Thursday, January 11, 2007

Houston cops kill two men in disputed incidents.

In Houston a police officer is alleged to have executed a man after handcuffing him. The police department, as would be expected, claims otherwise. But two witnesses to the incident dispute the police.

The police version ("that’s my story and I’m sticking to it") is that a police officer pulled over a car for a defective tail light. The dead man, Robert McIntosh, was a passenger in the car. His girlfriend was the driver of the vehicle. Police were supposedly interested in her not McInstosh. She was taken and placed under arrest and was in the back of the police vehicle.

McIntosh, according to the official account was still sitting in the passenger seat and made no move toward the police officer. But the police officer claims he appeared “nervous and agitated” and claims he detected, as the newspaper put it, “a strong odor of narcotics”.

Police officers know what lies they need to tell to justify their actions. And the best lies are those that indicate a subjective evaluation. No one can dispute that the man appeared nervous since the police officer was alone. No one can claim the police officer didn’t smell what I assume to be marijuana. After all you can’t prove a negative. Of course the officer can’t prove it was true either but they have a presumption from the courts to be hones -- a presumption not deserved in my opinion.

Now with these non-objective claims made the officer then claims he is worried the man may be armed. Remember McIntosh is not wanted here. He has done nothing which is aggressive against the officer except look nervous and supposedly give off an odor. The “nervous” claim is made in order to try to justify an illegal search of the man. The police don’t have a right to search a person without reasonable cause. The police believe that wanting to search someone is reasonable cause and will lie in order to justify it. The officer claims he was searching for a weapon. Please note that the officer had no reason to assume the man had a weapon nor any reason to assume that if he did have one it was not legal to do so.

Now perhaps the man was smoking pot. We don’t know. He’s dead! Maybe he had pot on him and he knew the police officer was about to inflict on him an illegal search of his person. We don’t know for sure but press reports don’t indicate that any narcotics or weapons were found.

The Houston Chronicle reports that
McIntosh “pushed and fought when the officer attempted to put him in the patrol car.” Hold on there for a second! McIntosh was sitting in the front seat of the girlfriend’s car. The officer claims he looked nervous and smelled and thinks that justifies an illegal search. Let us assume it did just for arguments sake. Now why is McIntosh being pushed into the police vehicle? If you are attempting to search someone you don’t have them sitting in the back of a police vehicle. You do it with them standing hands against the car or lying flat on the ground. You can’t properly search a suspect if they are sitting down in a car.

So the man is supposedly removed from a car to be searched. Yet apparently he is not searched. Instead he is put into the back of the police car as if he is under arrest as well although, to this point, he has done nothing illegal or aggressive. It is only as the officer attempts to incarcerate the man in the police vehicle that the man attempts to bolt. The officer supposedly then uses a Taser, a lethal weapon, on the man.

Now this stinks to high heaven. If the man was being searched for a weapon as the police officer alleges it would be done prior to placing him in the back of the police vehicle. You don’t put an armed man in the back of a police car under police custody. So any search would have to be conducted prior to placing him in the car. If a search was done the police don’t mention it. It is the justification for taking the peaceful man from the car but apparently doesn’t happen. If it did happen then what did the police find? They mention nothing.

So the reason for removing the man is to search him. It would make sense that he is then searched prior to placing him in the police car. The police neither mention finding a weapon nor narcotics. Trust me, if they found either, they would be mentioning that quite loudly now. They aren’t. The police officer is lying about something. If he searched the man and found nothing why was he being placed in custody? If the man was not searched then why was he removed from the car and being placed in custody? The police have no consistent justification for the officers actions.

According to the cops McIntosh tried to get away when being placed in the police car. A Taser was then used against him. He continued to run. Again note that McIntosh is not aggressing against the cop but trying to get away from him. Considering how often cops in America kill innocent civilians, and how rare it is for them to ever be found guilty of doing so by their own “internal investigations” I don’t blame McIntosh for running. But running is not aggressing. McIntosh was not posing a threat to the officer. He was not the object of the arrest. He was not driving the car with the defective tail light. He apparently had no weapon or narcotics -- at least the police never mention finding either. Yet for reasons not given he is being placed in custody illegally. At this point and only at this point does he try to run. But still he makes no attempts to harm the officer.

McIntosh falls in a ditch and the officer is on him and tries to use the Taser again. Tasers are often lethal and are over used by the cops. In fact they should be illegal for police officers to use them because of their high risk. According to police “The suspect was able to grab the officers and hand with the stun gun and turned it on” him. Again what makes McIntosh a suspect? He was not the object of the arrest and had done nothing illegal by the official account given by the police. Now he is suddenly referred to as a “suspect”. I guess anyone the police don’t like is a “suspect”.

From what is said here it appears McIntosh tried to point the stun gun, which is very painful under the best of conditions, away from himself. That makes sense. The officer claims the stun gun went off hitting the officer. It apparently had no impact on him either. He now steps back and draws his gun. No claim that McIntosh was coming at the police officer is made please note. So far the only claims are that he tried to get away from a police officer who was 1) conducting an illegal search 2) trying to place him into custody for no apparent reason 3) had once used a Taser on the man, 4) had tried to Taser him a second time. All McIntosh has done, in the official account, was to avoid these aggressive acts by the police officer. And so far, other than fleeing the police officer, there is no allegation that he had acted illegally, no claim that he actually had a weapon, and no claim that narcotics were found.

McIntosh is now on the ground. The office’s official account is that he steps back away from the prone victim and shoots him. McIntosh is pronounced dead on the scene.

But Yolanda Perry witnessed the incident. She was standing outside the Greater Lighthouse Church where her husband is the minister. So she is a preacher’s wife -- not exactly someone prone to being a criminal. She says the officer used the Taser on the man and that McIntosh tried to run when this happened. McIntosh then trips.

She says that when McIntosh fell down the officer jumped on him and started hitting him in the face with something she said looked like a flashlight. Police say they don’t know if the killer had a flashlight but doubt it. However, it is not critical that the witness accurately describe the weapon used to assault McIntosh in the face only that this was being done. It could have been the Taser, a flashlight, or something else.

Mrs. Perry says the officer handcuffed McIntosh first and then only pulled his weapon. She says, “he shot him the first time, one time. And then he was, like, hesitant and the shot him... two additional times.” According to the Chronicle the police claim, “Its not uncommon for police officers to handcuff suspects after shooting them.” Paramedics arrived at the scene and then the handcuffs were removed.

This sounds like an execution to me. A witness, who while perhaps unreliable on small details is not prone to lying, says she sees the police officer handcuff the man and then shoot him. Handcuffs are on the dead man when paramedics arrive and then are removed. Supposedly the police routinely handcuff corpses. Right!

The police spokesman “said at least one other witness, a man, had told reporters that the man was handcuffed during the shooting” but as expected he “disputed that witness’s account.”

So we have two different witnesses both of whom say they saw the police officer handcuff McIntosh and then execute him. But the police dispute both accounts. The spokesman was not there. His only reason for disputing this account is that the police officer has a different story. But then police officers always have different stories when they act illegally. Innocent until proven guilty, in the mind of the police, does not apply to civilians only to cops.

But on the surface this looks like an execution. It looks like the cop, Leonard Smith, acted rashly and illegally. He goes after McIntosh who merely looked nervous. Anyone who is not nervous around police officers is woefully uninformed as to how deadly and dangerous cops can be to innocent people. This incident stinks. If this isn’t another killer cop then it’s another cop overstepping the law and behaving badly. And his aggressive, illegal actions escalated the incident. We know this because even by the officer’s account McIntosh remained sitting in the car peacefully until the officer supposedly attempted his illegal search of his person and/or tried to place him in custody for no apparent reason (at least none has been given by the police).

The FBI is now involved and has said it is "highly likely" that they will investigate the case as a a "civil rights" violation of the dead man. An FBI representative said: "Agents have been looking into the matter, and it looks likely that we will open a civil rights investigation to monitor the progress of the district attorney's investigation and the Houston Police Departments internal affairs investigation."

This is the second killing incident involving Houston police in recent days. In the previous case a mentally ill/mentally challenged young man was locked inside his house. The young man, Omar Esparza, was ill. His family had an appointment for him at the Neuropsychiatric Center at Ben Taub General Hospital but apparently the young man was reluctant or afraid to go. He locked his family outside in an attempt to avoid the hospital appointment. The family, not knowing what to do, called the police hoping they would come and help them get back into the house so they could take Omar to the hospital. A friend of Jose Valle, the man's father said that Valle "just wanted help from them to take him to the hospital."

According to police the young man was sitting in the house with a hammer and had assaulted his sister and was "destroying the house" with the hammer. Police claim this is what they were told by the family. The family says that they never said this. They say that while the young man was sitting with a hammer he never assaulted anyone and had not tried to damage the house. He had just locked the family outside and was upset about the hospital appointment.

The family became concerned as police tried to handle the situation. They reminded the officers that their son had mental problems. Esparza remained in the house and did not attempt to come out toward the police or the family. Police officers entered the house and the family heard five gun shots. For five hours after the shots were fired the family was kept outside and police refused to tell them what happened. An ambulance was only brought to the scene three hours later. According to police they fired "beanbags" at Esparza but they had no effect on him. Then they supposedly shot a Taser at him but missed. And they they shot him with a regular gun.

Police originally said they arrived on the scene and "managed" to get the family safely out of the house. They later admitted this was false and that the family was never in the house and never under threat but outside the entire time. Orignally police claimed that the police officers entered the house while a SWAT team was en route to the scene. They later admitted the SWAT team was never called.

The family of the dead man say they are sorry they ever turned to the police for help and that police are lying about the situation in order to justify what they did. It appears the Houston Police Department has a problem. But like most police departments they are in denial about the extent of the problem and try to cover it up and justify it when it becomes apparent.

In an editorial the Houston Chronicle says that Houston brought in former Phoenix police chief Harold Hurtt to head the department and "one of his mandates was to reduce the high number of fatal shootings by police of suspects, many of whom were unarmed." The editorial noted "inconsistencies in initial police reports of the incidents and later official statements raise doubts about basic facts that need to be convincingly explained." They ask: "In a standoff with a mentally illman who did not have a hostage, why couldn't officers have taken the time to summon mental health professionals and devise nonfatal tactics to deal with someone armed only with a hammer?"

But things are set to get worse not better. Police Chief Hurtt says that in the future, when dealling with mentally ill individuals, "his department will likely use its SWAT team and hostage-negotiation tems more frequently". The use of paramilitary SWAT teams is on the rise in America for routine policing and the results have been deadly. Minor encounters lead to deaths of civilians who are unarmed. SWAT teams don't act like cops but like soldiers attacking an enemy. Instead of being used more they ought to be abolished. Read Raldey Balko's book Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America, available here in pdf format at no cost.

Photo: The photo is of Omar Esparza.

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