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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Texas trooper is indicted as police perjury grabs headlines, perhaps even in Missouri, where child-porn charges hit sheriff's office that brutalized my wife

Brian Encinia's arrest of Sandra Bland
(From Slate)
The Texas state trooper who conducted a traffic stop that led to the death of black, female motorist Sandra Bland has been indicted for perjury, and the state has launched proceedings to fire him.

The indictment and termination of Brian Encinia comes as salon.com reports that police perjury threatens the criminal justice system across the nation. (Newsflash: Our justice system at all levels already is a mess, a problem President Barack Obama has ignored, and police perjury is an issue in both criminal and civil cases.)

Meanwhile, the Missouri sheriff's office that brutalized my wife, Carol, during an unlawful eviction and left her with a shattered left arm stands in an uncomfortable spotlight as one of its own deputies was indicted yesterday on federal child-pornography charges. Juan T. Jones, who had been a patrol officer with the Greene County Sheriff's Office since September 2013, was fired yesterday and charged with possession of child pornography.

Jones worked for Jim Arnott, the sheriff who stood about five feet away on September 9, 2015, as three of his deputies surrounded Carol Shuler, slammed her to the ground, and left her with heavy bruising, a possible concussion, and a shattered left arm.

Where does police dishonesty enter the picture in the Missouri case? Arnott immediately pointed at Carol and claimed she had "assaulted a police officer"--when, in fact, she was the victim of an assault. Arnott caused Carol to be falsely arrested and imprisoned, and she was released only when X-rays showed her arm was so badly broken that it would require trauma surgery. Our guess is that threw a bit of a wrench into Arnott's plan to bring bogus assaulting-an-officer charges.

Did Arnott, or someone under his command, file a false incident report that would amount to the kind of perjury that got Brian Encinia fired and indicted in Texas? Do the arrest and termination of Juan T. Jones, who is black, raise issues about possible racial discrimination in Arnott's department? We will examine those questions in upcoming posts.

Juan T. Jones: Arrested on child-pornography charges in
Greene County, Missouri
(From News-Leader)
Sandra Bland, meanwhile, might be receiving justice in death that she was denied in the last moments of her life. Bland was arrested on a misdemeanor charge after Encinia became sensitive when she refused to put our her cigarette during a traffic stop. Encinia forced her from the vehicle, and Bland spent three days in the Waller County jail before she was found dead from what has been ruled a suicide.

A Texas grand jury found yesterday that Encinia lied under oath in his report about the incident. From a report at Yahoo! News:

Encinia, who is white, pulled Bland over on July 10 for making an improper lane change near Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater, where she had just interviewed and accepted a job. Dashcam video from Encinia's patrol car shows that the traffic stop quickly became confrontational.

The video shows the trooper holding a stun gun and yelling, "I will light you up!" after Bland refuses to get out of her car. Bland eventually steps out of the vehicle, and Encinia orders her to the side of the road. The confrontation continues off-camera but is still audible.

How did perjury enter the picture? From the Yahoo! report:

Encinia's affidavit stated he "removed her from her vehicle to further conduct a safer traffic investigation," but grand jurors "found that statement to be false," said Shawn McDonald, one of five special prosecutors appointed to investigate.

The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. At least one protester called the misdemeanor charge a "slap in the face to the Bland family."

Jim Arnott answers questions at press conference about
child-porn charges against Officer Juan T. Jones
(From KY3)
Is it time the United States started taking police perjury seriously? According to a report at Salon, titled "Perjury USA: Rampant police lying taints criminal justice system nationwide," the answer is yes. From the report:

That Chicago police who witnessed Officer Jason Van Dyke kill Laquan McDonald in a hail of sixteen bullets may have lied to cover it up is a reminder that misplaced trust in law enforcement can lead to injustice. According to civil rights attorneys, the systemic police lying evidenced in Chicago is a nationwide problem.

“It has been shown repeatedly that police usually close ranks and form a narrative that immediately puts the police in the defensive to justify whatever force was used,” says Ezekial Edwards, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Criminal Law Reform Project.

Lies, he says, are told not just to cover up major events like a shooting but also to justify illegal searches in run-of-the-mill cases.

“If the facts are very helpful to a police officer, obviously they’re going to tell the truth. But if they’re not,” says Edwards, “a lot of the time you’ll be dealing with testimony that’s less than honest.”

This all hits close to home because Carol and I have seen considerable evidence that we are dealing with systemic police lying in Greene County, Missouri, which is home to Springfield, the state's third largest city.

Carol's case, plus the arrest and termination of Juan T. Jones, indicates the overwhelmingly white Greene County Sheriff's Office might have radically different standards for white officers and black officers. Should that merit a federal civil-rights investigation? Did someone commit perjury in Carol's case, much like what Brian Encinia is alleged to have done in Texas?

We will address those questions, and more, in upcoming posts.


Anonymous said...

LS...this is just a dialogue question...by no means contrarian to your views. There is no doubt crooked cops/sheriffs/etc. exist in this crazy country. Still, there are more good cops than bad...people who put their lives on the line for us for all the right reasons. My question is how do we not cast a shadow over the good cops for the actions of a few?

Again...I know your personal experiences have framed your viewpoint where you may not trust any cops, but I'm just curious as a journalist how do you (or other journalists) balance that out?

As I said...not being argumentative. Great coverage of the bad cops. Just thought the question might spark dialogue among your readers and I would love to hear your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see that the trooper might be held accountable in Texas, although he probably deserves a felony charge of some kind.

legalschnauzer said...

Very good question, @12:18, and I appreciate the thoughtful way you presented it. Not sure I have a good answer for you, but would welcome the thoughts of others. I'm reminded of yesterday's Hall of Fame vote in baseball. Certain players--Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds--are not getting elected because they were part of baseball's steroids era. Mike Piazza, who was elected, is believed by some to have been involved with steroids, so some think his accomplishments are tainted. Meanwhile, players who never touched a steroid probably will be painted with that brush if they played during the Steroid Era. The bad actions of a few often taint the good actions of many, and I'm not sure how to change that.

As for cops, news reports (newspapers, local news, etc.) are filled with stories about officers who apparently make legitimate arrests, behave professionally--and in some cases, even heroically. Perhaps our best bet is to hope those accounts balance out the others.

Based on my time in newsrooms, I believe most reporters want to give cops every benefit of the doubt--and they might do that too much. A reporter on the cop beat needs cooperation in order to do his/her job, so rocking the internal boat is a tough thing to do. The big problem now for cops is that cell-phone cameras, Facebook, the Web, etc., make it possible for regular citizens to circumvent the mainstream media and take cop misconduct right to the public. They also can contact a blogger like me, who might be willing to look into their information more than an MSMer would. It's a new playing field, to be sure.

Facebook has been great for cats; not so good for cops.

Anonymous said...

Hope you get the incident reports soon on your eviction and wife's broken arm. Should be interesting.

Anonymous said...

I don't buy the suicide finding on Sandra Bland. Such a shame, and I hope we someday learn what really happened to her.

legalschnauzer said...

I don't buy it either, @4:37. I know from my five-month jail experience in Alabama that being incarcerated is an extraordinarily isolating experience. You are walled off from the world, and a person with foul intentions can do most anything to you. From what I've read about Ms. Bland, she did not sound like a strong candidate to commit suicide.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen al.com this afternoon? You think Joe Blackburn was framed for blowing the whistle on the hunting camp?

Anonymous said...

I hate to point this out, but do you think the family would tell you if Mrs. Bland had been suicidal during the few weeks leading up to the incident? Of course everything you've read makes it sound like she would never commit suicide, it goes with their story to sue the state. If she did kill herself, then nothing is owed to the family. You are skeptical of law enforcement and seem to believe that they all lie, but don't seem to question everybody else with the same scrutiny. It's a shame, but people lie all the time in court to get what they want and there is no punishment for anyone.
As far as the Jones case goes, it was a federal charge, which means it wasn't necessarily investigated by the Greene County Sheriff's Office. It could have been a federal agency, local police or a separate county. So, to make it a racial thing, without all the facts would be premature at best. Iit is no surprise, that if an officer is charged with a federal crime, the agency will fire them.

e.a.f. said...

The American judicial system needs an over haul. this constant putting people in jail for minor things is just beyond the pale. its costly. its de humanizing. It is profitable for the bail bondsman industry.

In Canada we get a notice to report at a specific time and date for most minor things. People do report, get their finger prints, picture done, etc. and then given a date and time of trial. Its cheap and cheerful. No one goes to jail for traffic stops unless there are outstanding serious warrants. yes you go to jail, when arrested for robber, rape, murder, etc, but most crimes, not so much. We have a smaller jail population and save a bundle. Oh and our crime rate is lower.

Eviction notices, not handled by regular cops. Unarmed "sheriffs' do that work.

Part of the problem as I see it with American police officers is many have been in the military and are a tad too gung ho and many might be suffering from PTSD. Pay is low. In Canada most cops make $70K a year and up. Police departments get to pick and choose who they hire and we still have problems. not as many as Americans do, but there are still problems as there are in all countries. I'd suggest the problem may also be the lack of education and young age people become police officers. When you have a police force where almost everyone has a degree of some sort, you usually have a few people who can actually think, read the law, etc.

legalschnauzer said...

@4:46 -- sorry to be slow posting your comment and my response. Having to work around some technical issues at the moment.

Yes, I did see the al.com story on Joe Blackburn and immediately got a sick feeling in my stomach. In fact, I saw the headline--something like "Hoover resident and former law prof indicted on child porn charges--and immediately thought, "I bet that's Joe Blackburn." I didn't think that because I thought Joe has a child-porn problem. The thought came because I know he's made powerful enemies. There was a picture with the headline, but I've never met Joe in person, so I did not recognize him.

I hope to learn more about the situation, but yes, the idea of a frame job, related to Joe's persistence on the hunting-club story certainly came to mind. He's made a lot of serious enemies in the Bham legal world--from major divorce firms, to Bradley Arant (which defended the firms), to the federal judiciary (where Joe's ex wife, Sharon Blackburn, resides) to the Cumberland Law School, where his job and retirement were threatened.

I need to withhold any final thoughts until I learn more about the case--if that's possible--but I don't think a frame job is out of the question. I very much would like to know if any action was going on behind the scenes related to Joe's case or the hunting-club issues. Was he pushing something that caused renewed anger and nervousness among the legal elites?

I know this: Joe Blackburn is an extremely intelligent guy, and I'm sure he knew he had made enemies in his own profession by speaking out. That makes me think he would be ultra careful about possibly giving law enforcement anything to hit him with. Perhaps people who are into child porn don't think that way, but as a tax expert who knew the ins and outs of a complex field, I find it hard to believe he was that careless.

I see three possibilities:

(1) Feds planted child-porn evidence in a true frame up;

(2) Feds conducted surveillance on Joe for years and finally came up with some child porn info that gave them something to hang him with;

(3) The feds did their jobs properly, and Joe got nailed for having a child-porn problem. He certainly doesn't seem like that type, but who knows how these things work?

I have strong doubts about No. 3. Either of the other two, I think, are possibilities.

What do you think? Certainly interested in insights from others. Either way, it's a very disturbing story.

legalschnauzer said...

You raise a number of interesting points, @5:18. A couple of responses:

(1) Your question about whether Ms. Bland had been suicidal is legit, I think. But I'm not sure you are right that if suicidal tendencies already were there that would free the sheriff and county from liability. If being arrested under dubious circumstances and thrown in jail caused her to act on suicidal thoughts, I could see where the sheriff/county still would have liability. Welcome thoughts from others.

(2) As for the Jones case, yes, that was a federal investigation, so I don't think the Greene County issue comes up at the investigatory stage. But there are other angles that, in my view, raise issues of discrimination, and I will spell those out in an upcoming post.

Anonymous said...

The liability would be on the jail only if they knew about her suicidal mindset and did nothing about it (put her on a suicide watch).

@ e.a.f. - As a rule, people do not go to jail for a traffic offense. In fact there is no fingerprinting or processing at all. You are given a court date when you are issued a ticket and are expected to either plead guilty and pay your fine before the court date or show up in court. If you do neither, you will have a failure to appear warrant issued. You will then be arrested because you didn't handle it. It isn't common for people to be arrested on routine traffic stops, but if the driver becomes belligerent or uncooperative, it isn't unheard of. Alabama used to require a signature on tickets and if you refused to sign it you would go to jail. In essence you were signing a recog bond on the side of the road. Now with the computerized ticket, the driver isn't required to sign. Some officer don't have the computer to print a ticket, so the old hand written tickets are still used. If you refuse to sign the hand written ticket you still go to jail to make bond. There is also a non-traffic ticket that is used for other minor offenses. The problem comes with what is considered a minor offense. In California, possession of marijuana is a ticket where in Alabama it's an arrest. I don't consider possession of marijuana an offense at all, but I don't get to make those rules. The lawmakers make those decisions based on what they beleive the population wants. If they don't like what the area they live in wants or does, maybe they should move to Canada.

legalschnauzer said...

@8:59--Can you find any case law regarding the liability issue on such cases? Not trying to be contrarian, but really would like to know if there is case law that is on point with an issue like this. In my view, this is not just about liability for the jail. But if the sheriff and the county caused her to be incarcerated when she should not have been, and she then committed suicide, I think liability could be a big problem for them.

The civil case probably will settle without a court determination on these issues, but it would make for an interesting trial.

e.a.f. said...

A. 8:59 a.m. from what I've read tickets in many areas of the U.S.A. is how the police department is funded in whole or in part. as to what the population wants, I doubt it. its usually what the politicians and the well connected want and that applies in any country.

Anonymous said...

@ e.a.f. - I was attempting to address your concern that people are arrested for minor violations of law. Now you want to change your concern to where the money goes. Some of the money does go to the agency, but do you realize how many tickets each officer would have to write to fully fund his own salary, much less vehicle and fuel. That kind of statement shows that you are just attempting to bash the system we have in place, without knowing any facts. By your statement of how Canada treats minor infractions, versus how America treats them, you seem to approve of Canada's system. Do you believe that the politicians and the well connected just happened to create a system that gets your approval? I think it may have had more to do with the majority of people wanting the same thing you want. While I don't necessarily like speed limits, I agree that we do need some regulations and laws about how to handle red lights and stop signs are completely necessary. If you violate the law, you have to pay a penalty. The penalty is usually a fine. Where do you think the fines should go? There are speed traps, but if you don't break the speed limit, your money stays in your pocket.