HARTFORD, CT.- This is the final installment in a series of articles examining the proposed “criminal justice reforms” being considered by the Connecticut legislature’s “Accountability and Transparency Task Force.”
This series of articles has used information and analysis provided by Attorney Elliott Spector, Esq., arguably the foremost expert in the state on alleged police misconduct.
Spector investigated over 100 civil liability claims as the Civil Litigation Officer at the Hartford Police Department, and he has represented hundreds of officers in alleged misconduct cases, which included 15 appellate decisions.
Spector created POST required liability training for Connecticut police officers. He has also served on misconduct related projects for DOJ/NIJ, FBI and DEA. He likely has more knowledge in his little finger on the subject of police misconduct than the entire Connecticut legislature combined.
Today, we will look at additional areas the task force is examining so far as placing restrictions on law enforcement officers in Connecticut.
PROHIBIT CHOKEHOLDS AND NECK RESTRAINTS
Under POSTC Standard #16, chokeholds or neck restraints by police officers are prohibited, except in cases where deadly force is justified. The question then becomes whether or not neck restraints should be prohibited even in cases when deadly force is permitted.
The history of using such restraints in Connecticut should be examined prior to the blanket condemnation of police officers in Connecticut and recommending reforms in order to make an informed decision.
Before the mid-1980’s, Spector notes, police in the state were trained to use chokeholds in response to any justifiable use of force situation. In 1983 the United States Supreme Court rejected an injunction on the use of chokeholds, however said that an excessive force claim could continue under circumstances where this use of force was not reasonable- City of Los Angeles v. Lyons 461 U.S. 95 (1983).
After this decision, the use of chokeholds has been limited to a level where such use of force is rarely used.
In the state of Connecticut, there is no evidence that either before or after the 1983 ruling that anyone in the state has suffered any injury after the imposition of neck restraints. Spector rightly notes that under the deadly force exception to using a chokehold, it is a better choice under most circumstances to utilize a temporary chokehold and expose the subject to some temporary pain, rather than the alternative which is to use deadly physical force and shoot them.
Spector said that in his experience as a police officer, he had been trained to use chokeholds and used the technique numerous times as an alternative to using in impact weapon. He noted that in his experience either using or observing others, no suspect had ever been injured.
Indeed in my experience as a police officer and supervisor, I never saw a suspect injured through the application of a limited neck restraint, however saw many injured when alternative uses of force were used, such as an impact weapon.
Spector says, and we agree, that the current deadly force exception is reasonable. Once again as mentioned previously, if an officer acts in an egregious manner, they can be criminally charged and qualified immunity would not hold.
By enacting a ban on the use of neck restraints, the legislative task force is sending a message that there has been a misuse of this technique in the state, which is simply not true. Such a ban would eliminate a reasonable, and if properly implemented, harmless choice for officers to use instead of more lethal deadly force alternatives.
PROHIBIT NO-KNOCK WARRANTS
So-called “no-knock” warrants are rarely used in the state of Connecticut. By claiming this needs to be “reformed,” it gives the impression that these are an overwhelming issue in the state, which is not supported by evidence or facts. There are currently checks and balances in place, and no-knock warrants must be approved by State’s Attorneys in the state, who are better positioned to decide the circumstances under which these warrants are allowed.
There is no issue in case law that identifies a problem. Under State v. Pelletier, 209 Conn. 564 (1989) was not in fact a no knock warrant, however explained that an officer has the right to dispense with knocking and announcing when that officer has reasonable belief that by announcing their presence, it might put the officer or his fellow officers in physical danger.
In the above case, Richard Pelletier had been involved in the robbery of a Purolator Armored Car facility in which he had fired a machine gun through the door of the business, killing three guards, including an off-duty Hartford police officer.
Would the task force members require officers in such a situation as they faced when going to accost Pelletier to stand there, knock and announce their presence when 24 hours before he was armed with a machine gun? We certainly hope not.
There are also two federal Supreme Court cases that govern which the task force should avail themselves of. The first, Richards v. Wisconsin, 520 U.S. 385 (1977) which requires officers to believe exigent circumstances exist before forcing entry. U.S. v Banks, 540 U.S. 13 (2003) held that there is no specific time limit for officers to wait, allowing entry as soon as officers believe they have exigent circumstances.
The Second Circuit has had some cases where federal officers have executed no-knock warrants, however state legislation may not be applicable to them. The prohibition on these types of warrants is once again sending a message that there are rogue Connecticut police officers breaking down doors to serve no-knock warrants, however the facts do not, once again, back up this narrative.
END BROKEN WINDOWS POLICING, INCLUDING ELIMINATING STOPS FOR LOW-LEVEL ADMINISTRATIVE AND EQUIPMENT OFFENSES AND CONSENT SEARCHES OF MOTOR VEHICLES:
As a former police officer, I guarantee you that stopping vehicles for equipment violations is not high on the priority list for police officers generally.
However, highway safety is the paramount reason for allowing police officers to stop vehicles for such violations. And not that we are advocating for it, but Connecticut does not have an inspection program for vehicles like other states. It is therefore up to the police to enforce Connecticut motor vehicle regulations relative to vehicle equipment issues.
A benefit of stopping vehicles for equipment violations, aside from safety concerns, is that occasionally such stops yield people who are wanted for other crimes, in some cases serious crimes.
For example, Timothy McVeigh, the man who blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City which killed 168 people, including numerous children while injuring over 680 people, was found during a motor vehicle stop.
Likewise, the man who murdered East Hartford, Connecticut police officer Brian Aselton, Alex Sostre was identified after his getaway driver was stopped for a motor vehicle violation. In addition, consent searches have led to significant arrests, including in Hartford where such a consent yielded 13,000 baggies of heroin during a motor vehicle stop. The case was appealed and upheld by the Second Circuit (United States v. Gomez).
Clearly, only legal stops and legal actions should be undertaken during car stops. It is also hoped that during these stops, police officers act in a professional and courteous manner.
We would argue that if there is no enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance with motor vehicle law, what is the point of having them? Equipment violations are easily definable but what “low level administrative” laws are we talking about? Failure to carry insurance? Failure to register a motor vehicle?
If there is no enforcement mechanism, many people would save themselves the $1,000 a year to insure their vehicle. Many already do, despite the possibility of getting an infraction.
When motorists drive down our highways, they need to know that their fellow motorists are operating safe vehicles, properly registered, and most importantly insured. These interests need to be balanced against a temporary inconvenience for those who choose to violate motor vehicle laws.
THIS IS NOT MINNESOTA, THIS IS CONNECTICUT AND NECESSARY REFORMS MUST BE MADE IN THE CONTEXT OF CONNECTICUT POLICING
In 2015, Public Act 15-4 was passed, which was designed to make changes in law enforcement to deal with alleged racism and police brutality. Spector says that little, if anything has changed during the past five years. He continued that while the act contained some good ideas, there did not appear to be significant room for change.
The act came about as a result of some alleged acts of misconduct in other parts of the country, not in Connecticut. Some of these incidents were justifiable (Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO), while others probably were not (Eric Garner, New York, N.Y.), however the common denominator in all of these cases was they were widely covered by the media, who are largely anti-police, as were the subsequent protests.
These few incidents (and there really were only a few) came amidst literally hundreds of millions of encounters between police and citizens during the same time period.
Simply put, there is not a “systemic” problem with rogue police attacking citizens at will.
Moreover, the claims from other states did not compare with similar incidents that occurred in the state of Connecticut. With that being said, we can all admit that we should always strive for improvement. Just one incident where police act in an irresponsible or illegal manner is, quite evidently a reflection on all of us. Cities and towns, as well as the state should always endeavor to recruit and hire the best and brightest among us. Unfortunately, given the current anti-police sentiment in our country, that will become increasingly more difficult.
Police agencies must make sure they weed out those officers who are not fit to perform the duties of a police officer, and fairly punish those who commit acts of misconduct. Spector notes, and we agree that those who train officers should be certified and provide quality training on what officers need to know.
There are certainly mechanisms in place which are available to police agencies in order to implement and maintain professional standards. National accreditation through CALEA (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies), or state accreditation have standards that solve many of the issues which the task force is trying to address. Unfortunately there are few agencies in Connecticut who are nationally accredited. Many more are, in fact state accredited, which is a good start.
The question that needs to be asked is:
Is it fair to paint Connecticut police with broad-brush condemnation as racists who shoot men because of race and commit widespread acts of brutality and are not held accountable for their egregious acts?
The incident which sparked this debate occurred 1,300 miles away from Hartford, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This was an isolated incident by one officer (the argument may be made for four officers), however the demonization of all Connecticut law enforcement officers based on the actions of these particular officers is grossly unfair.
While some of the loudest voices in Connecticut infer that the same things happen in that state, just as police need evidence to make an arrest, so too should legislators or task force members be required to bring forth evidence supporting their contention that there is a systemic problem in Connecticut.
In the case of either police brutality or racism, those cases are widely publicized and sanctions are taken against the officer and many times the municipality. We agree with Atty. Spector that by exaggerating issues of alleged police misconduct, it will intensify racial tensions and make our towns and cities less safe, not safer.
- The attack on police is unjustified;
- The attack on police has resulted in violent reactions causing the loss of life far greater than the loss of life resulting from unreasonable police use of force;
- The attack on police has resulted in physical injury to innocent people, destruction of property and businesses;
- Blaming police for alleged social injustice is unjustified;
- Government officials who accept the rhetoric of the mob and pretend police are the problem are doing a disservice to their communities;
- Perpetuating perceptions that racism and brutality is widespread in policing will lead to more crime and victimization especially in inner cities.
Despite the fact that many of those who are protesting against police systemic racism are themselves trying to erase history, it in fact teaches us a lot about what happens when a particular group of people is demonized based on false representations of their alleged evil ways or bad intentions. The Holocaust is a perfect example of this. This is now occurring with police officers, where the actions of a few are somehow transferred to the entire group.
The narrative leading up to the Holocaust came about because people spread lies about the Jews, thus creating fear, just as what is being done today to the police by organizations such as Black Lives Matter, Democratic politicians and Marxist anarchists.
This has led to those who have become fearful, or who are being led down the path of believing the “you’re for us or you’re against us” mantra, joining the haters and thus believing the hateful rhetoric emanating from their mouths.
The politicians who have aligned themselves with this movement have served to lend legitimacy to the lies and the false hateful messages, just as was done in 1930’s Germany. That continued until action was taken against the targeted group. This is not by any means to compare what is going on with police officers to the Holocaust on an equal basis, but the theory is the same.
Today’s subject group is not the Jews in Europe but police. There is a false premise that is being repeated throughout our country that police officers are killing black men simply because of their race. This has been the underpinning of cries for social justice and for the defunding of police. It is alleged that the killing of blacks by police represents social injustice in our country.
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Ironically, the Black Lives Matter movement began after George Zimmerman, A CIVILIAN, was acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin. Clearly this incident had nothing to do with the police, although Martin’s name is repeatedly brought up when speaking of “systemic police racism.”
The movement gained momentum after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, which was reviewed by Eric Holder’s Justice Department. At that time in history, Holder’s agenda was to prosecute police officers.
However even under those circumstances, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson was cleared with evidence showing the shooting was a justified use of force under the self-defense doctrine. In addition, the State’s Attorney brought evidence to a grand jury which refused to return an indictment against Wilson.
Neither the Martin nor Brown cases showed any evidence supporting the narrative that police are killing black men because of their race, but both are cited as supporting the narrative that police are killing black men.
Spector notes the five cases since 2014 where officers were convicted of improperly using deadly force. The loud voices claiming systemic racism point to the fact that there is a lack of successful prosecutions of police shooting cases, which therefore means that police are not being held accountable.
However the fact remains that many of these cases were, in fact put forth and tried and in all but those five, officers were exonerated. Is it even possible that in every one of those other cases that all of the independent investigators, prosecutors, judges and jurors of every race and ethnicity were either incompetent or racists? We would argue no.
The police haters ignore the whole story, refuse to look at context, and assume every use of force is inherently unreasonable and based on racism. That is where they start. It is at the point where it is a requirement to prove a negative, which is ridiculous. “Prove to us that you’re not a racist.”
Probably the clearest example of going off half-cocked on an unreasonable use of force mantra was the shooting in Detroit a week or so back. Conveniently clipped videos of the incident showed police officers shooting an “unarmed black man” in the back.
However, when Detroit police released body camera footage, the suspect in fact pointed a gun at the police officers, who had every right to use deadly force.
That mattered not to the mob. A police officer shot a black man and that was all they needed to know. It is truly at the point right now that officers do not have the right to defend themselves or a third party from deadly force under any circumstances.
Spector notes that rational people should consider all the evidence and evaluate the complete story prior to jumping to conclusions. Only then is it possible to properly evaluate the incident and identify and remedy any issues or problems.
There are other questions that need to be asked and answered. Of course it is reasonable to review the history of the officer, and also what was known to the officer at the time of the incident. What was the reasonableness of his/her perception? What brought the officer and the subject to this point of conflict? What was the subject’s criminal history? What did the subject do which led to the police interaction? What was the subject doing immediately before and during the confrontation?
Black Lives Matter vs. black lives matter
The Black Lives Matter movement is a Marxist organization. Two of the organizers have professed as much. One can believe that black lives matter without supporting the organization, however that message has been lost.
If the organization truly believed what their title says, they would be in cities such as Chicago and New York, where black lives are being snuffed out on a daily basis, including children, one as young as one-year-old.
Falsely demonizing police will not help to build trust between the black community and law enforcement. By unjustifiably attacking the police, crime will continue to increase. While unlike other historical attacks on groups based on identity politics such as race, ethnicity, religion or other motivations, attacking the police is not only harmful to the police officers themselves, but also to the communities they are sworn to protect.
As we have already seen in New York, who wants to be in a career where you are demonized or excoriated just for doing your job? The NYPD has seen hundreds of officers apply for retirement. Other major cities have seen the same thing.
And as those officers leave, who will want to become a police officer? What types of applicants will you get for those open positions? Will those officers in those communities be willing to actively protect their communities at great personal risk when public officials and their community does not support them?
Spector closes with the following:
“It is incumbent upon this task force and all public entities and officials to search for and consider the evidence supporting their decisions. The task group should go beyond the cases previously noted and search for other deadly force incidents concluding that officers unjustifiably killed blacks. If there are more cases they should be considered in the context of national policing and more specifically Connecticut policing. If there aren’t significantly more unjustified cases then the perceived systemic problems lack support and we should look outside of police reforms to reduce the perceived problems.”
“BUILDING TRUST REQUIRES THAT WE TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT THE NATURE OF POLICING
“REDUCING POLICE USE OF FORCE REQUIRES THAT WE REACH OUR CHILDREN FROM KINDERGARTEN THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL WITH COMPREHENSIVE EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS SO THEY DO NOT COMMIT CRIMES, ENGAGE IN DANGEROUS ACTIVITIES OR OTHER RISKY BEHAVIORS THAT LEAD TO CONFRONTATIONS.”
Demonizing police is NOT the answer. Clearly police and community relations needs to be improved. We used to have police and community groups where police and citizens worked together to solve problems and come up with collaborative solutions. My own town had something called the Community Police Steering Committee which accomplished a great deal, and went a long way toward improving police and community relations.
There is a move to take police out of schools, and this is a bad idea. Police officers have the knowledge and experience to help our kids to make better life decisions. Part of the issue is some school systems have used police in the schools to implement discipline on students that is better handled by educators.
This was, in our mind, a misuse of school resource officer programs. The move to unjustifiably condemn police officers and fill our kid’s minds with hate for the police is borderline child abuse. It is counterproductive and dangerous.
Connecticut can and must do better. Hopefully this task force will do their homework based on facts and evidence, not emotion and hyperbole. That is what we all deserve.
WE WOULD LIKE TO THANK ATTORNEY ELLIOTT SPECTOR, ESQ. FOR PROVIDING US WITH PERTINENT INFORMATION FOR THIS ARTICLE.
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