December 31, 2015
A white Chicago police officer charged with murder in the 2014 fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald pleaded not guilty Tuesday.
Jason Van Dyke is "hanging in there" and wants to tell his side of what happened so he's not seen "as this cold-blooded killer," defense attorney Dan Herbert said after the court hearing. Herbert added that they haven't ruled out asking for a change of venue. The case is in Cook County Criminal Court in Chicago where demonstrators have staged marches protesting the shooting and how it's been handled.
Van Dyke, 37, faces six counts of first-degree murder and one of official misconduct in the death of 17-year-old McDonald. The officer, wearing a dark suit and blue striped tie, appeared in court Tuesday as his lawyer entered the plea on his behalf.
Judge Vincent Gaughan set the next hearing for Jan. 29.
Cook County prosecutors were not available for comment after the arraignment.
Public outcry has been furious since a dashcam video was released last month showing the veteran officer shooting McDonald 16 times. The teenager, armed with a knife, was veering away from officers when Van Dyke opened fire.
The footage sparked days of street demonstrations, the forced resignation of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and a broad federal civil rights investigation of the Police Department's practices and how allegations of officer misconduct are handled.
Over the weekend, Chicago police killed two other people, a 55-year-old woman who was shot accidentally and a 19-year-old man police described as "combative" before he was shot. Both were black. Police have not released the race of the officer or officers involved and will not say how many officers fired their weapons or what the man and woman were doing before they were shot.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, under pressure from community activists to resign since the McDonald video was released, was due to return Tuesday afternoon from a family vacation in Cuba.
Herbert, the lawyer for Van Dyke, said policy changes in the Chicago Police Department, which Emanuel's office has hinted at and may include more training, would be beneficial.
Van Dyke, who has been free since paying the $150,000 required of his $1.5 million bail, was suspended from the police force without pay after he was charged.
Following Tuesday's hearing, the Rev. Marvin Hunter, McDonald's great-uncle, called for gavel-to-gavel televised coverage of the trial. He said it would be "in the best interest of fairness and justice in this case."
Hunter added that he and others think there is a culture within the Cook County criminal justice system and the Chicago Police Department "where police feel comfortable with murdering African-American people."
December 31, 2015
By Michael Tarm
Bettie Jones, known in her Chicago neighborhood for her work with anti-violence community groups, was killed by police responding to a domestic disturbance just hours after she hosted family on Christmas Day.
The fatal shooting of Jones, 55, and 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier, a college student visiting his father for the holiday, at a West Side home has raised further questions about a police department already under intense scrutiny. Grieving relatives and friends of the two victims gathered Sunday to remember them and criticize city officials who they said had once again failed residents.
The shooting happened early Saturday morning at the small two-story home, where Jones lived in a ground-floor apartment and LeGrier’s father in an upstairs unit. Police, who were responding to a 911 call made by LeGrier’s father after an argument with his son, have released few details beyond a brief statement.
It said that officers “were confronted by a combative subject resulting in the discharging of the officer’s weapon” and added that Jones “was accidentally struck.”
Both Jones and LeGrief were black, and their deaths come amid scrutiny of police after a series of deaths of African-Americans at the hands of officers across the country gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. It also comes amid a federal civil rights investigation into the Chicago Police Department that was launched after last month’s release of police dashcam video showing white officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014.
Police did not disclose the race of the officer or officers, saying only that those involved will be placed on administrative duties.
LeGrier’s mother, Janet Cooksey, during a vigil Sunday placed candles on the porch of the home. On either side of the door, Post-It notes indicated where two bullets hit siding on the house.
“I used to watch the news daily and I would grieve for other mothers, other family members, and now today I’m grieving myself,” Cooksey said at a news conference outside the residence earlier Sunday.
Others who spoke said police should have used stun guns or other nonlethal methods if they felt they needed to subdue LeGrier.
“Why do (police) have to shoot first and ask questions later?” Jacqueline Walker, a friend of Jones, asked. “It’s ridiculous.”
Family spokesman Eric Russell said Jones’ many grandchildren had hoped to thank her for their Christmas gifts over the weekend.
Autopsy findings released Sunday by the Cook County medical examiner’s office say Jones died from a gunshot to the chest and LeGrier from multiple gunshot wounds.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi on Sunday said only that the shootings are being investigated by the city’s Independent Police Review Authority, the main police oversight agency.
LeGrier’s cousin, Albert Person, said LeGrier's father had invited his son to a holiday gathering at another home on Christmas. Person said the son’s refusal to go caused friction, but he downplayed the severity of the argument.
“What family doesn’t fight on the holidays?” he said.
LeGrier’s father, Antonio LeGrier, told the Chicago Sun-Times his son appeared to be a “little agitated” when the father returned to the apartment. Around 4:15 a.m., the elder LeGrier said he heard loud banging on his locked bedroom door and that his son said, “You’re not going to scare me.” He said his son tried to bust the door open, but he kept him from doing so and called police. He added that he called Jones on the floor below to say his son was a “little irate” and not to open the door unless police arrived.
He said Jones told him his son was outside with a baseball bat. Person said the teen was back in the house by the time police arrived.
When they did arrive, Antonio LeGrier said he heard Jones yell, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” He said he heard gunshots as he made his way down from the second floor and then saw his son and Jones lying in the foyer.
He said his son had emotional problems after spending most of his childhood in foster care. He described him as a “whiz kid” on break from Northern Illinois University, where he majored in electrical engineering technology.
Cooksey denied that her son ever exhibited “combative behavior.” She said he “might’ve been angry with his father and they might’ve got into it,” but that he was not angry or violent.
It’s not clear whether Jones tried to intervene before being shot or if she was hit by gunfire while answering the door.
Sam Adam Jr., a lawyer for the Jones family, said Jones and LeGrier were apparently shot near the doorway of the home, but that shell casings were found some 20 feet away. He said that raised questions about whether police could have perceived LeGrier as a threat at such a distance.
It couldn’t be independently verified that the casings had any link to Saturday’s shooting.
Adam also said police took the hard drive of a home-security camera from across the street, but it was unknown if it or other cameras in the neighborhood captured the shootings.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office said in a statement Saturday that IPRA would share its evidence with the county prosecutor’s office.
“Anytime an officer uses force the public deserves answers, and regardless of the circumstances, we all grieve anytime there is a loss of life in our city,” Emanuel said in the statement. (via AP)
December 24, 2015
City News Service
A watchdog group critical of the Los Angeles Police Department’s gathering of data on suspicious activity sued the city of Los Angeles for the release of documents related to the program. Members of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, who have long pushed for the LAPD to dismantle its Suspicious Activity Reporting program, and their supporters said during a news conference outside police headquarters that they were forced to file the lawsuit after the city failed to provide adequate responses to two California Public Records Act requests submitted back in May. The coalition was joined in the lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, by the Los Angeles chapter of the National Lawyer’s Guild.
Colleen Flynn, the chapter’s interim executive director, alleged the LAPD “completely disregarded the statutory obligations” under public records laws. She said the public “has a right to documents that shed light on the LAPD's attempts to undermine constitutional protections in its overbroad data collection and sharing program.” Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the City Attorney's Office, declined comment on the suit.
Members of the coalition and their supporters alleged that the city failed to give a response within 10 days of submitting the request, as required by state law, with city officials responding only after the group inquired about the request three months later. The city eventually responded by providing a description of the suspicious activity reporting program, but coalition members said they already had a copy of the same document. The city also said additional documents were being reviewed and there would be another response later, according to the coalition.
Another few weeks passed with no response, which prompted the coalition to send a letter to the city saying it planned to sue for the documents, according to the coalition. The coalition sought the documents to learn more about a program that they believe turns innocuous activity such as taking photos or recording video in public into criminally suspect behavior warranting secret reports to be kept by the LAPD. They say the department’s definitions of suspicious activity are too broad and may disproportionately target blacks and other minorities.
“With the filing of this lawsuit, we are saying enough to secrecy,” said Jamie Garcia, a member of the coalition. “We want to know what the full impact of the suspicious activity reporting initiative is on our community.”
Hamid Khan, a campaign coordinator with the coalition said, such reports are also frequently submitted by private citizens, which “leads us to believe is that they are actively promoting bias and prejudice.”
Khan said the request for the suspicious activity reports is “not something unusual.” The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department complied with a similar request recently as the result of a lawsuit filed last year, so the city’s police department should not be able to site an exemption, according to Khan. Pete White of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, which is affiliated with the coalition, said the department failed to do the bare minimum that is required under the California Public Records Act.
“This isn’t as if there’s a lot of resources to file lawsuits against the city of L.A. that can (become) a protracted battle,” White said. “But it’s important that after seven months that they take us seriously, that they know they need to — at a minimum — follow the laws ... they tell us we need to follow.”
December 24, 2015
A Texas grand jury declined to indict sheriff’s officials or jailers in the death of a black woman at a county jail last summer, three days after a state trooper pulled her over for a minor traffic violation that led to a combative exchange and her arrest. The grand jury’s decision in the death of 28-year-old Sandra Bland does not conclude the matter. Here are some things to know about where the case stands:
Grand Jury Work Continues
Although grand jurors decided late Monday that Waller County sheriff's officials and jailers didn't break the law in their treatment of Bland, they are scheduled to return in January to consider whether to indict Trooper Brian Encinia, who arrested the Chicago-area woman on July 10.
Encinia has been on administrative leave since Bland’s death. Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw has said Encinia violated internal policies of professionalism and courtesy during the traffic stop, which he made because Bland had made an improper lane change.
It’s not clear what charges the grand jury might consider when it reconvenes.
“There are other issues that are still remaining that will be addressed in January. There could be indictments,” said Darrell Jordan, one of the five special prosecutors handling the case. He declined to discuss which charges the grand jury has already considered and which it may when it reconvenes.
Legal scholars say the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear an officer can order a motorist out of a vehicle, as Encinia did with Bland. But the grand jury likely will review dash-cam video showing how an argument between the two turned physical as Bland was forced to the ground and arrested.
Bland Family Continues to Question Findings
Geneva Reed-Veal, Bland’s mother, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court in Houston against Encinia, the Department of Public Safety, Waller County and two jail employees. A judge set a January 2017 trial date in that case.
Cannon Lambert, an attorney for Bland's family, said the grand jury’s decision is consistent with what the family believes has been an attempt by authorities to cover up what transpired after Bland’s arrest. They also have questioned a medical examiner’s determination that Bland committed suicide in her cell by hanging herself with a plastic garbage bag.
Another family attorney, Larry Rogers Jr., said Encinia should have faced charges “within days or weeks” of the incident and that he doesn’t understand why the grand jury would need more time to consider whether to indict the trooper. He said the family’s lawyers will redouble their efforts to examine a Texas Rangers investigation report about Bland’s death, which was withheld because it is grand jury evidence.
Evidence Under Review
In addition to dash-cam video from Encinia’s patrol car and those of Prairie View police officers who responded to the traffic stop, investigators have reviewed video showing Bland's arrival and processing at the jail. It also shows jailers interacting with her in the following days.
Bland family attorneys say jailers should have checked on her more frequently and that the county should have performed a mental evaluation once she disclosed she had tried to kill herself before. County officials say Bland was treated well in jail and produced documents showing that she gave jail workers inconsistent information about whether she was suicidal.
Death Caused a Furor
Bland’s arrest and death came amid heightened national scrutiny of police and their dealings with black suspects, especially those killed by officers or who died in police custody. In the days after Bland died, county authorities released video from the jail to dispel rumors and conspiracy theories that she was dead before she arrived at the jail or was killed while in custody.