Police Accountability: Shootings, deputy gangs, and TN gun law

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Charles Kinsey

Florida’s state court of appeal overturned the conviction of a former Miami police officer who shot an unarmed autistic man’s caretaker in 2016. A three-judge panel, made up entirely of Rick Scott appointees, ruled that the trial court erred by refusing to allow another officer to testify about the department’s SWAT training (pdf).

In July 2016, North Miami Police Department officer Jonathan Aledda and about a dozen other officers responded to a call of a man with a gun in the North Miami area. Police encountered Arnaldo Rios Soto, a non-verbal severely autistic man, and his caretaker Charles Kinsey at an intersection. Rios Soto clutched a silver toy truck and did not respond to officers’ commands. “It appeared [Kinsey] was screaming for mercy or for help or something. In my mind, the white male [Rios Soto] had a gun,” Aledda testified.

In reality, Kinsey was pleading with police not to shoot him while lying on the ground with both hands in the air. In a cellphone video (clip) of the incident, Kinsey can be heard telling police, “All he has is a toy truck.” Aledda fired three rounds from his rifle, striking Kinsey once in the leg. He claimed to be aiming at Rios Soto.

“Before Officer Aledda fired his rifle, the information broadcast over the police radio was that there was a report of a gun, that it looked like a gun, that it appeared as if Arnaldo Rios-Soto was loading his weapon, that the other subject [Kinsey] said it was not a gun and from a visual an officer [Bernadeau] said it did not appear to be a gun.” Officer Bernadeau made this remark right after Aledda said he had a clear shot, but Aledda apparently did not hear Bernadeau. (from court opinion)

Kinsey was left on the ground, in handcuffs, without medical attention for 20 minutes.

Austin indictments

A Texas grand jury indicted 19 Austin police officers on criminal charges for their treatment of protesters during the George Floyd racial justice demonstrations of 2020. Numerous protesters were injured by “less-lethal” ammunition fired by officers, with at least 11 taken to hospitals.

“We believe many protesters injured by officers during the protests were innocent bystanders,” District Attorney José Garza said. “We also believe that the overwhelming majority of victims in the incidents that were investigated suffered significant and lasting injuries.”

The names of the indicted officers have not yet been released, but the Austin Police Association confirmed one of those facing charges is Republican Texas House candidate Justin Berry. Berry is running in the March 1 primary for Texas House District 19, west of Austin.

Austin city executives and police officials are defending the conduct of the indicted officers, characterizing the 2020 crowds as “riots.”

“It’s an absolute disgrace, and it sickens me that DA Garza is using working officers as pawns in a political game of chess,” [Austin Police Association president Kenneth] Casaday said during a press conference Thursday afternoon. “Garza ran on a platform to indict officers and has not missed the opportunity to try and ruin lives, careers and simply fulfill a campaign promise.”

Cassaday called for DA Garza to hold back any further announcements until after the primaries and runoffs. “He is driving people to vote for a far-left radical ex-city councilman who is running for Congress,” Cassaday alleged.

Rape kits

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin revealed last week that the police department “routinely” uses DNA collected from rape survivors to identify them as suspects in other crimes.

Boudin said he became aware of the practice after prosecutors found a report in the case against a woman recently charged with a felony property crime. Her DNA, collected from a rape kit, was entered into a database by the San Francisco police crime lab in what may be a violation of California’s Victims’ Bill of Rights as well as constitutional protections.

“The primary concern that I and my office have … is with detecting and preventing future crime,” Boudin said. “We want San Francisco to be as safe as possible, (and) we want survivors of sexual assault to feel comfortable and safe reporting and cooperating with law enforcement.”

…D.A. officials said they don’t believe the practice of linking suspects to crimes using DNA collected from rape kits is disclosed in a waiver victims sign before an exam. Boudin said, “Even if it were mentioned somewhere in the fine print, is that an appropriate waiver to seek from a victim who’s just come in and reported a sex assault? Absolutely not.”

Boudin, one of the nation’s leading progressive prosecutors, dropped all charges against the rape victim.

Deputy Gangs

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has a long documented history of “deputy gangs” within its ranks. These groups of officers, known by names like the Vikings, Regulators, and Banditos, have operated out of various department stations and jails for decades. They conduct themselves in all ways like a criminal gang, except they wear a badge while committing alleged crimes.

An outside investigation found that nearly one-in-six deputies have been invited to join an LASD gang.

The Banditos are a menace to their non-clique colleagues — the report describes “alleged workplace harassment, incivility, intimidation, and retaliation, leading to ‘brawls in the parking lot.’” These claims echo findings of a 2020 county inspector general report that called out the group, writing: “Substantial evidence exists to support the conclusion that the Banditos are gang-like and their influence has resulted in favoritism, sexism, racism, and violence.”

Most troubling, the RAND report surfaces allegations that Banditos have used violence against inmates in LASD custody as an initiation rite, requiring young deputies to use unnecessary force before receiving the clique’s tattoo… “So you have a kid who wants to be accepted, they would ask are you ready to get your ink? And that meant you had to get into a use-of-force and send an inmate to the hospital, sometimes by breaking the orbital bone.”

LA Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who promised to prohibit deputy gangs, sent a cease-and-desist letter (pdf) to the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, demanding they and others stop using the phrase “deputy gangs.”

This willful defamation of character has injured both individuals and the organization. It also serves no purpose other than to fuel hatred and increase the probability of assault and negative confrontations against our people… I openly challenge every elected leader, or their appointees, to provide facts to me and name individuals who they can prove are “gang members”…Using this term as a blanket statement is political cowardice and opportunistic pandering.

  • Further reading: “The History of Deputy Gangs in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,” KnockLA.

Tennessee gun law

Tennessee lawmakers are currently considering two bills that would qualify every enhanced handgun permit holder as a “law enforcement officer.” There are currently 686,348 people in the state who would qualify automatically. To obtain an enhanced handgun permit, gun owners must pay a $100 fee and take an eight-hour gun safety course.

Jonathan Gold, a Michigan-based firearms instructor and member of the non-profit Giffords Gun Owners for Safety, told ABC News the bill would encourage more vigilantism that would ultimately lead to more harm.

“I don’t understand our regression to the old West, because this is what it feels like,” he told ABC News. “I’ve studied the old West, and I don’t think anyone wants to go back to the murder rate of Tombstone.”

House Bill 2554 and Senate Bill 2523 were sponsored by Rep. Chris Hurt, from the area north of Memphis, and Sen. Joseph Hensley, from south-central Tennessee, respectively.