Tag Archives: police brutality

Prison, Barbed Wire

Expert Witness Says Former Guard’s Actions Against Inmate Unlawful

An expert for the state has testified that a Bexar County detention officer did not follow proper training techniques when he punched an inmate during a fight inside the jail’s annex in 2014.

The Incident

On July 13, 2014, Avery Lawrence was working as a detention officer at the Bexar County Detention Center Annex. Lawrence got into a verbal confrontation with one of the inmates, John Cory Garcia.

During the confrontation, Garcia shoved Lawrence. Lawrence reportedly responded by punching Garcia in the face.

According to trial testimony, Lawrence pushed Garcia to the floor and struck him in the back with his knee. Garcia suffered a broken rib, punctured lung, and facial injuries.

After the incident, Lawrence was indicted, arrested and released on bond.

The Trial

Lawrence has been charged with three misdemeanors: two counts of official oppression and a charge of violation of civil rights.

At trial, Prosecutor Edward Flores argued that “(Garcia’s) injuries were so serious that if his injuries were not medically attended to, he could have died.” Flores and Chris DeMartino are the two Assistant District Attorneys prosecuting Lawrence’s case.

Extraneous Offenses

Flores and DeMartino filed court papers asking to introduce evidence of 16 extraneous offenses, or conduct for which Lawrence has not been charged. The offenses that prosecutors requested to introduce included allegations that Lawrence lied in incident reports, that he left out important details, and that he did not follow proper prison procedures. According to the documents filed by the prosecution, Lawrence has been involved in at least two cases where inmates were left with serious cuts, one requiring stitches and another that resulted in the inmate having repeated seizures.

Lawrence’s defense team argued that allowing the extraneous offenses to come in was prejudicial to Lawrence.

The documents show that before joining the Bexar County Detention Center Annex, Lawrence supervised juvenile wards. His July 2012 performance review, states that Lawrence “appears a bit aggressive when dealing with residents and…must be mindful of…actions and in control (of) demeanor at all times.”

Expert Testimony

Flores called expert witness Chuck Joiner to testify that Lawrence did not follow proper law enforcement training, “Officer Lawrence is not the first officer to ever be pushed. … And what officers are trained to do when they’re pushed is not to immediately come in and strike someone. It’s not lawful to start punching and beating a person because they pushed you.”

Joiner further testified about what the proper procedure would have been, “What is taught is that officers first give a verbal command, because then you have time and space. … And if that doesn’t work, the next thing is to come in with soft hand techniques.”

Lawrence’s attorney, Marilyn Bradley, argued that this was a case of assault on a public servant, not official oppression, “There was an assault that day, absolutely. … But it was the inmate on the officer. … He’s just been assaulted by an inmate. … He’s got to defend himself.”

Trial Outcome

After six hours of deliberations, a jury found Lawrence guilty of official oppression and of violating the inmate’s civil rights. The jury’s rejection of Lawrence’s self-defense claim was consistent with the testimony provided by the prosecution’s expert witness.

Scales of justice

Louisiana Court of Appeals Orders Hearing on Request for Public Funds to Pay for “Use-of-Force” Expert

The Louisiana 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a district court’s rejection of Derrick Stafford’s request for funds for a “use-of-force” expert and ordered the district court to hold a hearing on the matter.

Death of Jeremy Mardis

In November 2015, 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis was shot and killed in an incident involving two Marksville City Marshals, Derrick Stafford and Norris Greenhouse Jr. Jeremy suffered from autism and died after being shot six times during an alleged traffic stop. Jeremy’s father, Chris Few, was also critically injured in the same incident.

Stafford and Greenhouse were arrested on counts of second-degree murder and attempted murder. The town of Marksville, the town and city court, the Parish of Avoyelles, the city court marshal and deputy marshals, along with Stafford and Greenhouse, are also being sued in a federal court by the family of Jeremy Mardis.

District Court’s Rulings

Derrick Stafford’s criminal case is being heard by 12th Judicial District Judge William “Billy” Bennett. Stafford requested public funds for a “use-of-force expert” and an accident scene reconstruction expert.

Under Louisiana law, “If a defendant is indigent and unable to pay for witnesses desired by him in addition to those summoned at the expense of the parish, he shall make a sworn application to the court for the additional witnesses.”

Judge Bennett declared Stafford met criteria to be considered indigent, thus making him eligible for public funds for his defense. Stafford’s attorneys filed a motion requesting for the court to pay for accident scene reconstruction expert Victor Holloman, of Sugarland, Texas.

On October 12, Judge Bennett ordered the Police Jury to pay $4,368 for Holloman. However, Judge Bennett denied the request of defense attorneys Jonathan Goins and Christopher LaCour for funds to hire a use-of-force expert.

The Police Jury voted not to approve the funds to pay for the accident scene reconstruction expert and appealed the court order approving funds for the expert on October 21. In its motion, the Police Jury argued that Stafford is either not indigent or that the parish is not the appropriate party to pay for those costs. The motion states that if Stafford “is indigent, as determined by this court, then any expert witness fees and expenses should be paid by the Louisiana Public Defender Board, through the 12th Judicial District Court Public Defender District, not the Avoyelles Parish Police Jury.”

Third Circuit Ruling

On appeal, the Third Circuit ruled that Stafford “is entitled to a hearing on his motion for funds to hire a use-of-force expert” and “the trial court’s ruling denying the motion for funds to hire a use-of-force expert is vacated and this matter is remanded for a contradictory hearing on the motion.” The Third Circuit has yet to rule on the appeal of the order for the Police Jury to pay for Stafford’s accident scene reconstruction expert.

Public Reaction

Marksville residents have stated that they view Jeremy’s death as an indicator of the ongoing problems with local law enforcement. Describing a number of run-ins with Marksville authorities, Ruby Ivory, a resident of nearby Mansura, has stated, “Y’all just don’t know what the hell we go through around here.”

West Virginia Sheriff Convicted for Excessive Force despite Expert Testimony

West Virginia Sheriff Convicted for Excessive Force despite Expert Testimony

A West Virginia Sheriff was recently found guilty of excessive use of force to deprive a suspect of rights after a trial that featured a use of force expert witness called by the defendant’s legal team. Although the defense was unsuccessful, the use of a police expert is a necessary element to trials involving police abuses as jurors may be unfamiliar with the standards of practice and limits of police authority.

West Virginia Sheriff Convicted of Excessive Force

Mark Cowden of the Hancock County Sheriff Department was convicted last month of excessive force and “Deprivation of Rights” by a federal jury in West Virginia. Prosecutors accused Cowden of abusing an arrestee after video surveillance captured the sheriff forcing Ryan Hambrick into a brick wall before punching the suspect in the back of the head with a closed-fist. According to prosecutors, Cowden’s actions were excessive and in violation of the law.

Defense attorneys responded to the allegations of unlawful use of force by arguing that Cowden was being targeted by political enemies and did not take unlawful action against the suspect. Cowden, who was up for political office this year, claimed that the use of force prosecution was designed to disrupt his campaign and had no basis in fact. According to his defense team, he used appropriate force against a suspect who had a violent history and who was resisting authority at the time of the incident. In an effort to bolster the defense, Cowden’s attorneys called a use of force expert to testify that he acted in accordance with police standards.

Use of Force Expert Testifies in Sheriff’s Criminal Trial

Timothy A. Dimoff, a national security law enforcement consultant and police expert witness, took the stand in Mark Cowden’s trial to explain to jurors that the sheriff used appropriate force against a drunk driving suspect who was not cooperating with authority. After watching the prosecution’s surveillance footage, Dimoff told jurors, “I don’t see repetitive abuse of force. I don’t see (Cowden) losing his cool. I see control techniques. I see a prisoner who is not cooperating.” Dimoff also told jurors that Hambrick displayed signs of aggression towards Cowden, including use of his head to engage in fighting techniques while the sheriff was attempting to book him.

Cowden’s defense team also called to the stand a medical expert in blunt-force trauma to testify that the incident between the sheriff and Hambrick did not cause serious injury. Dr. Jack E. Riggs, a neurologist from West Virginia University who has experience in combat hospitals, explained to jurors that the defendant could not have caused Hambrick’s injuries based on the nature of the wounds. According to Riggs, the angle at which Cowden hit Hambrick did not align with physical signs of injury, and the nosebleed the suspect suffered was likely an aggravated injury suffered during arrest. Hambrick had been involved in a physical altercation with an officer during the arrest which had caused the injuries he suffered.

Taken together, the two expert witnesses called by Cowden’s defense team were used to justify the sheriff’s action by explaining to jurors it was not outside department standards for uncooperative arrestees, and it did not cause severe injury.

West Virginia Sheriff Convicted in Use of Force Trial

Despite testimony from defense experts on police use of force and blunt force trauma, Lt. Sheriff Mark Cowden was convicted for using excessive force to detain Ryan Hambrick. Cowden has not yet been sentenced, but faces a possible 10-year prison term for his actions. Cowden’s name is still on the Hancock County election ballot. Although his federal conviction makes him ineligible for the role of Sheriff, he has maintained his innocence and is asking residents to vote for him anyway.

Mark Cowden’s case serves as another example of how police training and use of force experts are used in criminal trials of police officers who take violent action against arrestees or suspects. Although Cowden was convicted anyway, his defense team’s use of expert witnesses provided the best possible argument that he was acting in accordance with department procedures. Whether or not that influences sentencing remains to be seen.

Taser and police car, lights in the background

Expert Witness Opines That Police Officers Violated Their Own Training in Fatal Shooting

An expert in police practices has testified that two Albuquerque officers violated their own training when they fatally shot a homeless man in 2014.

Shooting of James Boyd

On March 16, 2014, the Albuquerque Police Department was called to the Pierdra Vista area when neighbors noticed a suspicious man illegally camping in the foothills. The responding police officers found 38-year-old James Boyd, who was armed with knives and yelling angrily.

At one point, Boyd was walking down the hill and an officer set off a flash-bang grenade. The area was filled with smoke and a police dog rushed at Boyd. The officers yelled for Boyd to get on the ground and he reached into his pockets and pulled out what appeared to be two knives. Boyd was shot and killed during this standoff. Boyd was shot by stun gun, bean bag, and assault rifle rounds during the standoff. The lethal shots came from Officer Dominique Perez and Officer Keith Sandy.

Officers Perez and Sandy were charged with second-degree murder in connection with Boyd’s death. Perez was later dismissed from the Albuquerque Police Department. Sandy retired.

Attorney for Perez, Luis Robles has commented that charging these officers with murder will have a negative impact on the police department, “If you’re second-guessed every time you make a decision, and you might find yourself criminally charged, and if you second-guess yourself and you don’t take action, you might find yourself in a very dire predicament where you’re fighting for your life… I think everyone thought that by essentially going after (APD) you were going to make things better. Be careful what you ask for. If you break your police department, you will have that broken police department to protect you. And that’s a really unfortunate place to be when you need their help in a situation where you can’t help yourself.”

Trial for Murder

At the officers’ trial, special prosecutor Randi McGinn argued that the police officers created a dangerous situation during the standoff that led to the standoff. McGinn called police expert Jeffrey Noble to testify.

Noble testified that the police officers violated their training by shooting Boyd. Noble said that the officers had a plan to get Boyd to surrender. When that plan failed, the officers had the opportunity to reassess the situation and create distance between themselves and Boyd, but they failed to do so. Noble also said that the knives that Boyd had did not possess an immediate threat when he was shot.

Expert Witness Jeffrey Noble

Jeffrey Noble has 28 years of experience as a police officer, including his time serving as the Deputy Chief of Police of the Irvine Police Department. After his retirement from the Irvine Police Department, Noble served as a temporary Deputy Chief of Police for the Westminster, CA Police department where he facilitated the efforts of an independent oversight official, reviewed department policies and procedures, conducted department audits, and provided management and leadership to the department.

Noble has been retained as a police expert in over 100 cases in California, Texas, Washington, Florida, Georgia, Colorado, Oklahoma, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, South Carolina, Tennessee, New York, Illinois, Arkansas, Idaho and Louisiana.

Expert Witness in Freddie Gray Trial Falls Apart Under Cross-Examination

Expert Witness in Freddie Gray Trial Falls Apart Under Cross-Examination

The prosecutors who sought murder charges for the death of Freddie Gray concluded their case against Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. with an expert witness who fell apart under cross-examination.

The Prosecution’s Case

Goodson, 46, faces the charge of second-degree depraved heart murder, three counts of manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office for the death of Freddie Gray. Gray, a 25-year old black man, died of a spinal injury that was determined to have happened while being transported in a police van on April 12, 2015. Goodson was the driver of the van.

The prosecution argues that Gray suffered from a “rough ride,” where a driver takes sharp turns and jolts to jostle a prisoner who is handcuffed without a seatbelt. They allege that Goodson failed to secure Gray with a seat belt and intentionally drove him around in a reckless manner. The prosecution also argues that Gray was hurt early in the van’s journey and that the officers failed to get him the necessary medical help.

Expert Testimony Falls Apart

The state called 21 witnesses to support its case. Its final witness was Stanford O’Neill Franklin, a former police commander who once oversaw police training for the Baltimore Police Department. Franklin was called to support the prosecution’s theory that Gray had suffered a rough ride. He testified that, “[i]t’s extremely important that the ride be as smooth as possible to prevent the person in the back from being propelled around the inside “… and that if prisoners were unsecured and shackled, they would have no way to prevent themselves from becoming projectiles.

However, Franklin’s testimony fell apart during cross-examination. Under questioning by defense attorney Matthew Frailing, Franklin was unable to point to any evidence that Goodson drove erratically. When Frailing asked the direct question, “It’s not your contention that Officer Goodson in any way engaged in a rough ride?” Franklin responded, “I can’t say for sure.” Franklin also testified that a seat belt would not have necessarily ensured that Gray was secured in the van.

Franklin’s testimony was the finale of a series of witnesses that failed to effectively support the state’s case. Another state witness, Detective Michael Boyd, testified under cross-examination that the videos did not show the van taking an abrupt path. Additionally, Donta Allen, who was also in the van with Gray, told investigators that he experienced a “smooth ride.”

Trial Moves Forward Despite Weak Case

Following the state’s five-day presentation of its case, defense filed a motion for acquittal, arguing there is not enough for the case to move forward. The presiding judge, Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams, denied that motion, but expressed concern about the merits of the murder charge.

Two defense attorneys who are not involved in the case, but have observed the proceedings, have said that the state has put on a “weak case.”

Goodson is the third officer to go to trial in this matter. Officer Porter stood trial in December, but the jury failed to reach a verdict. He is scheduled to be retried in September. Officer Nero was acquitted on all counts.

Photo Credit: Minneapolis rally and march to support the people of Baltimore, by Fibonacci Blue is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.