Justice Watch: Wall Street Journal on Why Problem Cops Don’t Lose Their Badges

Police Blue

“Gary Allen Steele fired a gun near his former girlfriend during an argument. Donald Snider harassed a minor. Claudia Wright faced forgery charges. Frank Garcia was accused of shooting out his window while driving drunk,” the Wall Street Journal article reports.

“All pleaded guilty to crimes or left jobs to avoid prosecution. All were police officers at the time of their alleged misconduct. All still are.  They are among hundreds of officers in America who still have badges after being charged with crimes, The Wall Street Journal found in an examination tracking outcomes of police-misconduct cases across every state,” the article relates.

Here is the key finding: “Infractions that can disqualify barbers, child-care providers and others needing state certification don’t necessarily bar officers from retaining jobs or getting new ones. In America’s patchwork system, most states let some officers remain on the force despite misconduct, including actions that other states might consider disqualifying.

“The Journal traced outcomes for 3,458 police officers from across the U.S. whose arrests resulted in their losing jobs or being convicted—or both—in the seven years through 2011.”

Their analysis finds that it is “possible for these problem officers to keep their posts or move from job to job.”  The report finds, “Some police agencies don’t always check whether applicants have records of misdeeds.”

They also found “credence to the notion put forth by some law-enforcement officials that police misconduct—which has become a point of national debate after a series of high-profile shooting deaths, some on video—might in part stem from the presence of a small but persistent minority of ‘bad apple’ officers who are allowed to stay on the job.”

The findings dovetail with the Vanguard’s observations.  In 2012, Officer Lee Benson of the Davis Police Department used excessive force when he used a Taser against Jerome Wren and Tatiana Bush.

According to accounts from Ms. Bush, “We were just standing in front of the Glacier Point office when police approached us and immediately started screaming at him to ‘come here, come here, come here.’ We were confused. As he walked toward the officer, the officer grabbed him and tried to detain him.”

The DA’s office, in August 2012, dropped charges against Mr. Wren for resisting arrest.  Police Chief Landy Black, in a letter dated February 5, 2013, sustained a complaint, writing, “Based on the evidence, it became clear the conduct of the first arriving officer with whom you interacted did not meet the highest standards of conduct and service we expect from our members.”

The Vanguard would learn that Lee Benson was no longer employed by the city of Davis as of January 18, 2013.  However, in 2014, the Vanguard learned that Lee Benson, who had also been terminated from a position at the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office, was working as a police officer in the city of Galt and was involved in questionable conduct there as well.

An article in the Galt Herald shows that Lee Benson was sworn in as an officer on August 7, 2013, just seven months after being terminated from the police department in Davis for excessive force.

Last summer, two Sacramento police officers shot and killed Joseph Mann.

The dash cam video of the Joseph Mann shooting in Sacramento shows officers in pursuit of the African American who suffered from mental illness – who was reportedly armed with a folding knife, according to accounts from eyewitnesses, although the police have never produced the knife and video footage does not show the man armed.

More ominous is the video that shows the two officers who end up shooting Mann saying, “I’m going to hit him.”  His partner says, “Ok, go for it.”  After that, the two officers, John Tennis and Randy Lozoya, exit their vehicle, engage in a brief foot pursuit and then open fire.

But there are real questions as to why either man was a police officer at the time of the shooting.

Officer John Tennis, a long-time police officer with the Sacramento Police Department, was one of two Sacramento police officers who, on July 11, 2016, as stated above, fatally shot Joseph Mann.

Civil rights attorney John Burris in a statement said, “I am outraged to learn that the City of Sacramento permitted this officer to carry a gun, after he engaged in a series of troubling behaviors, unbefitting a police officer.”

Court documents reveal that the City of Sacramento was on notice in 2012 that Officer Tennis was barred by law from carrying a gun, when his wife was granted a restraining order due to her claims that Officer Tennis abused her and their children. The City of Sacramento backed up Defendant Officer Tennis, by submitting a letter to the court, notifying them that Defendant Tennis would need to be granted an exception to the law, in order to keep carrying a gun.

The court record also indicates that, in 2014, Defendant Officer Tennis was the subject of an internal affairs investigation due to his alcohol addiction and dereliction of duties. The record also shows that, in 2014, Defendant Officer Tennis admitted to being a long-term alcoholic, and described how his addiction interfered with his duties.

A June 4, 2012, letter from Sam Somers, Deputy Chief from the Office of Operations, to El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Melikian stated, “On May 23, 2012, a temporary restraining order (Case FL2012-0419) was granted, identifying Sacramento Police Officer John C. Tennis as the restrained party. Pursuant to the temporary order, Officer Tennis cannot possess a firearm or ammunition. The ability to possess a firearm is a condition of continued employment for a sworn Police Officer with the Sacramento Police Department. The Sacramento Police Department is unable to re-assign Officer Tennis to another position where a firearm is unnecessary.”

The restraining order describes the  2012 incident in which Mr. Tennis was having a verbal dispute with his wife in front of their children.  She described that “he was speaking ill of me to and around the girls using a great deal of profanity.”  At this point she went upstairs and he “threw a full baby bottle narrowly missing (their daughter).”

His wife in 2012 alleged that his response was, “I don’t care.”

She detailed “verbal and emotional abuse” that had occurred against the children “through name calling and extensive use of profanity.” She claimed he was “investigated twice by CPS for physical abuse” against two of their sons.  In one case, he grabbed the boy “by his neck and pushed him to the ground.” Mrs. Tennis said,  “Once on the ground, John began yelling and cussing” at the child.  He left a red mark on the side of the child’s neck.

Officer Tennis was suspended for 40 hours in June of 2014 for alcohol abuse and was ordered to read several books, to acknowledge “this conduct was a violation of City policy and Police Department General Orders,” and meet with a Drug and Alcohol Officer at the SFPD Behavioral Sciences Unit.

None of this is that unusual.  Of the 3458 officers that the WSJ article tracked, they “found that 1,927 who left their departments after brushes with the law weren’t in law enforcement in 2015 but had not been placed on any list of decertified officers, which would create a formal prohibition to their returning to the profession in their states.”

They found, of the remaining officers, “430 were imprisoned, including 261 who hadn’t been decertified. Another 738 were decertified but not incarcerated, and 31 had died.”

Another 10 percent, 332 officers, “remained in law enforcement. Some officers stayed in the profession after convictions for killing or injuring people through negligence or recklessness, or for drunken-driving infractions. Others were convicted of crimes such as beatings, brandishing weapons illegally, stealing or lying.

“In a few cases,” the WSJ found that “convictions were overturned on appeal, though many underlying facts of the misconduct weren’t generally in dispute.”

—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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  1. Richard C

    It looks like the CBS program “60 Minutes” is going to do a segment this Sunday evening talking about why there has been a drop in police stops and arrests in Chicago as violence is rising. It should be interesting.

  2. Howard P

    All pleaded guilty to crimes or left jobs to avoid prosecution.

    Can you give a cite for the article?  Something smells ‘off’… I do not dispute that the issues are real, but ‘nolo contendre’ is very different from ‘pleading guilty’… and circumstances, rarely, would inform that someone who was charged with “excessive force”, actually wasn’t “guilty”, but chose a different “way out” to protect their employer, and the public.   I know of such an individual, who confided to me that he killed a man… some would say, ‘in cold blood’… he got busted in rank, but was allowed to continue to serve… the facts were compelling why that was a good call for the MP individual and the Army…

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