Tag Archive for 'police'

Jury Holds Gun Store Responsible For Milwaukee Shooting of Police Officers

Gun stores face little liability for the crimes committed with weapons that they sell. This is in part because federal law shields them from most (but not all) liability. However, two police officers have just successfully sued a gun store for negligence, the first-ever successful suit of its kind. If the jury’s verdict is upheld on appeal, this decision will have consequences for gun dealers in Wisconsin as well as in the entire U.S.  Gun Store

The Purchase

In May 2009, Jacob D. Collins entered a gun store called Badger Guns and purchased a Taurus PT140 Pro .40-caliber handgun. Collins was a “straw buyer”- in this a substitute buyer for someone who could not legally purchase a firearm. Collins was paid to acquire the gun for Julius Burton, an 18 year old who could not yet legally make the purchase. When Collins purchased the gun, he was asked whether or not he was the actual buyer of the gun- he said no- and was then instructed by a store employee to change his answer to yes. He did so, and walked away with a gun that the store knew would be given to another person.

The Shooting

One month later, Julius Burton was bicycling down a sidewalk when Officers Bryan Norberg and Graham Kunisch approached him and told him to move. Burton did not heed the officers and continued to bicycle. When the officers pursued Burton, he became aggressive. He then shot the officers seven times. Officers Norberg and Kunisch recovered from the shooting, but have long-term injuries. Burton was found guilty of attempted first-degree intentional homicide and sentenced to 80 years in prison. Collins was sentenced to two years for violating gun laws.

The Verdict Against Badger Guns

This shooting was not the first time a weapon that Badger Guns sold had been involved in a crime. According to the Milwaukee Chief of Police, six Milwaukee police officers had been shot with weapons which originated from Badger Guns between 2006 and 2009. After the Burton shooting, the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and found that in 2005 Badger Guns, was the top seller of crime guns in the entire nation, with 537 guns involved in illegal activity.

Officers sued Badger Guns (and its related company, Badger Outdoors), saying that in this case, their actions led directly to the shooting. Employees had looked the other way to sell a handgun to a “straw buyer.” The officers won. A jury found that Badger Guns was negligent in the sale of the weapon that was used in the shooting. After a jury trial, they won a $5 million dollar settlement compensation for significant injuries that were a result of the shooting. One of the officers lost an eye and suffered brain damage. The other officer was shot in a way that damaged his teeth and jaw. Both suffer from anxiety and other psychological injuries due to the shooting.

A New Era of Responsibility for Gun Stores?

This was the first time that a gun store has been found negligent in court. Gun stores have generally been protected from repercussions for crimes committed with their products due to the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). This act limits civil liability for businesses engaged in the sale of firearms. However, this act still allows lawsuits to be brought against gun dealers who are negligent, sell defective weapons, or engage in criminal behavior. However, these suits are generally not pursued.

People on both sides of the gun debate are excited about this decision for different reasons. For those who favor gun control, this is a blow against indiscriminate gun sales and a reason for gun dealers to want to keep some of their inventory off the street. However, many Democrats, including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, voted against the PLCAA and would like to further increase liability for gun stores. For gun rights advocates, this case sends a strong signal that the PLCAA is working, and that existing gun control laws don’t need to be changed.

This decision will likely be appealed by Badger Guns, and could eventually land in the Wisconsin Supreme Court. However, it sends a signal that this type of lawsuit is possible, and thus will have a more immediate impact on the way gun stores view their obligation to follow the rules.

New Mexico Passes Civil Forfeiture Law

The law often uses strange jargon that ordinary people don’t understand, but will significantly harm people if they did comprehend the words’ meaning. Civil forfeiture is an excellent example.

Civil Forfeiture LawCivil forfeiture is far more insidious than its individual words might suggest. Civil forfeiture is a process where law enforcement can seize property – including cash, cars, or even houses – without a conviction or even an arrest.

Police can bring civil forfeiture suits directly against the property itself, with interesting case names like United States of America v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency or United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins. That’s right; the property is on trial, not the property owners!

Most of the properties subject to civil forfeiture typically come from ordinary drivers. Suppose a man wants to move from New Mexico to California to start a business and has $20,000 in cash in the backseat. If the police pull this man over, they can confiscate the $20,000 if they suspect the cash will be used in a crime.

Civil forfeiture was originally created so that police could enforce drug laws without having to prove the drug kingpins were guilty. Like all legal doctrines, civil forfeiture has grown beyond its intended purpose. Today, civil forfeiture has become a pervasion of the Constitution, with property being seized until the innocent can prove they are not guilty.

The fact that police have been using the stolen money to buy alcohol and slush machines only underscores how corrupt civil forfeiture has become.

Reversing the Trend

A few states are taking measures to end abusive civil forfeiture. Two weeks ago, Governor Susana Martinez signed a bill that restricts civil forfeiture actions to convictions. In other words, the police can only seize property if the owner has been found guilty of a crime. North Carolina is the only other state that has passed legislation to curb civil forfeiture actions. In North Carolina, the police can only conduct civil forfeiture if in cooperation with the federal government.

New Mexico and North Carolina are moving in the right direction, but their laws still assume that allowing police to confiscate property is still a good idea. The best reason police would want to hold property from arrestees is that the property can be used as evidence against the defendant. If the owner has already been convicted though, then confiscating property after conviction defeats the purpose of holding property as evidence against the property owner.

The police would want to hold property either to profit off the things they confiscated or to prevent other criminals from using the property. Keeping gang members from using confiscated vehicles might be a reasonable goal for law enforcement, but we should be wary when police are allowed to profit from their jobs. When police talk about protecting and serving, we should ensure that the people they are serving are the general public, not themselves.

San Francisco’s Police Texting Scandal Leads to Extensive Investigation

In San Francisco, 14 police officers are currently under investigation after racist and homophobic text messages have come to light. Seven officers and former Sargent Ian Furminger are currently suspended while the commission decides if they should be fired. Furminger has been convicted of public corruption charges.

SF Text ScandalThe text messages involve content of lynching African-Americans and burning crosses, along with extremely racist banter between the officers. Texts also include homophobic messages, which is especially surprising given that San Francisco is a city famous for its acceptance of the LGBT community.

An attorney for one of the officers claims they cannot be fired because the statute of limitations has passed. The attorney also claims the department knew about the text messages in 2012, but did not open an investigation until recently. The police chief disagrees with this claim.

Lawyers for the officers also claim the texts do not represent their views, and should be considered just a way of blowing off steam within their intensely stressful jobs.

Sargent Ian Furminger

The texts were discovered during an investigation against Sargent Ian Furminger, who sent many of the texts. Furminger was undergoing a federal corruption case. Convicted of stealing money and property from suspects, he was sentenced to 41 months in prison.

Racism and Homophobia Cannot Be Tolerated in a Police Department

Due to the hateful nature of the texts, the police department found it necessary to investigate cases involving officers dating back 10 years, to ensure no bias or unfair treatment was imposed on racial minorities or LBGT people. Currently, 1,000 cases are set to be reviewed.

How the Nanny State and Technology Intersect to Stop Crime

Ronald Bjarnason, 59, was arrested in Northern California last week on suspicion of a hit-and-run and for possession of marijuana with intent to sell.

Nanny State Police TechnologyNobody reported Bjarnason, no one was involved in the accident, and there were no witnesses. So how did the police know to show up at the scene?

The BMW he crashed sent out an automated distress call, alerting the police.

Police found the car crashed into a guardrail at around 12:20 a.m., but Bjarnason was nowhere to be found. An officer heard rustling in a bush nearby, and a homeowner said his surveillance system captured a man running across his lawn right after the accident occurred.

Officers then came upon a duffel bag filled with 13 pounds of marijuana along the suspected path Bjarnason took to escape the scene.

Police eventually found Bjarnason and arrested him. The Corte Madera police, Marin County Major Crimes Task Force, and the Central Marin Special Response team then obtained a warrant to search Bjarnason’s home in Piercy. They discovered 2,000 marijuana plants, pounds of cultivated marijuana, Ecstasy pills, psilocybin mushroom cultivation, weapons, and cash.

Bjarnason is out of custody pending possible charges.

Nanny State and Smart Technology

Would Bjarnason have gotten away if his BMW did not send a distress call? To be honest, probably not. He still crashed, and he was still caught on camera. The only difference is that the police arrived on scene faster. Is this the result of a nanny state?

In my opinion, it’s not. New technology doesn’t hinder us, it allows us to be safer in a world where 1.3 million people die in car crashes every year. That automated distress call can save the valuable seconds a person needs in order to survive.

Marijuana Wars with Maraschino Cherries and D.C.’s Mayor

Washington D.C.’s decriminalization of marijuana went into effect last week, drawing the wrath of prominent Congress members. Rep. Jason Chaffetz reportedly said D.C.’s Mayor could “go to prison for this.” Federal law enforcement’s war against marijuana has been continuous since Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. However, that war has often shattered lives, as Arthur Mondella’s tragic story reveals.

Maraschino CherriesWhile the District of Columbia was preparing to decriminalize marijuana, local police and federal agents were conducting a raid on Maraschino Cherries Factory in Brooklyn. Law enforcement claimed to have a warrant to search the factory for violations of environmental laws, but the raid’s true purpose was to search for marijuana. The factory owner, Arthur Mondella, had inherited the business from his father and grandfather. Initially Mondella cooperated with the police. Authorities eventually discovered a secret room concealed by a fake wall. Mondella immediately went to the bathroom.

His sister, obviously concerned, followed. Mondella asked her to “take care of my kids” and then Mondella shot himself. After Mondella’s suicide, police entered the hidden basement. Law enforcement found a 2,500 square foot marijuana farm underneath the cherry factory.

Maraschino Cherries Kingpin vs. Washington, D.C.’s Mayor

Although I drew comparisons between D.C. and Mondella, there are enormous differences. In D.C., the voters had approved a measure decriminalizing marijuana. If D.C. were a state rather than a federal district, Congress would not be as hostile. Mondella, on the other hand, was a private actor growing marijuana in knowing violation of the law. Mondella wasn’t trying to change the law, which would be legal; he was violating the law for, possibly, his own profit.

News coverage of the cherry factory conflict with each other. Most stories quote an unknown police officer claiming Mondella wouldn’t have done any jail time. However, some stories claim the officer wouldn’t have done time for spilling cherry syrup in the water while other stories quote the officer saying Mondella wouldn’t have done jail time for marijuana.

Although Mondella wouldn’t have gone to jail for cherry syrup, the idea that Mondella wouldn’t have gone to jail over marijuana is laughable. Mondella was concealing what looked like a multi-million dollar farm on his property. Federal prosecutors would have indicted Mondella as a drug kingpin and there is no doubt that Mondella would have served significant time. If Congress is threatening to lock up the mayor of D.C. for enforcing an initiative to decriminalize marijuana, imagine what the Justice Department would do to a man caught running an entire drug operation in his factory.

States across the country might be decriminalizing marijuana, but there’s no doubt that some federal actors still want to win the war on marijuana.