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Show Us the Tape:

Radley Balko is outraged by the death of Jesse Lee Williams, Jr. while in the custody of the Harrison County, Mississippi, sherriff's department. Williams was arrested on misdemeanor charges. After his arrest, witnesses claim he was savagely beaten to death of department personnel. The account is quite sickening.

Apparently everything that happened to Williams was caught on video, as there are several cameras where Williams was beaten, but Balko reports tapes have not been released to the media or Williams family. There is no excuse for this. If the police did nothing wrong, they should release the tapes. Their refusal to do so after several months suggests that the tapes show police conduct the county would rather not reveal — or rectify, for that matter. According to Balko, no charges have been filed (though one deputy is no longer employed by the department).

Balko concludes: "If prosecutors held civilians to the same standards they hold police officers, my guess is that there would be a lot fewer people in prison." Sad to say, but if prosecutors held police to the same standards they hold civilians, there also might be more cops behind bars — and crooked, sadistic cops like those who allegedly killed Williams would no longer give honest, hard-working police officers a bad name.

UPDATE: It seems the feds are on the case. As noted in one of the comments below, the Sun-Herald is reporting:

A former Harrison County jailer's guilty plea today for her involvement in the beating of Jessie Lee Williams Jr. includes admission that a pattern of abuse existed at the jail and corrections officers have covered up other acts of unnecessary force.

Regina Lynn Rhodes, 29, pleaded guilty to depriving Williams of his civil rights under cover of law and concealing information about the Feb. 4 beating, which led to Williams' death. Rhodes, in a written statement of facts, also admitted she struck Williams on his neck, bag and legs while he was restrained in blows that caused bodily injuries.

David Chesler (mail) (www):
Here in Boston, where the tapes would have been accidentally erased by now, four cops were charged in the beating suspect Michael Cox about a dozen years ago. Kevin Conley was convicted of perjury in the matter in February 2005. David Williams, Ian Daley, and James Burgio stomped Cox into unconsciousness and left him to die upon finding out he was one of them.

In none of the reports on this story have I ever heard it suggested that there was anything wrong with what went on except that the victim was a cop -- had he not been a cop there would have been nothing wrong at all.
8.7.2006 5:27pm
JohnAnnArbor:
Hey, the sheriff has a website. Note how the "citizen feedback" link doesn't work.

But, weirdly, they have a live webcam of their booking area.
8.7.2006 5:55pm
Robert Lutton:
I think Balko's comment says it all;

"Here's another one for Justice Scalia's files on "the new police professionalism."

I guess that it is just more original intent....

But he is wrong on one point. It seems that the prosecutors are starting to hold civilians to the same standards as cops. Read the article in todays NYT entitled "15 States Expand Right to Shoot in Self-Defense"
8.7.2006 6:02pm
JohnAnnArbor:
From today's newspaper down there, one of the perpetrators pleads guilty.


The claim is that it's just the beginning.
8.7.2006 6:02pm
Kazinski:
I'm suprised the family hasn't filed a wrongful death suit and subpoenaed a copy of the tape.
8.7.2006 6:04pm
elChato (mail):
This is a very disturbing situation.

I was an assistant DA and have a few observations. One, if the feds are investigating as a matter of typical practice the local DA will probably defer action on the case until the feds act (or choose not to). Two, the feds are well-known for taking a very long time to move on these cases, for reasons that I'm sure have to do with their own internal bureaucracy and review processes. It's been about 6 months since the incident- that is not remotely an unusual timetable.

Three, while people understandably want some reassuring public statement, it is better that prosecutors remain tight-lipped about the investigation before action is taken. Just like we don't know what happened that night, we also don't know what is happening right now in the investigation. You wouldn't want some intemperate statement to derail any ongoing work on the case, or to poison the public mind about the case (think of the Duke lacrosse players rape case- the DA made a fool of himself and a circus out of his case by blabbing endlessly before indictment, and many of his statements about what he thought was the evidence turned out to be untrue).

Four, there are reasons to be deliberate and careful when putting together cases against cops, that have nothing to do with improper favortism to police or outright racism as Balko's blog implies. The evidence is often ambiguous. I admit that it doesn't appear that way here, from what we have seen on Balko's blog; but as with most situations, there may be something we don't know. Proving facts in court is different from cutting and pasting them onto a blog. A related point is that police will sometimes cover for each other or get selective amnesia, and it's very important to thoroughly review all of their stories and compare their interviews. Sometimes it's also difficult to know who did what.

If I had to guess from the little I've read, someone will be charged by the feds within another couple of months.
8.7.2006 6:08pm
elChato (mail):

(1) I posted before seeing JohnAnnArbor's post- so obviously they HAVE been putting a case together.

(2) Mr. Lutton: do you think Balko's comment really "says it all?" And, do you think that article in the NYT accurately described the state of the law?
8.7.2006 6:11pm
JohnAnnArbor:

Read the article in todays NYT entitled "15 States Expand Right to Shoot in Self-Defense"

Spare us. That article is so full of holes it could be used as a screen door.
8.7.2006 6:30pm
SteveMG (mail):
Hmm, I've been in Gulfport/Biloxi numerous times over the past 5-6 years. My late father lived there and I visit his gravesite (in Biloxi) periodically since his death in October 2004.

Since the hurricane hit and wiped out the entire coastal area and the economic base - particularly the casinos - the area has been slow to rebuild. There has been an influx of young males looking for construction jobs and that has tended to upset the demographics somewhat.

I'm not sure about the effect on the Gulfport police department and whether these officers (if we can use that term; thugs is more like it) are new ones hired to replace the previous force. The public services in these areas are still just getting up again. My guess is a lot of the older officers perhaps didn't go back.

Not excusing this appalling behavior of course; just trying to understand, perhaps, the sources of it.

SMG
8.7.2006 6:46pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
if prosecutors held police to the same standards they hold civilians

I'm not denying that police should be held accountable for their actions, nor am I suggesting that the police acted appropriately here. I do, however, think, that the standards for police should be different from the standards for civilians. Police have a responsibility to enforce the law that civilians do not have. If I, as a civilian, see somebody violating a law, I can pretend that I don't see it or I can call the police. A police officer has far less freedom to pretend that he doesn't see it (a civilian might be watching and might complain to the police department) and has the power and perhaps the responsibility to enforce the law being violated.

There is also the question of whether a police officer's actions in, e.g., firing a gun are justified by his experience - experience that is unlikely to be characteristic of the populace as a whole.
8.7.2006 6:54pm
Houston Lawyer:
Yes I'm sure it's all Scalia's fault.

My younger brother worked for a while as a policeman. He was in his late 20s at the time and could bench press about 350 lbs free weight. He had a reputation for kicking a few people's ass when they deserved it prior to joining a small town force. He eventually quit based in part on the continual shit he took for not being aggressive enough with alleged perpetrators.

Some people join the police force because they like to be in charge and occassionally kick someone's ass. Given the pay standards, you will always have these types running amok somewhere.
8.7.2006 7:10pm
SteveMG (mail):
There is no excuse for this.

Harrison County Sheriff George Payne released a statement saying that he was asked by the US attorney not to release his copies of the video pending a completion of the investigation (Statement Link).

What an awful and ugly case. That area is just now starting to get back up on its feet. It doesn't need this.

SMG
8.7.2006 7:13pm
Gene Vilensky (mail) (www):
With all due respects to Houston Lawyer's brother, at least in New York, I find that a good number of the cops could just as easily have been criminals. The kind of people attracted to the line of work are typically the types who couldn't get in to college because they were too busy being idiots in high school. Becoming a cop was the best they had going for them. If that wasn't available, they would have become petty thieves. The line between cop and criminal is really a fine one a lot of the time. And this is even leaving aside the fact that the collective IQ of most large police departments is only exceeded by the department's average SAT score.
8.7.2006 7:49pm
SteveMG (mail):
this is even leaving aside the fact that the collective IQ of most large police departments is only exceeded

Well, I'm agnostic on this issue (collective IQs of PDs) but we do know that often when cities do try to raise the requirements to become police officers, they face extensive litigation alleging that the testing standards are discriminatory.
8.7.2006 8:00pm
Kazinski:
So it turns out that although something terrible happened at the jail, there is no coverup going on, the video tape is in the hands of federal prosecutors, and the wheels of justice are in motion. As much as we'd like the video tape to be released the prosecutor does need time to do his job, and I have a fair amount of confidence that he'll do it right.

Not that there is anything wrong with a little bit of public interest to keep a little bit of heat on. It would just help if the interested public took a little more time to find out the facts without assuming a coverup. And I include myself in that.
8.7.2006 8:07pm
RainerK:
Since we are on the topic of police conduct and how it is dealt with, what about this one?

8.7.2006 8:09pm
RainerK:
Can't get the link to work. May be my Opera browser, so here it is with an extra space:

http://federalism.typepad.com/ crime_federalism/2006/08/malicious_prose.html
8.7.2006 8:18pm
Fub:
RainerK wrote:
Can't get the link to work.
Here is a clickable link to the article you cited: Malicious Prosecution Law in the Ninth Circuit.
8.7.2006 9:05pm
countertop (mail):
Considering how eager Mississippi is to turn their chair on, I guess its safe to assume that the state in busy making reservations in their chair of glory for Regina Lynn Rhodes and all the other cops/correction officers involved.

They wouldn't want people to accuse them of employing different standards now, would they?
8.7.2006 10:02pm
some guest:

JohnAnnArbor:

Read the article in todays NYT entitled "15 States Expand Right to Shoot in Self-Defense"


Spare us. That article is so full of holes it could be used as a screen door.


So how long before VC readers begin proudly referring to themselves as "dittoheads"?
8.7.2006 10:09pm
SteveMG (mail):
They wouldn't want people to accuse them of employing different standards now, would they

Do you think these police officers committed pre-meditated first degree murder?

BTW, according to several sources (two below), the state of Mississippi has executed seven individuals since 1976.

http://deadlinethemovie.com/state/MS/index.php

http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/article.php?scid=8&did=186

Seven executions in 30 years is hardly "eager" application of capital punishment.

SMG
8.7.2006 10:15pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
No, Jonathan: Whether or not the police did anything wrong, they should release video tapes.
8.7.2006 10:31pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
HoustonLawyer:

My younger brother worked for a while as a policeman. He was in his late 20s at the time and could bench press about 350 lbs free weight. He had a reputation for kicking a few people's ass when they deserved it prior to joining a small town force. He eventually quit based in part on the continual shit he took for not being aggressive enough with alleged perpetrators.

A very good friend of mine dreamed of being a cop in his teens and early twenties, I cautioned him about this, because he would be signing on to a bureaucracy - and he wouldn't fit in. He joined his "dream department" - Huntington Beach, and didn't even make it through training before he was drummed out. He then joined Laguna Beach, and served out his career, until disabled on duty. But he was widely ostracized.

However, I am confident he was an excellent cop - something of the cut of Guy Pierce, as Lt. Exley in LA Confidential, or Ryan Phillippe as Officer Hansen in Crash.
8.7.2006 10:59pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Considering how eager Mississippi is to turn their chair on

Lethal injection, actually. (&thanks to Steve MG for his correction.)

We have 50+ people on Death Row IIRC. Can't keep up with the Texans.
8.8.2006 1:44am
Falafalafocus (mail):

The kind of people attracted to the line of work are typically the types who couldn't get in to college because they were too busy being idiots in high school. Becoming a cop was the best they had going for them. If that wasn't available, they would have become petty thieves.

Hmm. I'll be sure to let my brother (who is currently an undergrad) know that he is really just a small time hood. It's really a shame because I always thought that if he worked hard and applied himself, he might just be a murderer or a world renowned art thief. I guess he just doesn't have the brains for those higher ideals.
8.8.2006 1:15pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
So it turns out that although something terrible happened at the jail, there is no coverup going on, the video tape is in the hands of federal prosecutors, and the wheels of justice are in motion. As much as we'd like the video tape to be released the prosecutor does need time to do his job, and I have a fair amount of confidence that he'll do it right.

Not that there is anything wrong with a little bit of public interest to keep a little bit of heat on. It would just help if the interested public took a little more time to find out the facts without assuming a coverup. And I include myself in that.



Well put. Frankly I don't think there's any need to release any video tape unless and until there's a trial and even then only as admissible evidence. We have too many instances of our legal system being turned into a media circus. Glad to see that this isn't one of them.
8.8.2006 2:05pm
Thales (mail) (www):
Hopefully the legal counsel for the police department in question is smart enough to realize that there will be a hell of a spoliation of evidence case, in lieu of or in addition to the inevitable section 1983 and wrongful death suits if that tape mysteriously vanishes. Not that we ought to be too presumptuous, but there is probably something pretty damning on the tape-what other plausible explanation for not releasing it yet is there, other than protecting the guilty?
8.9.2006 12:00am
Fub:
SteveMG wrote:
Do you think these police officers committed pre-meditated first degree murder?
I'm not the one to whom you addressed the question, but I think that "yes" is a perfectly reasonable answer.

Premeditation does not require deep, lengthy and ponderous thought. Simply forming the intent "I want him to be dead" before intentionally striking a fatal blow will do.

Of course, proving to a judge or jury what someone actually thought is a difficult practical matter. But is it unreasonable to believe one or more of Mr. Williams' batterers intended to kill him and decided to do so before they struck him? No.

Killing in the course of torture is another common statutory standard for first degree murder. Can anyone deny that these deputies strapping down Mr. Williams and beating him unconscious were not torturing him?

The question isn't whether Mr. Williams had committed a crime which required his arrest. The question isn't even whether Mr. Williams post arrest behavior merited some use of force to restrain him. He died due to wounds inflicted while he was restrained and utterly harmless to any of his jailers. They could as easily have walked away and not touched him, at no danger to themselves. Instead, they chose to beat him until he was dead or near death.

So, yes, it is reasonable to conclude that they intentionally set out to kill him, and that they deserve conviction for first degree murder.
8.9.2006 1:41pm
SteveMG (mail):
Simply forming the intent "I want him to be dead" before intentionally striking a fatal blow will do.

What was the fatal blow?

If you're still here, one of the problems, it seems to me, to this line of thinking is that the police department brought him to the hospital while he was still alive.

If they had willfully and intentionally wanted him dead, they would have killed him there. Intuition tells me that. I.e., beat him, checked his pulse, beat him again if he still had one until he no longer had a pulse and was dead.

I guess that if the prosecution can show that the officers told one another, "Let's kill him", then that would be evidence of intent.

I'm way out of my league here, so perhaps the legal experts would jump in.

SMG
8.11.2006 8:44pm