We first heard about a "cover charge" in a Think Progress story about a Chicago police officer who plans to file a lawsuit against the estate of a teen-ager he shot and killed. Officer Robert Rialmo claims he shot Quintonio LeGrier seven times because the 19-year-old swung a baseball bat at him. Rialmo claims LeGrier assaulted him and caused him distress. During the incident, Rialmo accidentally shot a neighbor, Bettie Jones, in the chest and killed her.
Melissa Chan, a reporter for Time magazine, picked up on the Rialmo lawsuit, quoting a lawyer, who said, "That's a new low for the Chicago Police Department."
Did Missouri Sheriff Jim Arnott resort to using a "cover charge" when he claimed my wife, Carol, had "assaulted a police officer" during an unlawful eviction at our rented apartment on September 9, 2015, in Springfield, Missouri? Arnott uttered those words after watching from about five feet away while one of his deputies slammed Carol to the ground and yanked violently on her arms in a backward-and-upward direction.
Arnott caused Carol to be handcuffed, placed in the back of a squad car, and taken to the Greene County Jail for booking. During that process, someone finally noticed that Carol was in severe pain and ordered her taken to a nearby hospital for evaluation. X-rays showed that her left arm was snapped in two just above a elbow, a break so severe that it required trauma surgery for repair--and even then, she is expected to have, at best, 75 percent usage of her arm.
Reporter Aviva Shen, at Think Progress, said it is unusual for a police officer to file a lawsuit against the estate of someone he shot and killed--especially when the victim's family already had filed a wrongful-death lawsuit. But a "cover charge," which usually amounts to a bogus criminal charge of assault, apparently happens way more than many of us would like to think. Writes Shen:
Though Rialmo is planning to file a civil lawsuit for his emotional distress, it is not uncommon for police officers to criminally charge victims of brutality with assault, a tactic known as a “cover charge.” New York City prosecutors even charged an unarmed police shooting victim with felony assault, for causing police to accidentally shoot bystanders when they were aiming for him.
An Occupy Wall Street activist named Cecily McMillan was the apparent victim of a "cover charge" in May 2014 in New York City. Aviva Shen also covered the McMillan story for Think Progress:
Occupy Wall Street activist Cecily McMillan has been sentenced to 3 months in jail and five years probation for assaulting a police officer, a charge that sparked outrage and protests earlier this month. McMillan, who said she threw her elbow up behind her instinctively after the officer groped her breast, faced up to seven years in prison for felony assault. The perceived injustice inspired multiple petitions on McMillan’s behalf and close public scrutiny — but could the 25-year-old graduate student’s case help bring attention to others like her?
Despite medical photographs of McMillan’s bruises, including a hand-shaped mark on her breast, Officer Grantley Bovell said McMillan attacked him unprovoked, and prosecutor Erin Choi said McMillan’s claims were “so utterly ridiculous and unbelievable that she might as well have said that aliens came down that night and assaulted her.” Grainy cell phone footage of the altercation makes it unclear whose version of events is accurate.
Shen went on to address the issue of "cover charges":
McMillan’s conviction sparked a flurry of media coverage and a protest in Zuccotti Park. But her predicament is unfortunately quite common. Police often charge victims of brutality with anything from assault to disorderly conduct to discredit their claims of police misconduct. While it is nearly impossible to compile exact statistics on this practice, sometimes called “cover” arrests, video recording has helped expose a number of cases where police have wrongfully charged people or fabricated police reports to justify violence.
|X-ray of Carol Shuler's broken arm|
For instance, another Occupy activist was cleared last year of charges that he “charged the police like a linebacker” after video footage showed cops tackling him as he was trying to get up. In another high profile case, police charged two University of Maryland students with felony assault, claiming they attacked officers on horses after a basketball game. A month later, a video emerged showing the cops beating an unarmed student with batons over a dozen times for no apparent reason.
Perhaps a more accurate term for this nauseating practice might be a "cover your ass charge."
No matter what you call it, evidence strongly suggests Carol Shuler was the victim of a "cover charge" in Greene County, Missouri--winding up falsely arrested and imprisoned, for no reason at all.