TIME Law Enforcement

FBI Inquiry Finds Rampant Mishandling of Evidence

An internal probe found the bureau is holding two tons more drugs than records showed

An internal review of the FBI’s evidence handling procedures found a system rife with serious errors, according to a new report, including evidence mislabeled, mishandled or lost altogether, and in every region of the United States.

The survey of more than 41,000 pieces of evidence found the FBI holding less money but more guns and drugs than records indicated, the New York Times reports. Officials say most problems are the result of the FBI’s move in 2012 from a paper-based to a digital accounting system. The review could complicate criminal prosecutions throughout the U.S.

Read more at the Times

TIME Crime

Thousands Rally Against Police Brutality in Washington and New York City

In Washington, DC, New York City and around the country, Americans staged protests over the deaths of unarmed citizens by police

Demonstrators numbering in the tens of thousands marched on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and in New York City on Saturday, as well as other cities across the U.S., to protest the killings of unarmed black men by police officers.

In the nation’s capital, the families of black men killed by police, including relatives of Staten Island resident Eric Garner, Ferguson, Mo. teenager Michael Brown, and Cleveland, Ohio 12-year-0ld Tamir Rice and others, joined civil rights groups and other demonstrators at the Justice For All march. The marchers called for an end to police killings and for law enforcement who kill unarmed citizens to be held to account for their actions.

In New York City, protestors held signs featuring the words “I am Eric Garner” and chanted what has become a rallying cry of the movement to end police killings of unarmed black men: “Hands up/Don’t shoot.” Andre Irving, 31 and black, attended the rally with his father Mark Irving, 57. “I’m worried for my safety, the safety of my family, my friends, my neighbors,” he told TIME. “Can I go to the store and walk home without being killed?”

Eva Osborne, 8, wore a pin featuring the words “I can’t breathe,” some of the last words Eric Garner spoke before he dies in a video of his arrest, and a phrase that has also been used as a rallying call. “I have a black brother and a black dad,” she said. Her brother is five, her father 43, the same age as Eric Garner. “When my brother grows up, he might be treated the same way.”

Police declined to estimate the size of the ground in Washington, the New York Times reports, but media estimates place the size of the crowd in the tens of thousands. Police in New York City estimated the crowd size at roughly 12,000.

The protests mark a new level of civil action in weeks of sometimes violent unrest around the country, as citizens erupted in mass outrage after no charges were brought against police officers responsible for killing Brown, an unarmed teenager shot by police in Ferguson, and Garner, an unarmed Staten Island man who died after being aggressively subdued by police during his arrest for illegally selling cigarettes on the street.

The Justice For All march in Washington was spearheaded by the National Action Network led by Al Sharpton. Some demonstrators, expressing disdain at those they considered celebrity protestors, disrupted the proceedings at a pre-march rally, The Washington Post reports.

TIME justice

Chokehold Case Stirs Debate on Special Prosecutors

Letitia James, Dasani Coates
New York public advocate Letitia James speaks after taking the oath of office on the steps of City Hall in New York on Jan. 1, 2014 Frank Franklin II—AP

"It's clear that the system is broken and an independent prosecutor is needed"

(NEW YORK) — After a police officer wasn’t indicted in a fatal chokehold caught on video, some officials are reviving calls to entrust such cases to special prosecutors, rather than local district attorneys.

The city’s elected public advocate and some state lawmakers are pressing for appointing special state prosecutors for police killings, saying Eric Garner’s death has bared problems with having DAs lead investigations and prosecutions of the police who help them build cases. Similar legislation has been proposed in Missouri since the police shooting of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson.

“This is a watershed moment,” New York Public Advocate Letitia James said by phone. “It’s clear that the system is broken and an independent prosecutor is needed.”

She’s advocating appointing such prosecutors whenever police kill or seriously injure someone. Assemblymen Karim Camara and Marcos Crespo are proposing special prosecutors for police killings of unarmed people.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” that the state should examine whether DAs should bring such cases and “potential roles for special prosecutors,” as part of a broad look at the criminal justice system.

After Garner died July 17, the Staten Island district attorney’s office took the case to a grand jury that spent two months hearing from 50 witnesses and scrutinizing evidence including police policy manuals, medical records and four videos, according to the few details released.

Medical examiners had found that a police chokehold — a maneuver banned by police policy — caused Garner’s death. Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s lawyer argued the officer used a permissible takedown. Grand jurors decided Wednesday that no criminal charges were warranted.

The decision spurred protests and questions about how prosecutors conducted the secret process. And it has prompted debate over whether special prosecutors would build public trust or undermine a system set up to put tough decisions in elected prosecutors’ hands.

“There has to be a permanent special prosecutor for police misconduct because of the inherent conflict” in tasking local prosecutors with exploring allegations against the police who are often their partners, said civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel.

But DAs bristle at the implication that they’re too close to police for public comfort.

“Why would the people’s choice to be their elected law enforcement officer be disqualified in favor of some political appointment?” says Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, the Syracuse prosecutor who is president-elect of the National District Attorneys Association.

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said Friday he expects to take a recent deadly police shooting of an unarmed man in a public housing stairwell to a grand jury, rejecting suggestions that a special prosecutor take over.

“I was elected by the people of Brooklyn to do this job without fear or favor, and that is exactly what I intend to do,” Thompson said.

Special prosecutors sometimes have been tapped for cases involving police, including allegations that a former Chicago police commander oversaw the torture of dozens of suspects to coerce confessions. He was never charged with abuse but was convicted of perjury.

Some states have established permanent special prosecutors’ offices for various types of cases. Maryland’s handles everything from election law violations to misconduct by public employees, including police.

But the idea of a special prosecutor specifically for police has a particular history in New York. The state created a state special prosecutor’s office in 1972 to explore police corruption in New York City, responding to the allegations later chronicled in the 1973 film “Serpico.”

The office was sometimes accused of overreaching — unfairly, says Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman, who worked in the office in its early years.

“There was some pressure not necessarily to charge, but to look closely at these cases and try hard to see whether or not there is an innocent explanation or whether or not the officer really did break the law,” he recalls.

Then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, the current governor’s father, disbanded the special prosecutor’s office in 1990, citing budget constraints. Calls to reinstate and extend it to police misconduct and brutality allegations have arisen over the years, including after three officers were acquitted in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man on his wedding day in 2006.

Some DAs have set up their own separate units for allegations against police. But prosecutors say in any event, they have enough distance from police to investigate them.

“We view ourselves as an independent agency that is called upon, on a daily basis, to review the work of the police,” says Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita, the Buffalo prosecutor who heads the state DA’s association. While they work closely together, “in my office, there’s not a week that goes by that there’s not some disagreement between prosecutors and police.”

TIME Crime

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio Announces Police Retraining Program

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a press conference to speak about new guidelines for NYPD officer retraining at the New York Police Academy in the Flushing section of Queens, New York, on Dec. 4, 2014.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a press conference to speak about new guidelines for NYPD officer retraining at the New York Police Academy in the Flushing section of Queens, New York, on Dec. 4, 2014. Anthony Beha—SIPA USA

Some 22,000 officers will complete a three-day training course on tactics like deescalation

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called for the retraining of the city’s police force on Thursday, one day after the announcement that a grand jury declined to indict a white officer in the death of an unarmed black man.

“The relationship between police and community has to change. The way we go about policing has to change,” de Blasio said in an afternoon news conference, standing next to Police Commissioner William Bratton and other city leaders as he called for reforms. “People need to know that black lives and brown lives matter as much as white lives.”

MORE: See Protestors Take to the Streets After the Eric Garner Grand Jury Decision

Some 22,000 officers will complete a three-day training course that will aim to brush them up on tactics like deescalating situations and interacting with people who are mentally ill, Bratton said. De Blasio noted that $35 million will go into the training to allow for overtime pay.

The mayor’s announcement followed a night of largely peaceful demonstrations around the city and preempted a rally planned Thursday evening at Lower Manhattan’s Foley Square. A series of police-involved deaths this year has put politicians under scrutiny over a lack of trust between police departments and the local communities they serve.

Read next: Why a Medical Examiner Called Eric Garner’s Death a ‘Homicide’

TIME Crime

Justice Department Finds Cleveland Police Guilty of Excessive Use of Force

U.S. Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division, right, makes a statement during a news conference on Dec. 4, 2014, in Cleveland.
U.S. Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division, right, makes a statement during a news conference on Dec. 4, 2014, in Cleveland. Tony Dejak—AP

Investigation found that officers excessively used deadly force, unnecessarily used Tasers and chemical sprays, and used unwarranted force against mentally ill people

The U.S. Department of Justice has told the Cleveland police department to conduct an internal shake-up after a federal probe found its officers systematically and routinely used excessive and unreasonable force.

A 21-month-long investigation into the practices of the Cleveland Division of Police concluded Thursday that officers excessively use deadly force, unnecessarily utilize tools like Tasers and chemical sprays, and use unwarranted force against people who are mentally ill.

The report is a damning portrayal of a department that has been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union and others within Cleveland for years over its conduct.

(MORE: Attorney General Eric Holder Plans ‘Institute of Justice’ to Address Protest Concerns)

The federal government began investigating the department in March 2013 after the officer-related shooting deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams following a high-speed car chase. On Nov. 29, 2012, more than 100 Cleveland police officers were involved in trying to apprehend Russell and Williams, both of whom were black and unarmed. Officers eventually fired 137 shots at the car. Almost all of the officers who fired were white.

The department has come under scrutiny again in recent days after a black 12-year-old boy, Tamir Rice, was shot dead on Nov. 22 by a white police officer in a Cleveland park, who apparently mistook a toy pellet gun for a real firearm.

Cleveland police have agreed to an independent monitor who will oversee a series of reforms within the department.

TIME

Cameras Wouldn’t Just Prevent Police Brutality. They Would Prevent Violent Protests Too

Mayor De Blasio Discusses Use Of Police Body Cameras At Police Academy In Queens
New York Police Department (NYPD) Officer Joshua Jones demonstrates how to use and operate a body camera during a press conference on December 3, 2014 in New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv.

Want fewer avoidable deaths and potentially angry protests? Then get more video from every possible angle

If you’re outraged—and you should be—that no indictment followed Eric Garner’s death at the hands of the New York Police Department, thank the people who captured the attempted arrest gone horribly wrong from different angles on their cellphone cameras. And start pushing for laws and procedures that not only provide legal protection for citizens who film police but outfit cops with wearable cameras and other recording devices.

Such technologically enabled transparency won’t end all disputes between citizens and law enforcement but it will go a long way to providing clarity in ambiguous cases and, as important, minimizing bad actions by police and suspects alike. It will also have an impact on protests that always have a potential for violence on the part of marchers and authorities.

If official and crowdsourced footage of the confrontation between Michael Brown and Ferguson policeman Darren Wilson existed, it may well have minimized the subsequent protests, militarized response to demonstrators, and the widely criticized grand jury proceedings in Missouri.

Amateur video abounds in the Garner case. Cellphone footage plainly shows cops putting the 350-pound man into the chokehold and other restraining moves that a coroner ruled killed him (chokeholds are explicitly banned by NYPD rules, which should give even police defenders pause). Other video shows NYPD officers standing haplessly over an unmoving, apparently dead Garner for minutes, attempting no resuscitation. The footage is not just disturbing as hell—Garner is heard shouting, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” repeatedly before he expires—it’s the reason why people across the political spectrum are disgusted by the grand jury ruling. As Rep. Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican who is also a lawyer, tweeted, “Clearly excessive force against #EricGarner.”

These are not pretty pictures but they are essential viewing if you want to understand how the police operate and why so many Americans, especially racial and ethnic minorities who tend to have more run-ins with police, feel about law enforcement.

Given how they come off in the Garner footage, it’s understandable why police routinely try to shut down citizens photographing or videotaping them in the line of duty. Indeed, last August, police in Ferguson arrested several reporters for doing just that. That sort of thing is hardly an isolated incident, either. While there is a court-recognized right of citizens to record the police, there’s also little question that cops and law enforcement at all levels are waging nothing less than a “war against cameras.”

Ironically, cameras are in many—maybe most—instances the police’s best friend. Dashboard-mounted cameras have become standard equipment for most highway patrols and routinely exonerate patrolmen accused of misconduct. Back in August, former NYPD police commissioner Bernie Kerik, who implemented dash cams for his force, said that such footage overwhelmingly vindicates police versions of events. Not only that, they have a calming effect. “If a trooper loses his cool,” a spokesman for Pennsylvania Highway Patrol told The York Daily Register, “The trooper will have to answer for his actions.”

And they will also have to answer when they turn off or mess with cameras at inopportune moments. The Albuquerque, New Mexico PD did just that earlier this year when it fired a member for failing to turn on her body camera before engaging in a fatal shooting.

You don’t have to believe that “everyone behaves better when they’re on video” to recognize the vast benefits of ubiquitous video from official and distributed sources. It might have prevented violence in Ferguson in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting (it may even have helped to avoid the incident in the first place). While it did not help to bring an indictment in the Eric Garner death, it has raised disturbing and totally legitimate issues about police behavior and techniques. Those are good things, even if they are born out of tragedy.

Police should actually be the most supportive of increasing the amount of footage, especially footage taken by cameras they’re wearing. A year-long study of the Rialto, Calif., police department found that using “officer-worn cameras” reduced use-of-force incidents by 59% and reduced complaints against the cops by 87.5%. Between the Brown and Garner deaths—and cases such as the one in Cleveland where police shot and killed 12 year old Tamir Rice—law enforcement needs to work hard to regain the trust and confidence of the American public. Assuming they are acting in good faith and in accordance with proper policies, literally being able to show things from their point of view may be one of the best ways they can reassure us all.

Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv and the co-author with Matt Welch of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Crime

South Carolina Grand Jury Indicts White Cop in Fatal Shooting of Black Man

Richard Combs
Richard Combs the former police chief and sole officer in the small town of Eutawville listens in court on Dec. 4, 2014, in Orangeburg, S.C. Larry Hardy—The Times and Democrat/AP

Richard Combs was formally charged over the 2011 shooting of Bernard Bailey

—TheA white former police chief in South Carolina was formally charged in the 2011 shooting death of a black man in a town hall parking lot Wednesday, the same day a New York grand jury declined to indict a white NYPD officer in the death of a black Staten Island man, sparking widespread protests.

A South Carolina grand jury indicted Richard Combs, an ex-police chief who fatally shot 54-year-old Bernard Bailey during a confrontation near town hall. Combs was the only officer in Eutawville, S.C., a population of about 300 people.

(MORE: Behind the Video of Eric Garner’s Deadly Confrontation With Police)

According to the Associated Press, Combs attempted to arrest Bailey in May 2011 after he went to the Eutawville town hall about a broken-taillight ticket given to his daughter. The two got into a fight and Combs shot Bailey while he was in his truck. In 2013, Combs was indicted for misconduct in office, a lesser charge.

The indictment comes after recent decisions by grand juries in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City in which white officers were involved in deadly confrontations with two unarmed black men, Ferguson’s Michael Brown and Staten Island’s Eric Garner.

Both grand juries decided there was insufficient evidence to convict the officers involved. Combs’ lawyer questioned the timing of the murder charge and claimed that prosecutors were merely trying to piggyback off national outrage over the deaths of Brown and Garner.

TIME Crime

Here’s What a Chokehold Actually Is

Eric Garner Police Brutality Death
Ramsey Orta

The NYPD has a strict definition

On Wednesday, a grand jury in New York decided not to indict an NYPD officer in the death of an unarmed black man during his arrest for selling loose cigarettes in his Staten Island neighborhood.

Video footage of the incident shows Eric Garner being subdued by several officers, with NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo apparently wrapping his forearm around the man’s neck — a move that has widely been described as a “chokehold.” Garner can be heard in the video saying “I can’t breathe.”

In grand jury testimony, Pantaleo says he merely used a maneuver that had been taught to him in police academy. According to the New York Times, Pantaleo says he hooked his arm under one of Garner’s arms as he wrapped his other arm around Garner’s body.

But was it a chokehold? Here’s the precise language the NYPD Patrol Guide uses to describe the maneuver, which it has banned for two decades:

“A chokehold shall include, but is not limited to, any pressure to the throat or windpipe, which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air.”

That definition is generally the same one used in martial arts or other combat sports.

Despite the ban, chokeholds are still widely used by police officers in New York City. According to the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, dozens of chokehold complaints are filed every year. So far this year, more than 100 have been filed. The high water mark was in 2012, when about 250 complaints were lodged.

TIME Crime

Poll: Americans Evenly Divided on Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

A protester holds up a sign while demonstrating outside of Macy's in Herald Square during the Black Friday shopping day in New York
A protester holds up a sign while demonstrating against the grand jury decision in the case against Darren Wilson in Ferguson, outside of Macy's in New York City on Nov. 28, 2014. Brendan McDermid—Reuters

48% of adults approved of the decision not to indict the police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager

Americans are evenly split on a recent grand jury decision not to indict the Ferguson, Mo. police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, but answers varied along racial and partisan lines, according to a new poll.

The poll, conducted by the Washington Post, shows that 48% of American adults approved of a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson while 45% said they disapproved of it.

These figures varied dramatically between racial groups and party affiliation. Fewer than 10% of African Americans said they approved of the decision, while nearly 60% of white Americans said the same. More than three-quarters of Republicans agreed that Wilson shouldn’t have been charged, while 27% of Democrats agreed.

Still, the poll suggests that there is less of a divide on police handling of the protests that erupted after the shooting and the subsequent grand jury decision: just under 40% of all Americans approved of law enforcement’s handling of the situation.

TIME Crime

Seattle Police May Shelve Plan to Equip Officers With Body Cameras

Seattle police may cancel a plan to give 1,000 police officers body cameras like the one shown here worn by a Las Vegas official on Nov. 12, 2014. John Locher—AP

Officials says excessive public-disclosure requests are to blame

Seattle may drop its plan to equip more than 1,000 police officers with body cameras by 2016 because of the volume of public-disclosure requests already seeking information from future recordings.

A six-month pilot program set to launch in a few weeks might be completely shelved, officials told the Seattle Times, thanks to public-disclosure requests by an anonymous citizen who was looking for daily updates that department officials say would be nearly impossible to fulfill. Officials said the requests — including all recordings from patrol-car and body cameras, as well as 9-1-1 dispatches and checks run on license plates and addresses — would be both too expensive and time-consuming for the department.

A number of cities have been experimenting with body cameras since the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in August, which set off weeks of protests. The incident was not captured on video, and the facts of the shooting have been disputed. Police departments in Denver, Anaheim, Washington, D.C. and Ferguson have since announced plans to use the cameras.

[Seattle Times]

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser