CHICAGO — A Wisconsin jail commander repeatedly lied after her officers cut off water to an inmate who later died of dehydration, prosecutors said on Monday as they described a series of lethal missteps and a two-year investigation.
The commander, Maj. Nancy Evans, was one of three Milwaukee County jail officials charged with a felony in connection with the 2016 death of the inmate, Terrill Thomas, who had no access to water for seven days before he died.
“When police make an arrest and they bring somebody into our custody,” said District Attorney John T. Chisholm of Milwaukee County, who announced the charges, there is a “fundamental obligation” to “make sure they are kept safe.”
Major Evans, who could face more than four years in prison, was accused by prosecutors of “withholding information from her superiors, lying to her superiors, failing to preserve evidence, repeatedly lying to law enforcement investigators and lying at the inquest” last year where jurors recommended criminal charges against seven jail employees.
The announcement on Monday of charges against Major Evans and two others — Lt. Kashka Meadors and James Ramsey-Guy, a correctional officer — came more than nine months after that inquest, a relatively rare court proceeding in which jurors review evidence relating to a death and decide whether to recommend charges. The four other jail employees who were faulted by jurors at the inquest are not expected to face charges, Mr. Chisholm said, but the investigation was continuing.
Mr. Thomas was arrested in April 2016 and accused of shooting a man and later firing a gun inside a hotel and casino, according to local news reports. A federal lawsuit filed by Mr. Thomas’s estate said he had bipolar disorder and had been prescribed medication by a psychiatrist.
Once he was at the jail in downtown Milwaukee, prosecutors said, Mr. Thomas flooded his cell by stuffing his mattress cover into the toilet. The charging documents said that when Mr. Thomas was moved to another cell, Lieutenant Meadors told Mr. Ramsey-Guy to turn off the water supply to that cell. For the next week, Mr. Thomas did not leave his cell, and was not given any water.
“He was literally punished for the manifestations of his mental illness,” said Erik Heipt, a lawyer for Mr. Thomas’s estate who has filed a federal lawsuit against Milwaukee County and jail officials. “He was not in his right mind. You don’t take someone like that and then punish them by turning off their water.”
After Mr. Thomas’s death, prosecutors said, Major Evans had a guard watch a week’s worth of security video footage of Mr. Thomas’s cell, which showed that the water had never been turned back on. Prosecutors said she did not take steps to preserve that video, and it was eventually recorded over and deleted.
Major Evans was charged with obstructing an officer, a misdemeanor, and misconduct in office, a felony. Mr. Ramsey-Guy and Lieutenant Meadors were each charged with felony neglect of a resident of a penal facility, which can carry more than three years in prison.
Court records did not list lawyers for Major Evans or Mr. Ramsey-Guy as of Monday afternoon. Both defendants — as well as Lieutenant Meadors — were suspended with pay on Monday by Richard Schmidt, the acting sheriff of Milwaukee County.
Ben Van Severen, a lawyer for Lieutenant Meadors, said his client had worked at the jail for more than 17 years and intended to plead not guilty.
“We were very surprised to see the charges,” said Mr. Van Severen, adding that “we would just caution against a rush to judgment.”
Sheriff Schmidt said on Monday that he was “very confident” the jail had been “transformed” by new leaders since he succeeded David A. Clarke Jr. as sheriff last year. Mr. Clarke’s tough-on-crime approach was lauded by President Trump and other conservatives, but critics said he led a troubled department and a dangerous jail. Four inmates died at the Milwaukee County Jail in 2016, and a Wisconsin congresswoman called for a federal investigation of the facility.
Asked on Monday whether Mr. Clarke, who was not charged, had been investigated in connection with Mr. Thomas’s death, Mr. Chisholm said he believed his office had charged the people who were most culpable.
Sheriff Schmidt said the accusations against his employees were “horrific” and that “my heart bleeds” for Mr. Thomas’s family.
Sheriff Schmidt said a decision on departmental discipline for the officers could be made as soon as Friday. “This is serious stuff,” he said. “I care.”
Published at Mon, 12 Feb 2018 23:51:52 +0000
BALTIMORE — Two Baltimore police detectives were convicted of robbery, racketeering and conspiracy Monday in a trial that is part of a federal investigation into corruption among rogue members of the city’s police force.
The detectives, Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, were shackled and led out of Federal District Court after the verdicts were read. Some of Mr. Hersl’s relatives burst into tears, while one of his victims called out: “Justice.”
The two detectives were each convicted of racketeering conspiracy, racketeering and robbery under the federal Hobbs Act, which prohibits interference with interstate commerce. They face up to 20 years in prison on each count, for a total of 60 years.
The acting United States attorney for the District of Maryland, Stephen Schenning, said he hoped the police corruption case would “begin a long difficult process of examining how” the Baltimore force polices its own.
“We hope that police officers live up to the honor and privilege of the badge,” Mr. Schenning said.
The trial was dominated by four former detectives who testified that the Police Department’s elite Gun Trace Task Force was made up of thugs with badges who stole cash, resold looted narcotics and lied under oath to cover their tracks. They detailed acts of police criminality including armed home invasions stretching back to 2008.
The acting police commissioner, Darryl DeSousa, said in a statement immediately after the verdict that the department would move to fire Mr. Hersl and Mr. Taylor, who have been suspended without pay since being indicted and arrested in March.
“We recognize that this indictment and subsequent trial uncovered some of the most egregious and despicable acts ever perpetrated in law enforcement,” Commissioner DeSousa said.
William Purpura, Mr. Hersl’s lead lawyer, said that the Hersl family was disappointed in the verdict but noted that the jury “did acquit him of one of the more serious crimes.” He said a decision about a possible appeal would be made later.
Both men were cleared of possessing a firearm in pursuance of a violent crime.
Mr. Taylor’s defense team and his relatives did not immediately speak to reporters after the verdict.
Much of the testimony during the trial focused on Gun Trace Task Force members who had pleaded guilty, including the unit’s onetime supervisor, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins. He was portrayed as leading his unit on a tireless quest to shake down civilians and find “monsters” — big-time drug dealers with lots of loot to steal.
His subordinates testified that officers were told to carry BB guns in case they ever needed to plant weapons and that they occasionally posed as federal agents when shaking down targets.
Former colleagues said Mr. Jenkins’s sledgehammer approach to policing extended to having actual sledgehammers — along with crowbars, grappling hooks, black masks and even a machete — stored in his police-issued car to ramp up illegal activities. The task force has been disbanded.
It is not clear when Mr. Jenkins and the other former detectives who pleaded guilty will be sentenced by a federal judge. Four ex-officers testified for the government in hopes of shaving years off their sentences.
The defense teams for Mr. Hersl and Mr. Taylor had asked jurors to doubt the motivations of the government’s witnesses, including a number of convicted drug dealers who received immunity for their testimony.
Mr. Schenning said he was thankful the jurors saw through that.
“That was the business model for this organization: They thought if you rob drug dealers they have no place to go,” he said.
Mr. Purpura did not deny that his client took money but said the thefts did not rise to the more serious charges of robbery or extortion. The two defense teams also attacked the truthfulness of the four disgraced detectives, noting that they had admitted to lying for years to juries, judges, colleagues and their families.
Assistant United States Attorney Leo Wise reminded jurors that the central question in the trial involved the actions of the rogue police unit and that whether some of its robbery victims made money “selling drugs or Girl Scout cookies” was irrelevant.
Public defenders say there could be a few thousand tainted cases stretching back to 2008 involving the jailed members of the Gun Trace Task Force. So far, roughly 125 cases involving the eight indicted Baltimore police officers have been dropped.
“Beyond the sheer credibility issues that should have been raised at the time, given how embedded their crimes were in their police work, all cases involving these officers are tainted,” said Debbie Katz Levi, head of special litigation for Baltimore’s Office of the Public Defender.
Published at Tue, 13 Feb 2018 03:22:48 +0000