Protecting (and hiding the ball on) cops gone wrong

The city of Phoenix quietly erases police misconduct records: “The practice, which the Department refers to as ‘purging,’ has been standard for more than two decades under the police union’s contract, but the public has been unaware of it.” [Justin Price, Arizona Republic; Tim Cushing, TechDirt]

Although the Supreme Court’s Brady doctrine requires prosecutors to inform defense counsel of evidence undermining the credibility of police witnesses, the right can amount to little if matters are so arranged that past instances of officer dishonesty never come to their attention in the first place [Steve Reilly and Mark Nichols, USA Today] In Baltimore, following the conviction of several officers in the notorious Gun Trace Task Force scandal, the state’s attorney has begun throwing out nearly 800 convictions tainted by the wrongdoers’ testimony [my Free State Notes post]

Meanwhile: “The former New York police officer who was fired in August for using a chokehold during Eric Garner’s deadly arrest five years ago is suing to be reinstated.” [Doha Madani, NBC News] Earlier, New York’s Police Benevolent Association said the city’s police commissioner would “lose his police department” if he followed a judge’s recommendation and fired Daniel Pantaleo [Jonathan Blanks, Cato; Joel Mathis, The Week]

One Comment

  • If you read enough QI cases and cases regarding government abuses, one frustrating thing is that abuses that result from things falling through the cracks are often just tough luck for the person harmed. There was a recent case where some guy paid his traffic ticket, but someone made a record-keeping mistake, and another government official issued an arrest warrant for the guy. The guy wound up losing his government job over it. Now we can all agree that this guy was egregiously harmed (literally kidnapped, if you think about it). But there is no one to really hold accountable. And without an individual in the government to hold accountable, there is no accountability on the government. One wonders, sometimes, if this is not a bug, but a feature–a feature that renders people without recourse and which incentivizes government officials to be ostriches when it comes to ensuring that what they do is actually right.

    Things like this also degrade our collective trust in government, and the more it happens, the more the Constitution simply becomes words on a page (a la the Soviet Union) rather than a statement of what rights we actually have. And we lawyers think, when we see something like what I just described, well, it;s the greatest system in the world–he got his day in court. In actuality, what happened was that not only was a grievous injustice left unremedied, but it was actually ratified.

    With respect to the Brady stuff, while the prosecutors obviously cannot know what is in records that have been destroyed, the government as a whole is held to the knowledge of its members (past and present). Thus, what should happen, the Arizona Supreme Court should require the top prosecutor in Maricopa County to file a statement with the bar authorities explaining how he or she will ensure that Brady obligations are met in the criminal cases. Willful blindness satisfies scienter requirements in the criminal sphere–shouldn’t it also do so in Brady? When a prosecutor certifies that there is no Brady material, in the face of the purge, that’s willful blindness.