Category Archives: Police Misconduct

Another faulty drug test

A 66 year old woman was held in jail 12 days because of a faulty drug test:

In April, Janet Goodin of Warroad, Minn., was crossing into Canada for an evening of bingo with her daughters when an officer with the Canadian Border Service conducted a routine search of her van. The officer found an old bottle of motor oil, did a field test and told her that it contained heroin.

“I can’t even describe the feeling of amazement,” Goodin, 66, said in an interview. “I said, ‘That’s not possible, it’s leftover oil.'”

The bottle was re-tested, and agents said it again revealed the presence of heroin. Goodin was arrested, handcuffed and taken to jail, where she was strip-searched. The motor oil was sent to a Canadian federal laboratory, which eventually determined there was no heroin in it. After 12 days behind bars, Goodin was released.

Goodin’s case has been seized upon by critics who question the reliability of field drug-test kits, which are used widely by law enforcement.

“She is what you call collateral damage in the drug war,” said former FBI special agent Frederic Whitehurst, a North Carolina attorney and forensic consultant with a Ph.D. in analytic chemistry, who has publicly raised concerns about field drug-test kits. “When you run the tests, you run into all sorts of problems from overzealous cops.”

Goodin was actually arrested twice: first by the Border Service, which performed the field test, and then by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), which took over her case from the Border Service.

The Border Service won’t explain how they made the mistake. But Sgt. Line Karpish of the RCMP said her agency used “reasonable grounds” based on information it got from the Canadian Border Service. She noted that drugs are smuggled into Canada by all types of people. “We find it in diapers, we find it on old ladies, young ladies, beautiful ladies,” Karpish says. “You can’t let ‘grandma’ cloud your judgment about the police force. That’s why terrorists use kids.”

No, Sgt Karpish, we don’t want “grandma” to cloud your judgment, but we do want you to be a little more responsible when it comes to holding people in jail over faulty drug tests.

Twelve days is absolutely unreasonable. Has anyone ever noticed that time doesn’t seem to matter to the people responsible for holding someone else in jail?

As Radley Balko points out, you can now add oil to the list of false positives. Chocolate chip cookies, deodorant, billiards chalk, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, patchouli, spearmint, eucalyptus and breath mints.

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Illegal search warrant results in a $100K jury verdict

It started out as a rent dispute in an unrelated landlord tenant case. It ended up with a $100,000 jury verdict against a police investigator in a § 1983 action for an unreasonable search.

The tenant won the rent dispute case based on landlord’s failure to prove ownership of the property.  The tenant then reported the case to the police alleging fraud. Denise Balinski, an investigator for the Detroit Police Department, conducted an investigation.

During this investigation, Balinski learned that Myabrooke Properties had previously purchased the property for $1 and later sold it for $90,000. Ronald Ellison was the President and owner of Myabrooke Properties. It appears that Ellison made a pretty good deal. It appears that Balinski thought it was too good. Even though she knew that Ellison had already sold the property, she wanted the documents. From the court opinion:

Defendant then requested that he bring her documents proving this transaction, and refused to answer when Plaintiff inquired about the reason for the investigation. Plaintiff subsequently ignored further phone messages from Defendant repeating her request for the documents, and never provided them to Defendant.

We know what happened next. Investigator Balinski then obtained a search warrant for Ellison’s home. Here is what the court said in affirming the verdict against Balinski:

In any case, even assuming the existence of probable cause as to the occurrence of a crime, the affidavit failed entirely to establish a nexus between the material to be seized and the place to be searched. The affidavit did not state how Defendant came to know that MyaBrooke Properties was located at the residence, or, more critically, why documentation of an allegedly fraudulent mortgage might with a fair probability be found there. Given these rather stark defects in the affidavit, a reasonable jury could conclude that Defendant lacked probable cause when she applied for the warrant to search Plaintiff’s residence.

It’s worth mentioning that the court rejected Balinski’s claim of immunity. It’s also worth mentioning the court upheld an additional award of $102,480.00 in attorney’s fees to Plaintiff.

H/T: Fourth Amendment.com

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Police Brutality: The chicken or the egg?

Here is the link for a video of a group of police officers, some on horseback, beating an unarmed college student. The video is making the rounds on the blogosphere.  I first saw it on Bobby Frederick’s blog, who gave a hat tip to Brian Tannebaum. Of course, Scott Greenfield weighed in on it as well.

Tannebaum‘s post is titled Roll the tape, And hold the Stale Defense and that pretty much tells it all. When the police are caught red handed, their defense is always: But the tape doesn’t show it all. It doesn’t look like that old line will work this time. Bobby has another article tying police misconduct to the local scene. Greenfield hopes it won’t be seen as just another bad apple (or apples in this case). All three make excellent points and you should read the articles.

Let’s recap: the lame defense won’t work; it happens in your town; and it happens more than you might think. I have one thing to add. What kind of person would do such a thing as the cops do in this video?

I can’t think of anything to aptly describe the pathology involved in this cruel beating. It is heartless and gutless. It makes me wonder what came first, the heartless and gutless person who would savagely beat an unarmed and helpless man, or the police officer?  Is this an example of a type person who longs to become a police officer so he can have the opportunity to abuse people? Or is it simply a case of the environment fostering this type behavior? Either way, it’s shameful and it shouldn’t be tolerated. Not by those in charge at the police department, not by the citizens whose lives the officers swore to protect and certainly not by those who can make a difference – the jury.

The obligatory disclaimer: I know many officers who would never condone, let alone participate in, such behavior. Unfortunately, it appears that those officers are becoming the minority.

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Drug Charges Dismissed Against S.C. Officer

Earlier this week the Fourth Circuit Solicitor dismissed a possession of marijuana with intent to distribute charge against Officer Dominick Robinson. Robinson was a school resource officer. He has been suspended without pay since his arrest.

According to WPDE news:

Investigators say Robinson confiscated the drugs from a case he was working and didn’t immediately turn them in as evidence at the Darlington Police Department. They say he went out of town for some training and forgot the drugs were at his home.

Investigators say the evidence was mishandled, but it doesn’t appear there was [any] criminal intent.

The article is short and it raises more questions than it answers. Presumably the “case he was working” was a school case. How can it be that he took the drugs home? If the case involved a student, then there are two logical scenarios.

One, the student was detained until he or she could go before a family court judge for a detention hearing; or two, the parents were called to pick up the student. Either scenario should require a Department of Juvenile Justice screening. That’s a lot of paper work to be turned in and processed.  How could Robinson process the case without turning in the drugs.

Drug cases are different than other crimes for many reasons. Two obvious reasons are testing and chain of custody. In a drug case, the state must prove that the drugs are really drugs. They have to be tested by someone certified to test drugs. The state also has to prove that the drug tested is actually what they took from the defendant. Simply stated, the state must show where the drugs have been and who handled them.

I believe it’s safe to say that the state’s case against whoever the officer took the drugs from is completely blown now. Even if that person was an adult, it’s still hard to imagine a scenario where the officer would take the drugs home.

Another question concerns the charge against the officer. Simple possession is a lessor included offense of possession with intent to distribute. If the investigators found no evidence of criminal intent, does that mean the officer was charged with simple possession instead? It certainly appears that he could be. That’s unlikely because, according to the article, Robinson will return to work next week.

Like I said, the article doesn’t give us much information. Maybe it’s best just to do two things: One, don’t put too much faith in what we read in the news about suspects; and two, presume everyone innocent until proven guilty.  After all, isn’t that what we teach?

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Police Chief Resigns over fake cop allegations

Last month I wrote a post about John A. Brinkley, the convicted felon, posing as a police officer and assisting in traffic stops. Today, according to the Log Cabin Democrat, the Chief of Police has resigned over the affair.

Mayflower Police Chief Richard Shaw has resigned amid allegations that he allowed a convicted felon on probation for felony hot check charges and with pending felony charges of credit card fraud and theft to carry a gun and police equipment.

In addition to the wearing a police-type uniform and duty belt with a Glock handgun and driving a vehicle outfitted with flashing blue lights, it turns out

that investigators had also found Brinkley in possession of a police radio and body armor, apparently “issued to him by Mayflower PD.”

The article paints a persuasive picture that this “volunteer” had the permission of the local police. Still no word on whether he wrote any tickets or made any arrests. I can’t imagine what the police were thinking, if and when they authorized Brinkley’s actions.

Could you imagine a suppression hearing with Brinkley as the star witness. People are scared enough when they are stopped by the police with blue lights, gun and dog. This article should give them good reason the next time they are pulled over.

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Stoddard Released from Jail

Maricopa County Detention Officer Adam Stoddard was released from jail today pending his appeal according to KTAR.com.

Stoddard’s lawyer Thomas Liddy says the officer did learn a lesson through all of this. “He fully appreciates the history and the value of the attorney-client privilege now,” he said.

That is an interesting comment. I wonder if Mr. Liddy forgot that the reason Stoddard went to jail is because he refused to apologize because he didn’t do anything wrong. I also wonder if this means that Stoddard now knows what he did was wrong.  I bet the sheriff didn’t approve Liddy’s statement.  I wonder what will happen next.

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Two Horry County Police Officers Suspended

From the Sun News:

Chairman Bob Grabowski, who also is vice chairman for County Council, said an investigation in the department found that Pfc. David Rexroad and Cpl. Wesley Harris were paid a considerable amount of money for working special duty shifts in the Prestwick community off S.C. 544 during times when records show they were not in that area.

Apparently the GPS locators in the patrol car indicated they were not where they were supposed to be.

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Traffic Stop: Fake Cop; Fake Dog

Before you begin the Fourth Amendment analysis on your next traffic stop case, ask these questions instead. Is the officer a real police officer or is he a convicted felon? Is the drug dog certified?

According to the Log Cabin Democrat:

A Hilltop Volunteer Fire Department fireman has been arrested on suspicion of imitating a police officer in Mayflower, and Mayflower Chief of Police Richard Shaw has been suspended with pay pending the outcome of a Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office investigation.

Turns out that John A. Brinkley, dressed in “police markings” with duty belt and pistol, was using his personal vehicle with blue lights and drug dog to assist in traffic stops. Brinkley is a volunteer fireman, he is not a police officer. He is also a convicted felon. He is also under arrest.

Brinkley was arrested on suspicion of possession of a firearm by certain persons, criminal impersonation of a police officer, possession of blue lights and driving on a license suspended for DUI.

The article did not say if Brinkley made any arrests or how long he was assisting with the traffic stops. I wonder if he was able to, under the totality of the circumstances, develop a reasonable suspicion to prolong any of the stops. I wonder if he (or the dog) determined probable cause to search any of the vehicles.

Police officers will almost always argue that a defendant was nervous when trying to validate reasonable suspicion or probable cause. It’s scary enough when a citizen is stopped by an armed officer with blue lights, gun and dog. This article might make someone a little more nervous.

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