05 August 2015

Bad Cops At Large In Pennsylvania

Collingdale, Pennsylvania policeman Carl White whose conduct is recounted in a recent federal court opinion is yet another glaring example of what is profoundly wrong with police conduct in the United States.  Hat Tip to VC.

The Judge whose background is in civil litigation (Gerald McHugh, of the Eastern District for Pennsylvania, nominated by President Obama and confirmed and commissioned in March of 2014 by the U.S. Senate), recounts the record in the case:
On February 22, 2014, Defendant Officers Carl White and William Eckert went to Plaintiffs’ home in response to a call made by their next-door neighbor, who allegedly complained that Mr. Gaymon’s mother (a guest in their home at the time) had parked her car so that the front tire was on the curb in front of the neighbor’s house. Upon arriving, the Defendant officers confronted Plaintiffs as they were leaving for a family outing. According to the Complaint, Defendant White began yelling at them in an aggressive manner, asking who spit at their neighbor. 
Plaintiffs Mrs. and Mr. Gaymon explained that they had done nothing wrong, and that their neighbor falsely accused them of spitting at her. Defendant White then allegedly approached Mr. Gaymon in an antagonistic way, placing his face within inches of Mr. Gaymon’s face while yelling at him. 
Mrs. Gaymon, concerned about the officer’s aggressive conduct, took out her cell phone and began making a video recording. Officer White approached Mrs. Gaymon, at which point she moved inside her home, continuing to video White by either leaning around the storm door or through the window in the door. 
According to the Complaint, White ordered Mrs. Gaymon to stop videotaping him, and declared that her doing so violated Pennsylvania’s wiretap statute. Her husband and daughter, who were standing in front of their home, told White he was incorrect, and Mrs. Gaymon had a right to record. White told Mrs. Gaymon that if she did not stop taping him, he would enter her house, seize her phone, and arrest her. 
Mrs. Gaymon told White he was not permitted to enter her home. He walked up the stairs to the front entrance, but before entering, he grabbed her daughter Sanshuray, handcuffed her, placed her under arrest, and threatened to deploy his Taser against her. Officer Eckert then removed Sanshuray from the scene. 
Officer White is next alleged to have entered Plaintiffs’ home and ordered Mrs. Gaymon again to stop videotaping him. Mrs. and Mr. Gaymon reiterated that they did not consent to his entry, and he was not permitted to be in their home. Ignoring them, Defendant White allegedly grabbed Mrs. Gaymon, pushed her up against the wall, and held his Taser to her chest. 
At this time, Defendant Officers Eckert and others identified as “John Does” joined Officer White and placed Mrs. Gaymon under arrest. They removed Mrs. Gaymon from her home, placed her in a separate police vehicle from her daughter, and drove both women to the Collingdale Police Station.
Criminal disorderly conduct charges were summarily dismissed after the magistrate heard Office White's testimony, and this suit followed.

What is going on here is far deeper than just a hot headed police officer going off the handle.  It is a case of a police culture that is so disconnected from the law and reality that the two have almost no connection.

People like Carl White have no business wearing a badge or carrying a gun or taser. They are a disgrace to our country. In cases like these, civil liability is almost secondary to the relief that we as members of the general public really need, which is to permanently black list people like him from bearing arms in any capacity, or serving in a law enforcement or security position, public or private.  We don't need criminals with a badge like Carl White in any office of trust or honor in the United States.  His acts are an insidious form of a corruption that is too common and needs to stop now.

An across the board ban on gun possession to people found civilly liable for civil rights violations akin to the current prohibition on individuals with restraining orders against them, misdemeanor convictions, felony convictions, and people who have been involuntarily committed would be completely appropriate.

Law enforcement officers do not have to be the enemy.  But, in the United States, a lot of them are trying damn hard to be.  The reasonable, law abiding civilians need to be back in charge.  Shamelessly, the borough's website boasts that it had a "world-class police department" consisting of eight officers and one other employee, at least two of whom were involved in this incident.

The prosecutors who acceded to the officer's request to press disorderly conduct charges should also be sanctioned.  Civil liability is largely barred by absolute prosecutorial immunity, but that wouldn't preclude a federal criminal civil rights prosecution, state bar ethics sanctions, or disciplinary action from the DA such as being fired from their at will employment with that office (as a result of conduct that has imposed a significant financial burden on a local government in their jurisdiction).

This is the point at which the defense lawyers representing the defendants should tell his clients to dig deep into their pockets (or more realistically, that of the municipality that will almost surely indemnify them) and offer to settle the case promptly.

Alas, it is far more likely that they will instead double down and continue to try to defend indefensible conduct in a way that will run up the legal fees for both sides that the defendants will ultimately end up paying.  There is no way to put lipstick on this pig.

Denial of qualified immunity is usually an issue that can immediately be appealed, and I fully suspect that the issue will be, because fighting the merits is a lot less pleasant than trying to argue that legal cases are ambiguous if you twist them just right.  Then again, it wouldn't be a bad legal strategy for the defense to confess liability and leave the jury to a canned admission, two minutes of your client on the stand apologizing profusely, and a damages case that doesn't necessarily support a huge dollar award due to a lack of major physical injuries or property damage, particularly if they could find a favorable "cop friendly" jury in the larger jury pool of the federal courts than the state court, by making challenges to cause and pre-emptory challenges to anyone else.

One other key bit of factual background from a conservative blog reporting on the incident:
When you read about the citizens you will read they are a married man and wife, both college educated, living with their family. You will read they live in a home for many years, and they both of nice jobs. You will read they owned their own home. You will read they responded normally and attempted to de-escalate the situation. You will read they retreated from the police officers and were pursued. You will assume they are a normal white suburbia family (I did). Another reason you would assume they were white is the articles or the judges opinion ever even mention race or racism. In a way that is refreshing, and another reason we are passing this on to you. They just mention this storm trooper cops assaulting another American family in their home. Well they are not white. They are a black family and the cops that savaged them were white. 
Video is available at the blog link.

About Collingdale

Collingdale is a middle class (by income, working class to poor by housing values), recently majority black, first ring streetcar suburb of Philadelphia with 8,786 residents in the 2010 census, and less than one square mile of land, all of which is in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.

The proportionate growth in the black population of Collingdale is recent.  The borough was 92% white in 2000, was 56% white in 2010, and has since that time dropped below 50% white.  Almost all non-white individuals in the borough are black.  Sometime between 2000 and 2010 the neighborhood reached a "tipping point."

In 1998, the average housing price was a mere $61,000 and now just $82,000.  It is a fair guess that the city is historically white Catholic and only in the last two or three decades has seen itself go from being a working class white neighborhood, to a majority middle class black one (not that you would ever guess that from images posted on the borough website).

Eleven term Mayor Frank Kelly and police chief Robert Adams (both white as are all the police officers with photos on the municipality's website) have all sorts of power to throw the bad cops under the bus and disavow their actions to protect the city from the consequences of their conduct, but it is highly unlikely that he will do so.  All seven members of the borough council are white, as is the District Judge for the borough who is apparently related to a councilman, the borough constable (who is on the borough council), the borough manager (the equivalent of a city manager), and pretty much all of the other officials (some related to each other) with the exception of at least one black fireman.  As of 2007, the borough had no or almost no black owned businesses (out of 498 total).

If this all sounds a lot like Ferguson, Missouri, you are not imagining things.  The recently majority black small municipality has an almost entirely white slate of elected officials and city employees in a roster that shows heavy signs of nepotism.

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