Latest: Jury Ends Day Without Verdict in Officer’s Case

8 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Jury considers verdict for ex-Oklahoma cop in sex assaults.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The latest on the trial of a former police officer in Oklahoma City who has been accused by 13 women of rape or sexual assault (all times are local): The jury in the case of a former Oklahoma City police officer accused of sexually victimizing 13 women while on duty has wrapped up its first day of deliberations without reaching a verdict. In this, the final stretch of 2015, most of the United States has a list of topics, images, people and places with which they are really, really about done. McConnell said Holtzclaw targeted drug addicts and other women with felony records who he could intimidate with threats of being jailed in order to prevent them from reporting the assaults to authorities. “Officer Holtzclaw counted on that,” McConnell told jurors. “Officer Holtzclaw is heady from these powers.

A grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer who killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown for reasons that have evolved over time. Another woman testified during the 14th day of the trial that Holtzclaw forced himself on her inside of his squad car after he stopped her as she was walking away from her home. During a monthlong trial, jurors heard from 13 women who alleged Holtzclaw preyed on them during traffic stops or in other instances while wearing his uniform and badge. Some of the women have admitted to performing as sex workers and using illegal drugs, details they claim Holtzclaw threatened to blackmail them with if they decided to report his abuse. They were appalled that a group of white police officers had managed to escape any charges that could have been levied by another grand jury in connection with the choking death of Eric Garner.

Convince these ladies that someone does care about them.” The jury began deliberating Monday evening after nearly five hours of closing arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys. A bystander captured cellphone footage of a white North Charleston, S.C., police officer fatally shooting the unarmed and fleeing black man in the back after a traffic stop. These disturbing allegations should evoke national outcries from every corner of American society; black people should be shutting down the streets exalting the victims’ names with the same vigor as Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and other black men whose lives were stolen by the hands of racially predatory police officers. In a yearlong investigation of sexual misconduct by U.S. law enforcement, The Associated Press reported last month that it had uncovered about 1,000 officers who lost their badges in a six-year period for rape, sodomy and other sexual assault; sex crimes that included possession of child pornography; or sexual misconduct such as propositioning citizens or having consensual but prohibited on-duty intercourse. The number is unquestionably an undercount because it represents only those officers whose licenses to work in law enforcement were revoked, and not all states take such action.

California and New York — with several of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies — offered no records because they have no statewide system to decertify officers for misconduct. Most available data, when there is any, focuses on black men’s experiences with police brutality, but black women are, without question, generally preyed upon by law enforcement and state entities.

In interviews, lawyers and even police chiefs told the AP that some departments also stay quiet about improprieties to limit liability, allowing bad officers to quietly resign, keep their certification and sometimes jump to other jobs. On the nation’s streets, the same police departments that have been accused of, at the very least, policing communities of color in ways that seem questionable and at worst structuring their work to maximize profit and pain, have not focused solely on black men.

But their actions have an outsized impact — miring departments in litigation that leads to costly settlements, crippling relationships with an already wary public and scarring victims with a special brand of fear. In January, when Oklahoma City’s police chief made the decision to fire one of his officers, he said the allegations against the cop detailed the “greatest abuse of police authority” in the police chief’s 37-year career. Bland’s middle class background — college-educated, about to start a new job, well-spoken — provided the wider public the necessary social credentials they needed to embrace her humanity, she told me. On a checkerboard of sessions on everything from electronic surveillance to speed enforcement, police chiefs who gathered for an annual meeting in 2007 saw a discussion on sex offenses by officers added to the agenda. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, which collects police data from around the country, doesn’t track officer arrests, and states aren’t required to collect or share that information.

To measure the problem, the AP obtained records from 41 states on police decertification, an administrative process in which an officer’s law enforcement license is revoked. And if all of this is not troubling enough, read this on just how many police officers have been removed from their jobs because of similar allegations.

I remember canvassing a predominately black neighborhood in Brooklyn with fellow community activists this summer and passing out pamphlets about black women killed by police. Cases from 2009 through 2014 were then reviewed to determine whether they stemmed from misconduct meeting the Department of Justice standard for sexual assault — sexual contact that happens without consent, including intercourse, sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling and attempted rape. But I also wonder if black respectability politics is playing into the reason why many people in our community aren’t being as supportive of Holtzclaw’s alleged victims as we could be.

The law enforcement officials in these records included state and local police, sheriff’s deputies, prison guards and school resource officers; no federal officers were included because the records reviewed came from state police standards commissions. She actually refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus long before Rosa Parks, but her narrative was ignored because she was a pregnant teenager whom many religious leaders believed would shame the sanctity of the movement. Because of gaps in the information provided by the states, it was impossible to discern any other distinct patterns, other than a propensity for officers to use the power of their badge to prey on the vulnerable. Many black women who risked their lives in the civil rights movement similarly recall how they were consistently shut out of leadership roles and faced sexism from their male movement brothers.

Some but not all of the decertified officers faced criminal charges; some offenders were able to avoid prosecution by agreeing to surrender their certifications. Even during the present Black Lives Matter era, prominent black female activists complain about black male activists shouting down their voices during organizing meetings. Victims included unsuspecting motorists, schoolchildren ordered to raise their shirts in a supposed search for drugs, police interns taken advantage of, women with legal troubles who succumbed to performing sex acts for promised help, and prison inmates forced to have sex with guards. The AP’s findings, coupled with other research and interviews with experts, suggest that sexual misconduct is among the most prevalent type of complaint against law officers.

Why has it remained largely the stuff of headlines in the local Oklahoma City paper (which has followed it closely), in unabashedly left-leaning information outlets and in publications that focus on women (see here, here, here, here and here)? Phil Stinson, a researcher at Bowling Green State University, analyzed news articles between 2005 and 2011 and found 6,724 arrests involving more than 5,500 officers.

The media’s pattern of paying scant attention to people deemed unimportant until one big story or one bold reporter delivers a heck of a fact-checked tale seems one very likely culprit. The victim told investigators that despite telling him no “what felt like 1,000 times,” he removed her clothes, fondled her and forced her to touch him — at one point cuffing her hands. In a 2015 Oklahoma City case involving alleged rape, police abuses of power and strategic victim targeting, there is an all-white, majority-male jury considering the case. The only conclusion I can surmise is that American newsrooms don’t see black female victimhood as “newsworthy.” Rachel Dolezal, a white woman parading as an African American, however, earned spectacularly ridiculous nuance from the media.

In Florida, Jonathan Bleiweiss of the Broward Sheriff’s Office was sentenced to a five-year prison term in February for bullying about 20 immigrant men into sex acts. For those who wonder why that matters, know this: There is ample and solid evidence that white juries or even overwhelmingly white juries are significantly less likely to convict or harshly punish non-black defendants when they are accused of harming or killing a black person.

Ebony Senior Editor Jamilah Lemieux penned a piece charging her supporters with “Miss Ann” syndrome, an assertion that white women earn victim status for the most flimsiest of reasons due to American society viewing white femininity as a sacred, delicate cultural treasure. Sommers, a Tufts University social psychologist, explained it to me in the hours before a nearly all-white jury acquitted George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin in 2013. And in New Mexico, Michael Garcia of the Las Cruces Police was sentenced last November to nine years in federal prison for sexually assaulting a high school police intern. They tend to acquit or offer lighter sentences, deliberate for shorter periods of time, cling to a goal of reaching consensus and have a more difficult time empathizing with black victims.

All-white juries have also been a common denominator in cases where defendants have later been set free due to a wrongful conviction, according to years of social science research. “In this country, I think the average American believes that verdicts are decided based on the facts, the evidence, the law alone,” said Sommers, who studies race and the way that all-white juries respond to cases involving black victims. The victim, Diana Guerrero, said in court that the assault left her feeling “like a piece of trash,” dashed her dreams of becoming an officer, and triggered depression, nightmares and flashbacks. “It had never occurred to me that a person who had earned a badge would do this to me or anybody else,” said Guerrero, who is now 21 and agreed to her name being published. “I lost my faith in everything, everyone, even in myself.” A 2011 International Association of Chiefs of Police report on sex misconduct questioned whether some conditions of the job may create opportunities for such incidents. Kimberly Foster, founder of the site For Harriet and a born and raised resident of Oklahoma City, wrote one of the best reports on the Holtzclaw case yet. They say that public housing maintenance workers allegedly used the pressing need for critical apartment repairs — we are talking toilets and heat here — to force poor and again black female tenants of public housing to engage in various sexual acts. Every American — in the media, law enforcement, academia, and elsewhere — must dig deep into their consciousnesses and ask themselves if all lives truly do matter.

By that afternoon, Miranda rights were being read to the suspect, an officer who had arrived out of the academy nearly three years earlier, a seemingly natural move for the son of a career policeman but one borne of deep disappointment. He found traces of life on the field in his life on the beat, telling a reporter for his hometown paper that he enjoyed high-speed chases and once charged through two fences while pursuing a suspect on foot on a snow-slicked winter day.

According to pretrial testimony, the detectives reviewed the names of women Holtzclaw had come into contact with on his 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift and interviewed each one, saying they had a tip she may have been assaulted by an officer. By the time the investigation concluded, the detectives had assembled a six-month narrative of alleged sex crimes they said started Dec. 20, 2013, with a woman taken into custody and hospitalized while high on angel dust. Dressed in a hospital gown, her right wrist handcuffed to the bedrail, the woman said Holtzclaw coerced her into performing oral sex, suggesting her cooperation would lead to dropped charges. Supporters of the former officer who congregate on social media express hope that others’ claims will be proven false, too, and friends wear T-shirts that say “Free the Claw.” Earlier this year, while out on bond, Holtzclaw answered the door of his parents’ Enid home, saying of the allegations: “I’m not going to make any comment about it.” His attorney, Scott Adams, canceled an interview and did not respond to calls, emails and a letter.

Adams’ line of questioning at the pretrial hearing suggests he will raise doubts about the accusers’ credibility and portray investigators as having coaxed the women into saying they were attacked. The youngest accuser said Holtzclaw first approached her when she was with two friends who were arguing and he learned she had an outstanding warrant for trespassing. Jackie Simmons said she found it too daunting to bring her accusation to another police officer after being raped by a cop in 1998 while visiting Kansas for a wedding. Her notions of good and evil challenged, she became enraged whenever she saw patrol cars marked “Protect and Serve.” “You feel really powerless,” said Simmons, an elementary school principal in Bridgeport, Connecticut, who works with Pandora’s Project, a support group for rape survivors. Fellow officers, she said, refused to turn on one another when questioned. “It starts with the officer denying the allegations — ‘she’s crazy,’ ‘she’s lying,'” Wetendorf said. “And the other officers say they didn’t see anything, they didn’t hear anything.” In its 2011 report, the IACP recommended that agencies institute policies specifically addressing sexual misconduct, saying “tolerance at any level will invite more of the same conduct.” The report also urged stringent screening of hires.

John Firman, the IACP’s research director, said the organization also is encouraging its chiefs to hire more women and minorities as a way to improve the environment inside departments. They knew how to make her look like a nut,” she said. “How are you going to get anything to happen when he’s part of the system and when he threatens you and when you know he has a gun and … you know he can find you wherever you go?” While he and his attorneys have remained mostly silent on the accusations, he has offered glimpses of his life in online postings. In the Oklahoma City neighborhood that prosecutors say served as Holtzclaw’s hunting ground, a narrow ribbon of road twists through a canyon of untended growth littered with black bags of stinking trash. She had been jailed many times before, and knew the math: a 15-minute ride downtown, two hours to be booked, up to a day of waiting to move to a cell, hearings drawn out over weeks or months. Bowen agreed to have her name published, and initially she offered a steely front, contending no fear or sadness lingered from her alleged encounter with Holtzclaw.

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