Police Abuse and Police Brutality
- Wrongly accused, Rick
Reinhardt spent nearly 10 months in a Santa Clara County jail charged
with murder. Now he'd like some money for time served.
a federal lawsuit filed last week, Reinhardt is suing just about
everyone involved in his case of mistaken identity: the Santa Clara
County District Attorney, the county itself, the San Jose Police
Department and even the public defender's office, which succeeded in
righting the wrong.
Santa Clara County Counsel's office did not return a phone call Monday.
City Attorney Rick Doyle said he would not comment because the city had
not been served with the lawsuit.
says that on Feb. 22, 2004, somebody shot to death Pete Bianco and hid
him under the car cover of his Corvette.
friend, Laura Derrickson, went to check on him at his Maroel Drive home
in San Jose with no luck. In a second visit, though, she and her
husband Robert found Bianco's body in his garage.
Feb. 29, 2004, police received an apparently helpful call from Robert
Mays to the Crime Stoppers anonymous tip line. It was Reinhardt who
probably did it, Mays said, because he and Bianco were involved with
the same woman. Police took the tip seriously, so much so that they
began surveillance of Reinhardt's home.
March 1, 2004, they executed a search warrant on Reinhardt's Redwood
City cottage. Inside, they found a Browning semi-automatic pistol, keys
to Bianco's home and methamphetamine, all under his mattress -- and all
of which, it turns out, was planted there by Mays.
admitted it later, and he abruptly stopped his trial early this month
and pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. On Jan. 23, he will be
sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.
says the San Jose police lied to entangle Reinhardt in the crime.
one point during the questioning," the lawsuit says, "the officers
suggested to plaintiff that they had DNA evidence, an eyewitness, and
video tape, all placing him at the scene of the crime. Even when
presented with such persuasive, although false, evidence, plaintiff
denied being at Bianco's home the day he was killed."
unraveled with the help of Melinda Hall, a deputy public defender
assigned to Reinhardt.
said she knew he was innocent and kept telling prosecutors the same. In
time, the police started grilling Mays, and he confessed.
lawsuit asks for no specific amount of money, but seeks "compensatory
and general damages against all defendants."
12/29/2005 - A police officer pleaded not guilty Friday to charges that
he forced himself on an 18-year-old woman while on duty, authorities
Officer Michael Turkington, 35, is facing four felony counts of false
imprisonment, forced oral copulation, furnishing marijuana and
committing the acts while on duty, the San Francisco district
attorney's office said. He was arraigned in San Francisco Superior
Court on Friday after being arrested earlier this week at his home in
The judge reduced bail from $500,000 to $150,000
and ordered Turkington to sign a protective order requiring him to stay
away from his accuser.
07/07/2005 - San Francisco - Two San Francisco police officers who were
already facing criminal charges for allegedly providing firecrackers
and alcohol to three underage girls are now facing police misconduct
charges that are to be received by the Police Commission Wednesday
Zlobinsky, 36, and Michael Turkington, 34, had been working when the
alleged incidents occurred last summer, charging documents say.
June 30, Turkington allegedly drove a 16-year-old girl and two
17-year-old girls, whom he had met two days prior, in a police car to a
park in the city's Sunset District and gave them a bottle of vodka and
a bottle of a Gatorade for a mixer, according to charging documents.
The girls didn't drink the alcohol but
took it with them, according to the charges against him.
July 4, Turkington and Zlobinsky allegedly gave the same three girls
some confiscated fireworks and three bottles of Corona beer, charging
that same night, when they got off duty, the officers allegedly made
physical advances to two of girls. The girls, however, declined their
advances, charging documents say.
officers have been charged by the San Francisco District Attorney's
Office with conspiracy and furnishing an alcoholic beverage to a minor.
convicted of the misdemeanor charges, each officer faces up to one year
in county jail and fines exceeding $10,000.
Their next court appearance is set for
July 13, according to Bilen Mesfin, spokeswoman for the district
- A California Highway Patrol officer has been arrested on suspicion of
drunken driving after he crashed his motorcyle into a Mill Valley
bicyclist. Both CHP Officer Denis Gallotti and the bicyclist --
Samuel McMillen -- suffered serious injuries
in the Sunday collision.
Gallotti is a 22-year CHP officer. He was airlifted to Santa
Rosa Memorial Hospital and listed in serious condition on Monday.
was taken to Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Terra Linda with
several fractures. He was also listed in serious condition.
The cause of the accident remains under investigation.
Police find that they can beat a black man for only
06/13/2005 - Convinced that a jury would not convict two Palo Alto
police officers accused of beating a black motorist after their first
trial ended in a mistrial, prosecutors allowed the men to plead no
contest Tuesday to minor charges that carry a $250 fine and no jail
police watchdog group expressed outrage that the Santa Clara County
district attorney allowed police officers Craig Lee, 42, and Michael
Kan, 27, to enter the plea -- which has the same effect as a guilty
plea -- to public fighting, an infraction that will allow them to
return to work.
message of this decision is that there are two types of justice, one
for the police and one for the everyday person," said Richard Konda of
the Coalition for Justice and Accountability, noting that the trial
jury deadlocked 8-4 in favor of conviction. "If Kan and Lee had not
been police officers, surely the district attorney would have retried
the case and would not have plea-bargained the felony charges down to
Clara County Deputy District Attorney Peter Waite said that, after
considering a retrial for more than a month, he and top officials in
the district attorney's office decided they could not win a conviction
on the original charges of felony police brutality and misdemeanor
think that justice was served,'' Waite said after the hearing before
Judge Andrea Bryan. "We did our best to hold the police accountable and
get a fair result for the community.''
said the plea deal and the vigorous prosecution show that police
misconduct would not be tolerated. He noted that the Palo Alto Police
Department will install video cameras in police cars, and has begun
training officers to avoid similar clashes in the future.
and Kan, both Asian American, were accused of clubbing and pepper-
spraying Albert Hopkins, 59, on July 13, 2003, after they encountered
him sitting in his parked car. Officers had received two reports of
suspicious behavior by a man in a parked car.
officers asked Hopkins for identification, he angrily refused, cursing
police and accusing them of harassing him.
the trial, the prosecutor described the police officers as incompetent
rookies who didn't realize they had no authority to question or detain
Hopkins because they had no indication he'd done anything illegal.
Defense attorneys countered that Kan and Lee were dutifully
investigating a series of burglaries and clubbed and sprayed Hopkins
only after he ignored their commands and nearly hit Lee with his car
a longtime Palo Alto resident who required surgery on his knee after
the clash, did not respond to a request for comment.
brother and attorney, Joe Hopkins, accused prosecutors of going easy on
the officers because Assistant District Attorney Karyn Sinunu is
running for district attorney next year and doesn't want to alienate
think police officers can take this as a signal that you can do
whatever the hell you want with impunity,'' said Joe Hopkins, who won
his brother a $250,000 civil settlement from the city.
replied that the district attorney's office has earned a reputation for
vigorously prosecuting police misconduct. "This decision had to do with
the fact that there was a deadlocked jury and we really believed that
there would be a second hang (if the case were retried).''
attorney, Harry Stern, said his client was relieved to have the case
settled. Lee's attorney, Craig Brown, called the settlement a fair
resolution. A former prosecutor, Brown scoffed at criticism that the
district attorney was lenient, saying Santa Clara County has the
toughest stand on police misconduct in the Bay Area.
06/13/2005 - A Vallejo father formally accused two police officers
Wednesday of assaulting him with excessive force after he checked on
his teenage son, who had just been shocked with a police stun gun.
A. Trapps alleges that Vallejo officers Dustin Joseph and Jeremy Huff
"jumped me from behind" and Huff "kicked me and twisted my wrists to
the point I thought he had broken them."
alleged that the two slammed him against a hospital wall and a police
car, and held his handcuffed arms painfully high behind his back.
the complaint and in an interview Wednesday, Trapps admitted to
provoking the officers by telling Joseph in crude terms that he wished
the teenagers had harmed the officer during the Taser incident. But
Trapps said the force used in his arrest was excessive.
senior police officials failed to return calls seeking comment about
the complaint, which was filed Wednesday with the department's internal
say Joseph shocked Trapps' 16-year-old son with a Taser at Vallejo High
School on Tuesday after the boy and another student got into a fight.
After Joseph pulled the two boys apart, police say, the 16-year-old was
combative and ignored commands to back off, so Joseph deployed the stun
gun out of fear for his own safety.
took the 16-year-old to the hospital, as is routine policy in Taser
cases since a Vallejo man on drugs died after successive stun gun
shocks last year. Trapps went to the hospital to check on his son and
was arrested after police say he threatened the officers.
said he chose to make his complaint against police public in part to
clarify details of his son's own arrest.
make him seem like he was aggressive toward the police. No way he would
go against a 300-pound man," Trapps said, referring to one heavy-set
Trapps arrived at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, he said, he spoke
to Joseph. He said the police officer explained that he arrested the
boy because he would not comply with commands to back away from the
fight. Trapps said Joseph told him the boy would be fine, but the
officer wouldn't let Trapps see his son because he was under arrest.
was totally disrespecting the fact that he could have killed my son,"
Trapps said, referring to last fall's Taser case that ended in death.
said he became enraged and admitted telling Joseph, in front of Officer
Huff, "I wish one of them kids would have f----d your a-- up." Trapps
said neither officer reacted immediately, and Trapps walked away toward
the hospital door.
Trapps told the Times-Herald, Huff grabbed him from behind and the two
"commenced to beating the hell out of me," kicking him, applying
pressure on his back and twisting his arms. Trapps said he did not
handcuffs were "so tight, I feel like my arms are going to break at any
minute," Trapps said. "The same cop that Tased my son, kicked my a--. I
went to jail without knowing whether my son was dead or alive. That's
all I needed to know."
relative of Trapps who said she witnessed the arrest called it "police
brutality." She acknowledged that Trapps cursed at the officers, but
she said he was not physically threatening.
was booked into Solano County Jail on suspicion of battery on a police
officer and making criminal threats. He said he posted bail and was
released early Wednesday.
admitted to past violent outbursts, including a conviction in the last
several years on domestic battery. He declined to give details, but he
said he had no history with the officers who arrested him Tuesday.
Kaiser security official said none of its officers witnessed the
incident, although Trapps' relative said security guards were present.
An emergency room manager declined Wednesday to answer questions about
the arrest, referring questions to a hospital spokeswoman who said no
hospital witnesses wished to comment.
officer Joseph has been the target of parental criticism in the past.
In March, he broke up a lunch-hour fight at a Jack-in-the-Box
restaurant by spraying mace into a crowd of about 30 students and
others who refused to disperse.
to the amount of pepper spray, the fire department was called in to
ventilate the restaurant with industrial fans. But police defended
Joseph's actions in that case, saying crowds should always follow
police orders to disperse.
top school district official expressed confidence Wednesday in Joseph's
decision to use the Taser on the 16-year-old. Joseph is one of several
police officers often assigned to Vallejo schools to provide security
and head off fights.
rely on the police department to make the best judgment to provide for
the safety of all students," Vallejo school district spokeswoman Tish
Busselle said. "If you let something get out of control, it can have
very bad consequences for everyone."
said disciplinary measures were taken against the 16-year-old student
involved in Tuesday's fight. She declined to elaborate, citing juvenile
Dickinson, 16, a Vallejo High School student who is a friend of Trapps'
son, said she witnessed the Taser incident. Dickinson said she plans to
express concerns to school officials today that Joseph overreacted with
the Taser because the boy did not challenge him.
was not arguing with the cop," Dickinson said. "He wasn't harassing
anybody, but they Tasered him anyway. The cop couldn't have been in
fear for his safety because (the boy) wasn't coming after him."
A Fresno police officer who is facing a trial for assaulting his
girlfriend has been let go from the department. Police say officer
Frank Dickinson hit his girlfriend with a chair.
was placed on paid administrative leave after his arrest, but the
department confirmed with Action News that Dickinson is no longer with
Fresno police. He still faces a trial for the assault charge.
An officer with the Sacramento Police Department is facing felony
hit-and-run charges after he allegedly struck and killed an Elk Grove
teenager while under the influence of alcohol.
said Jason March, 29, struck and killed 13-year old Michael Ramirez on
Tuesday afternoon as the teen was crossing Bilby Road near Stathos
According to the California Highway Patrol, Ramirez
had just gotten off a school bus and was crossing the street to recover
a scooter he had hidden in the bushes. "A Ford Expedition came by and
struck the 13-year-old boy," recounted CHP Officer Jasper Begay. "The
vehicle slowed and all of a sudden took off."
chased the SUV and stopped it about three miles away on Lambert Road.
CHP officers arrived and took the suspect into custody at 4:32 p.m. A
field sobriety test showed evidence of intoxication.
was quickly identified as March, who has been a Sacramento police
officer for nearly three years. March was booked into Sacramento County
Jail at 9:50 p.m. on charges of felony hit-and-run, felony driving
under the influence, and vehicular manslaughter. According to police
records, he was released on a $55,000 bond at 10:36 p.m. He is
scheduled to be arraigned on June 7.
The news that an officer
had been involved in a hit-and-run while under the influence came as a
shock to police officials. "I am stunned really beyond words," said
Sacramento Police Chief Albert Najera in a rare night-time press
conference. "One of our off-duty officers has committed an absolutely
outrageous act against our community."
An obviously angry Najera
said March has been suspended and placed on administrative leave, and
the chief vowed to "move as quickly as possible to fire him."
Ramirez died instantly at the scene. At Harriet Eddy Middle School in
Elk Grove where Michael was a student, students and faculty spent the
day struggling to cope with what happened. "When you walk into a
classroom and see an empty desk and you know it's not because they've
transferred but because they will no longer be with us, it's a pain
that's deep," said teacher Lynda Bettencourt. "It's a pain that's wide."
one at March's Elk Grove home Wednesday would come to the door and a
visitor refused to comment. However, neighbors did speak about the
young officer. Hector Guerrero said he wouldn't expect police officers
to behave as March allegedly did. "[You] expect for them to obey the
law that we have to obey," he said. "I mean manslaughter, that's tough."
has been a Sacramento police officer since September 2002. He is a 1994
graduate of Elk Grove High School. The case is being investigated by
the California Highway Patrol.
sheriff of San Joaquin County was sentenced to six months in prison and
six months of home confinement Tuesday on a federal fraud conviction.
Baxter Dunn, 58, pleaded guilty in January to a charge stemming from
his secret financial interest in a company that wanted to build a power
plant at the Port of Stockton. He was accused of threatening to use his
position to hurt a rival bid and of failing to disclose his involvement
on his official statement of economic interest.
Dunn faced up
to two years in federal prison but received a lesser penalty because he
pleaded guilty and cooperated in the prosecution of a longtime friend.
Dunn also was fined $40,000.
Dunn was elected sheriff in 1990
and won a fourth term in 2002. He resigned earlier this year after
entering a guilty plea to the fraud charge. The investigation also
ensnared the former head of a state criminal justice agency and two
other former public officials.
05/28/2005 - MONTEBELLO - Javier Ovando still uses a wheelchair, has
bullet fragments lodged in his hip and a scar above his heart from
being shot by corrupt police officers in 1996.
of that could keep him from smiling Friday, two days after a jury ruled
his public defender was negligent in allowing a jury to falsely convict
Ovando of assaulting the rogue police officers who nearly killed him.
"It's a good
feeling," Ovando said as he ran his hand through the curly hair on his
head that hides still another bullet scar.
was hard. Mentally, I was going back to the hospital, to jail but it
was a release.
then a 19-year-old gang member, was shot and paralyzed by two police
officers who then planted a gun on him and accused him of assault. He
was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison, where he spent more
than two years until the truth finally came out.
who ruled Ovando's attorney was negligent also awarded him $6.2 million
Wednesday's verdict wasn't just about money. Ovando had already been
awarded $15 million by the city of Los Angeles in an out-of-court
This time he
got not only the award but also the jury's vote of confidence.
they believed me," he said.
Ovando's conviction was the most infamous of more than 100 tainted by
police misconduct that came to light in 1999 when a former officer
seeking a lighter sentence for stealing cocaine from an evidence room
blew the whistle on the city's Rampart Division police corruption
scandal, in which it was revealed that officers working in the city's
rough Rampart neighborhood near downtown beat and framed innocent
people, resulted in scores of criminal convictions being reversed. The
city has paid out more than $70 million in settlements to victims.
Ovando was quickly released from prison, he said he was still filled
with rage over what had happened to him and the fact he'd been
convicted of attacking the officers.
had the money. I was fine, I had everything, but you know I still had
this anger and I'm still in a wheelchair," he said Friday as he looked
down at his hands, which still shake slightly as a result of the
lawyer said Wednesday's ruling gives hope to others wrongly accused who
don't have the money to hire private attorneys.
public defender's office will be put on notice that they're going to be
held to a standard, that even if their clients don't have money they
have to do a reasonably competent job of defending them," said attorney
Deputy Public Defender Robert Kalunian said his office will meet with
county lawyers next week to decide whether to appeal. He supported
Tamar Toister, the attorney who defended Ovando.
believe that Ms. Toister did everything she could, did not commit
malpractice and was not negligent," Kalunian said.
verdict represents only one piece in the puzzle that is Ovando's search
the Honduran immigrant, who came to Los Angeles alone at 15, learned
English and began drawing.
his release, he began therapy and art classes and is working toward his
GED degree. He says he got $9 million from his first settlement after
lawyers' fees, enough to live on.
"But I want
to paint, and if I can keep with school, get a job. You've got to do
something," he said.
dark memories of his time behind bars still sometimes keep sleep at
bay, and his case has isolated him from those he knew and those he
first night in jail, Ovando recalled, he fell off his narrow bed and
couldn't pull himself back up. He slept on the cold floor, his bullet
wounds pressed against the concrete.
the morning, the prisoners were called to line up outside their cells
for breakfast. Ovando began yelling, terrified no one would notice him.
prisoners eventually lifted the mortified Ovando, pulled on his pants
and eased him into his wheelchair.
his release from prison, he returned to his old neighborhood where,
after his settlement, he said he was no longer sure who was his friend
and who was after his money. A drug arrest soon after his release from
prison led to a stint in rehab and put an end to that part of his life.
He has an
8-year-old daughter who was born while he was in prison, but she's only
been to her father's home a few times.
eventually moved to a new neighborhood, where he began telling people
at the gym where he works out that he was hurt in a car accident. Even
his art teacher doesn't know what really happened.
that now that he's back in the news his teacher may soon learn of his
past, Ovando looked worried.
got to a different school," he said with a sigh.
a moment later, as the conversation returned to the subject of
Wednesday's verdict, Ovando's broad smile returned.