Asking the Wrong Questions


You’ve probably already heard or seen the video of the Baltimore police officer falsifying evidence.

If you haven’t, the story is at the Washington Post [wp].

Apparently, the cop forgot that a Taser ‘Axon’ body cam, when turned on, dumps its current video-buffer of activity. That’s right: it’s always on, it just has a switch that cops can use to hide what they’re doing – because police unions everywhere said they wouldn’t wear cameras, otherwise.

Elsewhere, I have complained about newspapers’ tendency to use minimizing language, “collateral damage”, “ethnic cleansing”, “enhanced interrogation” – when anyone with two functioning neurons knows that something much worse is going on. In the case of the “forgot my camera” video, this is not an “accident” it is “evidence.” Specifically, it is evidence of multiple police officers committing multiple federal crimes.

Not at all surprisingly, the blue goons have circled the wagons and are going to investigate, blah, blah, blah. But that’s all the preliminaries to sweeping the whole incident down the memory-hole: how much investigation and careful analysis would I expect if I were caught red-handed with a knife standing over a bloody corpse? I’d expect to be arrested and detained until I was charged, tried, and probably convicted, right? So, what we see in the video is not one cop possibly going back and “reconstructing evidence” – it’s one cop’s camera including two other cops watching them fabricate evidence. That’s one, two, three bad apples.

There are questions, many questions, that should be asked, such as:

Officer Simonyan (in the green hoodie): we see your camera is on your chest. Was it conveniently off at the exact same time as the other cop’s? Why?

Officers 2 and 3: you see a fellow officer producing controlled substances from somewhere and putting them into the scene. Where did they come from? Was your partner holding a controlled substance prior to “finding” the drugs? Were you aware that your fellow officer is apparently in the habit of doing their job with a supply of drugs? Or, were they taken from someone earlier? If so, where is the video of that; that would have been evidence for their arrest. In case anyone has forgotten, carrying an illegal amount of illegal drugs is illegal – even if you’re a cop. The story the police are floating is that the drug had just been seized as part of a bust: OK, well then where’s the cop-cam video of the bust when the drugs were seized legally? If it was a solid bust, there’d be no need to fake evidence, and it’d be on camera. If it wasn’t a solid bust, then you don’t put a citizen in prison; it’s really simple.

At present, the two other officers (Simonyan and Brunson) are on administrative duty (i.e.: off the street) until the investigation is complete. Meanwhile, the person they were investigating – the person whose evidence was tampered with – was in prison since January. So the cops are getting desk duty while some citizen spent 6 months in prison because they couldn’t make bail and are awaiting trial based on manipulated evidence?

The Baltimore police have apparently begun reviewing active cases in which those officers were involved, but why not inactive ones? Are we really expected to believe that they haven’t done this sort of thing before?

Officer Pinheiro, who planted/tampered with the evidence, has been working for the Baltimore police since 2011: how many other times has he tampered with evidence? It strains my credulity if they expect me to believe that Pinheiro just happened to screw up the very first time he manipulated evidence. Are the Baltimore police going to review every conviction that Pinheiro was involved in? And, since we can tell that Simonyan and Brunson are comfortable standing around watching a federal crime being committed, why isn’t every conviction they were involved in also under review?

The Baltimore Sun dryly reports the bullshit: [sun]

[Police Commissioner Kevin] Davis said his department has “not reached any conclusions, because that’s what an investigation is for.”

and

“To let that initial video that was released by the public defender’s office stand all by its lonesome I think doesn’t paint as clear of a picture as we would like to offer to the community right now,” he said.

Yeah, no fucking shit. Here’s the problem: when you’ve got cops being caught in the act of manufacturing/manipulating evidence, then – when you say – “it doesn’t paint as clear a picture as we would like to offer the community” it reads like you are going to go spin and manipulate more fucking evidence.

Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the local police union that represents rank-and-file officers, urged people not to “jump to conclusions.”

I think Ryan might feel differently if he spent 6 months behind bars, waiting for a trial because he couldn’t make bail because someone had “jumped to conclusions.” This is the same police department that ran out the clock and interfered with its own prosecutor’s case against the police officers who murdered Freddie Gray while he was a suspect in custody. [nbc]

There is a massive emergent conspiracy among police departments, police unions, prosecutors, and judges, to protect officers from having any consequences for crimes they commit while on duty. In a justice system where prosecutors are willing to look the other way when cops rig evidence, it doesn’t take a huge leap to realize there’s prosecutorial misconduct all over the place when the defendant is a cop. That’s how we see cases where there’s a video that completely contradicts the earlier testimony of an officer, and – surprise – the jury has one hold-out who just can’t be convinced. The judges are in on it, too: Philando Castille’s murderer was acquitted because the judge allowed the officers’ perjured testimony to stand (“He had his hand on the gun”) unchallenged, and blocked the admission of other forensic evidence that clearly showed the officer was lying. I’m going to use words like: “perjury” and “lying” and I’m not afraid to say that video recordings of incidents show that the police lied, and conspired together to establish their stories. In the video above, that’s what’s going on – in order for all three of those cops to tell the same story about what happened, they had to agree what story they were going to tell, because the story they told is not what happened. The press’ reporting of police lies downplays them, too. The press, which serves the interests of the middle and upper class, also has an interest in downplaying police lies. It’s horrifying and bizzare, to me, when I read things like:  [slate]

The forensic evidence and Reynold’s testimony would both seem to back up the prosecution’s account and rebut the defense’s version.

Let me fix that for you, journalism student:

The forensic evidence shows that the police officer falsified his report and lied in his testimony.

I’ve pointed this out, elsewhere, regarding the CIA torturers: for this sort of thing to happen, the whole system has to be in on it. There are logistics that know. There are evidence-rooms that know. There are prosecutors that know. There are cops that stand by with their arms crossed and know their partner filed a report that contains lies. There are people who have access to the logs of which cop cameras are on, and when. Right now there are other cops going through the video from those three cops – what else are they finding? Why isn’t it coming out? If you talked to a cop, off record, you’d hear that this stuff happens all the time. Then, they might say, “its what we gotta do because we know the guy’s dirty.”

What is our recourse when we know the cops are dirty?

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In 2007 I was a consultant to Taser/evidence.com on the security properties of the bodycams and the data transport/tamper-resistance aspects of the system. My client was deeply concerned, as they should be, that the system might be altered or interfered with – but I imagine nobody was really surprised when it turned out that various police departments wanted the cameras to be easier to interfere with. For one thing, the cameras don’t need to have an off-switch at all: battery technology is good enough that you can have a camera recording all the time. The cops kept coming up with cockamamie hypotheticals like “what if we encounter something really embarrassing to a citizen? we ought to be able to turn the camera off!” Yeah, riiiight.

Comments

  1. says

    The cops kept coming up with cockamamie hypotheticals like “what if we encounter something really embarrassing to a citizen?

    :Snort: Cops love anything which is really embarrassing to citizens. Gives them stories for fuckin’ choir practice.

  2. Siobhan says

    What is our recourse when we know the cops are dirty?

    Nothing that you or I consider desirable, despite anarchist stereotypes.

  3. says

    Shiv@#3:
    Nothing that you or I consider desirable, despite anarchist stereotypes.

    It is a fact that cops are usually some of the first up against the wall when revolutions come. When I look at the Minneapolis, Ferguson, New York, and Baltimore police departments, I gotta say I probably wouldn’t lift a finger to prevent it. I’m not at the point where I’d lift a finger to participate, though – but their victims ought to be.

    When we look at the history of the 50s and 60s there was a lot of anti-government violence. A lot of people don’t realize that but there were over 4 thousand bombings in 1969. And I’m not talking minor stuff like an amateur pipe-bomb in a dumpster: radicals were bombing and burning police stations, corporate headquarters, government offices, recruiting stations. Things that, in an insurgency I would consider valid military targets for the same reason that our government considers such facilities targets when they’re bombing them in Afghanistan or Syria. Bombing, burning, and assassination are a necessary form of communication that comes when a sufficient number of the people are disempowered and under stress. The US’ current policing and practices are in part a response to the 60s; the establishment hasn’t forgotten – you can see. The establishment has been enjoying a brief period in which the political violence has all been going one way. I don’t think it will last.

  4. says

    Tabby Lavalamp@#1:
    I hate union busting, but there is one union that needs to go…

    I agree. There’s a trope among some that unions are corrupt and in bed with organized crime, which has certainly been the case with many. Most notably, the police unions. They get a pass, because – in case nobody missed it – they’re awfully shooty and quick to retaliate.

  5. says

    Caine@#2:
    :Snort: Cops love anything which is really embarrassing to citizens. Gives them stories for fuckin’ choir practice.

    I know this posting could have read:

    Cops lie.

    but I’m trying not to post pointless clickbait.

  6. says

    The cops kept coming up with cockamamie hypotheticals like “what if we encounter something really embarrassing to a citizen? we ought to be able to turn the camera off!”

    And I thought cops would say that they need the off switch so that cops can have some privacy whenever they go to the toilet. But, seriously, this argument is flawed. A cop enters a crime scene, sees something embarrassing for the victim (for example, a crime victim’s hidden porn stash), the camera records it, then the cop realizes that the victim probably does not want this to appear anywhere on tape, the cop turns off the camera after the embarrassing scene is already caught on tape. A cop cannot predict when she will see anything embarrassing to a citizen. She cannot know in advance that she should turn off the camera. Cops know in advance when to turn off the camera only when they are the ones planning to do something embarrassing.

  7. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#7:
    A cop cannot predict when she will see anything embarrassing to a citizen. She cannot know in advance that she should turn off the camera. Cops know in advance when to turn off the camera only when they are the ones planning to do something embarrassing.

    The whole experience felt a lot like arguing with a 5 year-old: one flimsy argument after another, in an endless flood. Knock them down, and more zombie arguments would come groaning up and stumbling forward.

  8. sonofrojblake says

    I’m baffled why the police are even allowed to have a union. They’re not in the UK. The very idea that a government can place a requirement on their police service and the police can respond “nah, not doing that” should immediately ring alarm bells. That’s not a security service, that’s an occupying force.

  9. rhebel says

    As a former union president–teachers–the police unions neither supported us in the WI Act 10 debacle, norwere targeted as all other publicly supported groups were. I agree with the 1st comment, that I oppose union busting but for this one.

  10. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I strongly suspect / genuinely believe that we lost something important in our justice system about 100 or 150 years ago: The people lost the ability to perform criminal prosecutions. For about a hundred years at the start of this country, and for many centuries before that in the American colonies and England, anyone could press criminal charges against anyone. In the “modern” American context, e.g. circa 1800, you had to go before a grand jury, present evidence to show that you’re not just there to harass the future-defendant (plus a few other things), and the grand jury then gives you an indictment, and you or someone you nominated gets to be the prosecutor. Often, the victim was the prosecutor in criminal cases.

    “Prosecutorial impartiality” is one of the worst pernicious myths of our time. Of course prosecutors are going to be biased as fuck. That’s their job. And the best person to be motivated to do their job well is going to be the victim, and that’s why the victim should have the first opportunity to seek indictment (and after that, the family and friends of the victim).

    I strongly believe that this fix, the return of private criminal prosecutions, would do a world of good, and it would be relatively easy to do to. I also strongly suspect that nothing short of this will fix our problem with police.

    For more reading:
    This paper, which is mostly legit, and a good intro (I haven’t found better):
    http://www.constitution.org/lrev/roots/cops.htm

    My google doc:
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1EJRrzrZAuWv2tU4wz6GZLATBphmx72D__kV-5rdS2Ro/edit

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