On May 27, Jason Wescott was killed in a narcotics raid performed by Tampa, Florida, police, and set in motion by an anonymous informant. Anonymous until now, that is. The man who told police that Wescott, a small-time marijuana dealer with one misdemeanor on his record, had weed in the house has identified himself as Ronnie Coogle in a lengthy Tampa Bay Times story.
Coogle is just one of the unknown number of informants who report to police and set drug raids in motion. Some of the more notable SWAT raids of the past decade have been precipitated by informants. Most of the time, their credibility is something known only to police—or they don't exist at all, as in the fatal case of Kathryn Johnston. The public, and every other actor in the criminal justice system, is supposed to trust these people, who are often felons themselves, or who are receiving payment or other incentives for their reporting.
Ronnie Coogle, as the Tampa Bay Times notes, is not exactly trustworthy, even as he cries and explains how guilty he feels about 29-year-old Jason Wescott's death. Coogle is now somewhat like investigative journalist Clifford Irving, who wrote a fake autobiography of Howard Hughes, and then professed to be telling the real story in his follow-up, The Hoax. It sounds good and all, but, well, where's your credibility after everything you've done?
On the other hand, learning Coogle's identity helps us get a picture of someone who is not a monster—and might even be sincerely regretful—but who still helped cause a man's death. Coogle has a rap sheet, which includes beating a man with a bat, robbery, and threatening to kill his wife. Almost worse is the story he tells about stealing drugs, lying repeatedly, and setting up people like Wescott for a few hundred bucks reward. Wescott and his boyfriend sold a little pot, but they told Coogle that they had no idea where to get the heroin he requested. Coogle admits he told cops a different story.
Regardless of how we feel about Coogle as a person, shouldn't we be more concerned about the story he's telling now? As the article notes, the one undeniable fact is that the Tampa Police trusted Coogle enough to send a SWAT team into a home where Jason Wesott had a gun (ever since being robbed the previous year). For trying to protect himself, Wescott was shot dead in front of his boyfriend. This was ruled justified back in August, since Wescott allegedly pointed a firearm at Officers Officers Eric Wasierski and Edwin Perez as they rushed into his home.
Police found two bucks worth of pot at Wescott's home, and had precipitated maybe $200 worth of sales over months of undercover work. Not exactly worth anyone's life, that. But should Coogle's tale about $5,000 worth of pot and heroin connections have justified a SWAT raid in the first place? No, even though cops claim Coogle told them Wescott sold pot while carrying his gun each time. (Coogle denies this, but it was the final piece of the puzzle.) Drug raids are dangerous, and they are completely unnecessary.
Rare, already-violent situations call for SWAT—that is all. Yet the American Civil Liberties Union found that 62 percent of SWAT raids are carried out over narcotics. Seven percent of deployments are for a hostage situation. Residential raids on homes endanger cops, and endanger homeowners who may or may not be armed, and may fear that a SWAT team is actually a gang of private-sector home invaders.
The only thing worse than having this kind of deadly policy is deploying it at the word of people like Ronnie Coogle. But at least he seems to grasp his part in Jason Wescott's death, while the cops who shot him got off scot-free, and their boss blamed Wescott, suggesting the marijuana—or lack thereof—was irrelevant. Of course, marijuana is not irrelevant if cops think allegations of selling the plant is worth risking someone's life—and when this kind of lunacy is the status quo for policing in America.
Now onto this week's bad cops:
-Let's take it back to 1992, when NYC Mayor David N. Dinkins pushed for an independent civilian police review board for the New York City Police Department (NYPD). Thousands of off-duty cops blocked traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge for an hour in protest, while the cops assigned to, you know, police them did nothing. This rather amazing event is a fascinating artifact to compare and contrast with contemporary police behavior towards protesters—even if you disagree with blocking traffic, knowing that an estimated 10,000 cops once did the same thing for their cause makes irritation seem a bit rich. And yes, this also shows that the NYPD warring with NYC mayors is nothing new.
Still, the backlash against NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is now so bad that hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of cops turned their backs towards him while he spoke at the funeral this weekend for one of the Brooklyn cops who was executed by a crazed gunman. And that, regardless of your feelings towards de Blasio, is not a good thing. Cops need outsiders to hold them accountable, because they keep proving they cannot be trusted to do it themselves. If they're this infuriated by timid comments from politicians, it doesn't bode well for their capacity to learn, grow, and reform their busted institution.
-Hell, NYPD officers even paid to fly an anti-de Blasio banner over the city on Friday. Which they can do, but Jesus Christ, why?
-On Christmas Eve, police in Greenville, South Carolina reportedly Tasered a 34-year-old autistic man. According to a complaint filed by his mother Carolyn, police Tasered Tario Anderson when they saw him walking through his neighborhood and he tried to run away when the cops tried to ask him about a shooting report. Anderson is a big guy, and he's an adult, but he also only speaks a few words, like 'Yes' or 'No.'
Officer Johnathan Bragg has a point that it's not police officers' job to diagnose someone with a mental disability, but they do need to recognize that such people exist, and that they will likely have a difficult time responding to police instructions. Carolyn Anderson also said that police threatened to Taser her if she didn't calm down after seeing her son on the sidewalk, and that he has been charged with resisting arrest and interfering with police work. The correct thing to do at the very least is drop all charges against Tario.
-The former police chief of New London, Connecticut will not be criminally charged for his 2013 solicitation of a then-18-year-old woman arrested for drinking and giving a fake name. A few days after the March 2013 incident, Chief David Seastrand allegedly told Janelle Westfall that if he could photograph her naked, these charges could go away so long as she kept her nose clean for two years. Westfall says she was scared, especially when Seastrand indicated she shouldn't tell anyone, but of course she told her father, who informed state police. Seastrand resigned a month later. He is barred from ever becoming a cop again, yet he hasn't been criminally prosecuted for his disturbing conduct and did not have to admit wrongdoing. Westfall got $70,000 from the city, but she's disappointed that Seastrand more or less got away with it.
-On December 26, a federal judge allowed a wrongful death lawsuit over a 2011 drug raid to go ahead. Framingham, Massachusetts police officer Paul Duncan accidentally fatally shot 68-year-old Eurie Stamps in the head during a raid over Stamps' step-son's alleged crack dealing. Duncan had neglected to turn the safety on during the raid, and he said he tripped and accidentally fired his weapon. The judge said Stamps' constitutional rights might have been violated. At the time, the warrant specified that the retiree was not a threat.
-Twenty-four retired and current black NYPD cops told Reuters about some of the racial profiling they've suffered from their fellow officers while off-duty.
-We picked the folks at the Nashville Police Department as the Good Cops of the Week before, but Chief Steve Anderson's Friday response to a complaint about the kid-gloves treatment dealt out to anti-police protesters garners him his own week of commendation. Maybe protesters shouldn't get taxpayer-subsidized coffee, but Anderson's plea for nuance, understanding, and a sensable police response to what might technically be lawbreaking—but doesn't deserve head-cracking and arrests—is extremely heartening to read. Anderson also manages to mention that the police are intended to be "merely a representative of a government formed by the people for the people—for all people" and then sneaks in a crack about how weird it is that the complainant is pulling the "Won't someone think of the children?!" card. If Anderson is this thoughtful in his everyday life, every damn police chief needs to look at him and start following his example.
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