Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Highway seizure in Iowa fuels debate about asset-forfeiture laws

Highway seizure in Iowa fuels debate about asset-forfeiture laws
This is the fifth installment in the “Stop and Seize” investigative series.
Huff Post
Nov. 10, 2014

Iowa state troopers stop two California men in a rented car on April 15, 2013. The police stop, search of the car and seizure of more than $100,000 is at the center of a federal civil rights lawsuit in which the motorists claim their rights against unreasonable searches and seizures were violated. (Image from video provided by Iowa State Patrol)
November 10
The two men in the rented red Nissan Altima were poker players traveling through Iowa on their way to Las Vegas. The police were state troopers on the hunt for criminals, contraband and cash.
They intersected last year on a rural stretch of Interstate 80, in a seemingly routine traffic stop that would soon raise new questions about laws that allow police to take money and property from people not charged with crimes.
By the time the encounter was over, the gamblers had been detained for more than two hours. Their car was searched without a warrant. And their cellphones, a computer and $100,020 of their gambling “bankroll” were seized under state civil asset-forfeiture laws. The troopers allowed them to leave, without their money, after issuing a traffic warning and a citation for possession of marijuana paraphernalia that carried a $65 fine, court records show.
Months later, an attorney for the men obtained a video of the stop. It showed that the motorists were detained for a violation they did not commit — a failure to signal during a lane change — and authorities were compelled to return 90 percent of the money.
Now the men are questioning the police tactics in an unusual federal civil rights lawsuit...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

90-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor, Hedy Epstein, Arrested in Ferguson Protest


90-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor, Hedy Epstein, Arrested in Ferguson Protest
Daily Kos 
Originally published in Tikkun Daily
Aug 18, 2014  
 
Hedy Epstein, a Holocaust survivor and long-time human rights activist, was arrested today in front of Governor Jay Nixon's downtown office along with eight others.

Epstein, charged with failure to disperse, was protesting Nixon's actions in Ferguson, and said after her detainment, "I've been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn't think I would have to do it when I was 90. We need to stand up today so that people won't have to do this when they're 90."...

Thursday, August 07, 2014

San Diego Reader recounts recent adventures of rogue cop Kenneth Davis--and the system that protects him



Murphy Canyon Mystery
"I thought I was being murdered."

Jeffrey Sakali returns to the Fry's parking lot where he had been in an physical altercation with two strangers, beaten by one of them, and then subsequently detained by Sergeant Kenneth Davis...

 ...After his continued insistence on going to the hospital, a second ambulance appeared, and attendants examined Saikali inside it. Sergeant Kenneth Davis then entered and issued Saikali a misdemeanor citation for “battery on a person.” Saikali says he requested of Davis several things, starting with an explanation of what the citation was for. But the officer refused to answer.

Was the man who beat Saikali also issued a citation? No. Could Saikali press charges against the man? No. 

Davis then left the ambulance but not before becoming candid on one point. “He told me that I deserved my injuries,” Saikali says. 

Sergeant Davis is already known in town for behavior ranging from questionable detainment to criminal stalking. In 2007, a lawsuit was filed against Davis in federal court for malicious prosecution. Southeast San Diego resident Melford Wilson had objected loudly and with obscene language to a drug investigation Davis was conducting in the neighborhood. The officer arrested Wilson for obstructing the search. After Wilson sued, the city attorney’s office was able to have the charges dismissed. But a 2011 appeal in the U.S. Appellate Court’s Ninth Circuit resulted in the judgment being reversed. A key issue in the case was Wilson’s constitutional right of free speech. But after the case was remanded to the district court, a second jury exonerated Davis again.

That same year, however, Davis didn’t fare as well. In the spring, he was charged with felony stalking against fellow officer Robin Hayes and was put on a three-year administrative leave. In a preliminary hearing, Hayes testified that Davis had also threatened to kill her. Through plea bargaining, Davis was eventually allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanor stalking. On October 13, 2011, after his trial concluded, NBC San Diego ran a story headlined, “Officer Stalks and Walks Free.” Davis soon was back at work on the streets...

After Saikali arrived at the Sharp Memorial Hospital emergency room, he overheard the woman he says attacked him talking in a nearby enclosure. She was bragging again, he says, this time to a nurse, about how her male companion in the Walmart parking lot was an expert in martial arts. Saikali could hear that she was being treated for a broken wrist. He figured she had broken it when he flung her off his back. The first ambulance at the crime scene must have brought her there, he thought. 

Before Saikali left the hospital, he had the nurse attending him take pictures of his injuries. Within days, he also wrote a three-page account of what happened both inside Fry’s and outside Walmart. He then went to the U.S. attorney’s office, where he was told there was nothing they could do. “I wanted them to see my injuries firsthand,” he says.

Saikali also called Fry’s and Walmart to ask that they save the surveillance video of the night he had been beaten. They promised to do it. When he called Walmart’s security department three weeks after the incident, he was told that only police could view the video. Had police come to look at it? No, they had not, he says the Walmart spokesperson told him...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A SWAT team blew a hole in my 2-year-old son (UPDATE)


A SWAT team blew a hole in my 2-year-old son (UPDATE)

That's right: Officers threw a flashbang grenade in my son's crib -- and left a hole in his chest. It gets worse


Salon.com

A SWAT team blew a hole in my 2-year-old son (UPDATE)Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh (Credit: The Phonesavanh Family)
After our house burned down in Wisconsin a few months ago, my husband and I packed our four young kids and all our belongings into a gold minivan and drove to my sister-in-law’s place, just outside of Atlanta. On the back windshield, we pasted six stick figures: a dad, a mom, three young girls, and one baby boy.
That minivan was sitting in the front driveway of my sister-in-law’s place the night a SWAT team broke in, looking for a small amount of drugs they thought my husband’s nephew had. Some of my kids’ toys were in the front yard, but the officers claimed they had no way of knowing children might be present. Our whole family was sleeping in the same room, one bed for us, one for the girls, and a crib.
After the SWAT team broke down the door, they threw a flashbang grenade inside. It landed in my son’s crib.
Flashbang grenades were created for soldiers to use during battle. When they explode, the noise is so loud and the flash is so bright that anyone close by is temporarily blinded and deafened. It’s been three weeks since the flashbang exploded next to my sleeping baby, and he’s still covered in burns.
There’s still a hole in his chest that exposes his ribs. At least that’s what I’ve been told; I’m afraid to look.
My husband’s nephew, the one they were looking for, wasn’t there. He doesn’t even live in that house. After breaking down the door, throwing my husband to the ground, and screaming at my children, the officers – armed with M16s – filed through the house like they were playing war. They searched for drugs and never found any.
I heard my baby wailing and asked one of the officers to let me hold him. He screamed at me to sit down and shut up and blocked my view, so I couldn’t see my son. I could see a singed crib. And I could see a pool of blood. The officers yelled at me to calm down and told me my son was fine, that he’d just lost a tooth. It was only hours later when they finally let us drive to the hospital that we found out Bou Bou was in the intensive burn unit and that he’d been placed into a medically induced coma.
For the last three weeks, my husband and I have been sleeping at the hospital. We tell our son that we love him and we’ll never leave him behind. His car seat is still in the minivan, right where it’s always been, and we whisper to him that soon we’ll be taking him home with us.


Every morning, I have to face the reality that my son is fighting for his life. It’s not clear whether he’ll live or die. All of this to find a small amount of drugs?
The only silver lining I can possibly see is that my baby Bou Bou’s story might make us angry enough that we stop accepting brutal SWAT raids as a normal way to fight the “war on drugs.” I know that this has happened to other families, here in Georgia and across the country. I know that SWAT teams are breaking into homes in the middle of the night, more often than not just to serve search warrants in drug cases. I know that too many local cops have stockpiled weapons that were made for soldiers to take to war. And as is usually the case with aggressive policing, I know that people of color and poor people are more likely to be targeted.  I know these things because of the American Civil Liberties Union’s new report, and because I’m working with them to push for restraints on the use of SWAT.
A few nights ago, my 8-year-old woke up in the middle of the night screaming, “No, don’t kill him! You’re hurting my brother! Don’t kill him.” How can I ever make that go away? I used to tell my kids that if they were ever in trouble, they should go to the police for help. Now my kids don’t want to go to sleep at night because they’re afraid the cops will kill them or their family. It’s time to remind the cops that they should be serving and protecting our neighborhoods, not waging war on the people in them.
I pray every minute that I’ll get to hear my son’s laugh again, that I’ll get to watch him eat French fries or hear him sing his favorite song from “Frozen.” I’d give anything to watch him chase after his sisters again. I want justice for my baby, and that means making sure no other family ever has to feel this horrible pain.
Update: As of the afternoon of 6/24/2014, Baby Bou Bou has been taken out of the medically induced coma and transferred to a new hospital to begin rehabilitation. The hole in his chest has yet to heal, and doctors are still not able to fully assess lasting brain damage.
Alecia Phonesavanh is the mother of Bounkham Phonesavanh, nicknamed "Baby Bou Bou." She and her family live in Atlanta. For more information about Bou Bou, go to www.justiceforbabyboubou.com.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Ravneet Singh Allegedly Facilitated Nearly $300,000 in Illegal Foreign Contributions to Campaigns in San Diego

Campaign Services Professional Arraigned for Role in Campaign Finance Crimes
Ravneet Singh Allegedly Facilitated Nearly $300,000 in Illegal Foreign Contributions to Campaigns in San Diego; as part of conspiracy, Former SDPD Detective Ernesto Encinas Allegedly Sought to Fire the SD Chief of Police and Pick His Replacement
U.S. Attorney’s Office
January 21, 2014

Southern District of California (619) 557-5610

SAN DIEGO, CA—Ravneet Singh, the proprietor of Washington, D.C.-based ElectionMall Inc., was arraigned today on charges that he conspired to finance political campaigns using money from an illegal foreign source. Singh was arrested by FBI agents on Friday, January 17, 2014, pursuant to an arrest warrant.

According to the complaint, filed by an FBI special agent, unsealed by U.S. Magistrate Judge William V. Gallo, Singh conspired with former San Diego Police detective Ernesto Encinas and others to funnel more than $500,000 of illegal foreign money into San Diego municipal and federal campaigns, primarily in 2012 and 2013. Singh’s company, ElectionMall Inc., was also charged as a defendant.

According to the complaint, Singh, who styled himself the "campaign guru," was the president, chief executive officer and founder of ElectionMall Inc., a company that provided social media services and other campaign and election products to political candidates throughout the world. Encinas was the owner of a private security and consulting business in San Diego who oversaw the protection detail of a person identified in the complaint only as "the Foreign National." Between approximately 2011 and 2013, Singh and Encinas helped the Foreign National donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to a series of candidates for elective office—including during the 2012 San Diego mayoral election, a 2012 Congressional campaign, and the 2013 San Diego special mayoral election (up to, but not after, December 2013).

Despite the Foreign National’s willingness to contribute funds, he could not legally donate to any of these campaigns. Under federal law, "foreign nationals" are prohibited from making any contributions or expenditures in connection with any American electoral campaign—whether at the federal, state, or local level. Knowing this, Singh and Encinas allegedly used a series of increasingly complex techniques to hide the fact that the Foreign National was the true source of these illicit campaign funds. According to the complaint, Encinas—among other devices—helped mask the Foreign National’s contributions through the use of shell companies.

Similarly, Singh used his expertise to facilitate the donation of social media services to political candidates that the Foreign National favored. The complaint alleges that these contributions—sometimes classified as "in-kind contributions"—were not reported in any campaign filings and totaled nearly $300,000. According to the complaint, the Foreign National’s illegal contributions included:

a $100,000 contribution to a SuperPAC
$100,000 in unreported compensation for campaign services
a $30,000 contribution to a political party committee
another $190,000 in unreported compensation for campaign services
a $150,000 contribution to another SuperPAC
a $30,000 contribution to another political party committee
the promise of a "mill" in additional contributions

According to the complaint, Encinas wanted the next mayor to fire the chief of police and replace him with a person of Encinas’ choosing in exchange for the Foreign National’s financial help.

Complaints are not evidence that the defendant committed the crime charged. All defendants are presumed innocent until the United States meets its burden in court of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Defendant in Case Number 14MJ0201

Ravneet Singh
Age: 41
Washington, D.C.

ElectionMall, Inc.

Ernesto Encinasv Age: 57
San Diego, Californiav
Summary of Charges and Maximum Penalties

Count one: conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States-18 U.S.C. § 371
Maximum penalties: five years in prison, three years of supervised release, $250,000 fine, and a $100 special assessment
v INVESTIGATING AGENCIES

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation
San Diego Police Department

Monday, December 16, 2013

After 30 Years In Prison, Judge Releases Inmate Whose Testimony Was Beaten Out Of Him

After 30 Years In Prison, Judge Releases Inmate Whose Testimony Was Beaten Out Of Him
By Nicole Flatow
ThinkProgress
December 13, 2013

More than a decade ago, a special prosecutor undertook an investigation that revealed a longtime Chicago Police Department detective and commander had routinely tortured black men to coerce them into confessions or false testimony. Some of the convictions were reversed. A few others were pardoned by then-Governor Ryan. And Jon Graham Burge was convicted on related perjury charges and sent to jail.

But Burge’s misconduct is still taking its toll on many of the 148 people who claimed abuse. Just this week, a man who spent more than 30 years in jail was released after Judge Richard Walsh found that officers had lied about beating Stanley Wrice with a flashlight and a 20-inch piece of rubber, and about imposing similar treatment on a witness in Wrice’s case to elicit false testimony against him.

Wrice was sentenced to 100 years for a sexual assault he says he falsely confessed to after police beatings. Others with similar claims remain behind bars, hoping to seize on precedent from Wrice’s case to expedite their appeals. Lawyers will argue next week that these inmate should be certified as a class so they can argue together that they should be granted new trials.

Burge was fired from the Chicago Police Department in 1993, after an internal investigation found that his abuse was “systematic” over more than a decade. More than 148 individuals — mostly black men — came forward to report that Burge had smothered them, imposed electric shock, and forced them into a hot radiator. Burge’s misconduct led to the state’s death penalty moratorium in 2000. But it took another decade before a special prosecutor embarked on an extensive investigation of Burge’s behavior. It found foul play, but said it would not pursue action against Burge, in part because the statutes of limitations had expired in the cases. Then in 2008, prosecutors developed another way to snag Burge in a civil trial. They charged him with perjury and obstruction of justice for lying about his actions at trial, and in 2011, he was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison.

At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow lamented, “How can one trust that justice will be served when the justice system has been so defiled?” She added, “Perhaps the praise, publicity and commendations you received for solving these awful crimes was seductive and may have led you down this path. On your behalf how I wish that there had not been such a dismal failure of leadership in the (police) department that it came to this.”

While Burge’s case is extreme, this reward system exists in any of a number of police departments and law enforcement agencies, accompanied by rare punishment for wrongdoing. False confessions alone account for about 25 of wrongful convictions exposed by DNA, and many others derive from testimony by witnesses who are coerced through both poor treatment and incentives.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

My Stupid State: Florida Police Arrest, Jail, Harass Innocent Black Man 258 Times

My Stupid State: Florida Police Arrest, Jail, Harass Innocent Black Man 258 Times
by SemDemFollow for DKos Florida
Daily Kos group
Nov 30, 2013

#37 for My Stupid State series....

Earl Sampson has been stopped and questioned by Miami Gardens police 258 times in 4 years, on average more than once a week. He has been arrested 62 times for trespassing: at the store he WORKS AT!

The store's owner, Alex Saleh, had enough of the racial profiling of his employees and customers. He installed 15 surveillance cameras--not to protect from criminals (he has never been robbed) but because of the non-stop harassment of Sampson and others. The video below shows just one instance: Earl Sampson is taking out the garbage, and as soon as he goes back in the store, he is pulled out forcibly by the cop and arrested for trespassing.

(If you can't see the embedded video, the Miami Herald has a series of them here.)

Even though the store owner is there and repeatedly tells the cops he is an employee, they arrest him anyway.

I said, 'I'm the owner, let him go. I work here.' The officer said, 'Yeah right.'


Most of us have never been stopped and searched by police, let alone hundreds of times. Miami Gardens Police Chief Matthew Boyd needs to be fired. There is no way he didn't know about this. The cops need to be fired and sued. I am glad the store owner and his attorneys are filing a civil suit. Being a former cop myself, this type of behavior fills me with rage. They are harassing the very people they need to be protecting.

The store owner is a brave man for standing up for the rights of his customers and employees. According to the Huffington Post, he has been repeatedly threatened and harassed by the Miami Gardens PD since this story broke.

I know there are some in my state who would disagree with me, but the fact of the matter is being a minority is not a crime. Even if you are from Florida.

12:58 PM PT: Local News Report:

6:38 PM PT: The police chief will be stepping down

Originally posted to DKos Florida on Sat Nov 30, 2013 at 12:31 PM PST. Also republished by Police Accountability Group.