CA teen who livestreamed drunk driving crash that killed her sister is charged

From the L.A. Times:

A California teen accused of driving drunk as she livestreamed a crash that killed her younger sister was charged Wednesday with half a dozen felony criminal offenses, including gross vehicular manslaughter, prosecutors said.

Along with a felony manslaughter while intoxicated charge, Obdulia Sanchez, 18, is facing another count of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, according to the Merced County district attorney’s office.

She is also charged with two counts of driving under the influence resulting in injury and two additional counts of driving with a 0.08% blood alcohol content causing injury, the district attorney’s office said…

[The prosecutor Harold Nutt] said Sanchez, whose blood alcohol content was 0.10%, was not paying attention while driving. She was driving erratically and not holding the wheel, he said.

Nutt said the video “reflects some depravity and some stupidity.”

If Sanchez is convicted, she faces up to 13 years and eight months in prison, according to the district attorney’s office. She is being held in lieu of $560,000 bail.

The case received international attention after she recorded the moments before and after the crash on Instagram Live on Friday.

The Stockton resident filmed herself behind the wheel of a 2003 Buick as her 14-year-old sister, Jacqueline Sanchez, and a second 14-year-old girl sat in the back seat.

The California Highway Patrol said Sanchez was driving north of Los Banos when she swerved off the road and over-corrected her turn. She then veered across the road and crashed into a wire fence and her car rolled into a field.

The two girls in the rear seat, who were not wearing seat belts, were ejected from the vehicle, the CHP said.

Read the whole story here:  http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-california-teen-livestream-fatal-crash-charges-20170726-story.html

DUI, Race and the Chicago Suburbs

There has been a viral facebook post by Brian Crooks about growing up black in suburban Naperville.  So far, it has garnered over 25,000 shares.  Please read it.

I wanted to excerpt part of it about the numerous DUI and other traffic investigatory stops that he endured, because the key to solving our current policing crisis is through listening and understanding:

I got pulled over a lot in high school. Like, a lot a lot. By this point, I was no longer driving the Dodge. I had a Mazda of my own. It was flashy and loud, but this was 2002 and everybody with a Japanese car was doing a Vin Diesel impression, so it’s not like mine stood out that much more than anyone else’s. I spent a ton of money on my car and was especially aware of its appearance. You can understand, then, why it was weird that I was routinely pulled over for a busted taillight. After all, that’s the kind of thing I would’ve noticed and gotten fixed, especially if that taillight tended to burn out once a week or so. My parents had told me how to act when pulled over by the police, so of course I was all “Yes sir, no sir” every time it happened. That didn’t stop them from asking me to step out of the car so they could pat me down or search for drugs, though. I didn’t have a drop of alcohol until I was 21, but by that point I was an expert at breathalyzers and field sobriety tests. On occasion, the officer was polite. But usually, they walked up with their hand on their gun and talked to me like I’d been found guilty of a grisly homicide earlier in the day. A handful of times, they’d tell me to turn off the car, drop the keys out the window, and keep my hands outside the vehicle before even approaching…

Once, when I came home from college, I was pulled over less than a block from my parents’ house. It was late, probably about midnight or so, but I hadn’t been drinking and it was winter so I wasn’t speeding because it had snowed that day. The officer stepped out of his car with his gun drawn. He told me to drop the keys out the window, then exit the car with my hands up and step back toward him. I knew he was wrong, but I wasn’t about to be shot to death down the street from my parents’ house because my failure to immediately comply was interpreted as me plotting to murder that officer. So yeah, I stepped out and backed up toward the officer. He hand cuffed me and refused to tell me why I had been pulled over, or why I had been asked to exit my vehicle. Only when I was sitting in the back of the police car did he tell me that there had been reports of gang activity in the area and that a car fitting my car’s description with a driver fitting my description had recently been involved in said gang activity. Gang activity. In south Naperville. Committed by a Black male driving a bright blue Mazda MX-6 with a gaudy blue and white interior. Yeah, alright. He was very short in asking me what I was doing in the neighborhood so late at night. I explained that my parents lived at that house with the glass backboard over there. He didn’t believe me. He took me back out of the car and put me face down on the hood of the police car to frisk me. I’d already been searched once before he put me in the car. Then, he spent about 15 minutes searching my car while I stood hand cuffed in the cold. My ID had my parents’ address on it, but he still didn’t think I lived there. I could tell he wanted to accuse me of having a fake ID. About a half hour after being pulled over, when he found nothing on me, nothing in my car, and nothing on my record, he reluctantly let me go. He didn’t even say sorry, or explain that it was his mistake; he must’ve been looking for another Black man in a bright blue Mazda MX-6 who was a gang leader in south Naperville. He sat in the street until I drove to my parents’ house, opened the garage door, drove inside, and then closed the garage door.

By the way, for the younger readers, I want to make it clear that having stories like this in the public conversation is not a new thing. When I was a young man in the 1980’s I read plenty of accounts of “driving while black.”  Perhaps the most memorable news item in this vein this was from 2000 when it became a temporary news story when it was revealed that Highland Park, IL police officers admitted that “they were taught to spot Mexican drivers to pull over by looking for large hats. A radio dispatch transcript submitted as evidence includes a Highland Park officer saying, “We got a winner,” after a sombrero sighting.” – Chicago Tribune story from March 31, 2000.  But then after a few weeks or months, stories like this pass away and nothing gets done.

I have said this before on this blog, but I will say it again.  DUIs are a very easy crime to fake.  They are also good tools for police departments that want to harass “unwanted” characters to keep them out of town.  All it takes for a DUI arrest is an officer’s “opinion” that a person was intoxicated because had “bloodshot eyes” and an “odor of alcohol.”  They can not offer a breath test and claim that the defendant “refused.”  It is also easy to make up probable cause for a drug or gun stop.  Let’s say an officer suspects someone is dealing drugs.  He can conduct a stop and frisk.  If there are no drugs, you walk away..If there are drugs, then you say you saw it in “plain sight.”  Or you can create some probable cause by heading straight to the suspected dealer and getting him to make a “furtive move” or run away.

This is not to say that this happens every time, but keep it in mind when you hear that someone was arrested for DUI.  Ask the critical questions:  why were they stopped?  what evidence is there?  Is there video evidence?

This is why video evidence is so crucial.  It is frustrating to me that even in 2016, it is common to have DUI, drug and weapons cases without any corroborating dash cam or body cam video evidence.  This should be mandatory.  Video evidence will often (if not always) establish whether the officer had probable cause, acted in a professional manner, and whether the defendant was violating the law or was just driving while black.

DNA Info story: Chicago Police hid mics, destroyed dashcams

From DNAInfo (story by Mark Konkol and Paul Biasco):

Why are so many police dashcam videos silent?

Chicago Police Department officers stashed microphones in their squad car glove boxes. They pulled out batteries. Microphone antennas got busted or went missing. And sometimes, dashcam systems didn’t have any microphones at all, DNAinfo Chicago has learned.

Police officials last month blamed the absence of audio in 80 percent of dashcam videos on officer error and “intentional destruction.”

A DNAinfo Chicago review of more than 1,800 police maintenance logs sheds light on the no-sound syndrome plaguing Police Department videos — including its most notorious dashcam case.

Maintenance records of the squad car used by Jason Van Dyke, who shot and killed Laquan McDonald, and his partner, Joseph Walsh, show monthslong delays for two dashcam repairs, including a long wait to fix “intentional damage.”

On June 17, 2014, police technicians reported fixing a dashcam wiring issue in police vehicle No. 6412, the squad shared by Van Dyke and Walsh, about three months after it was reported broken, records show.

A day later, the same vehicle’s dashcam system was reported busted again. It took until Oct. 8, 2014, to complete repairs of what technicians deemed “intentional damage,” according to reports.

Just 12 days later, on Oct. 20, 2014, dashcam video recorded from squad car No. 6412 on the night Van Dyke shot and killed McDonald did not record audio. The video that went viral showing Van Dyke killing Laquan was taken from a different squad car, but it, too, had no audio.

And on Nov. 21, 2014, a review of 10 videos downloaded from Van Dyke’s squad car dashcam determined it was “apparent … that personnel have failed to sync the MICs [sic],” police records show.

Van Dyke has been charged with first-degree murder in Laquan’s shooting. And Walsh, who filed reports backing up Van Dyke’s version of events that didn’t jibe with the video of the shooting, has been placed on desk duty as criminal and disciplinary investigations continue.

Four other police vehicles at Laquan’s shooting scene that had dashcam systems also failed to record audio. Only two of the five vehicles had dashcams that actually captured video.

The dashcam in police vehicle No. 8489, shared by officers Thomas Gaffney and Joseph McElligott the night of Laquan’s shooting, recorded 37 “event videos” in October 2014, and had an operational dashcam the night of the shooting. But “due to disk error” no video was recorded at the shooting scene, according to police reports.

Police maintenance records show a request to repair the dashcam in that squad car was made Oct. 15, 2014 — five days before Laquan’s shooting. Yet, on Oct. 31, 2014, technicians found “no problems” with the equipment.

A week later, the dashcam system was reported broken again. Repairs to a “hardware failure” were completed more than four months later, police records show.

Read the whole story here:  https://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20160127/archer-heights/whats-behind-no-sound-syndrome-on-chicago-police-dashcams

Why is it that 80 percent of Chicago squad dash cams don’t record sound?

According to DNAinfo.com, “80 percent of the Chicago Police Department’s 850 dashcam video systems don’t record audio due to “to operator error or in some cases intentional destruction” by officers, according to a review by the Police Department. Additionally, about 12 percent of dashcams experience “video issues” on any given day due to “equipment or operator error,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. ”

If you are wondering about how that could possibly happen, perhaps you are a newcomer to this blog.

Here is a quote from former Chicago Police Chief Jody Weis that I took from a WBEZ story and posted to this blog four years ago:

Weis says it’s not too much of a stretch to think officers would divert the cameras. He says when he was in charge they had a problem with officers turning off the cameras in their cars, “and I think it was because people had a fear, we don’t want this camera recording what we’re doing and I don’t know how many times I spent and said ‘Guys, if you’re doing your job correctly this camera’s your greatest friend.’”

So why are the officers doing turning off their sound?  I must admit that as a DUI defense attorney, this is something that never bothers me.  That is because bad audio can lose a case for me.  It is one thing to see a motorist have an animated conversation with a cop; it is a whole different matter when you hear that disagreement, and you can listen to all the times that the motorist misunderstands something, repeats something, gets belligerent for no reason or can’t follow a simple instruction.  It is also one thing for a judge or jury to hear that a defendant had slurred speech, yet another for them to actually hear it.  So I don’t complain when there isn’t any sound.  It is (generally) helpful to the defense.

So if it helps defendants, why do the officers do this?  I can only guess (since they won’t tell me), but I would assume that it is for privacy reasons most of all.  Who would want to have every interaction, personal phone call, or moment of speaking to oneself, recorded and possibly be played in court.

In addition, I suspect that certain officers also do not want the sound recorded because they know the things that they say to people, and they don’t want that recorded.  And a few officers do not want their phone conversations recorded, or conversations recorded, because they are talking to other officers outside the normal channels of police radio and are saying things that would get them into trouble. And they know that.

What do you think?

(P.S., thanks to Chicago personal injury attorney Stephen Hoffman, who linked to this story on social media, where I first saw it).

IL bill would add $5 fee to traffic tickets to pay for police body cameras

From the Chicago Tribune (story by Kim Geiger):

Answering calls to equip police officers with body cameras after a series of officer-involved deaths across the country, Illinois lawmakers are pushing a plan to add a $5 fee onto traffic tickets to pay for the equipment while also setting statewide standards for how the cameras and the videos they capture could be used.

The measure, which cleared the Illinois House on Thursday, would expand police officer training to include topics like use of force. It would require an independent investigation of all officer-involved deaths and would make investigation reports part of the public record if an officer involved in a death is not charged with a crime.

Additionally, it would ban the use of chokeholds and create a database of officers who have been fired or resigned due to misconduct.

The legislation comes after a series of officer-involved deaths generated momentum around efforts to change the way police interact with the communities they serve. President Barack Obama recently formed a task force to study the issue, and its conclusions served as a blueprint for the Illinois bill, the sponsors said.

“What we are doing here is we are taking a proactive step … to ensure that things that are happening around the country do not happen within the borders of Illinois,” said sponsoring Rep. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago.

If enacted, Illinois would be the first state in the country to set statewide standards for the use of body cameras, Sims said. A similar effort is underway in California, but it has run into opposition from police and the state’s top attorney, who argue that individual departments should be left to develop standards on their own.

The bill would not require police departments to use body cameras. But those that do so would have to follow state rules, including a requirement that officers keep their cameras on when conducting law enforcement activities. Officers would be allowed to turn the camera off when talking to a confidential informant, or at the request of a victim or witness.

Recordings generally would not be subject to the state’s open records law, unless they contain potential evidence in a use-of-force incident, the discharge of a weapon or a death. Recordings would not be used to catch police committing minor infractions.

Chicago Police to begin test trial of body cameras in two months

The Chicago Police Department will begin a test trial of body cameras on police officers in two months, according to the Chicago Tribune.

This is encouraging news, considering that it is fairly common to have competing claims about the need to use excessive police force, including but not limited to police discharges of firearms.  While a body camera is not perfect, it preserves an objective document of what happened.  It has been shown that video recordings reduce both complaints and the use of force.

From an earlier blog post: “a 12-month study by Cambridge University researchers revealed that when the city of Rialto, California, required its cops to wear cameras, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent and the use of force by officers dropped by almost 60 percent. Watched cops are polite cops.”

Update:  Today the White House announced that it would provide $263 million for police departments to obtain 50,000 body cameras and training.  I certainly think that this is a better use of federal money than providing small town police departments with tanks.

Cop kicks DUI defendant in groin, shatters testicle; case dropped because cop erased the video

Here is a story from Arizona involving a smartass law student and an out of control cop.  From RawStory.com:

Charges were dropped against a drunken driving suspect who lost a testicle when an Albuquerque police officer kicked him in the groin, and the law student then filed a lawsuit against the cop.

Jeremy Martin, who studies law at the University of New Mexico, was stopped April 25, just days after the U.S. Department of Justice issued a harsh review of the police deartment’s use of excessive force.

Officer Pablo Padilla ordered the 25-year-old Martin out of his vehicle and told him to sit on the curb, but police said he refused.

One of Martin’s friends used a cell phone to record the encounter, and Padilla’s lapel camera also was recording video and audio.

“Sit down or I’m going to mace you,” the officer tells Martin, who dares him to do so.

“Mace me, please,” Martin says. “I would love for you to mace me, that would be fantastic.”

Martin initially sits down on the curb but then stands up and asks to “talk things out,” but the officer tells him “this isn’t a debate” and points a Taser at him.

The man’s attorney said Padilla lost his temper, and the lapel camera video shows the officer shove Martin into the side of the vehicle, kick him in the groin, and throw him to the ground.

“Stop using aggressive force,” Martin says. “Don’t kick me in the nuts.”

His attorney said the kick caused Martin’s testicle to shatter and break apart, and it had to be surgically removed the night of his arrest.

Martin appeared last month in court to face the charge of driving while intoxicated and possession of marijuana, but a judge dropped the charges after Padilla’s own lapel camera showed him destroying evidence.

The video shows him grab the friend’s cell phone and delete the video, and a judge granted a motion last week to suppress Padilla’s testimony because he “intentionally and in bad faith destroyed evidence.”

Without the officer’s testimony, prosecutors were unable to make a case against Martin and dropped the charges.

Martin’s attorney said Padilla was suspended six weeks for his use of excessive force but has not been disciplined for destroying evidence.

A spokesman for the police department declined to discuss the case, saying it was a personnel matter, but he agreed that citizens are legally permitted to record arrests and that officers typically need a search warrant to look through the contents of a cell phone.