The Beating of Abdul Salaam by “Violent Repeat Officers” of the Baltimore Police Department’s “Special Enforcement Section”

July 01, 2013 — Abdul Salaam was profiled by two Baltimore Police officers from the Special Enforcement Section, an undercover unit formerly known as the Violent Crimes Impact Section — renamed (or according to Police Commissioner Anthony Batts “dismantled”) after a series of controversial incidents involving officers in the unit.

Salaam was pulling up to his home when the unmarked Baltimore police vehicle turned on its lights behind him. The officers inside — Nicholas Chapman and Jorge Ruiz — immediately approached the vehicle and attempted to remove Salaam from his seat by force. From the point in which he was stopped until the point he was placed in the “paddy-wagon,” the officers had violated his rights on various levels: being pulled-over without reasonable suspicion, being searched without consent or probable-cause, demonstrating excessive force, both before and after cuffs had been applied, on both his hands and legs.

The entire incident was witnessed by over a dozen witnesses, from youth to elderly who were out front of their homes when the police initiated the stop. Many of the witnesses recorded the incident, the content in this video is only from one.

According to documents, the officers said they pulled Salaam over because he did not have his seat-belt on, however Salaam asserts that he did and that in fact when the officers initially attempted to remove him from his vehicle by force, he was being held back by his seat-belt.

Even if it were a seat-belt violation, it does not give the officers any excuse to ask to search his vehicle.

The officers did not find anything illegal after they themselves illegally searched Salaam’s vehicle.

All charges on Abdul Salaam were dropped later.

However no actions were taken against any of the officers involved. In fact, little over two weeks later, two of the officers mentioned above — Nicholas Chapman and Jorge Ruiz — were involved in another similar incident.

On July 18, 2013, Chapman and Ruiz — who should have been on administrative-leave — were driving around in another residential neighborhood nearby, this time pulling over a man named Tyrone West.

According to Police, the officers initiated the stop because West had conducted an illegal maneuver and then was driving suspiciously slow — (in a residential neighborhood, with stop signs every block). According to Chapman and Ruiz, they approached the vehicle and asked for permission to search the vehicle, to which the driver and passenger consented (again, with no reasonable suspicion).

However according to neighbors who witnessed the incident, the officers immediately approached the vehicle and pulled West out by his dreadlocks — a scene that sounds very similar to the one that had unfolded little over two weeks prior.

According to witnesses, West was attempting to defend himself from aggressive officers who had gone beyond the point of their authority. By the end of the encounter, at least ten Baltimore police officers stood around a motionless body that they had beaten to death.

The Baltimore Sun has been aware of Salaam’s experience since November, and has even bee in possession of official documents regarding his case since mid-January of 2014, but has yet to publish anything regarding Salaam — or the connection he has with West.

More to come…

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Baltimore Public Safety Collective Seeks Answers from Police Commissioner

Below is the text of a letter that members of the Baltimore Public Safety Collective will deliver to Commissioner Batts at the April 10 BPD/Mayoral town hall, to be held at the American Brewery building, 1701 N. Gay Street, at 7 p.m.  The Eclipse will document any response (or non-response) received by the Collective and post a wrap-up of tonight’s and any future town hall.


 

Dear Commissioner Batts:

We are a collective of Baltimoreans formed out of great concern for the safety of the residents of and visitors to our city, particularly those who have been or are at risk of becoming victims of violence at the hands of the Baltimore Police Department.  We were pleased to learn that you and the Department will be holding town halls to address the serious problem of violence in Baltimore and of your intent to engage the community in making the city safer.

As you know, some of the most serious recent violent acts have been committed by your officers.  We share your concern about street gangs; however, while most of us and most Baltimoreans in general will have little or no interaction with gang members, nearly everyone in the City will at some time or another encounter police officers.  Therefore it is critical that the Department and the community immediately identify and work to eliminate the causes of officers’ violent behavior.

While we plan to do our part by continuing to attend the town halls, we thought it would be appropriate to lay out our questions in writing below, so that we do not take up inordinate amounts of speaking time at these district-specific meetings that should be used by those living in each district to address their neighborhoods’ discrete concerns.

  • Please provide or instruct us on where to obtain a comprehensive list of victims killed or injured in police shootings and beatings in Baltimore City since 2004.
  • You have publicly stated that you do not have the authority to suspend officers.  Who does have this authority?
  • How can citizens access information about and track the progress of internal BPD investigations and disciplinary procedures?
  • How many officers are currently out on suspension or are on some type of restricted duty?
  • You have said in recent Twitter town halls that only 30% of BPD officers live in Baltimore City.  Of the 30%, how many live in the districts to which they are assigned?  Beyond directing employees to state homeownership incentives, what is the Department’s plan to increase the percentage of City residents on its payroll?  Do you and other high-ranking Department officials live inside the City?  How many of 2014’s police-involved shootings have been committed by non-resident officers?
  • What is the Department’s explanation for the high number of police-involved shootings so far this calendar year?
  • What is the expected timeline for the hiring of a permanent academy director?  Will that person be give a mandate to eliminate or decrease violence committed by officers?

We would appreciate a written response to this letter by April 30, 2014.  We look forward to your response and thank you in advance for your cooperation as we address the crisis of police violence in Baltimore.

 

Police shoot robbery suspect outside Baltimore homeless shelter

Police shoot robbery suspect outside Baltimore homeless shelter

(my summary)

A man was shot by Baltimore City Police because he fit the description of an “armed robber” given by a local homeless shelter. Witnesses state that he did have a gun that he aimed into the air. This is not confirmed. As the man lay “writhing” on the ground the police noted a firearm near him as they placed their crime scene tape around him. A woman, possibly a relative of the shot man, was arrested with no explanation offered.

The police have shot five people this year, four in this past month alone.

No additional details were forthcoming.

_______________________________

(my critical analysis)

Fenton’s narrative is deliberately misleading. While the title of the article states that it will discuss the police shooting of a man, the first two paragraphs deal with a separate, unrelated homicide. By setting the article up as he has, Fenton conjures the image of the brave police valiantly working a homicide, presumably protecting citizens. This helps take the heat off of the police who shot a man who fit the description of an armed robbery, thus, committing the fifth shooting of a citizen by the police this month. Fenton’s tone does not state this as a problematic fact, leaving the reader with the impression that the problem is with the victims rather than the police. Remember – he starts the article talking about an unrelated homicide the police had just come from – which makes it easier to underplay the idea of police actions as problematic.

Reading between the lines, in Fenton’s convoluted article, I know that a man (near a homeless shelter – information designed to cast further doubt on the victim) may have looked like a description of an armed robber. Police encountered him. He allegedly had a gun and allegedly pointed it in the air. A friend says the victim was recently robbed and may have had a gun for protection. He did not point at the police. The police allegedly ordered him to drop the gun and then fired six shots – injuring the victim.

Then Fenton mentions that a probably female relative of the victim who tried to help the man was taken away in handcuffs. Wait. What? They arrested someone who was a relative of the man who was now “writhing” on the sidewalk while they continued to place the crime scene tape around him.  For what? Why? It appears that her crime – witnessing the police action, aiding the victim, or simply getting in the way of dirty cops covering their tracks – required her arrest.

The need to control the narrative – to shape the way in which this story is told – is something Fenton does over and over again. The same theme of big brave police being forced to shoot and/or kill a suspect rather than arresting him/her is found throughout his body of work. He is paid by the Baltimore Sun – there is no money or job security in his telling the truth, turning the lens through which he writes into one of questioning police behavior or even one of neutrality.

Glaring omissions in this story beg to be told but will never be addressed by Fenton or the Baltimore Sun.

–        How does the homeless shelter play into this – I know they are inherently unsafe and so do the police.

–        Is this a homeless man? Because the article implies that he is, and if he is what can this tell us about the relationship that the BCPD have with this population.

–        How did the encounter actually go down? Did the police rush the man? Did they try to talk reasonably or did they shoot first? What procedures were and were not followed in this incident – this seems to me to be the crucial question in all police involved shootings – we need details

–        Who were the police involved? Do any of them have a history of shooting other citizens or other illegal police behavior?

–        Are victims of police shootings considered guilty and in need of serious harm or death because no-one will question the very machine built to protect the cops, the city government, the corporations and all of the powerful who have the ability to stop this genocide? This machinery is one that Fenton perpetuates.

–        RACE. How does Fenton leave this issue out of his articles? Because the police are disproportionately shooting black men in Baltimore. So this story, assuming the victim was black, fits the racial profiling long established by the police here in Baltimore. How do you leave this most important equation out of this story? Baltimore police are involved in a genocide, they are involved in race-based hate crimes.

The Morrell Park “Police Impersonation” (Or Was It?): BPD Kill Burglary Suspect and Sit on Details for Days

On Wednesday, February 12, 2014, Baltimore Police Department officers shot two suspects in two separate incidents, wounding an unarmed robbery suspect at the Mondawmin 7-11 on Liberty Heights Avenue and killing a burglary suspect in a house on Spence Street in Morrell Park in the Southwest.  Details have been spotty from both the Department itself and the Baltimore Sun, which published a confusing, 24-paragraph article from Justin George and Colin Campbell on its website Thursday morning purporting to contain “new details.”  We will look at each incident in its own post, starting with the fatal shooting.

The Morrell Park Shooting – Police Impersonation?

The second paragraph of George & Campbell’s Thursday article reads:

In a span of less than two hours Wednesday night, Baltimore police officers killed a man they said appeared to be impersonating an officer during a burglary and wounded another man they said robbed a convenience store. [emphasis added]

No specific official is quoted saying the man appeared to impersonate an officer, though Sgt. Sarah Connolly is named later as the spokesperson responsible for other, contradictory information.  Much later in the article, the 21st through 23rd paragraphs (which many readers will not get to) give more detail while creating more confusion:

At 10:52 p.m., officers responded to a home in the 1800 block of Spence St. in Southwest Baltimore’s Morrell Park neighborhood for a report of a burglary. As they entered shortly before 11 p.m., officers saw signs of a burglary in progress and encountered two people. Both wore clothes that had the word “police” on them.

Police said one of the men had a gun, and the officers yelled several times at him to drop his weapon before both officers shot him. The man, who was not identified, was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after. No officers were injured.

Detectives believe the men broke into the home but did not impersonate police to gain entry, Connolly said. [emphasis added]

We do not know which, if any, Baltimore Police Department spokesperson or officer gave the information on the first page: that officers believed the man they shot to death was impersonating an officer.  We do know that the official, named spokesperson says that detectives did not impersonate police.  Readers who did not make it through the first 23 paragraphs of this 24-paragraph article do not know this, however.

Another bit of confusion related to this shooting was what became of the second suspect.  As of the publishing of the George/Campbell article, neither the name of the victim who was killed nor the name of his alleged burglary accomplice had been released.  According to the final paragraph:

Police are not releasing the names of any of the suspects or the officers who fired at the suspects. Their names will be released 48 hours after each incident, which is Baltimore police policy.

Colin Campbell and another Sun reporter, Carrie Wells, were asked for an update that same day:

By Saturday, BPD still had not released the names of any of the suspects as required by their 48-hours policy, according to Wells who was attempting to get the information:

On Monday the 17th, the fifth day after the shooting, neither the Sun nor the Department had reported any new information:

Finally, after asking directly on Twitter, we got the name of the second suspect:

The Department responded to subsequent requests for basic details with silence:

However, later on Monday night, Justin Fenton of the Baltimore Sun published an update on the Sun’s website, headlined “Morrell Park police shooting victim refused to drop revolver, records say,” which he tweeted about like so:

The article names the shooters as Officers Michael McNish and Aileen Villodas and details their claims that before being killed the victim, 22-year-old Bernard Lofton, refused to drop his gun and “turned toward” a third officer, Hovhannes Simonyan, and declared that the officers were “going to have to shoot” him.  It also names the second suspect, Brandon Smith, and in the final paragraph, lists the charges against him:

Smith has been charged with burglary, conspiracy to committed armed robbery, impersonating a police officer, and other related charges, and was being held on $150,000 bond. An attorney is not listed in court records.

There is no mention in the Sun’s coverage to date of the discrepancies in what was reported by the official in charge of the Department’s Twitter account and the actual charging documents, nor any mention of the violation of Department policy that occcurred when BPD held back the victim’s and suspect’s name for nearly five days.

In my next post I will look at the sparser but more troubling coverage of the shooting of the unarmed suspect in the Northwest.