Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke charged with First Degree Murder for killing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald UPDATED

November 24, 2015

UPDATE: Added the video that was just uploaded to youtube. The sound isn’t working right. Couldn’t hear the gunshots, but McDonald is walking away and no threat to anyone when he was shot.

Anita Alvarez, the Cook County state’s attorney, has announced at a press conference, which is still in progress, that she has charged Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke with First Degree Murder for killing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald on October 20th of last year. The shooting, which was recorded by a dashcam video, will be released for viewing by the public later today or tomorrow

According to Ms. Alvarez, it shows Officer Van Dyke shoot McDonald twice in the upper chest. After McDonald fell to the ground, the officer emptied his 16-shot clip firing repeatedly at McDonald striking him in the scalp, neck, back, both arms, and both legs near the groin. When he ran out of bullets he replaced the empty clip with a new 16-shot clip and took aim. Another officer present prevented him from squeezing off more shots by grabbing his arm and ordering him to stop.

McDonald died on the way to a hospital.

USA Today is reporting,

Cook County Judge Donald Panarese, Jr. ordered Van Dyke be held without bail until at least Monday, when he called on prosecutors to return with the dashcam video from a police squad car that captured footage of Van Dyke shooting McDonald.

“I believe it is pertinent,” Panarese told attorneys Tuesday during the bail hearing.

Van Dyke’s attorney Daniel Herbert said his client feared for his life after police answered a call about a young man who was acting erratically. A Chicago police union official also told reporters soon after the incident that McDonald, who had PCP in his system at the time of his death and was holding a knife with a four-inch blade, lunged at the officer.

Prosecutors told the court the video clearly shows that McDonald was not advancing on Van Dyke, who started firing  six seconds after he got out of his squad car. The shots were fired over 14 to 15 second period. During 13 of the 15 seconds, McDonald was on the ground, prosecutors said.

The City of Chicago offered to settle the case months ago for $5 million even though McDonald’s family had not filed a lawsuit. That should tell you how unjustified and indefensible they regarded the shooting to be.

Although the case was settled, reporters and others pressed the police to release the dashcam video. Police refused. Eventually, they had to sue the city and the police department to force them to release it. After watching the video, Mayor Rahm Emanuel objected to releasing the video because he feared riots. Nevertheless, a Cook County judge ordered the video released no later than tomorrow.

Ms. Alvarez admitted during her press conference that she filed the charge today to beat tomorrow’s deadline. However, she denied that her office had delayed the investigation and she insisted that she had decided a month ago to charge Van Dyke with first degree murder. She said she decided to wait in order to permit the US Department of Justice and the FBI to complete their investigation.

I do not believe that, but I do agree with her charging decision because, based on what she said, the officer was not in imminent danger of being attacked when he fired, none of the officers who were present when Van Dyke arrived drew their guns or believed themselves to be in danger, the knife McDonald carried in his hand was only 3.5 inches long and the blade was folded up in the handle, McDonald did not act aggressively, and Van Dyke shot him 14 times after McDonald fell to the ground and ceased to be any threat at all.

That ain’t self-defense.

(Scroll down in the USA Today link to see the autopsy drawing that shows the entry and exit wounds)

 

 


University of Missouri President resigned under intense pressure for failing to deal with racism on campus

November 9, 2015

The New York Times is reporting,

The president, Timothy M. Wolfe, had grown increasingly isolated, with opposition to his leadership reaching a crescendo in the last few days: The faculty council issued a statement of concern about him; football players said they would refuse to play until he left, potentially costing the university millions of dollars; the university’s student government on Monday demanded his ouster; and much of the faculty canceled classes for two days, in favor of a teach-in focused on race relations.

The problem is racially motivated harassment of black students that followed on the heels of the murder* of Michael Brown and the Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson and other cities around the country. The incidents culminated recently when someone painted a swastika with human feces on a campus dormitory wall and the administration did nothing about it. The Washington Post is reporting,

Tensions were high on campus Monday morning — with a student on a hunger strike, others camped out in solidarity, faculty members canceling classes and members of the football team threatening to boycott the rest of the season. In the morning, the Missouri Students Association, which represents the school’s undergraduates, formally called for Wolfe’s removal, with a letter decrying the administration’s silence after the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, a black man, by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and charging that Wolfe had “enabled a system of racism” on the Columbia campus and had failed the students.

The graduate student who went on the hunger strike that brought this situation to a head is Jonathan Butler. In an interview with the Washington Post, five days into his hunger strike he explained why he decided to risk his life.

For me, I’m fighting for justice. It’s really plain and simple.

When you localize it to the hunger strike it really is about the environment that is on campus. We have reactionary, negligent individuals on all levels at the university level on our campus and at the university system level, and so their job descriptions explicitly say that they’re supposed to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students … but when we have issues of sexual assault, when we have issues of racism, when we have issues of homophobia, the campus climate continues to deteriorate because we don’t have strong leadership, willing to actually make change. So, for me, I’m fighting for a better tomorrow. As much as the experiences on campus have not been that great for me — I had people call me the n-word, I had someone write the n-word on the a door in my residence hall — for me it really is about a call for justice. I’m fighting for the black community on campus, because justice is worth fighting for. And justice is worth starving for.

Mr. Butler, who joined the Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson and learned how to use patience and peaceful protests to move mountains is a courageous and righteous young man who risked his life to force the university to acknowledge the problem and do something about it. He inspired thirty black football players to announce that they would not play another game until the president resigned and steps were taken to resolve the problem in a public manner. The head coach, Gary Pinkel, backed them 100% announcing that the team and the coaching staff would join their boycott. Michael Sam, the All-American defensive end who may have destroyed his chance to play in the NFL by publicly announcing that he was gay before the NFL draft a couple of years ago, explained to MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts, who also is gay, that the football team regards itself as a family. Racist attacks against black students and players is an attack against every member of the family and that explains why the coaching staff and other players stood up for Jonathan Butler and all black students.

He also inspired many faculty members who decided to cancel their classes today and replace them with teach-ins about racism on campus and what to do about it.

I have been watching the situation unfold on a campus where only 7% of the students are black. Columbia, Missouri is only a couple of hours from Ferguson and many students are from the greater St.Louis area where there was considerable hatred and criticism directed against blacks in general and Black Lives Matter protesters in particular. Many students carried that hatred with them to the campus and expressed it publicly by harassing black students and calling them the “N” word. Despite complaints about the harassment, the administration ignored it in true ivory-tower fashion.

Jonathan Butler deserves the lion’s share of the credit for penetrating the ivory tower and forcing its detached administrators to acknowledge the hatred and racism on campus. Thanks to him and those who supported him the university community now has an opportunity to confront racism and do something about it.

He’s a true American hero and I hope President Obama will honor him by awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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*I realize that a state grand jury declined to indict the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, but I believe the prosecution rigged the outcome to reach that result by intentionally using the secrecy of the grand jury process. They achieved this result by controlling the evidence presented, including leading the officer through a very soft non-confrontational examination, and improperly instructing the grand jury regarding applicable law with a statute that was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) in the late 1980s. Unfortunately, there is no appeal from the grand jury’s decision. While the prosecution could have submitted the case to a new grand jury, they had no reason to do so since they obtained the result they wanted. I predicted the outcome and warned readers that prosecutors often abuse grand jury secrecy to protect police officers who kill civilians.


Corey Jones should be alive today

October 21, 2015

Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja shot and killed Corey Jones, 31, on an interstate exit ramp to Palm Beach Gardens on Sunday morning at approximately 3:30 am. The shooting never should have happened.

Jones was a professional musician who played in a church band that had been touring the country recently. His car had broken down as he was driving home after playing a gig. He stopped along an exit ramp off I-95 to Palm Beach Gardens and he was waiting for a tow truck when Officer Raja arrived. Raja was on-duty dressed in plain clothes and driving an unmarked vehicle.

CBS News, Channel 12 reported,

A spokeswoman for the Palm Beach Gardens Police, Ellen Lovejoy, said Raja claimed he came upon what he believed to be an abandoned vehicle on the southbound exit ramp of Interstate 95 at PGA Boulevard.  Lovejoy said Raja claimed he was confronted by an armed subject.

Police say, as a result of the confrontation, Raja fired his weapon, killing Corey Jones at the scene.

Difficult to imagine why Jones would have ‘confronted’ Raja, since he was patiently waiting for a tow truck to arrive.

Indeed, Jones’s friend and fellow band member, Boris Simoneov told CBS News, Channel 12,

Everything seemed normal. Corey was completely himself.  We shook hands gave each other a high-five and he left and I finished putting away some of the gear and equipment.

I don’t understand how anyone could ever perceive Corey is a threat he’s the most level-headed, calm kind-hearted person.

Simoneov also told Channel 12 that another band member met up with Jones, just before the police arrived, to help him after his car broke down. He declined the offer since the tow truck was on the way, so the friend left.

Channel 12 CBS News, interviewed Corey’s uncle, Kenneth Banks,

Banks spoke publicly at the church Corey played drums for and was a well known community figure for volunteering and helping with children, he said.

Jones was known for working hard and being the church drummer.

He called his nephew ‘a servant for the community.’

Channel 12 CBS News recently reported that police said,

Raja has been with Palm Beach Gardens Police since April 2015.  He was working as part of a burglary detail at the time of the shooting.

Palm Beach Gardens Police Chief Stephen Stepp said deputies with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office found a gun on the ground outside Jones’ car after the shooting.  Stepp also said officers found the box it came in, and said the serial number on the box matched the number on the gun.

Stepp said authorities confirmed Jones bought the gun three days prior to the police shooting, according to paperwork obtained by detectives with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

Like I said, Corey Jones should be alive today.

Benjamin Crump is representing his family.

 

 


Accused killer of Deputy Darren Goforth has history of serious mental illness

September 1, 2015

Shannon J. Miles, 30, has been accused of killing Harris County Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth. Yesterday morning a judge reviewed the district attorney’s charging documents and found probable cause to believe that Mr. Miles committed the murder. The judge also denied bail which means Mr. Miles will continue to be held while the district attorney seeks a capital murder indictment from a grand jury. A capital murder charge means that Mr. Miles could potentially be sentenced to death if he is found guilty.

The Houston Chronicle is reporting today,

In 2012, the Travis County District Attorney’s Office charged Miles with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after he got into a fight at a homeless shelter over a remote control, prosecutor Joe Frederick said. Miles was found to be mentally incompetent in October 2012 and he was sent to North Texas State Hospital in Vernon, Texas.

“From this case, you could never tell what would happen” in the future, Frederick said, adding that prosecutors treated the case as a “very serious offense” and had offered Miles a plea agreement of seven years in prison. Miles was declared mentally competent in February 2013, but the charge was dropped after the victim could not be located, Frederick said.

A person has to be legally competent in order to stand trial. The legal test for competency is whether a person understands what crime(s) he is charged with and the potential consequences he faces if convicted. He also must be able to communicate with his lawyer and assist him to prepare a defense. To be adjudicated incompetent to stand trial, a person must be so delusional and confused that he cannot distinguish between reality and illusion. In most cases an incompetent defendant can be restored to competency by administering anti-psychotic medication. We saw that happen with Jared Laughner (who shot and killed U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and a federal judge at a meet-and-greet in Tucson, AZ) and James Holmes (who killed 12 and wounded 70 people at a movie theater in Aurora, CO). Laughner avoided a potential death penalty by pleading guilty and was sentenced to LWOP. Holmes was sentenced to LWOP by a jury after it rejected his insanity defense and convicted him of the 12 murders. The LWOP sentences in both cases reflect a reluctance to impose the death penalty on mentally ill defendants because, but for the mental illness that they did not choose to have, they would not have killed anyone.

I think it’s significant that Mr. Miles was adjudicated incompetent in 2012 and involuntarily committed to a mental hospital where it took four months to restore his competency. That suggests that Mr. Miles has a persistent, serious and probably incurable mental illness that requires a daily dose of an anti-psychotic drug to prevent psychotic breaks.

From the article in the Houston Chronicle:

Jon Evans, Miles’ attorney in the Austin case, said medical privacy laws prevent him from offering any details about Miles’ mental illness history. But he was told by Miles’ mother that her son had a lifelong history of mental illness.

In yesterday’s piece, I criticized Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman for blaming the Black Lives Matter movement for the murder of Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth. I am calling him out again today because his accusation was not based on any evidence. I rely on the statement by the Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson:

Anderson would not comment on a motive, saying investigators were still trying to figure that out. When asked if it might be connected to heightened tensions around the country between law enforcement and civilians, Anderson said: “I have no idea whether it does or not.”

Other Readings:

Black Lives Matter did not kill Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth

Time to end death penalty prosecutions of the mentally ill

Jury sentences James Holmes to Life Without Parole


Black Lives Matter did not kill Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth

August 31, 2015

I write today to criticize Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman for blaming the Black Lives Matter movement for the murder of Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth, who was shot in the back on Friday evening at a gas station in a Houston suburb as he was fueling his patrol vehicle. The person who shot Goforth then approached and shot him multiple times as he lay on the ground. Sheriff Hickman has identified the shooter as 30-year-old Shannon Miles. According to Reuters,

Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman has linked the shooting to anti-police rhetoric following protests against deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of white officers around the country. Goforth was white and the suspect is black.

Hickman said the department assumed Goforth was a target because he wore a uniform.

“We’ve heard black lives matter; all lives matter. Well cops’ lives matter too,” Hickman said. “At any point where the rhetoric ramps up to the point where calculated cold-blooded assassination of police officers happen(s), this rhetoric has gotten out of control.”

(Emphasis supplied)

Mr. Miles has been charged with capital murder, which means he could be sentenced to death if a jury finds him guilty and decides to sentence him to death.

Sheriff Hickman should know that it’s never appropriate for a police official to speculate regarding a suspect’s motive in any criminal case, especially a capital case. If asked, it’s better to say you don’t know or you don’t want to speculate.

Sheriff Hickman and all other police officers in this country need to understand that the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) did not murder the deputy. As far as we know, Mr. Miles is not connected to BLM and there is no evidence that BLM knew who the deputy was or that it hired or encouraged Mr. Miles or anyone else to commit an act of violence, much less kill anyone.

Let’s set the record straight once and for all:

  1. BLM would not exist but for the epidemic of police killing unarmed black males.
  2. According to the Washington Post, which is keeping track of police shootings this year, police killed 385 people in the first five months of the year.
  3.   49 people were unarmed. 13 others had toy guns (total = 62). In all, 16% were either carrying a toy or were unarmed.
  4. Two-thirds of the unarmed victims were Black or Latino.
  5.  Overall, blacks were killed at three times the rate of whites or other minorities when adjusting by the population of the census tracts where the shootings occurred.
  6. If the sheriff were Black, especially if he had a son between the ages of 15 and 30, he would have to be deaf, blind and dumb or just plain stupid not to be concerned about the epidemic of police killing unarmed Black males.
  7. BLM engages in peaceful non-violent protest that it has a right to do pursuant to the Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly clauses of the First Amendment.
  8. Therefore, BLM is a legitimate movement with legitimate concerns that need to be addressed in a peaceful manner.
  9. If someone wants to play the blame game, the logical place to start is with the police who killed and continue to kill unarmed people.
  10. Killing unarmed people needs to stop.*

Capiche

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*We also need to be concerned about police killing the mentally ill because, according to the Washington Post, about one-third of the of the shooting victims were mentally ill. Some were armed and some were not. Many who were armed were not armed with guns and many who died appear to have committed suicide by cop.

 

 


Arlington police chief fires officer who killed Christian Taylor and will recommend criminal charges

August 12, 2015

Police Chief Will Johnson fired Officer Brad Miller, 49, for a series of “troubling decisions” that Miller made while investigating a break-in at the Classic Buick GMC dealership in Arlington, Texas. Miller, who is white, had graduated recently from the Police Academy, but he was still undergoing on-the-job training with the department when he shot Christian Taylor, 19, four times killing him. Taylor, who was black, was unarmed. Reuters is reporting,

Johnson said investigators would prepare a criminal case in the matter for prosecutors to present to a grand jury, which can decide whether to charge the officer. He said his office has been in contact with federal officials but there was no formal probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The police chief said Miller tracked the suspect on his own without properly communicating with other officers. He cornered him in a room in the dealership, where Taylor began approaching him and refused commands to surrender.

By that time, training officer Wiggins was with Miller. As Taylor approached, Miller fired a single shot and Wiggins fired a Taser. Miller then fired three more shots to subdue the suspect, the police chief said.

Reading between the lines, I think it’s pretty clear that Miller went off on his own without telling his training officer where he was going and when his training officer caught up to him in the room where Miller had cornered Taylor, he did not see a necessity to use deadly force in self-defense against an unarmed Taylor. Instead, he fired his taser.

Looks like the training officer and the police chief have decided that Miller acted recklessly or in a grossly negligent manner. Assuming the prosecutor agrees, the grand jury probably will indict Miller for manslaughter.

Although four shots indicates an intent to kill, which could be the basis for a murder charge, I think that outcome may be less likely because of the general propensity to protect cops.

The FBI has declined to get involved.


Black lives do not matter to police in Ferguson

August 11, 2015

Black lives do not matter to police in Ferguson. We can infer that from their reaction to the presence of armed Oath Keepers.

Who are the Oath Keepers and what are they doing in Ferguson?

Wikipedia tells us who they are.

Oath Keepers is an American nonprofit organization that advocates that its members (current and former U.S. military and law enforcement) disobey any orders that they are given if they believe they violate the Constitution of the United States.

The Oath Keepers were founded on March 2009 by Stewart Rhodes and incorporated in Las Vegas, Nevada as a non-profit corporation. Rhodes is a Yale Law School graduate, a former US Army paratrooper, and a former staffer of Congressman Ron Paul. The Oath Keepers as a group have grown to include chapters in many states across America.

What oath do they take? It’s the enlistment oath administered to every person who enlists in the military, plus a caveat.

“I, (state name of enlistee), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

The caveat is a promise “to disobey unconstitutional orders,” that functions as a right-wing-wacko magnet attracting Birthers, Truthers, all manner of Obama haters, self-described patriots and an assortment of conspiracy theorists who fear that the government is going to declare martial law, confiscate their guns and imprison them in FEMA trailer camps.

In her article titled, Oath Keepers and the Age of Treason, (Mother Jones March/April  2010, Justine Sharrock wrote,

 It is easy enough to dismiss the Oath Keepers as (in the words of Britain’s Independent) “right-wing crackpots” or “extremist nimrods” (Huffington Post). CNN stressed the group’s conspiracy theories in its series on militias. But beyond the predictable stereotypes, “the reality is a lot of them are fairly intelligent, well-educated people who have complex worldviews that are thoroughly thought out,” says author David Neiwert, who has been following the patriot movement closely since the ’90s.

Rhodes’ vision is simple—”It’s the Constitution, stupid.” He views the founding blueprint the way fundamentalist Christians view the Bible. In Rhodes’ America, sovereign states—”like little labs of freedom”—would have their own militias and zero gun restrictions. He would limit federal power to what’s stated explicitly in the Constitution and Bill of Rights; any new federal law affecting the states would require a constitutional amendment. “If your state goes retarded,” he says, “you can move to another state and vote with your feet.” The president would be stripped of emergency powers that allow him to seize property, restrict travel, institute martial law, and otherwise (as the Congressional Research Service has put it) “control the lives of United States citizens.” The Constitution, Rhodes explains, “was created to check us in times of emergency when we are freaking out.”

What are the Oath Keepers doing in Ferguson? Here’s Wikipedia again,

During the Ferguson unrest of 2014, the Oath Keepers arrived days after the start of the riots to protect local business and residents. A member’s comments on the situation are as follows: “We thought they were going to do it right this time,” Rhodes said of government response to the grand jury decision released Monday in the Michael Brown case. “But when Monday rolled around and they didn’t park the National Guard at these businesses, that’s when we said we have got to do something.”

They offer the same explanation this time.

However, a rose is a rose is a rose and even though Missouri is an open-carry state, I’m seeing a bunch of scary looking white guys carrying assault rifles wearing camo and bullet-proof vests . Can you spell V I G I L A N T E?

St.Louis Chief of Police John Belnar said their presence is “both unnecessary and inflammatory,” but they are still there even though the governor has placed Ferguson under a state of emergency.

I believe the police allow them to remain because the Oath Keepers are white and regarded as allies against a sinister black horde.

Time for a rhetorical question: What do you think would happen, if the Oath Keepers were black?

One thing is clear: Black Lives Do Not Matter to local and state officials and that is why the protests will continue.


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