A4 · MONDAY, MARCH 14, 2016

Murkiness in police civil rights incidents
may be reduced by more videos

In fluid situations, and de-
pending on the circumstances,
it can be difficult to prove what prosecutions
anyone meant to do — even with
video, Hickton said. Here are federal civil
rights prosecutions
“When you
of police since
take sort of a 2000 in Western
loosely defined Pennsylvania:
encounter at a 2000
traffic stop ...
it’s very diffi- Cambria
cult starting at
that point to get
U.S. Attorney
David Hickton over the intent assault
requirement Former Johnstown
we face under that statute,” he police Sgt. Richard
said. “It was really built for a Rok was sentenced
time when someone went out to one year in
with a specific intent to do prison and one year
someone harm.” of probation for a
The underlying law — Title 1998 incident in
18, Section 242 — dates to 1866. which he kicked a
The requirement that officers handcuffed suspect
must “willfully” intend to vio- in the face.
late someone’s civil rights stems
from a 1945 Supreme Court rul- 2009
ing. Both grew out of Southern
racial tensions. Police station
Hickton declined to discuss
specific cases or to recommend
changes to update the statute, Former Ambridge
police Sgt. Richard
saying his job as a U.S. attorney
is to enforce the laws — not sentenced to six
make them. months in a halfway
But Hickton acknowledged house, one year
he was so concerned about the of probation and
high standard for police civil a $1,000 fine for
rights cases that he brought up repeatedly beating
the issue with then-U.S. Attor- a man in a police
ney General Eric Holder. Holder station holding cell.
talked about proposing changes Former Ambridge
but left office last year without police Lt. Robert
doing so. JAMES M. KUBUS | TRIBUNE-REVIEW Kuzma sentenced
In addition to proving intent, to a year of
federal prosecutors are directed
Residents rally in Market Square in Downtown Pittsburgh to hold accountable police officers involved in the probation for
to bring cases only when they Jonny Gammage asphyxiation death Oct. 31, 1995. helping Heitzenrater
can prove a defendant’s guilt destroy evidence of
beyond a reasonable doubt. the attacks.
learning disability that kept
“You should bring them him from understanding he had
if you are convinced it’s the a right not to be assaulted while 2010
right thing to do — and you’re
convinced you can win,” said
he sat shirtless with his hands
cuffed behind his back, Shrager
Jail beating
Mark Pomerantz, a former said. Former Allegheny
federal prosecutor in New York The FBI County Jail guard
City. “To bring them and lose started Arii Metz of
them doesn’t serve anyone’s investigating the North Side
interests.” sentenced to 5
the Millvale years of probation
incident when
Shaky and blurry video shot by
for beating an
The video seems almost inmate on Oct. 13,
another officer 2010.
unwatchable by today’s smart- was sent to
phone standards: shaky, blurry Thomas Jason Shrager and
and somewhat dark. James Smith the Trib 2012
But the images from 1991 four months Police car
of Los Angeles police officers later in January 2013.
beating Rodney King with night- Without the video, a prosecu- beating
sticks and kicking him were tion of Murphy would have Former Springdale
vivid enough for a jury to con- come down to her version of police Sgt. Mark
clude the police had crossed a events versus Smith’s version Thom sentenced
line, said Harry Litman, then a of events, Shrager said. While to one year and
federal prosecutor who worked federal prosecutors might still one day in prison
on the case. have charged her, “the outcome and three years of
“You were able to really break may have been different,” he probation for a Dec.
things down and show a point said. 17, 2011, attack in
in the beating where the officers SUBMITTED which he repeatedly
“Most citizens trust and punched and used
must have known that they were Jordan Miles, 18, of Homewood was in the hospital Jan. 13, 2010, believe the police and right-
using an unreasonable amount following a beating from plainclothes police officers a day earlier. a Taser on a man
fully so,” Shrager said. “When handcuffed in the
of force,” Litman said. something does happen that is back of his police
Seven years after the King negative and contrary to the car.
incident, Litman returned home A similar murkiness remains Video often proves that the way police behave, having a
to Pittsburgh as the U.S. attor- about what happened when truth of what happened does video is important because it
ney for Western Pennsylvania. undercover Pittsburgh police of- not always get written into the
gives credibility to a person
One of his first jobs was an- ficers arrested performing arts official reports, she noted. who may otherwise be ignored Police station
nouncing in February 1999 that student Jordan Miles in Home- Police incidents often present
his office would not charge five wood in January 2010. No video conflicting testimony from
or disbelieved.”
Video is often blurry, shot incident
suburban police officers in the exists to show how Miles, who officers and defendants, said from a bad angle, or in bad Former Millvale
death of Jonny Gammage, an lived in the neighborhood and Frederick Thieman, the U.S. lighting and sometimes doesn’t police Officer Nicole
unarmed black motorist killed was unarmed, ended up with a attorney for Western Pennsylva- have sound. Murphy sentenced
during a traffic stop. badly bruised and swollen face. nia from 1993 to 1997. Technolo- “It’s not perfect. However, it is to three years of
Gammage had been driving Again, federal prosecutors gy can help prosecutors resolve better than eyewitness testimo- probation and 300
a Jaguar owned by his cousin, said they lacked evidence to those differences. ny, usually,” Shrager said. hours of community
Steelers prove officers acted willfully to “The better the evidence, the Hickton’s office charged service for using a
defensive end harm Miles. better the case,” Thieman said. Taser on a man on
Murphy with interfering in
Ray Seals, “I have concluded that the “The proliferation of record- Sept. 21, 2012, while
Smith’s civil rights. A federal he was handcuffed
when he was evidence in this case will not ing devices, smartphones and jury convicted her in Novem-
pulled over and sitting on the
support the heavy burden of everything else has certainly ber 2014. She was sentenced to police station floor.
in October a criminal charge against the provided an opportunity for three years of probation and 300
1995 by a officers,” Hickton said in May corroborating evidence that hours of community service.
Brentwood 2011. can make a case, or show that
Murphy on Friday filed an
police officer, Miles sued the three officers a case absolutely shouldn’t be appeal of her conviction. Shuman
just inside the for violating his civil rights. brought.”
Gammage Pittsburgh Two juries found for the officers
Millvale paid Smith $37,000 in
2014 to settle a civil suit he filed.
a Syracuse, city limits. on malicious prosecution and ‘It’s not perfect’ “Law enforcement officers altercation
N.Y., resident As officers excessive force claims, but the Thomas Jason James Smith, are sworn to uphold and obey
scuffled with Former youth care
and cousin of jurors agreed that the officers then 28, didn’t know that the law,” Hickton said after the worker McArthur
then-Pittsburgh him and then lacked probable cause for the ar- Millvale police Officer Nicole conviction. “Nicole Murphy did Mosley was
Steeler Ray pinned him rest. A lawyer for one of the offi- Murphy violated his civil neither ... thereby violating his sentenced to one
Seals, died of to the ground cers and a lawyer for Miles said rights when she used a Taser civil rights.” year of probation
asphyxiation for an arrest, they were unsure how much a on him while he sat on the for an Apr. 14, 2014,
from Gammage video would have affected either floor of the police station, said Andrew Conte is a member of the Tribune- incident in which he
compression suffocated. Hickton’s decision not to charge his criminal defense attorney, Review investigations team. Reach him at used excessive force
of the chest Litman and the officers or the verdicts in David J. Shrager. 412-320-7835 or andrewconte@tribweb. against a juvenile
and neck while prosecutors the two civil trials. Arrested for public drunken- com. Brian Bowling is a Tribune-Review staff at the Shuman
struggling from the U.S. Video from smartphones, se- Juvenile Detention
ness, disorderly conduct and writer. Reach him at 412-325-4301 or
with five white attorney’s Center.
officers during curity cameras or even today’s resisting arrest, Smith has a bbowling@tribweb.com.
office and Jus- police dashboard and body Fayette County
a traffic stop assault
on Route 51. tice Depart- cameras would have helped
ment looked
at all the available evidence and
lawyers on both sides of the
incident better establish what
Declination rates Former Redstone
police Officer
determined they didn’t have happened, said Beth Pittinger, Federal prosecutors have declined to charge law enforcement officers with Norman L. Howard
enough to meet the standard of executive director of the Citizen civil rights violations more often than they’ve declined to charge suspects was sentenced
proof that the officers meant Police Review Board of Pitts- for all other crimes combined. to three years
to kill Gammage, Litman said. burgh, an independent agency of probation for
Unlike the King incident in Los that investigates complaints of Civil rights — All other punching a man
Angeles, no video existed of the police misconduct. Result law enforcement cases in the face on May
Gammage arrest. “It would be a whole different Prosecutions ending with conviction 438 1,906,391 26, 2013, and then
“The best thing is that a video story,” Pittinger said. “We would falsifying reports
Prosecutions ending with no conviction 92 186,805 to justify his use of
shows the officer’s actions but it be able to assess the circum-
also shows whether the victim stances of that encounter from Declinations of all charges 12,703 619,640 force.
is presenting a reasonable the get-go. We wouldn’t know NOTE: CASES ARE LISTED
Total 13,233 2,712,836 BY THE CALENDAR YEAR
threat to them,” Litman said. the nuances or what the officers FEDERAL PROSECUTORS
“There’s often in the absence of knew when they arrived on Percent declined 96% 23% OPENED INVESTIGATIONS.
video very conflicting testimony the scene, but we would have a Source: Tribune-Review
about what the victim was do- much better impression of how Source: Tribune-Review analysis of Department of Justice National Caseload Data, 1995-2015 research, federal records
ing at the time.” that encounter went down.” TRIBUNE-REVIEW