Friday, November 28, 2014


Family Sues Cops After Death Of Gregory Towns Jr. While In Custody

ATLANTA (AP) -- The family of a man who died after Atlanta-area police used stun guns on him has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the former officers and the city, the family's lawyer said.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Fulton County Superior Court, says East Point police officers used their stun guns as many as 13 times on Gregory Towns Jr. while he was handcuffed. The lawsuit claims former police sergeant Marcus Eberhart and former corporal Howard Weems used excessive force in the April 11 incident.

"It's just heinous," attorney Chris Stewart told The Associated Press in a phone interview Thursday. "This isn't one of those cases where he punched an officer and they had to Taser him to calm him down."

The lawsuit comes amid increased attention on police use of force in the wake of the fatal shooting in of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Following that shooting, local police in Ferguson donned riot gear and fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who refused to disperse and, at times, broke into nearby businesses.

While many police officers use their authority appropriately, there are some who view any act of disobedience as a call for extreme action, Stewart said.

"In our case, it wasn't about color, obviously, because the officers were black," Stewart said. "It was about power. He didn't walk when they said walk. He didn't stand when they said stand. And he didn't move fast enough when they said move."

Calls to a number listed for Eberhart seeking comment went unanswered. Weems referred questions to his lawyer, Dale Preiser, who declined to comment. East Point acting city attorney Brad Bowman said the city doesn't comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit describes the family's version of events when police confronted Towns, 24.

Officers approached Towns as he was leaving his son's mother's apartment complex after having a domestic dispute with her, the lawsuit says. When officers approached and asked to talk to him, he ran away and officers caught up with him after he tripped over a tree branch and fell.

Officers handcuffed Towns and ordered him to get up and walk to a patrol car, but Towns said he was too tired from running. Weems threated to use his stun gun on Towns if he did not get up, the lawsuit says. Towns got up but soon fell over again, telling officers he was tired.

Stun gun logs Stewart said he obtained from the police department show the officers then used their stun guns on Towns as many as 13 times in a 30 minute period, though the police report indicates the stun gun was used fewer than five times, Stewart said.

Weems and Eberhart violated the department's stun gun policy, which says stun guns should not be used on someone who's handcuffed, should not be used to escort or prod someone and should not be used on someone who's offering only passive resistance, the lawsuit says.

An autopsy report from the Fulton County medical examiner's office says Towns died from "hypertensive cardiovascular disease exacerbated by physical exertion and conducted electrical stimulation." The report lists the manner of death as a homicide and cites stun gun use by police.

Eberhart resigned and Weems was fired and is in the process of appealing his termination, East Point spokeswoman Renita Shelton said.

The East Point police department, under the direction of former chief Woodrow Blue who resigned earlier this month, acted admirably in the wake of Towns' shooting, Stewart said. Immediate action was taken and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was called in right away to review the circumstances surrounding the shooting. Unlike in Ferguson, the community in East Point felt that the situation was immediately addressed and handled appropriately, Stewart said.

The GBI has completed a report on the case and turned it over to the office of Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, who will decide whether to present the case to a grand jury, Stewart said. Howard's office is still investigating, spokeswoman Yvette Jones said.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Towns' estate and his infant son, seeks compensatory and punitive damages.


Mall Security Guards Who Killed Unarmed Black Man Won't Be Charged

A prosecutor announced Thursday that no criminal charges will be brought in the case of an unarmed black man killed while being restrained by mall security guards.

McKenzie Cochran, 25, died at the Northland Mall in the Detroit suburb of Southfield in January. A day after he had been asked to leave the building over suspicious behavior, Cochran returned and reportedly told a worker at a mall jewelry store that he wanted to kill someone. The worker called security, and when Cochran wouldn't leave, guards pepper-sprayed and restrained him. He struggled on the ground as three officers held him for several minutes, one with a knee in his back.

Cell phone video shows Cochran crying out and saying, "I can't breathe," as shown in footage above from local outlet WJBK. He also asked for bystanders to call 911 and said he was dying.

"Stop resisting," a guard repeated several times during the incident, captured in a longer cell phone video from a bystander:

The Oakland County Medical Examiner's Office ruled Cochran's death an accident in March, naming the cause of death as position compression asphyxia.

Though she acknowledged that mistakes were made, Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said Thursday there was no proof of criminal intent, reports CBS Detroit.

"This is not an issue of whether these security guards were negligent," Cooper said, according to the Detroit News. "It's whether they were criminally negligent."

Cooper told reporters that the guards weren't trained to restrain Cochran properly. Security called local police but, in part because dispatch misidentified their location in the mall, it took 10 minutes for officers to arrive on the scene.

Cochran's family's attorney Gerald Thurswell told The Huffington Post that security also failed to tell the police that they were dealing with someone who had threatened to kill, which could have prompted a more urgent response.

Thurswell has filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Cochran's family against the mall, the individual guards and the security company, IPC International. But he told HuffPost that for Cochran's mother, it's not a substitute for criminal charges.

"The family was devastated," Thurswell said. "Her son's life was taken, a 25-year-old who didn't do anything wrong at all, and the people who killed him are not being held accountable through the criminal justice system."

Ron Scott, spokesman for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, addressed Cochran's death on Thursday.

"I don't know what an accident is, when you've got the knee in the back, compresses the chest cavity, which most police departments do not do, and security do not do, and then you say, 'He caused his own death by resisting,'" Scott told My Fox Detroit.


WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES: Surveillance footage from an Ohio Walmart store, where police killed a young black man who was holding a toy rifle (sold in Wal-Mart) and talking on his cellphone, shows he was was shot from the side as he moved to run away from advancing officers.

The family of a young black man who was killed by police in an Ohio Walmart while holding an unloaded BB rifle and speaking on his cellphone have called for action to be taken against a 911 caller who claimed he was pointing the gun at people.

John Crawford III was shot dead last month by an officer responding to an emergency call made by Ronald Ritchie, a shopper standing 100ft away, who repeatedly stated to the dispatcher that Crawford was pointing the air rifle at customers.

Ronald Ritchie, lied on 911 call

Surveillance footage and audio recordings released after a grand jury declined to indict the officer who shot Crawford showed that Crawford was holding the rifle at his side and pointing it to the floor at the time when Ritchie alleged that “he just pointed it at, like, two children”.

Crawford’s father and the family’s attorney said that Ritchie, 24, should be questioned by police over the discrepancy between the footage and his allegation, which he made about 80 seconds before Crawford was shot, and confirmed when asked soon after. Knowingly “making false alarms” is a crime under Ohio law punishable by a fine or jail sentence.

“He was the catalyst, if you will, in the whole sequence of events leading up to my son’s death,” John Crawford Jr told the Guardian. “It was a crank call. He excited the call, and exaggerated the call, and frankly it was just a bunch of lies.”

Ritchie declined to comment in an online message on Friday. He has previously maintained that Crawford posed a threat to shoppers and that the 911 call was justified.

Special prosecutor Mark Piepmeier stressed on Wednesday that the responding police officers were led to understand that Crawford was an active threat. One even called back to the dispatcher to check that the 911 caller said Crawford was pointing the rifle at people. “If he’s not there, we may not be here,” Piepmeier said of Ritchie at a press conference.

Michael Wright, the attorney for the Crawford family, said Ritchie “should be questioned on why the footage and what he said does not match”. Wright said: “He’s basically lying with the dispatchers, he’s making up the story. So should he be prosecuted? Yes, I believe so.”

Ritchie had said of Crawford near the start of his 911 call: “He’s, like, pointing it at people.” He subsequently told the Guardian that “at no point did [Crawford] shoulder the rifle and point it at somebody”, stressing instead that he had been “waving it around” and that the muzzle moved in the direction of other shoppers.

The surveillance footage released on Wednesday shows Crawford passing shoppers with the gun at his side. After arriving in a corner of the store, he is seen swinging the rifle at his side and holding it towards a store shelf containing pet products while standing alone and talking on his cellphone for five minutes.

The children who Ritchie appeared to claim were under threat from Crawford were in the store with their mother, Angela Williams. Williams, 37, died of a heart attack in the panic that ensued among customers following the police shooting. “I hope that he’s happy with himself,” her teenage son said of Ritchie in a Facebook post earlier this month.

Ritchie also told several reporters after the shooting that he was an “ex-marine”. The Guardian disclosed last month that he was thrown out after seven weeks in 2008, after being declared a “fraudulent enlistment”. He states that the problem was a mix-up in his paperwork.

In January 2012, Ritchie pleaded guilty in the Montgomery County municipal court to theft. All records of the incident have been expunged by the court and the Huber Heights police department. In 2010 he was fined $250 and given a year’s probation after being convicted by Miamisburg municipal court of possession of drug paraphernalia.

Ritchie and his wife, April, have not spoken publicly since his Guardian interview. Both have changed their names on social media. The day before he called 911 about Crawford, Ritchie posted a meme on his Facebook page featuring the comedian Gabriel Iglesias. “Me, racist? The only race I hate is the one you have to run,” it read. The post has since been removed.

One month later, Ritchie shared with his friends a story from the Tea Party News Network about a group of black men assaulting a white couple in Missouri. The story condemned President Barack Obama and Eric Holder, the attorney general, for ignoring the attack after speaking publicly about the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, in Ferguson, Missouri, last month. It described them as “race hustlers”.

April Ritchie told reporters following the Walmart shooting that she had warned other shoppers to avoid Crawford in the store. When the Guardian requested an interview with April Ritchie via social media, she replied in a message that she was not April Ritchie. After being reminded that she was, she threatened to “contact the police and file harassment charges”.


Family, friends seek answers for woman who died in police custody

PAGEDALE, MO (KTVI) – The family and friends of a woman who died while in custody at the Pagedale city jail want answers.

Kimberlee Randale-King was arrested for traffic warrants.

Hours later St. Louis County police officers told King’s mother that she had hung herself in her cell.

Relatives say King was not a depressed person.

Pagedale police have video of the cell area. But relatives say they don`t know what it shows.

But say the cell was small with little room for someone to hang themselves with a shirt.

King had no known history of mental illness.

Pagedale police had no comment while the incident is investigated by St. Louis County Police.


HOUMA, La. – A deputy in the Terrebone Parish Sheriff's Office shot and killed a 14-year-old boy as two deputies investigated reports of a group of people with weapons running into an abandoned home just before 6 p.m. Tuesday, according to the sheriff's office.

The incident happened in Kirkglen Loop after deputies were called to the scene just before 6 p.m. The teen who was shot and killed was identified by relatives as 14-year-old Cameron Tillman who was a student at Ellender High School.

The deputy was not identified by name, but the Terrebonne Sheriff's Office said he is an African-American, 7-year veteran of the patrol division, a field training officer and a member of the TPSO SWAT team. A spokesman for the department said the officer has no previous disciplinary infractions during his career.

The sheriff's office said that two officers were responding to the call. "While attempting to make contact with the suspects inside of an abandoned residence on the street, shot an armed suspect."

State Police, who took over the investigation due it involving an officer with the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office, said only that "a weapon was recovered in close proximity to the 14-year-old's body."

Family members dispute the contention that Tillman was armed. Andre Tillman, Cameron's brother, was inside the abandoned house at the time of the shooting. He said somebody knocked on the door. "My little brother thought somebody was just clowning, because somebody is always clowning by the door. He opened (it) and the man just shot him. He didn't have nothing in his hand."

Louisiana State Police Trooper Evan Harrell said what happened exactly is under investigation.

The incident, according to Harrell, began with a 911 call around 6 p.m. with a caller informing police that several suspects ran into a house with weapons on Kirkglen Loop.

"What transpired on the scene is being processed right now," said Harrell. "Because the officer and the 14-year-old deserve a thorough investigation."

Three suspects are in custody -- two juveniles and an 18-year-old, Harrell said. A fifth suspect escaped out the rear of the residence, according to the deputy's initial statement. Harrell said the home was abandoned at the time.

"The individual that was fatally wounded, his family, everybody deserves a proper investigation, and that's what we're here to do," Harrell said. "And until we get everything nailed down, squared away, we'll be out here as long as it takes."

Residents of the loop said the run-down brick home the shooting took place in had been vacant for more than a year. Local kids were often seen going in and out of the building, which neighbors said had been empty since its last occupant left.

Family and friends described Tillman as a timid and respectful teenager. He was a "tremendous athlete" starring in both basketball and football during junior high, said family friend Michael Legarde, who is a teacher at Ellender.

Legarde said Tillman and his sons were close friends for most their lives and that Tillman was taking a year off athletics to focus on his studies.

"He had heard all the hype about high school and just wanted to concentrate on his grades for the first year," Legarde said.

Legarde said Tillman lived a few streets down from the house where he died. He added that he believed "there was no way" Tillman and the others were robbing the home because it was completely empty. He knew this because he considered purchasing the property to add to about 20 others he rents out in the neighborhood.

"I look at him as one of my sons," he said looking out at a sea of blue lights illuminating the neighborhood. "It's a shame. This was a good kid, never caused any trouble."

Josh Miles, Tillman's cousin, echoed those sentiments. "He stayed out of trouble. He was just a good kid," Miles said. "I told the sheriff that as scared as he was, he'd never point anything at anybody."

Pregnant woman loses eye after Saint Louis police shoot bean bag at her

A pregnant St. Louis woman lost her left eye after a violent run-in with law enforcement earlier this week.

Dornnella Conners says an officer fired a non-lethal bean-bag round at the car she was in – shattering the passenger side window.

Shards of glass bloodied her face and robbed her of sight in her left eye, according to reports.

“I will have justice for what they did to me but I’m happy I’m alive,” she wrote on Facebook on Thanksgiving.

Conners was injured early Tuesday morning shortly after the announcement that Darren Wilson would not be indicted in the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Crowds of demonstrators had taken to the streets to protest what they consider a travesty of justice.

Conners, who was angry about the grand jury’s decision, and her boyfriend, De’Angelas Lee, were parked at a BP gas station on New Halls Ferry Road in St. Louis, just north of Ferguson, KMOV reported.

As her boyfriend started to drive away, she says, several police officers arrived.

“They pulled up while we were coming towards the street, De’Anglas was trying to get away, they blocked us from the side, front and back,” Conners told the CBS affiliate.

That’s when an officer fired the bean bag round because he feared for his safety, police said.

Conners found another officer who could help her get medical attention.

Dornella’s father, Donnell Conners, says he understands that the cops have a difficult job to do but there was no excuse for what happened to his daughter.

“I’m very upset, very disappointed with tactics that they used trying to get control of situation,” he told KMOV. “I understand tough job, I understand that it was chaos, there was no reason to fire upon innocent person sitting in a vehicle.”

Conners says her left eye was so badly damaged that it needed to be removed and reports blurriness in her right eye but is thankful she can still see the world at all.

Police say they arrested 16 suspects at the station after gunshots were reportedly fired.

Authorities have issued a warrant for Lee’s arrest, according to reports.

Officer kills man through car door in his driveway

Ernest Satterwhite was a laid-back former mechanic with a habit of ignoring police officers who tried to pull him over — an act of defiance that ultimately got him killed.

The 68-year-old black great-grandfather was shot to death after a slow-speed chase as he parked in his own driveway, by a 25-year-old white police officer who repeatedly fired through the driver's side door.

Investigators determined that North Augusta Public Safety Officer Justin Craven broke the law. A prosecutor, in a rare action against a police officer, sought to charge him with voluntary manslaughter, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. But the grand jury disagreed, indicting him on a misdemeanor.

The debate over how police use force against unarmed people has become a national issue since an unarmed 18-year-old black man was shot to death in August by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, where unrest still lingers.

But most police shootings make only local headlines, and just for a day or two. The refusal of authorities to release public information about these on-duty actions by taxpayer-paid officials is a big reason why. As with many such killings, Satterwhite's death in February remains shrouded in mystery.

Video can make a difference: South Carolina gained the national spotlight last week after a dashboard camera showed how in just a few seconds Trooper Sean Groubert went from asking motorist Levar Jones for his license for a supposed seat belt violation, to shooting at him repeatedly without provocation, even as Jones put his hands in the air. Jones was hit once and is recovering.

State Public Safety Director Leroy Smith called that shooting "disturbing," and Groubert was promptly fired and charged with felony assault.

Sometimes, the video can exonerate officers: In August, a South Carolina prosecutor refused to file criminal charges against a York County deputy who wounded a 70-year-old man after mistaking his cane for a shotgun during an after-dark traffic stop. Using video, the sheriff showed how the cane's shaft could be mistaken for a gun barrel in the dim light.

So far, 35 people were shot by police in South Carolina this year; 16 were killed. The state is on pace to surpass last year's total of 42 people shot by police.

In Satterwhite's case, prosecutors won't say why they sought a felony charge against Craven, who chased Satterwhite for 9 miles, beyond city limits and into Edgefield County.

Experts say it's the first time an officer was charged in a fatal shooting in roughly a decade. But the grand jury opted for "misconduct in office," a charge used for sheriffs who make inmates do their personal work, or officers who ask for bribes. Their single-page indictment, returned in August, contains no details other than accusing Craven of "using excessive force and failing to follow and use proper procedures."

Black leaders were astonished that an officially unjustified shooting of an unarmed man should merit such a light charge.

"It diminishes the nature of the violation — of the death. This man's life is only worth a misdemeanor?" said state Rep. Joe Neal, a Democrat who has spent decades speaking out against racism in law enforcement and demanding accountability through data and police cameras.

Neal, who is black, also wants authorities to release evidence more quickly in police-involved shootings. Authorities often say doing so could taint potential jurors. Neal says that doesn't give people enough credit.

The State Law Enforcement Division denied requests filed by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act to learn what evidence was gathered against Craven. Solicitor Donnie Myers, who is handling the case, didn't return phone calls. North Augusta Police, the Edgefield County Sheriff's Office and Craven's lawyer, Jack Swerling, declined to comment.

The few details released raised concerns among law enforcement experts. In the likely 10 to 15 minutes he trailed Satterwhite, Craven should have had time to learn he was headed home and had no violent incidents on his criminal record, said University of South Carolina criminology professor Geoffrey Alpert.

Police records show Satterwhite had been arrested more than a dozen times for traffic violations, most of them for driving under suspension or under the influence. Most of the charges led to convictions. He also was charged at least three times for failing to stop as officers tried to pull him over. But his record shows no evidence he ever physically fought with an officer.

Edgefield County deputies who joined in the chase reported that Craven ran up to Satterwhite's parked car and fired several shots into the driver's side door, telling the other officers that Satterwhite tried to grab his gun. The other officers couldn't get Satterwhite's door open, so they broke the passenger side window, unlocked that door and dragged him out.

"Why would he run up to the car like that?" asked Alpert. "Why would he put himself in a situation to use deadly force? Why would he put his gun close enough for him to grab it?"

Satterwhite, who worked for years as a mechanic, liked to fish and was remembered by his family as a laid-back man who kept to himself, left behind six children, 16 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Seven months after the funeral, and eight days after his indictment, Craven was put on administrative leave — with pay.

Satterwhite's family then sued the North Augusta Department of Public Safety, Edgefield County and its sheriff's office.

The lawsuit alleges Craven ignored the Edgefield deputies' orders to stop and let them manage the chase when it entered their county, about 2 miles from Satterwhite's home. It claims Satterwhite never tried to grab the officer's gun when Craven fired five times, hitting him with four bullets — two in the chest.

The family says the officers yanked the mortally wounded man out of the car, restrained him and left him on the ground unattended until paramedics arrived.

Their lawyer, Carter Elliott, hopes to force authorities to release any video and other evidence.

North Augusta's Public Safety Department has refused to release any details about Craven's history. City officials didn't make him available for interviews, and he didn't respond to emails.

Police agencies hurt their own credibility when they withhold information, allowing rumors and speculation to fill the void, Alpert said.

"They work for us — the public," Alpert said. "You need to put as much accurate information out there as you can to get in front of the issue and create your own story."

Black Sheriff's deputy shot dead by other deputies