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by Peter Moskos

April 20, 2016

You can't make this sh*t up

Hours after posting about the police-involved killing of robber Robert Howard, I read Justin Fenton's amazing story about the robber: "Man fatally shot by off-duty officer was also shot by police 20 years earlier." Are you effing serious?! What are the odds? I don't think anybody in American history has ever been shot by cops in two separate incidents. I don't know what that amazes me, but it does. Oh, Baltimore.

But wait, there's more. It's deja vu all over again! Remember how in last week's shooting, witnesses reported Howard was unarmed and running from cops? And they said that cops shot him in the back? If it weren't for the video, many people (and a Baltimore City jury) would doubt the cops.

How many "witnesses" come forward when the shooter isn't a cop?

Well back in 1996 Howard was again busy robbing. He pulled a gun on cops, fired on cops, and cops shot back. Cops could have kept shooting. But the police didn't kill Howard because once Howard was no longer a threat, they stopped shooting. That's what cops are supposed to do. Police arrested Howard, without further incident, after Howard tried to kill them. Job well done, right?

Well in the 1996 shooting there was no video, and a jury acquitted Howard of all criminal charges. Howard's attorney said officers planted a "drop gun" on Howard. One witness adamantly testified Howard did not have a gun. (Boy, if cop did have drop guns to plant, why are so many "unarmed" people shot by cops? Think Sean Bell, Diallo, Zongo, and Michael Brown.)

As an outsider, this may seem like just a shame, understandable given years of oppression. Or maybe even true. But it's not. And it happens all the time. It what frames cops' worldview. And if you're the cop involved? It's life changing. And not for the better.

Howard then (unsuccessfully) sued the officers for $12 million. He claimed he was unarmed and had his arms raised.

When I was in Baltimore, Kevon Gavin was killed after his car was deliberately struck by a criminal being chased by other cops. The killer was doing 80mph and rammed Gavin's car, crushing it. The killer was arrested at the scene wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a semi-automatic handgun. Later, in the jury trial, the killer was acquitted of all criminal charges. He walked free. (Even his lawyer admitted he was surprised at the verdict.)

It's happened before and it will happen again.

So back in 1996, Stephen Cohen was one of the two cops that shot Howard:
The fallout prompted Cohen to leave the agency: He said he was accused at the civil trial of being corrupt and racist.

"The most upsetting thing about it was that he had the audacity to come after us, like we did something wrong," Cohen says in a phone interview.... He pulls a gun, we shoot him, and now he's accusing us, because he did nothing wrong and we're the bad people."

"I saw the writing on the wall. I decided, I can't live my life like this. This is not what I want for my life," he said.
Cohen said the civil case with Howard 20 years earlier caused him to lose faith in his role as a police officer.

"This was life-changing. You're a young white guy, being crucified by a whole community of black people saying the only reason you shot him is because he was black," Cohen said.

"At the end of the day, you can't help people who don't want your help, and can't help themselves," he said. "I was saying, 'What am I doing in this picture? I can't change anything. I'm going to end up miserable, bitter or dead in jail."
So he quit.

Right now people are getting away with robbery and murder. This year alone there have been 67 homicides and 1,219 reported robberies in Baltimore. And yet when the story is reported, the only questionable characters are the cops.

I wonder how many people Howard robbed in the past 20 years. You have to assume he didn't die with a lifetime robbery record of 0 - 2.


IrishPirate said...

We had one of these in Chicago last week. "Witness claimed seeing cops chase kid from behind and shoot him in back as he was climbing fence."

Autopsy showed gunshots hit offender in chest

I guess he hopped the fence backwards.

Also protesters shut down the Eisenhower expressway to "protest" the loss of this young man's life.

The pics from his Facebook page with the guns and the gang tats etc mean nothing to the protesting horde.


"Witness" refused to go to cops though. Claimed to be scared. Sure.

Kyle said...

The legal process is being abused; the racist rhetoric is being misused; the gun is being worshipped as 2nd amendment symbol...

Lawyers want people to abuse the legal process(more business); racists comments are simple to be understood(baby talks);gun rights people say that you need a gun to stop a gun(get more guns).

When the police/anyone kills, you become the perpetrator. It's natural when someone getting hurt more being labeled as the victim(regardless of armed/unarmed)//see transactional analysis

john mosby said...

It is a big morale hit for the arresting officer to be effectively "put on trial." But that is part of the adversarial system. Just because a few skells were willing to say anything doesn't mean the silent majority of the community doesn't want law and order.

More painful is the way that every possible investigative lead is exhausted for an officer-involved shooting, versus the way that so few citizen-on-citizen shootings even get solved. Suddenly no one has "stopped snitching."

But how many POs actually get convicted of shootings? Do we have any figures on that? Aside from cities where the activists have captured the institutions, such as Detroit, it seems like POs charged for their use of force usually get treated quite fairly inside the actual courtroom (as opposed to the court of public opinion, the PD trial room, etc). See, e.g., PO Liang who got basically the same outcome as an ordinary citizen would get who killed someone with an accidental discharge.

But this is just my "feel" of reading and hearing of these stories for the past 20-some years. Are there any actual statistics?

Finally, Prof, in the face of a system biased against lawpeople, the lawperson has to Fight Back. Within the system, to be sure, but using every tool available in the system, just like the other side does. Such as:

- Neighborhoods get canvassed by private investigators who point out the many disadvantages of coming forward as a witness. "Don't you know that your entire life will be made open to both sides? Don't you realize that you will be remembered forever as a snitch? Doesn't matter that you snitched against the police. If you're willing to snitch against the biggest gang in the city, then you certainly must be willing to snitch against these little skell crews. Which means that if one of them gets in trouble on this block, who do you think they're going to blame? And do you think the police are going to be in a hurry to protect someone who snitched against them? Now, are you sure you saw what you saw?"

- Sue everyone for defamation. Doesn't matter if they're skells with no resources. They may hit the ghetto lottery for some later encounter, and then that check goes to you. Plus it puts them on the legal defensive. They'll get subpoenaed for depositions. If they don't show up, they get contempt warrants. Plus the mere fact they're defendants in a civil suit you brought means they have an incentive to lie against you. And it's ammunition for the next guy they lie about.

- Demand criminal charges for false statements. In jurisdictions where individuals can swear the charges on their own, do it. In jurisdictions where the grand jury can do it sua sponte, demand such. Get FOP, PBA, or whoever your labor organization is to beat the drum on this constantly.

- Attack the credibility of every single witness, especially the official ones. All of your own statements must be coerced from you by Garrity/Kalkines, so they can't be used against you. Make the PD prove you were assigned to that post on that day; attack them for every single fudged time sheet and duty roster. Make them prove it's your assigned weapon - can they really dig out the property slip you signed at the academy? Make them prove it's your voice on the dispatch tapes where you called in the shooting. Attack the credibility of the dispatcher, the IT guy, the dick who collected the tape, everyone in the chain of custody.

- Elected judge? Ads against her re-election from the first preliminary ruling that's slightly against the PO. Maybe a separate PAC has to do this so that the PO and his lawyer can't be held responsible. Plus any gag rule the judge attempts will bring the media in on your side! Appointed judge? Ads against the mayor, governor, alderman, etc.

Just some ideas.


Moskos said...

"It is a big morale hit for the arresting officer to be effectively "put on trial." But that is part of the adversarial system."

True, but the officer wouldn't have been put in trial had the jury been willing to convict a guilty man.

It's the failure of the first part of the justice system that lead to weird case in which an officer who shot an armed robber was on (civil) trial for shooting an innocent man.

I think if you searched you could find some data on how few officers have been convicted over the past 20 years. I would even say "too few." But since justice is local, now we got some jurisdictions that prosecute innocent cops while other still let police get away with murder. (see Jonathan Ayers and this one, too: http://www.copinthehood.com/2015/12/perhaps-worst-police-involved-shooting.html)

I'm all or demanding criminal charges in false statement (even false 911 calls). For cops and criminals alike. But of course mostly it will apply to criminals. Right now it's seen as a drain on resources, but if it could result in greater integrity in the criminal justice system, well, that would be worth something.

john mosby said...

Good points, Prof. I should have added to my original list:

- sue the bad guy for the substantive crime: assaulting you, intentional infliction of emotional distress, etc. Do this at the very beginning of the process, to steal the initiative and make him the civil as well as criminal "defendant." He may very well countersue, but at least he will be fighting uphill. Plus, lots of people (PD bosses, prosecutors, judges) can derail the criminal case, but none of them can stop a prima-facie civil case from proceeding. The same biased juries may eventually rule against you, but again the point is not ultimate victory - the point is keeping the bad guy wrapped up in the system. Police unions should make suing the perp an SOP - if necessary, increase dues to cover the legal costs.

- If you want to get really creative, encourage regular citizens to join your lawsuit against the perp. Direct civilian victims are an obvious choice. Might be difficult if they are businesses whose insurance companies are not going to waste time litigating against a skell; but on the other hand, the business may be worried about the skell suing them, so they might buy into taking the legal intitiative. More creatively, get indirect civilian victims to sue: did the whole thing take place at night, in a residential neighborhood? Perp deprived the neighbors of the right of qualified enjoyment.

- Another good one would be a class-action civil-rights lawsuit against the city and county by PO's of a different race from the criminal population. The basic theory would be disparate impact: the constant nolle-prossing and other rulings favorable to criminals from Race X are unfavorable to cops from Race Y and place the cops' lives, freedoms, and livelihoods in danger, solely on the basis of their race. This could also be done as a single-party lawsuit by a PO who is prosecuted for a shooting and finds out that none of the excuses used to free skells of Race X are enjoyed by a cop from Race Y. If the city suddenly takes homicide seriously when it's done by a Y, that's institutional racism against Y's.

And of course I am talking about black cops patrolling redneck trailer parks and getting their efforts frustrated by white prosecutors and mayors - what did you think I was talking about?


ramapoblog said...

It really is sad to see this country's police officers taking this kind of abuse. Yes, I think that we can all agree that there are some bad apples, but why is society blaming all for the actions of few? I think it truly comes down to the "put yourself in their shoes" theory, that the public needs to know what it is like as an officer every single day.

Everyone likes to point the finger at the police saying that "they could have done better" or "they used excessive force" but they don't know what it is like. The respect for our police is deteriorating by the minute, and no matter how much you fight to get it back, it seems like an endless battle. It's sad that it has gotten to the point where officers are quitting over the hate that they receive.

In this country the highest standard of law is proving "beyond a reasonable doubt." It seems that when this doubt comes to cases against police, it is a much easier decision for the public to make, as opposed to the 'oppressed' criminal. This officer did his duties the right way, but the police are always wrong right? Im sure it is impossible that a person with a history of robbery and firearm possession, would be shot at by police twice. But I bet he was a good boy who went to school, worked and cared for his family?

It is about time that society changes and starts respecting our police officers. If we did not have them, who would be there to hold your hand and help when you need it?

aNanyMouse said...

@ ramapoblog:
"why is society blaming all for the actions of few?"
I propose that much of this stems from resentment at cops' etc. kick-ass bennies, pensions etc., while ever more Americans get funneled into McJobs. See my comments on Peter's page "Will the anti-cop Left please figure out....?"

Devin O said...

It just amazes me how quick people are go criticize police and want to get them in trouble. No matter what, if you are in trouble and need help, and dial 9-1-1. The police will show up and assist you, whether it means putting their lives on the line FOR YOU, they will do all they can to assist you. It just hurts my head to think that some people genuinely hate police. They have to wear a bullet proof vest every day to work and need a fire arm just incase something goes wrong. Not many people are willing to serve the people and do what police officers do, but, time and time again, people find someway to criticize police and the job they do.

kayla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kayla said...

The article raises a moral question on how society views white male officers . It is unfortunate that the report of an encounter with any white male officer and a minority will lead to a racist motive on the cops end. That is not entirely true . If officers enter a high crisis situations with no guidelines on what to do , they are left with a wide range of discretion therefore they may not always make favorable decisions . The moral question arises when the outcome is not in public favor and cops are no longer moral or of good standing . This moral questioning ultimately damages the advancement of society by not trusting the people who serve our communities time and time again.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

No one but no one believes that "the only questionable characters are cops." This is a straw man so dry it's crackling.
Some guilty people go free. That's how the system is designed. Many of them are street criminals. Some are cops.
If you're mad that guilty people went free– and everyone on those perps' block sure it– because the jury didn't take the officer's word for what happened, you should be super mad at all the times police officers have backed other officer's stories and then had video contradict them. That, not some hostile meme, is the reason why officer testimony isn't worth as much as it used to be.

bacchys said...

"It really is sad to see this country's police officers taking this kind of abuse. Yes, I think that we can all agree that there are some bad apples, but why is society blaming all for the actions of few? I think it truly comes down to the "put yourself in their shoes" theory, that the public needs to know what it is like as an officer every single day. "

Because shit is being done about the "few bad apples."

If it weren't for video the odds of Walter Scott's killer walking free would be very favourable to his killer. He wouldn't be sitting in a jail cell right now awaiting trial. He'd be on paid suspension while his friends decided if he did anything wrong. Oh, and every story about the shooting would tell us about Scott's having a warrant out for him and how bad a person he was.

Akai Gurley wasn't doing anything wrong when he was killed (accidentally, supposedly) by Liang, but Bratton still made sure everyone knew about Gurley's criminal record even though it had zero to do with his being shot.

There's a recent story about a guy who was mugged in Chicago, left unconscious laying in the street, and eventually killed by a taxicab. In all of the words I've read about (articles and comments), I've yet to read "Not all Chicagoans are bad people." No one is saying "we shouldn't just all Chicagoans by the actions of a few." Quite the opposite: the entire population of not just Chicago, but also America, gets lumped in as part of a "sick society" that doesn't care about people. About the **only** times I hear this "don't just everyone by the actions of a few" language involves people in an organization supposedly governed by rules and discipline, and which is supposed to have professional standards and the power to enforce them within itself.