NY Attorney General Investigating Death of Woman in Police Custody

Originally published on August 4, 2015, at NationofChange.org

After signing an executive order to investigate and prosecute the deaths of civilians caused by law enforcement officers, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered his attorney general to launch a probe into the death of a woman recently found dead in her holding cell. Although the Westchester District Attorney’s Office was initially handling the investigation, Gov. Cuomo assigned the state’s attorney general to take over in order to ensure an investigation and prosecution without conflict or bias at the local level.

Arrested on July 25 for allegedly stealing a box of crab legs from a Restaurant Depot in Westchester, Raynette Turner, 42, was taken to jail and charged with shoplifting. The next evening, Turner told the guards that she felt ill and was taken to Montefiore Mount Vernon Hospital. After receiving treatment for hypertension, Turner was returned to her cell to await her arraignment the following day.

On July 27, Turner was transferred to a holding area at the courthouse when she reportedly vomited while awaiting her arraignment. Instead of taking Turner back to the hospital, officers moved her to a cell downstairs and reported last seeing her alive between noon and 1 p.m. Although the guards are supposed to check the cells every 15 minutes, Turner was found dead in her cell around 2 p.m.

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US Marshal Found Guilty of Obstruction in Drunken Shooting

U.S. Marshal Brandon Taylor leads away Tesa Kebreau after arresting her during the Urban Shield operation. Kebreau was arrested on a warrant for assaulting a government officer. CIABP

Originally published on August 1, 2015, at NationofChange.org

An off-duty deputy U.S. marshal was found guilty of obstruction of justice on Thursday for lying to LAPD homicide detectives in order to justify killing a man. After striking his wife in public and gunning down a stranger who defended her, U.S. Marshal Matthew Itkowitz provided misleading statements to his superior and the homicide detectives investigating the shooting. Unbeknownst to the drunken deputy marshal, a nearby surveillance camera recorded the incident and discredited his lies.

After dining at a Mexican restaurant with his wife and drinking too many shots of tequila on the evening of March 5, 2008, off-duty U.S. Marshal Matthew Itkowitz and his wife were walking home discussing marital problems when he began physically abusing her. According to a district attorney report, Itkowitz struck his wife and pushed her before she ran toward a nearby tattoo parlor and asked for help. Ryan Gonzalez, the manager of the tattoo parlor, confronted Itkowitz and asked, “Why are you yelling at the lady? Why are you treating the lady like that?”

Although the surveillance video does not capture the beginning of the fight, the footage does show Gonzalez knocking down Itkowitz twice before motioning for him to leave. When Itkowitz refuses to leave, Gonzalez follows him into the alley and appears to pull a gun out of his pocket. After briefly pointing the gun at Itkowitz, Gonzalez places the pistol back into his pocket while ordering Itkowitz to leave again.

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Body Cam Video Released After Cop Indicted for Murder

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

A University of Cincinnati police officer was indicted on Wednesday on murder charges for shooting an unarmed motorist in the head during a traffic stop. Although Officer Ray Tensing and another officer claimed that Tensing was being dragged by the suspect’s car and nearly run over by the driver, newly released body cam footage revealed the officers allegedly lied in order to justify the shooting. After releasing the footage, the county prosecutor admitted that he would have continued believing the officers’ version of events if not for the existence of the body cam video.

According to Officer Ray Tensing’s body camera footage on July 19, the officer pulls over Samuel DuBose a few blocks from the campus for driving without a front license plate. When Officer Tensing asks DuBose why he doesn’t have his front plate, DuBose opens his glove compartment to show his license plate to Tensing. After directing DuBose to close the glove compartment, Tensing notices a bottle on the floor of the car.

When asked about the bottle, DuBose hands the officer a closed bottle of gin. After checking the bottle to see if it has been opened, Tensing asks to see DuBose’s driver’s license. DuBose tells the officer that he has a license, but that he does not have it on him and apologizes.

After Tensing asks why he doesn’t have his license on him, DuBose responds, “I just don’t. I’m sorry. I’m just going to go in my house.”

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11 People Dead in Police Custody This Month

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

At least eleven people have been killed or found dead while in police custody this month. According to autopsy reports, their deaths have been ruled homicides, suicides, and in some cases remain medically inconclusive. Several investigative agencies have launched probes to determine whether any officers will face criminal charges for these deaths.

After engaging in a violent altercation with her ex-husband, Ralkina Jones, 37, was arrested on July 24 and taken to the Cleveland Heights City Jail in Ohio. Cleveland Heights Police Chief Jeffrey Robertson claims that Jones was being treated for several medical conditions and received her prescription medications as directed. But on the following day, a jail administrator noticed that Jones appeared lethargic and transferred her to a hospital.

Jones remained in the hospital for roughly three hours while receiving treatment for possible blood sugar and blood pressure conditions. At 10:40 p.m. on July 25, Jones returned to her jail cell with reportedly normal vital signs. The next morning, guards found her dead inside her cell. After performing her autopsy, the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner found no suspicious injuries to Jones’ body but admitted that further studies were required to determine a cause of death.

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Former Deputy Charged in Flashbang Raid that Nearly Killed Toddler

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

The former Habersham County sheriff’s deputy responsible for the botched drug raid that nearly killed an 18-month-old toddler was indicted by a federal grand jury on Wednesday for providing false evidence to obtain a “no-knock” search warrant. Instead of following procedures, former deputy Nikki Autry allegedly cut corners and provided false information, which resulted in a SWAT team raiding an innocent family’s house and tossing a flashbang grenade into the face of their young child. Although the county initially refused to pay the toddler’s medical expenses, officials eventually reached a settlement with the family after evidence emerged of Autry’s lies and the SWAT team’s negligence.

On the evening of May 27, 2014, Deputy Autry, who was also an agent of the Mountain Judicial Circuit’s drug unit, presented an affidavit to Judge James Butterworth falsely swearing that a trusted informant had recently purchased methamphetamine from a residence in Cornelia, Georgia. According to the indictment, Autry had used an unofficial and unreliable informant who never actually entered the residence or purchased any drugs from anyone inside the house. Based on Autry’s false information, Judge Butterworth issued a “no-knock” search warrant for the residence and an arrest warrant for the alleged drug dealer, Wanis Thonetheva.

After catching him stealing several valuables from her, Thonetheva’s mother had kicked him out of her house months earlier. When a fire destroyed her brother’s house in Wisconsin, she invited her brother, Bounkham Phonesavanh, his wife, Alecia, and their four young children to temporarily move in with her. Six weeks later, they found a new house in Wisconsin and were planning to return home when a SWAT team raided their bedroom in the middle of the night.

Around 2 a.m. on May 28, the SWAT team broke down their door as Habersham Deputy Charles Long threw a flashbang grenade into their bedroom. The grenade landed in the crib of 18-month-old Bounkham Phonesavanh Jr., blowing a hole through his chest and leaving third-degree burns along his face and torso. After slamming her husband to the floor, deputies ordered Alecia to sit down and shut up as she asked to hold her screaming child.

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Revised Dash Cam Video Shows Arrest of Alleged Suicide Victim

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

Pulled over for making a lane change without signaling, Sandra Bland was forcibly removed from her car and arrested because she refused to put out her cigarette. Three days later, Bland was found dead inside her jail cell hanging from a metal hook. On Tuesday, Texas officials released the dash cam video of Bland’s arrest, but some of the footage appeared to be edited and missing. To dispel any speculation that the video had been doctored, the Texas Department of Public Safety recently released the dash cam footage in its entirety.

Around 4:30 p.m. on July 10, Sandra Bland was driving through Waller County, Texas, when Officer Brian Encinia pulled her over for failing to signal during a lane change. After giving her driver’s license and insurance card to Officer Encinia, Bland remained in her vehicle while Encinia spent several minutes in his patrol car running a background check on her. After exiting his patrol car, Encinia approached Bland’s vehicle and began writing out a warning.

According to the dash cam footage, Encinia immediately observes that Bland is irritated. Bland explains that she doesn’t understand why Encinia is giving her a ticket for getting out of his way when he was speeding up behind her. When Encinia asks Bland to put out her cigarette, she responds, “I’m in my car. Why do I have to put out my cigarette?”

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Washington Post Reporter Remains Held in Iranian Prison for a Year

Originally published on July 22, 2015, at NationofChange.org

Arrested one year ago on espionage and propaganda charges, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian remains imprisoned as his trial continues in a closed Iranian court. An infamous judge known for committing human rights abuses presides over his trial and has only permitted Rezaian to consult with his defense attorney once since his arrest. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) sent a letter on Monday to the head of the Iranian judiciary requesting the immediate release of Rezaian, while the U.S. State Department has called for the release of Rezaian and three other Americans detained in Iran.

Born and raised in Marin County, California, Rezaian worked as a journalist in San Francisco before moving to Iran and later becoming The Washington Post’s Tehran correspondent in 2012. On the evening of July 22, 2014, Iranian government security forces raided Rezaian’s home in Tehran and arrested the Washington Post bureau chief and his wife, who was also a journalist. After two and a half months in prison, Rezaian’s wife, Yeganeh Salehi, was released on bail on October 6, 2014, but is prohibited from discussing the case against her husband and barred from leaving the country.

Charged with espionage, collaborating with hostile governments, propaganda against the establishment, and allegations that he gathered information about internal and foreign policy, Rezaian remains in custody at Evin Prison, a detention center in Tehran known for housing intellectuals and political prisoners. Initially denied access to his blood pressure medication and held in solitary confinement for several months, Rezaian’s mental and physical health continues to deteriorate while enduring frequent interrogations and psychological abuse. According to his family, Iranian officials have taunted Rezaian with the possibility of freedom but have repeatedly taken it away from him.

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