police misconduct

Unanswered Questions Surrounding the Shooting of an Unarmed Teen by a Ferguson Police Officer Leads to Public Unrest

The fatal shooting of an unarmed African American teen in Ferguson, Mo. by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson Saturday, August 9, has given rise to an FBI civil rights investigation, protests and local rioting.

The cause of the altercation between Michael Brown, 18, and Wilson, whose identity wasn’t released for weeks after the incident, remains unclear as witnesses to the event tell one story and law enforcement another.

Dorian Johnson, 22, told CNN that he and Brown were walking to a family member’s home when police yelled at them to get out of the street. As the two explained that they were about to arrive at their destination, Wilson became angry, aggressively driving forward and hitting brown with the car door.

Then, Dorian said Wilson pulled Brown in by the neck toward the car and shot him.Ferguson and Mike Brown

Dorian and an injured Brown struggled to run away, but Brown was shot numerous times, forcing him to slow down as he held his hands above his head in surrender, begging Wilson to stop shooting.

Moments later, Dorian said Wilson fired another shot, killing Brown.

In contrast, Ferguson Police share a completely disparate report, claiming Brown attacked Wilson inside his vehicle, struggled for his weapon causing an initial shot to be fired inside the car.

Then, Ferguson police say Brown and Dorian ran from the scene, and Brown was shot and killed several feet away.

Wilson shot Brown a total of six times during the altercation. A privately conducted autopsy revealed that it was the sixth shot to the top of the head that killed Brown, and the St. Louis County medical examiner’s office confirmed that the cause of death was gunshot wounds to the head and chest, ABC News said.

Although the two stories remain divided, one factor that rings true among all accounts is that Brown was unarmed at the time of the incident. Belmar said that every bullet casing from the scene belonged to Wilson, CNN reports.

Since Brown’s death, tension has skyrocketed in the Ferguson area, a working class suburb of 21,000, where a history of distrust and conflict exists between residents who are predominantly black and a primarily white police force, CNN said.

The largest protests have been peaceful, according to the Los Angeles Times, where the slogan “Hands up, don’t shoot,” can be seen on posters and acted out by protesters, reminding those that Brown was unarmed and reportedly in a position of surrender when he was shot.

However, many protests have transformed into local riots throughout the weeks following Brown’s death.

Ferguson locals were upset that officials did not immediately reveal Wilson’s identity, the Alton Daily News reports. However, Wilson’s name was not disclosed at first because death threats were made to a misidentified officer from an incorrect rumor, the Los Angeles Times said.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch said that details about the case would not be released to the public as the investigation is still underway and authorities need witnesses to stay credible, the Los Angeles Times said.

Frustration due to lack of information surrounding the case has lead to the vandalization of local businesses which police reportedly have controlled using tear gas and rubber bullets to control the uproar and close off areas, ABC news said.

Riots continued in Ferguson on Tuesday, August 19, when police fatally shot a man who had charged officers with a knife. Others have been wounded and numerous arrests have been made.

In response to violent outbreaks, local authorities are urging protesters to rally peacefully during the day to avoid causing any more harm to an already shaken community.

President Obama has weighed in as well saying in a statement earlier in the week that the FBI, civil rights attorneys from the Justice Department and the St. Louis County Police Department are each currently investigating the Ferguson shooting, and they will continue to direct resources to the case as needed.

“I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding,” Obama said according to The Wire.

The St. Louis County prosecutor said that results from the shooting and whether or not Wilson will be indicted may take until October to decide, as a grand jury must carefully examine evidence from the case.

Brown was a recent high school graduate scheduled to begin college courses the following Monday, two days after he was killed. Friends called him “Big Mike,” and his mother Lesley McSpadden referred to her son as a “Gentle Giant.”

Crime Labs Come Under Fire Nationwide for Questionable Tactics

In the criminal justice system, there is a skewed – but high – incentive for forensic scientists to get a conviction, whether it is a valid one or not. Crime and forensic labs are being paid fees per conviction, creating a higher possibility of bias.

Crime labs conduct tests such as toxicology, fingerprint analysis, DNA evidence analysis, ballistics and hair microscopy. How confident would you be if you found out the lab conducting your toxicology test got paid only if you were convicted? Throughout the country, there have been thousands of falsely convicted individuals due to forensic lab mistakes, all to the benefit of the labs. Massachusetts Crime Lab Scandal

The Houston Police Department Crime Lab has been under investigation since 2002, for countless lab errors and faulty forensic testing. An estimated 16,000 rape kits were discovered to be untested in a property room of the facility, leaving thousands of innocent people falsely convicted and sent to prison.

In 2002, Lazaro Sotolusson, a prisoner at Las Vegas Detention Center was prosecuted for his cell mates’ crimes–sexual assault of two juveniles at gunpoint– when it was discovered that the DNA samples of the two were switched a year before.

Mistakes like these are, unfortunately, very common. Few crime lab workers and lab examiners are scientists, and many labs are affiliated with, or run by police departments– which put the desire for closed cases and secured convictions above all else.

In addition to the perverse incentive of getting paid, sadly, lab examiners have less of a reason to spend time on preventing someone’s conviction. Crime labs get paid to provide evidence of conviction, giving more reason for incompetent labs or faulty machines to be left unfixed, to corrupt prospective tests. Crime labs may also falsify, alter, neglect or simply lie about evidence and test results to get the conviction that will go straight into their pocketbook.

Many states have this flawed justice system incentive in place. In Carolina, you can be fined up to $600 just for lab processing fees upon conviction. Would you want to pay that if you were wrongfully found guilty?

No one wants to end up with a false conviction. To prevent any forensic malpractice, whether illicit or not, it is best to seek legal council from trustworthy and knowledgeable lawyers who know you and your case, and are dedicated to seeking the truth. From DUI’s, to photo radar cases, or felony charges, you need someone who can get you the fairest outcome possible and challenge any injustices that could come your way.

Know Your Rights When Police Misconduct Strikes

With numerous police misconduct and brutality cases throughout Arizona and the U.S., citizens should know when they are being taken advantage of by the law.

A Phoenix police officer with a history of misconduct resigned amid an investigation after he was arrested recently for criminal sexual conduct for having sex with a minor.

This was not the first time former officer Justin LaClere has drawn negative attention to himself. In 2010, he pulled over a Valley woman for dim headlights, pulled her out of her car at gunpoint and placed her in handcuffs for a DUI that she stated was bogus.

The woman, Ayensa Millian, said LaClere was aggressive and she felt harassed and violated. Shortly thereafter, Millian fought the multiple DUI charges that she was accused of and sued the City of Phoenix and LaClere. The court dismissed all charges and she earned $25,000 in the settlement.

LaClere is just the latest incident of police officer misconduct to be uncovered in Phoenix. In November, a Tempe cop was the subject of an investigation after allegedly having an affair with a drug dealer she was investigating in an undercover operation.

Officer Jessica Dever-Jakusz was investigating the sale of drugs on Mill Avenue while undercover. According to reports, she purchased drugs multiple times from the same drug dealer, and a romantic relationship ensued.Jessica Dever-Jakusz

During that period, Dever-Jakusz told her lover she was a police officer and about the ongoing undercover investigation. Shortly after, an anonymous tip regarding the officer’s conduct was submitted to Tempe Police.

The officer is now facing charges of hindering a crime investigation, and possible criminal charges.

Police misconduct happens more frequently than many realize. While some people are aware of their basic rights, many are not.

To prevent the harmful results of police misconduct, it is essential to have an expert attorney on your side. Whether you need advice or legal assistance, the Arizona criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Corso Law Group can protect and defend your rights.

Call (480) 471-4616 to speak with one of our expert attorneys or to schedule a free consultation.

Milke Case: Is Double Jeopardy a Factor?

The defense attorney of Debra Milke, a woman who has served 23 years in prison for the death of her son and was released from death row last year, claims that retrying Milke in court because of the prosecution’s withholding of evidence in the initial trial would violate her Fifth Amendment rights.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Milke’s case when it was found that the state did not turn over evidence of misconduct by their key witness, Armando Saldate Jr., in the emotionally-charged 1990 trial. The evidence would have allowed the defense to question the witness’s credibility. Debra Milke

Saldate, a Phoenix police detective at the time, told jurors that Debra Milke confessed to the 1989 killing of her son when he questioned her, which was a key piece of evidence in the case. After Milke’s conviction, the court found that Milke never waived her right to have an attorney present in the interrogation.

The court accused Saldate of multiple occurrences of misconduct and eradicated many of his confessions in the case and other cases because he lied under oath and violated Milke and other defendants’ constitutional rights.

The overturned case now faces a new problem: the defense claims that retrying Debra Milke in court would be “double jeopardy”, violating her Fifth Amendment right of not being tried twice for the same offense.

Saldate is attempting to refuse to testify at Milke’s retrial by asserting his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In December, a judge sided with Saldate, although prosecutors are currently challenging the ruling.

Why would Saldate choose to plead the fifth?

If Saldate changes his testimony now from what he said in the original trial, he could face criminal charges for violating Milke’s rights. If he maintains the same testimony, he could be pursued for perjury charges based on the appellate court’s evaluation that his testimony may not have been credible – including a concurring opinion by Justice Kozinski indicating he believed the confession probably had never taken place.

Until further notice, Milke’s retrial is set for February 2, 2015.

Missouri Man Released After Spending Nearly a Decade Behind Bars

Ryan Ferguson, a 29-year-old Missouri man, was released from prison in November after the Missouri attorney general chose not to retry him for the slaying of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt in 2001.

Ferguson, only 17 at the time of the murder, was given a 40-year sentence after being implicated by friend, Chuck Erickson. He was released after Erickson admitted he and an eyewitness lied in court.Ryan Ferguson

Ferguson’s conviction was overturned after an appeals court ruled his trial was unfair due to the prosecution withholding evidence, according to CNN.

After spending nearly a decade behind bars, Ferguson was greeted by his lawyer who had written: “It’s over” on a piece of paper and held it up against the protective glass. He then traveled to freedom in his father’s car where friends and family cheered Ferguson’s arrival at a news conference where he thanked his friends, family and attorneys reported Fox News.

As reported by the StarTribune, Ferguson’s case sparked a wildfire social media campaign with the “Free Ryan Ferguson” Facebook page gaining over 8,000 likes in one day bringing the total to over 80,000 likes.

Ex-Phoenix Police Officer Gets New Trial After Judge Denies Request to Throw Out Assault Verdict

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Warren Granville denied former Phoenix police officer Richard Chrisman’s request to have his aggravated assault charge thrown out on Nov. 13.

In 2010, Chrisman was charged with murder and animal cruelty after he responded to a domestic violence call and it ended with the death of 29-year-old Daniel Rodriguez, in a south Phoenix trailer according to the Huffington Post.

The Arizona Republic reported in November that Chrisman and his defense attorney Craig Mehrens once again sat in Granville’s courtroom in an effort to get the aggravated assault charge thrown out due to misconduct committed by the prosecutor, Deputy County Attorney Juan Martinez, throughout the trial.Richard Chrisman

Chrisman was found guilty of aggravated assault in September by a jury after putting a gun to head of Rodriguez while answering a domestic violence call in October 2010 with his partner Phoenix Police Officer Sergio Virgillo.

The critical testimony made by Virgillo opposed Chrisman’s statements, stating that Rodriguez was unarmed and backing away with his hands up when Chrisman fired two shots.

The trial ended in a hung jury when it came to convicting Chrisman of second-degree murder and animal cruelty and Chrisman was granted a new trial scheduled for early next year.

Mehrens attempted to get the aggravated assault charges dropped against Chrisman, which he will be sentenced for on Dec. 20, stating that Martinez has been misleading throughout the trial according to The Arizona Republic.

After only 45 minutes, Granville denied Chrisman’s request to have his aggravated assault verdict tossed out and scheduled a new trial for Jan. 27, 2014 for the remaining undecided charges.

Tempe Police Officer Resigns After Criminal Investigation

Jessica Dever-Jakusz, a Tempe police officer, resigned earlier this month because of her involvement in a criminal investigation for hindering prosecution.

Dever-Jakusz was a part of the show “Job Swap”, where she went to Switzerland for a week to patrol driving violations of citizens in Zurich. She received national attention for her participation in the show and her colleagues told CBS 5 that she was a “well-liked, well-respected officer.” Jessica Dever-Jakusz

The allegations surrounding Dever-Jakusz have been handed down to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. The investigation stemmed from allegations that Dever-Jakusz had slept with a drug dealer she was trailing.

Before the nature of the allegations became public, an internal statement Tempe police Chief, Tom Ryff said, “I can confirm that Jess’ decision to resign was voluntarily [sic] in nature and for reasons which are personal to her and her family. Additionally, I can confirm that an active criminal investigation related to the crime of hindering prosecution was undertaken based upon evidence discovered and as such, the matter was recently forwarded to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office for a charging review.”

[Click here to read the full police report (PDF)]

According to kpho.com, Dever-Jakusz also disclosed to her “lover” the fact that there was an ongoing drug investigation along Mill Avenue and that she was assigned to him.

Dever- Jakusz has been with the Tempe Police Department since 2000 and her husband, Garrett Denver, is a police officer with the Chandler Department.

Garrett Denver is under a non-criminal, internal investigation.