How Did Victor White III Die in the Backseat of a Cop Car?
The night Victor White Sr.’s son died in the backseat of a cop car in New Iberia, Louisiana, he called the local sheriff’s station to figure out where his boy was.
“I asked them if he’d been apprehended, and they told me no,” he said to me. It wasn’t until the following morning, March 3, that Victor Sr. found out his son, Victor White III, had been arrested and died while in police custody. But he didn’t receive the news from the New Iberia Sheriff’s Department—he got the call from his son Leonard, who also lives in New Iberia and had been questioned that morning by police in connection with the death of his brother.
Immediately, of course, Victor Sr. made the two-hour drive from his home in Alexandria down to New Iberia to find out what the hell was going on. But the cops refused to tell him anything about the circumstances surrounding his 22-year-old son’s death, citing an ongoing investigation by the state police. At that point, Victor Sr. had no idea his son’s death was caused by a gunshot to the back while he was still in handcuffs in the backseat of a patrol car. Every official he talked to was cagey.
“They wouldn’t even let me see the body,” Victor Sr. told me over the phone. Eventually, when they realized he wouldn’t take “no comment” for an answer, they brought in the coroner and allowed Victor Sr. to take one look at his deceased son—but even then, they had conditions. “They told me I couldn’t see his lower body,” he told me. “I could only see his face.”
Hawaii’s Cops Say They Need to Be Allowed to Sleep with Prostitutes, Just in Case
Cops usually can’t break the law, even when they’re undercover, but police departments in Hawaii recently lobbied state lawmakers to carve out an exception to what is a pretty good rule. Last week, when the state legislature was considering amending an anti-prostitution law to prohibit undercover officers from having penetrative sex with prostitutes, the police were like, “Actually, we need the flexibility to have full-on intercourse or we can’t do our jobs properly. Third base doesn’t cut it.”
Hawaii’s House passed the bill, thereby saying “you can have sex with prostitutes if youreally need to,” but, understandably, a week’s worth of headlines like, “Hawaiian Police Want to Have Sex with Prostitutes Real Bad” and “Haha Dude Wasn’t This Exact Thing inThe Wire?” caused legislators to have second thoughts about the rule now that it’s hit the state Senate.
We Need to Stop Trusting the Police
Last Monday, a jury found two former Fullerton, California, police officers not guiltyon one charge of excessive force, two of manslaughter, and one of second-degree murder in the beating death of Kelly Thomas. The 2011 altercation, which lead to Thomas’s death five days later, was captured in detail by surveillance cameras and audio from police recorders—on tape, the cops can be seen beating the homeless man mercilessly and Tasing him twice in the face. At one point, Thomas is moaning “Help me dad” as the officers swing their nightsticks at him.
That fairly clear video evidence, along with the activism of Kelly’s father Ron (a former sheriff’s deputy) and the mobilization outraged community, ensured Thomas’s death got a lot more media coverage than the killing of homeless people by police normally do. But the officers are still walking free after beating an unarmed man to death. (In fact, one of them, Jay Cicinelli, already wants his job back.) How does that happen? A great many people in the community are asking that same question—multiple protests against the outcome of the trial this week resulted in 14 arrests
One answer to that question is that the jurors, like most Americans, probably thought that cops are generally almost always right. A Gallup Poll from last month found that 54 percent of respondents had “high” or “very high” amounts of trust in police officers. People think more favorably of cops than they do journalists, politicians, lawyers, or even members of the clergy. The only authority figures more trusted than the police are doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and grade school teachers.
Property seized in drug raids can help fund police operations, but now that marijuana is legal in Washington and Colorado there are going to be fewer drug raids, which means fewer seizures, which means less money for the cops. Good.
What Happens After Police Shoot Innocent Bystanders?
On Wednesday, a judge ordered the city of Torrance, California, to release the name of the police officer who shot at surfer David Perdue during the February manhunt for former LAPD cop Christopher Dorner, who at the time was out to murder as many of his ex-colleagues as he could. At the time the officer came after Perdue, Dorner had already shot two sheriff’s deputies, killing one, and gunned down the daughter of a LAPD officer and her boyfriend.
Fearful that Dorner might go after a local LA police official next, Torrance cops pulled over Perdue on February 7, asked him a few questions, then let him drive away. A few seconds later a second cop car rammed his truck, and an unnamed officer fired three shots, all of which (thankfully) missed. Perdue’s attorney also alleges that he was dragged from his vehicle afterwards. Dorner, by the way, was black and Perdue is white.
Perdue wasn’t the only victim of the police and their sudden inability to see color during this manhunt. A pair of newspaper carriers—47-year-old Margie Carranza and her 71-year-old mother, Emma Hernandez—were fired on by LAPD officers that same day because their pickup truck apparently looked like vaguely like Dorner’s. That incident provoked a backlash against the LAPD after Hernandez was hit in the back twice and her daughter suffered a hand injury. In fact, Torrance police said they were responding to the report of these mistaken shots when they fired on Perdue. The mother and daughter received a combined $4.2 million from the LAPD for their troubles, while Perdue has refused to settle with the city for the $500,000 they offered him.
The DEA Is Monitoring Your Phone Calls
On Sunday, the New York Times revealed the existence of a program known as the Hemisphere Project, which gives the Drug Enforcement Administration and local law enforcement agencies around the country access to a database of Americans’ phone records that goes back to 1987. You might think that a judge would have to sign off on a subpoena in order for the cops to view your phone records, but the process is actually much more streamlined (and invasive): the federal government reportedly pays AT&T to have the telecom giant’s employees sit next to DEA agents and local police detectives and show them whatever data they need. Technically, the information is stored by AT&T and not the government (this avoids some sticky legal issues), but in practice the cops have access to a database that logs billions of calls a day and includes not only who you called, but where you were when you placed the call. (Your call gets logged if it passes through an AT&T-owned system; you don’t have to be a customer of the company for them to have your data.) The current official Obama administration excuse for the program they were forced to admit the existence of is that it helps track down drug dealers and other criminals who tend to use difficult-to-track disposable cellphones.
This story comes on the heels of a story published by Reuters last month that detailed the NSA´s quasi-legal habit of passing on tips to other agencies, like the DEA, that don’t normally work on national security-related cases. After being given these tips, investigators then “recreate” where they got their evidence in a trick known as “parallel construction,” which allows them to hide where they got their information from defendants, judges, and even prosecutors. (Members of Congress have been pressing Attorney General Eric Holder about this, and he claims this is a common tactic used to protect sources.)
All these revelations about the scope of the information the DEA has access to are frightening, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Although the government originally claimed that it would only use its massive powers of data collection and surveillance in serious, rare, 24-type situations, of course they are using these same powers to go after more mundane criminals. For instance, “sneak and peek” warrants, which allow the police to search your property without informing you as they normally would, were legalized by the terrorism-centric PATRIOT Act but somehow wound up being used more often in drug investigations. This sort of codependent relationship between the war on drugs and the national security state makes it difficult to separate the two. It’s becoming clear that it’s unrealistic to ask the government to play by the rules law enforcement is supposed to be following except in situations where big bad terrorists are involved; mission creep is inevitable. More than one tentacle of government needs to be hacked off before Americans get some privacy back.
The Cops Should Always Be on Camera
For the past 12 months, police officers in Rialto, California, have been wearing cameras while on duty as part of a pilot program. It’s expensive to mount a camera on every uniformed cop, but the idea is that by recording all the interactions between officers and civilians and suspects, cops will behave better and complaints against the department will be quickly resolved—if someone makes a claim about being mistreated, it can be easily proved or disproved by a look at the tape. The experiment seems to be going well, and starting September 1, all 66 uniformed officers in Rialto will wear them. Complaints against the department have gone down 88 percent over the course of the year-long study while the use of force by officers declined by more than half, implying that cameras really do benefit both police and civilians. Indeed, a New York Daily News article highlighted the case of Rialto cop Randy Peterson, who was cleared of an excessive-force allegation lodged against him by a mentally disturbed man thanks to his body camera.
Stop Tasering Us, Police Bros
Early in the morning of August 6, Miami Beach police fired a Taser burst into the chest of Israel Hernandez, an 18-year-old artist and skater who was running from a half-dozen cops after they saw him spray-painting a boarded-up, abandoned McDonald’s. Shortly after Hernandez was taken into custody, he went into cardiac arrest and subsequently died in the hospital, a casualty of the cops’ decision to shock him with a stun gun. It turned out that the officer responsible for the Tasering, Jorge Mercaco, has a history of being accused of using excessive force—the Miami New Times reported on Thursday that he once arrested of a woman who did nothing more than ask him for directions, and in 2008 Mercado and another officer beat and Tasered an Iraq war veteran and his friend. (None of these accusations led to the officer being disciplined.)
Mercado remains on administrative leave, which is typical when a suspect dies after a police action. An autopsy of Hernandez is pending, along with three different investigations by the local DA, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the Miami Beach police department’s internal affairs division. The cops, naturally, are defending Mercado’s choice to use the weapon on Hernandez. It remains to be seen whether the police officially misused their Tasers, since Hernandez supposedly refused to obey their commands and was arguably a potential threat—the cops claim the teenager ran at them when they cornered him, and police chief Ray Martinez told the Miami Herald, “The officers were forced to use the Taser to avoid a physical incident.” But is it policy to aggressively chase a kid for graffiting an abandoned building? And should it be?
Tasers aren’t a bad invention, and even help save lives in situations where cops would otherwise be firing real guns—but they’re also too often a crutch for law enforcement. Instead of being wielded by brave officers who use them to avoid killing dangerous lawbreakers, Tasers are often used by mean or lazy cops to neutralize such non-threats as streakers, pregnant women who are pissed about parking tickets, disorderly ten-year-olds, the mentally disabled, and lost autistic children.