“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” Michael Brown and Police Violence in Ferguson

“Our Hands Are Up, Don’t Shoot Us!”

Protestors faced the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department with their hands raised and chanted for local law enforcement to not shoot them dead. Last weekend, in the early afternoon, Darren Wilson, a white police officer repeatedly shot and ultimately killed an unarmed 18 year old African American youth. Witnesses reported that the young man did not assault the officer and raised his hands in the air, when he was fatally shot. The community responded with shock, anguish and outrage which has spread to the entire country. The police killing of Michael Brown has reignited concerns about racism, the increasing militarization of police and the protection of the right to protest.

Officer Wilson ordered Michael Brown out of the street and reached through his squad car window to grab Michael by the neck. Approximately five minutes later, and by the time a second officer arrived on the scene, Michael Brown was dead. Later the police chief would report that Officer Wilson fired more than one shot but he could not comment on the total number of shots that were fired in the killing of Michael Brown. Following the shooting, Ferguson police alleged Michael had been involved in a convenience store theft earlier in the day, although they acknowledge it did not relate to the reason he was stopped.

The community reacted in protest coming together for candlelight vigils, demonstrations and hundreds participating in the face off at the police station. Some local businesses were damaged as anger and frustration mounted. The police responded by donning riot gear and firing rubber bullets and tear gas at community members and journalists who came to cover the story. The police patrolled the streets with a sniper sitting atop an armored personnel carrier that looked like a military tank. Over the three days following the killing of Michael Brown, more than 50 people were arrested. Police critically wounded a man near the protest sites and shot a pastor in the stomach with a rubber bullet. A recent graduate of Howard University working as a legal assistant was shot in the head while participating in the protests.

Racism Redo
Ferguson, Missouri is a northern suburb of Saint Louis. Educators describe it as a relatively stable, working and middle income community of 21,000 people. The city’s population is 63% African American and the municipal leadership and police force are predominately white. In fact, 50 of the 53 officers on the Ferguson Police Department are white. Academic studies of traffic stops in Ferguson reveal that 86% of those stopped by police are African American. Commentators across the country are reminded of Trayvon Martin and the demonstrators chanting “I can’t breathe” to protest the killing of Eric Garner in New York as a result of a police chokehold.

An important distinction about the killing of Michael Brown as compared to others who have been killed by police is that it happened in broad daylight and in front of witnesses. The NAACP and national civil rights leaders are involved in supporting the community in Ferguson. On the other hand, a Missouri chapter of the Ku Klux Klan has sickeningly called Officer Wilson a “hero.” It is important and incumbent upon all those who seek equality and justice to be vigilant in witnessing racism and speaking out against this blight that continues to show itself in our communities and institutions.

Militarization of the Police
The response of the Ferguson Police Department to the understandable and justified outrage over Michael Brown’s killing was to show case for the nation the increasing militarization of local law enforcement and the spread of military weapons to police departments. The New York Times graphically shows the flow of assault rifles, armored vehicles and more to police forces across the country. You can see it here.

Tear gas is a chemical weapon that is prohibited from international warfare by the Geneva Convention. So-called nonlethal weapons are over a billion dollar global industry and business consultants predict an increasing market and high demand from law enforcement agencies. Ali Issa, a national field organizer with the War Resisters League explains “Tear gas and the police militarization that always comes with it do not appear in Ferguson and nationwide in a vacuum.” The Department of Defense, in recent years, supplied hundreds of millions of dollars worth of “excess” military equipment to law enforcement agencies. The targets of these weapons are often communities of color and poor people.

Representative Marcia Fudge, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus released a statement on Thursday, August 14, 2014, that included: “Instead of being respected as citizens of this nation who have the right to vocally oppose what they believe is mistreatment, these people, many of whom are young adults, were met with tear gas, rubber bullets, and police equipped as though they are militia in a war zone… Law enforcement is supposed to protect and serve, not search, intimidate and assault.” Missouri senator Claire McCaskill added “We need to de-militarize this situation—this kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution… my constituents are allowed to have peaceful protests, and the police need to respect that right and protect that right.” Representative John Lewis quoted Martin Luther King Jr., “Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.”

People’s Law Office echoes the outrage over the killing of Michael Brown and the militaristic and violent police response to the community reaction. As a civil rights law office who handles cases of police shootings and other forms of police brutality, we are recognize the racism and repression of dissent in Ferguson as being all too familiar.  We stand in solidarity with the residents of Ferguson, Missouri and remain committed to the search for justice.

Analysis of Quarterly Report from Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA)

People's Law Office: civil rights lawyers in ChicagoIPRA, Police Accountability and All of Us

by Janine Hoft of People’s Law Office, July 27, 2012

Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) recently released their second quarterly report of 2012 summarizing their work investigating police misconduct and brutality allegations brought against Chicago police officers. The People’s Law Office continues to encourage and promote government transparency and all efforts to make the Chicago police force more accountable to the public they serve and protect, including providing meaningful disciplinary consequences to those officers who beat or abuse people. Victims of police brutality and abuse who courageously come forward must be supported and civil rights litigation employed to advance strategies of justice and social change to improve the conditions for all who live in Chicago.

History of the Current IPRA

Throughout the 40 year history of the People’s Law Office, our Chicago communities have struggled with police accountability issues. From 1968 when the nation watched on television as police rioted and attacked protestors at the Democratic National Convention through the notorious Jon Burge years of police torture, lawyers and activists have worked to expose police abuses and develop systems and mechanisms to discourage perpetrators. In 1974, the Office of Professional Standards (OPS) was created to investigate complaints against police. OPS was a part of the police department, did not have subpoena power, did not publish detailed reports of its work but recorded every complaint, whether or not submitted in writing. In 1998, Human Rights Watch reported OPS employed 65 investigators and claimed to sustain1 approximately 10 percent of investigated complaints.2

In 2007, IPRA was created by municipal ordinance as an independent agency with subpoena power, requiring notifications if an investigation was not concluded within six months and public inspection of summary reports of investigations and the preparation of detailed quarterly reports indicating the number of total investigations, how many complaints were brought against individual officers in each district without identifying the officer, any investigations that were referred to other agencies and whether an investigation was sustained. (Ordinance Ch. 2-57, et seq.) IPRA proclaims its creation was “in response to concerns about how allegations of police misconduct were being investigated by the Chicago Police Department” and describes its function to intake “all allegations of misconduct made against members of the Chicago Police Department.” www.iprachicago.org/about.html

IPRA Quarterly Report July 16, 2012

IPRA’s quarterly report, dated July 16, 2012, and available at www.iprachicago.org, provides information for the time period between April 1st and June 30th of 2012. During this time period there were 2,155 complaints. IPRA forwarded 1,462 of these complaints to the Internal Affairs Division of the Chicago Police Department for resolution presumably because the complaints did not involve allegations within IPRA’s jurisdiction, i.e. were not claims that police officers committed “excessive or deadly force, domestic violence, verbal abuse based on bias, or coercion.” (iprachicago.org/howtofile.html) Fifteen complaints were referred to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office for investigation.

Thus, 693 complaints were retained by IPRA during this three month period. The nature of these complaints were predominantly classified by IPRA as follows: 201 Complaint Register Numbers; 239 Pre-Affidavit Investigations, 191 reported uses of Tasers or pepper spray, 40 incidents of police shootings and 9 extraordinary occurrences. An “extraordinary occurrence” is a death, injury or unusual event involving a person in a lockup facility or police custody. Although this number does not add up to the total complaints retained, it is unclear how the missing 13 complaints are characterized, if at all.

The IPRA report also characterizes the complaints by police district with the most complaints (134) coming from the South Side Gresham neighborhood and the least (28) from the North Side Albany Park neighborhood. By ordinance, the report is required to also contain information regarding whether particular district officers received more than one complaint. Five district officers and one officer assigned to the Major Accident Investigation Unit received three complaints during this time period or approximately one complaint per month.

During this same period, IPRA completed its work on 747 complaints. The closures of these cases were characterized as follows: 264 cases were closed due to complainant’s failure to sign the required affidavit; 198 were not sustained; 64 were unfounded; 23 were sustained and 4 exonerated. More than one half of the report contains the abstracts or a one paragraph summary of each of the 23 cases where IPRA recommended that any individual allegation be sustained. Each of these cases involving a sustained allegation were characterized as a “Log/C.R. No.” The terse summaries identify which allegations were sustained but do not provide detailed explanation for why an individual allegation was sustained or not. For example, in two cases the allegations that the accused officer was intoxicated off duty were sustained but the allegations involving physical brutality were not sustained. (##s 1014617, 1001556) In another case, the allegations of physical force were not sustained and the only sustained allegation involved the failure to complete a particular police report. (#1005045) Two cases explicitly alleged concerns of racism, in one the accused admitted to the past use of “racially biased” language and in the other the claims of racism were not sustained. (##s 1027491, 1034720)

Approximately 10 of the 23 cases involved allegations of police brutality, referred to as, “inappropriate physical force,” although about half of those cases were brought by complainants who were also police officers or individuals clearly involved in a personal or domestic relationship with the accused. It was difficult to identify whether the complainants in many of the cases were subject to arrest by the accused officer. The 23 sustained cases were about evenly split concerning whether the complained of conduct was committed while an officer was on or off duty. Considering the cases alleging misconduct on duty, in only five cases were allegations sustained that involved physical brutality or improper treatment of arrestees. (##1037959, 1024576, 1034720, 1027491, 1025858)

Only four of the sustained cases involved the improper discharge of any weapon, including a single allegation of an accidental discharge of a Taser. Half of those cases were referred to mediation. (## 1051707, 1045912)

20 of these 23 cases involved incidents occurring more than two years prior, with about half of those involving incidents older than four years. Only three cases involved conduct alleged to have occurred in 2011 or 2012.

In terms of discipline, five accused officers were recommended for separation, five received a reprimand or were referred to mediation and the remainder were recommended for suspension periods between 2 and 60 days.

Reflections on the IPRA’s Data and Summary Report

The more than 2000 complaints taken in by IPRA during this quarter and the 693 retained resulted in no more than 454 potentially substantial investigations. IPRA fielded 28,176 complaints between 2009 and 2011 and its team of 48 investigators “were responsible for vetting 6,416.”3 During this quarter the 239 cases classified as “pre-affidavit investigations” and the 264 investigations closed due to a complainant’s failure to sign a required affidavit attesting to the complaint under penalty of perjury are extremely problematic. This means that over 500 cases alleging police brutality or misconduct will never be appropriately investigated.

It is difficult at the outset for an individual to come forward with a complaint against a police officer. Police department claims that complaints are predominantly brought by arrestees who have an axe to grind against officers are belied by the data. In fact, the vast majority of the more than 167,000 arrestees each year do not bring complaints.4 An individual receives no tangible benefit from filing a complaint. A complainant is intimidated by the process and obviously many simply drop their complaint. Civil rights attorneys in Chicago routinely advise clients who wish to file lawsuits to forego IPRA. Seventy-five percent of 441 police misconduct cases reviewed by the Chicago Reporter were based on excessive force and false arrest allegations. The Chicago Reporter’s analysis from 2009 to 2011 revealed that not a single allegation from a civil rights lawsuit was sustained and 91% of lawsuits reviewed by IPRA were closed due to the absence of an affidavit. 5

The data revealed by IPRA does not appropriately or adequately reflect the incidents of police misconduct in the City of Chicago. While OPS claimed sustained rates up to 10 percent, only 1 percent of allegations investigated by IPRA between 2009 and 2011 were sustained according to the Chicago Reporter. In more than eight times the number of sustained cases or in 198 cases, IPRA simply closed the investigation concluding there was insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the allegations during this time period. There is certainly a problem in a system that for the majority of the complaints, those without affidavits and those “not sustained,” there can be no substantive conclusion. The delays in completing investigations is also problematic. The fact that many of the cases that do get sustained involve police and related victims raises the alarming specter that civilians experience difficulties in proving their complaints and are not afforded credibility.

The dearth of sustained complaints involving the use of weapons also raises concerns. The Chicago Tribune reported that as the city arms more officers with Tasers, the use of Tasers obviously exponentially increased (by 329 per cent) while police shootings did not significantly decrease and in fact deadly force was up significantly in 2011. (Trib, 7/20/12) Officers may be more often reaching for Tasers in situations where a gun would not be drawn and firing those Tasers in more situations. Dr. Douglas Zipes of Indiana University also explains that Taser use can lead to cardiac arrest and death. IPRA claims in its recent quarterly report that Log Numbers are issued for every Taser use or shooting about which it is notified and for discharges of pepper spray at the request of CPD personnel. The Tribune report argues that since 2010, many investigations of Taser use only involve inspection of police documentation and that the agency does not have the resources to thoroughly audit incidents of Taser use.

The alarming fact that six officers received one complaint each month during the quarterly audit illustrates the ongoing and devastating problem of “repeater beaters” or particular officers who are the subject of multiple complaints of misconduct. IPRA contributes to this conspiracy of silence by not identifying any system to bring attention to repeat offenders. The ability of all officers, whether disciplined or subject to repeat complaints, to engage in their conduct in anonymity guarantees that police misconduct will not decrease. The civil rights lawyers at People’s Law Office have consistently fought over the years to expose to public scrutiny the identities of repeat offenders to provide political muscle to isolating and routing out these worst of the worst in hopes of changing the police culture that tolerates misconduct and abuse of civilians. The City’s plaintiff’s civil rights bar continually faces defense attempts to obscure a police officer’s disciplinary background and ensure an officer’s complaint history is not made public. An Illinois state appellate court found a complaint against a police officer in the performance of his public duties was not a matter of personal privacy but then promptly withdrew that opinion until the Supreme Court directed further decision which remains to be issued in the case of the coerced confession of Mr. Kilroy Watkins by Detectives Kenneth Boudreau and John Halloran, associates of convicted perjurer and police commander Jon Burge.

Conclusions and Going Forward

The continued and combined efforts of survivors of police brutality and civil rights lawyers are critical and indispensable. IPRA is not a panacea and it is important to critically analyze IPRA’s work as mandated by the transparency required by the ordinance creating IPRA. The conclusion that a mere 1 per cent of complaints brought against police will be substantiated and lead to any modicum of discipline is unacceptable. Those abused by police must be supported and their courageous efforts in coming forward must be credited, acknowledged and appreciated. Lawyers must be encouraged to expose the putrid wound of brutality to the healing air of public exposure. All who value justice must come together to emphatically state that police abuse and brutality will not be tolerated in our City.

Read the full Quarterly Report here.

Read more about the work of People’s Law Office in opposing police brutality.

Footnotes

1 Investigations by both OPS and IPRA result in one of the following findings:  Sustained (allegation supported by sufficient evidence to justify disciplinary action); Not Sustained (allegation not supported by sufficient evidence which could be used to prove or disprove the allegation); Unfounded (complaint not based on facts as shown by the investigation, or the reported incident did not occur); Exonerated (incident occurred, but the action taken by the officer(s) was deemed lawful and proper).

2 Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States/Chicago/Office of Professional Standards, June 1998, Human Rights Watch

3 Chicago Reporter, Vol. 41, No. 3, May/June 2012, p. 12.

4 The CPD Annual Report for 2010 documents 167,541 arrests for that year.

5 Chicago Reporter, Vol. 41, No. 3, May/June 2012, p. 13.

 

City Council Approves Settlement in Class Action Lawsuit

Chicago City Council Approves Settlement in Vodak v. City of Chicago, class action from 2003 arrests at anti-war protest

Earlier this week, we announced that the settlement of the Vodak class action lawsuit over the mass arrests at the March 20, 2003 demonstration to protest the Iraq war was approved by the Chicago City Council Finance Committee.  It then proceeded to the City Council at large and was approved by the council yesterday, June 6, 2012 in a nearly unanimous vote.

The class members are represented by attorneys from People’s Law Office, as well as National Lawyers Guild attorneys Jim Fennerty and Melinda Power. Under the settlement, a total of up to $6.2 million will be paid to class members, while the attorneys who have worked on the case for over 9 years will share attorneys’ fees and cost in the amount of $4.8 million.

City Council approval means that the administration of the settlement will begin proceeding in the near future. The settlement has already received preliminary approval from the judge overseeing the litigation, United States District Court Judge Virginia Kendall. Next month, in July, potential Class members will be mailed information about how a class member can claim her or his award from the Claims Administrator, Class Action Administration, Inc.. Potential class members will receive, via regular mail or e-mail or both, a description of the settlement, the claims process, the forms they will need to fill out and instructions on where to mail them once they have filled them out.

The District Court will also schedule a fairness hearing, probably in November, 2012, to consider any objections to the settlement. The exact date of this hearing will be contained in the notice describing the claims process.  The payment to class members will occur in 2013.

It is important that all persons who are class members timely complete the forms and mail them in, because if you do not you will not receive an award.

The class is broken into three subclasses which will each receive different levels of compensation based on the nature and length of their detention. We expect the breakdown of payments to class members to be as follows:

A-3 subclass: those who were arrested, charged, went to court and had the charges dismissed, will receive up to $15,000.

A-2 subclass: those arrested and taken to a police station but released without being charged, will receive up to $8,750.

A-1 subclass: those who were held on the street for over 90 minutes, will receive up to $500.

People who were charged and pled guilty, or who previously opted out of the class action, are not considered class members and cannot receive any of the proceeds from the settlement.

If have moved over the last few years and you think we may not have your current mailing address please email us at VodakClassAction@gmail.com or call (773) 235-0070.

For more information regarding the terms of the settlement, check out the Vodak Settlement page on this site, or view the documents below:

•The District Court’s order of granting Preliminary Approval

• The Plaintiffs’ Memo in Support of the Proposed Settlement

• The Stipulation and Agreement of Settlement (the settlement agreement)

People’s Law Office Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Woman Who Died in Lake County Jail

PRESS RELEASE
June 7, 2012

Attorneys from People’s Law Office File Civil Rights Lawsuit on Behalf of Family of Woman Who Died In Lake County Jail
Woman dies in custody due to deliberate indifference to her health and safety, her estate files lawsuit on her behalf

Lyvita Gomes, a 52 year old woman from India, tragically died on January 3, 2012 in a Lake County hospital after 15 days in custody at the Lake County Jail, as a result of an appalling abandonment of responsibility by employees of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department and the jail medical services provider Correct Care Solutions. Ms. Gomes had been incarcerated on a misdemeanor charge of allegedly pulling away from a law enforcement officer who came to arrest her at her home on a warrant for failing to appear for jury service, a duty for which only U.S. citizens are eligible. Unable to pay $500 bail, she was held in custody awaiting trial and a court ordered evaluation of her competency to stand trial. Each day in jail she declared herself on hunger strike and did not eat or drink, suffering obvious physical consequences, without any intervention by the responsible authorities. Although it was clear that she was struggling with mental health issues, the jail officials and contract medical providers failed in their obligations to ensure the health and safety of all prisoners and allowed her to deteriorate and waste away before their eyes. It was only on the 15th day that jail officials finally took her to a hospital emergency room, while another jail official went to court to obtain an order releasing her from custody so the County would not be liable for medical bills. She died a few days later.

Today the family of Lyvita Gomes filed a civil rights lawsuit naming Lake County, Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran, Lake County Jail Corrections Chief Wayne Hunter, Lake County Health Services Administrator Scott Fitch, Correct Care Solutions, and Lake County Jail doctors Dr. Rozel Elazegui, and Dr. Hargurmukh P. Singh, as responsible for this tragic death. Her estate brings claims for violations of the U.S. Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act, international law, and Illinois state law, including wrongful death. In addition to alleging that these individuals were deliberately indifferent to her health and safety, the complaint also alleges that the policies and practices of the jail and medical provider constituted deliberate indifference which caused her death.

Speaking for the family, Lyvita’s brother-in-law Rodney Fernandes, of England, wrote in an e-mail, “Lyvita’s death has caused pain and anguish for the family but has also scarred the conscience of the community of Chicago and the international world at large. We believe that the judiciary system, the prison services and the health care services to the prison system have let down the Gomes family through a collective failure that should not have submitted Lyvita to such a tragic end.”

Father Daniel Hartnett, whose Most Blessed Trinity Waukegan church welcomed Lyvita’s family, prayed at her funeral mass, “She was a woman of faith, a woman of prayer. She should not have died the way she died. My prayer is that her death contribute to better justice in our world.”

On behalf of the Indian community in and around Lake County, Dr. Austin D’Souza, Past President of the India Catholic Association of America, posed many questions regarding what he called “the tragic death of Lyvita Gomes,” including, “Why didn’t they release her [earlier] on her own recognizance? Why didn’t they provide hydration? Why wasn’t the Indian community contacted? What is the real truth? How and where did the justice system fail? We totally lost faith in the system – instead of helping people to live in this beautiful world, Lake County officials made us see a death in Lyvita Gomes.”

Attorneys Jan Susler and Janine Hoft of the People’s Law Office, who filed the lawsuit, stated, “Lyvita Gomes’ death was entirely avoidable. When she was ill and at her most vulnerable, she was deserted by the very people whose job it was to take care of her. The individuals and systems responsible for the death of Lyvita Gomes must be held accountable and her civil rights vindicated through this federal litigation.”

Contacts:
Jan Susler 773 235 0070 x 118
Janine Hoft 773 235 0070 x 115

peopleslawoffice.com

People’s Law Office is a civil rights law firm in Chicago which has represented victims of police brutality and government abuse for over 40 years.

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Chicago City Council Finance Committee Approves Class Action Settlement

Vodak Class Action Settlement Approved by Chicago City Council Finance Committee

The Settlement of the Vodak class action lawsuit over the mass arrests at the March 20, 2003 demonstration to protest the Iraq war was approved by the Chicago City Council Finance Committee on June 4, 2012. The settlement will now go before the full City Council on June 6 and is expected to be approved. The settlement has already received preliminary approval from the judge overseeing the litigation, United States District Court Judge Virginia Kendall. The Plaintiff class is represented by attorneys from People’s Law Office, as well as Jim Fennerty and Melinda Power. Under the settlement, a total of up to $6.2 million will be paid to class members, while the attorneys who have worked on the case for over 9 years will share attorneys’ fees and cost in the amount of $4.8 million.

Approval by the City Council means that settlement administration will now move into high gear. In July, potential Class members will be mailed information about how a class member can claim her or his award from the Claims Administrator, Class Action Administration, Inc.. Potential class members will receive, via regular mail or e-mail or both, a description of the settlement, the claims process, the forms they will need to fill out and instructions on where to mail them once they have filled them out.

It is important that all persons who are class members timely complete the forms and mail them in, because if you do not you will not receive an award.

The District Court will also schedule a fairness hearing, probably in November, 2012, to consider any objections to the settlement. The exact date of this hearing will be contained in the notice describing the claims process.

The class is broken into three subclasses which will each receive different levels of compensation based on the nature and length of their detention. We expect the breakdown of payments to class members to be as follows:

A-3 subclass: those who were arrested, charged, went to court and had the charges dismissed, will receive up to $15,000.

A-2 subclass: those arrested and taken to a police station but released without being charged, will receive up to $8,750.

A-1 subclass: those who were held on the street for over 90 minutes, will receive up to $500.

People who were charged and pled guilty, or who previously opted out of the class action, are not considered class members and cannot receive any of the proceeds from the settlement.

If have moved over the last few years and you think we may not have your current mailing address please email us at VodakClassAction@gmail.com or call (773) 235-0070.

For more information regarding the terms of the settlement, check out

• The District Court’s order of granting Preliminary Approval

• The Plaintiffs’ Memo in Support of the Proposed Settlement

• The Stipulation and Agreement of Settlement (the settlement agreement)