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Monday, April 26, 2010

Former city cop, snared in FBI sting, going to prison

Former city cop, snared in FBI sting, going to prison
The St. Louis Post- Dispatch by Robert Patrick - April 24, 2010

ST. LOUIS, MO — A judge sentenced former city police Officer Ronald H. Jackson on Friday to 18 months in prison for stealing from a woman in what turned out to be an FBI sting. Jackson, 58, was caught after he and another officer, Christian A. Brezill, pulled over and arrested a woman who was secretly cooperating with the FBI. Jackson had been tipped off that the woman's car trunk held merchandise stolen from a Best Buy store. He and Brezill split the goods, and Jackson gave some to the person who had provided the information, according to court documents and testimony. Brezill, 26, was sentenced last month to two years of probation after cooperating with investigators. Both men, who worked in the Police Department's 6th District, were indicted in October on a single federal felony charge of theft of government property. They pleaded guilty in December. Both will have to repay a total of $1,480 — the value of what they took. Jackson, a 30-year department veteran, retired under charges. Brezill, with roughly 18 months on the force, was fired. Jackson apologized in Friday's hearing to the court, city and Police Department. "I regret my actions. I know they were wrong," he said. Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith insisted that Jackson was the leader and said he is rumored to have committed similar thefts "numerous" times before. FBI Special Agent Anthony Bernardoni testified that he had received a tip in the spring or summer of 2009 that Jackson had been involved in a scheme with a person in the business of buying stolen goods. If a seller wanted too much money, Bernardoni said he was told, the buyer would turn down the deal and arrange for Jackson to pull over the seller's car and just steal the loot. That buyer has never been publicly identified. Jackson's lawyer, Clyde Cahill, insisted that Jackson was not the leader in the theft of the Best Buy goods, which he characterized as the result of both officers' spontaneous impulse to steal. Cahill also argued that Jackson's possession of a firearm during the crime should not be taken into account, since he was armed as part of his police uniform and the weapon did not play a role in the crime. U.S. District Judge Donald Stohr rejected both of Cahill's arguments and sentenced Jackson to 18 months, the bottom of the range of 18-24 months suggested under federal sentencing guidelines. Brezill told the Post-Dispatch last month that Jackson suggested they steal the goods. Brezill said he finally gave in after repeatedly refusing.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Prosecutors Probe 3 Cops' Beating of Students

Beating of University of Maryland student by police probed by county prosecutors
The Washington Post by Ruben Castaneda - April 13, 2010

Prince George's prosecutors have begun a criminal investigation of three county police officers who beat an unarmed University of Maryland student with their batons after a basketball game last month in an incident that was caught on video and surfaced publicly Monday, authorities said. County police also ordered an internal affairs investigation of the three officers, Maj. Andy Ellis said. Ellis said the inquiry would also focus on a county officer who filed official charging documents that are contradicted by the video. "The video shows the charging documents were nothing more than a cover, a fairy tale they made up to cover for the officers' misconduct," said Christopher A. Griffiths, a lawyer for the student. "The video shows gratuitous violence against a defenseless individual." Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton said that one of the three officers had been identified and that his police powers have been suspended during the investigation. The other two officers will also be suspended as soon as they are identified, Hylton said. "I'm outraged and disappointed after viewing the video," Hylton said. "That's not the type of professional conduct we promote. Any employee who uses excessive force will be held accountable." Griffiths released the video Monday after county prosecutors dropped charges against John J. McKenna, 21. McKenna and a co-defendant, Benjamin C. Donat, 19, had been charged with felonies on suspicion of assaulting officers on horseback and their mounts. On Friday, a prosecutor dropped charges against Donat, also a U-Md. student. Griffiths is also representing Donat. The incident occurred March 3 near the university's College Park campus after the Maryland men's basketball team defeated Duke. After the game, students took to the streets to celebrate. Twenty-eight people were arrested or cited, sparking a debate between police and students over how and when it is appropriate to break up a group of revelers. At least part of the incident with McKenna was videotaped by another student. The video, which lasts about one minute, is a continuous shot. It was discovered by Sharon Weidenfeld, a private investigator who worked on behalf of McKenna and Donat. The video does not show Donat, although Officer Sean McAleavey's charging documents say the two men acted together. The video shows about two dozen students milling about on Knox Road near Route 1. About a half-dozen of them are pointing their cellphone cameras at riot police who are gathered between the students and Route 1. The video shows McKenna on the sidewalk as he skips and throws his arms in the air. He stops about five feet from an officer on horseback, the video shows. In the video, McKenna's arms appear to be in front of him, but he does not appear to touch the officer or the horse. His hands are empty. McKenna backs up, then two county police riot officers rush toward him from the street, the video shows. The officers slam McKenna against a wall and beat him with their batons. McKenna crumples to the ground. As McKenna falls, a third county police riot officer strikes his legs and torso with his baton. The video shows the officers striking an unresisting McKenna about the head, torso and legs -- more than a dozen blows in all. Because they are wearing riot gear, the officers who hit McKenna are not easily identifiable. In the video, county police officers and officers on horseback from the Maryland-National Capital Park Police are seen nearby. They do not intervene in the incident with McKenna. The officers form a line and move toward the students who had been milling about, the video shows, and the students move back.

Charging documents say McKenna and Donat provoked the beating by attacking officers on horseback. The video clearly shows the officers rushing McKenna and beating him, although the teenager had not touched any of the mounted units. The charging documents also say that the horses injured McKenna and Donat and make no mention of the beating by the officers. The video shows no aggression by the horses. The documents sworn by McAleavey allege that McKenna and Donat were running and screaming in the middle of Route 1, prompting an unruly crowd to form. As two officers on horseback from the Maryland-National Capital Park Police tried to regain order, McKenna and Donat "struck those officers and their horses causing minor injuries," McAleavey wrote. McKenna and Donat "were both kicked by the horses and sustained minor injuries," the charging documents say. Griffiths said Donat was beaten by county police with batons about a block away from where McKenna was beaten. The lawyer said the two do not know each other. Griffiths said both men suffered concussions from police baton blows. McAleavey did not return calls for comment. Lt. Stanley Johnson, a spokesman for the Maryland-National Capital Park Police, said that McKenna and Donat did not attack any of his officers or horses and that none of the department's horses kicked or struck McKenna or Donat. The charges against McKenna were dropped Monday without comment, Griffiths said.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fired cop called 'horrible investment'

Fired cop called 'horrible investment'
Schenectady terminates police officer who's been arrested multiple times
The Albany Times Union by Paul Nelson - April 12, 2010

SCHENECTADY, NY -- Officer John Lewis' blemished 16-year career with the Schenectady Police Department, which include multiple arrests for drunken driving and domestic incidents, is over. Mayor Brian U. Stratton announced his decision Monday to accept an independent hearing officer's recommendation to terminate Lewis, who remains behind bars on unpaid leave. He has not been on active duty since March 2008. This marks the second time in 12 years that Lewis has been fired from the police department. Stratton said that despite his many arrests, Lewis, 40, has remained unrepentant. "Perhaps most unforgiving, he has never expressed even the slightest remorse for his actions or made any effort to accept personal responsibility for his conduct," the mayor said during an afternoon news conference in the City Hall rotunda. Stratton said he concluded after reading the report that Lewis "had clearly placed his own interests above those of the public he swore to protect and serve," and that the officer had "time and again acted with complete and utter disregard for the law and for the authority of his superior officers." The hearing officer, Jeffrey Selchick, issued the 85-page report last week. The disciplinary hearings focused on the five times Lewis was arrested from April 2008 to January 2009 on charges of harassment and violation of protective orders for his former wife, insubordination during an alcohol-related driving incident, another alcohol-related incident involving property damage and a domestic incident at his mother's Schenectady home. Lewis' attorney, James Tuttle of Latham, did not immediately return a call Monday seeking comment.

Stratton also bemoaned a ruling in July by Acting State Supreme Court Justice Barry Kramer to close police disciplinary hearings to the public. Under that longstanding system, a hearing officer selected by the city makes recommendations, and if the officer appeals the case goes to an independent arbitrator. The city has been pushing for Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett to preside over disciplinary hearings. The state Public Employment Relations Board also is expected to weigh in on the issue. Bennett and Police Chief Mark Chaires joined Stratton for the news conference. Bennett said Lewis should never be able to wear a police uniform again. "It's not appropriate for John Lewis to continue in law enforcement anywhere," he said. Like Stratton, he mentioned the money and time spent getting rid of Lewis. "None of us is more frustrated with the expense and delay than those of us with the management of the city," Bennett said, adding Lewis' fate "is a profound statement" that officers have to adhere to high standards that police brass expect both on and off the job. Chaires described Lewis as a bad hire who gives the 150-member department a black eye. "John Lewis was an absolutely horrible investment of taxpayer money, he said. "I could not agree with the decision more strongly; it's the right decision."

Lewis has been suspended without pay since late last year. He has 30 days to appeal the mayor's decision, which would then put it into the hands of an arbitrator, according to L. John Van Norden, the city's corporation counsel. This is not the first time Lewis was fired from the force. He previously used the arbitration process to successfully win back his job after being fired in 1998 for using a racial slur at the police station. More recently, he was acquitted in February of drunken-driving charges in Schenectady. In January, prosecutors dropped a contempt charge against Lewis stemming from his alleged violation of an order barring him from contact with his ex-wife, Alison Lewis. He suffered a stab wound in December during a visit with a girlfriend in Massachusetts. That same month, he pleaded not guilty to a 10-count indictment charging him with eavesdropping, stalking, aggravated harassment, computer trespass, computer tampering and tampering with a witness. In that case, Lewis is accused of using a former girlfriend's computer to hack into his ex-wife's e-mail accounts. Lewis also is facing charges stemming from a January 2009 fight with his brother, also a police officer, before damaging their mother's home. In March 2008, a City Court Judge acquitted him of harassment. Prosecutors had argued he fought with his ex-wife over custody of their son. Lewis filed a notice of claim contending the city conspired with his ex-wife to get him fired. Reach Nelson at 454-5347 or at