Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Misconduct Abounding in Prince George's County

I have been working on a petition for absolute pardon for more than 2 months. I've spent several hundred hours so far. It keeps me from blogging as much as I would like, but I'm pleased with how it is coming along. It's quite important I perform that task well.

Previously I spent many, many hours attempting to provide some insight into how automated speeding tickets might be automating wrongful convictions. That effort resulted in eight extended blog posts including such classics as Automating Wrongful Convictions (with Demon Devices from Hell), Automating Wrongful Convictions: The Empire Strikes Back, Automating Wrongful Convictions: Optotraffic System Pwned, and the ever famous My Interview with Ace Foreman, Annotated.

This afternoon, those two widely disparate efforts intersected in Prince George's County, Maryland.

As I was once again compiling specific cases of false confessions for the clemency petition, I suddenly realized that a disproportionate number of them came out of Prince George's County, Maryland. I thought it odd that one county should have such a cluster of false confessions.

And I paused.

I had heard the name of that county before. It rang a bell. It hit me like a ton of judicial misconduct bricks. Forest Heights is in Prince George's County. Forest Heights is the city that has doubled its revenue by handing out obviously trumped up speeding tickets.

Unfortunately, I was right. The speeding tickets are just a microcosm of a much larger, much more serious problem. The fine folks who distribute justice in Prince George's County proved me correct when I would much prefer to be wrong. 

My curiosity piqued, I dared search Google for: misconduct Prince George's County.


This will be the first of several posts about the shameful state of justice in Prince George's County, Maryland. I begin  with the country's use abuse of police dogs to maul its citizenry. I summarize from a March 2002 20/20 story.

I begin with Esther Vathekan. She was asleep in her own bed in 1995 when the police somehow mistook her for a burglar. They unleashed the hounds, and the dogs mauled her face.

It would a terrible tragedy even if it was a rare, honest mistake. But it was by no means a rare incident. Between 1987 and the date of the 20/20 story, the Prince George's County police dogs were involved in approximately 1300 hundred attacks. That's about one attack every four days. The Prince George's canine unit became the most dangerous canine unit in the country.

Between 1999 and the date of the 20/20 story, the canine unit had been the subject of 33 criminal investigations launched by the FBI. The county wouldn't control the dogs, and the state wouldn't control the dogs, so the feds stepped in.

Louis Azurdia accidentally set off an alarm while working to remove asbestos from a school  A canine police unit was dispatched to the school, and Azurdia was attacked by a dog. The police arrested Azurdia, then never charged him with a crime. He sued and won.

When Willie Walker was arrested, he was repeatedly bitten by a police dog. Though he was found to be guilty of no crime, he suffered permanent disfigurement.

Julius Booker abandoned an allegedly stolen van and attempted to flee on foot from a canine officer. Even after he was caught and handcuffed, the dog bit him repeatedly. "He let the dog continue to bite me. I couldn't do nothing, I was handcuffed face to the dirt, crying, begging for mercy." Booker was charged, tried and acquitted. He sued and won.

The dogs have torn out triceps and biceps. They have torn off ears. They have torn off noses. The police used them not to apprehend, but to punish, maim, and brutalize.

At some point, the situation became too much for the feds to bring individual criminal actions. The feds took action against the entire department.

From Wikipedia, we learn:
In July, 1999, the department was subject to a complaint by the United States Justice Department regarding alleged excessive use of force by police canine units. In January 2004, the department signed a memorandum of understanding with the United States Department of Justice allegations of excessive force. This resulted in the establishment of an independent monitoring group by Military Professional Resources, Inc., a private defense contractor.
Since then, things seem to have improved. Many of the canine officers and all of the dogs have been replaced. The dogs are now trained to "guard and bark" rather than "bite and hold." As long as the subject stays still, the dog will only bark, not bite.

According to the Memorandum of Agreement between the feds and the county, the county must report quarterly regarding their progress with respect to their canine unit. Here's a small segment of just one quarterly report.
During the current reporting period, the Canine Section’s performance has been outstanding. The Canine Section reported that during this quarter, there have been 174 deployments (ytd 590) which resulted in 14 apprehensions without a dog bite (ytd 40), and 2 seizures (apprehensions with a dog bite) (ytd 6) from July through September 2006.
That seems much better: 40 apprehensions without a dog bite versus 6 with a dog bite. Perhaps Prince Georgia's County will finally put their policing efforts in order.

Perhaps not.

Stay tuned.

No comments:

Post a Comment