January 19, 2021 | Criminal Defense
Police misconduct existed well before the highly-publicized case against the officers who assaulted Rodney King. During the Civil Rights Movement that ultimately led to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, police mistreated and abused peaceful protesters.
So why does it feel like police misconduct has become more common? One answer: visibility. Since the debut of the iPhone in January 2007, video-recording cell phones have become ubiquitous. Everyone has one. And anyone can document police misconduct in action.
If you are facing criminal charges, you should understand the ways in which police misconduct may impact your case. Police conduct can have a range of impacts on a case.
Breonna Taylor: #SayHerName
On March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor was killed in her bed by Kentucky police. The killing sparked outrage across the U.S. and was widely seen as an example of typical police misconduct.
Ordinarily, police must knock and announce their presence when serving a warrant. Failure to knock and announce before serving a warrant can have serious consequences. Evidence obtained by improper methods, called “fruit of the poisonous tree” can be excluded from trial.
After Ms. Taylor’s death, the city of Louisville banned the use of no-knock warrants. In Louisville, police must always knock and announce their presence before entering a home.
Central Park 5: Coerced Confessions
Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us” is based on a true-life story of the so-called “Central Park 5.” The five teenagers were charged with rape, attempted murder, robbery, and rioting in connection with the death of a Central Park jogger. After giving coerced confessions, they were wrongfully convicted in 1990. They spent over 30 combined years behind bars before they were fully exonerated.
Philando Castile: Hands Up, Don’t Shoot
Philando Castile was driving a car in which his girlfriend and her young daughter were passengers when he was pulled over.
Mr. Castile did everything by the book:
- He reported that he was in possession of a legal firearm
- He held his hands above the steering wheel
- He told the officer that he was going to reach for his driver’s license
Nevertheless, the officer fired 7 shots at Mr. Castile, killing him in the presence of his girlfriend and her young daughter.
The officer was acquitted of manslaughter. However, Mr. Castile’s girlfriend received nearly a million-dollar settlement as a result of the officer’s excessive use of force.
But did they dispose of evidence of other crimes after leaving the scene? When car crashes involve injuries, many states require officers to give tests to determine whether a driver was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Alton Sterling: The CD Man
Alton Sterling was known as “The CD Man” around the convenience store where he peddled CDs. In 2016, Baton Rouge police shot and killed Mr. Sterling while responding to a report that a man in a red shirt selling CDs had threatened someone with a gun.
Both officers had a history of excessive use of force complaints. One of them was later fired for, in part, violating the department’s excessive use of force policy.
Refusal to Investigate Domestic Violence
Sadly, domestic violence is a common occurrence in America. Even more sadly, domestic violence reports often go uninvestigated. Why?
Many police harbor unconscious biases against victims who report their romantic partners for sexual assault. Until the late 1980s, there were still states in which a man could not be found guilty of rape for having non-consensual sexual intercourse with his wife.
Eric Garner: I Can’t Breathe
Eric Garner was allegedly selling stolen goods when police confronted him in Staten Island. During his arrest, officers maneuvered him to the ground and put him in a chokehold.
Mr. Garner repeatedly called out “I Can’t Breathe!” but officers never rendered aid. Although Mr. Garner died, the officer who killed him did not face charges.
In some cases, particularly those involving more than one criminal defendant, the police may try to influence one person to give testimony against another. If they cross the line with coercion or bribery, they may be guilty of witness tampering.
Meek Mill: Failure to Investigate
“Free Meek Mill” reflects a recent example of police misconduct and potential judicial overreach. In 2007, up-and-coming rapper Meek Mill was arrested on suspicion of drug distribution.
Meek was one of the youngest in a large group of young black men arrested that night. He was badly beaten by the cops who arrested him. He was ultimately convicted of a weapons charge and spent many years in prison for a variety of minor probation violations.
Andre Hill: Ohio Family Loses a Loved One
In December 2020, Andre Hill, yet another unarmed black man, was shot by a police officer in Columbus, Ohio. The officer’s bodycam footage shows Mr. Hill was shot within 10 seconds after the officer encountered him.
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