Monday, July 6, 2015

Sunday Globe Special: Spike in the Road

That's why this is a day late:

"Some police agencies now questioning safety of spike strips" by Jack Healy New York Times  July 04, 2015

DENVER — When the police want to stop a high-speed chase, they often reach for their spike strips. Long and spiny, the strips are hurled into the road to flatten a fleeing suspect’s tires, ideally ending a dangerous pursuit in just moments.

But they can also endanger law enforcement officers and bystanders. At least 30 people have been killed in the two decades since spike strips — also known as stop sticks — became popular. Some victims were intentionally run over by drivers trying to evade capture and others were struck by cars lurching on punctured tires.

I suppose everything in life has its risks. I don't want to minimize it, but that's a pretty low death ration, a lot lower than a whole host of other things (wars, tobacco, pollution, cancer, to name a few). 

So why the pre$$ slowdown?

In September 2012, after a spate of fatal crashes, the FBI urged law-enforcement agencies to explore other ways to handle chases. 

Question answered.

And this past May, the deaths of a police officer in Houston and a State Patrol cadet in Colorado renewed concerns that the devices are too risky for adrenaline-fueled chases where drivers can be drunk or high and hurtling down the road at 100 miles per hour. 

Cops lives matter more, that's the message. 

I think I'll pull over right here.

To deploy them, officers positioned ahead of a chase have to climb out of the relative safety of a car, pull the spikes from the trunk and toss them into the road. As the cars approach, they wait to yank the spikes across at precisely the right moment so they hit the suspect’s tires but not those of the patrol cars screaming behind.

“It’s a dangerous thing to do,” said Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation, a policing research group. “You’re taking this thing and physically throwing it out into the street. You’ve got to get to a place of safety right away, and if you don’t, the results can be tragic.”

In Houston, Officer Richard Martin was struck and killed on May 18 while trying to throw out spike strips to stop a burglary suspect who had wended through traffic, fired shots at the police and stolen a woman’s car at gunpoint. The police say the suspect, Jeffery Ryan Conlin, intentionally hit Martin and sped away. He stopped a short time later and fatally shot himself.

Days later, Taylor Thyfault, a 21-year-old State Patrol cadet in northern Colorado, was killed after he and another trooper laid out spike strips to try to stop a fleeing suspect, the police said. They said the driver, Christopher Gebers, had swerved to avoid the spikes and struck the two officers, killing Thyfault and seriously injuring Trooper Clinton Rushing. Gebers was charged with first-degree murder.

The crash happened near the bedroom town of Longmont, and four days later, Deputy Chief Craig Earhart decided to pull spike strips out of his officers’ trunks.

“This was the last straw for us,” Earhart said. “We just didn’t feel like it was worth the risk of our officers.”

The Dallas Police Department eliminated spike strips in 2012 after examining a tally of the officers across the country, many from small-town police departments or rural sheriff’s offices, who had been killed trying to use them.

Some officers complained, and other police departments called to ask if they could have Dallas’ unused spikes. Michael Genovesi, the assistant police chief in Dallas who oversees patrol officers, said the balance between risks and benefits was clear to him.

“They can be an effective tool, there’s no denying that,” he said. “The bottom line is these people in chase scenarios don’t play by the rules, and it’s difficult to predict what they’re going to do.” 

I'm wondering how many lives may have been saved by the spike strips. No way of quantifying it, but.... 

Other police and sheriff’s agencies, even those that have lost officers, say spiking cars, while dangerous, is no riskier than ramming into a suspect’s car to knock it off kilter, or simply getting out of a cruiser to write a traffic ticket on the side of a busy highway.

“Those are the dangers we face daily,” said Sheriff Bob Edwards of Cascade County, in central Montana, where a deputy, Joe Dunn, was struck and killed in August.

That day, Edwards said, Montana state troopers had been chasing a known felon who was high on methamphetamine when they radioed his department to ask for help. Dunn threw down a set of spike strips and was run over. Prosecutors have charged the driver, Adam Sanchez, with deliberate homicide.

“Deputy Dunn was a very safe deputy, but when you’re trying to run from a car exceeding 100 miles per hour, you can’t run away,” Edwards said.

You can't set them down ahead of where you know he's going and wait?

I mean, with all the authority out there and technology the way it is, they aren't getting away. Are they?

But he called the spike strips a useful tool and said he planned to keep using them, a view echoed by many police officials.

Then what are we really talking about here other than filler?

That is where my printed piece ended; the web version kept driving:

He said the spike strips were a “useful tool” that had stopped other chases, and said he planned to keep using them — a view echoed by many police officials. 

???? Deja vu. You hear a thump?

“It’s a resource we have to bring a long-distance pursuit to an end,” said Rob Madden, a spokesman for the Colorado State Patrol. “There’s got to be a way to end something.”

The Ohio-based company Stop Stick, a leading manufacturer, said its spikes had stopped more than 21,000 chases over the past two decades. The company makes what it describes as the safest tire deflation spikes available — a lightweight row of sharp spikes encased in a plastic core. Still, its training videos provide a range of safety warnings, telling the police to find cover when they deploy them, stay out of the road, and never use them when pedestrians are around.

“Ours is not a last-minute product,” said Andy Morrison, the company’s president. 

They just answered my question. Glad I stuck around for the ride.

But high-speed chases are unpredictable events that are dangerous both to officers and bystanders, said Bueermann of the Police Foundation. 

Not to defend such things, but the criminal was left out of it. Still a person. Just driving fast trying to get away from authority. Probably a drunk illegal.

Beyond spike strips, many law enforcement agencies have put restrictions on their pursuit policies, setting speed limits, allowing them only after felonies or requiring them to end once the police know the suspect’s identity and can apprehend the person later. 

The question is, why were they not doing that already.

“Are you going to apprehend all offenders at any cost?” Bueermann said. “Most of the time they’re running for very benign reasons — they have warrants, or it’s a stolen car. And is chasing a stolen piece of metal worth it?” 

I'll answer that later.

In DeLand, Fla., about 25 miles west of Daytona Beach, David Johnson was heading home from watching a televised fight with some friends in December 2009. A few miles away, the police were chasing a 20-year-old man in a stolen truck.

They laid out a set of spikes, and the driver of the stolen truck hit them but kept going, into a curve, where he fatally struck Johnson’s car.

Johnson’s mother, Mary Browder, said the flat tires had made the truck driver, John Yovaish, “swerve crazily” as he veered toward her son’s car. But she said the spikes may have kept him from continuing on and hurting other people.

“If you use them or don’t use them, it’s a judgment call,” she said. “Nothing is going to bring him back.”


Related: Brelo Acquitted in Cleveland 

You be the judge:

"Five white Cleveland officers charged in shooting" Associated Press  July 03, 2015

CLEVELAND — Five white Cleveland police supervisors accused of failing to stop a chase that ended with a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire and the deaths of two black suspects were charged Thursday with misdemeanors in the predominantly black suburb where the shooting occurred.

The supervisors are scheduled to go on trial July 27 before the same judge who acquitted a white officer on manslaughter charges in the Nov. 29, 2012, deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams....

Defense attorneys have surmised that county prosecutor Tim McGinty orchestrated the change of venue to East Cleveland. East Cleveland Prosecutor Willa Hemmons said she approached county prosecutors after the acquittal of patrolman Michael Brelo in May about filing charges against the supervisors.

‘‘I thought it was appropriate that we have an opportunity to put it in a venue where the people most directly impacted could be vindicated,’’ Hemmons said Thursday, adding that the lives of East Cleveland residents were endangered during the chase and shooting.

McGinty has said the supervisors should be prosecuted in East Cleveland because Russell and Williams would still be alive had the officers ended the 22-mile-long chase involving more than 100 police officers and 60 cars before it reached that city.

No mention of the barrage of bullets they all let fly.


I had to chase these down:

"Cleveland community leaders to ask judge to seek charges against officers in shooting" by Michael S. Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo New York Times  June 09, 2015

WASHINGTON — Community leaders in Cleveland, distrustful of the criminal justice system, said Monday they would not wait for prosecutors to decide whether to file charges against the police officers involved in the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice last year. Instead, they will invoke a seldom-used Ohio law and go directly to a judge to request murder charges against the officers. 

I'm sorry; that's the kid they left to die.

The unusual move is the latest sign that some African-Americans in Cleveland and around the country have lost confidence in a system that they see as too quick to side with police officers accused of using excessive force against blacks.

It is not just them, we all have -- and now amount of tyranny of propaganda can restore it. Only admissions of guilt and a reverse of course followed by regrets can prompt reconciliation. Confidence will take longer.

The investigation into Tamir’s shooting was handed to the county prosecutor last week, but local leaders are skeptical because of how similar cases have ended. In New York, a grand jury did not issue an indictment in the death of Eric Garner, who had been put in a choke hold by a police officer. State and federal authorities said there was no evidence to charge Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Last month, prosecutors said a white police officer in Madison, Wis., would not be charged for killing an unarmed 19-year-old man. 

I could rehash all that; however, such things have faded after what happened (or didn't happen) at the Charleston church. 

“The writing is on the wall,” said a lawyer for Tamir’s family, Walter Madison, who worked with the community leaders as they planned to seek charges. “If you look at every other instance, it ends up unfavorable to the families.”

The community leaders said they intended to file their request Tuesday morning in municipal court. One of them provided The New York Times with copies of six affidavits they plan to file, which outline the crimes they say were committed.

Madison said that he knew of no instance in which an Ohio judge had ordered the arrest of a police officer based on a citizen complaint, but that most previous complaints had been frivolous.

Tamir was fatally shot in November while he played in a park. A 911 caller had reported that the boy was waving a gun that was “probably fake.” When officers arrived, they pulled their car straight into the park, next to the boy.

Sliding on the grass, it was reported earlier.

Within two seconds, an officer, Timothy Loehmann, shot Tamir in the abdomen from close range. The boy’s gun, it turned out, was a toy replica of a Colt revolver that fired plastic pellets.

So he jumped out and bang, bang. 


"Judge rules cause exists to charge officers in Cleveland boy’s death" by Richard Pérez-Peña and Mitch Smith New York Times   June 12, 2015

NEW YORK — A judge in Cleveland ruled Thursday that probable cause existed to charge two Cleveland police officers in the death of a 12-year-old boy, Tamir Rice, but the judge said he did not have the power to order arrests without a complaint being filed by a prosecutor.

In his ruling, Judge Ronald B. Adrine, presiding judge of the Municipal Court, found probable cause to charge Officer Timothy Loehmann, who fired the fatal shot, with murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, and dereliction of duty. He also found probable cause to charge Loehmann’s partner, Officer Frank Garmback, with negligent homicide and dereliction of duty.

“This court determines that complaints should be filed by the prosecutor of the City of Cleveland and/or the Cuyahoga County prosecutor,” Adrine wrote.

The shooting of Rice on Nov. 22 was one of a series of killings of unarmed black males by police officers around the country that have prompted widespread protests and calls for reform in race relations and in the use of force by officers.

All submerged by what happened in South Carolina, with a whole region now wrapped in a collective flag of hate.

The county prosecutor, Timothy J. McGinty, has been handling the case, and while Adrine’s ruling is not binding, it adds pressure on McGinty. The prosecutor released a terse statement indicating he would not be rushed into filing a criminal complaint.

“This case, as with all other fatal use of deadly force cases involving law enforcement officers, will go to the grand jury,” he said. “That has been the policy of this office since I was elected. Ultimately, the grand jury decides whether police officers are charged or not charged.”

In a statement, a Cleveland spokesman, Daniel Williams, said city prosecutors would leave the case to McGinty to “review and to determine whether charges will be issued.”

This week, a group of activists and community leaders asked the court to have the officers arrested under an Ohio law that allows “a private citizen having knowledge of the facts” to start the process by filing an affidavit with a court. They argued that the widely seen video of an officer killing Rice had given nearly everyone “knowledge of the facts.”

The Ohio law, in effect in various forms since 1960, is unusual and rarely invoked, and lawyers have disagreed about what might actually be achieved by using it.

Walter Madison, a lawyer for Rice’s family and one of the people petitioning, called Thursday’s result a victory.

“The people made the system work for them,” he said. “The onus now is on the government to act, and I don’t think a prosecutor’s office is going to defy a court.”


The Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office conducted a five-month investigation and handed its findings to McGinty’s office early this month, but they have not been made public, and McGinty said his office still had investigating of its own to do. Eventually, his office said, prosecutors will take the case to a grand jury, which will decide whether to issue indictments. But no one could say how long it would take.

That, the petitioners said, was the problem. They argued that if the people involved had not been wearing uniforms, they would have been arrested long ago.

Can't argue with their point.

“The video in question in this case is notorious and hard to watch,” Adrine wrote in his order. “After viewing it several times, this court is still thunderstruck by how quickly this event turned deadly,” he wrote, adding that Loehmann fired his gun before the car he was riding in had even come to a complete stop.

On the day he was shot, Rice was playing in a Cleveland park, brandishing an airsoft-style gun, which fired plastic pellets. A 911 caller reported his behavior to the police, but emphasized that the gun was probably not real and that the person holding it was probably a minor. This information was not conveyed to the responding officers.

In the video, taken by a surveillance camera, a police car with Garmback at the wheel drives onto the grass and stops a few feet from Rice. Though the image quality is poor, Adrine wrote, “it does not appear to show him making any furtive movement prior to, or at, the moment he is shot.”

He didn't have time to react. Took me longer to type these sentences.

The police officer in the passenger seat, Loehmann, 26, steps out and immediately fires twice, hitting the boy once in the torso.

Rice’s 14-year-old sister tries to run to him, but the officers force her to the ground, handcuff her, and put her in their car, and then stand beside Rice. For at least four minutes, no one tries to provide first aid. An ambulance arrives almost eight minutes after the boy is shot.

That last part an afterthought, and I well up with tears when I think of her running to her brother who has been shot, being forcefully taken down, put in the car, and then having to watch her brother die.


RelatedGroup wants Cleveland police charged in boy’s shooting

Federal judge approves agreement to reform Cleveland Police Department

Couldn't get out of it, huh?

No charges for Ohio mom whose 3-year-old shot, killed self

What a zoo.

Also seeBrief high-speed chase leaves two dead in Detroit

At least the response times are getting better (but not in Baltimore; told you we would be seeing a lot of that this agenda-pushing summer).


"State Police have arrested the drivers involved in a road rage incident that ended last week with a shooting and a slashing on Interstate 95 in Orange, Conn. Police said 39-year-old truck driver Jesus Izaguirra of Hidalgo, Texas, is being held on $500,000 bond after being charged with assault, attempted assault, and reckless endangerment. They said Juan Calderon, 33, of Orange, who was driving a passenger vehicle involved, is being held on $250,000 bond, facing charges including attempted murder. Police said Izaguirra slashed Calderon in the face after their vehicles pulled off the highway Thursday night. They said Calderon then got out of his car and shot Izaguirra. Both were taken into custody after being treated at Yale-New Haven Hospital."