Category Archives: George Floyd

Police Disciplinary Records Are Largely Kept Secret In US

FILE - In this June 7, 2020, file photo, protesters participate in a Black Lives Matter rally on Mount Washington overlooking downtown Pittsburgh, to protest the death of George Floyd, who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. In recent years, there have been dozens of examples of officers who had numerous complaints against them of excessive force, harassment or other misconduct before they were accused of killing someone on duty. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
Associated Press, by Claudia Lauer and Colleen Long, June 12, 2020

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Officer Derek Chauvin had more than a dozen misconduct complaints against him before he put his knee on George Floyd’s neck. Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City officer who seized Eric Garner in a deadly chokehold, had eight. Ryan Pownall, a Philadelphia officer facing murder charges in the shooting of David Jones, had 15 over five years.

But the public didn’t know about any of that until the victims’ deaths.

Citizen complaints against police across the U.S. are largely kept secret, either under the law or by union contract — a practice some criminal justice experts say deprives the public of information that could be used to root out problem officers before it’s too late.

In recent years, there have been dozens of examples of officers who had numerous complaints against them of excessive force, harassment or other misconduct before they were accused of killing someone on duty.

Confidentiality “makes it really tough for the public to know just who it is they are dealing with and to know whether their department or any particular officer is one they would want out in the streets,” said David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who studies police behavior.

While the U.S. considers ways to reform American policing following the sometimes violent protests that erupted nationwide over Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, complaint data is getting renewed attention as a way to track and correct rogue officers and perhaps head off more serious instances of brutality.

Both Democratic and Republican reform bills in Congress would make officers’ disciplinary records public and create a national database of allegations — a shift in political will that didn’t exist just a few years ago.

Police advocates argue that withholding allegations is necessary to protect officers’ privacy and keep them safe. Police unions have fought in contract negotiations and in state legislatures for confidentiality. In some cases, records are erased after as little as two years.

“The unfettered release of police personnel records will allow unstable people to target police officers and our families for harassment or worse,” said Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association in New York City. “A dangerous cop-hater only needs a police officer’s name, linked to a few false or frivolous complaints, to be inspired to commit violence.”

Personal information on officers is already being leaked online, according to an intelligence document from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, obtained by The Associated Press.

Police unions argue, too, that the overwhelming majority of complaints are deemed unsubstantiated after internal investigations. But that argument carries no weight with the many activists who say police departments tend to protect their own.

Out of about 5,000 complaints brought against New York City officers last year for offenses such as discourtesy, excessive force and abuse of authority, 24% were substantiated, according to the city’s independent Civilian Complaint Review Board.

Bowling Green State University criminologist Phil Stinson, who has collected data on thousands of police charged, investigated or convicted of crimes, said that most officers go through their careers with few complaints against them, and that generally a small percentage of officers account for an outsize share of complaints.

Stinson recalled an Atlanta officer who had a personnel file full of “frightfully similar” complaints from women of sexual misconduct. It wasn’t until his file was leaked to a local TV station that he faced any discipline.

Around 40% of current New York City police officers have never received a civilian complaint, while 32% have one or two, and one officer has 52, the highest, according to the review board.

In New York, Pantaleo, the officer who put Garner in a chokehold in 2014 but was not indicted in his death, had eight disciplinary cases of abuse and excessive force, four of which were substantiated. But his record was secret until a staff member at the review board leaked it. The staffer later resigned.

New York legislators this week voted to repeal the law that kept officers’ names secret along with specifics about complaints made against them. The repeal passed largely along party lines, and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it Friday.

Chris Dunn, legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, rejected the notion, advanced largely by Republicans, that police disciplinary records should be kept private like medical information.

“They have no privacy interest in acts of misconduct, in the use of force or the killing of civilians,” he said. “When a police officer walks out the door in uniform, they’re a public official, and all of their conduct should be subject to public scrutiny.”

In Philadelphia, Pownall’s record was made public along with that of a few other officers named in hundreds of complaints after reporters filed freedom of information requests in 2018. As for Chauvin, who is charged with murder in Floyd’s death, his records became public after similar requests — and the details are still being withheld.

Many departments disclose portions of officers’ complaint files. Some release files only for certain time periods. Some withhold complaints if the internal investigation did not substantiate them. Others, like many Texas departments, hold back cases that did not result in a suspension or firing. But in most cases, the information is released only if the person requesting it names the officer.

But by the time a reporter or member of the public knows the officer’s name, it can be too late.

In Scottsdale, Arizona, Officer James Peters was involved in seven shootings from 2002 to 2012 that led to six deaths. Six of those shootings were deemed justified by the department. In the final case, Peters killed an unarmed man holding his 7-month-old grandson.

The city paid $4 million to the victim’s family to settle a lawsuit that noted Peters had at least two previous complaints, including a reprimand for mishandling a gun he pointed at his own face.

Some states, cities and police departments are working toward transparency, however grudgingly.

A 2018 California law requires departments to start releasing information about misconduct claims, though only when officers are found to have improperly used force or fired their weapons, committed sexual assaults on the job or been dishonest in their official duties.

Several departments responded by destroying decades of records. Others filed lawsuits asking that the law not apply to files from before the law took effect in 2019.

A court ruling in a lawsuit in Chicago opened up the system there a few years ago. A data program created by an activist and journalist at the center of the lawsuit has even been used by members of the department to look at others’ files when they are assigned new partners or new officers are transferred into their units.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and Mayor Jim Kenney pledged this week to publish a detailed quarterly report on complaints against city officers.

But that report, like the complaint data currently available online, will be scrubbed of all details, including the names of any officer, accuser or witness, said City Manager Brian Abernathy.

“I think we still recognize that officers are employees,” he said. “We’re trying to balance their rights and the public’s right for transparency.”


Long reported from Lowell, Indiana. Associated Press writer Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix contributed to this report.

CORRECTION – Benicia Youth organizing a second peaceful protest for racial justice – Saturday June 13, 11AM

By Roger Straw, June 9, 2020 and UPDATED June 11, 2020 3:50pm

Benicia youth are organizing a second protest rally and march in remembrance and honor of all victims of police brutality, to be held at (CORRECTION…) GATHER AT 9TH STREET PARK on Saturday, June 13 at 11am.

The Facebook event gives details:

“Hi all – There’s been a lot of confusion around the protest for Saturday so I wanted to clear it all up for everyone. I’m not the original organizer for it but I offered my help in letting everyone know about it and gathering supplies. The organizer wasn’t aware that there was a separate protest for Sunday. The two organizers have been in contact and decided to combine the two. So, the new plan is everyone meets at 9th street park, we march up to the gazebo on first street, we do speeches and allow people from the crowd to speak, and then we march back down to the park. I’ve updated the flyer and I’m going to put the new one in the comments down below. There will be drinks and snacks provided. Please remember to wear a mask and stay 6 ft apart. Please please share this with everyone so no one is confused. There will be someone at the gazebo to direct people to go to the 9th street park if they go there first. This has been really complicated to put together and I appreciate everyone who has been understanding about it. Also want to give a special shout out to everyone who has donated food, drinks, supplies, etc. Your kindness does not go unnoticed. Please tell anyone you know that is planning to go to meet at 9TH STREET PARK AT 11AM ON SATURDAY. See you all there.❤️


I tracked down one of the organizers, Journey Eske, who responded to my interview questions with written answers:

By Journey Eske…

My main reason for wanting to help organize this event was not only because of George Floyd, but also to bring awareness of an issue black and brown men and women face on a daily basis. Police brutality and racism are things people of color have to endure simply because of the color of their skin. They fear for their lives when going to the store, taking a walk in their own neighborhood, or holding their cell phone in their hand. It is important that we realize police officers are not the entire issue but more so a small part of a much bigger problem, the justice system as a whole.

We’ve been reaching out and spreading the word about the event on social media.  I made an event page on facebook, and over 100 people have responded saying they’re going. I’m hoping for at least 200, but the more the better. Racism is taught and is a learned behavior, so the more people who come, listen, and are willing to make a change, the better it will be for the human race as a whole.

There will be speakers at the event. We will also have drinks and dry snacks for everyone who attends the protest. After speeches, there will be crowd engagement, giving people from the audience a chance to come up and say a few words. After that, we will march down first street in honor of George Floyd and countless other people of color who have fallen victim to police brutality and racism.

We are strongly asking protesters to maintain 6 ft of distance between themselves and everyone else, as well as wear a mask, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.  I’m not sure if we’re marching to the police station, but I hope so as a lot of the change needs to happen there.

You asked about me: I graduated from BHS in 2017 and I am currently a student at DVC majoring in nursing. I heard about this event through a friend on snapchat. The original organizer, Lafayle Fuller, told me I could do a speech and asked me to help put this event together. I immediately said I would, and started gathering supplies and reaching out to as many people as I could to let them know about the protest. Putting an event like this together is definitely a group effort.

We checked in with Benicia Police and they were made aware of this event. Steve Young, a member of the Benicia City Council, reached out to me and said he would like to say a few words during the protest, as he is very supportive of it. He also is going to try to arrange for a voter registration table so people at the protest can register to vote.

CORRECTION: The organizers of this march are not affiliated with Benicia Youth Against Brutality.

Benicia Mayor and City Council: “We are saddened and angered…and we stand against systemic racism”

Statement from your Mayor & City Council

City of Benicia Announcements, Wednesday, June 10, 2020 at 6:10 PM

We are saddened and angered by the killing of George Floyd and we stand with everyone in our community and across the nation against systemic racism. Enough is enough. Our communities are demanding change that is deserved and past due. It’s time for us to listen and take action to support our black, indigenous and people of color communities. We need to be clear in our expectations of our local, State and national leaders. And we won’t stop there. We must examine our actions and policies that impact all people of color and make meaningful changes.

We encourage and support the peaceful protests taking place in our City and are proud of our youth’s leadership in reaching out to so many people from all walks of life to come together with such heart and passion. Let this be the turning point our society must make so that everyone in our community can lead a life of dignity and promise.

Let us work together to make real progress, to learn from the experiences of others, to listen with empathy to new voices—voices unheard for too long—and to examine our own views and protest peacefully for this change. We know the answer is not violence. Let us come out of this time stronger and better.

Benicia Chief of Police Erik Upson “I’m very proud of the culture we have built in this department and the humanistic approach we take that focuses on the community. I know there is more we can do, and I look forward to making changes that will strengthen our relationship with those we serve.”

The death of George Floyd is appalling and unacceptable, and we condemn the actions of those four police officers in Minneapolis. Chief of Police Erik Upson said, “I’m very proud of the culture we have built in this department and the humanistic approach we take that focuses on the community. I know there is more we can do, and I look forward to making changes that will strengthen our relationship with those we serve.”

We are confident in Chief Upson’s leadership and the Benicia Police Department’s training and practice of de-escalation, and community policing as well as his sincere desire to listen to the community and continue to advance the Department towards its vision.

We are committed, as leaders in Benicia, to better outcomes for our black community here and across our country. We honor peaceful protest and recognize the need for immediate and lasting social change. We hear you, we see you, we stand with you. By working together, Benicia will be a community where everyone is valued and respected.

Benicia Herald coverage of Youth Against Brutality protest in Benicia

Benicia High School students hold Youth Against Brutality protest and march on First St.

Protesters in Benicia call for an end to police brutality and justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
The Benicia Herald, by Galen Kusic, Editor, and Aleta Andrews, Correspondent, June 5, 2020
Protesters in Benicia call for an end to police brutality and justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Photo by Dr. Teresa Van Woy

As the country continues to mourn in anger over the brutal police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week, activists and protesters have taken to the streets to call for justice and accountability for not only Floyd’s murder, but the countless other black and brown people that have been murdered by the police without repercussion or consequence.

BHS student and organizer Tyler Payne speaks about the need for more unity than ever to achieve equality for all.

While surrounding cities like Vallejo, Richmond, Oakland, San Francisco and others have experienced police violence toward protesters, Benicia thus far has experienced peace. As looting continues and curfew restrictions have been put in place county-wide, Benicia High School students organized a peaceful Youth Against Brutality Black Lives Matter march and protest on Sunday in honor of Floyd and the many other black people that have been killed at the hands of law enforcement or racists.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the country with over 105,000 deaths and nearly two millions positive cases, millions are also calling for justice for the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year old black man that was hunted down and shot by two men while jogging in Georgia in Feb. and Breonna Taylor, who was shot by police eight times while asleep in her bed as police unlawfully entered her home without a warrant looking for a man that did not even live at the residence.

Parent Kashana Lee speaks about the need for police to become more involved in combating racism within their own departments.

The outrage throughout the nation has sparked protests, arson and destruction of businesses, but it should be noted that much of this destruction is not caused by peaceful demonstrators. Movements for civil rights have historically been infiltrated by racist and anarchist groups in an attempt to draw attention away from the issue at hand.

While Benicia has thus far escaped looting or riots, it is up to the citizens and residents of the community to stand up to hatred, police terrorism and violence to create a more just and democratic society for all.

The demonstration began at 11 a.m. at the First Street Park near the Gazebo and marched down First St. to the waterfront. In an effort to make it known that Benicia does not support racism and that people are willing to fight for those that have lost and fear for for the lives, the marchers stood in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and oppressed people nationwide.

BHS student Lia St. Pierre quotes Huey P. Newton that you can’t jail a revolution.

Herald correspondent Aleta Andrews took photos and caught up with some of the protesters to get their take on the state of the nation and what can be done to make positive change for equality.

“We must find a way to escape this cycle of hatred and violence, we must take the lead for our brothers and sisters cause a cause without a voice or direction is a lost one,” said Benicia High student and organizer Tyler Payne. “The enemy is hatred – one of the devil’s greatest weapons. The true way to combat that is and will be found in unity. Great minds together can change so much.”

Activist Amon speaks out at the Benicia rally and protest.

As people marched down First St., students called for an end to ignorance and for people to stand up and fight for equality for all. White privilege was continually discussed, citing that white people must recognize their privilege and realize that just because an issue is not directly affecting them, that it is even more important to use that privilege for good and stand up for what is right through protest, civil action and a change in policy.

“People need to start texting those numbers for people to realize what privilege they have and make a list of all the possible ways to help– join a protest, be there as an ally, just listen to the voices that need to be heard, be active,” said BHS student Lia St. Pierre.

Benicia High students protest the police murder of George Floyd.

Later on during the protest, Benicia Police officers took a knee in the park to show solidarity with the protesters, but activists called on law enforcement to do more in the wake of these horrific tragedies.

“The most important thing that happened today was that the police eventually stood in solidarity with us after many conversations,” said BHS student Elijah Hahn-Smith. “This isn’t just a today thing, this needs to happen everywhere.”

BHS student Alexander Valencia speaks out that racism is taught, not born with.

Other protesters realized the fine line that many must walk, as members of their own families are literally torn apart by the civil unrest and anger from both sides. The consensus remained the same, law enforcement must do more to make a change and stand for what is right, instead of going with the status quo that has brought the nation to a boiling point.

“For me, I’m put in a hard spot because I have family members that are police,” said Adriana Bernasconi. “I want them to speak out more than ever to weed out the bad ones.”

Other BHS protesters noted they had been to protests around the area and relayed information that police had actually instigated tension amongst activists.

Protesters marched down First St. in Benicia to honor the life of George Floyd.

“We were at the protests in Oakland on Saturday and it started peaceful and then the police initiated the aggression,” said BHS student Alexander Valencia.

Students called for an end to racism and for people to look deep within themselves to realize who they really are and what is just. Without introspection and reflection from white people, law enforcement and lawmakers, many believe nothing will change and things will only get worse.

“We need to dismantle racism no matter how many generations it might take,” said BHS student Winnford Dela Torre. “We are here centuries later but we’re still in the same place.”

BHS student Winnford Dela Torre speaks out against systemic racism.

While many strides have been made through community activism throughout the nation to improve community policing practices and oversight, there is still a long way to go.

“What needs to happen now is that our local branches, our local police need to support us,” said parent Kashanna Lee. “I’ve had my own experiences with fear for me and my children. If they were marching with us today and made a clear statement saying, we are here for you, that would make a difference. This needs to happen on a national level and change legislation. Police are being treated better than civilians.”

While activists did see Benicia Police kneeling with protesters as a positive moment, they also saw it for what it was – a tactic to keep protesters peaceful.

“The big thing that is being missed is that this moment gave people hope that we can actually make a change,” said activist Amon. “It inspired people that were able to force them to bend to our will rather than it being the other way traditionally…so when things get tough as the revolution moves forward, they have something to look back on and hold on to as a reminder of how powerful we truly are united.”

Photos by Aleta Andrews and Teresa Van Woy.