The suspicious death of Sandra Bland three days after an unnecessary, illegal, and violent arrest has reminded tens of millions of people that while national awareness of the problems of endemic societal racism and rampant police abuse may have risen in the year since Michael Brown was murdered, the police have not been deterred in their application of crimes and violence against the public–particularly against people of color, the mentally ill, the very poor, and the homeless. In today’s environment where more and more people are pulling out their cameras to film the police because they expect that the police may violate someone’s rights, it should be unfathomable that police would continue to brazenly commit crimes against the public during a period of increased scrutiny, but as civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson likes to remind people, the police will continue to abuse and kill people.
I once asked an elder, "How do we keep the movement alive?" to which the elder replied, "The police will do it for you."
— deray mckesson (@deray) April 28, 2015
Police get away with their crimes for a multitude of complicated, and often intertwined, reasons. Racism. Classism. Corporations that profit off of incarceration. Corporations that profit off of prohibition. Politicians who are bought by those corporations and by police unions. Expectations of revenue generation by municipal governments. Qualified immunity for cops who commit crimes. Internal Affairs departments that are expected to clear cops of criminal wrongdoing. Chain of commands who believe it is their responsibility to clear cops of wrongdoing. Prosecutors who are eager to paper over cop crimes so that they can continue their symbiotic relationship with the police. Judges who overlook rampant police corruption as they eye higher benches or reelection campaigns where they will be attacked if they don’t come across as tough on (non-cop) crime. These are just some of the reasons, and these reasons give many people comfort in believing that they don’t directly contribute to the problem because they are not members of any of the aforementioned groups. However, one reason that we can directly attribute blame to the general public for is its desire to make excuses for criminal cops by blaming the victim.
In the Sandra Bland case, no reasonable person who believes in basic civil liberties could side with Officer Brian Encinia. Sandra Bland was unnecessarily stopped for a minor traffic infraction that would only result in a ticket in jurisdictions where revenue generation or harassment of a particular community (e.g., the Black community) is a priority. At the conclusion of the stop she was unnecessarily and illegally ordered to put out her cigarette in her own car. She legally (and righteously) refused to put out the cigarette, as is her right. For that, Encinia threatened her with arrest, pointed his taser (a deadly weapon) at her face, and proceeded to assault her. She was ultimately unjustly arrested for assault on a public servant, despite being the victim of assault. She then spent three days in prison because she dared to flex her basic Constitutional and human rights. On the third day the state alleges that she committed suicide.
~ Assata Shakur, 1987
In the Sandra Bland case, there are millions of people who blame Sandra Bland for her own arrest and death. For example, there are overtly racist people like Heather Martin of Allen, TX who sing the praises of Jesus and limited government but who will eagerly back an officer “every time” they commit crimes against any “uppity, mouthy, and criminal [Black people].” Backed by a Confederate flag, she proclaims that #PoliceLivesMatter, making it clear that Black lives do not matter to her.
There are also overtly racist people like retired NYPD Detective Harry Houck who argue that nothing bad would have happened during the stop had Sandra Bland dispensed with her “arrogant attitude” and simply been respectful to Officer Encinia.
They talk about how people (and they mean Black people) should simply shut up, treat the police officer with respect, and comply with all of his commands if they want to get through a stop without any problems (e.g., being arrested, assaulted, or killed). They shift the burden from the police, to not commit crimes, to the victim, to not question or talk back to police officers. Therein lies a problem that highlights our society’s failure to acknowledge its racist history, its racist present, its fixation on power and authority, and its failure to place civil liberties (the thing that many believe makes America great) above a cop’s expectation of being respected by the public.
But the Confederate flag waiving, bootlicking, cop apologizing, #PoliceLivesMatter crowd does make one point that is worth listening to–Black people sometimes should choose to comply instead of die. They get it right for the wrong reasons; they believe that Black people are inferior human beings, and that people in blue uniforms should be allowed to dispose of them if they don’t “act right.” But as most Black people will tell you, they’ve essentially been told the same thing by their parents, stemming from their parents’ desire to see their children survive to old age.
At the Peaceful Streets Project, we go into the streets to document interactions between the police and members of the public, and when we see police violating people’s rights, we challenge them. When they violate our rights, we challenge them. In the attached video, we challenged them quite vocally, with plenty of expletives, when they illegally detained and searched us for documenting their actions during a copwatch in the Rundberg region of Austin, TX. Compare and contrast our behavior to the so-called “arrogant” behavior that resulted in Sandra Bland being illegally arrested and assaulted.
Why did a Black man come up to us at the end of that incident and ask, “how the fuck do you talk to them goddam laws like that?” The answer is because he was amazed that we weren’t beaten and arrested for what we said to the police. Not everyone has the same ability to stand up for their rights or the rights of others. If you are homeless or extremely poor, you are less likely to be able to stand up for your rights without being abused, arrested, or killed. If you are mentally ill, you are less likely to be able to stand up for your rights without being abused, arrested, or killed. If you are Latino or Arab, you are less likely to be able to stand up for your rights without being abused, arrested, or killed. And if you are Black, you are less likely to be able to stand up for your rights without being abused, arrested, or killed. Sandra Bland is just one of tens of thousands of examples of that unfair and unfortunate reality.
It is for the aforementioned reasons that cops should NOT be respected by society. That they are so eager to use violence and commit crimes against people means that they are not productive members of society who deserve our respect. That they are even more likely to use violence and commit crimes against the most disadvantaged members of society means that they are bullies on top of being non-productive members of society. But just because they shouldn’t be respected doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be feared. When we stand up to the police, we fear for our lives and liberty. We understand that we are often dealing with violent thugs who have no qualms about committing crimes against us. But we also acknowledge that we have strength in numbers, we have cameras rolling, and most of us aren’t Black, Latino, Arab, homeless, extremely poor, or mentally ill. We are far more likely to survive a police encounter than Sandra Bland or someone who looks like her. That is privilege, and we will use our privilege to push back against police.
Disorderly Conduct Charge Against Peaceful Streets Project Founder Antonio Buehler Dropped After Second Mistrial; No More Criminal Charges Outstanding
Yesterday afternoon, Gonzales County (TX) Attorney Paul Watkins moved to dismiss a Class C Misdemeanor charge of Disorderly Conduct against Peaceful Streets Project founder Antonio Buehler. With the dismissal, Buehler has now been cleared of every criminal charge levied against him since his initial high profile arrest in Austin, TX on January 1, 2012.
On March 13th, 2013, Buehler was at the municipal courthouse to observe court proceedings when he observed Judge Deidre Voigt verbally abusing adolescents who had received Class C misdemeanor charges for tardiness, truancy, and classroom disruptions at the local high school. When she found that he was recording her behavior, she confiscated his camera, searched it without a warrant, and then demanded that he delete the footage he had taken of her. As Buehler left the courthouse, Captain Gayle Autry told him to never return, and Buehler shortly thereafter told Autry to “go f— yourself.” Buehler was then arrested and charged with Disorderly Conduct.
After being denied a continuance so he could obtain legal counsel, Buehler defended himself in the same court, presided over by Judge Voigt, on June 5, 2013, and was found guilty after a 7-hour trial, and assessed a $1 fine. Buehler immediately appealed the decision and was provided a trial de novo. Buehler went back to Gonzales for a trial on February 23, 2015 with Chevo Pastrano and Millie Thompson as his legal representatives, however, the trial was declared a mistrial due to an error made by County Judge David Bird. The trial date set for March 30, 2015, was cancelled the day before the trial when the county prosecutor claimed that he needed to deal with a family emergency. The trial date set for May 20, 2015, was cancelled days before the trial when the county court claimed to have discovered that they didn’t send out jury questionnaires.
On June 25th, 2015, Buehler went to court, again. The prosecution only called Captain Autry, while the defense called Buehler, and six other witnesses to testify. The prosecution argued that the mere utterance of the words “go f— yourself” tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace, while the defense argued that the arrest was illegal, that a police officer cannot arrest people because they are offended by free speech, and that Autry was never moved to violence. The six-person jury (two of who admitted during voir dire that they were friends or acquaintances with the prosecutor and the police that were present at the scene) deadlocked at 3-3, and the trial was declared a mistrial.
Watkins indicated that he chose to dismiss the charges after hearing the testimony at trial and concluding that he could not in good conscience try the case again. In response, Buehler said, “I appreciate that the prosecutor recognized that the testimony that was provided by Captain Autry during the trial proved that I did not commit any crime by exercising my First Amendment rights after I had my Constitutional right to be free from illegal search and seizure violated by Judge Deidre Voigt.” He continued, “I am also extremely grateful for the witnesses who were willing to travel to Gonzales multiple times to testify on my behalf, for the three members of the jury who refused to be pressured into declaring me guilty for a crime that was never committed, and for my hard working and principled lawyers Chevo Pastrano and Millie Thompson.” Buehler has already initiated a lawsuit against the City of Gonzales and Captain Gayle Autry for violations of his civil rights.
Buehler originally made news on January 1, 2012, when he was arrested on the charge of Harassment of a Public Official, a 3rd degree felony, for allegedly spitting in Austin (TX) Police Officer Patrick Oborski’s face. In the aftermath of that first arrest, Buehler launched the Peaceful Streets Project to educate the public on their rights, empower them to stand up for their rights and to stand up for the rights of one another, and come together to form communities to hold police accountable.
Over the next year and a half, Austin Police Officers arrested Buehler three more times for filming them while on duty. Two years and nine months after the New Year’s Day arrest, Buehler was found not guilty of any charges stemming from that incident at a four-day trial. Despite half a dozen witnesses, four videos, and two audio files that showed that Buehler did not spit on Oborski and that Oborski had lied in his arrest affidavit against Buehler, he was never disciplined or arrested.
In total, over the past three and a half years, Buehler has been arrested five times, has had ten charges levied in the courts against him, and has had dozens of criminal investigations launched against him (including at least three felony investigations by the Austin Police Department). With this dismissal, Buehler has now been cleared of every charge. Buehler is also currently suing the City of Austin, Chief Art Acevedo, Sergeant Adam Johnson, and Officers Patrick Oborski, Robert Snider, and Justin Berry.
The Gonzales Dismissal order is public record.
Press Release: Antonio Buehler Goes to Court in Gonzales (TX) for Final Criminal Charge This Thursday and Friday
This Thursday, June 25th, and Friday, June 26th, police accountability activist and Peaceful Streets Project founder Antonio Buehler will go to trial in Gonzales, TX for the final criminal charge pending against him after three and a half years of activism against what he claims are corrupt and criminal cops. Despite being arrested five times, having ten charges levied in the courts against him, and having dozens of criminal investigations launched against him (including at least three felony investigations by the Austin Police Department), if Buehler is acquitted this week the police will have failed to have secured a single conviction against him.
On March 13th, 2013, Buehler had attempted to openly record what he claims was unprofessional behavior by Judge Deidre Voigt at the Gonzales Municipal Courthouse. Buehler claims Voigt was unnecessarily berating several adolescents who were in her court for Class C misdemeanor charges related to missing or being tardy to classes at the local public high school. When the city prosecutor noticed Buehler recording the judge, Voigt commanded Buehler to allow her to see his phone. Voigt then took the phone into her private chambers for approximately two hours while Buehler and his associates demanded that the police officers in the courtroom, including Captain Gayle Autry, retrieve the phone that they had considered stolen.
After going through Buehler’s phone and viewing the video he took, and despite no signage indicating that video recording was not permitted in the courtroom, Voigt gave Buehler the option of deleting the video or being arrested for Contempt of Court. Not wanting to spend a night in jail, Buehler opted to delete the video. On his way out of the courthouse, Captain Autry told Buehler, “Never come back to my courthouse, again.” Buehler then pulled out his phone and began filming Autry, asking him to repeat what Buehler perceived as a threat. As the two were separating in front of the courthouse, a sarcastic “have a nice day” was exchanged between Autry and another one of Buehler’s associates. After Buehler responded with “go f— yourself” as he was walking away, Autry turned around and arrested Buehler for disorderly conduct.
Judge Voigt later denied Buehler’s motion to recuse herself from presiding over the subsequent trial given her involvement leading up to his arrest. Buehler defended himself in court on June 5, 2013, and was found guilty after a 7-hour trial, and assessed a $1 fine. Buehler immediately appealed the decision and was provided a trial de novo.
Buehler went back to Gonzales for a trial on February 23, 2015 with Chevo Pastrano and Millie Thompson as his legal representatives, however, the trial was declared a mistrial due to an error made by the county judge. The trial date set for March 30, 2015, was cancelled the day before the trial when the county prosecutor claimed that he needed to deal with a family emergency. The trial date set for May 20, 2015, was cancelled days before the trial when the county court claimed to have discovered that they didn’t send out jury questionnaires. Buehler’s lawyers have repeatedly asserted his right to a speedy trial, and it seems as though Gonzales prosecutors will be hard-pressed to delay the trial, again.
Buehler originally made news on January 1, 2012, when he was arrested on the felony charge of Harassment of a Public Official, a 3rd degree felony for allegedly spitting in Officer Patrick Oborski’s face. In the aftermath of that first arrest, Buehler launched he Peaceful Streets Project to educate the public on their rights, empower them to stand up for their rights and to stand up for the rights of one another, and come together to form communities to hold police accountable.
Over the next year and a half, Austin Police Officers arrested Buehler three more times for filming them while on duty. Two years and nine months after the New Year’s Day arrest, Buehler was found not guilty of any charges stemming from that incident at a four-day trial. Despite half a dozen witnesses, four videos, and two audio files that showed that Buehler did not spit on Oborski and that Oborski had grossly misrepresented the incident in his arrest affidavit against Buehler, he was never disciplined or arrested. Austin city prosecutors later dropped all of the outstanding charges against Buehler.
Cop Block is a largely libertarian police accountability organization that was an initial supporter of the Peaceful Streets Project. From the beginning, many members of Cop Block (especially Pete Eyre) supported the Peaceful Streets Project. Their initial support was very helpful in allowing us to spread awareness of our efforts to take on police abuse, corruption, crime, and misconduct in Austin and in select other cities. However, in the past few years both the Peaceful Streets Project and Cop Block have changed in some pretty remarkable ways.
First, the Peaceful Streets Project was started with a vision of helping to bring about a society free of state-sponsored institutionalized violence. Never were we about making friends with the police, nor were we very concerned about non-state violence. Although some of the lead organizers wanted to, as an organization we deliberately shied away from many of the social factors that help feed aggressive and violent policing, as well as the social factors that helped feed violence in the streets. In particular, we avoided issues of race and gender. Our willingness to stand up to the police state while ignoring racism and misogyny allowed many unsavory people to rally around us. Many of those people; who were eager to focus on DUI checkpoints, marijuana laws, and SWAT raids; surprised us when they inexplicably but vigorously rallied behind white people who killed unarmed black people. This became most obvious in their rabid support of George Zimmerman who killed Trayvon Martin in 2012.
By 2013, Antonio Buehler began to acknowledge more and more what co-founders Harold Gray, John Bush, and especially Kaja Tretjak had been concerned about when it came to non-state forms of oppression. Buehler used his position of relative influence to begin speaking out about issues of race and gender, and soon found that many of the followers of Peaceful Streets Project were attacking him. Many supporters encouraged him to disregard these issues in order to keep harmony among police accountability activists, but Buehler had come to recognize that opposition to only state oppression, and not the social oppression that helps fuel the ability of the state to harm people, was a fool’s errand. The police are a problem only to the extent that the structures and hierarchies in our society allow them to be.
Things came to a head later in 2013 when Bush called out a homophobic facebook post, and then Buehler called out some racist and sexist facebook posts. This brought out vicious attacks from many who were at the intersection of some or all of the following groups: Cop Block, anarchocapitalists, Men’s Rights Movement, and Neoconfederates. One semi-popular libertarian blogger named Christopher Cantwell led the charge against the “White Knight,” “Social Justice Warriors” who dared to take offense at overt forms of bigotry. Soon, Buehler had hundreds of racist and sexist people attacking him for taking a stand against racism and sexism. Buehler responded by disassociating with everyone who was willing to associate with Cantwell, and this included Cop Block founder Ademo Freeman and many other members of Cop Block. Buehler was also forced to sever ties with people who had set up Peaceful Street Project facebook pages in various parts of the country.
Since then, the Peaceful Streets Project has gone to great lengths to acknowledge how bigotry helps fuel oppression, and how we (as a largely white male group) can use our privilege to help undermine that oppression. We have sought out other groups that better reflect the populations being most abused by police (such as the Austin Justice Coalition) so that we can ally with them and support them in the struggle. Further, we are much more proactive in calling out bigoted behavior within our group, as we recognize that wonderful contributors had left the Peaceful Streets Project in the early years because it had previously been an unsafe space for them.
Cop Block, however, seems to be going in the opposite direction. Instead of calling out bigotry in the ranks, they have tended to ignore it. While Cop Block claims that as a decentralized organization they cannot control the actions of their members, they do allow unilateral decisions if those decisions are made by the founder, Freeman. Further, while they claim they cannot do much of anything about the bigots in their ranks, as libertarians and anarchists they know very well the power of ostracism. Instead of ostracizing the bigots, they choose to embrace bigots such as Cantwell. And while they may try to claim that they don’t concern themselves with social oppression, and only state oppression, many members of Cop Block became silent when it came to the killings of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, and they instead focused all of their outrage on people who rioted or looted in response to police executing unarmed people.
In recent days it has come to our attention that Ademo Freeman has gone completely off the rails. There is plenty of information circulating on the web about some extraordinarily disgusting behavior that has personally harmed individuals who did not seek to harm him, that we will not rehash here. WeCopwatch and Anti-Media, both of who were collaborating with Cop Block, have publicly distanced themselves from the organization. We commend them for doing so. Fighting the police state and holding police accountable cannot be done if we don’t hold each other accountable, first. We hope that other groups will do the same, and that the many decent people in Cop Block will push the bigots out of the organization.
At Peaceful Streets Project we are less concerned about what happens on the internet than we are what happens in the street. We look forward to continuing to engage in direct action tactics that will help change the culture of society. We look forward to continuing to partner with organizations who want to end the police state – and who are willing to be smart enough to strike out against all forms of oppression that stand in the way.
And yes, we also distance ourselves from Cop Block.
WeCopwatch statement: http://wecopwatch.org/wecopwatch-cuts-ties-with-copblock-org/
Anti-Media statement: http://theantimedia.org/behind-our-decision-to-leave-cop-block/
Caroline Callaway sued Austin & Travis County for assaulting her during a DWI blood draw. Friday evening the jury found her NOT GUILTY of DWI.
Caroline Callaway’s father sat in the hallway of the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center all last week as his daughter stood trial for the offense of DWI. As Caroline’s father sat in the hallway, unable to watch, a representative from Mothers Against Drunk Driving watched the entire proceeding, front-row-center. Below, you’ll find a summary of the facts of the case, interesting aspects of the trial, and how Antonio Buehler was denied the opportunity to testify as to Patrick Oborski’s reputation for dishonesty.
Caroline was pulled over for running a red light, then arrested for DWI.
In the early morning hours of post-Superbowl Sunday – Monday, 2013, Callaway was pulled over by Austin Police Department Officer Patrick Oborski for allegedly running two red lights. The dash cam video of the stop and arrest do not clearly show that traffic violation. During the stop, Caroline is pleasant and cooperative and agrees to perform the field sobriety tests. During those tests, Caroline is balanced, follows directions, and is almost perfect on the one legged stand. Oborski’s interpretation of her performance, however, did not match what the video showed, and he decided Caroline had demonstrated enough clues in the field sobriety tests (“FST’s”) that he had probable cause to arrest her for DWI.
Oborski is a seasoned DWI squad officer, who has made thousands of DWI arrests in Austin, Texas. He also makes a fine living off the over-time pay associated with all the court hours he must log on those DWI’s.
As Caroline learns she’s to be arrested, a media reporter with a camera showed up on the scene. Caroline, believing she was on the TV show COPS, began to be verbally defiant, as she was upset at being arrested, having done well on the FST’s (contrary to Oborski’s conclusion).
Caroline refused a breath test, and because it was a No Refusal Weekend, Oborski sought a warrant to forcibly draw Caroline’s blood as evidence against her. At the jail, Caroline was yanked around by her handcuffs, causing bruising and other injuries. She was then strapped down to a restraint chair. Peace officers then hooded her with a bag to prevent her from spitting or biting. One of the officers put his dirty boot on her arm to keep her still. Caroline’s version of this process differed greatly at trial compared to the officers’.
Caroline explained to the jury that she was having an anxiety attack, and she was shaking all over. Because of the anxiety attack, she could not get a full breath of air. Some unidentified officer – who Caroline could not see because she was black-bagged – grabbed her by the throat and cut off her air. She could not breath.
Strapped to the chair, unable to see, and deprived of air, she thought she was going to die.
Officers, however, claimed that they would only ever use pressure points at the jaw/mandible to force compliance with a blood draw. Oborski admitted that this was the most violent blood draw he had seen.
Caroline’s pictures after her arrest show bruising on her throat & neck – not her mandible.
Officer Oborski testified that Caroline was not the “sweet young lady you see before you.” He also testified that “we’re a free society where videotaping happens everywhere.” He, therefore, didn’t have a problem with the media filming Caroline’s arrest. Those of you who kept up with the Antonio Buehler case know that Oborski was the one who arrested Antonio for challenging Oborski’s authority to assault a young woman passenger to a DWI stop, as Buehler exercised his First Amendment rights and took pictures of the assault. You can read more about that story here.
Antonio Buehler stood ready to testify that Oborski has a reputation in Austin for being dishonest. Buehler, after his wrongful arrest at the hands of Oborski, had been approached by hundreds of people, including those charged by Oborski, and many attorneys. All of these people had tales to tell about how dishonest Oborski is. Buehler, however, was not permitted to testify. In fact, many of the defense’s theories and proposed testimony never made it in front of the jury.
The jury was threatened with being investigated for jury misconduct if they did not follow the instructions in the jury charge. Had they believed that Caroline Callaway drove while intoxicated (and the blood result was over 0.13), they would have found her guilty of that offense. They acquitted her.
The jury rendered its verdict of acquittal the night before Clarence Darrow’s birthday.
Clarence Darrow epitomizes what many criminal defense lawyers aspire to be in their practice. Caroline’s lawyers Daphne Silverman and Norm Silverman would have made Darrow proud in their defense of Callaway. Callaway’s lawyer Daphne Silverman was forced to file the civil rights action in federal court before trying this misdemeanor. You can read about that civil suit here. Despite having most of the Travis County Attorney’s Office in the courtroom, supporting the State’s prosecutors, and despite being forced to move to recuse the judge mid-trial (arguing that the judge seemed affected by an extra-judicial bias against Caroline for exercising her civil right to sue the police), Silverman & Silverman persuaded the jury that Caroline was not intoxicated that night.
If you’re shopping for a defense attorney, the first question you must ask (and get a straight answer to) is how many times that lawyer has been to trial in the last year. If you have a case you want to fight, you’d be better off with trial by combat than a lawyer who pretends to be a trial lawyer but never tries a case.
It takes a big pair to move to recuse the judge mid-trial. It likewise takes quite a pair to see a high blood test result and say “No! My client wasn’t intoxicated.” Their strong advocacy meant the difference between a second conviction for DWI and an acquittal.
Caroline’s bravery is remarkable.
Most defendants just want to get the case over with. Prosecutors know this, and exploit it during the plea bargaining process. It took quite a pair of big brass ones for Caroline to in effect say, No! The world will not be this way within her reach. No other people should be strapped down, black-bagged, and choked in the name of crime prevention.
MADD: What are you doing?
Mothers Against Drunk Driving gave Oborski an award the same year he illegally arrested Antonio Buehler. A representative from MADD watched the entire Callaway trial. At what point, MADD, does your moral authority cease protecting the public and start hurting us? My daddy’s rule when I was a teen and in college was that if I got arrested, he wouldn’t post bail – I’d have to sit in jail. But, I think that if I was choked by people tasked with protecting and serving the community, Daddy would be sitting in that hallway, praying for justice, as he watched the men who hurt his daughter strut by and complain to each other about “those fucking defense attorneys.” (Yes, that’s an exact quote). And, that’s just what Caroline’s father did. Her father sat in the hallway, having seen his daughter’s bruises, and seen her suffer through PTSD, and he prayed for justice. MADD – you need to realize that Fathers have had Enough of Damned Unconscionable Police Practices – they’re FED UPP. MADD, if Caroline had died in the process, would you still feel your moral outrage at her alleged DWI? Because that jury must have heard her father’s prayers, and they said by their verdict, NOT GUILTY.
Reposted with permission from the MILLIE L. THOMPSON, ATTORNEY blog.
Original link: http://cw39.com/2015/04/09/grassroots-group-everyone-should-film-police-activity/
By: Jermaine Hopkins & Millie Thompson
Carlos Chacon sued the City of Austin and Austin Police Department Officers Eric Copeland and Russell Rose for their use of excessive force against him. His attorney, Broadus Spivey, filed the case in Federal Court, pursuant to 42 U.S. Code § 1983 – Civil action for deprivation of rights. On Thursday evening, March 5, 2015, a jury of 12 decided the case in Chacon’s favor. Chacon was awarded $1,000,000.00 in damages. We discuss the case, the legal process, important details of the trial, and how APD’s brass inconsistently treats dishonesty by police officers.
Facts of the Case:
Chacon sued based on damages sustained at the hands of APD Officers Rose and Copeland. Chacon called 9-1-1 as a victim of a crime, informing the 9-1-1 operator that he paid for a massage but the woman offered sex, and when Chacon went to leave, a man began kicking the motel room door, yelling at him. After he made the first 9-1-1 call, the same man threatened to kill him and reached into his shorts as if grabbing a gun. Chacon entered his silver BMW, began driving around, and again called 9-1-1 to report the threat.
En route to the motel, the 9-1-1 dispatcher twice explained to the responding APD officers that the suspect was a ‘black male’ in a white shirt, black hat and black shorts, with a gun, and that the complainant (victim) – Chacon – was driving his silver BMW. There was no record of any other 9-1-1 calls being placed regarding this incident, other than Chacon’s two.
When the officers arrived at the motel, Officer Rose inexplicably asked an African American male matching the description of the suspect if he had called about a gun. The male immediately replied in the negative, but instead said that there was a drunk guy driving around in a silver BMW. The African American male claimed that he himself had called 9-1-1, about the drunk guy.
Chacon approached, driving his vehicle, and Officer Rose immediately drew his gun and pointed it at Chacon – the victim who had called 9-1-1. Rose didn’t identify himself as a police officer. Rose ordered Chacon to show his hands, and Chacon responded: “I don’t have a gun, he’s the one.” Officer Copeland joined Rose and then drew his gun, pointing it at Chacon. When the officers yanked Chacon from the vehicle, Chacon tried to again calmly explain that he was not the one with the gun. Rose and Copeland wrestled Chacon to the ground, giving conflicting commands, and Copeland punched him in the face twice, causing a cut above Chacon’s eye. Then, Officer Rose tased Chacon. Chacon was arrested for resisting arrest. That resisting arrest case was dismissed.
You can find the dash-cam video/audio here.
Procedural History of the Federal Civil Rights Case:
Officers Rose and Copeland tried to have the case tossed on qualified immunity grounds, arguing that they were immune from suit because they were acting properly in their official capacity as police officers. On May 21, 2013, Federal District Judge Sparks issued a ruling denying the City of Austin’s Motion for Summary Judgment in Chacon’s lawsuit. In his ruling, Judge Sparks pointed out Rose’s “obvious post-hoc explanation for his behavior, and is completely discredited by his actions as captured by his own dashboard camera… The Court therefore disregards Officer Rose’s explanation, and instead defers to the video evidence, which clearly contradicts his affidavit’s claim.” Rose, a white officer, to-date has not been terminated or disciplined for dishonesty.
On March 2 and 3, 2015, Chief Acevedo was provided with information regarding the dishonest and rehearsed testimony given under oath by Rose, Copeland, and Smith. To date, Chief Acevedo has not responded to that information.
Both the district court and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to dismiss Chacon’s case against the two officers. In the officers’ interlocutory appeal (meaning that they didn’t have to wait for a jury to hear the case before they could appeal on the issue of immunity from suit), the Fifth Circuit had to decide whether there was a factual dispute regarding whether the police violated an actual constitutional right, considering 1) the severity of the crime at issue, 2) whether Chacon posed an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and 3) whether Chacon actively resisted arrested or attempted to flee.
The Fifth Circuit reasoned that the video of the assault did not entirely confirm the officers’ version of events, nor did it entirely refute Chacon’s version. Notably, Chacon was given contradictory commands during the assault, including to “not move,” but “get on the ground,” but “stop moving,” but “turn over.”
The Fifth Circuit concluded that there was a fact issue that a jury must decide: “Even if some action by Chacon demonstrated resistance, the fact question found by the district court remains: whether, even considering his possible resistance, shoving Chacon to the ground while he attempted to explain himself, punching him in the head while he was on the ground, or shooting him with a Taser, constituted excessive force. Police are entitled only to measured and ascending responses to the actions of a suspect, calibrated to physical and verbal resistance shown by that suspect.”
And, so, the case against Officers Rose and Copeland proceeded to the jury.
The Trial – The Jury Had to Decide Who Was Credible:
The dash-cam video was played numerous times and dissected in the courtroom. Despite the efforts of the Assistant City Attorney to discredit him, Carlos Chacon came across as a very credible witness as he described the events taking place on that traumatic night and how those experiences have adversely impacted his life. He informed the jury that he reached out to Chief Acevedo, who did not respond to his letter. He also denied consuming any alcoholic beverages that painful evening.
Rose testified that he did not hear the information provided by the dispatcher, while the dash-cam audio clearly captured the dispatcher twice describing the suspect and victim.
Copeland testified that he detected the strong odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from Chacon, but Chacon was never charged with Public Intoxication or Driving While Intoxicated. Additionally, Chacon’s hospital records failed to confirm Copeland’s alcohol allegation, which was also refuted by Rose’s prior testimony. Nevertheless, according to his police report, Rose claimed to suspect that Chacon was under the influence of alcohol/drugs.
Rose and Copeland’s supervisor, Sgt. Robert Smith, also testified that he detected a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from Chacon, but he was never as close to Chacon as Rose, nor was he able to explain why the medical personnel at the emergency room did not report any signs of intoxication in Chacon’s medical records. However, Smith stated that it did not mean anything to him. Chacon’s attorney Broadus Spivey asked Smith about why Chacon was not charged with Driving While Intoxicated or Public Intoxication; Smith responded, “I think we don’t just arbitrarily stack charges on someone.” But, when later asked why he recommended that Rose or Copeland conduct sobriety tests on Chacon, who was already under arrest for the alleged Resisting Search offense, Smith replied “to see if there were any other charges we could put on him.” (Authors’ Note: Rest assured, despite what the officers claimed, APD never lets a DWI go!)
Leading up to trial, Judge Sparks questioned Sgt. Smith about why the Austin Police Department failed to investigate the circumstances that prompted Mr. Chacon to call the police. However, contrary to his self-described job duties, Smith could only say “I don’t know.” As Copeland and Rose’s supervisor, it was his job to know.
Chacon’s legal team called expert witness Dr. George Kirkham, a criminologist out of Florida. Despite Dr. Kirkham’s extensive experience that far exceeded that of Rose and Copeland’s expert witness, William Terryl, the Assistant City Attorney objected to Dr. Kirkham being allowed to testify. Judge Sparks quickly overruled the objection and decisively affirmed “he’s an expert.”
Dr. Kirkham testified, based upon his expert opinion, that the actions of Rose and Copeland were contrary to standard police practices and procedures, and that their force used was objectively unreasonable.
Had the jury believed the officers’ version of events, they would have held in the officers’ favor and Chacon would have lost the lawsuit. Instead, they found one million reasons to hold in favor of Carlos Chacon.
The jury found Russell Rose liable for $1,000,000.00, not Eric Copeland. Rose was the officer who immediately pulled his gun on Chacon, and tased him. Copeland punched Chacon in the face twice. Copeland made the news one year after the Chacon assault when he shot and killed a man.
Chief Art Acevedo’s Inconsistent Handling of Dishonesty Among his “Troops:”
On October 28, 2013, Officer Blayne Williams, an African American APD officer who had in the past filed a charge of discrimination against Chief Acevedo, was terminated based solely upon Chief Acevedo’s subjective opinion that Williams was dishonest. Chief Acevedo failed to indicate in Williams’ disciplinary memo exactly how Williams was dishonest. Even an Internal Affairs investigator testified at Williams’s arbitration that he did not know what specific statements Chief Acevedo believed were dishonest. Officer Blayne Williams fought against his termination, and an arbitrator determined that Williams was not dishonest and that he should not have been terminated.
One particular APD Officer Gallenkamp has developed a reputation for dishonesty amongst the Travis County Criminal Defense Bar. Ask your friendly criminal defense attorney about the reasons. Nevertheless, Copeland and Rose are still in uniform, having never been disciplined.
Media Presence Lacking at Chacon’s Trial:
The press did not cover Carlos Chacon’s trial, and brief news reports about the trial were only released after the jury awarded $1,000,00.00 in damages. Typically, when a case involves a matter of public concern, especially on a hot-button issue like police abuse, the press shows up during the trial testimony. Often, one will see photographers outside the courthouse, waiting to click shots of the parties. Not so in Carlos Chacon’s trial.
Austin Police Department’s Police Chief Art Acevedo is well known in Austin for his mastery of the media. In 2010, he made it clear that he wanted to stay in Austin in order to finish projects he started and “he want[ed] to finish working with the media.”
Acevedo has developed such a rapport with the media that news stations would rather fire their own than to upset him. Reporter Philip Perea committed suicide in January of this year after he was fired for posting an unflattering picture of Art Acevedo on facebook. Acevedo had responded to the assault of a jogging jaywalker by saying that “In other cities there’s cops who are actually committing sexual assaults on duty, so I thank God that this is what passes for controversy in Austin, Texas.” The picture Perea posted on facebook made Acevedo look like a buffoon. When Acevedo took issue, Perea was fired. Acevedo’s quote turned into a meme with the phrase “at least we didn’t rape you.”
APD lost more credibility when two of Acevedo’s officers joked about rape, captured by their dash-cam equipment: “Go ahead. Call the cops. They can’t unrape you.’
Acevedo lost still more credibility when he suggested that young women should not defend themselves with firearms, but should go ahead, be raped, get counseling, and get over it.
Acevedo does more than exercise some control over how the media reports on him, he has outright banned people from his twitter and facebook. These social media accounts are considered public fora, and yet, Acevedo handles them as if they were his private accounts. We’ll report more about Acevedo’s handling of social media in a subsequent blog.
Congratulations to Chacon:
In the meantime, hats-off to Carlos Chacon for being fearless and going after APD. It is frightening taking on an entity with that much power and weaponry. Hats-off to Chacon’s legal team including Broadus Spivey for fighting the good fight and winning.
City of Austin Mayor Steve Adler, are you paying attention to how much APD is costing Austin? Austin City Counsel, are you? While this assault may not have happened on y’all’s watch, you’re on-watch now. Will you protect your citizens?
Jermaine Hopkins is an Iraqi War veteran, and 14-year police officer, whose own tribulations with APD are detailed here.
Millie Thompson is a criminal defense attorney, whose office is located in Austin, Texas.
Reprinted with permission from MILLIE L. THOMPSON, ATTORNEY.
The popularity of cop watching as a direct action tactic has been surging nationally. In the aftermath of the unjust killing of Michael Brown, and particularly the overly aggressive and violent actions that the various law enforcement agencies took against those protesting Michael Brown’s killing, We Copwatch (led by our friend and ally Jacob Crawford) teamed up with the Canfield Watchmen (led by David Whitt) to create a cop watching presence in Ferguson and the surrounding areas. Like the Peaceful Streets Project did in 2012, We Copwatch and the Canfield Watchmen raised thousands of dollars to put scores of cameras into the hands of the people so they could hold police accountable.
But the current cop watching activities of the police accountability movement that has been energized by the killings of Brown, Eric Garner and other unarmed (and most often black) people is only the crest of a wave that has been building for decades. The Peaceful Streets Project engaged in cop watching after we formed in 2012 because we believed that that was one of the most powerful ways to let the police know that we were not going to stand by as they continued to commit crimes against the people. Cop watching also allowed us to strengthen communities that would protect and serve each other, instead of hoping that the people who often abuse them might decide to help them when they are the victim of a crime by someone who is not a police officer. Finally, cop watching allowed many victims of police abuse to feel that they were once again in control of their lives. For a victim of police abuse to be able to stand up to a police officer, and film them as the police officer glares at them, and to know that people are there to stand behind the filmer is quite powerful. For many it is a part of the healing process that never comes through the criminal or civil courts.
We were lucky to be able to learn from the successes and failures of cop watchers that came before us. Jacob Crawford and We Copwatch had been cop watching for years, and we were able to use their work as a guide for ours. But we also met members of the Austin Brown Berets who didn’t have the benefit of cell phones and portable cameras when they were trying to rein in abusive and racist police in the late 70′s and early 80′s. We also had the opportunity to host Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale and learn from him how they cop watched when all they had were their eyes to bear witness to police abuse, and their rifles to serve as a deterrent to the police abusing them. (Note: The Peaceful Streets Project prohibits the carrying of weapons when we cop watch because we don’t want criminal cops to have a ready excuse to kill our activists; and as Bobby told us, today the camera is more powerful than the rifle.)
Cop watching has come a long way since the 60′s, and too often those who dared to cop watch were ridiculed and slandered by those who claimed to be “law and order” types. But the theme that runs through cop watching from the Black Panther Party, the Brown Berets, We Copwatch, the Peaceful Streets Project, and the Canfield Watchmen is that the cop watchers have always stood in opposition to oppression and have always been eager to call out the institutionalized violence of the police state. It is the cop watchers that stand up for the most vulnerable members of society – the people the police choose to prey upon as opposed to protect.
The act of cop watching has become perhaps the most powerful direct action tactic. Know Your Rights trainings are critical in educating people. Giving victims a platform to share their stories of abuse raises awareness. Organizing summits can help build communities. And many people are doing great work trying to change laws to help chip away at the police state. But it seems that cop watching is the tactic that has the greatest ability to change the way that victims respond to police abuse, to immediately alter the behavior of the police, and to help those on the sidelines to recognize that the offense that police everywhere take to filming indicates that the bad cop mentality is rooted deep within the culture of law enforcement.
The movement has now drafted the young and elderly, people of all races and all socio-economic backgrounds, and now the movement is even getting airtime on mainstream media. Last weekend, Peaceful Streets Project founder Antonio Buehler even had a five minute piece that ran on Fox News at 10p Eastern. While this riled up many Fox News watchers, it no doubt also planted some seeds. Perhaps some of them will even join us in the streets as we film the police. This movement is winning, and this movement is on the right side of history.
Come celebrate Antonio Buehler’s acquittal this Saturday in Austin! This acquittal was the second major milestone for Buehler. The first was a favorable ruling by Federal Magistrate Judge Mark Lane who affirmed the right of the people to film the police.
Come listen to his attorney Millie Thompson and Jermaine Hopkins, the police officer who crossed the thin blue line to shed light on the criminal actions of the Austin Police Department. In addition to Thompson and Hopkins, We’ll celebrate the very brave witnesses who stepped forward to protect Buehler, the jury members who refused to be intimidated by the prosecutor, and the community who rallied behind Buehler. There is much fighting left to be done, but Saturday is an opportunity to reflect and give thanks.
This is a child friendly venue with a playground. Dogs welcome on a leash. Bring the family, have some drinks, enjoy!
Organizer Justin Arman, the TAG Executive Director said, “In Civil Disobedience, Thoreau articulated that our conscience is our only guide for right and wrong, and that cowardice and immorality comes from people who simply follow rules. Antonio stood up for a woman being abused by two men, as any person of character would, however what made this notable was the fact that he did not allow their shiny badges to blind his judgement. All of the people who testified on behalf of Antonio, including Austin Police Officer Jermaine Hopkins (who bravely crossed the thin blue line), and the jurors themselves, exemplified Thoreau’s thesis; Antonio was right. Throughout the entire case, the prosecution simply begged the question, follow the rules because they’re the rules; resign your conscience and everything will be fine.” He continued, “I spoke with Antonio the morning after his victory, and he has made it clear that this was not his victory, this win celebrates the act of standing up for one another. What will last much longer than the details of this case, is the inspiration for individuals and communities to protect and serve each other.”
The celebration will run from 7-10 p.m. at Freddie’s Place at 1703 South First St, Austin, Texas 78704.
Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1492858734333390/
**Live Stream Landing Page (courtesy of the Houston Free Thinkers and The Liberty Beat): http://thelibertybeat.com/buehler-party/
**Please bring recording equiptment, for event coverage and if needed for cop watching.
**Please use hashtag #buehlervictory when tweeting, facebooking, posting photos, posting videos, or other wise discussing the event!
Antonio Buehler was found Not Guilty on the charge of Disobeying a Lawful Order last evening, after six hours of deliberation by the jury.
During closing arguments, Millie Thompson, Buehler’s defense lawyer, argued that Buehler did not have to obey Oborski’s orders to put his hands behind his back because Oborski’s orders were illegal. They were illegal because the detention, assault and arrest of Norma Pizana were illegal, and because the detention and assault on Buehler in advance of his arrest were also illegal. She implored the jury to review the videos and audio if need be, to read carefully the jury charge, and to stand by their convictions and to not be intimidated by the Austin Police Department that had upwards of a dozen police officers in the court during the trial. She also encouraged them to have the courage to stand up for others the way that so many stood up on New Year’s Day, 2012. Norma Pizana stood up for the rights of her driver. Buehler stood up for Pizana. Numerous witnesses then came forward to stand up for Buehler, including a witness who testified that Officer Robert Snider then threatened him with arrest. Finally, Jermaine Hopkins, an Austin Police Officer said that he couldn’t in good conscience allow Buehler’s civil rights to be violated, so he crossed the thin blue line to testify on behalf of the defense.
Thompson had a well prepared defense that included a T-chart that she wrote on a white board that compared the legal orders that were given by the officers versus the illegal orders. The legal orders side was left blank while the illegal orders side had at least a half dozen listed. She also questioned the notion that Buehler was a threat, highlighting that even Pizana who was in extreme distress as she was being assaulted knew that Antonio was holding a camera, not a potential weapon as asserted by City Prosecutor Matthew McCabe; that Buehler never got in the face of Oborski or Snider; and that Buehler never articulated a threat of any sort towards the police, but instead simply asked them why they were assaulting Pizana. As an alternative to him being a threat, she wrote on the other half of the whiteboard that what really bothered the police officers was that he questioned their manhood. He did so, Thompson said, because he was the one who was in control of himself that night; he questioned the cops on their aggressive assault of an unarmed, nonviolent woman; and he spoke to the police officers as if he were a father figure as Snider claimed, as if the cops were naughty little children.
The Prosecution then presented their closing arguments, again falling back on the notion that nothing the police said or did before the order to put hands behind the back mattered, and that Buehler could only be judged based on his decision not to at that point. They also argued that any police officer has the right to handcuff anyone so long as they deem the person a threat – an argument never presented before by Officer Oborski. The Assistant City Prosecutor who tried the case, Matthew McCabe, continued with his ethically questionable antics during closing arguments. He seemingly intentionally misstated the law over and over again, despite objections by the Defense. He also decided to demonstrate how palms forward, arms out to the side, may not be a universal symbol of non-aggression, but instead a very challenging aggressive stance. He threw his arms out to the side, threw his his chest forward, and stepped toward the jury numerous times demonstrating how Buehler’s efforts to deescalate a situation with a police officer who had assaulted him might actually be a threatening gesture. The move likely backfired, as several jurors who had seen videos showing only Oborski advancing toward Buehler, had looks of disgust on their face.
Buehler was elated at the ruling. He said, “Finally, after three years, I no longer have charges hanging over my head from an incident in which I saw two Austin Police Officers violently assault an innocent woman, and in which I was violently assaulted for filming and speaking out about the crimes of Officers Patrick Oborski and Robert Snider. The lengths that the City Attorneys and the Austin Police Department have gone to try to railroad me and permanently stain my record with a crime they know I didn’t commit are despicable. I hope that the people of Austin begin to realize that the police in this city are not here to protect and serve the people of Austin. I also hope that the people of Austin recognize the immense courage of the jury and all the witnesses who were willing to stand up and do the right thing, instead of folding under the threat of retaliation by the Austin Police Department.”
He went on to reiterate points made by his attorney Millie Thompson, “There were so many heroes in this trial. Norma stood up for Ashley. I stood up for Norma. Numerous people stood up for me at that 7-Eleven both that night and in the aftermath of my arrest. And during the trial a police officer stood up for me by crossing the thin blue line. And now five jurors stood up for justice in the face of lies and intimidation from the city prosecutors and police.
Thompson added, “APD delayed trial. APD withheld evidence. And the prosecution tried at every turn to protect APD by obstructing our ability to lay out the facts and law for the jury. The jury, however, saw this case for what it was, and said by their verdict: “Not Guilty.”
Antonio Buehler is an entrepreneur in the education space, a West Point, Stanford and Harvard graduate, and the founder of the police accountability activist group, the Peaceful Streets Project. Buehler currently has a pending Federal Civil Rights lawsuit against the City of Austin as well as several Austin Police officers, including Patrick Oborski and Robert Snider.