More documents have been uncovered (via FOI requests) that show local law enforcement agencies in California have been operating cell phone tower spoofers (stingray devices) in complete secrecy and wholly unregulated.
Sacramento News10 has obtained documents from agencies in San Jose, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and Alameda County — all of which point to stingray deployment. As has been the case in the past, the devices are acquired with DHS grants and put into use without oversight or guidelines to ensure privacy protections. The stingrays in use are mainly limited to collecting data, but as the ACLU points out, many manufacturers offer devices that also capture content.
Some of these agencies have had these devices for several years now. Documents obtained from the Oakland Police Dept. show the agency has had stingrays in use since at least 2007, citing 21 “stingray arrests” during that year. This is hardly a surprising development as the city has been pushing for a total surveillance network for years now, something that (until very recently) seemed to be more slowed by contractor ineptitude than growing public outrage.
The device manufacturer’s (Harris) troubling non-disclosure agreement (which has been used to keep evidence of stingray usage out of court cases as well as has been deployed as an excuse for not securing warrants) rears its misshapen head again, mentioned both in one obtained document as well as by a spokesperson reached for comment. One document states:
“The Harris (REDACTED) equipment is proprietary and used for surveillance missions,” the agreement reads. “Its capabilities can only be discussed with sworn law enforcement officers, the military or federal government. This equipment’s capabilities are not for public knowledge and are protected under non-disclosure agreements as well as Title 18 USC 2512.”
The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Dept. had this to (not) say when asked about its stingray usage:
“While I am not familiar with what San Jose has said, my understanding is that the acquisition or use of this technology comes with a strict non-disclosure requirement,” said Under sheriff James Lewis in an emailed statement. “Therefore it would be inappropriate for us to comment about any agency that may be using the technology.”
Law enforcement agencies are conveniently choosing to believe a manufacturer’s non-disclosure agreement trumps public interest or even their own protection of citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights.
The devices aren’t cheap, either. Taxpayers are shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars for these cell tower spoofers, and the agencies acquiring them are doing very little to ensure the money is spent wisely. ACLU’s examination of the documents shows that many of the agencies purchased devices without soliciting bids.
It’s hard to know whether San José or any of the other agencies that have purchased stingray devices are getting good value for their money because the contract was “sole source,” in other words, not put out to competitive bidding. The justification for skirting ordinary bidding processes is that Harris Corporation is the only manufacturer of this kind of device. (We are aware of other surveillance vendors that manufacture these devices, though a separate Freedom of Information Request we submitted to the Federal Communications Commission suggests that, as of June 2013, the only company to have obtained an equipment authorization from the FCC for this kind of device is Harris.)
With Harris effectively locking the market down, buyers are pretty much ensured prices far higher than the market would bear if opened to competition. (Not that I’m advocating for a robust surveillance device marketplace, but if you’re going to spend taxpayers’ money on products to spy on them, the least you can do is try to get the best value for their money… ) Using federal grants also allows these departments to further avoid public scrutiny of the purchase and use by circumventing the normal acquisition process.
Beyond the obvious Fourth Amendment concerns looms the very real threat of mission creep. These agencies cite combating terrorism when applying for federal funds, but put the devices to use for ordinary law enforcement purposes. The documents cite stingray-related arrests, but since so little is known about the purchase, much less the deployment, there’s really no way to tell how much data and content totally unrelated to criminal investigations has been collected (and held) by these agencies.
Despite the steady hue and cry by government agencies about the need for more police, more sophisticated weaponry, and the difficulties of preserving the peace and maintaining security in our modern age, the reality is far different. Indeed, violent crime in America has been on a steady decline, and if current trends continue, Americans will finish the year 2013 experiencing the lowest murder rate in over a century.
Despite this clear referendum on the fact that communities would be better served by smaller, demilitarized police forces, police agencies throughout the country are dramatically increasing in size and scope. Some of the nation’s larger cities boast police forces the size of small armies. (New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg actually likes to brag that the NYPD is his personal army.) For example, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has reached a total of 10,000 officers. It takes its place alongside other cities boasting increasingly large police forces, including New York (36,000 officers) and Chicago (13,400 officers). When considered in terms of cops per square mile, Los Angeles assigns a whopping 469 officers per square mile, followed by New York with 303 officers per square mile, and Chicago with 227 cops per square mile.
Of course, such heavy police presence comes at a price. Los Angeles spends over $2 billion per year on the police force, a 36% increase within the last eight years. The LAPD currently consumes over 55% of Los Angeles’ discretionary budget, a 9% increase over the past nine years. Meanwhile, street repair and maintenance spending has declined by 36%, and in 2011, one-fifth of the city’s fire stations lost units, increasing response times for 911 medical emergencies.
For those who want to credit hefty police forces for declining crime rates, the data just doesn’t show a direct correlation. In fact, many cities across the country actually saw decreases in crime rates during the 1990s in the wake of increasing prison sentences and the waning crack-cocaine epidemic. Cities such as Seattle and Dallas actually cut their police forces during this time and still saw crime rates drop.
As I point out in my new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, there was a time in our nation’s history when Americans would have revolted against the prospect of city police forces the size of small armies, or rampaging SWAT teams tearing through doors and terrorizing families. Today, the SWAT team is largely sold to the American public by way of the media, through reality TV shows such as Cops, Armed and Famous, and Police Women of Broward County, and by politicians well-versed in promising greater security in exchange for the government being given greater freedom to operate as it sees fit outside the framework of the Constitution.
Having watered down the Fourth Amendment’s strong prohibitions intended to keep police in check and functioning as peacekeepers, we now find ourselves in the unenviable position of having militarized standing armies enforcing the law. Likewise, whereas the police once operated as public servants (i.e., in service to the public), today that master-servant relationship has been turned on its head to such an extent that if we fail to obey anyone who wears a badge, we risk dire consequences.
Consider that in 1980, there were roughly 3,000 SWAT team-style raids in the US. By 2001, that number had grown to 45,000 and has since swelled to more than 80,000 SWAT team raids per year. On an average day in America, over 100 Americans have their homes raided by SWAT teams. In fact, there are few communities without a SWAT team on their police force today. In 1984, 25.6 percent of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 people had a SWAT team. That number rose to 80 percent by 2005.
The problem, of course, is that as SWAT teams and SWAT-style tactics are used more frequently to carry out routine law enforcement activities, Americans find themselves in increasingly dangerous and absurd situations. For example, in late July 2013, a no-kill animal shelter in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was raided by nine Department of Natural Resources (DNR) agents and four deputy sheriffs. The raid was prompted by tips that the shelter was home to a baby deer that had been separated from its mother. The shelter officials had planned to send the deer to a wildlife rehabilitation facility in Illinois, but the agents, who stormed the property unannounced, demanded that the deer be handed over because citizens are not allowed to possess wildlife. When the 13 LEOs entered the property “armed to the teeth,” they corralled the employees around a picnic table while they searched for the deer. When they returned, one agent had the deer slung over his shoulder in a body bag, ready to be euthanized.
When asked why they didn’t simply ask shelter personnel to hand the deer over instead of conducting an unannounced raid, DNR Supervisor Jennifer Niemeyer compared their actions to drug raids, saying “If a sheriff’s department is going in to do a search warrant on a drug bust, they don’t call them and ask them to voluntarily surrender their marijuana or whatever drug that they have before they show up.”
If these raids are becoming increasingly common and widespread, you can chalk it up to the “make-work” philosophy, in which you assign at-times unnecessary jobs to individuals to keep them busy or employed. In this case, however, the make-work principle is being used to justify the use of sophisticated military equipment and, in the process, qualify for federal funding.
It all started back in the 1980s, when Congress launched the 1033 Program to allow the Department of Defense to transfer surplus military goods to state and local police agencies. The 1033 program has grown dramatically, with some 13,000 police agencies in all 50 states and four US territories currently participating. In 2012, the federal government transferred $546 million worth of property to state and local police agencies. This 1033 program allows small towns like Rising Star, Texas, with a population of 835 and only one full-time police officer, to acquire $3.2 million worth of goods and military gear from the federal government over the course of fourteen months.
Military equipment sent to small towns has included high-powered weapons, assault vehicles and tactical gear. However, after it was discovered that local police agencies were failing to keep inventories of their acquired firearms and in some cases, selling the equipment for a profit, the transfer of firearms was temporarily suspended until October 2013. In the meantime, police agencies can still receive a variety of other toys and gizmos, including “aircraft, boats, Humvees, body armor, weapon scopes, infrared imaging systems and night-vision goggles,” not to mention more general items such as “bookcases, hedge trimmers, telescopes, brassieres, golf carts, coffee makers and television sets.”
In addition to equipping police with militarized weapons and equipment, the government has also instituted an incentive program of sorts, the Byrne Formula Grant Program, which awards federal grants based upon “the number of overall arrests, the number of warrants served or the number of drug seizures.” A sizable chunk of taxpayer money has kept the program in full swing over the years. Through the Clinton administration, the program was funded with about $500 million. By 2008, the Bush administration had reduced the budget to about $170 million, less out of concern for the militarization of police forces and more to reduce federal influence on law enforcement matters. However, Barack Obama boosted the program again at the beginning of his term, using the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to inject $2 billion into the program.
When it comes to SWAT-style tactics being used in routine policing, the federal government is one of the largest offenders, with multiple agencies touting their own SWAT teams, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Consumer Product Safety Commission, NASA, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the US National Park Service, and the FDA.
Clearly, the government has all but asphyxiated the Fourth Amendment, but what about the Third Amendment, which has been interpreted to not only prohibit the quartering of soldiers in one’s home and martial law but standing armies? While most Americans—and the courts—largely overlook this amendment, which at a minimum bars the government from stationing soldiers in civilian homes during times of peace, it is far from irrelevant to our age. Indeed, with some police units equivalent in size, weaponry and tactics to military forces, a case could well be made that the Third Amendment is routinely being violated every time a SWAT team crashes through a door.
A vivid example of this took place on July 10, 2011, in Henderson, Nevada, when local police informed homeowner Anthony Mitchell that they wanted to occupy his home in order to gain a “tactical advantage” in dealing with a domestic abuse case in an adjacent home. Mitchell refused the request, but this didn’t deter the police, who broke down Mitchell’s front door using a battering ram. Five officers pointed weapons at him, ordering him to the ground, where they shot him with pepper-ball projectiles.
The point is this: America today is not much different from the America of the early colonists, who had to contend with British soldiers who were allowed to “enter private homes, confiscate what they found, and often keep the bounty for themselves.” This practice is echoed today through SWAT team raids and the execution of so-called asset forfeiture laws, “which allow police to seize and keep for their departments cash, cars, luxury goods and even homes, often under only the thinnest allegation of criminality.”
It is this intersection of law enforcement and military capability which so worried the founding fathers and which should worry us today. What Americans must decide is what they’re going to do about this occupation of our cities and towns by standing armies operating under the guise of keeping the peace.
Gilad Atzmon – Alto Sax
Zane Musa – Soprano and Tenor Sax
Mahesh Balasooriya – Keyboard
Tony Austin – Drums
Hamilton Price – Bass
Recorded at The Mint, Los Angeles, May 17, 2013
Let’s not be too quick to dismiss the “ranting” of renegade LAPD officer Chris Dorner.
Dorner, a three-year police veteran and former Lieutenant in the US Navy who went rogue after being fired by the LAPD, has accused Los Angeles Police of systematically using excessive force, of corruption, of being racist, and of firing him for raising those issues through official channels.
By all media accounts, Dorner “snapped” after his firing, and has vowed to kill police in retaliation. He allegedly has already done so, with several people, including police officers and family members of police already shot dead.
Now there’s a “manhunt” involving police departments across California, focusing on the mountains around Big Bear, featuring cops dressed in full military gear and armed with semi-automatic weapons.
Nobody would argue that randomly killing police officers and their family members or friends is justified, but I think that there is good reason to suspect that the things that Dorner claims set him off, such as being fired for reporting police brutality, and then going through a rigged hearing, deserve serious consideration and investigation.
The LAPD has a long history of abuse of minorities (actually the majority in Los Angeles, where whites are now a minority). It has long been a kind of paramilitary force — one which pioneered the military-style Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) approach to “policing.”
If you wanted a good example to prove that nothing has changed over the years, just look at the outrageous incident involving LAPD cops tasked with capturing Dorner, who instead shot up two innocent women who were delivering newspapers in a residential area of Los Angeles. The women, Margie Carranza, 47, and her mother, Emma Hernandez, 71 (now in serious condition in the hospital), were not issued any warning. Police just opened fire from behind them, destroying their truck with heavy semi-automatic fire to the point that it will have to be scrapped and replaced. The two women are lucky to be alive (check out the pattern of bullet holes in the rear window behind the driver’s position in the accompanying photo). What they experienced was the tactics used by US troops on patrol in Iraq or Afghanistan, not the tactics that one expects of police. Their truck wasn’t even the right make or color, but LAPD’s “finest” decided it was better to be safe than sorry, so instead of acting like cops, they followed Pentagon “rules of engagement”: They attempted to waste the target.
LAPD officers fired on this car with clear intent to kill (check out the bullet holes behind the driver-seat position). Trouble was, it was the wrong make and wrong color, and instead of Dorner, it was two Latino women, one of whom is now in serious condition from her wounds. No warning was given before the barrage.
Local residents say that after that shooting, which involved seven LAPD officers and over 70 bullets expended, with nobody returning fire, the street and surrounding houses were pockmarked with bullet holes. The Los Angeles Times reports that in the area, there are “bullet holes in cars, trees, garage doors and roofs.”
What we had here was an example of a controversial tactic that the military employed in the Iraq War, and still employs in Afghanistan, called “spray and pray” — a tactic that led directly to the massive civilian casualties during that US war.
We shouldn’t be surprised that two brown-skinned women were almost mowed down by the LAPD–only that they somehow survived all that deadly firing directed at them with clear intent to kill.
The approach taken by those cop-hunting-cops of shooting first and asking questions later suggests that the LAPD in this “manhunt” for one of their own has no intention of capturing Dorner alive and letting him talk about what he knows about the evils rampant in the 10,000-member department. They want him dead.
When I lived in Los Angeles back in the 1970s, it was common for LAPD cops to bust into homes, gestapo-like, at 5 in the morning, guns out, to arrest people for minor things like outstanding court warrants for unpaid parking tickets, bald tires, or jaywalking.
Police helicopters also used to tail me — then an editor of an alternative news weekly — and my wife, a music graduate student, as we drove home at night. Sometimes, they would follow us from our car to front door with a brilliant spotlight, when we’d come home at night to our house in Echo Park. It was an act of deliberate intimidation. (They also infiltrated our newspaper with an undercover cop posing as a wannabe journalist. Her job, we later learned, was to learn who our sources were inside the LAPD — sources who had disclosed such things as that the LAPD had, and probably still has, a “shoot-to-kill” policy for police who fire their weapons.)
Friends in Los Angeles tell me nothing has changed, though of course the police weaponry has gotten heavier and their surveillance capabilities have gotten more sophisticated and invasive.
It is clear from the LAPD’s paramilitary response to the Occupy movement in Los Angeles, which included planting undercover cops among the occupiers, some of whom reportedly were agents provocateur who tried to encourage protesters to commit acts of violence, and which ended with police violence and gratuitous arrests, as in New York, that nothing has changed.
In other words, Dorner may be irrational, but he ain’t crazy.
A black military veteran, Dorner joined the police because he reportedly believed in service. Unable to go along with the militarist policing he saw on the job, he protested through channels and was apparently rewarded by being fired. Now, in his own violent way, he is trying to warn us all that something is rotten in the LAPD, and by extension, in the whole police system in the US. Police departments almost everywhere in the US, have morphed, particularly since 9/11/2001, from a role of providing public safety and law enforcement into agencies of brutal fascist control.
As Dorner says in his lengthy manifesto (actually quite explicit and literate, but described as “ranting” in corporate media accounts), in which he explains his actions and indicts the LAPD, “The enemy combatants in LA are not the citizens and suspects, it’s the police officers.”
That could be said of many US police departments, I’m afraid.
Example: Last fall, I had the experience of trying to hitchhike in my little suburban town. A young cop drove up and informed me (incorrectly, it turns out) that it was illegal to hitchhike in Pennsylvania. When I expressed surprise at this and told him I was a journalist working on an article on hitchhiking, he then threatened me directly, saying that if I continued to try and thumb a ride, he would “take you in and lock you up.”
When I called a lawyer friend and said I was inclined to take the officer up on that threat, since I was within my rights under the law hitchhiking as long as I was standing off the road, he warned me against it, saying, “You don’t know what could happen to you if you got arrested.”
And of course he’s right. An arrest, even a wrongful arrest, in the US these days can lead to an added charge — much more serious — of resisting arrest, with a court basing its judgement on the word of the officer in the absence of any other witnesses. It can also lead to physical injury or worse, if the officer wants to lie and claim that the arrested person threatened him or her.
If I had been in Los Angeles, I would most likely have been locked up for an incident like that. Forget about any warning. You aren’t supposed to talk back to cops in L.A. And if you are black or Latino, the results of such an arrest could be much worse.
I remember once witnessing LAPD cops stopping a few Latino youths who had been joyriding in what might have been a stolen car. There was a helicopter overhead, and perhaps a dozen patrol cars that had converged on the scene, outside a shopping mall in Silverlake. I ran over to see what was happening and watched as the cops grabbed the kids, none of whom was armed, out of the vehicle and slammed them against the car brutally. It was looking pretty ugly, but by then neighbors from the surrounding homes, most of them Latino, who had poured out onto their lawns because of the commotion, began yelling at the cops. One man shouted, “We see what you’re doing. These boys are all healthy. If anything happens to any of them after you arrest them we will report you!”
The cops grudgingly backed off in their attack on the boys, and took them away in a squad car. I don’t know what happened to them after that, but they were most certainly saved, by quick community response, from an on-the-spot Rodney King-style beating that could have seriously injured them, or worse.
As things stand right now, with the LAPD gunning for Dorner, and wanting him dead and silenced, not captured, the public has to worry that it has more to fear from the LAPD than it has to fear from Dorner himself. At least Dorner, in his own twisted way, has specific targets in mind. The LAPD is in “spray and pray” mode.
Chris Dorner, in happier days, now a fugitive on the run from the LAPD “manhunters”
Hopefully, Dorner will realize he can do more by figuring out a safe way to “come in from the cold” so he can try to testify about LAPD crimes, than by killing more cops. If he does manage to surrender, he’d better have a lot of support lined up to keep him safe while in custody.
It’s already clear that a lot of people in the LAPD want him dead.
- Light on the Dark Side of Dorner’s Rampage (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Violent LAPD Shoots First at Anything Resembling Suspect’s Car (alethonews.wordpress.com)
On September 10, 2012 the Los Angeles Times published an article with the headline: “LAPD to hold meetings on use of force policies.”
Top Los Angeles police officials announced those community meetings to counter growing criticism about videoed brutality incidents involving LA police officers in the preceding months, that article noted.
On November 24, 2012 The Daily Beast posted an article with the headline: “In Los Angeles, Questions of Police Brutality Dog LAPD” reporting abuse incidents by officers of that department placed under federal oversight between 2001 and 2009 after repeated brutality and corruption scandals.
Over two months after that Daily Beast posting about LAPD brutality a fired LAPD officer unleashed a murderous rampage as revenge against his claimed unfair firing by the LAPD.
That former LAPD cop, military veteran Christopher Dorner, claimed his attack campaign was retaliation against retaliation LAPD personnel directed against him for his reporting a 2007 brutality incident he observed while on duty.
LAPD officials found Dorner’s brutality claim against a policewoman unfounded and fired him for filing false statements. The father of the alleged victim said his mentally ill son confirmed Dorner’s account.
LA police officials contend that man sustained facial injuries from falling into some bushes while resisting arrest by Dorner, not from the female officer’s kick.
Despite the recent record of brutality detailed in news coverage last fall, a New York Times article on the Dorner rampage inferred brutality by Los Angeles police – brutality that sparked two of America’s most destructive urban riots – was not a current problem.
The last sentence in the seventh paragraph of that February 7, 2013 New York Times article stated: “Mr. Dorner laid out grievances against a police department that he said remained riddled with racism and corruption, a reference to a chapter of the department’s history that, in the view of many people, was swept aside long ago.”
That ‘view’ of many people cited in the NY Times article obviously did not include the views of the dozens participating in an October 2012 demonstration against police brutality outside the LAPD headquarters.
On October 22, 2012 the Los Angeles Times published an article with the headline: “Downtown L.A. streets closed by protest at LAPD headquarters.”
Yes, the 1992 riots that rocked LA following the state court acquittal of the four LA police officers charged in the videoed savaging of Rodney King – a disturbance causing over $1-billion in damages and claiming 53 lives – arguably qualifies as long-ago.
But long-ago does not apply to incidents within the past year like the woman kicked in her groin by a female LAPD officer in July 2012 who died minutes later while hog-tied inside a patrol car.
That ‘view’ cited in the NY Times article is not shared by victims of the incidents triggering those LAPD brass community meetings like the skate boarder suckered punched by police, the nurse slammed to the ground by two officers who gave each other a fist-bump for their take-down and the handcuffed man shot by police.
While ‘many people’ certainly believe or want-to-believe LAPD brutality is long gone, perhaps by reforms implemented during that federal oversight, news media accounts pushing that view without balance of companion context comprise an element (albeit small) in the constant framing of police brutality as isolated incidents instead of long standing, systemic procedure by police across America.
At least that NY Times article referenced racism and brutality unlike many media entities that reported Dorner’s rampage without providing context beyond his crazed reaction to his firing.
The March 1968 Kerner Commission Report on sixties-era urban riots – the majority triggered by police abuse incidents including the deadly 1965 LA Watts Riots – criticized the news media for failing to “analyze and report adequately on racial matters” in America that included coverage of festering grievances like police brutality.
Compounding context-deficient coverage, news media reportage on police brutality rarely examines the central role played by prosecutors in perpetuating the problem.
The Los Angeles DA’s Office pushed one case protecting alleged police misconduct all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where in 2006 that court’s conservative majority issued a ruling experts said eroded protections for whistle-blowing public employees.
The case involved a veteran LA prosecutor who said supervisors retaliated against him arising from his exposing improprieties by a deputy during a drug investigation. Those supervisors pursued the drug prosecution despite those improprieties and then bashed the whistle-blower for providing the defense details of the improprieties as required by law.
That 11/12 Daily Beast article began with an anecdote about LA city prosecutors declining to charge officers caught lying about a December 2010 incident where a woman was beaten and tazed by four officers, one of whom videoed the incident.
Fired Officer Dorner alleged that his LAPD problems began in July 2007 when his training officer, a female, kicked a man during an arrest outside a hotel. Dorner claimed that training officer and their immediate supervisor compelled him to fudge his official report omitting the kicking, according to court findings.
LAPD officials found Dorner guilty of making false statements relying largely on an Internal Affairs investigation. The IA investigator interviewed the training officer and two hotel employees but neither Dorner nor the victim according to an October 2011 California state appellate court ruling that upheld a trial court ruling rejecting Dorner’s appeal of his 2009 LAPD firing.
LAPD officials, in their administrative proceeding, faulted Dorner for failing to immediately report the alleged kicking incident. Officials brushed aside Dorner’s stated fears of backlash for exposing that alleged misconduct and his having quickly reported that incident privately to two LAPD supervisors he knew whom he also had told about racial slurs directed at him during his police academy training.
Officials also claimed Dorner manufactured the brutality complaint to maliciously deflate an adverse performance evaluation he suspected he would receive from his training officer.
LAPD officials have initiated a reexamination of Dorner’s firing since the rampage began.
Dorner, in an online manifesto posted before his rampage, criticized the fact that officers involved in both the Rodney King and other brutality scandals were promoted not penalized.
An analysis of the Dorner incident prepared by Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher and Mike King, a PhD candidate at UC Santa Cruz reminded that brutality against non-whites remains a “structural function” of the LAPD.
“It is the commonness of excuses for police abuse/murder, the erasure of the victims as collateral damage that should be highlighted when trying to make sense of this broken, rogue, former Los Angeles cop,” Ciccariello-Maher and King wrote.
Photo – credit Wikipedia
A long-time journalist is suing the Los Angeles Police Department over the alleged manhandling he says he was subjected to while covering an Occupy protest in LA last year.
Reporter Calvin Milam of Los Angeles’ City News Service says police officers with the LAPD tackled him to the ground, restrained him in dangerously tight handcuffs and detained him for hours without charge, all while he was just doing his job as a journalist one evening in late 2011.
Milam has insisted he displayed his press credentials to the LAPD during an Occupy LA rally outside City Hall on November 30, 2011 immediately before he was brought down by the cops.
In the aftermath of the incident, police spokespersons described the scene by portraying Milam as drunk and disorderly during his arrest. The video footage that has surfaced seems to contradict that take, however, and also clearly shows that Milam was acting as a member of the media.
“At some point, the Los Angeles police officers, in full riot gear, began to restrict the egress of those exercising their First Amendment rights and blocked access to leave the premises,” the recently filed complaint reads.
Milam’s attorney, Mark Geragos, tells the Courthouse News Service that the only reason his client wasn’t prosecuted was because video was found “which completely puts lie to what the cops said.”
When Geragos first became aware of the footage in the weeks after the arrest, he told LA Weekly that the footage was “completely at odds” with the accounts offered orally from both the LAPD and the City Attorney’s Office.
“They patently lied about the whole thing. It’s clear to me. I was told the exact same thing. It’s fortunate there’s a video which shows what really happened,” he said last December. “They have now told you two things that are demonstrably false. One, that he didn’t show his press credential. And two, that he was drunk. This guy hasn’t touched a drink in 20 years.”
“It’s astonishing to see that video and then see what was alleged: that he didn’t identify himself, show press credentials and that he was resisting,” Geragos now tells Courthouse News.
LAPD officer Victor Johnson charged Mr. Milam with unlawful assembly during the Nov. 30 incident, but the charges were quickly dropped. He was one of three journalists arrested that night during an event that ended with around 300 being put into cuffs.
Patrick Meighan, a writer for the animated show Family Guy, was one of the hundreds of persons who was arrested during the non-violent protest last year. Recounting the experience in a personal blog post, Meighan wrote that LAPD’s actions that evening were “horrible to watch, and apparently designed to terrorize” anyone who could catch a glimpse.
“It was super violent, it hurt really really bad and he was doing it on purpose,” is how he described his brutal arrest last year.
“What does it say about our country that nonviolent protesters are given the bottom of a police boot while those who steal hundreds of billions, do trillions worth of damage to our economy and shatter our social fabric for a generation are not only spared the zipcuffs but showered with rewards?”
The City of Los Angeles has yet to respond to Mr. Milam’s suit and litigation is “at a very early stage,” Courthouse News reports.
- LAPD refuses to release video of fatal encounter with mother (latimesblogs.latimes.com)
- After violent in-custody death, family of Alesia Thomas sues LAPD for video (tv.msnbc.com)
The next time a tourist snaps a picture of the famous Hollywood sign, their photo won’t be the only item added to the annals. The LAPD considers photography a suspicious activity, and trying to take certain shots may add a page to your personal file.
A memo released last month by Police Chief Charlie Bucks re-categorizes certain behaviors — including photo shoots in public spots — to constitute suspicious activity, which is enough to have cops file a report, open an investigation and forward any further information about a suspect to the federal authorities — all over just an itchy shutter finger.
In an interdepartmental statement dispatched on August 16, Beck writes, “Taking pictures or videos of facilities/buildings, infrastructures or protected sites in a manner that would arouse suspicion in a reasonable person” is enough of a red flag to have authorities file a suspicious activity report, or SAR. According to departmental policies, those SAR files are then sent into a Consolidated Crime and Analysis Database (CCAD), where they are occasionally added to a Crime Analysis Mapping System (CAMS) for further investigation. From there, intelligence can be stored in a Information Sharing Environment (ISE) Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Shared Space and accessed at fusion centers across the country, such as the LA area’s Joint Regional Intelligence Center, where other intel is interpreted, dissected and divulged by agencies like the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security.
In a 2010 evaluation conducted by the US Justice Department, the DoJ writes, “Ultimately, the ISE-SAR EE, through the use of the Shared Spaces concept, provides a solution for law enforcement agencies to share terrorism-related suspicious activity information, while continuing to maintain control of their data through a distributed model of information sharing.”(.pdf)
Further in the report, the Justice Department determined that “The FBI and DHS should continue to support the interface with the Shared Space environment to allow continue ease of sharing SAR data with all law enforcement agencies,” which now includes any reports written up for something as boring as a blurry snapshot. Under the LAPD’s 2008 guidelines, taking photographs or video footage “with no apparent esthetic value” could warrant filing a SAR, but the department has now broadened what they considered potential terroristic activity.
According to the latest LAPD memo, the office notes that the suspicious behavior included on their updated list is “generally protected by the First Amendment” and should not be reported in a SAR, but could be considered if the witness thinks the action in question is “reasonably indicative of criminal activity associated with terrorism,” an explanation that is as broad and open ended as the NDAA, the federal legislation signed last year that lets the government imprison Americans without charge over suspected ties with affiliates of al-Qaeda.
On the official website of the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU writes, broadly speaking, “Taking photographs of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right… Unfortunately, there is a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs from public places, and harassing, detaining and arresting those who fail to comply.”
University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone tells the Center for Investigative Reporting that just as any civilian can shoot photos in public spaces, though, surveillance from the authorities is allowed as well. “This would be constitutional under existing law, as long as the government is not doing this in a discriminatory manner,” Stone says. “There may be some constitutional limitations on the government’s use or preservation of such information, but at present, such limitations do not exist, except perhaps in truly egregious circumstances.”
In the days after the latest memo was made public, a backlash directed at the LAPD forced the police commission to establish a five-member civil oversight panel to decide on a set of guidelines for when SARs can be written. The Los Angeles Times reports that the panel unanimously approved an order that will continue to allow officers to write up SARs on any activity that can be interpreted, somehow, as a terroristic threat, however, and things don’t end there either.
Trying to take a picture isn’t the only action being elevated to the level of potential-terrorism in LA. In last month’s memo, Chief Bucks writes, “Demonstrating unusual interest in facilities/buildings, infrastructures or protected sites beyond mere casual or professional (e.g., engineers) interest, such that a reasonable person would consider the activity suspicious.” Examples, he adds, include observations through binoculars, taking notes and attempting to measure distances.
Days after the LAPD memo was made public, Deputy Chief Michael Downing, commanding officer of the LAPD’s counter-terrorism unit, told members of the media, “In this region we have active terrorist plots, in this region, right now,” although authorities have not corroborated those claims with details for the public yet. Chief Downing later told the Times that he was unaware of any specific terrorism plot aimed at targeting the city, but was adamant that law enforcement should be on the ready to handle any reports.
The lengths at which they will go to in an effort to stay ahead of the game has others worried scared, though.
“We ought to be ashamed of ourselves,” National Lawyers Guild attorney Jim Lafferty tells the Times.
In an op-ed published this week in the Huffington Post, Yaman Salahi of the American Civil Liberties Union says the LAPD’s latest memo makes it so that cops can consider “Anyone snapping a photograph or taking notes in a public place [as] a potential threat to public safety.”
“This kind of information sharing might sound good in theory, but a recent study from George Washington University, co-authored by the LAPD’s very own Deputy Chief Michael Downing, the head of the LAPD’s Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau, found that suspicious activity reporting has ‘flooded fusion centers, law enforcement, and other security entities with white noise.’ In practice, the profusion of SAR reports ‘complicates the intelligence process and distorts resource allocation and deployment decisions,’” Salahi writes. “The head of LAPD’s own counterterrorism bureau knows that low value SAR reports hurt counterterrorism efforts more than they help. So we should ask the LAPD to take the simple steps necessary to protect our free speech and privacy rights, and to stop harassing people engaged in perfectly lawful – and often, constitutionally protected – activities.”
Because the LAPD is now narrowing their eyes to focus in on suspicious activity at critical infrastructure sites, seemingly normal behavior anywhere — from power plants and theme parks to even a basketball game — can get you in trouble. In 2004, then Mayor Jim Hahn said, “Los Angeles’ critical infrastructure goes beyond power plants and water mains and includes facilities like Staples Center, which generates millions of dollars for our economy and is, thanks to the Lakers, an internationally-known symbol of Los Angeles.”
LA was awarded $3 million that year through the Urban Area Security Initiative Operation Archangel grant to protect its infrastructure, including the Staples Center, Disneyland and Hollywood Boulevard, and began their involvement in the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative (NSI) a few years later.
As RT wrote earlier this year as part of their ongoing investigation into the TrapWire surveillance system, the portal on the LAPD’s website that allows for civilians to contribute anonymous SARs is linked with an international intelligence database, as are surveillance cameras across the city. The iWatch reporting program has also been picked up in Washington, DC, where emails perpetrated to have been hacked from the servers of Strategic Forecasting last year suggest that the police department and closed-circuit cameras across the nation’s capital are tied to TrapWire as well. Intelligence collected in those instances are also fed to nationally-run fusion centers.
- LAPD Now Arresting Photographers (poorrichards-blog.blogspot.com)
- Photographers in Los Angeles considered terrorists under official LAPD policy (EndtheLie.com)
Hundreds of protesters in Los Angeles have taken out to the streets of Hollywood to rally against loopholes in legislation on corporate tax in the United States, Press TV reports.
The protesters, including unemployed workers, members of labor unions and “Occupy LA” activists, staged the rally to show their anger at a recent report showing that 249 of the country’s largest and most profitable corporations paid less than the US corporate tax rate.
The protesters said local communities are unable to afford vital public services such as health care and services provided by police officers, fire fighters due to the failure of these rich corporations to pay their fair share of taxes.
Demonstrators occupied one of Hollywood’s busiest intersections, forcing police to order them to disperse. Protesters say the display was necessary to make sure people understand what is going on in the US.
Jacob Hay, one of the organizers of the rally, told Press TV that the protest is targeting companies such as shipping giant FedEx, which he says is one of the largest corporate tax dodgers in America.
“Over the last few years they paid less than one percent in federal taxes despite earning 5.2 billion (dollars),” Hay said.
Between 2008 and 2010, FedEx spent USD 46,000 a day lobbying in the Congress, which is about USD 14 million more than it paid in taxes, Hay added.
Protesters say FedEx is just one of the hundreds of corporations that are taking advantage of Americans.
A recent study, conducted by Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, shows that 30 US companies are paying no federal taxes at all.
- OWS knocks on US billionaires’ doors (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- 29 Companies That Paid Millions For Lobbying (And Didn’t Pay Taxes) (forbes.com)
NPR Ombudsman Says No Response Allowed to Mass Transit Mess Up
By RUSSELL MOKHIBER | May 3, 2011
The NPR Ombudsman says that no response will be allowed to a story about mass transit in Los Angeles.
On April 21, 2011, NPR’s All Things Considered ran a story about how – after a fifty year absence – light rail is coming back to Los Angeles.
NPR reporter Mandalit Del Barco reported that eighty years ago, electric mass transit dominated the city.
“By the roaring 1920′s, more than 1,000 miles of electric trolley lines and train rails ran through the ever-expanding Los Angeles,” Del Barco reported.
But then in the middle of the century, the electric trolley cars disappeared.
“LA replaced the last of its streetcars with a web of freeways and bus lines,” Del Barco reported. “That led to conspiracy theories that the streetcars were dismantled by private companies who stood to profit – General Motors, Standard Oil and tire companies. That villainous plot figured into the 1988 movie ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit.’”
In fact, it was more than just conspiracy theories.
It was an actual federal crime that led to the destruction of the nation’s electric mass transit.
The companies involved were indicted, convicted, and fined for destroying the nation’s electric mass transit systems.
Del Barco says she was familiar with the criminal history of the case, but didn’t report it.
We asked the NPR Ombudsman’s office to investigate and issue a clarification – at least tell NPR’s listeners that it wasn’t just a conspiracy theory – that it was an indicted and convicted federal crime.
The Ombudsman office said they would look into it.
Then, late last week, we got an e-mail from the NPR Ombudsman’s office.
“Our office talked to the reporter and editor of the piece,” wrote Lori Grisham of the NPR Ombudsman’s office. “They understand your concerns, but do not believe a correction is warranted. Time is one of the main constraints when it comes to producing a radio story and they were trying to condense a great deal of history into a small amount of time.”
Grisham passed along this from Jason DeRose, NPR’s Western Bureau Chief:
“The piece makes clear there had been better public transit in LA and that it was dismantled. We chose not to describe that demise in detail. There were many, many unproven allegations of conspiracy and two official fines. We chose to characterize the numerous unproven allegations as conspiracy theories to lead into the Roger Rabbit tape.”
Grisham ends her e-mail: “I apologize that NPR will not run a correction. Thank you again for taking time to contact us.”
And thank you Lori Grisham for looking into this.
But that’s just bad form – and one reason why America is angry with NPR.
We sent you the documented proven history of the criminal activity.
And still, Jason DeRose says that there were “many, many unproven allegations of conspiracy and two official fines.”
This was proven and convicted criminal conduct.
There was nothing unproven about it.
In fact, the destruction of the nation’s electric mass transit system was perhaps one of the most egregious – and underreported – corporate crimes of the century.
Brad Snell is also not happy with the NPR Ombudsman’s decision.
Snell is in the final stages of writing a history of General Motors.
It will be published in 2013 by Knopf.
“Under our celebrated system of laws, the US Justice Department’s allegation of conspiracy by defendants General Motors, Standard Oil of California, and Firestone Tire to monopolize the sale of buses, fuel, and tires by eliminating electric transit was transformed from theory to fact upon their conviction by a Chicago jury in US District Court on March 19, 1949,” Snell told Corporate Crime Reporter. “That judgment was affirmed on appeal (186 F.2 562 (7th Cir. 1951)) and a further appeal by defendants to the US Supreme Court was denied (cert den. 341 US 916), leaving the judgment and convictions in National City Lines as final matters of settled fact and law.”
“In 1990, the Honorable George E. MacKinnon, Senior Judge of the US Court of Appeals in Washington DC, had occasion to review the entire trial record in the National City Lines case,” Snell said.
His conclusion appeared in the Washington Legal Times on May 7, 1990.
“That Chicago trial resulted in criminal conspiracy convictions of the General Motors Corp., Standard Oil of California, and the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. for their concerted effort to replace electric streetcars with buses in numerous large and small cities,” Judge MacKinnon wrote.
“It is not a theory,” Snell said. “These are not ‘unproven allegations of conspiracy.’ It has been settled judicial fact for more than half a century. Beyond a reasonable doubt, as affirmed by the federal courts, and after denial of further review by the Supreme Court of the United States, it is an established and incontrovertible fact that General Motors, Standard Oil of California, and Firestone Tire conspired to replace electric transit in cities throughout America in order to effect a monopoly in the sale of buses and related products.”
“To suggest otherwise is to debase and mock our revered and time-honored system of American jurisprudence,” Snell said.
It is unconscionable that the NPR Ombudsman will not even consider running a response.
Russell Mokhiber edits the Corporate Crime Reporter.