Aug 16 2013

Boston speed trap gets Cop Blocked

Dr. Q

On Wednesday, I met up with KT and NEF of MassOps to check out the Republican National Committee meeting in Boston. We weren’t sure what to expect because the meeting hadn’t been mentioned by any news outlets until very recently and we weren’t able to find much information about it. We were interested in knowing if there would be any heightened “security” in the city for the event, such as TSA bag searches on the subway or militarized cops standing guard. The event turned out to be very low-key and there was no police presence at all from what we saw, so we ended up leaving pretty quickly.

We all chatted for a while and NEF decided to head home. KT and I headed back to the RNC meeting one last time to see if anything had changed. Finding nothing of interest, we started walking back down the sidewalk and we saw two motorcycle cops standing on the opposite side of the street. I stopped to take a few pictures and we noticed that one of the cops was using a radar gun to check drivers’ speeds.

radargun

We decided to warn the people driving by about the speed trap, so we headed over to a Post Office just down the street and KT bought a cardboard box for a few dollars. We ripped off part of the box and KT used a sharpie she carries around with her to write “Speed Trap” on it in bold letters.

As we started walking back down the street, a man walking with what looked to be his girlfriend or wife and their daughter spotted my CopBlock.org shirt and told me that he had seen the website before and enjoyed it. I gave him a Cop Block business card and we showed them our sign and explained what we were about to do. The man and his girlfriend/wife thanked us and told us they appreciated what we were doing.

We stood on a median down the street from where the two motorcycle cops were located. KT held the sign and I periodically checked to make sure that the cops hadn’t spotted us. Both of us had cameras ready in case we were approached by the police.

ktspeedtrap

We both waved at drivers and encouraged them to put their cell phones away if they were talking on them. It appeared as though nearly everyone driving by saw the sign. Tons of people thanked us, gave us a thumbs up, or honked at us to show their support for what we were doing.

After we had been warning drivers for a while, two state police vehicles drove past us. One of the state cops who was driving actually stuck his head out the window of his vehicle and flipped us off. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not recording our entire outing, so I didn’t get this on video.

After the staties drove past us, they presumably tipped the two motorcycle cops off about what we were doing. A minute or two later, one of the motorcycle cops rode up to us, stopped his bike, and tried (but failed) to convince us that what we were doing was a waste of time.

After the first cop left us alone, KT continued to stand with the sign and I walked up the street to confirm that we had broken up the speed trap. When I saw that both cops were gone, I headed back to meet up with KT. As I got near where KT was standing, she was approached by the second motorcycle cop. Both of us were caught off guard (in retrospect, we shouldn’t have been), but we managed to get videos. KT told me that before either of us turned our cameras on, the cop got her attention by yelling “Hey, Einstein!” at her.

After the second cop rode off, we walked down the street and spotted both of the cops stopped on the side of the road. They chatted for several minutes before riding off.

The first of the cops who approached us told us that our sign “doesn’t work,” but it was pretty obvious to us that it had. From what I could tell, not a single driver was pulled over while we were out with the sign and the cops gave up as soon as they found out about what we were doing.

KT and I decided that the cops probably went to a different location to set up a new speed trap, but between the time we were warning drivers without the knowledge of the cops, the time the cops spent figuring out where to set up the next trap, and the time it took to travel there, we had disrupted their activities for some time. We probably saved some people from getting stopped and ticketed and we did it on very short notice with a budget of only a few dollars.

The best part about doing this sort of activism was the reactions we got from the people driving by. I can’t remember the last time in my life — if there ever was one — that I was thanked by so many complete strangers for something I did.

Check here for KT’s video of the first cop and here for my video of the second cop.


Aug 14 2013

Man assaulted by Boston police sergeant for taking video

Dr. Q

It’s been more than a year since the City of Boston paid out over $200,000 in settlements to people falsely arrested for video-recording cops, but Boston police still haven’t learned their lesson.

Last year, the taxpayers of Boston were forced to pay $170,000 to Simon Glik and $33,000 to Maury Paulino. Both men were arrested — Glik in 2007 and Paulino in 2009 — by Boston police officers for openly video-recording cops making arrests in public.

During Glik’s legal odyssey, the First Circuit federal appeals court explained in a ruling that recording the police in public is a well-established, constitutionally protected right and police can be sued for violating this right.

Despite these rulings and hefty settlements, a Boston police sergeant showed yesterday that he felt perfectly comfortable physically assaulting someone for video-recording, threatening him with arrest, and forcing him to cross the street against his will.

Boston-resident Jay Kelly was walking down the sidewalk of Adams Street in Dorchester, just a few blocks away from where he lives, when he noticed a group of police detaining several people. He walked past the police, took out his cellphone, and began recording out of concern for the people who had been detained.

"Sarge"

“Sarge”

It wasn’t long before Kelly was approached by a pudgy, balding thug in a blue shirt who asked him why he was “taking pictures” of “undercover” — no — “plainclothes police officers.”

“You’ve got guns on the street,” Kelly said, expressing the appropriate skepticism one should have for a group of armed strangers.

The cop told Kelly that he could record, but said that he was somehow “putting plainclothes officers’ safety at risk.”

The officer showed Kelly his badge, but promptly covered it up and walked away after Kelly attempted to record it. Kelly was able to read that the officer’s badge number was 362.

“What’s your name, officer?” Kelly asked.

“Actually, it’s sergeant,” the cop petulantly replied. The cop never told Kelly his name, so we’ll refer to him as “Sarge” for the purposes of this article.

Sarge and a red-shirted cop (later identified as “Fabiano”) began telling Kelly that he would have to move down the street.

“You guys like shooting it out with people,” Kelly told the cops, expressing his anger at their ridiculous orders.

Sarge became enraged by Kelly’s comment and began walking toward him menacingly and assaulted him by grabbing at his camera.

Sarge continued walking toward Kelly, forcing him to back up the length of two parked cars. At one point, Sarge walked into Kelly and threatened to arrest him for assaulting and battering a police officer if they came into physical contact again. “I was threatened with arrest for pushing him when in the video I am clearly moving back,” Kelly told me.

Sarge ordered Kelly to cross the street. When Kelly pointed out that it would be jaywalking to do so, the cop walked into the street and began blocking off traffic.

After Kelly crossed the street, he continued recording the police for several minutes.

Sarge yelled at Kelly from across the street that the people the police were detaining did not want to be recorded. “They can tell me that if they want,” Kelly said. None of the individuals told Kelly to stop recording.

Kelly doesn’t record police very often, “but if something seems amiss, I would stop and observe [the police] any time,” he told me. He said he recorded police a number of times during his involvement with Occupy Boston. He also mentioned that he was pushed around by a State Police Captain for video-recording at the State House last year in April.

Kelly said he has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union about yesterday’s incident. He also contacted Deputy Superintendent John J. Daley of the Boston Police Department in order to file a complaint. He said he was interested in pressing assault charges against Sarge.

Kelly pointed out to me that the Boston Police Department sometimes uses its Twitter account to ask for witnesses of shootings to come forward, but in this case, the police were trying to stop him from witnessing what was happening. “They only want witnesses when convenient to them,” he said. “Fuck that bullshit.”

“They’re all bastards,” Kelly said of police. He said he suffers from PTSD because of his past interactions with police officers and his experience spending several years in jail.

Nevertheless, Kelly said that after yesterday’s incident, he is probably more likely to record police he sees in the future.


Aug 9 2013

Some thoughts on civil disobedience and plea deals

Dr. Q

A little over a week ago, I read about some folks who were arrested for civil disobedience while protesting outside the Brayton Point Power Plant in Somerset, Massachusetts. Here’s what WBUR reported at the time:

Forty-four people face trespassing charges after being arrested Sunday at a protest in Somerset, during which they called for the shutdown of New England’s largest power plant.

On a soggy Sunday morning, 300 to 400 demonstrators began gathering at 9 a.m. at a baseball field in the shadow of Brayton Point Power Station‘s two massive cooling towers.

They came from as far away as Vermont and New Hampshire to this quiet coastal town on the south coast of Massachusetts to protest the coal-fired power plant and to demand cleaner energy sources.

After a quarter-mile walk to the power plant, protesters in red shirts held hands as they crossed a no trespassing sign in groups of five, as the crowd cheered. They had attended an informal training session the day before and had come with the intention of getting arrested.

The arrests themselves were orderly. Somerset police said the protesters had communicated with police throughout the planning process to ensure everyone’s safety, and on the whole had been cooperative.

At the time, I speculated that the protesters would be offered a deal: if they forked over some money to the government, the prosecutors would make their charges disappear.

It turns out I was right. Here’s the latest on the story from The Herald News:

Criminal trespass charges have been dismissed against the 44 protesters arrested July 28 at the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset.

The protesters had their cases dismissed in exchange for paying $100 in court costs to help offset the costs the town of Somerset incurred in providing security, Gregg Miliote, a spokesman for the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office, said.

The 44 defendants appeared in groups of eight to 10 for their arraignments at Fall River District Court. Their cases were dismissed the same day of their arraignments.

The $4,400 collected will help defray about 50 percent of overtime costs the Somerset Police Department incurred, Somerset Police Chief Joe Ferreira said.

“Something is better than nothing. I’m glad the court assessed them some fines,” Ferreira said, adding that he asked Bristol County District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter and Fall River District Court Clerk Chief Magistrate John O’Neill to impose the largest fine they could on the protesters.

“They agreed to do that,” Ferreira said.

The exact same thing happened after many of the folks at Occupy Boston were arrested by the Boston Police Department for defying the eviction orders from the city. Here’s what NECN reported shortly after the first eviction:

Many Occupy Boston protesters who were arrested early Tuesday morning were set free without a criminal record after agreeing to a deal offered by prosecutors.

If they plead guilty, charges were lessened from trespassing and unlawful assembly to civil charges and a $50 fine.

When I read this news, I was shaking my head in disgust. Good civil disobedience is not just about making a point. It’s also about getting a desirable outcome. It’s about exercising your power over the State rather than letting the State exercise its power over you.

It’s simply counterproductive to voluntarily hand over money to an institution you believe is acting against your interests. In most circumstances, I believe that people shouldn’t bother engaging in civil disobedience unless they’re willing to fight the charges in court. If people planning on engaging in civil disobedience want to be successful, they should go into it with the understanding that one of their goals is to make it as expensive as possible for the State to stop them. Instead of giving their money to the State to make their charges go away, people should make the State waste as much of its resources as possible when trying to punish them.

If you take your civil disobedience charges to trial and end up getting convicted, you can try asking the judge to sentence you to community service instead of a fine or jail time (although you won’t necessarily be successful). If you are sentenced to pay a fine, you can refuse to pay the fine in which case you will be sent to jail. It won’t be fun, but you’ll be depriving the State of even more resources.

A sustained campaign of civil disobedience, carried out according to these rules, could eventually bankrupt a State if it chooses to follow through with prosecuting the dissenters, ultimately making it impossible for it to enforce its immoral laws.

And if the State decides it isn’t willing to waste its resources trying to convict people for civil disobedience, it will probably at least end up dropping their charges. This is exactly what happened when a small group of Occupy Boston protesters refused to pay the $50 fine. As Chris Faraone of The Boston Phoenix reported earlier this year:

It took more than a year for Suffolk County prosecutors to come to their senses. With Nemo bearing down on New England and the media buried in storm coverage, the DA’s office quietly dropped all charges against more than two dozen Occupy Boston protesters, whose cases — as the Phoenix has previously reported — have been kicked through a legal labyrinth, their right to a speedy trial denied.

These 27 cases were the final remnants of the mass arrests that took place during separate incidents in Dewey Square and on the adjoining Rose Kennedy Greenway in late 2011. Over 100 of the demonstrators took plea deals; but the rest, refusing to concede guilt, chose to fight their cases…

Reached by the Phoenix, DA spokesman Jake Wark said that the Occupy Boston cases are unprecedented — that he can’t think of a comparable trespassing case, with multiple defendants, ever going to trial. Wark also told the Globe that advancing the prosecution would consume even more valuable resources that could be used to litigate violent crime…

If you refuse the plea deal when engaging in civil disobedience, you’ll at least be secure in the knowledge that you didn’t reward the State for trying to stop you from doing what you believe is right.

For more information about bringing about social change with nonviolent direct action, I recommend Gene Sharp’s book From Dictatorship to Democracy.


Aug 7 2013

The Thin Blue Whine: Minority officers’ group angry about thug cop’s demotion

Dr. Q

Apparently the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers is angry because of the recent demotion of Detective Jerome Hall-Brewster whose rank was reduced to patrol officer after it was found that he failed to arrest a man who is now the suspect in the gruesome murder of Amy Lord.

The Boston Globe reports:

An advocacy group for minority police officers is calling for the resignation of Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis, arguing that his administration disciplines officers of color more harshly than their white colleagues and operates an unfair system of promotions.

Larry Ellison, a Boston detective and president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, said during a meeting Tuesday night at the group’s Dorchester headquarters that the organization had taken a vote of no confidence in Davis and his second in command, Superintendent in Chief Daniel P. Linskey.

Ellison said in a brief interview after the meeting that he is calling for Davis to resign.

Among the issues Ellison raised was the demotion of Jerome Hall-Brewster, a black officer who was stripped of his detective’s badge last week after the department found that he did not follow up on a September 2012 case involving Edwin Alemany, who is now charged with the kidnapping and murder of Amy Lord, a 24-year-old South Boston woman, on July 23.

In condemning the commissioner, Ellison said the Police Department’s brief investigation of Hall-Brewster’s actions violated his due process rights.

Hall-Brewster did not attend the meeting, but his brother, Boston Detective Arthur Hall-Brewster, said he is being scapegoated.

“Davis is a liar,” Arthur Hall-Brewster said, growing emotional.

Arthur Hall-Brewster said he bears no ill will toward the residents of South Boston. He said they were “set up” to cheer when Davis announced his brother’s demotion at a recent public safety meeting.

Officials have said Jerome Hall-Brewster did not pursue Alemany in a 2012 attack on a woman in Boston because he did not think he had probable cause for an arrest. They have also said he did not respond to phone calls and e-mails about the case from the crime lab.

His lawyer contends that he did not respond to three e-mail messages from a lab staff member, but responded within 24 hours to a fourth message, in which the specialist asked whether Hall-Brewster believed the items he submitted for DNA testing belonged to the suspect in the 2012 attack.

As long as the police exist as an institution, I’m sympathetic to the idea that the local police force should be representative of the population it’s supposed to serve and that promotions and disciplinary action should not be given out in a discriminatory manner. On the other hand, it’s ridiculous that the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers is treating this particular cop as a victim.

Just in case Jerome Hall-Brewster’s failure to arrest Edwin Alemany wasn’t enough, it’s worth a reminder that Hall-Brewster was one of three cops who, in 2007, arrested Simon Glik. Glik saw Hall-Brewster and two of his colleagues using what he believed to be excessive force to make an arrest, so he used his cell-phone camera to record them. The three cops responded by arresting him as well and charging him with several spurious charges including violating the state wiretapping statute, a law which only prohibits the secret recording of others.

All the charges were ultimately dropped or dismissed, but the Boston Police Department continued defending the actions of the three thug cops until 2012. Glik was later given a $170,000 settlement for his false arrest. That money came from taxpayers, of course, not from the pockets of Jerome Hall-Brewster and his fellow thugs in blue. Hall-Brewster was never held accountable for violating Glik’s rights.

If the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers believes that white cops are receiving preferential treatment and want to do something about it, that’s fine by me, but they shouldn’t be backing an incompetent thug who should have been fired and put in jail years ago.


Aug 1 2013

GateHouse Media objects to marathon bombing trial secrecy

Dr. Q

By Michael Gagne
Herald News Staff Reporter

Bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

BOSTON — GateHouse Media Inc., the parent company of several Massachusetts-based community newspapers — including The Herald News, the Patriot Ledger and the MetroWest Daily News — on Wednesday submitted a letter to federal district court objecting that the public docket maintained in the criminal case against Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is missing entries.

According to the letter, “a review of the docket sheet for this case [United States v. Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev] indicates that numerous entries have not even been listed.”

“Wide swaths of court records have been omitted in their entirety from the docket listings,” the letter states. “The incomplete public docket sheet maintained in this case … does not accurately reflect the materials on file with the Court. As a result, the Newspapers’ constitutionally protected newsgathering and reporting efforts have been frustrated.”

The letter further points out that “only 27 of a total of 69 numbered court filings are available to the press and public,” and notes that at least 42 court filings are missing completely from the docket sheet, “as if they do not exist.”

“The perception of judicial integrity is enhanced when court records are readily accessible to, not secreted away from, the public,” said attorney Michael J. Grygiel, who submitted the letter for GateHouse Media.

“Numerous entries appear to have been omitted from the public docket sheet in this important case,” Grygiel said. “The omissions apparently include motions that have been filed under seal, without notice to the press and public that impoundment was occurring, as constitutional procedures require.”

The missing entries include a sealed motion that was the subject of an electronic order issued on May 20, 2013. Referred to in the order as “30 Sealed Motion,” it was granted in part by the court.

“However, the listed docket entries nowhere include an entry numbered 30 that was evidently the subject of the Court’s order on May 20, 2013, let alone indicate that it was a motion filed under seal. Nor do they indicate whether either party electronically filed a motion for impoundment” as required by court rules, the letter reads.

The letter states that the public has “a presumptive First Amendment right to inspect and copy judicial documents.” That right “ensures that proceedings are fairly conducted, and allows the public to know that the system is working properly. These concerns take on heightened importance in a prominent case such as this, where public education and the perception of fairness are critical.”

The omission of filings leaves the press “without a meaningful mechanism by which to find the documents necessary to learn what has actually transpired in this Court in this case,” according to the letter.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is accused of perpetrating the April 15, 2013, bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon with his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The two explosions killed three people and injured more than 200 others. On April 18, Federal Bureau of Investigations officials released photographs of the pair, identifying them as suspects in the bombings.

In the events that followed, the pair allegedly killed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer, carjacked a Mercedes Benz and led police on a chase and shootout throughout Cambridge and Watertown. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died that night from injuries sustained when he was run over by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found the next day hiding under a boat in the backyard of a Watertown residence. He has since received a court hearing during his hospital recovery from injuries sustained in the shootout with police. Tsarnaev also appeared in a pretrial hearing federal district court on July 10, where he pleaded not guilty to 30 charges, which include use of a weapon of mass destruction. He is scheduled to appear in court again in September.

This article was originally published by The Herald News under the title “GateHouse Media files letter objecting to incomplete docket in Tsarnaev case.” It has been republished under a Creative Commons license per Herald News policy. Follow the link to back to see a .pdf format copy of the complaint.


Jul 28 2013

Boston police may have been able to prevent the murder of Amy Lord

Dr. Q

After the horrific slaying of Amy Lord, a 24-year-old South Boston resident, the Boston Police Department has been forced to face the possibility that they may have prevented her kidnapping, robbery, and murder. It turns out that in 2012, the police were literally handed an opportunity to arrest Edwin Alemany, who is currently a “person of interest” in the murder investigation.

Yesterday, The Boston Herald reported:

A 21-year-old college coed who handed cops a golden opportunity last year to arrest the “person of interest” in the Amy Lord murder and the suspect in two nightstalker-style assaults on South Boston women says she’s dumbfounded that police never brought charges against Edwin Alemany — even after she grabbed his wallet and handed them his I.D.

The woman told the Herald yesterday it “blew my mind” when police said they couldn’t prosecute Alemany for her Sept. 28, 2012, assault — a vicious late-night beating in which she was slammed to the ground and choked unconscious, according to the police report.

“He said they weren’t going to prosecute,” the outraged victim told the Herald yesterday. “He said because there was no physical evidence to charge him with. It blew my mind. I was thinking, ‘If the police aren’t going to do anything about this, who is?’ ’’

She never saw his face — he attacked from behind, grabbed her throat and threw her to the ground — and could not provide a detailed description to police. She said she remembered not being sure if her attacker was black or Hispanic. After she came to, she said her pocketbook was gone and with it, all of her identification.

“He came out of nowhere. I remember trying to grab something out of his pockets,” she said. “Then I blacked out. I was out for 20 minutes.”

She said she handed the wallet to police, without giving it much thought.

The victim, whose name is being withheld by the Herald, said she spoke to police a few times following the attack.

“I never got follow-up,” she said. “Nothing.”

She said police finally got back to her yesterday, about 10 minutes before she spoke with the Herald.

Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said the detective — identified in the report as Jerome Hall-Brewster — is under investigation.

Davis told reporters yesterday he is “very disappointed in what the detective did in this case,” and that there was enough evidence to arrest Alemany, even though the victim gave only a vague description of her attacker. “Our standard is probable cause, and I believe that that detective had probable cause,” he said.

Normally I would not add incidents of failure to investigate or arrest someone to my police misconduct database, because, as strange as it might seem, police actually do not have a legal duty to arrest or protect anyone. However, in this case, the police commissioner has confirmed that the detective who apparently failed to arrest Alemany is under investigation, so I believe it would be appropriate to do so.

Update (7/29/2013): The Boston Globe has learned that Detective Jerome Hall-Brewster has been demoted to patrol officer for his failure to arrest Alemany. The Globe also obtained information about eight other complaints against Hall-Brewster.

A Boston police detective who failed to follow up on a September case tied involving a person of interest in the brutal abduction and murder of Amy Lord of South Boston last week has been demoted, police said.

Detective Jerome Hall-Brewster is losing his detective rating tomorrow as a result of the September case, according to a copy of a department Internal Affairs record that a police spokeswoman provided to the Globe.

The document did not indicate whether the demotion was permanent, but Cheryl Fiandaca, a police spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that Hall-Brewster is “no longer a detective” and that his new rank will be patrol officer.

Hall-Brewster’s record also shows that he was charged internally in a complaint stemming from an incident in November 2011, and the allegations have been sustained. Fiandaca would not provide details about that complaint, since the department has yet to decide on his punishment.

In addition, the department found in 2001 that he failed to properly report the non-lethal use of force during an incident and served 16 hours of work without pay. The document did not provide further details of that case, and Fiandaca did not respond to an inquiry about it.

Seven other complaints have been brought against Hall-Brewster but were not substantiated, the document shows.

Update (7/29/2013): Daniel Devoe reminded me (via Twitter) that Jerome Hall-Brewster was one of the defendants in the lawsuit Simon Glik filed after being arrested for recording police in 2007.