JUSTICE: Cops Sentenced to Prison for Tasering Mentally Disabled Woman

Originally published on April 30, 2015, at NationofChange.org

Two former South Carolina police officers were sentenced to prison this week for using excessive force against a mentally disabled woman. After pleading guilty to violating the victim’s civil rights, the officers admitted they had no legitimate reason for tasing her eight times while she posed no threat to herself or others.

On April 2, 2013, Officer Eric Walters of the Marion Police Department noticed Melissa Davis walking out of the yard of a house for sale. Suspecting Davis of breaking into the home, Walters confronted her and deployed his Taser. Davis immediately fell to the ground and injured her head.

According to his plea agreement, Walters recalled ordering Davis to put her hands behind her back and firing his Taser four more times into her back without giving her time to comply. By the time backup arrived, Walters had Davis in handcuffs and was removing the probes in her back after determining she had not committed a crime. Claiming one of Davis’ hands had slipped from her improperly applied handcuffs, Officer Franklin Brown fired his Taser at Davis three more times even though he later confessed that she was not attempting to escape.

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Journalists Face Most Deadly and Dangerous Period in Recent History

Originally published on April 29, 2015, at NationofChange.org

According to a report released on Monday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) found that terrorist groups and governments have made recent years the most dangerous period to work as a journalist. Targeted by both terrorists and national security agencies, journalists across the world have been subjected to kidnapping, torture, murder, government surveillance, censorship, and imprisonment. As Islamic State continues releasing videos of beheaded reporters, the number of journalists detained in jails worldwide has more than doubled since 2000.

In its annual global assessment of press freedom, Attacks on the Press: Journalists caught between terrorists and governments, the CPJ reported that the incessant war on terror has escalated the risk to journalists’ lives as many of their murders remain unsolved. With the advent of mass electronic surveillance, journalists must now employ extreme countermeasures in order to protect the identities of their sources and often succumb to self-censorship while working in abject fear of arbitrary detention.

“From government surveillance and censorship to computer hacking, from physical attacks to imprisonment, kidnapping, and murder, the aim is to limit or otherwise control the flow of information—an increasingly complicated effort, with higher and higher stakes,” wrote CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in the review’s foreword.

In the U.S., the National Security Agency (NSA) is attempting to gather every piece of electronic communication sent or received. With the government recording our phone conversations, email archives, cell-site location, metadata, online activity, and GPS, reporters also have to contend with roving bugs and surveillance cameras in order to protect their source’s identity. Without employing surveillance countermeasures such as encryption tools and clandestine meetings, journalists can no longer guarantee the anonymity of their sources. The Obama administration is also responsible for aggressively prosecuting whistleblowers that provide information to reporters.

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Eight Americans Killed by CIA Drone Strikes

Originally published on April 25, 2015, at NationofChange.org

Since the inception of the drone program, the CIA has killed at least eight U.S. citizens with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). On Thursday, President Obama announced that the agency recently used drones to kill two al-Qaeda hostages including a kidnapped American. According to estimates, nearly 4,000 people have been killed by U.S. drone strikes including at least 476 innocent civilians.

After weeks of reviewing intercepted cellphone conversations, drone feeds, satellite data, and informants’ reports, the CIA launched drones from a base in Afghanistan on January 15. The drones crossed the border into Pakistan and flew over the Shawal Valley to conduct a signature strike against four suspected al-Qaeda operatives. After the attack, surveillance video recorded six bodies being pulled from the debris instead of four.

Two of the bodies belonged to kidnapped aid workers, Dr. Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto. Abducted in 2011, Dr. Weinstein had lived in Maryland before moving to Pakistan to become director for a consulting firm working with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Lo Porto, an Italian national, was taken hostage in 2012 while attempting to perform humanitarian work in Pakistan.

Included amongst the rubble was the body of another American. Alleged al-Qaeda deputy leader, Ahmed Farouq also died in the strike. According to U.S. officials, Farouq was born in the United States and moved to Pakistan as a child.

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DOJ Opens Investigation into Police Suspect Killed by Spinal Injuries

Originally published on April 23, 2015, at NationofChange.org

The Justice Department announced this week that it is opening a criminal investigation into the death of a suspect who died from fatal spinal cord injuries while in police custody. Although Baltimore police officers claim that they did not use force against the suspect, witnesses and cell phone footage reveal officers dragging the suspect as he screamed in pain. The Justice Department has already been conducting a review of the Baltimore Police Department after the city paid nearly $6 million in court judgments and settlements involving over 100 lawsuits alleging police misconduct since 2011.

At 8:39 a.m. on April 12, a Baltimore police officer made eye contact with two individuals standing at a street corner who immediately fled. Officers pursued the individuals and apprehended one of them. According to the police, 25-year-old Freddie Gray surrendered without requiring the use of force as another officer aimed a Taser at Gray but did not deploy it. After restraining him, Officer Garrett Miller allegedly found a switchblade inside Gray’s pants pocket.

Witnesses assert that the arresting officers used excessive force to arrest Gray and refused to give him medical treatment. After watching the officers sitting on Gray’s back while handcuffing him, a bystander named Kiona Mack took out her cellphone and recorded a video of officers dragging Gray into the back of a police van as he screamed in agony.

“They had him in a crab-like position, where his legs were bent back and his arms,” another witness recalled. “He was handcuffed, and at this point, they had knees in his back and his head.”

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DOJ Admits FBI Forensic Examiners Gave False Testimony for Decades

Originally published on April 21, 2015, at NationofChange.org 

In response to a Washington Post investigation, the Department of Justice and FBI have formally admitted that the majority of FBI forensic hair analysts provided flawed testimony and false evidence against criminal defendants for nearly three decades. With the advent of DNA testing, the FBI has discovered that their own forensic examiners gave erroneous testimony in more than 95% of cases that have been reviewed. Due to the fact that FBI analysts provided scientifically invalid testimony for decades, numerous innocent convicts have been exonerated and released from prison.

In 1997, the Justice Department discredited the work of FBI analyst, Special Agent Michael P. Malone, and 13 other analysts, finding that they had made false forensic reports and performed inaccurate tests. Five years later, DNA analysts at the FBI found that the Bureau’s own forensic examiners reported false hair matches over 11% of the time. The 2009 National Academy of Science report on forensic science, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, deemed microscopic hair comparison analysis to be highly unreliable.

In December 2009, Donald E. Gates was released from prison and exonerated after DNA evidence proved that the hair and semen found on the victim’s body did not belong to Gates. FBI Special Agent Michael Malone’s false testimony and flawed hair analysis resulted in Gates’ conviction for a rape and murder that he did not commit. Gates served 28 years in prison for Agent Malone’s incompetence.

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Dash Cam Video Reveals Police Car Running Over Suspect

Originally published on April 16, 2015, at NationofChange.org

Police released dash cam video of an officer using his patrol car to intentionally run over a suspect. Although the suspect’s attorney has accused the officer of using excessive force, Marana Police Chief Terry Rozema defended the officer’s actions and commended him for potentially saving lives. The officer has not been indicted on any criminal charges.

According to the police, Mario Valencia allegedly robbed a 7-Eleven in Tucson while wearing only his underwear and brandishing a metal object at 6:45 a.m. on February 19. Over an hour later, Valencia reportedly broke into the Tucson Baptist Temple and set a fire at the church. After breaking into a home and stealing a car, Valencia drove to a Walmart where he stole a .30-.30 rifle and ammunition.

After abandoning his stolen car and fleeing from Walmart on foot, Valencia encountered Marana police officers in a business park. According to Lt. Tim Brunenkant, an officer ordered Valencia to drop the rifle several times. Instead of complying, Valencia reportedly aimed the rifle at his own head and threatened to commit suicide. Before turning the corner and walking toward a Coca-Cola bottling plant, Valencia allegedly pointed the gun at an officer but did not fire.

Dash cam video from two patrol cars following Valencia shows officers cautiously approaching him. An officer hears Valencia fire a gunshot into the air and reports, “One round just went out into the sky. It’s definitely unlocked now, it’s definitely loaded.”

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