Sunday, May 06, 2007

A roundup of misbehaving cops

Sometimes police departments almost get it right when cops misbehave.

Back in March an Austin cop was fired when it was discovered that he'd lied about the circumstances of a drug arrest -- lies that help send someone to prison on the charges.

Firing the guy seems pretty automatic to me, he committed a very serious crime, falsely sending somebody to prison is a very big deal.

The part of the story that bothers me is that the Cheif seems more upset about him having gotten caught and "discrediting the department" then the damage done to the victim of his false statements.
Acting Police Chief Cathy Ellison fired an officer Tuesday after she said the officer lied about the circumstances of an arrest that led to a man's conviction on felony drug charges.

Ellison also said in an eight-page memo that officer James Learmonth mishandled evidence during the June arrest of Ernest Smith and that his actions discredited the department.

A judge in December threw out the case against Smith, and prosecutors dropped charges against a woman who was with Smith when he was arrested.

Austin attorney Tom Stribling, who is representing Learmonth, declined to comment Tuesday, other than to say that his client is considering appealing Ellison's decision.

Travis County Assistant District Attorney Patty Robertson said Learmonth remains under a criminal investigation.

According to the disciplinary memo, Learmonth stopped a car Smith was driving and arrested and charged him with possession of drug paraphernalia and drug possession. He also arrested and charged Smith's female passenger with tampering with evidence.

Smith filed a complaint against Learmonth 13 days later accusing the officer of making an unauthorized stop, filing a false report and failing to return his cell phone, the memo said.

Internal affairs looked into the case, and Learmonth admitted during an interview with investigators that he had lied in his police report, according to the memo. Internal affairs investigators told prosecutors what they had learned.

The memo said that Learmonth wrote in documents that he had seen that Smith had a crack pipe, but later "admitted to internal affairs that the statement about observing the crack pipe wasn't true."

He also falsely wrote in reports that the woman "ground her foot" in a circular motion on what he thought was crack cocaine in an effort to destroy the evidence, the memo said. Learmonth's patrol car video shows she never did so.

"Officer Learmonth falsified his report and probable cause affidavits to bolster the charges," the memo said. "He intentionally and knowingly placed false information in these documents, knowing it was unlawful to do so."

According to the memo, Learmonth failed to seize the gum Smith's companion was chewing, which would have verified if she was chewing crack cocaine, and he was seen on a videotape of the arrest handling Smith's cell phone. After the arrest, it was lost.

The memo said that Learmonth's actions were reported by local media, which discredited the department and that his actions "are unethical and taint the entire justice system."

Learmonth's credibility, the document said, also would likely be affected at the upcoming trial of a man who police said shot at them. Learmonth was involved in the incident.

Smith's lawyer, Keith Lauerman, said Tuesday that he did not know the specifics of Ellison's findings and could not comment. He had said in December that prosecutors had alerted him that they were seeking to dismiss the case against Smith because of "something tainted" his conviction.

a hat tip to Austin Texas DWI Lawyer Blog for pointing me to the story

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