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.

Jan 16 2012

News Roundup (Jan. 9 – 15)

Dr. Q

Here are the stories I tracked this past week:

  • Ars Technica reports that the Boston Police Department has finally admitted that the police officers who arrested Simon Glik in 2007 were wrong to do so. Glik was arrested and charged with “wiretapping” and several other charges after he recorded police officers making an arrest on the Boston Common. He is currently suing the city for violating his civil rights. The police officers who arrested Glik may now face discipline ranging from an oral reprimand to a suspension. They should, of course, be fired.
  • Carlos Miller, who writes the Photography is Not a Crime blog, has some more information about the Haverhill video I posted last week. You can read his article here.
  • The MetroWest Daily News reports that Val Krishtal, the Framingham police officer who arrested Onyango Obama, Barack Obama’s Kenyan uncle, earlier this for an alleged DUI has been involved in 16 on-duty car accidents. He was at fault for at least 9 of the accidents. I find it pretty outrageous that this man is still employed as a police officer. Imagine how much money his laundry list of accidents have cost taxpayers. Furthermore, how can someone with a driving record like that be permitted to stop others for alleged driving offenses?
  • The Republican reports that the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Hampden District Attorney’s Office are investigating West Springfield police captain Daniel O’Brien for alleged civil rights violations and brutality.
  • Wired reports that a TSA Air Marshall was arrested by the Boston Police after stealing an Occupy Boston protester’s phone and assaulting her, presumably because he was angry that she was recording him with the phone. The arrest took place shortly before police shut down an Occupy Boston encampment.

Also, I want to wish everyone a happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Make sure you check out this post I wrote for Cop Block for last year’s MLK Day.

Aug 29 2011

Appeals court says there’s a clearly established right to openly record police

Dr. Q

In October, 2007, attorney Simon Glik was walking through the Boston Common when he saw three police officers struggling with a man. Glik, who believed the police were using excessive force, stood about ten feet away and began recording the police with his cell phone camera.

After the police had put the man in handcuffs, one of the officers told Glik “I think you have taken enough pictures.”

Glik told the officers “I am recording this. I saw you punch him.”

One of the police approached Glik and asked him if his cell phone recorded audio as well as video. When Glik responded in the affirmative, the police arrested him, took his cell phone, and charged him with felony wiretapping, disturbing the peace, and aiding in the escape of a prisoner.

The prosecutor for Glik’s case dropped the aiding in the escape of a prisoner charge and Municipal Court Justice Mark Summerville dismissed the two remaining charges, noting that while the “officers were unhappy they were being recorded during an arrest… their discomfort does not make a lawful exercise of a First Amendment right a crime.”

After Glik was cleared of the unjust charges, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts filed a federal lawsuit against the three officers who arrested him and the City of Boston on behalf of Glik. The suit alleges that the three officers, John Cunniffe, Peter Savalis, and Jerome Hall-Brewster, violated Glik’s First Amendment rights by arresting him for recording them and his Fourth Amendment rights by arresting him without probable cause that he committed a crime.

The officers attempted to have Glik’s lawsuit dismissed on the grounds that they were entitled to “qualified immunity,” a legal privilege that shields certain government officials from liability when they violate the rights of others if they can show that a reasonable person would have done that same thing if in their shoes. The officers argued that it was reasonable to arrest Glik and charge him with wiretapping “because it is not well-settled that he had a constitutional right to record the officers.”

The officers’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit was rejected by a district court judge, but the officers were allowed to appeal.

The results of the appeal came back on August 26, when the First Circuit appeals court issued a unanimous ruling. Like the district court, the First Circuit rejected the officers’ claim of qualified immunity, noting that the right to openly record police in Massachusetts is firmly established and that the officers should have been aware of this. As the court wrote in its ruling (.pdf format):

The First Amendment issue here is, as the parties frame it, fairly narrow: is there a constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public? Basic First Amendment principles, along with case law from this and other circuits, answer that question unambiguously in the affirmative.

It is firmly established that the First Amendment’s aegis extends further than the text’s proscription on laws “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” and encompasses a range of conduct related to the gathering and dissemination of information. As the Supreme Court has observed, “the First Amendment goes beyond protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.” … An important corollary to this interest in protecting the stock of public information is that “[t]here is an undoubted right to gather news ‘from any source by means within the law.'” …

The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles. Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting “the free discussion of governmental affairs.”

The appeals court ruling is a real victory. Not only will Glik be permitted to move forward with his lawsuit, but now judges will be less likely to entertain wiretapping cases and police will be more likely to face lawsuits, under both the first and fourth amendments, if they arrest videographers.

However, the Massachusetts wiretapping statute will still be problematic for people who support police accountability. Although the right to openly record police has been firmly established, the currently accepted interpretation of the wiretapping statute criminalizes “secretly” recording police even when they are on duty and in public places like the Boston Common. In the case Commonwealth v. Hyde (2001), the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that Michael Hyde, a musician, violated the state’s wiretapping law when he recorded a police traffic stop with a tape recorder hidden in his car. The Supreme Court ruled that even though Hyde’s recording was made in a public place, it was created in “secret” because Hyde concealed his tape recorder. The court noted that he could have avoided his conviction if he “had simply informed the police of his intention to tape record the encounter, or even held the tape recorder in plain sight.”

The right to make “secret” recordings of police is just as important as the right to make recordings of police “in plain sight.” If a police officer is willing to commit a serious crime like making a false arrest or beating someone, it’s not likely that their moral compass will prevent them from destroying evidence. Hiding a recording device in one’s pocket may be the only hope a victim of police brutality or misconduct has for getting accountability. Until a court overturns the decision in Hyde, the Legislature changes the wiretapping law to allow “secret” recording, or voters pass a ballot initiative to change the law, Massachusetts residents will continue to live in fear that they will be prosecuted and imprisoned simply for trying to hold the police accountable.