Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dangerous Attitudes Prevail in Local Police Community

There have been many alarming comments made via the Internet over the past several weeks by members of law enforcement and their supporters in response to police misconduct and brutality.  There seems to be a prevailing attitude among a small but vocal minority that the victims of police brutality and misconduct somehow deserved the abuse.

Specifically, Tim VanderPlaats somehow deserved the death threats and subsequent beatings because he is a "ladies man," and the wheelchair victim deserved being shoved out of his wheelchair because he has a criminal history.  Remarkably, some also believe the paraplegic deserved being toppled over because he ran into the cop's shin.  Erin Gardner deserved being yanked from the backseat of a car and slammed to the ground because she questioned authority. 

Citizens must send a strong and loud message that there is no room for these types of dangerous attitudes in our community.  These futile attempts to deflect attention from the bully to the victim do nothing but add to the shame of rogue cops.  In fact, the cops in these instances pose a greater threat to society than those charged with alleged crimes.

There is no excuse for police misconduct or brutality.  Whether the victim is an upstanding citizen or someone with a criminal history, police officers are commissioned to uphold the letter of the law with integrity.  When public trust in policing has been broken it is difficult to repair, and as long as rogue officers remain on the force it will remain beyond repair.   How can any citizen trust the local police when bullies with badges are still policing our streets?  Insiders may be able to distinguish good officers from the bad apples, but no one can expect the general public to know.   

What the public does know is that there are officers patrolling the streets who threatened to kill a man.  There are officers patrolling the streets who discharged their guns into private property after driving drunk.  They reportedly avoided arrest after a high ranking officer with personal ties to one of the offending officers ordered their release.  These officers arrest citizens for much less than the offenses they allegedly committed themselves.  They should not be above the laws that they arrest others for.

The damage caused by a handful of police officers is difficult to assess, but one thing is for sure.  The benefit of the doubt will no longer be given to the man with the badge when there are no video cameras to capture questionable exchanges between citizens and police officers.  We can expect a rise in requests for jury trials in the future.

Monday, July 14, 2014

LPD Faces Another Lawsuit After Officers Taser & Arrest Man Even Though He Repeatedly Invoked His Right to Remain Silent

Mark Bowers said he did his best to avoid the police last January, but officers apparently didn't like it when he invoked his right to remain silent after telling them that he did not call them and he had done nothing wrong.  According to Bowers they certainly didn't respect that right to remain silent.

One of several injuries caused by LPD tasering
Bowers said his civil rights were violated and that he has notified the City of his intent to sue the City of Lafayette, Lafayette Police Department, and three officers who were involved in the incident.  Officers M. L. Brown, Dobrin, and Cahoon were named individually in Bowers' complaint.

Bowers stated that he has initiated contact with the law firm that is currently representing Tim VanderPlaats as well as the paraplegic who was thrown from his wheelchair by an LPD officer last October and that he will likely retain them for the civil lawsuit in the near future.

Bowers said it began after his invalid mother became agitated with a homemaker who was sent by Area IV Council on Aging to help with light housekeeping.   Apparently Bowers' elderly mother was confused about the type of help the homemaker was required to provide.  The homemaker tried explaining to Mrs. Bowers that her duties did not include personal care, which she had expected, but that she could only provide light housekeeping duties.  The homemaker had been working in the kitchen with the elderly woman's son when Mrs. Bowers became upset and called the police.

According to Bowers his mother has a history of calling the police when she has become upset with various caregivers in the past while in nursing home care, so it did not surprise him when the police showed up on his doorstep on the afternoon of January 31, 2014.

"My mother called me from the other room to say someone was at the door," stated Bowers.  "I answered the door and was greeted by two LPD officers."

Bowers stated that when officers asked, "What can we do for you?" he replied, "Nothing, I did not call you."He said his mother spoke up to say she had called them, so he opened the door to allow the officers to speak with his mother. Mark then went back to the kitchen where he had been working. 

Mark said that when he attempted to get his phone from the office he was barred at the doorway by Officer Brown who had stopped him by bumping into him.

"He told me to back up and told me I was in his space," stated Bower. 

After telling the officer that he was in his own home Bowers said the officer informed him that he had no rights and he could do whatever he wanted because Bowers was not on a lease or owner of the home even though Bowers was the primary caregiver for his invalid mother and had lived in the home for two and a half years."

Bowers said at this point he did not argue with the officer.

"I backed up and stood at the counter with my hands at my side," said Bower.  "Officer Brown then informed me that I have history."  This claim was mentioned in the police report, which indicated that Officer Cahoon had informed Officer Brown via radio transmission that Bowers had "a history" with police.

Bowers said that he asked what he was talking about in reference to the history and then out of nowhere and without any warning the officer tried to grab him.

"I got scared and pulled away asking him not to touch me," said Bowers.  Bowers said he asked if he was being detained, and the officer replied that he was being arrested for assaulting him.  Bowers denied assaulting the officer and then says he submitted to the arrest once officers told him he was under arrest.

Bowers vehemently denies touching the officer and stated it was the other way around.

"Officer Brown then grabbed me again and threw me up against the counter and upper cabinets with my hands behind my back," said Bowers.  "At this point a second officer came from the living room and they both kept telling me repeatedly to stop resisting.  I was not resisting and kept repeating myself."

"They had my hands behind my back and then they told me they were going to tase me," said Bowers.  "I told them that I hadn't done anything wrong and asked them to please stop.  Over and over I pleaded with them to stop.  The officer repeated three times that he was going to tase me while all the time my hands were behind my back."

In the tort claim notice, Bowers claims that at this point Officer Dobrin pushed him to the center of the kitchen so Officer Brown could tase him again.  He said that Officer Dobrin used a stun gun in his side and thigh areas four times.

"The entire time I pleaded with them to stop, yelling to my mother to tell them to please stop," said Bowers.

Bowers said the officers ordered him to the floor and that he was unable to move his body due to the tasing.

"I told them I couldn't move," said Bowers.  "They threatened they would tase me again."

Bowers said that after he was able to get down on the floor Officer Brown jumped in the air landing down on his back with his knee while also pushing his head to the floor while still telling him to stop resisting even though he was unable to resist.

"I could not breathe with his knee in my back, because when he came down on me he knocked the wind out of me in addition to the effects of the tasing and stun gun," said Bowers.

Bowers said that as he was being escorted from his home, his invalid mother became upset and pleaded with the officers not to take her son.  She reportedly told the officers that her son had done nothing wrong and that he was her sole caretaker and that she could not be left alone.

Police officers left an invalid elderly woman alone without any care when they took her son away.

As Mark was being taken out of the home to be transported, the officers observed another individual and asked how long he had been there and who he was talking to via the speaker phone.  The witness told the officers he was talking to the Care Link Operator.   Mark's mother had activated her Care Link alarm to report alleged police abuse and the witness was reportedly telling the operator that the police had beaten his friend up.  At this point, the officers reportedly ordered Mrs. Bowers and the witness to "hang it up!"  They then asked where the individual came from.  The witness told the officers he had been there the entire time and witnessed all of it.  Mark says the conversation was recorded by Care Link.

The officers made no mention of this witness or phone call in their police reports, which Mark says are full of inaccuracies and inconsistencies in comparison.  The officer's reports did, however, admit that Bowers had told them he did not wish to speak with them during the ordeal.

One report refers to the Area IV homemaker as Mark's girlfriend; however, this is not true according to Bowers.  He says he did not know the woman outside of her professional role as a service provider.  Bowers was and is currently engaged to his fiance' (pictured).

Mark Bowers with his fiance
"[The housekeeper] was there to provide housekeeping services to my mom," Mark said.  "It was the housekeeper my mom was upset with, not me, and I told the officers repeatedly that I did not wish to speak to them, which is my right.  That's when they got mad and started badgering me.  I did nothing to deserve any of it."

So once again the public is left wondering whether these officers could have de-escalated a tense situation rather than attempt to badger someone who they had already pre-determined to have "a history with police." 

Mark says his only history is that he does not talk to the police and will exercise his right to remain silent due to the history of LPD and their excessive force against private citizens.

Gone are the days where citizens automatically give police officers the benefit of the doubt.  There has been plenty of evidence of police officers, locally and from around the country, abusing their power.

What did these officers accomplish?  Taxpayers get to foot the bill for yet another lawsuit.  An elderly invalid was left alone to fend for herself.  This situation could have been avoided had the officers respected the wishes of a citizen to exercise his right to remain silent.  The cockiness of these officers to get into the face and space of someone who had committed no crime is indefensible.   It's about time that the entire LPD police force take a remediation course in constitutional rights.

LPD leadership must take a serious look at requiring police officers to wear body cameras as a way to protect citizens and good police officers.  This practice has been known to decrease excessive force use by 70%.  Rather than spend money defending against lawsuits, wouldn't it be wiser to purchase body cameras for officers?

We know there are good officers at the Lafayette Police Department; however, these continual cases alleging police brutality are giving the entire department a bad name.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

No Trust in LPD: Allegations that LPD Cops Avoided Arrest After Shooting Up Private Property While Out Drinking and Driving; Charges Dropped Against Gardner

Our city made world wide news recently after a video of a Lafayette police officer knocking a paraplegic out of a wheelchair began circulating.  It became a sensational news item because there was videotape footage of the incident.  Seeing really is believing.  Aside from the friends and family of the former police lieutenant, most people were shocked by what they saw and rightly condemned the actions.

Lafayette is quickly becoming known for its bad boy police force.  Earlier this year details about death threats against Tim VanderPlaats and his subsequent beating were released to the public via court documents.

In addition, Andrew Phillips filed a lawsuit against the City of Lafayette and its police department alleging excessive force was used against him.   Phillips also says that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated.

Resisting arrest charges were dropped against Gardner
Erin Gardner was slammed to the ground in brute fashion by a burly LPD officer.  The dash cam video was made public via this blog.   Gardner was merely a passenger in the backseat of a car that had reportedly touched the center line as the driver swerved slightly to avoid hitting a parked car.  (The Indiana Court of Appeals has recently ruled that crossing the center line to avoid an accident is allowable.)

LPD Officer Jeffrey Webb used this as an excuse to initiate a traffic stop and began harassing Gardner for her identification.  Gardner tried explaining to the officer that she did not have a driver's license with her and she recited her Social Security number several times in an attempt to identify herself.

After Gardner raised the probable cause issue, Webb told her she wasn't wearing a seatbelt even though there was no possible way for the officer to see whether or not she had been wearing one prior to the stop. 

Gardner was subsequently charged with resisting arrest; however, that particular count was recently dropped by the prosecutor, presumably because of a recent unanimous Indiana Supreme Court ruling that determined passive resistance does not constitute resisting arrest.

Editor's Note:  Many readers have questioned the date stamp in Gardner's photo.  It's a fair question and simple to answer.  Apparently the officer did not set the camera's date stamp correctly.  It appears that even the evidence handling was bungled by the bully officer. 

Is There Another Lawsuit Coming?

Another citizen has suggested he soon will give the City of Lafayette and the LPD notice of his intention to file a tort action against the agencies for claims that two officers used excessive force and violated his constitutional rights when they arrested and tasered him and later charged him with resisting arrest last January in his home.  The LCJ will bring details of that story as they emerge.


It has also been reported by department insiders, but never made public, that at least two LPD officers were disciplined for using their guns in the destruction of private property in rural Tippecanoe County at the home of a private resident.  Insiders say the officers had been drinking and driving when the incident occurred but that they were not on duty at the time.  These same officers reportedly still work for the department.

The gun firing incident was allegedly reported to the police; however, none of the officers were arrested according to insiders, because another high-ranking officer from an adjoining police agency reportedly ordered that they be driven home and released.   Some inside the department were reportedly stunned that the officers involved in the alleged crimes were not terminated from their employment as police officers. 

So is it any wonder that members of the public have a difficult time trusting the local police?  How can an average citizen distinguish the good officers from the bad?  How can anyone blame the average citizen for feeling dismayed by it all?

The tarnished image of a city's police force hurts everyone, including the good officers on the force who do their jobs with distinction.  These incidents and others have caused many in the community to lose faith in its police force.  There is something seriously wrong when law-abiding citizens are as scared of the police as they are the gang members that roam our once safe city.

Another question being asked by citizens is why was Tom Davidson recommended for termination, but the rogue officers involved in threatening a private citizen with death able to avoid similar consequences?  Was the difference a video?   And why are officers still wearing badges after allegedly driving drunk and destroying private property with police-issued guns?

Until all of the officers in question are off the force, don't expect the public image of the LPD to improve, and most of all, don't expect the community watchdogs to go away.