Articles Posted in abuse by police

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My client was represented by another lawyer for 18 months. Not satisfied with the fact that his lawyer wanted him to plead guilty to stabbing two people at a party (violations of Penal Code Section 245(a)) he hired me. The Defendant told me he had been to a party where one of his friends had brought a NOS tank. NOS is nitrous oxide and is used by many young people to get high. The owner of the house where the party was being held didn’t want the NOS at the party and told the Defendant and his friends to leave. Before the Defendant could leave he was confronted by numerous party goers who decided they would attack him and teach him a lesson.

The Defendant was confronted by multiple individuals who were threatening him. He found a knife near the NOS tank and was waving it in front of him in order to ward off the attackers. He knew he had not stabbed anyone and certainly hadn’t stabbed anyone intentionally. A friendly stranger stepped in and grabbed the Defendant’s hand and led him out of the party to a place of safety across the street. During the trip across the street to safety the stranger noticed his hand had been cut by the knife in the Defendant’s hand. The Defendant apologized for cutting him and left the area. Before he left, he threw the knife in the bushes. After leaving he decided throwing the knife away wasn’t a good idea and he went back to retrieve it. Of course, when he did that he was arrested for a stabbing that had occurred at the party and for cutting the stranger’s hand.

At the police station he was questioned by the police. The reports stated that the Defendant had confessed to stabbing the two victims at the party. My client denied ever having said any such thing. Fortunately, the conversation at the station was recorded. The previous lawyer had not listened to the tape recording so he didn’t know when the police officer testified at the Preliminary Hearing as to what was in his reports, that the report itself was either a lie or just inaccurate. Either way, when I listened to the audio it was clear the client was telling the truth, he never confessed to stabbing anyone and , in fact, had denied it.

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The United States Supreme Court on January 11, 2012, rendered a decision in Perry v. New Hampshire, that limits the ability of the defense to successfully attack a suggestive or unreliable identification of the defendant by an eyewitness. Eyewitness identification has long been the subject of commentary and even experiments. Many of us have seen the video of or even participated in a situation where a professor has a classroom full of students when a subject rushes in steals the professor’s purse and the class is asked to describe the suspect. It’s incredible how varied the descriptions of the suspect are. Different facial features, races, clothing, height and weight and numerous other identifiers have been listed by witnesses seeing the same thing. How many times have you been in line at a theater, seen someone you think you recognize and been mistaken? It’s happened to all of us.

Stress of an unexpected, even scary, situation can affect one’s perception and ability to accurately identify suspects or describe events. On a personal note, I witnessed a car crash right in front of my eyes. I stopped, waited for the police, submitted to an interview, and was told that my account was completely “wrong”. Physical evidence and other eyewitnesses made it quite obvious that what I thought I had seen was just plain in error. I didn’t mean to mess it up or make a mistake, it just happens because when events occur quickly under unexpected conditions what we think we see isn’t always what actually happened.

Now, when a police officer investigates a crime and gets a description of the suspect from the victim he can just take the information or by his questions and technique he can influence the identification. For example, when a photograph of a suspect is shown to a victim several similar looking photos are used in a “six pack”. The eyewitness is asked to view the subjects, admonished it’s just as important to exonerate the innocent as to find the guilty person and just because a picture is in the “six pack” it doesn’t mean the perpetrator’s photo is contained in it. When that doesn’t happen and a singular photo is shown to a witness and no positive identification is made, what do you expect would happen if that same singular photo is placed in a subsequent “six pack” ? Isn’t that overly suggestive? Isn’t that type of police technique almost ensuring the identification of the photo of the singular photo individual? Of course it is. Once suggestive procedures like this one are used, the ultimate identification of the suspect (now defendant) taints the whole process. Now you will never know if the identification is the product of what the eyewitness saw or the suggestive procedure used by the police.

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Recently, a video was seen on television showing a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy questioning a woman on a train. The woman was facing two deputies. One was a woman and one a man. Both deputies were in uniform and both were substantially larger than the woman they were contacting. During the conversation another passenger began to video the incident. After the woman appeared to be non-responsive, or at least not responding as the deputies would like, the male deputy suddenly elbowed her in the face with a violent and vicious forearm. Upon seeing the passenger videotaping the incident the deputy tried to seize the cell phone. The citizen refused to turn over his cell phone to the deputy fearing the video would be erased or tampered with and the true nature of the incident lost forever.

First of all, a citizen does not have to relinquish his or her video equipment to law enforcement just because they demand it. It is your personal property and without further justification, for example a search warrant, unless the citizen voluntarily surrenders it, your personal property is just that, yours. In this case, I have no doubt that if the deputy had taken possession of the citizen’s camera that video would have been destroyed.

Secondly, in defending people charged with crimes I have learned that the truth of exactly what happened isn’t always reflected accurately in the police reports. Now that video has become so easy and so available to anyone with a cell phone, many times the incidents between citizens and law enforcement are captured on video. One can argue that the video doesn’t capture the whole incident or that it somehow misrepresents what happened or what occurred before the camera was turned on, but one cannot deny the truth that cameras help criminal defendants more than they hurt. I would much rather have a video of the encounter between the police and my client. With video cameras the jury and anyone else can see what really happened and no amount of spin in the police reports will disguise the truth.

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Getting assigned to vice as a police officer is tough assignment. Often times the required duties take the officer into dangerous situations. Quick thinking is often a necessity. Tension can build to the breaking point. How to relieve all that tension? The vice cop has found the answer. He gets a massage.

Massage parlors are apparently a hot bed (pun intended) of prostitution activity. Many massage salons are being raided by undercover police officers. Of course, they’re only under cover for a short period of time. But, while being uncovered, I mean undercover, they get their muscles kneaded, their backs oiled, their limbs stroked, hot towels applied, and tired sore bodies cared for from head to toe, all by young women who tend to their needs as though they were real paying customers without a law enforcement agenda. The tax payer dollars paid to find prostitution occurring behind closed doors and under warm towels is truly money well spent. Or is it?

Vice squads are combing the massage salons looking for young women who would offer sexual services in return for money. Negotiations for these services have to be realistic in order to arrest the offending party. In order to enforce the realism, undercover officers of the vice squad must frequent various massage salons and put their bodies through torturous episodes as described above. Once sufficient stroking has occurred, how long and how much is subject to ones’ individual ability to withstand the torture, the “bust signal” can be given. One has to hope that the “gotcha” moment doesn’t come too soon and the bust has to be aborted due to circumstances beyond the undercover officer’s control. In that case, one would assume, the bust does not occur and the tax payer money spent on the massage wasn’t wasted because, well, the officer did get a good massage.

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Recently the Los Angeles Times ran an article about several Los Angeles County Sheriffs’ deputies who had their testimony rejected by a jury. The case involved the deputies testifying that a defendant possessed a concealed firearm.

One deputy in particular testified that he saw the defendant in a side yard run and toss the pistol onto the roof of a detached garage. the trouble is, a video surfaced that was shot by a witness to the event. The video didn’t show the defendant run or toss the gun. It completely contradicted the sworn testimony of the deputy.

The jury returned a not guilty verdict and said that law enforcement fabricated their testimony. In other words, the sheriff deputies lied under oath. The jurors wondered why the District Attorney went along with the obviously false story put out by the deputies.