of the throw down gun. They could ignore mountains of evidence--not to mention an absolutely contorted story by the MPD--about a gun being on the scene that had been in police custody until the shooting. They could disregard the fact that while Fong Lee had defensive wounds through both hands and both hands were covered in blood the gun cops claimed he was holding had no blood, sweat, fingerprints, fibers, DNA or anything else tying it to Fong Lee. The jurors never had to consider that.

Jurors sat through five days of testimony in which witnesses who had never met Lee testified to seeing him cornered and heard him let out a blood-curdling scream before Andersen opened fire, shooting him in the back and buttocks four times. Once Fong fell to the ground, Anderson stood over him and shot him five more times. Multiple witnesses testified that Andersen never told Lee to drop a gun or anything like that. Only one witness--a woman well known to Minneapolis cops and often referred to by them by first name--testified that she heard Anderson say "put down the gun." She was supposedly running in and out of her house and rounding up her children while this was happening. Her testimony was just not credible.

Federal Judge Paul Magnuson, well known for being a system man, played a significant role in propping up the MPD. He ruled that scurrilous rumors about Fong Lee being a gang member (not backed by any evidence) could be brought in but he kept out actual documented complaints about racist comments against Asians made by Andersen. And then, of course, there were those jury instructions which were meant to ensure an unfavorable outcome for the Lee family. To add insult to injury, after the Lee family had spent long hours over two days waiting in the courthouse for a verdict, the judge instructed the family that they should take a lunch break. As soon as the family was away from the courthouse, he brought the jury in to read the verdict into the record. The family learned of the verdict from a reporter.

Community outrage over this verdict led to a huge turnout at an emergency rally held Saturday, May 30th at University and Marion in St. Paul. On only a few hours notice, hundreds came out to support the Lee family as they prepare to file an appeal. The general sentiment of the community was apparent at this rally as most cars driving by honked their horns while drivers and passengers yelled messages of support. Broad segments of the community, including Latinos, Somalis, African Americans and others by the hundreds stood with the Hmong community to demand justice.

Thank you for standing with this family. As this case proceeds to appeal, we will keep you apprised of further developments.


Note: To this list, we would add the Quincy Smith, Fong Lee, Ahmed Gulad cases and others in which unarmed people of color were slain by cops right here in the Twin Cities. Just as in the Fong Lee case, a throwdown gun was used to justify the killing of Bernard Monroe.

Probing Bias Behind The Badge: Louisiana shooting among 4 similar cases across U.S.
By Howard Witt | Tribune Newspapers March 14, 2009

HOMER, La. - ­ On the last afternoon of his life, Bernard Monroe was hosting a cookout for family and friends in front of his dilapidated home on Adams Street in this small northern Louisiana town.

Throat cancer had robbed the 73-year-old retired electric utility worker of his voice years ago, but family members said Monroe clearly was enjoying the commotion of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren cavorting around him in the yard.

Then the Homer police showed up, two white officers whose arrival caused the black family gathering to quickly fall silent.

Within moments, Monroe lay dead, shot by one of the officers as his family looked on.

Now the Louisiana State Police, the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department are swarming over this impoverished lumber town of 3,800, drawn by the allegations of numerous witnesses that police killed an unarmed, elderly black man without justification­ and then moved a gun to make it look as though the man had been holding it.

"We are closely monitoring the events in Homer," said Donald Washington, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana.

Yet the Feb. 20 Homer incident was not an isolated case. Across the U.S., in four recent cases, white police officers have been accused of unprovoked shootings of African-Americans in what civil rights leaders say are illustrations of the potentially deadly consequences of racial profiling by police.

In the mostly white Houston suburb of Bellaire, a 23-year-old black man sitting in his SUV in the driveway of his parents' home was shot and wounded on New Year's Eve by police who mistakenly believed he had stolen the vehicle. The case is under investigation.

In Oakland, a transit police officer has been charged with murder in the shooting of an unarmed black man in the back while he was restrained and lying face down on a train platform on Jan. 1.

In New Orleans, nine police officers are under investigation in the New Year's Day death of a black man who was struck by 14 bullets after an undercover team stopped his car. Police say the man, 22, raised a gun and fired at them, but his family disputes that.

"All the anecdotal information demonstrates that African-Americans are the most frequent victims of zealous, inappropriate police activity that often winds up in a shooting," said Reggie Shuford, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union.

"People here are afraid of the police," said Terry Willis, vice president of the Homer NAACP branch. "They harass black people, they stop people for no reason and rough them up without charging them with anything."

That is how it should be, responded Russell Mills, Homer's police chief ... "If I see three or four young black men walking down the street, I have to stop them and check their names," said Mills, who is white. "I want them to be afraid every time they see the police that they might get arrested."

The Homer police claim Monroe was holding a gun when he was shot but would not comment further.



A Wisconsin judge overturned the conviction of a man found in possession of a handgun and marijuana joints, finding that he did not voluntarily consent to a search of his car. The defendant, Malcolm J. Muller, initially refused consent, but later gave permission after officers had already started searching the vehicle. The Judge found that the initial illegal search tainted the defendant's subsequent waiver of his 4th amendment rights.

While this suspect was ultimately released, this case demonstrates the importance of standing your ground and NEVER consenting to a search. (And, of course, NEVER carrying a gun and illegal drugs in your vehicle.)

Police will often conduct a search after consent is denied, hoping that they'll be able to convince a judge that they had probable cause. If you give up and consent just because they've started searching, you risk legalizing an otherwise unreasonable search.

To paraphrase Winson Churchill, "Never, never, never, never give up your rights!"


By Thomas J. Prohaska

LOCKPORT ­ It is legally permissible for police to zap a suspect with a Taser to obtain a DNA sample, as long as it’s not done “maliciously, or to an excessive extent, or with resulting injury,” a county judge has ruled in the first case of its kind in New York State, and possibly the nation. [Clearly, this guy has never felt the pain of being Tased--Editor]

Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza decided that the DNA sample obtained Sept. 29 from Ryan S. Smith of Niagara Falls ­ which ties him to a shooting and a gas station robbery­ is legally valid and can be used at his trial.

Smith was handcuffed and sitting on the floor of Niagara Falls Police Headquarters when he was zapped with the 50,000- volt electronic stun gun after he insisted he would not give a DNA sample.

He already had given a sample, a swab of the inside of his cheek, without protest the previous month. But police sent it to the wrong lab, where it was opened and spoiled. Prosecutors who had obtained a court order for the first sample went back to Sperrazza, who signed another order without consulting the defense.

Defense lawyer Patrick M. Balkin denounced the ruling in an interview with The Buffalo News.

“They have now given the Niagara Falls police discretion to Taser anybody anytime they think it’s reasonable,” he asserted. “Her decision says you can enforce a court order by force. If you extrapolate that, we no longer have to have child support hearings; you can just Taser the parent.”

A police officer said that when Smith was ordered by officers to give his DNA, he adamantly refused.

“I ain’t giving up my DNA again. I already gave it up once. I’ll sit in jail. I ain’t giving it up. You’re going to have to Tase me,” the officer’s report stated.

The officer wrote that he then applied the stun gun to Smith’s left shoulder, a “drive stun” that is regarded as less painful than shooting electric prongs into a person, which is the usual Taser approach. Smith then consented to the sample, and he was arrested on a contempt of court charge.

In her ruling, Sperrazza cited numerous legal precedents and the state’s Criminal Procedure Law, allowing the use of reasonable force to carry out a court order.

Although there are no New York cases specifically dealing with using a Taser to accomplish that, the judge did find a Wyoming case where a court ruled it was legal to use a Taser to force a suspect to open his hand for a search.

Balkin and other lawyers familiar with the case say they know of no other case in the country in which a Taser was used to gather DNA.

The decision Wednesday in Niagara County stunned Balkin, who admitted in court that he hadn’t been carrying out trial preparation, such as seeking an expert to review the DNA test results.

“It’s my fault,” Balkin told Sperrazza. “I truly thought it was going to be suppressed.”

Balkin thought a victory on the Taser issue would lead to the dismissal of the 24-count indictment against Smith, 21, of Grove Avenue.

Sperrazza granted a postponement of Smith’s trial to Aug. 10.

Smith is charged with shooting a man in the groin July 27, 2006, after allegedly invading his ex-girlfriend’s home, tying up her two children and forcing the woman to take him to the shooting victim’s home.

He is also accused of taking part in the Dec. 24, 2006, armed robbery of a Sunoco station in Niagara Falls. A codefendant in the robbery, Christopher T. Walker Jr., now 21, pleaded guilty and is serving a 10-year state prison sentence.

DNA was found on a can of pop taken from Smith’s ex-girlfriend’s refrigerator and on a glove dropped at the gas station. It matched a sample he had to give after a previous assault conviction, and prosecutors sought another sample from Smith to confirm the findings.

“Our case is mostly DNA,” Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann said.

She also said she didn’t agree with Balkin that suppressing the DNA sample would have led to the dismissal of the indictment.

There is a surveillance video of the gas station robbery, Hoffmann revealed in court.

Balkin said he also was most concerned about Sperrazza’s reasoning that she didn’t have to go through a courtroom procedure for the second DNA sample because Smith had not objected to the first one.

“The court waived my client’s due process,” the defense lawyer said.

Testimony at a hearing last month partially contradicted the incident report written by Officer George McDonell, who used the Taser on Smith.

Sperrazza wrote in her ruling, based on police testimony, that when Smith refused to give another sample, Detective Lt. William Thomson phoned Hoffmann about it, and Hoffmann “instructed him that they could use the minimum force necessary to obtain the sample.”

But McDonell wrote in his report, “It was relayed that officers could use any means necessary to secure the sample.”

Sperrazza said the police should have arrested Smith first and brought him to court to be warned about the penalties for noncompliance with a court order.

McDonell testified that he used the Taser for one to two seconds. Another officer testified that the data readout on the Taser showed it was on for as long as four seconds.

Court papers filed by Smith’s civil attorney, Christopher O’Brien, assert that Smith was zapped three times and lost consciousness. McDonell’s report says, “Suspect complained of no injury and none was observed.”


The editorial below refers to the cop on cop killing of Black officer Omar Edwards by two white colleagues while he was pursuing a car theft suspect. See http://www.nydailynews.com/news/ny_crime/2009/05/28/2009-05-28_black_cop_killed_by_white_officer.html. This harkens back to the shooting of Minneapolis police officer Duy Ngo by white cop Charles Storlie, who had previously shot 15-year-old Black teenager Lawrence Miles.  Miles lived but was severely injured.

You never read this headline: 'Black cop shoots white cop'
Errol Louis
Friday, May 29th 2009, 10:29 PM

Many will assume that the killing of Officer Omar Edwards was the result of a tragic but honest mistake, an accident with no malice or racial bias at work.

That would be a reasonable conclusion - and a dead wrong one.

There is nothing reasonable about the fact we never see black or Latino cops accidentally gunning down white undercover officers, but the reverse has been true in several high-profile cases.

It's true that Edwards may have violated Patrol Guide procedures by wheeling around with a weapon in his hand instead of instantly freezing and dropping his gun when ordered to do so.

The officers who killed Edwards may have violated policy, too. We don't know what kind of warning was shouted, and the fatal bullet reportedly entered Edwards' back, raising questions about why and when he was seen as a deadly threat.

For now, we must leave it to departmental investigators and the courts to sort out what happened.

But even before the evidence is in, what every New Yorker can do is acknowledge - and battle - the malicious myth that most black men are up to no good and likely to commit criminal violence.

It's a mindset that leads the public to believe nuts and fraudsters - most recently, Bonnie Sweeten of Florida, who set off a national search by falsely telling FBI agents she and her daughter had been kidnapped by two black men in a Cadillac.

The story wasn't true - and Sweeten faces criminal charges for lying - but America fell for it hook, line and sinker, launching national Amber alerts.

In a similar case, a campaign worker named Ashley Todd last year falsely claimed a 6-foot-4 black man carved a "B" (for Barack Obama) into her cheek. That, too, was a lie.

And so was the 1994 tale spun by Susan Smith of South Carolina, who said a black bogeyman carjacked her two sons - who, it turned out, had died when Smith killed her children by rolling her car into a lake.

This isn't South Carolina or Pittsburgh or Florida: We New Yorkers like to pride ourselves on being tolerant and sophisticated. But we, too, are susceptible to the bias trap.

One news headline described Edwards as "mistaken for a thug" - a reminder of the slurs cops throw around on the job and off. People get classified as thugs, perps, skells, punks and worse.

An onslaught of gangsta rap and other cultural garbage bolsters the bias. We pay a heavy price by letting racist imagery, words and accusations slosh around society unchecked and unchallenged.

In the tense, split-second needed to separate a cop from a crook on a dark street, those myths may have cost a good man his life.

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