Fortunately, most law enforcement officers and justice system officials are honest and try their best to do the right thing — but there are some who do not, some who use their power in ways that compromise people’s rights and harm innocent people. It’s sad, but there are hundreds of cases where prosecutors and law enforcement officers have taken inappropriate and illegal actions and even lied under oath. Sometimes this is an effort to get someone convicted, but it can also be to cover up their own mistakes.
Unfortunately, the system tends to encourage and reward these types of conduct, and one need look only at recent events to see the results. When the police forces are heavily armed & militarized, the problem on the street becomes even more serious. A 2006 report [Overkill, by Bradley Balko] published by the Cato Institute details the rise of paramilitary policing in the United States. When police forces become more militarized, the results of a simple error can be more tragic. Here are just a few examples that you may not have seen in the mainstream media:
- In July 2014, an Orange County (Florida) SWAT Team Kills Teen Girl and her Dog During Pot Raid on Wrong House.
- In May 2010, a SWAT team in Detroit shot a sleeping 7-year-old girl during a no-knock police raid on the wrong home
- In July 2014, 43-year-old father Eric Garner was standing on the sidewalk in Staten Island, New York when police approached, put him in an illegal chokehold, and strangled the life out of him. Garner, asthmatic, cried out “I can’t breathe!” at least 11 times. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.
- In August 2014, 22-year-old father John Crawford III was in a Walmart in Dayton, Ohio, holding an air rifle that was for sale in the store, when police gunned him down. The officers claimed they asked him multiple times to drop the air gun; surveillance footage proves that they lied, and that they shot the young man almost immediately upon seeing him.
- In September 2014, unarmed 22-year-old Darrien Hunt was in Saratoga Springs, Utah, “cosplaying,” or dressing up like a samuarai, with a fake decorative sword—a common activity among fans of Japanese anime and comics—before he was murdered. Police claim Hunt lunged at them with the toy sword, yet bystanders took photos of the young black man smiling and talking with the white officers, video footage shows Hunt running for his life away from the officers, and an autopsy proved that police shot him six times while his back was turned.
- In September 2014, 14-year-old honor student Cameron Tillman was playing in an abandoned house in Houma, Louisiana with four young friends, as so many kids do, when police shot him. He bled out on the ground for 45 minutes. The police offered no medical assistance. The officers claimed Tillman came to the door with a gun, yet later contradicted their own testimony, alleging that a BB gun was found “in close proximity” to the teen’s body. Tillman’s four friends all said a BB gun was on a table, nowhere near.
- In November 2014, 28-year-old father Akai Gurley was with his girlfriend, in the stairwell of the public housing unit in Brooklyn, New York in which they lived, when a police officer who wasn’t even supposed to be on patrol in the building killed him. Then, while Gurley lay dying, instead of calling for help, the officer texted his union representative.
- In November 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was standing in a park in Cleveland, Ohio, holding a toy airsoft gun, when police drove up onto the grass, leaped out of their car, and shot him within two seconds. Police said Rice was surrounded by people at the time and that the officer who opened fire had asked the pre-teen three times to put up his hands. Video evidence shows both of these claims to be lies.
- On 2 December 2014, 34-year-old father Rumain Brisbon was bringing food to his daughter, in Pheonix, Arizona, when police killed him. Police say they approached Brisbon’s SUV before they shot him. A friend present at the incident avers that this is false. The officers claimed Brisbon reached into the waistband of his pants for a gun. Brisbon was unarmed; all he had in his pocket was a container of pills.
Prosecutorial misconduct is also a problem — when a prosecutor conceals or fabricates evidence or deliberately obstructs the process in order to convict someone who may be innocent, or to exonerate someone who may be guilty.
You don’t have to look to Ferguson or Chicago or any of the other cities with notorious cases, we have a clear case of prosecutorial misconduct right here in the Lehigh Valley. In 2001, the Lehigh County District Attorney’s office charged Dennis Counterman with murdering his three children by setting his house on fire. Counterman’s wife told investigators that they were both upstairs in bed when the fire started and that at least one of the kids had a record of starting fires. The officer on scene recorded this in his report and also that Counterman’s wife reported that Dennis ran downstairs and tried to put out the fire. This evidence was not presented on the official report provided to the defense and the court, because First Assistant District Attorney Richard Tomsho deleted it. Dennis Counterman spent 18 years in prison before the verdict finally was overturned because of prosecutorial misconduct
Rather than admit this, the Lehigh County District Attorney agreed to release Counterman only if he did an ‘Alford Plea’ with a sentence of time already served. (An Alford Plea is an arrangement where a person pleads guilty to avoid further imprisonment or trial butasserts his innocence and does not admit guilt.)
- For more information on the Counterman case, see the articles by Joe DeRaymond: A Case of Injustice in Pennsylvania & The Release of Dennis Counterman.