A Series of Blows in High Profile Police Cases

Police Blue
Sgt. Yulanda Williams was one of the targets of the text messaging attacks in San Francisco speaking in April
Sgt. Yulanda Williams, one of the targets of the text messaging attacks in San Francisco, speaking in April

The hung jury in the first trial of Baltimore police officers connected with the death of Freddie Gray only serves as the first blow for those hoping to reform the practices of police across the country. Meanwhile, on Monday a Texas grand jury failed to indict anyone involved in the death of Sandra Bland, while San Francisco police officers who wrote racist text messages won legal battles in California.

The case of Sandra Bland is complicated. On the one hand, video shows the state trooper involved in that case unnecessarily escalate a traffic stop, that could have been handled with a warning or a ticket, into a full-blown arrest. On the other hand, the case got notoriety when Ms. Bland was found hanged in her cell in the jail where she was held.

Darrell Jordan, the special prosecutor in the case, indicated that “the case is still open,” and that the decision was only related to Ms. Bland’s death and the conduct of jail staff.

“It’s all in the way you phrase it,” said Mr. Jordan. “The case is not over. That’s what I’m stressing right now. The case is not over.”

Sandra Bland was initially pulled over for failing to signal a lane change, but escalated when Ms. Bland refused to put out a cigarette and was ordered out of the car. She declined at first, which led to a physical struggle in which the trooper pulled out a Taser and yelled, “I will light you up.”

Ms. Bland could be heard saying during the struggle, part of which was out of camera’s view, “You just slammed me, knocked my head into the ground.”

On July 13, three days after her arrest, Ms. Bland was found hanging from a trash bag in her cell. The medical examiner in Waller County ruled Ms. Bland’s death a suicide.

Meanwhile, in California, San Francisco police officers who exchanged racist and homophobic text messages in 2012 will be allowed to keep their jobs and avoid discipline, according to a ruling by a Superior Court judge on Monday.

Part of the problem is that there is a one-year statute of limitations for personnel investigation, and officials “waited too long to take action on the misconduct allegations.”

The judge said he was upholding the ruling “because the Peace Officer Bill of Rights, in particular the statute of limitations, exists to protect not just law enforcement, but the public.”

“It is not in the public interest to let police misconduct charges languish,” he said. “The public has a right to have accusations against police officers be promptly adjudicated.”

City attorneys and police officials said they will appeal the decision.

“For this judge to say he’s thinking of the interest of the public — is the public expected to go on with their business and pretend nothing ever happened?” said Sgt. Yulanda Williams, president of Officers for Justice, an organization representing African-American and other nonwhite officers. “The citizens are still in a situation where they’re questioning whether or not they should embrace law enforcement or fear them. That’s wrong. We need to stop sweeping things under the carpet and deal with it.”

Sgt. Williams was a target of some of the texts that referred to her as a “n-bitch.”

According to the Chronicle, three of the officers involved have resigned, while one has asked to be reinstated.

Even if the officers eventually prevail in this matter, it is hard to imagine they could return to active duty. Any criminal proceeding would immediately focus on the texts and taint the jury.

The only bit of encouraging news is the announcement that UC students won a battle to get the University of California to divest from private prisons.

In November, student protests demanded “UC Davis divest from companies directly and indirectly involved in the prison industry.” They argued, “The prison industrial complex, a system Michelle Alexander aptly calls ‘The New Jim Crow,’ is an industry built off of the perpetual growth of prisons – the ever increasing policing, arrest, and incarceration of people. We have invested in a system that incarcerates more Black men than were enslaved in 1850. We are invested in a system of incarceration meant to brutalize and control Black bodies. We are invested in the business of imprisonment; of women, of immigrants, of queer folks, of all those deemed undesirable by a system which determines humanity to be white, masculine, cis-, and straight.”

The Sacramento Bee reports this morning, “The University of California has dropped its investments in two companies that build and operate private correctional facilities after demands from a student group.”

Students led by the Afrikan Black Coalition, which unites black student organizations at UC’s ten campuses, “began calling for the university to divest about $25 million worth of shares in Corrections Corporation of America and The Geo Group.”

Yoel Haile, the coalition’s political director and a master’s student in public policy at UC Berkeley, told the Bee that “the appeal was part of a campaign against private prison companies, which the students believe have contributed to the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans during the country’s ‘war on drugs.’”

“In this critical time in the Black Lives Matter movement, we have to direct our attention to the main institutions that are keeping our people down and locking our people out of opportunities,” he said. “This is one initial battle that we have won on the way to make private prisons illegal.”

UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein told the Bee that “the university has sold its holdings, which made up a small part of its $100 billion portfolio. She said UC has a policy against divestment, but after meeting with representatives from the Afrikan Black Coalition, the university’s chief investment officer no longer considered the companies to meet its sustainable investment policy.”

“It was from a risk perspective,” Klein said. “Does this make financial sense over the long term?”

In Baltimore, in the meantime, the hung jury has to be seen as a setback for prosecutors there. The Baltimore Sun’s analysis on Sunday suggested that the mistrial may not be fatal to their efforts.

They write, “When juries cannot reach a unanimous verdict and prosecutors retry the case before another jury, they win about 70 percent of the time, researchers at the National Center for State Courts found — the same percentage for a first trial.”

The Sun reports today that Officer Porter will be retried but not until June, which the paper speculates creates “a problem for prosecutors who had hoped to call him as a witness at the coming trial of another officer charged in the case.”

In order to get him to testify, “they likely will have to grant him immunity,” experts tell the paper.

“If they want to use those [statements], they have to find a legal way to force Officer Porter to take the stand or negotiate with him so he is willing to voluntarily waive his privilege against self-incrimination,” said Adam Ruther, a defense attorney and former prosecutor.

Meanwhile, Officer Caesar Goodson who faces the most serious charges, will face trial on January 6.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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14 Comments

  1. Barack Palin

    They write, “When juries cannot reach a unanimous verdict and prosecutors retry the case before another jury, they win about 70 percent of the time, researchers at the National Center for State Courts found — the same percentage for a first trial.”

    What percentage of cases that have hung juries are the cases ever retried?

      1. Barack Palin

        I’ll bet it’s way less than half.  Like I stated the other day, defense lawyers are happy to get a hung jury.

        Secondly, the Baltimore officers can never get a fair trial in that city as the jury pool faces outright intimidation and bias.  The trials should be moved and if any of the officers are found guilty I’m sure because of that they will have a good case for a retrial.

      2. zaqzaq

        “That questions is moot” so opines the mighty David once again with incomplete facts.  Then why report (opine) it?  Why not even admit that the 70% number may result from only 10% of the cases that resulted in a mistrial.  Just spouting off the figure which Billy Murphy, Gray family attorney and financial supporter of DA Mosby, first introduced into the media after the mistrial was declared after the hung jury.  This is only spouting pro Mosby propaganda for public consumption.

        The reason that prosecutors dismiss cases after the jury hangs often is that the majority of the jurors voted to acquit the defendant or after talking to the jurors they conclude that they will never be able to obtain unanimous vote for guilt.  The judge has kept the vote/split secret so far.  That can only help the prosecution much like keeping the trial in Baltimore where the biases of the jurors can only help the prosecution.  It also keeps the peace if the majority voted to acquit or it was broken down by racial lines.

        But lets take a closer look at this.  The linchpin case as stated by the DA was the Porter case because Porter’s testimony was crucial to their case against both Officer Goodson and Sgt. White.  The DA claimed that they could not go to trial against Goodson and White without Porter’s testimony.  That is why Porter had to go first.  If the jury split was 11 to 1 or 10 to 2 in favor of guilt the DA would try Porter again in an attempt to get a verdict.  Putting Porter after the other trials indicates that the split was in favor of Porter.  They will now try to make a deal with Porter or dismiss the case and give him immunity to testify against Goodson and White.  The DA will also have to obtain immunity from DOJ for prosecution in federal court.  Setting another trial date give Mosby political cover until she has to announce the immunity deal for Porter and that will happen when the Goodson trial starts.   At that time the focus will be on Goodson and she will claim she has no other choice in order to prosecute Goodson.

  2. Tia Will

    Part of the problem is that there is a one-year statute of limitation for personnel investigation and officials “waited too long to take action on the misconduct allegations.”

    The judge said he was upholding the ruling “because the Peace Officer Bill of Rights, in particular the statute of limitations, exists to protect not just law enforcement, but the public.”

    “It is not in the public interest to let police misconduct charges languish,” he said. “The public has a right to have accusations against police officers be promptly adjudicated.”

    Heads up Biddlin…..Spoiler alert!  I am about to step outside my area of expertise and opine on a matter in which I have no specialized knowledge. Please correct as necessary.

    I agree that this is indeed a “part of the problem” and a part of another very big problem. We treat those who wear the police uniform as though they are above the law.  Or at the very least, subject to a different set of laws than are the rest of us. Does this same statute of limitations run out for hate speech used by a citizen ?  For example if I, as part of a group, call someone an equivalent term, is there a one year “statute of limitations” on my behavior ?

    Does the judge believe that it is in the best interest of the public to let misconduct cases that do not involve police “languish” ?  Does the public not have the right to have all accusations, whether against police officers or any other citizen be “promptly adjudicated” ?

  3. Biddlin

    I confess I am not expert in the statute(s) of limitations in such issues, as they can vary so widely from one jurisdiction to another. Obviously cops get a great deal of leeway.

    David, I do not understand how Paradise is keeping the murder of Andrew Thomas by Officer Patrick Feaster out of the news. A cop shoots an unarmed man crawling out of a rolled-over vehicle, tries to hide the fact that he shot him, all caught on his patrol car’s dashcam and nothing in major media. This deadly form of blue flu is epidemic. Killed by US cops so far in 2015?  1,157 civilians.

    1. Barack Palin

       A cop shoots an unarmed man crawling out of a rolled-over vehicle, tries to hide the fact that he shot him, all caught on his patrol car’s dashcam and nothing in major media.

      That’s because the victim wasn’t black.

  4. zaqzaq

    The grand jury decision is only a blow for the disillusioned who seem to think that every time a cop does something that they do not like and must be charged with a crime in the name of justice.  The simple fact is that she committed suicide in jail.  It happens and will likely happen again somewhere in this country.  We likely do not have the resources to prevent anyone from committing suicide in jail and if we did try the ACLU would sue claiming a violation of the inmates constitutional rights.  Now the family that declined to (abandoned her) post bail hopes to hit the lottery in a civil suit.

    Many employers have rules they have to follow in order to discipline an employee.  Here the city did not move within that timeline and lost the opportunity to do so. My spouse has a business and if an employee is fired the paycheck has to be received by a certain date or the fired employee gets more money. Then you have the unemployment rules.  You are only upset because it involves cops.  If it involved GM and the union won because GM did not move fast enough you would be applauding worker’s rights.

  5. Tia Will

    zaqzaq

    You are only upset because it involves cops.”

    I think that you are missing a critical point here. None of your other examples have the life and death power over people that we give to our police. If some one in a private business has racial or gay or religious bias, they may do a suboptimal job for those individuals, but they are not more likely to physically abuse or kill them because they are a part of the disliked group. Police are certainly able to do so.

    1. zaqzaq

      Tia,

      So are doctors.  They are the protected abusers in this country.  It would be interesting to see your reaction if the media went after doctors like they are going after cops.  Let’s create a new rule for doctors where negligence is now a crime punishable with prison instead of a civil suit. Currently we treat doctors as though they are above the law when the harm patients. Their errors are examined in secret by peers in order to protect the doctors.

  6. zaqzaq

    Tia,

    How about the medical staff (doctors) who discharged a woman from the hospital who was still complaining of problems who collapsed as she was being escorted out of the hospital for trespassing and disorderly conduct.  Dead Black Woman  Now she happened to be black.  Should the doctors who had her arrested be charged with manslaughter for their negligent diagnosis?  Did they not listen to her complaints which were later validated by her death because of ethnicity?  I have to confess that this one fell into my lap this morning.  Thoughts?

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