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Tuesday
Nov272018

Article: ACLU criticizes Boston police commissioner’s Facebook post

Howard is quoted in this article in the Boston Globe: ACLU criticizes Boston police commissioner’s Facebook post. On Saturday, Boston police commissioner William Gross published a criticism of the ACLU on his Facebook page, which is visible to journalists. His comments are in response to a lawsuit filed earlier this month. The ACLU is one of several plaintiffs in this lawsuit, which seeks information about the Boston Police Department’s practice of labeling young Black and Latinx people as gang members without strong evidence, and sharing that information with federal immigration officials. Howard suggests that that Police Commissioner Gross should not be reflexively lashing out at critics. Instead he should consider whether there is any truth in the criticism. For many years Boston Police Commissioners have worked with the ACLU to prevent civil rights violations, for example, meeting when demonstrations are going to take place in an effort to protect the constitutional rights of protestors and to protect public safety. Working together can prevent civil rights violations and avoid civil rights suits.

Thursday
Sep202018

They Were Seeking Mental Health Care. Instead They Drowned in a Sheriff’s Van

We recommend this sad article: They Were Seeking Mental Health Care. Instead They Drowned in a Sheriff’s Van. Two women drowned in the back of a sheriff’s van in South Carolina after the sheriff’s deputies drove down a road that was blocked off because of flooding. Floodwaters overtook the van. The deputies survived by climbing on top of the van and awaiting emergency rescue services. The deputies could not rescue the two women, who drowned in the back of the van. The women were mental health patients who were being taken from hospitals to mental health treatment centers. This was an avoidable tragedy. The deputies drove on a road that was blocked off due to flooding. This transport could have waited until travel was safe.

Friday
Sep142018

Howard will comment on “Crime + Punishment” at Newburyport Documentary Film Festival

On Sunday, September 16, 2018, Howard will provide commentary on the documentary film “Crime + Punishment” at the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival. The film is about the NYPD 12, a group of police officers who filed a class action lawsuit against the City of New York for imposing quotas on police officers, which resulted in arrests without probable cause. The film shows the effect on the police officers for reporting misconduct within their police department. By speaking the truth they faced retaliation for breaking the “code of silence.” While the film is about New York City, similar issues exist in police departments in Massachusetts. Unfortunately police officers who speak out still face retaliation. 

Wednesday
Sep052018

‘I could crush your [expletive] skull and [expletive] get away with it.’ A deep look at the Springfield police

We recommend this article about the Springfield police, which highlights our recently filed case: ‘I could crush your [expletive] skull and [expletive] get away with it.’ A deep look at the Springfield police. We represent one of the teenagers who was assaulted by Springfield police officers in February of 2016. Our client, who was 14 at the time, was brought to the ground and repeatedly bitten by a police dog. While our client was handcuffed, Officer Gregg Bigda kicked him in the face and spit on him. Later, Officer Bigda was recorded on video at the Palmer police station threatening two other boys and bragging about how he could brutalize them and plant drugs on them with impunity. Our lawsuit claims that the City of Springfield has a policy or custom of tolerating unreasonable force and other misconduct by its police officers. The City’s policies or customs permitted Officer Bigda to continue working as a police officer despite his long and well-known history of using unreasonable force against civilians.

Monday
Aug272018

Boston police officers support DA candidate who would thwart criminal justice reform and police accountability

Howard is quoted in this article: There are six candidates for Suffolk DA, but one has the lion’s share of police support. Police officers in Boston have overwhelmingly contributed to the campaign of long-time prosecutor Greg Henning. As the article explains, Howard is concerned that Henning’s close working relationship with police officers and the near-exclusive financial support from police officers will make it challenging for him to be impartial in cases where there are allegations of police misconduct. Henning is the only one of the six candidates who says he would not appoint a special prosecutor to investigate when police officers shoot and kill people. The people of Suffolk County deserve a district attorney who will promote police accountability.

Thursday
Aug022018

Activists, ACLU Push for the Right to Secretly Record Police in Massachusetts

On July 19, 2018, a federal judge in Boston heard oral arguments in an important lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Massachusetts seeking to establish that the First Amendment protects the right to secretly record police officers. The lawsuit, Martin v. Evans, challenges the constitutionality of Massachusetts’ wiretap statute, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 272, Section 99, with respect to secret recordings of police officers. Section 99 makes it a felony to secretly record oral communications. Two Massachusetts civil rights activists, Eric Martin and Renee Perez, want to be able to record police secretly without the threat of prosecution.

The Boston Police Department trains its officers that they have a right to arrest civilians for secretly recording them, even though Glik v. Cunniffe—our firm’s landmark 2011 case in the First Circuit, which confirmed the constitutional right to record police—makes no distinction between open and secret recording. Since 2011, the Boston Police Department has brought nine criminal complaints under Section 99 for the secret recording of its police officers. The ACLU’s suit asks the court to rule that it is unconstitutional to arrest people under the wiretap law for exercising their First Amendment right to secretly record police in the public performance of their duties.

Defendants, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans and Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley, argue that the privacy rights afforded under the wiretap law should apply equally to police officers. United States District Judge Patti Saris said that she could not think of a single reason to support the notion that a police officer involved in a public arrest should retain any expectation of privacy. Defendants further claimed that civilians’ right to openly record police is, alone, an effective measure in ensuring that police officers conform to laws. The ACLU argues that secretly recording the police would yield an added layer of transparency that is otherwise lost when officers refrain from misconduct because they know they are being recorded.

Arguing alongside the ACLU in a separate but related suit were attorneys representing Project Veritas. Project Veritas also seeks an injunction against the enforcement of Section 99. Seeking a considerably wider ruling than the ACLU, Project Veritas wants to be allowed to secretly record all individuals in all spaces generally accessible to the public.

Judge Saris said that she was contemplating three forms of potential relief: the narrowest form would protect the secret recording of police officers in public settings (motor vehicle stops, sidewalks, parks); the middle form of relief adds to this the right to secretly record all public officials in all public forums; the broadest form of relief would protect the right to secretly record all individuals in all spaces that are generally accessible to the public. Our firm welcomes any outcome that ends enforcement of Section 99 against those secretly recording the police. Affirming that the First Amendment protects secret recording will result in greater police transparency and accountability, and less police harassment and retaliation against civilians exercising a vital constitutional liberty.

By Alec Larson, Legal Intern

Monday
Jul302018

Watchdog Report: Lawyer calls for probe of Worcester police credibility

Howard is quoted in this article: Watchdog Report: Lawyer calls for probe of Worcester police credibility. The article describes civil rights lawyer Hector Pineiro’s account of widespread misconduct in the Worcester police force, including fabricating evidence and hiding evidence that could be used to prove a suspect’s innocence. In many cases, judges in criminal prosecutions questioned the police officers’ conduct. The well-researched article also discusses cases of police misconduct in Springfield, Lowell, and Boston. Howard provides insight into how police misconduct thrives with a lack of proper supervision and accountability. Too often police officers are willing to violate the constitution in order to make an arrest.

Tuesday
Jun262018

Punches as police practice called into question after viral videos

Howard is quoted in this article: Punches as police practice called into question after viral videos. The article discusses a video that went viral this weekend because it shows Worcester, Massachusetts police officers punching a man numerous times after taking him down to the ground. We view these punches as unreasonable force and police brutality. The police department, however, claims that punches like these follow proper police procedure.

Police officers are not allowed to use unreasonable force. When a police officer punches a person who is already subdued it does not serve a legitimate police purpose and is therefore unreasonable. If this use of force follows department policy, the policy must be changed.

Videos of police misconduct such as this one create a renewed opportunity for civilians to argue for police accountability.

We also recommend this column about this incident: Clive McFarlane: Officials too quick to accept police version of violent arrests.

Monday
May072018

AG Maura Healey promises transparency, but critics say her record falls short

David is quoted in this article in the Boston Globe: AG Maura Healey promises transparency, but critics say her record falls short. The article describes how the attorney general’s office has repeatedly fought to keep government records secret despite the attorney general’s claimed commitment to open government. The article discusses our firm’s public records lawsuit on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which resulted in an important decision from the state’s highest court affirming the broad scope of the Massachusetts public records law. You can read more about the PETA case here.

Tuesday
May012018

Missed warning signs on the road to tragedy

Howard is quoted in this Boston Globe article: Missed warning signs on the road to tragedy. The article describes how a Massachusetts State Police officer let an impaired woman continue driving, and 19 minutes later she struck and killed a 42-year old husband and father. The officers who responded to the crash said the driver couldn’t walk without losing her balance, had “droopy” eyes, and didn’t know what month it was.  Howard was critical of the actions of the State Police in refusing to provide police reports to the District Attorney’s office because the State Police began an internal investigation.

A second article published today describes how the State Police took eight months to hand over information about the crash to prosecutors: Months after fatal crash, State Police provide information to prosecutors.

Monday
Apr302018

On video: Lowell Police detention attendant punches man in head

We recommend watching this video from LowellSun.com: Amid training lapses, video shows handcuffed detainee punched. Video from the Lowell Police Department shows a civilian detention attendant punching a detainee in the head. Our office and the Lowell Sun both obtained this video by making a public records request. Howard is quoted in the article.

Howard is also quoted in this article about the incident: Lowell PD history repeats itself.

 

Thursday
Mar292018

We filed a civil rights case against Essex County correctional officers after our clients’ son died of overdose in transport van

We represent the parents of Sam Dunn, a 29-year-old man who died of an opioid overdose while in an Essex County Sheriff’s Department transport van on January 7, 2016. Earlier this week, we filed a civil rights and wrongful death case alleging that two Essex County correctional officers ignored Mr. Dunn’s need for emergency medical treatment, resulting in his death.

We recommend this news story about the case by 5 Investigates.

Our case alleges that Essex County Officers Patrick Barry and John Nguyen were transporting Mr. Dunn to the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center (MASAC) in Bridgewater, where a judge had ordered Mr. Dunn civilly committed for substance abuse treatment. The officers saw that Mr. Dunn “seemed to be under the influence of some type of drug or alcohol.” Earlier that day, Mr. Dunn had ingested opiates contained in fingers cut from a surgical glove. Video footage of Mr. Dunn from the Essex County Correctional Facility shows that shortly before he was placed in the transport van, he was struggling to stand and convulsing in apparent seizures.

Mr. Dunn spent the last five and a half hours of his life shackled in the back of the prisoner-transport van, unresponsive, and loudly struggling to breathe. Most of this time was spent in the parking lot outside MASAC, which had anti-overdose medication that would have saved Mr. Dunn’s life. Our case alleges that the officers ignored obvious signs that Mr. Dunn was overdosing and failed to follow policies requiring them to maintain constant visual observation of people in their custody and be alert to issues such as drug use and difficulty breathing.

When the officers finally checked on Mr. Dunn, he was unresponsive and his skin had turned blue. The officers summoned emergency medical help, but Mr. Dunn could not be revived. Had the officers gotten medical care for Mr. Dunn at almost any point during the eight and a half hours they were responsible for his care and custody, Mr. Dunn would have lived.

Monday
Mar052018

Massachusetts loophole may allow police officers to rape people while on duty and later claim it was consensual

Read this article from digboston: Sex, Consent and Custody. Massachusetts and 35 other states do not explicitly forbid law police officers from having sex while on duty. Individual departments may have policies forbidding on-duty sexual intercourse, but the lack of a state law creates a loophole that officers may use to claim that people in their custody consented to have sex. The article describes several instances of officers trying to use this loophole to get away with rape.

Unlike police officers, Massachusetts prison guards and other correctional officers are forbidden to have sex with people in their custody. State senators are in the process of drafting legislation to prohibit police from having sex with people in their custody or other people they interact with in the course of their duties. We support this legislation.

Wednesday
Feb282018

Howard will speak at upcoming events for law students, lawyers, police officers, and others on the topics of police misconduct, wrongful convictions, and qualified immunity

Howard will be speaking at several upcoming events to share his knowledge of police misconduct law, the doctrine of qualified immunity, and how police and prosecutorial misconduct leads to wrongful convictions.

Today, he will speak to law students at Boston College Law School in a class taught by Geri Hines, a retired judge of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

In March, Howard will speak at a Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education program for  attorneys representing people suing police and those defending police officers who want to learn more about police misconduct and police brutality litigation.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Feb212018

Howard will speak to police officers and insurance executives about wrongful convictions and methods to reduce police misconduct 

On April 4 Howard will be speaking to law enforcement officials and risk managers and other insurance executives at a conference on “Risk Management and Loss Control for Law Enforcement” in Cape Coral, Florida. Howard will discuss the causes of wrongful convictions and methods to reduce wrongful convictions and false arrests, as well as the plaintiff’s perspective on police misconduct litigation. More information about the program is here: http://www.llrmi.com/.

We appreciate the opportunity to speak to police professionals to work towards our mutual goal of reducing police misconduct.

Wednesday
Jan312018

We filed a civil lawsuit for our client who was falsely arrested by Lynn police officers

We recently filed a civil rights complaint against two Lynn police officers and the City of Lynn for falsely arresting our client, Mr. Randy Spearing, for a violent assault that occurred in May 2016. Mr. Spearing had no involvement in the crime. The Lynn police officers conducted an improper investigation. They ignored evidence that their investigation focused on the wrong gas station and that Mr. Spearing did not commit the crime. They fabricated police reports to conceal the absence of probable cause to arrest and charge Mr. Spearing.

We recommend this article about the case. In the article, the lawyer for the City of Lynn is quoted as saying that the police lineup was insufficient because it wasn’t positive identification. However, the victim did make a positive identification; he identified a different person, not Mr. Spearing. 

Monday
Jan292018

Dead, beaten and abused: Millions paid in secret settlements to keep bad cops on the street and the public in danger

We recommend this article about how municipalities have covered up police abuse by ensuring that settlements are not publicized. A review of police departments across the state of New Jersey reveals how when officers break the law or commit misconduct, the investigations of their wrongdoing are often kept secret. When civilians complain about police abuse or brutality, their settlements are not public. This secrecy permits police officers who abuse their position of power to remain on the force. Although this article focuses on New Jersey, the problem of police secrecy exists in Massachusetts as well. While settlements using public funds cannot by law be kept confidential, settlements by insurance companies can be subject to confidentiality clauses. Keeping information about civil rights violations by police officers protects police officers and their departments from being held accountable for their misconduct.

Friday
Jan262018

Baltimore Police officer who planted drugs thinking he turned off body camera charged with tampering with evidence; others cleared

This article describes how the Baltimore police officer whose body camera recorded him planting drugs is being charged with tampering with evidence. The body cam video, which was publicized last summer, shows the officer planting drugs before turning on his camera and finding the drugs he just planted. The officer may not have realized that the cameras are programmed to save the 30 seconds of footage immediately before the camera is activated.

A similar situation happened in LA, where officers planted drugs in a black suspect’s wallet, unaware that their body cameras were recording. Body camera videos are showing that police planting drugs is more common than many people believe. These videos show that body cameras can be a useful tool in exposing police misconduct. However, police officers should not decide when to turn the cameras on and off.

Monday
Dec182017

Chicago Police Win Big When Appealing Discipline

We recommend this article from propublica.org: Chicago Police Win Big When Appealing Discipline; Analysis shows hundreds of misconduct findings overturned. In the Chicago Police Department, 85% of officers who appeal a disciplinary decision get their punishment overturned or reduced. Officers have successfully appealed cases involving drunk driving, excessive force, domestic violence, and making false statements. The victims who originally filed the complaints are not informed about the appeal and are left with the impression that the officers’ discipline was upheld.

By allowing arbitrators to routinely overturn officers’ discipline, grievance systems like the one described in this article undermine police accountability and embolden police officers to commit misconduct without fear of punishment. This problem exists in police departments in Massachusetts and other states. 

Friday
Dec152017

We sent Essex County Sheriff's Department a notice of intent to sue for negligence causing a man’s death

Earlier this month, we sent a demand letter stating our intent to file a lawsuit on behalf of the family of Sam Dunn. In January of 2016, the Essex County Sheriff’s Department took Mr. Dunn into custody, placed him in the back of a sheriff’s van for hours, and ignored him as he died from a drug overdose.  We recommend watching this report by 5 Investigates, which includes video and photos of Mr. Dunn’s final hours.