Trial for Domestic Terrorists Continues in Kansas

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WICHITA, Kansas — On Monday, March 19, the trial began for the three Kansas militia members who attempted to bomb an apartment complex that houses Somali refugees.

The defendants are alleged to have targeted the Garden City Apartments on Mary Street due to its high concentration of Muslim families. Photo Courtesy of Benjamin Rasmussen, NY Mag. 

Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright, and Curtis Allen—the ‘Crusaders’—each face charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against civil rights for allegedly planning to detonate truck bombs in an apartment complex of Garden City, a small rural town in southwest Kansas, the day after the November 2016 Presidential election.  The ‘Crusaders’ are a splinter group of the militia Kansas Security Force with violent anti-government and anti-Muslim views.

In 2014, the International Rescue Committee opened an office in Garden City, Kansas, to resettle refugees from war-ravaged countries like Somalia, many of whom are Muslim, and many of whom found jobs within the local meatpacking industry.  Witnesses testified that the Pulse Nightclub massacre on June 12, 2016, was the catalyst that shifted the Crusaders’ attitudes from ugly bigotry and complaints of “they’re taking our jobs,” to actual violent ideation and attempts at recruitment of other like-minded individuals.

Curtis Allen, who was in charge of writing the group’s manifesto to frame the terror attacks as a patriotic defense of the US Constitution against Muslim immigrants, also had prior convictions for domestic battery.  On October 11, Allen’s girlfriend called 911 to report he had beaten her, and the arresting agents found him illegally possessing two dozen firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition in his home.

Patrick Stein sought material support from an undercover FBI agent to acquire materials to make explosives.  He was arrested shortly afterwards by the FBI on October 14, 2016, after delivering to them 300 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer—which is the same raw material that was used by Timothy McVey in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. He regularly referred to Muslims as “cockroaches,” and had nicknamed himself “Orkin-man” in reference to the extermination company.

The alleged plan was to detonate truck bombs around the apartment complex and shoot the survivors afterward in an attempt to do the maximum amount of damage.

The three men were indicted in October 2016 and pled not guilty to the charges.

During the jury selection process, the defense team argued that the pool of jurors for the case was drawn from more urban areas close to the federal courthouse in Wichita, and that this selection would exclude rural and conservative jurors.  The presiding judge informed the defense attorneys that the surrounding area included rural jurors as well.  One of the defense attorneys told the judge that the difference in belief systems between rural jurors around Wichita is substantially different from that of the population of rural southwest Kansas.  The prosecution cited case law that finds groups of prospective jurors are not considered distinctive groups by geographic location.

The theme of the defense team’s argument has been that defendants were swayed to action by fake news on Facebook and undercover FBI involvement.  The defense team has also sought to suppress evidence of 28,000 pages of defendants’ Facebook material, including anti-Muslim posts, pro-Trump memes, and fake news stories.

According to the Huffington Post, one of the defense attorneys cross-examined an FBI agent and asked why the FBI did not inform local police about the possible attack so that the police could have warned the defendants against the attack.  “Hey knucklehead,” the attorney suggested the police say. “We know what you’re talking about. Knock it off.”

On redirect, the prosecution asked the FBI agent if it was standard procedure to respond for law enforcement officers to a plot to bomb buildings and commit mass murder by calling the suspect a “Knucklehead” and asking them to “Knock it off.”  The agent said it was not.

For more information, please see:

Huffington Post – White Militiamen Charged In Plot To Massacre Muslims Argue They’re Just ‘Knuckleheads’ – 11 April 2018

KWCH – Defense begins questioning, manifest read in Garden City bomb plot trial – 11 April 2018

The Philadelphia Tribune – Jury selection starts in bombing plot aimed at Somalis – 23 March

The Washington Post – Trial opens for Kansas men accused of plotting to bomb Muslims – 22 March 2018

Huffington Post – Trump Backers Charged in Anti-Muslim Terror Plot May Argue They’re Just Facebook Warriors – 21 March 2018

KCUR – Trial Starting For Kansas Militiamen Accused of Mosque Bomb Plot In Garden City – 19 March 2018

Chicago Tribune – Attorneys for men in plot to bomb Kansas mosque want Trump voters on jury – 4 January 2018

New York Magazine – The Plot to Bomb Garden City, Kansas – 12 December 2017

US Supreme Court Again Decides in Favor of Qualified Immunity for Law Enforcement in Shootings

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C.  — On Monday, April 2, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a 7-2 decision to grant qualified immunity from prosecution to a police officer, Andrew Kisela, who shot a woman, Amy Hughes, for holding a kitchen knife outside her home.

Officers are entitled to qualified immunity as long as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. Photo Courtesy of J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press.

In May 2010, Kisela and his partner responded to a 911 call reporting a woman acting erratically and hacking a tree with a kitchen knife.  They were joined by another police officer and saw Hughes—carrying a large kitchen knife—and her roommate, Sharon Chadwick, exiting their house.  The three officers drew their weapons and ordered Hughes to drop the knife.  When Hughes did not acknowledge the officers’ presence, Kisela shot Hughes four times.  The entire encounter occurred in less than a minute.

While the three officers later testified that they believed Hughes to be a threat to her roommate, Chadwick said that Hughes was speaking to her calmly from six feet away and that Chadwick at no time felt threatened by Hughes.  Kisela was the only officer to shoot at Hughes, and he did so without warning.

Hughes sued Kisela in a §1983 claim for $150,000 in damages, alleging that his use of deadly force was a violation of her Fourth Amendment rights.  Initially, a federal judge had granted summary judgment in favor of Kisela, but that ruling was reversed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court’s per curiam decision overturned the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in favor of Hughes without full briefings or oral arguments.  Justice Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion and was joined by Justice Ginsberg.

Qualified immunity protects ‘all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.’ To challenge qualified immunity, courts must determine through precedent (1) if the official’s conduct counts as a violation of the plaintiff’s rights; and (2) if the plaintiff’s rights were clearly established.  The Supreme Court determined that Kisela’s conduct, by shooting Hughes four times as she stood still in front of her house, did not violate any of Hughes’ established rights.

In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor wrote that the Supreme Court’s “one-sided approach to qualified immunity transforms the doctrine into an absolute shield for law enforcement officers, gutting the deterrent effect of the Fourth Amendment,” and that “it tells officers that they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”

The Washington Post noted that the Supreme Court has developed a trend of siding in favor of law enforcement officers by reversing lower courts that deny qualified immunity to police.  Police officials applaud the Supreme Court’s broad approach, which they say give officers the benefit of the doubt and protect them from “frivolous lawsuits.”  Critics such as the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute believe this approach virtually absolves law enforcement from accountability for their misconduct.

The majority’s decision comes 15 days after police officers killed Stephon Clark while he was standing in his grandmother’s backyard in Sacramento, California.  It comes 3 days after the Louisiana Attorney General declined to file charges against the two Baton Rouge police officers that shot Alton Sterling at point-blank range outside of a convenience store while they had him pinned to the ground.  As of April 1, there have been 325 reports of people killed by police in the United States since January 1, 2018.

For more information, please see:

NPR – Police Shootings Stir Outrage Among Some, But Not The Supreme Court – 3 April 2018

The Washington Post – Ariz. woman survives police shooting, but Supreme Court says the officer is immune from her lawsuit – 3 April 2018

The Hill – Supreme Court rules police officer cannot be sued for shooting Arizona woman in her front yard – 2 April 2018

The New York Times – Supreme Court Rules for Police Officer in Excessive Force Case – 2 April 2018

SCOTUS Blog – Kisela v. Hughes – 2 April 2018

Slate – The Conservatives vs. Sonia Sotomayor – 2 April 2018

The Washington Post – What is “qualified immunity,” and how does it work? – 14 July 2015

L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Charged with Sexually Assaulting Six Inmates

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

LOS ANGELES, California — On Wednesday, September 13, 2017, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy was initially arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting two inmates at the Century Regional Detention Facility.  As of February 21, 2018, Giancarlo Scotti has been charged with sexually assaulting a total of six inmates and faces six felony counts and two misdemeanor counts of sexual activity with a detainee in a detention facility.

The Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, California is part of the United States’ largest jail system and has an average population of 2,500 inmates. Photo Courtesy Gabriel Bouys, Getty Images.

As a matter of state and federal law, inmates cannot legally consent to sexual intercourse with jail staff while detained.

Two of the former inmates—who have since been released from jail—have also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the LA County Sheriff’s Department.  Their attorney, Justin Sterling, issued a statement to ABC 7 News about the charges against Scotti: “This tragedy is about more than one rogue cop. [. . .] As just one example of systematic failure, a federal law designed to prevent the sexual abuse of inmates requires local jails to undergo an audit. The LA County Sheriff’s Department has admitted that none of the jails it operates have undergone this federally mandated audit.”  A month after Scotti’s arrest, he was accused of assaulting a third inmate.

When the initial charges were filed in September 2017, no LA County jail had been audited under the 2003 Federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).  In October, an independent review was conducted at the request of the LA County Sheriff’s Department and found that the Century Regional Detention Facility, as well as six other detention centers, failed to meet any of the federal standards under PREA.  An interim report released to the Los Angeles Times showed that jail staff is untrained in how to respond to victims of sexual assault or preserve evidence in instances of sexual assault. According to the report, “At least two Century Regional Detention Facility inmates revealed that allegations of sexual abuse and sexual harassment had been made to staff and summarily ignored.”  Jail officials also failed to provide documentation to auditors supporting their claim to not hire anyone with a history of prior sexual misconduct.

The Sheriff’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau launched an investigation into Scotti in November 2017 and identified three additional inmates assaulted by Scotti. Detectives for the investigation interviewed 150 witnesses and submitted the case to the district attorney’s office in December.

Giancarlo Scotti has worked in his department for over ten years.  He remains on paid administrative leave pending an October 2018 court appearance, and if convicted of all charges, may be sentenced up to seven years and four months in a state prison.

Similarly, in New York, lawmakers have proposed State Bill S7708 which explicitly states that anyone under arrest or otherwise detained by law enforcement is incapable of giving consent.  This bill follows the September 28, 2017 incident where two plainclothes NYPD officers claimed that they had consensual sex with an 18-year old they had arrested.

For more information, please see:

Los Angeles Times – L.A. County women’s jail lags behind national standards on preventing sexual abuse, report finds – 1 April 2018

New York Daily News – State lawmakers pass bill barring cops from having sex with detainees – 31 March 2018

Los Angeles Times – Read the preliminary report about Century Regional Detention Facility and prison rape – 29 March 2018

Newsweek – Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Charged With Sexually Assaulting 6 Inmates At Women’s Facility – 22 February 2018

ABC 7 News – LA County sheriff’s deputy charged w/ sexually assaulting 6 female inmates at Lynwood facility – 21 February 2018

Los Angeles Times – L.A. County sheriff’s deputy charged with sexually assaulting 6 female inmates – 21 February 2018

Los Angeles Times – Deputy accused of sexually assaulting a third inmate inside Lynwood jail – 1 November 2017

Los Angeles Times – Sheriff’s deputy arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting 2 inmates – 14 September 2017

Oakland Mayor Warned Bay Area Residents of Impending ICE Raid

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

OAKLAND, California — On Saturday, February 24, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf issued a news release warning local residents that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would be conducting operations in the Bay Area during the next 24 hours.  This warning was posted on Facebook and shared on Twitter.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials arrested over 150 suspected undocumented immigrants in Northern California in late February. (Photo Courtesy of ICE.gov)

Mayor Schaaf’s February 24 news release detailed her rationale for disclosing her knowledge of the pending raids: “As Mayor of Oakland, I am sharing this information publicly not to panic our residents but to protect them.  My priority is for the well-being and safety of all residents — particularly our most vulnerable — and I know that Oakland is safer when we share information, encourage community awareness, and care for our neighbors.”

In a statement made on February 27, ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan said, “The Oakland mayor’s decision to publicize her suspicions about ICE operations further increased that risk for my officers and alerted criminal aliens – making clear that this reckless decision was based on her political agenda with the very federal laws that ICE is sworn to uphold.”  The statement further asserted that “ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately, and the agency prioritizes public and national security threats, immigration fugitives and illegal reentrants.”  ICE arrested over 150 suspected undocumented immigrants, half of which do not have criminal records.

Mayor Schaaf defended her decision two days later on Twitter: “I do not regret sharing this information. It is Oakland’s legal right to be a sanctuary city and we have not broken any laws. We believe our community is safer when families stay together.”

During the weeks following the operation, ICE’s San Francisco spokesman James Schwab resigned, frustrated by repeated misleading statements made by officials, including Attorney General Sessions, alleging that roughly 800 undocumented immigrants escaped arrest due to Mayor Schaaf’s public warning.  In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he condemned the misleading statements: “To say that 100 percent are dangerous criminals on the street, or that those people weren’t picked up because of the misguided actions of the mayor, is just wrong.”

Across the United States, places like San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, New York, and Philadelphia have challenged the constitutionality of President Trump’s January 2017 Executive Order 13768 that says cities and counties would lose federal funding if local law enforcement did not cooperate with immigration agents.  All courts (except for Seattle, which is still pending) have granted preliminary injunctions halting the enforcement of the order. On March 6, the Department of Justice filed suit against the state of California.  The complaint alleges that three recently enacted “state sanctuary laws” are unconstitutional as they are preempted by federal law and seeks to block their enforcement.

Liam Brennan, a former federal prosecutor and head of Connecticut’s Public Corruption Task Force, described his own experiences as a federal prosecutor, sanctuary cities such as Los Angeles and New York City prioritized fighting crime instead of enforcing civil immigration violations, because “Solving a crime was clearly more important than deporting immigrants who came here looking for economic opportunity.”  The federal government (through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) may offer U-visas and T-visas to individuals who have been victims of a crime in the US and who choose to cooperate with law enforcement in certain criminal prosecutions.

For more information, please see:

Just Security – Reclaiming the Public Safety Mantle for Sanctuary Cities – 27 March 2018

Just Security – Does the Oakland Mayor Face Legal Liability for Warning About ICE Raids? – 15 March 2018

San Francisco Chronicle – San Francisco’s ICE spokesman quits, disputes agency’s claim that 800 eluded arrest – 12 March 2018

The Washington Post – Justice Dept. sues California over ‘sanctuary’ laws that aid those in U.S. illegally – 6 March 2018

The Washington Post – Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf tipped off immigrants about ICE raid and she isn’t sorry she did – 28 February 2018

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – ICE statement on immigration enforcement activities in northern California – 27 February 2018

SF Gate – Oakland mayor’s warning puts immigrants, advocates on high alert – 25 February 2018

The Los Angeles Times – California becomes ‘sanctuary state’ in rebuke of Trump immigration policy – 5 October 2017

Two Former Baltimore Police Officers Convicted in Federal Investigation

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

BALTIMORE, Maryland — On Monday, February 12, 2018, two former detectives from the Baltimore Police Department were convicted of racketeering conspiracy, racketeering, and robbery as a part of an ongoing federal investigation into widespread corruption within the department.

Federal Prosecutors spoke to the press following the guilty verdict of members of the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force. Photo Courtesy of The Baltimore Sun.

The two detectives, Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, face maximum sentences of 60 years each, are part of a larger group of eight police officers from the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force that was indicted on March 1, 2017.  The jury deliberated for 12 hours before delivering the guilty verdicts for each officer.

The officers were accused of falsifying hours worked for overtime pay, filing false court paperwork, and robbing and extorting citizens.  Allegations extended to officers reselling the drugs and guns that they had seized from the streets.  Six of the eight officers pled guilty to the charges, and the remaining two were tried in federal court.  These two detectives have been on unpaid leave since their indictment in March 2017. The Baltimore Police Department is moving to terminate their employment following their conviction.

According to reports from BBC News and AP News, four ex-officers testified for the prosecution during the trial in hopes of a reduced sentence.  Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, the leader of the Gun Trace Task Force since June 2016, pled guilty to stealing drugs from the people he arrested and admitted to planting heroin on a man who was sent to prison.  Other officers told the jury that Jenkins instructed officers under his command to carry BB-guns in their police cars to plant in the even the officers shot an unarmed suspect.

The officers’ testimony further detailed how the Gun Trace Task Force was actually “made up of thugs with badges who stole cash, resold looted narcotics and lied under oath to cover their tracks,” and spoke of officers conducting armed home invasions going back to 2008.  The testimony also alleged wrong-doing, ranging from active participation in crimes to the subsequent cover-ups, from a dozen other officers not involved in the proceedings.  Among those mentioned included the head of Internal Affairs, an unnamed Baltimore assistant state’s attorney, an officer assigned to the police training academy, and homicide detective Sean Suiter.  Detective Suiter was fatally shot with his own gun under mysterious circumstances the day before he was supposed to testify before a federal grand jury in connection with the case.

Following the March 2017 indictment, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said her office has identified 150 closed and adjudicated cases possibly tainted by the officers’ involvement and that of 50 active cases reviewed, 30 of them had the charges dropped.  More recently, public defenders alleged that there could be several thousand cases going back to 2008 tainted by the officers’ involvement.  As of the date of the verdict, 125 cases involving the indicted officers have been dropped.

The Federal investigations into the Baltimore Police Department were sparked by the acquittal of six officers connected to the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while handcuffed and transported in the back of a police vehicle.

For more information, please see:

The Baltimore Sun – Attorneys release video from Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force raid; criticize state’s attorney for inaction – 14 February 2018

AP News – 2 Baltimore detectives convicted of racketeering, robbery – 13 February 2018

BBC News – Who were the corrupt Baltimore police officers? – 13 February 2018

The Baltimore Sun – The Gun Trace Task Force trial has ended. What is Baltimore doing to prevent future police corruption – 12 February 2018

Los Angeles Times – Baltimore police officers found guilty of racketeering and robbery – 12 February 2018

NPR News – Baltimore Police Officers Convicted in Corruption Scandal – 12 February 2018

Newsweek – Police Unit Steals $100,000 in House Search Without Warrant in Rogue Cop Crime Spree, Prosecutors Say – 25 January 2018

The Baltimore Sun – Prosecutor who raised early questions about Gun Trace Task Force officer speaks out – 8 December 2017

The Washington Post – Convictions in cases involving 7 indicted Baltimore police may be overturned – 23 March 2017

The Baltimore Sun – Seven Baltimore Police officers indicted on federal racketeering charges – 1 March 2017