Howard is quoted in this Boston Globe article: Behind the blue wall: Claims of bias in the State Police force. The article provides an in-depth view of many claims of discrimination within the Massachusetts State Police. Women and minority troopers have said that the police force, which is overwhelmingly white and male, is a biased and hostile work environment. The Globe has examined many of the lawsuits filed against the department, which detail claims of racist and homophobic taunts, sexual harassment, and biased employment decisions including female or minority troopers being passed over for promotions or even barred from the force. Howard’s comments point out that state police tend to protect one another—and in at least one pending rape case, troopers appeared in court to support a male trooper charged with rape. We believe police officers should not be above the law. Our state police should reflect the diversity of the people of Massachusetts.
Howard is quoted in this Boston Globe article: Private eye faced 40 complaints when he was with Boston police. A former Boston police officer is now a private investigator despite having accumulated 40 internal affairs complaints from civilians and fellow officers. The charges included untruthfulness, unreasonable judgment, and improper use of force. The Massachusetts State Police does not consider a former officer’s history of complaints when granting a PI license. Private investigators should be held to a high standard of truthfulness.
We recommend this article from the Pew Research Center: A closer look at police officers who have fired their weapon on duty. The researchers collected data about officers who have and have not fired their weapon while on duty. Only about one quarter of all police officers have ever fired a gun while on duty. The study shows several interesting links; for example, white officers and male officers are more likely to fire their gun than non-white officers and female officers. Whether or not an officer has fired their weapon also correlates with the officer’s opinions on topics such as gun ownership, use of physical force, and equal rights.
Victory for our client – federal appeals court establishes proper standards for taking a person into protective custody
On February 1, 2017 we won an important victory for our client Peter Alfano, who was unlawfully taken into protective custody on his way into a concert at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield. Mr. Alfano had been drinking but he was not driving. He was coherent. He was not bothering anyone. Despite this, police placed Mr. Alfano into protective custody, handcuffed him, took him in a van to the police station, then held him in a cell for five hours. Mr. Alfano’s lawsuit alleged that police violated the Fourth Amendment by taking him into protective custody without probable cause to believe he was “incapacitated.” Under the law, incapacitated is more than just intoxicated; a person is incapacitated only if he or she so intoxicated as to be a danger to himself or herself, or to others.
The district court dismissed the lawsuit, saying that the legal requirements for police to take someone into protective custody were not clear. Under a doctrine called “qualified immunity,” police can avoid liability for violating constitutional rights by arguing that the rights in question were not “clearly established.” Unlike the rest of us, for whom ignorance of the law is no excuse, for police officers it is.
In a unanimous decision, the three-judge federal appeals court panel rejected the officer’s claim that the law was not clear in this case. The court held that any reasonable police officer would have known that they must have probable cause (not the lower standard of “reasonable suspicion”) to place someone in handcuffs and lock him up for five hours, even if the person was not being charged with a crime. The court also held that the law was clear that police can only take someone into protective custody for being “incapacitated,” not for being intoxicated. You can be under the influence of alcohol at a concert so long as you are not a danger to yourself or others.
The decision, which you can read here, is important because police officers in Massachusetts too often have locked people up for being intoxicated in public. In 2015, our firm won a jury verdict against the Town of Foxborough because we proved that the Town had a practice of illegally taking people into protective custody at Gillette Stadium events. Tuesday’s decision from the court of appeals sets precedent that all police officers in Massachusetts will have to follow. We are sending a copy of the opinion to the Massachusetts municipal police training academy.
In a political climate dominated by fake news and “alternative facts,” a strong public records law is more important than ever before. On February 6, David Milton will argue our public records case in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The Court’s decision will have tremendous impact on civilians’ ability to request information from governmental agencies in Massachusetts.
We represent the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which requested public records from the state Department of Agricultural Resources in 2014. The Department denied the request under a too-broad interpretation of the public safety exemption. We filed a lawsuit, and a Superior Court judge sided with the Department. We appealed that decision, and now the highest court in Massachusetts has chosen to hear this case. We highly recommend this article by Andrew Quemere, which explains the legal arguments in detail.
ACLU Report—Caged In: The Devastating Harms of Solitary Confinement on Prisoners with Physical Disabilities
Solitary confinement is harmful to everyone, and it has particular harms to people with physical disabilities. A new report from ACLU attorney Jamelia Morgan of the National Prison Project details the harms caused to prisoners with physical disabilities by the needless use of solitary confinement. The report calls for both state-based and nationwide reforms that will help protect the rights and lives of all prisoners equally, and stop the use of solitary confinement for prisoners with physical disabilities. Learn more and read the ALCU’s report.
Solitary is inhumane; it causes and exacerbates mental illness. The lack of human contact experienced by prisoners in solitary confinement also prevents successful reintegration into society. We support the campaigns in Massachusetts and many other states to end the use of solitary confinement for all prisoners.
Watch this video of our client Lawyer Johnson describing his wrongful conviction and his fight to get the compensation he deserves. The television show Greater Boston interviewed Mr. Johnson and Jenifer McKim, an investigative reporter who recently published a story about the moral debt owed to people who were erroneously convicted of crimes.
We highly recommend reading this article, published by The Eye in collaboration with the Boston Globe and WGBH radio. The article uses the case of Kevin O’Loughlin to describe the obstacles that people face when trying to get compensation after they have endured a wrongful conviction. The online article includes the audio recording of a radio show in which Howard Friedman is quoted.
In 2004, Massachusetts passed a law, the erroneous conviction statute, which allows wrongfully convicted people to get compensation. The amount of money someone can receive was capped at $500,000 and was not intended to be complete compensation. One of the biggest problems with the law is that the Attorney General’s office spends a long time fighting these cases and negotiates downwards from the cap. As a result, people who were wrongfully convicted can wait years for compensation and then receive an amount that is significantly lower than $500,000. In civil cases, where juries decide damages without a cap, jurors award roughly $1 million per year in custody.
As part of this investigative story, The Eye reached out to our client Lawyer Johnson, who was one of the first people to use the wrongful conviction statute to gain some compensation for his wrongful conviction. Watch a short video of Lawyer telling his story.
Howard weighed in on the news that the criminal charges against the police officer who killed Walter Scott ended in a mistrial yesterday. Video evidence from a witness’s cell phone shows police officer Michael Slager shooting at Mr. Scott, an unarmed black man, as Mr. Scott ran away from the officer. Jurors indicated that eleven out of twelve jurors were in favor of a guilty verdict, but unanimous agreement was not possible.
Howard’s comment in the article expressing sadness at the verdict but not surprise refers to the prejudice in favor of police officers in the court system, particularly in criminal cases.
David Milton recently filed an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief in the federal appeals court in Philadelphia in a case about the right to record police officers in public. The plaintiffs in that case seek a ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that the First Amendment protects individuals who videotape, photograph or otherwise record on-duty police officers. The Third Circuit covers Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey. The plaintiffs in that case rely heavily on the landmark 2011 case handled by our firm, Glik v. Cunniffe, in which the First Circuit (which includes Massachusetts) affirmed that there is First Amendment right to record police officers. David wrote the amicus brief on behalf of the National Police Accountability Project, a group of more than 500 lawyers around the country who bring civil rights cases on behalf of victims of police misconduct. You can read the amicus brief here.
We gathered in our office this morning to share our fears for our country.
We fear for the future of the Supreme Court and the likelihood that the laws that protect our civil liberties will be diminished.
We fear the legitimization of hatred including racism, misogyny, xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, and transphobia.
We fear for the communities—Black communities and undocumented communities in particular—that are targeted by the police. We fear that law enforcement will be empowered by our politicians’ rhetoric.
But we will not give up. We will continue to fight for equal treatment and justice for all.
We are reminding ourselves to take deep breaths. We are surrounded by people who share our fears and our desire for justice and equality. Together, we will continue to defend our civil rights and we will work to fulfill our dream of a better world.
U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers® announced the “Best Law Firms” rankings for 2017; we are Tier 1 for civil rights law in the Boston area
Our firm received a First Tier ranking in the Boston area in civil rights law by U.S. News – Best Lawyers® for 2017. We are pleased to have again received this recognition for being in the top tier of firms for our work representing victims of police brutality, wrongful death, false arrest, prisoner abuse, and other civil rights violations.
Best Lawyers® is the oldest and most respected attorney ranking service in the world. Firms included in the 2017 “Best Law Firms” list are recognized for professional excellence with persistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. Achieving a tiered ranking signals a unique combination of quality law practice and breadth of legal expertise.
Operation Smoke and Mirrors: In the Chicago Police Department, If the Bosses Say It Didn’t Happen, It Didn’t Happen
We recommend this article from theintercept.com: Operation Smoke and Mirrors: In the Chicago Police Department, If the Bosses Say It Didn’t Happen, It Didn’t Happen
This in-depth article is worth reading; it describes serious police corruption in Chicago, where officers were extorting money from drug dealers while allowing them to continue their business. The evidence shows that officers charged drug dealers a “tax” to sell drugs in Chicago’s housing projects, ran their own drug lines, planted drugs, and even murdered rival drug dealers. In addition to this large-scale corruption, racist remarks and excessive force were tolerated in the daily policing of public housing buildings. It is a true story of corruption and the system that allowed it to continue.
Super Lawyers, an attorney rating service, has announced its ratings for 2016 and all of our firm’s attorneys are recognized. Howard Friedman and David Milton were named as Massachusetts Super Lawyers. Howard Friedman has received this recognition for over a decade; David Milton has since 2013. Drew Glassroth was once again recognized as a Massachusetts Rising Star.
The rating system names no more than 5% of Massachusetts attorneys as Super Lawyers, and no more than 2.5% of Massachusetts attorneys as Rising Stars.
Last month, an Arizona trooper stopped a man driving a rental car because the car was mistakenly listed as stolen. Although the man complied with the officer’s instructions, the cop threatened to shoot the man and pointed his gun at the man’s 7-year-old child. Read the article here. The driver, who is white, made a Facebook post in which he shared his terrifying experience and encouraged people to support the Black Lives Matter movement. He compares his story to that of Philando Castile, a black man who was shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer during a traffic stop. Castile was complying with the officer’s orders, and he had a valid permit for the gun he carried.
These cases show how police traffic stops can violently escalate, turning innocent actions such as renting a car or lawfully carrying a gun into a dangerous confrontation. Last December, the Washington Post published an article—A disproportionate number of black victims in fatal traffic stops—that relied on a database of deadly police shootings to determine that traffic stops are “one of the most common precursors to a fatal police shooting of a black person in 2015.” Sadly, this trend continues; two days after the Arizona man was threatened, Milwaukee erupted in protest when police shot and killed Sylville Smith, a young black man, after a traffic stop. This trend must be stopped. It is unacceptable for police officers to shoot first and ask questions later. Better training and appropriate discipline are essential to change this dangerous pattern.
We recommend this article: Federal judge declares ‘black lives matter’ during hearing over Seattle police reform. The federal judge is presiding over a 2012 consent decree that requires the Seattle police department to make major changes in response to complaints of excessive force and biased policing. When the police union rejected a contract, the judge told the union that they could not hold the city “hostage” for increased payments and benefits.
Howard is quoted in article about Gov. Baker’s proposal to make assault and battery on a police officer a felony when there is “serious bodily harm”
Howard Friedman is quoted in this article in the Bay State Banner: Civil rights advocates slam Baker bill. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker supports legislation that would cause the charge of assault and battery on a police officer to become a felony when the police officer suffers serious bodily harm. Howard Friedman and other civil rights advocates believe that there is no need to change the law. Police officers commonly use the charge of assault and battery on a police officer to cover up their own brutality and excessive force. Making this a felony would put increased pressure on the civilian, who may be a victim of police misconduct.
On June 26-28, Howard Friedman attended and spoke at a seminar on law enforcement and the U.S. Constitution. The program was attended by Virginia law enforcement officers. Howard spoke to the group on municipal and supervisory liability for police misconduct under Section 1983, the federal civil rights act. This seminar was put on by the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution and James Madison’s Montpelier in Orange, Virginia. The program allowed for interesting discussions with police supervisors on the issues they face performing their jobs and the restrictions placed on police by the Constitution.
The seminar included a review of the Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Howard was pleased to see that one of the Task Force’s recommendations is: “Law enforcement agencies should acknowledge the role of policing in past and present injustice and discrimination and how it is a hurdle to the promotion of community trust.”
We recommend this article from In These Times magazine: How Union Contracts Shield Police Departments from DOJ Reforms. In response to some recent instances of police brutality, misconduct, and wrongful death, the Department of Justice has initiated investigations in some cities and demanded reforms in the way police departments operate. However, the power of the police unions prevents the full implementation of these reforms. This article explores this problem in detail.
Check out this article on masslive.com about our client Charles Wilhite, whose case was heard in federal court today. This case involves two Springfield police officers, Anthony Pioggia and Steven Tatro, threatening and coercing witnesses in order to falsely convict Charles. (Learn more about the case here.) The officers filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, which the judge denied after today’s hearing. The judge called the officers’ legal arguments “unpersuasive.” Read our response to their motion here. The case will now proceed to mediation or trial.