ACLU Sues City Of Omaha, 32 Police Officers For Use Of Excessive Force, Warrantless Search And Seizure

from the slow-day-crime-wise-in-Omaha dept

If there's any question as to whether the officers subduing Octavius Johnson (who was apparently asking why a vehicle was being towed) applied excessive force (looks like the officer gets a few swings in before other witnesses arrive), it was answered by the 20+ cops who stormed the house (without a warrant, obviously) in order to seize and destroy the footage of the arrest contained in Jaquez Johnson's cell phone. The fact that their wheelchair-bound aunt was thrown to the ground during this altercation is nothing more than a side effect of her inadvertently being between dozens of cops and the person they were pursuing.

The cops that stormed the Johnson house to destroy evidence failed to comprehend that everyone has a camera these days -- like, say, the neighbor across the street who obtained this footage of the excessive force and the blitzkrieg of Omaha cops that followed. has a timeline of the incident, which begins at 5:23 pm when an officer responds to a call to check on an unoccupied vehicle. Two hours later, the aunt is on the way to the hospital while three of the Johnson brothers are being booked on a variety of charges. All three have one charge in common: the rather meaningless "obstructing an officer."

The neighbor's recording made it impossible for the Omaha PD to sweep this under the rug (not that it didn't try). The officers' own admission that they had seized Jaquez Johnson's phone and erased his recording made it impossible for the department to pretend everything that happened was purely legal. In the end, four officers were fired for their involvement in this situation. As PINAC reported back in May, even the county attorney was unable to find anything less than damning to say about the incident.
“The conduct inside after the officers went inside (the house) is much more disturbing” than what’s on the YouTube video.

Kleine on memory card: He said the knowledge that the memory card was taken by Officer James Kinsella “comes from Officer Kinsella himself and what he said to other officers.”

Kleine: ”The officer’s conduct in taking that memory card is so out of line, it’s criminal conduct. We don’t know what’s on that memory card” and that’s what we want to find out.

On OPD trying to hide misbehavior: ”It’s of tremendous concern to the chief and it’s a concern to us. We can’t have this type of conduct. It’s a betrayal of public trust.”
Now the ACLU is joining the Johnson family in suing the city of Omaha, along with the 32 police officers involved.
Members of an Omaha family filed a lawsuit in federal court today alleging that excessive force and a warrantless search and seizure were used in response to a parking incident in March 2013. The Johnson family has never received compensation for the damages to their property or their medical expenses resulting from the incident. All charges against the Johnsons were dropped. An internal investigation resulted in the termination of four officers and criminal charges being brought against two of the officers for either tampering with evidence or being an accessory.
Unbelievably, the entire situation was ignited by nothing more than a parking violation. By the end of it, the Johnson house had been swarmed by Omaha police officers, something the ACLU claims is not simply a misuse of public funds but a clear violation of citizens' rights.
"Despite the fact that no crime, drugs, or weapons were involved, more than twenty officers arrived at the Johnson's home, invaded their privacy, confiscated their property and unnecessarily injured four members of the family," said cooperating attorney Diana Vogt. "You do not lose your right to be treated with respect by law enforcement simply because of where you live in Omaha or the color of your skin."

"Pulling over twenty officers away from other parts of the city should sound an alarm for taxpayers," said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. "Omaha Police have already been warned by the ACLU about their failure to respect the rights of those filming law enforcement. This incident further reinforces that independent oversight is needed to help evaluate training practices and provide for responses when officers depart from their training and standards."
According to the ACLU's statement, the Omaha PD's actions have generated several reports of officer misconduct and racial bias over the past few years. The PD also seems to have a problem understanding that citizens have a right to record on-duty officers. The ACLU hopes this lawsuit will help change the PD's underlying culture.
In the lawsuit, the Johnsons ask for monetary damages for their medical bills, damages to property, lost time from work and other expenses. Additionally, the ACLU hopes for punitive damages against four officers along with mandatory training for all OPD officers in de-escalation and First Amendment rights of those filming police.
The firing of the four officers directly involved with the destruction of evidence is a good start. The fact that this escalated from a parking violation to 20 officers storming a house is a clear indictment of the mindset guiding Omaha's law enforcement entities. At no point did anyone try to defuse the situation or ask themselves why 32 officers were needed to arrest one man disputing his vehicle being towed. Notably, the first call for backup went out solely because "people were coming out of the house." If that's all it takes to shake an officer's confidence, any arrest happening in public is going to be a problem -- both for the skittish officer(s) and for any citizens who happen to be in the area, especially if they're carrying cell phones or cameras.

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  1. identicon
    Quiet Lurcker, 9 Jan 2014 @ 9:20am

    And this is news?

    I remember this case. And I saw the aftermath of the questionable shooting by OPD of a cousin of the victim.

    This is nothing new, as far as OPD are concerned.

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