Lately, in our world today, citizens seem to be at war with the police. For most people, seeing an officer in uniform patrolling their neighborhood or parked outside the local high school used to bring a sense of safety. Citizens rarely had suspicion or fear when passing a uniformed officer. Nowadays, things are much different as more and more police misconduct cases make the headlines. What exactly is police misconduct, and what are some examples of police misconduct cases that have made the news?
Police misconduct covers a wide range of unethical and illegal actions that violate the constitutional rights of individuals. Examples of police misconduct would be police brutality, coercion, torture to force confessions, fraud, sexual assault, and many other illegal actions. Notable cases that have made the news, bringing light to the corruption that can take place in the police force, are the death of George Floyd by former officer Derek Chauvin, the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers, and the fabricating of evidence in the John Spencer case which sent an innocent man to prison for 20 years. Let’s take a look at other famous cases.
Four Common Types of Police Misconduct
False or Wrongful Arrest
When officers make an arrest, they must first establish probable cause. This means that they need to prove that the individual has either committed a crime or is planning to commit a crime. If they do not establish probable cause and still detain the person, it is considered a false arrest.
In 2018, former Providence Police Sergeant William Dukes, Jr. was sentenced for the wrongful arrest of a Kentucky citizen. Dukes tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton, and punched the victim even though he had committed no crime.
The victim had previously contacted the authorities to file a complaint against Dukes from an earlier incident. Dukes, in turn, threatened to arrest him if he complained again.
The victim then called the local sheriff’s office, and the Kentucky State Police determined to file a complaint. As a result, Duke drove to the victim’s house, intending to arrest him because of the phone calls. He entered the victim’s home at 1 a.m. without a warrant and then tased him, struck him repeatedly with a baton, pepper-sprayed him, and punched him in the face breaking his nose.
He then handcuffed the victim and charged him with four crimes, one of which included property damage because the victim’s blood got on Dukes’ uniform. Later, Dukes attempted to cover up, falsify and knowingly impede the investigation. He was sentenced to 42 months in federal prison and three years of supervised release.
Unlawful Search and Seizures
The Fourth Amendment limits how much power the police have on making arrests, searching people and their property, and seizing objects such as drugs, guns, and other contraband. In 2019, police obtained a search warrant to search a home as part of a child pornography investigation. The police had traced an internet IP address to this home, where they found active sharing of child pornography.
The warrant allowed the officers to search the premises, any vehicles or persons located on the premises, and any land attached to the house where there was reason to believe it might be connected to illegal activity.
When the police arrived, they discovered a detached mother-in-law unit and several RVs parked behind it. One RV, in particular, had shades blocking any view of the inside, a septic connection to the ground, and a router cable running inside from the main residence.
When the police knocked on the door to search the residence, Rodgers argued with them, saying they had no right to come in. They then ordered Rodgers to come outside, and they heard a lot of commotion going on inside. Thinking he may be getting a gun, they forced their way in and took Rodgers outside as they went in to search the RV. They found pieces of a computer under the bed.
They called their lead investigator, who was in the main house with the owner and the owner said Rodgers had been living there five years, paid rent, and had access to his utilities, including internet service. The police then acquired a separate warrant to search the RV, and at that time, they seized the computer.
Rodgers filed a motion to suppress, stating that the police did not have the right to search his RV the first time because it was outside the scope of the initial warrant. The trial court denied the motion, and Rodgers entered a plea to the charges against him, planning to appeal the denial of the motion to suppress at a later date.
However, the Second District Court of Appeal said that the trial court erred in refusing the motion to suppress and ruled that the search of Rodger’s RV did exceed the scope of the warrant.
There are times when police use excessive force when apprehending and transporting a suspect that leads to serious injury or even death. There are numerous cases in the news concerning this type of misconduct.
One such case involves Maryland resident Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, who was arrested for possessing a switchblade. The Baltimore Police Department put him in the van, and 45 minutes later, he was found unconscious, not breathing, and his spinal cord nearly severed. After remaining in a coma for seven days, he died.
There was a two-week police investigation where they concluded that Gray’s death happened sometime during transport.
On May 1, 2015, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced criminal charges against six police officers, but over the next two years, with four trials, the charges were dropped.
In the podcast, Undisclosed, which is hosted by three attorneys who investigate wrongful convictions, they found several discrepancies.
- The knife was not a switchblade but an assisted opener and is legal under Maryland law.
- Witness accounts of Gray’s arrest were dismissed. A man named Kevin Moore filmed the last few moments of Gray’s arrest where it showed Gray being held face down on the sidewalk by two officers as he screamed in pain. His ankles were bent, and the officer’s weight pushed his heels into his rear. Though the video was shown in court, Moore was never called to testify. Neither were the dozen or more residents who witnessed Gray’s arrest.
- The Baltimore Police Department didn’t disclose everything they knew about the van drive until after Gray was deceased. The officers said the van only had three stops when, in fact, there were six stops, and there were 30 minutes unaccounted for with no explanation as to what happened. No proof of stops three and four was ever disclosed. There is proof of some of the stops from nearby security footage, and one of the officers did stop the van at stop three, but he did not alert dispatch and did not inform investigators about the third stop. It was only discovered from security footage nearby.
- Police and prosecutors failed to investigate leads. The Baltimore Police Department’s Force Investigation Team did not follow the standard protocols when interviewing witnesses and evidence collection. Instead of the transport van being treated as a crime scene, it was almost immediately put back into service, thus, prohibiting the crime lab from being able to trace the chain of evidence of the van back to the day the alleged crime occurred.
Sometimes the police will use their power to sexually assault people they detain. The people they tend to take advantage of are women who are intoxicated or prostitutes, women of color, domestic violence victims, those caught up in human trafficking, and even children. It is often hard for these women to report the assault because they are needing to report the crime to the very people who assaulted them.
This is what happened to Tiawanda Moore in July 2010. At 19, Moore was groped and sexually assaulted in her own apartment by an officer with whom she was discussing a domestic disturbance. When she tried to report the crime to internal affairs, they tried to intimidate and discourage her from making a report. She then presented evidence of the assault with a recording she had made on her cell phone and was charged with two counts of eavesdropping, which, if found guilty, could have given her up to 15 years in prison.
She was finally acquitted in August 2011 but not without spending two weeks in the Cook County Jail. Upon her release, she turned around and filed a civil suit against the city of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department.
Why Does Police Misconduct Occur?
There are several reasons that police misconduct occurs. Some reasons stem from lack of training, and other causes are due to the tremendous pressure and stress officers face every day.
Another reason seems to be a lack of accountability and prosecution. Around 99% of all police killing cases pass without the officer being charged and prosecuted. Even though, in most instances, there is justification for their shootings, the fact that such a high percentage is not questioned sets off a red flag as to whether officers are being held to account for their actions.
The cases listed above show that often they are not.