Police officers are heroes. They voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way to serve and protect every citizen, and society grants them powers above and beyond the average citizen to achieve their mission.
Unfortunately, this power can be abused, turning the heroes into villains. Extra power, in a free society, must be coupled with extra responsibility, and exposing misconduct is key to holding those with power accountable.
(See also: Raw Story’s top 10 most-read stories of 2013)
Below are some — but not all — of the worse police abuses to have occurred or come to light in 2013. Much of the misconduct involves racial or sexual elements, a fact that is entirely unsurprising but still disturbing.
Landry Thompson, 13, was visiting Houston, Texas to attend dance classes this month. Her mother had given dance instructor Emmanuel Hurd full guardianship over her during the trip.
But police began questioning Thompson, Hurd and another dance instructor while they were at a gas station. The police later decided to handcuff the dance instructors and trainee. Thompson was placed in the custody of Child Protective Services, but she was released back into the custody of Hurd about 11 hours later.
“I was horrified,” her mother, Destiny Thompson, said. “She was with the people I wanted her to be with. She was with people I trusted. And now she was taken away from those people and in a shelter with people I didn’t know.”
Police officers in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan allegedly forced a mentally-challenged black man to sing songs and “dance like a chimp.”
Video of the incident was published in November, leading to the suspension of five officers. The entire department will now receive sensitivity training.
“An officer has stepped forward to take responsibility for the video and for interacting with Mr. Scipio in that fashion. The officer has been removed from patrol duty pending the conclusion of our investigation,” Grosse Pointe Park police spokesman Greg Bowens told the Detroit Free Press.
Also in November, a police officer in San Antonio, Texas was accused of raping a 19-year-old woman during a traffic stop. Officer Jackie Len Neal pulled over the teen and said that her car was reported stolen. Even though the victim was able to produce evidence that she had purchased the car, Neal reportedly handcuffed her and placed her behind his police cruiser, where he allegedly raped her.
The woman contacted police and Neal was arrested.
“I am angry. I am outraged. It’s a punch in the eye to the police department, this kind of conduct,” San Antonio police Chief William McManus told a local media outlet.
A similar incident allegedly occurred in California. In October, a transgender woman accused an El Monte police officer of raping her.
The victim said she was walking to her friends house when the officer stopped her to ask if she was “a nasty shemale.” The officer allegedly took her to an empty parking lot, groped her and ordered her to have sex with him. The woman’s lawyer said she complied with the officer’s demands out of fear.
In both Philadelphia and New York City, police officers were caught berating young African-American men who they had stopped to search.
A 16-minute video uploaded to YouTube in October showed Philadelphia police officer Philip Nace telling two black pedestrians that they “weaken the f*cking country” because they were “freeloaders.” The two men were stopped and searched after saying hello to another pedestrian. Nace was assigned to a disciplinary unit and is under investigation.
Another video uploaded to YouTube in October showed a NYPD officer threatening to arrest a black man for being a “f*cking mutt” during a stop-and-frisk. Another officer added: “Dude, I’m gonna break your f*ckin’ arm, then I’m gonna punch you in the f*ckin’ face.”
In June, a woman sued several police and city officials in Lynnwood, Washington after she was accused of lying about being raped.
The woman told police in 2008 that she had been tied up and sexually assaulted by Marc Patrick O’Leary. Though doctors found abrasions on her wrists and vagina, detectives accused the young woman of fabricating the incident. They charged her with filing a false report, but the charge was later dropped.
In 2011, O’Leary was sentenced to more than 300 years in prison for raping three women and attempting to rape a fourth. Federal agents uncovered hundreds of photos of his victims, including the woman accused of filing a false report.
The Baton Rouge Advocate revealed in July that a sheriff’s office task force in Louisiana had arrested at least a dozen gay men under the state’s defunct sodomy law.
Louisiana’s criminalization of sex between two people of the same gender was invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling, but the law remains on the books.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office used the law to set up sting operations targeting gay men. Undercover police officers arrested men who agreed to have private, unpaid sex with them. The sheriff’s office later apologized for the anti-gay sting operations and said it would “consult with others in the legislative and judicial branches to see what can be done to remove this law from the criminal code.”
A South Carolina police chief in November threatened to arrest a person who criticized drug prohibition on Facebook.
In response to an update posted on the Columbia Police Department’s Facebook page, a man complained that authorities appeared to be more concerned with arresting harmless “stoners” than violent criminals.
“Thank you for sharing your views and giving us reasonable suspicion to believe you might be a criminal, we will work on finding you,” the Columbia Police Department said in response. Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago later admitted to posting the reply.
Everyone has heard of “driving while black,” but 2013 brought us a new racially-infused crime: standing (or waiting) while black.
Police in Rochester, New York arrested three black teenagers this month as they were waiting for a school bus to pick them up. Their high school basketball coach, Jacob Scott, had arranged for them to be picked up to take them to a scrimmage.
Police said the three teens were blocking “pedestrian traffic while standing on a public sidewalk.” They refused to disperse and attempted to explain to police why they were idling on the sidewalk, only to be arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
“These young men were doing nothing wrong, nothing wrong. They did exactly what they were supposed to do and still they get arrested,” Scott remarked.
A New Mexico state police officer opened fire on a minivan loaded with children in October.
Officer Elias Montoya had stopped a woman, Oriana Ferrell, for speeding near the town of Taos. The woman attempted avoid the speeding ticket by driving away, but was pulled over by Montoya yet again. But Ferrell again tried to flee after a brief scuffle with the officers. Montoya then fired three shots at the minivan, which was carrying five children. No one was injured.
Montoya was placed on administrative leave and later fired. Ferrell was also arrested and charged with child abuse, fleeing an officer and possession of drug paraphernalia.
At least four people accused law enforcement authorities of conducting warrantless and intrusive cavity searches in 2013.
Two women sued Texas officials in July for what they described as “disgusting” cavity searches. Texas state trooper Nathaniel Turner allegedly used a single glove to perform cavity searches on both women after he claimed to smell the scent of marijuana in their car.
In November, a man sued New Mexico officials alleging that he was forced him to undergo several invasive medical procedures in a futile search for drugs. Police forced David Eckert to receive an X-ray of his abdominal area, multiple anal probes, an enema and stool examination, and a colonoscopy under sedation.
Another New Mexico man later said he was subjected to similar medical procedures by the same police department.
Earlier this month, a woman from New Mexico sued Texas and U.S. officials for allegedly subjecting her to “multiple, redundant and increasingly intrusive searches.” The woman said she was subjected to vaginal and anal cavity searches, along with X-ray and CT scans. No drugs were found, but the woman later received a $5,000 bill from the University Medical Center of El Paso.
[Angry police officer with nightstick via Shutterstock]
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