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NEWS > 06 July 2008

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USA: Off-duty police officer k
An off-duty police officer has killed six young people in a shooting rampage at a house in the US state of Wisconsin.
The attacker, 20-year-old Tyler Peterson, opened fire while the victims were eating pizza and watching movies in the small town of Crandon.

He was subsequently shot dead by police in a nearby town.

Peterson was a deputy sheriff and part-time police officer, but was not on duty at the time of the shootings.

The motive for the killings is unclear, but the mother of one 14-year-old victim said the suspect may have been a jealous boyfriend.Read more

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The Register-Guard - Eugene,OR
06 July 2008
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Chicago offers lessons on comp

As the former chief of special prosecutions in Chicago responsible for police misconduct, among other areas, I have found the content and tone of recent statements by union officials representing Eugene police very disturbing.

During the four years I headed that bureau in Cook County in the 1980s, more than 100 police officers were indicted and convicted of every imaginable crime — from murder for hire to drug dealing out of squad cars to systematic traffic shakedowns.

During this time the Cook County judiciary and bar also came under investigation for fixing court cases, from murder cases to parking tickets, eventually leading to the conviction of almost 20 judges, 50 attorneys, and numerous bagmen (including police officers), who carried bribes between corrupt attorneys and corrupt judges.

The bribery marketplace often found corrupt defense attorneys doing the math to determine whether it would be more economical to bribe the police officer or the judge.

The system was institutionally corrupt. Literally every case could be “fixed” by arranging for the clerk’s office to rig the random assignment system, thereby allowing corrupt attorneys to steer their cases to corrupt judges.

After four years of an unwinnable battle to drain a cesspool that merely refilled, as it had for over a century, I resigned and considered quitting the practice of law, but ultimately landed as a federal prosecutor in Eugene more than 20 years ago.

What does this have to do with the conduct of the police union in Eugene? I’m getting there.

This past year I was contacted by special prosecutors and federal prosecutors investigating allegations of systematic police brutality in a major crimes police district in Chicago more than 20 years ago. I shared with the prosecutors a conversation I had back then with the Chicago police superintendent and his chief of the Office of Professional Standards, responsible for investigating police brutality. I told the superintendent that the police department was sending investigative files of allegations of police brutality to the prosecutors reviewing the investigations, without including a history of prior complaints against the officers.

I complained that when our prosecutorial office received files in a historical vacuum, almost inevitably the credibility of the sworn law enforcement officer trumped the credibility of the arrestee. I further observed that such a referral system wastefully shuffled papers without serving the public good — in this instance rooting out systematic brutalizers, who tarnished the overall good name of police officers.

The response of the superintendent and the unit chief was this: They could not include histories of prior complaints because the police union labor contracts prohibited them from doing so! The two also added that it would not be “fair” to officers who work high-crime areas and often face groundless complaints to include a history of complaints.

My response that the prosecutors could assess such factors in a historical and high-crime context went unheeded.

While many areas of police misconduct were effectively investigated with undercover recordings, grand jury subpoenas and other tested investigative methods, brutality issues remained unchecked.

Fast forward: the Cook County special prosecutors issued a special grand jury report in 2007, finding that the commander of the major crime district under investigation — along with numerous police officers under his command — systematically tortured, sometimes over days, potentially unreliable confessions out of suspects in serious crimes during a period extending over 20 years through suffocation techniques (think waterboarding and extraordinary rendition), electric shocking devices and steaming radiators — claims with unique circumstances that if repeated by multiple complainants in separate cases would be highly probative of a modus operandi that would cause prosecutors to look very closely at the allegations.

In recent years, as word of long-term systematic torture surfaced, the then-governor of Illinois suspended the imposition of all death penalty sentences in the state out of concern about police confession testimony and coercive tactics. In a number of death row “confession” cases, modern DNA evidence had actually established the innocence of death row defendants.

After extreme media and public pressure, Chicago police are now required to video-record defendant interviews under a new Illinois law.

So again, what does this have to do with the Eugene Police Department and its union?

Eugene, thank goodness, is not Chicago. However, the Magaña and Lara cases stand as stark reminders that when police supervisors and internal affairs officers failed to correlate a series of sexual abuse complaints over years by females, including drug addicts and prostitutes, to determine if there was an m.o. of sexual coercion (rather than automatically accepting the credibility of the officer against witnesses of dubious credibility), systematic misconduct can happen anywhere. Fellow officers averting their eyes from patterns of misconduct under a blue code of silence may have also invited the systematic abuse that took place right here in sleepy Bluejean, Oregon.

Rather than resisting a review system voted into law with intelligence-insulting assertions that the independent auditor’s salary is a form of bribery that encourages false claims against police, the union ought to be cooperating with the independent auditor in supporting the discipline of officers whose conduct has tarnished the badge of honor — while at the same time constructively aiding in the exoneration of officers against whom untrue claims have been lodged. In that respect, the union has a right to demand the full protections of due process in the independent auditor’s procedures.

I have deep respect — and in many instances affection — for law enforcement officers, including many Eugene Police Department officers, with whom I have worked to prosecute the guilty in a full range of crimes.

I would vouch without hesitation for these officers’ well-earned reputation for impeccable integrity. The police officers as an overwhelming whole deserve the respect and support of the community.

I am also a supporter of public employee unions, but the recent actions and statements by Eugene police union officials have not served their membership of overwhelmingly honorable men and women. The union and the police at large need to accept and work within this new system after the dismal failure of the prior system. The public they serve has spoken.

The new system needs to thoroughly investigate claims, including a possible history of misconduct, while assiduously providing procedural due process to the accused officer to insure that the system works fairly and is respected by all.

Caricatures, name-calling and spurious bribery claims by the union leadership have diminished its credibility, presumably within and certainly outside the police department, and have created division on an issue where there should be unity — rooting out the occasional bad cop in a fair and timely manner.

The lessons of Chicago are a sobering reminder that unreasonable positions by a union can yield tragic outcomes, such as innocents sitting on death row or rogue cops preying on the most vulnerable among us right here in Eugene.

By Jeffrey Kent
 

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