Recent indictments and convictions suggest a swinging pendulum and at least some cracks in the “Blue Wall” that all too often conspires to hide details and protect officers guilty of unjust shootings of African Americans and others.
Prosecutors in Chicago have won an indictment, alleging that three police officers conspired to protect a fellow officer after he fatally shot a Black teenager, Laquand McDonald, in 2014. The officers did so in spite of available videotaped evidence of the shooting, prosecutors said.
McDonald, who was 17, was armed with a knife when he was shot 16 times.
In Dallas, an officer was indicted last week on murder charges, nearly three months after she shot and killed an unarmed Black man whose apartment she said she entered by mistake, believing it to be her own.
Also, in the last week, four Missouri police officers were indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with the assault of a fellow officer who was working undercover. Officers Dustin Boone, Randy Hays and Christopher Myers of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, are accused of beating the undercover officer with a riot baton and tampering with witnesses to cover up the incident.
Myers was also charged with destroying evidence and Officer Bailey Colletta was indicted on a charge of providing false statements to a federal grand jury in connection with the incident.
According to CNN, the indictment details text messages between Myers and Boone in which they talk about how much fun it will be to beat “the hell out of these s**theads once the sun goes down and no one can tell us” apart.
In Chicago, prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes said in her opening statement that defendants David March, Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney offered accounts of the deadly incident that conflicted with the video evidence. The defendants have pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice. The bench trial is expected to run into next week, according to Reuters.
Earlier, a jury found former Officer Jason Van Dyke, who is white, guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting of McDonald.
What all of trials instances shares in common beyond the fact that officers are involved, and face prosecution, is that the perpetrators were white officers and the victims are all black males, and with the exception of McDonald, were unarmed when they were injured or killed.
“For all the sacrifices and headaches of covering the murder trial of Chicago Officer Jason Van Dyke, it was worth it. Finally seeing a police officer led out of the courtroom left me speechless,” said Erick Johnson, who covered that trial for the Chicago Crusader.
“Dressed in a black suit, he looked as if he was going to his own funeral. Only I, and a handful of Black clergy and activists in the courtroom were not mourning,” Johnson said, noting that “Silently, we were rejoicing.”
The conviction, which led to Van Dyke being marched out of the court in handcuffs, was a day many Blacks in Chicago never thought they would see, said Johnson, who sat in the front row reserved for media and just yards away from Van Dyke.
“A white police officer [was] found guilty of killing Laquan McDonald, a Black teenager, and locked up immediately after his historic conviction,” he said. “For Black Chicago, it was the trial of the century, a moment they had been waiting for a long time
“For this Black journalist, it was history unfolding before my very eyes,” Johnson said. “It was a story that changed Chicago forever and the climatic ending was about to take place in courtroom 500.”
Meanwhile, in Dallas, Amber Guyger told fellow officers that she opened fire when Botham Jean appeared in the darkness. Jean, a 26-year-old native of the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, attended college in Arkansas and had been working in Dallas for accounting and consulting firm PwC.
Jean’s relatives joined the district attorney for the announcement of murder charges against the disgraced officer. “I truly believe that she inflicted tremendous evil on my son,” Jean’s mother, Allison said after the announcement of the charges, according to ABC News. “He didn’t deserve it. He was seated in his own apartment.”
Guyger was arrested on a manslaughter charge three days after the Sept. 6 shooting, prompting criticism that the original charge was too lenient.
But Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson said at the time that the grand jury could upgrade the charge, which it did last week.
“When you look at the facts of this case, we thought that it was murder all along,” Johnson said.
After finishing her shift, Guyger told investigators, she returned home in uniform and parked on the fourth floor of her apartment complex’s garage, rather than the third floor, where her unit was located, according to an affidavit prepared by the Texas Rangers.
She said she got to what she thought was her apartment — Jean’s was directly above hers — and found the door ajar. She opened it to find a figure standing in the darkness.
She said she pulled her gun and fired twice after the person ignored her commands.
And, in St. Louis where the four police officers were indicted for the September 2017 incident, prosecutors spelled out that each was assigned to a Civil Disobedience Team that conducts crowd control, in anticipation of a protest against the acquittal of Officer Jason Stockley.
Stockley was a St. Louis police officer in 2011 when he fatally shot a Black driver, Anthony Lamar Smith, after a police chase.
Stockley, who is white, claimed he was acting in self-defense because he believed Smith was reaching for a gun. Prosecutors argued that Stockley planted the gun to justify the shooting.
When Stockley was acquitted, protests erupted.
A 22-year veteran of the St. Louis Police Department – referred to in the indictment as L.H. – was in the crowd working undercover as a protester to document crimes among the demonstrators so law enforcement could make arrests, according to the indictment.
The indictment alleges that Boone, Hays and Myers threw L.H. to the ground without probable cause and began to kick him and strike him with a riot baton.
According to Thursday’s indictment, L.H. “was an experienced undercover officer who specifically wore a shirt that revealed his waistband so that he would not be mistaken for being armed.”
Once Myers, Boone and Hays learned that L.H. was a police officer, the indictment says, they made false statements justifying the assault, contacted L.H. to dissuade him from taking legal action and contacted witnesses in an attempt to influence their testimony.
Myers also destroyed L.H.’s cellphone “with the intent to impede, obstruct, and influence the investigation,” according to the indictment.
Most of the text messages in the indictment between Myers, Boone and Hays include expletives, according to CNN.
“We really need these f**kers to start acting up so we can have some fun,” Boone texted after they determined they were going to be on the same team.
“A lot of cops getting hurt, but it’s still a blast beating people that deserve it,” said another text from Boone.
He also remarked that he would be working with a Black officer and referred to him as “a thug that’s on our side.”
“The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) for decades has chronicled racially-motivated police murders and brutality against Black America,” said NNPA President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.
“The recent indictments and sentencing of perpetrator police officers across the nation is long overdue. The NNPA will continue to demand an end to these systematic deadly actions and policies,” Chavis said.
An analysis by the Associated Press also marked the latest developments in the national conversation on issues of law enforcement and race.
A slew of law enforcement officers has faced charges for the shooting deaths of Black people. They include Guyger, Van Dyke, Stockley and Robert Bates, a white Tulsa, Oklahoma, volunteer sheriff’s deputy who was sentenced in 2016 to four years in prison for second-degree manslaughter in the April 2015 death of Eric Harris, 44, who was unarmed and restrained.
Bates, 74, claimed he confused his stun gun with his handgun.
Police shootings of African Americans also include the following:
- James Burns is charged with felony murder in the June 2016 death of Deravis Caine Rogers, 22. Prosecutors say Burns was responding to a suspicious person call when the white Atlanta police officer fired shots into a car driven by Rogers, killing him. The Atlanta police chief fired Burns soon after the shooting, following an internal investigation that determined Burns used unnecessary and excessive force.
- Dominique Heaggan-Brown, a Black Milwaukee police officer, was acquitted in June 2017 of first-degree reckless homicide after shooting 23-year-old Sylville Smith during a foot chase in August 2016. Heaggan-Brown was fired after unrelated sexual-assault allegations surfaced, according to the AP. He later pleaded guilty to soliciting prostitution.
- Peter Liang, a rookie police officer in Brooklyn, New York, was convicted of manslaughter in 2016 in the November 2014 death of 28-year-old Akai Gurley. Liang, an American of Chinese descent, said he was patrolling a public housing high-rise with his gun drawn when a sound startled him, and he fired accidentally. A bullet ricocheted off a wall, hitting Gurley. A judge reduced the conviction to negligent homicide and sentenced Liang to five years’ probation and 800 hours of community service.
- Roy Oliver was convicted of murder in the August 2017 death of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Oliver, a white police officer in the Dallas suburb of Balch Springs, fired into a car packed with Black teenagers who were leaving a house party. Edwards was fatally shot. Oliver said he thought his partner was in danger as the car drove by. But his partner told jurors he didn’t fear for his life.
- Ryan Pownall was charged with criminal homicide in September for the 2017 death of 30-year-old David Jones, who was shot in the back as he fled. A judge in October reduced the charges from first-degree to third-degree murder, which will not require prosecutors to prove the killing was premediated. Pownall, who is white, was fired from the Philadelphia police force last year after a grand jury’s recommendation said that Jones was not a threat at the time and that Pownall violated several policies including firing his weapon toward cars waiting at a traffic light.
- Michael Rosfeld, an officer with the East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is charged with criminal homicide in the June 19 shooting death of 17-year-old Antwon Rose Jr. after the teen fled from a traffic stop. The white officer was charged after investigators said his story about whether he saw or believed he saw a gun in Rose’s hand changed during his interview. His trial is scheduled for Feb. 26.
- Betty Shelby, a white Tulsa officer, was acquitted of manslaughter after shooting 40-year-old Terence Crutcher in September 2016. Crutcher was unarmed. Shelby resigned from the Tulsa Police Department and later went to work for a neighboring sheriff’s office, according to the AP.
- Michael Slager pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges after killing 50-year-old Walter Scott in 2015. The white North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer fired at Scott’s back from 17 feet (5 meters) away. Five of eight bullets hit him. Attorneys for Slager said he shot Scott in self-defense after the two fought and Scott grabbed Slager’s stun gun. Slager was sentenced to 20 years in prison in December 2017. An appeal is pending.
- Raymond Tensing, a white University of Cincinnati police officer, was tried twice for murder after killing Samuel DuBose, whom he pulled over for driving without a front license plate in 2015. DuBose was unarmed. The jury was hung both times, and the charges were dismissed. Tensing received $350,000 from the university when he agreed to resign.
- Jeronimo Yanez, a Falcon Heights, Minnesota, police officer was charged with second-degree manslaughter and other counts after shooting 32-year-old Philando Castile in 2016. Yanez, who is Latino, was acquitted in June 2017.