Watch This One

Yesterday I published a posting that was substantially wrong. Ow! [stderr] But, it got me looking into the question of how cop departments pay off awards against them. It’s unsurprisingly murky, but there are stories that indicate how the delicate maneuvers are made.

Consider the large jury award to Mark Schand, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 27 years in spite of being innocent. [npr] Need I mention that Schand is black?

A man who served nearly three decades for a murder he didn’t commit was awarded $27 million – $1 million for each year he was in prison – by a federal jury last month.

When the jury foreman read out the award, “everybody started crying and stuff like that,” said Mark Schand.

Watch the little birdie:

In 2015, Schand sued the city of Springfield and four police officers for violating his civil rights. A judge dismissed the lawsuit against the city – that case is currently awaiting appeal – but allowed the one against the officers, all retired: Elmer McMahon, Leonard Scammons, Raymond Muise and Michael Reid.

Oh, hahaha! The city that imprisoned Schand for 27 years has the case against it dismissed, while the case against the retired cops is allowed to continue. Why is that? Could it have anything to do with the fact that a bunch of retired cops are never going to pony up $27 million? They’ll go bankrupt, keep their houses and a car and probably get support from the local police union. But the city gets away scot free. Fuck me sideways, that’s a pretty obvious dodge.

For Schand, the verdict is less about the money and more about the vindication. He got no help from the government after he was released. He had to fight the state attorney general’s office for a few hundred thousand dollars in statutory compensation – $450,000, minus attorneys’ fees – and even then, no one apologized.

The attorneys will have gobbled up half of that $450,000, because that’s the way the system works: if you’re poor and you can’t afford lawyers out of pocket, then you have to depend on lawyers that work for a slice of the action. And that’s usually a pretty large slice. Good god, what a massively corrupt system we’ve got going on here.

It gets worse:

In most cases, to win a lawsuit for wrongful conviction, plaintiffs have to prove there was official misconduct, not just a mistake.

Nice, huh? A “mistake” is not a “wrongful conviction.” Only official misconduct that cannot be claimed to be an error is a wrongful conviction. In other words, someone has to lie and say, “I screwed this thing here up.” I’ve dug into a few of these stories and that’s usually how it goes: by the way: “we forgot to look at this piece of exculpatory evidence by mistake” is a “mistake” not official misconduct. That’s why, when someone is wrongfully convicted, the entire system is balanced so as to make it hard for new evidence to be presented. In other words, the system is concerned with the appearance of correctness, not with justice. And that’s because the appearance of correctness has a lot to do with money.

But let’s add insult to injury:

The attorney for Springfield, Ed Pikula, wrote in an email that the city is considering options for appeal and that state law limits the city’s liability to $1 million per officer – or a total of $4 million.

Remember, the case against the city was dismissed, but the city is considering an appeal in order to protect the cops and nullify the jury’s decision.

Schand said he’s so used to the system failing him that he’s not counting on any of the money.

No shit, Schand is a smart guy. Well, he’s had 27 years to think about it.

Here’s a bit more about the case: [mass] The short form of the story is there was a gang on gang shooting and the police picked up Schand as a suspect in spite of his claims to have exculpatory evidence. Schand agreed enthusiastically to participate in a line-up, thinking it would exonerate him, but one of the witlesses picked Schand in the line-up saying that he was the one “the one with the bad teeth.” That ought to have been obvious to anyone, given that Schand has a mouthful of perfect teeth. The shooting occurred at night and the witness probably was in no position to see anyone’s teeth at all, which is problematic given that they claimed to identify Schand in a line-up.

They stole half of his life. The cops were probably thinking “What’s he complaining about? He’s lucky we didn’t shoot him.”


  1. xohjoh2n says

    Hmm. Things like this always irritate me:

    But the Louisville police officers who busted into the 26-year-old ER technician’s house and killed her will not pay a penny. Nor will the police department that sent them. The money for the settlement is coming, as these things always do, from taxpayers.

    If it did come from the police department, or even the police officers personally, surely ultimately it would also be coming from the taxpayers? Isn’t that bit basically a dishonest pile of emotive but content-free horseshit as a result?

    (Damn right the taxpayers pay it. Allowing these things comes with a cost – a cost that we all bear together. Don’t like it? Vote in better governance.)

  2. komarov says

    Re: xohjoh2n

    Sure, it’s all taxpayer money, always. That’s how government works. Even if they invested taxpayer money at a profit it would still all be “taxpayer money”.

    But it makes a huge difference whether your [government/municipal branch] is bleeding dry its own budget or a shared reserve pool (or even someone else’s budget). If you’ve spent your yearly allowance on preventable bullshit you’re limiting your options. Whether that’d be investing in personnel, training, equipment or just paying yourself off for a job well done, it’s not happening because the money is gone.
    Whereas if it was “city money” you burnt, you have your budget to spend on yourself, and ultimately someone else suffers for your mistakes. Those emergency reserves would have gone somewhere eventually. Unused budgets do get spent, not always wisely, but almost certainly they wouldn’t have gone into “police brutality payoffs” if the police had to pay for their mistakes out of their own pocket. That money might have become a gilded statue of the mayor (for a job well done), or next year’s budget for a brand new homeless shelter, or anything in between on the vast spectrum of public utility.

    Besides, since professional pride evidently isn’t a factor, monetary (dis)incentives are all that’s remains to keep some people in check.

  3. xohjoh2n says

    Sure, but the line in the paper suggests “you should care extra about this because it’s your money not theirs”, but even if it was their money, it would still be your money so that isn’t why you should be caring about it at all.

  4. komarov says

    I’d interpret the sentiment more along the lines, “they’re wasting taxpayer money and it’s not going to affect them one jot because that money was never really meant for them”, which is perfectly reasonable. The undertone of “no consequences” in those lines is pretty clear.
    This should be especially upsetting if you want to look at government spending in a wider context. Since at least 2008, “austerity” has been a popular excuse for governments all over to, tendentially, axe things people liked or needed, such as social support. So those things went away because “no money” aka “not enough taxes”. Yet police violence remains fullly funded, isn’t being addressed effectively, and sucks up city funds that were presumably put aside for real emergencies. That should rub people the wrong way.

    Ok, so it’s a “waste of taxpayer money” no matter where the money comes from, but the police has found a way to make it extra insulting. Or, if you only care about the accounting side of it: They’ve found a way to maximise it. Generic city funds go first. Then, maybe, police funds – unless, of course, they find some other piggy bank to nick and plunder.

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