Tag Archives: Arson

Update: Las Vegas Cop Charged With Arson And Fraud Not Prosecuted Because Video Evidence “Somehow” Became Corrupted

Officer Jeffrey Harper LVMPD K-9 Fired Arson Evidence Destroyed

LVMPD K9 Officer Jeffrey Harper was not prosecuted on arson and insurance fraud charges after video evidence was “corrupted.” Instead, he was fired for burning a trailer in January 2016.

In April of 2016 I wrote about LVMPD K-9 Officer Jeffrey Lynn Harper, who was facing charges of arson and fraud after he was caught intentionally  burning a “four-wheeler” and a trailer used to haul it in an attempt to collect money from the insurance policies covering the vehicles.

In spite of Officer Harper’s claims that the fire was started by a flat tire he  got while driving on a highway just outside of Las Vegas, firefighters determined that gasoline had been poured on the trailer and rolls of paper had been used as a makeshift wick. Also, as they were fighting the fire Harper returned to the scene of the crime and made some incriminating comments.

One of those statements was, “I’ll bring it up. It’s the elephant in the room. Yeah, I’m upside-down on my trailer,” according to an arrest report. A reference to being behind on the payments for the trailer, which is a pretty good motive for burning it. Those statements were made to a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper and recorded on his dash-cam video.

Note: If you have videos, stories, upcoming events/protests, or personal interactions with the police (and/or “justice” system) that you would like to share, send them to us and we will do everything we can to bring it to the attention of the world. In addition, you can visit the Nevada Cop Block resources section for information and links to the rights of citizens when dealing with police, during which you should always be filming.

So, obviously, this should be a fairly cut and dry case for prosecutors. Except, that video never made it to court. At least not the part where he incriminates himself on camera. Somehow, that one portion of the video ended up getting “corrupted” and is now unviewable. By some luck of the draw however, everything up to and after that point is perfectly fine.

Just for good measure, lead investigator Denell Hoggard violated evidentiary rules by failing to turn in any of the video evidence, not even the portions that weren’t damaged. As a result, a mistrial was declared and prosecutors have stated that they have no intentions of refiling charges against Officer Harper.

Via Adam Herbets at Fox5Vegas.com:

The NHP trooper’s dash camera footage was given to CCFD and LVMPD. At that point, investigators learned that the segment of the video in which Harper arrives went “missing.”

“It wouldn’t play and (Trooper McElroy) didn’t know why,” investigator Michael Doughty testified.

As a result, the lead investigator on the case decided not to turn over the evidence because a portion of it was “corrupted.”

“I did not feel like it had any evidentiary value,” lead investigator Denell Hoggard testified.

“Okay, and why? Why is that?” asked defense attorney Andrew Leavitt.

Hoggard stumbled with her words.

“I don’t — have an answer for it really. I — I — uh — me not turning it over? It was an error. I did not do it intentionally,” she said.

“So if you had to do it over again?” Leavitt asked.

“Absolutely. I would totally turn it over,” Hoggard replied. “It wasn’t anything nefarious. It wasn’t anything calculated. It was just an error.”

“You indicated that you wanted to make sure that you dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s,” Leavitt asked.

“Yes,” Hoggard said. “It was an oversight, sir.”

“I can’t think of a piece of evidence in this whole case that would have more evidentiary value,” Leavitt later argued.

Prosecutors with the Attorney General’s office took the stand and said they were blinded by Hoggard and that they were told there was absolutely nothing on video.

Judge Douglas Herndon said he was “dumbfounded” by Hoggard’s ignorance.

“I just can’t fathom how that can happen to somebody trained to do these kinds of investigations,” Herndon said. “I’ve never had a case before, either as an attorney or a judge, that’s involved multiple agencies that seemed to have dropped the ball.”

“It was intentionally withheld, in my opinion, there’s just no excuse for it,” Leavitt argued. “It’s not a misrepresentation. It’s not a mistake. Somebody is flat out lying in this case.”

Officer Harper was fired earlier this month. So, he’ll have to go work for another department in a couple months. Conveniently, Hoggard retired right after “investigating” Harper’s case and now works in real estate. She’s facing no repercussions whatsoever.

FOX5 Vegas – KVVU

Posts Related to the LVMPD

Retired Chicago Cop, “Medal of Valor” Winner, Arrested for Burning Homeless Man’s Tent and Belongings

A man who was arrested for arson after he burned the tent and personal belongings of an area homeless man is a retired Chicago police officer. In fact, Sergeant James R. Povolo, much like a slew of other violent cops that have been exposed as criminals, was a former award winning officer.

Although the exact reason for his recognition is unknown (because the Chicago Police Department attempted to hide the fact that he was once one of their Good Cops), the Naperville Sun confirmed, via a FOIA request, that he was recipient of the department’s “Medal of Valor,” which is awarded for acts of “heroism, personal courage, and devotion to duty” by police officers.

The case he stands accused of currently is decidedly unheroic, though. Although investigators haven’t provided any motive for his actions, the victim was an outspoken and well known activist and political protester who has been involved in a long standing battle with the government officials in Naperville.

Via the Chicago Tribune:

In the Naperville case, Povolo was arrested less than two weeks after the alleged arson. Prosecutors said he approached Huber’s tent at a time he knew Huber would not be there and set fire to it, reportedly with a cigarette. Police have offered no motive for Povolo’s alleged action and have not disclosed what information prompted them to arrest Povolo.

(Scott) Huber, 66, lost his two-tent encampment and most of his possessions in the blaze. At the time, he said he was most distressed about the destruction of numerous computer discs on which he had stored what he said was the history of his political struggles with Naperville officials, police and local judges.

He has battled Naperville authorities for about 20 years, ever since losing his electronics business and being evicted from his home. He is protesting what he says has been unfair and illegal treatment by authorities.

Povolo’s next court hearing is March 1. The terms of his bond were modified last month so he could travel from his Naperville home in the 1300 block of Dartford Court to his Key Colony Beach home in Florida, where he is a legal resident and where he winters from fall to spring, according to court records. Under the original terms, he could not leave the state without permission from Judge Liam C. Brennan, who is presiding over his trial.

“Defendant (Povolo), because of injuries sustained while employed ‘on the job’ as a police officer for the City of Chicago, has artificial knees, and does not well tolerate cold weather,” Povolo’s attorney Charles Dobra wrote in his petition.

Admittedly, it would be a shame if Povolo had to face the cold unprotected within his Illinois summer home, rather than being afforded the warmth of his winter home in Florida, just because he intentionally and maliciously destroyed the shelter and most of the personal belongings of another man for no apparent reason. He is a Medal of Valor winner, after all.

Harris County Deputies Harass and Try to Intimidate Photographer During Fire in Old Springs, Texas

The following post and video were shared with the CopBlock Network anonymously, via the CopBlock.org Submissions Page. The submitter stated that they wanted to remain anonymous due to fears of retaliation, which are well founded given the history of police.

As is stated in the description the videos are fairly self-explanatory. The person taking the video and another person were attempting to shoot photos of a fire in a shopping district known as Old Springs, Texas, which is located just outside of Houston. At one point they reach an area where a Harris County Sheriff’s deputy tells them is off limits. They then ask where they can go without being in the restricted area and after receiving an answer relocate to that area.

However, shortly after that conversation they are approached by three other deputies who begin demanding their ID. Initially those deputies state that the men are not being detained, but once they decline to provide ID they are then told that they are going to be detained based on having entered the crime scene area.

From that point, the deputies tried to intimidate them into complying with their demand for ID. The man filming correctly points out that there is no clear marking of where the crime scene is and that once they were told they couldn’t be there they promptly and without argument left that area. Rather than attend to the fire, which they supposedly were concerned with the men taking photos might have prevented them from doing, the deputies instead chose to waste their time escalating a resolved situation into an argument and then attempting to intimidate someone who, at worst, made a genuine mistake that would have been prevented by them properly marking the crime scene.

Eventually, the men were allowed to leave without providing ID, although they were told they could have been arrested, and the restricted area was marked off by crime scene tape, as it should have been originally. Although the deputies refused to identify themselves when asked for their badge numbers, the two most aggressive of them were able to be identified by the names printed on their shirts as Deputy Zavala and Deputy A. Torres.

Date of Incident: October 26, 2016
Officers Involved: Deputy Zavala, Deputy A. Torres, and two unidentified officers
Department Involved: Harris County (TX) Sheriff’s Office
Department FaceBook Page: Harris County Sheriff’s Office on FB
Department Twitter Profile: @HCSOTexas
Department Youtube Account: The HCSOTexas
Department Phone Number: (713) 755-6044

If you have a video, personal story involving police misconduct and/or abuse, or commentary about a law enforcement related news story, we would be happy to have you submit it. You can find some advice on how to get your submission published on the CopBlock Network within this post.

Click the banner to submit content to CopBlock.org

Click the banner to submit content to CopBlock.org

I was out responding to a two alarm fire at Old Town Spring, Tx for media footage. The video stands for itself. I feel like the officers escalated the situation and got angry when they did not like my answers. I was told I was not being detained, but once I wouldn’t give them my ID, I was then told I was being detained. They then tried to use intimidation tactics.

Part One:

Part Two:

Just dont want my e-mail address or any identifying elements in the story. I fear there always can be retaliation.

“Decorated” Las Vegas Cop Charged With Arson And Fraud After Burning His Own Vehicles

Las Vegas Police Officer Jeffrey Harper Fraud Arson

Officer Jeffrey Lynn Harper, a “decorated officer” with the LVMPD, was charged with arson and fraud after he was caught intentionally burning his trailer in an effort to collect insurance money

Earlier this week, Officer Jeffrey Lynn Harper of Las Vegas was charged with several crimes related to burning a “four-wheeler” and trailer in an attempt to collect money from the insurance policies covering the vehicles.

Officer Harper, who is described as a “decorated veteran” of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, had left the trailer, with the ATV inside, on a state highway outside of Pahrump, which is just outside of Las Vegas.

His lawyer maintains that he didn’t set the fire, but had gotten a flat on the trailer and went into Pahrump to get it repaired. According to the lawyer, he came back to find firefighters extinguishing the trailer.

Note: If you have videos, stories, upcoming events/protests, or personal interactions with the police (and/or “justice” system) that you would like to share, send them to us and we will do everything we can to bring it to the attention of the world. In addition, you can visit the Nevada Cop Block resources section for information and links to the rights of citizens when dealing with police, during which you should always be filming.

However, investigators with the Clark County Fire Department determined that the LVMPD K-9 officer had actually set the fire himself.

Via the Las Vegas Review Journal:

A decorated veteran Metro officer is facing several felonies after authorities said he set fire to a trailer and four-wheeler in order to collect insurance money, according to the Nevada attorney general’s office.

Jeffrey Lynn Harper, 38, was charged with one count of theft, one count of burning of property with intent to defraud an insurer, one count of attempted theft, two counts of insurance fraud, and one count of third-degree arson.

Fire officials determined that Harper set fire to his $45,000 2014 Keystone Fuzion “toy hauler” in January while his $6,000 2015 Razor 90 four-wheeler was inside, according to prosecutors.

“My office is committed to safeguarding the integrity of the insurance system and protecting Nevada’s consumers from increased premiums,” Attorney General Adam Laxalt said in a news release. “This attempt to defraud an insurance company is particularly troubling because it was allegedly committed by a person tasked with enforcing laws and protecting the public.”

That is pretty troubling, even though we all know the part about the police “protecting and serving” is generally a farce anyway. Not particularly surprising or even all that unique, but troubling nonetheless.

Posts Related to the LVMPD

Update: Arkansas Police Chief that Arrested Man For Open Carry Burned His Own Truck; Stole From Department

In August of last year, I wrote a post about a video that had been submitted by a Cop Block reader showing a police chief in Bald Knob, Arkansas questioning Richard Chambless, a Second Amendment activist who had been arrested while legally open carrying a hand gun.

During that video, Chief Erek Balentine was very insistent that open carrying actually wasn’t legal in Arkansas and even eventually berated Chambless in an angry outburst toward the end of the interrogation. He also had some sort of issue with the fact Chambless was carrying a police scanner at the time of his arrest, implying that it was an indicator of criminal intentions.

A month later, Chief Balentine resigned, presumably under public pressure as a result of the publicity generated by the video featured in the first post, stating he was in “fear for his family’s safety.” However, this is where things really start to get interesting.

According to Balentine, someone had spray painted “2 Amendment” on both sides of his truck and then lit that truck on fire. Obviously, this was some whacky, extremist gun nut retaliating for Chief Balentine’s arrest of Chambless for something that wasn’t just legal, but was expressly protected within the Constitution. Right?

Bald Knob Police Chief Balentine Resigns

Former Bald Knob Police Chief Balentine

Now the real truth has come out, though. Former Bald Knob Arkansas Police Chief Erek Ballentine is a big filthy liar and a thief on top of that. And, although this is the least shocking revelation involving this story, he’s just not a very smart or well thought out criminal mastermind, either.

Not only has he joined the ranks of cops who have staged an “attack” against themselves as part of the Fake War On Cops, but he also joined the very crowded ranks of cops who have committed fraud and stole from their own department.

In fact, the entire burned truck incident was intended to somehow distract from the fact that he had stolen a shotgun, which had been donated to the police department for a fundraising auction and then sold it and pocketed the cash. The fraud part of the equation is based on him having filed a insurance claim on the truck he actually burned.

Of course, no story about a criminal cop (I realize that’s a bit redundant and that I’m not supposed to use double negatives) and the Good Cops he works with holding him accountable would be complete without that Bad Apple getting the typical Policeman’s Discount.

After initially being charged with federal felony charges of arson, mail fraud, and possession of a stolen firearm (which he was in possession of because he stole it), Former Chief Balentine was allowed to plead guilty to the single charge of possessing the stolen firearm and promise to pay restitution to Progressive Insurance for the false claim. As part of that deal the Feds agreed not to pursue the more serious charges of arson and fraud.

Original Video of Man Arrested in Bald Knob, Arkansas for Legally Open Carrying a Gun

2015 Was a Record Year For Exonerations of Wrongfully Convicted Prisoners

As originally reported by Mother Jones, a report from the University of Michigan Law School has declared that 2015 set a new record for the highest amount of people that have been freed after it was proven that they were wrongfully convicted. As detailed in the report, there were several reasons why innocent people ended up behind bars. that ranged from outright misconduct by prosecutors and police to those pressured into taking a plea bargain even though they were actually innocent.

Shockingly, there were actually 75 total cases in which no actual crime (even victimless ones) were even committed in the first place. Also, included within the 149 people released were five individuals awaiting the death penalty. Pointed out within the report is the fact that a combination of those two factors led to the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in Texas, in spite of a wide range of evidence that the fire his three children died in was accidental and not a case of arson, for which he was convicted and subsequently killed.

It’s also worth noting that the vast majority of those wrongfully convicted resulted from the War On (Some) Drugs, many of which even if they had been valid would have involved non-violent victimless “crimes” in the first place.

Included below is the MotherJones.com article detailing the report and its conclusions:

Call it the Serial effect. According to a new report from the University of Michigan Law School’s National Registry of Exonerations, 2015 set a record for the number of wrongly convicted Americans who finally found justice. There were 149 people last year who were either declared innocent or otherwise cleared of the consequences of their convictions or guilty pleas. Many had served some lengthy prison time—the average exoneree had served nearly 15 years—for crimes they did not commit.

The data in the report paints a disturbing portrait of a criminal justice system riven with errors and official misconduct. Among the lowlights:

  • Innocent but pleaded guilty: An extraordinary number of the exonerations came in cases in which the defendants had pleaded guilty (65 out of 149), more than in any previous year since the registry started in 1989. These were mostly drug cases but also included eight homicides. Those who pleaded guilty to crimes they didn’t commit tended to be mentally ill, intellectually disabled, or under the threat of an even longer prison sentence should they try to go to trial.
  • No-crime crimes: Seventy-five exonerations came in cases where it turned out no crime had even been committed. A number of these were old murder cases involving arson. They brought to mind the sad story of Cameron Todd Willingham, whom Texas executed in 2004 for allegedly murdering his three children through arson, despite significant evidence that the forensic arson investigation that led to his conviction was mostly bogus. Those same sorts of bogus fire investigations played a role in five of six of the homicide cases that led to exonerations last year in cases where officials ruled that no crime had been committed. In those cases, the defendants were luckier than Willingham: The fires that led to their murder convictions were shown to be accidents, not arson, and their convictions were vacated.
  • False confessions: In 27 of the exonerations in 2015, including 22 homicide cases, the defendants confessed to crimes they hadn’t committed. Many of these people were juveniles, mentally ill, or intellectually disabled—precisely the folks currently overrepresented on death row.
  • Official misconduct: Prosecutors and cops don’t come out looking good in the new report. Official misconduct was a factor in 75 percent of the homicide exonerations, a number that’s even bigger in the cases where there were false confessions. Eighty-two percent of those were the product of misconduct by cops or prosecutors.
  • Death penalty errors: Five of the exonerees in 2015 were death row inmates, three of whom had been there more than 20 years—more evidence of serious flaws in the capital punishment system.

National Registry of Exonerations

The exonerations were clustered in jurisdictions where local prosecutors had made significant efforts to reform their practices to prevent wrongful convictions. The largest number came from Harris County, Texas, where a new assistant district attorney in the post-conviction review section discovered that a lot of the cases coming through her office involved defendants who’d pleaded guilty to a drug crime, only to have lab work come back months later showing that the stuff cops had seized from the defendants wasn’t actually a controlled substance.

Washington Post columnist Radley Balko has dug into this issue and found that Harris County isn’t the only place with the problem. The field tests cops use to test for drugs are notoriously unreliable, and they’ve mistaken everything from chocolate chip cookies to cheese and tortilla dough for drugs. Nonetheless, the false guilty pleas—usually made under pressure and the threat of even longer prison sentences from a jury trial—often aren’t thrown out when later testing finds an absence of drugs. In 2014, the Harris County district attorney’s office launched a Conviction Integrity Unit to try addressing such problems. The result is a startling number of drug crime exonerations just from that one office—73 of them so far.

Such units within prosecutors’ offices offer hope for reforms to the criminal justice system. But the new report suggests they have a mixed record that can depend largely on the drive of an individual prosecutor rather than systemic support. Harris County has shown lots of promise, as has a unit in Brooklyn, which has been responsible for the exoneration of 16 murder defendants in the past two years. A more discouraging example came in New Orleans, which launched a Conviction Integrity Unit during the district attorney’s reelection campaign, in partnership with the local Innocence Project. According to the report, the unit kicked off in January 2015, worked on a single exoneration, and gave it up a year later.

Media accounts and shows like Serial and Making a Murderer have raised awareness about the problems with the criminal justice system and the prevalence of wrongful convictions, but the report urges caution before declaring victory. “As with climate change, the significance of the issue of false convictions is now widely acknowledged, despite committed doubters,” the authors write. “In other respects, we are far behind. We have no measure of the magnitude of the problem, no general plan for how to address it, and certainly no general commitment to do so. We’ve made a start, but that’s all.”

Topless Femen USA Activists Assaulted/Arrested at Counter-Protest of San Francisco Anti-Abortion Rally (NSFW Video)

The video above and post below were shared with the CopBlock Network by Chelsea Ducote, via the CopBlock.org Submissions Page. The description within the post derives from a complaint Ducote has filed against the San Francisco Police Department with the Office of Citizen Complaints, a local civilian review board.

Chelsea Ducote’s complaint is based on the treatment she and two other activists involved with “Femen USA” were subjected to during a counter-protest of a San Francisco anti-abortion rally, as well as the false arrests and subsequent unfounded charges that they received afterwards. Femen is a group that is well known, especially in Europe, in recent years for organizing protests involving topless women, often concentrating on anti-religious and feminist issues.

Date of Incident: January 23, 2016sfist.com
Location of Incident: Polk St. between Grove St. and McAllister St. (City Hall)
Time of incident: 1:00 pm
Officers Involved: Badge Numbers 434, 2260, 1603, 2154, 1459, and M. Gonzalez
Police Vehicle Involved: 585 (Paddy wagon)
Department Involved: San Francisco Police Department
Department Contact: Captain Greg McEachern
Email Address: [email protected]
Phone Number: (415) 614-3400

Femen USA Activist Chelsea Ducote‘s SFPD Complaint With The OCC

Summary of Incident:

Rebecca Marston, Anni Ma, and I were arrested without probable cause (4th Amendment) and were subjected to false imprisonment for exercising our First Amendment rights by counter protesting the Walk for “Life” West Coast Rally.
An officer used force and pain compliance on me without our circumstances meeting the requirements for use of force listed in DGO 5.01 (F).

The officers and civilians at the protest committed a Bane Act (Civ. Code, § 52.1) violation by interfering with our First Amendment right to Free Speech with threats, coercion, and intimidation. The officers refused to arrest the civilians that assaulted us. We were not told why were arrested or the nature of the charges against us until we were leaving the station approximately an hour and a half later.

In the last five years, there have been numerous acts of vandalism, ten arsons, one bombing, two attempted murders, and three murders at abortion clinics in the U.S. Less than seven years ago, abortion doctor George Tiller was murdered by a pro-life advocate. Women are stalked, harassed, and verbally accosted daily as they try to enter Planned Parenthood clinics, even in the Bay Area. Extremists are allowed to incite hatred and violence against women under the guise of “religious freedom.”

Less than two months after an anti-choice terrorist killed an officer and two civilians outside of the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic, thousands of people were bussed into San Francisco for the so-called “Walk for Life” to tell women that pregnancy is a life sentence and divergence from that path is a crime.

Myself and two other topless female activists interrupted David Daleiden‘s speech at the rally, shouting “Fraud! Fake! Liar!” and throwing fake subpoenas onstage to highlight the criminal methods used by Daleiden and his pro-life organization to infiltrate and attempt to undermine Planned Parenthood.

As the speakers at Walk for Life spoke of “sacred femininity,” pro-life thugs dragged activist Anni Ma across the ground and another held Rebecca Marston in a choke-hold.

These men carried me over the barricade and towards Officer O’Conner, who immediately used a wrist lock pain compliance technique and barked, “Stop! Stop!” as we continued chanting. She forced me away from the sidewalk and into the street. I yelled out twice that she was hurting me and, after the second cry, she somewhat loosened her grip.

I sat down, and did not resist. However, Officer O’Conner continued to twist my arm and right wrist in a painful, unnatural direction. She and the other officer forced me to lie face-down on the ground as they handcuffed me and bent my legs back in a hog-tie fashion.

I do not understand why this use of force was implemented against me because our circumstances did not meet the requirements to justify the use of force, as listed in DGO 5.01 (F):

  • At no point in our interaction with officers were we resisting arrest.
  • We were non-violent.
  • We were not attacking anyone.
  • We were not breaking any laws.

We are being charged with misdemeanor park code 4.01(h) for exposing a portion of the “female breast at or below the areola” in a park, yet all of us were arrested on the sidewalk and in the street. As demonstrated from the three hundred photographs and three videos of our protest, none of our “female breasts” crossed into park boundaries. It is legal for both men and women to expose their areolas in San Francisco.

We are also charged with violating pc 415(3), disorderly conduct, for “using offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction.” We do not fall under that description.

Why should the words “Fraud! Fake! Liar!” incite violence? The violence against us was unjustifiable.

We were exercising our First Amendment rights to Free Speech, and counter-protesting these pro-lifers who gathered to protest a woman’s right to body sovereignty and reproductive healthcare.

If anything, the civilians that assaulted us and the officers that arrested us are in violation of the Bane Act (Calif. Civil Code 52.1) for using violence, threats, coercion, and false imprisonment to interfere with our exercise of our First Amendment rights.

Despite Anni Ma repeatedly asking the officers why we were being arrested, we were given no reason; the officers only told us we were being detained. When Ma pressed to know what we were being charged with, all the officers said was, “We are trying to figure that out now,” “Why do you think you are being arrested?” and “You know why.”

It was not until approximately an hour and a half later at the station, when we were signing our citation slips and being released, that we find out why we had been arrested in the first place.

The officers also refused to arrest the men that assaulted us, despite the fact that we had photographs of them and told officers we’d like to press charges. The anti-abortion rally raged on, and our assailants were still directly upfront near the stage. In this regard, SFPD condoned the violence against women demonstrated and promoted at this rally.

My wrist was sprained for several weeks after our arrest, and I can submit medical bills and photos as evidence. I also had to take on less work because my job requires that I used my hands and wrists extensively all day.

– Chelsea Ducote

“Non-Lethal Force” by Charles ‘Rad Geek’ Johnson

[The following post was written by Charles “Rad Geek” Johnson with reference to an article I published last month titled “Burning down the house.” It was originally published at Rad Geek People’s Daily on January 28th. Rad Geek is a Las Vegas-based software developer and libertarian activist who frequently comments about police brutality and cop culture on his personal blog. He also maintains Gangsters In Blue which bills itself as “a blog against paramilitary policing and prisons” and aggregates police-related material from a number of websites including Cop Block.]

Here are the after-effects of some SWAT-police non-lethal force in California, which burned a man to death earlier this month, and set his family’s house on fire in the process. Turns out he was the wrong man, and they were at the wrong house.

According to the Monterey County Weekly, the same police force that burned down the Serrato house and killed Rogelio Serrato in the fire are probing what went wrong in the operation [sic]. Public-spirited fellow that I am, I’ll do what I can to help them figure it out. Here’s what went wrong:

Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies. Among the most highly trained, and therefore most domineering and violent, are the members of urban SWAT teams, who go beyond everyday bullying and instead are trained to think of themselves as paramilitary strike forces who are occupying hostile territory, and engaged in a war of classic counter-insurgency.

As such, police in general, and police assault forces especially, are trained to enter every encounter with the goal of taking control of the situation, by means of setting up confrontations in situations (no-knock raids, late-night forced-entry raids, etc.) where their chosen targets are most likely to be disoriented and easily terrorized, and by responding with maximal force in the volatile, disorienting confrontations that they create. For the sake of this maximal-force approach, they are equipped with an arsenal of weapons ranging from tasers and clubs to handguns and assault rifles, up to, and including, military helicopters and tanks. Worse, with all these weapons, they have institutionalized a culture of fact-free assertion and lies about highly dangerous weapons that they consider to be categorically non-lethal — and thus to be used as a first resort, in virtually any situation, as long as it might give the cops a tactical advantage over people who they intend to bring under their control (whether or not these people have ever committed any crime at all). These weapons continue to be used with no hesitation and no restraint, and continue to be called non-lethal force, no matter how many people are killed by them. There are, for example, tasers, portable electric torture devices which were originally sold as a less-deadly alternative to using a hand-gun in potentially life-threatening confrontations, but which cops now freely use for as part of pain compliance techniques[ref name=”source1″]

That is, torture.

[/ref] in everyday confrontations with the public. This would be bad enough on its own, but part of the reason they are used so freely is because they take no real exertion for cops to use, and are consistently billed as non-lethal by police and media, even though there are hundreds of documented cases of people dying after being subjected to repeated taser shocks.

Another non-lethal device, which is especially heavily used by SWAT assault forces during paramilitary forced entry house raids, are so-called flash-bang grenades. These grenades, frequently referred to as non-lethal diversionary devices are actually incendiary grenades, which police hurl into rooms full of people in order to set off an explosion, which they hope will disorient and terrorize the people in the room — many or most of them completely innocent people who just had the misfortune of being in the same building — right before the assault force storms in with guns drawn. This is exactly what they did when they surrounded Rogelio Serrato’s house.

So why were they at Rogelio Serrato’s house anyway? Well, they had a search warrant to serve. They say were going to serve the search warrant using these hyperviolent, extremely dangerous stormtrooper tactics because they believed that Serrato had been with a man who shot up a music club on New Years’ Day. But by the time they got out to Serrato’s house, they already knew that they had the wrong address and the wrong man: he wasn’t at the club when the shooting went down, and the identification of Serrato as the man who was with the shooter was simply a case of mistaken identity.

Nevertheless, even though they found out that Serrato had nothing to do with the violent crime which had supposedly mobilized the SWAT team and justified the decision to storm the house in a paramilitary raid, it did turn out that he had a couple of warrants out on misdemeanors which had nothing to do with the shooting. So, they decided they were going to go ahead and arrest him.

Now, you might think that, once they had found out they were at the wrong address, and the only reason they had to worry about Rogelio Serrato at all was a couple of misdemeanor beefs having nothing to do anyone getting shot, they might have backed off a bit on the level of force; perhaps even just left a couple cops to wait around and pick him up next time he went to work or to the supermarket. But, no. I mean, look, he’s a Suspect Individual, and what’s the point of having such a fine, well-armed paramilitary assault force, if you’re not going to use it?

So instead they surrounded the house, bellowed into their bullhorns, and then, when he didn’t come out on command, they decided to make a hyperviolent forced-entry raid in order to roust him out. So they hurled a couple of their non-lethal incendiary grenades into the house, which exploded, and set the house on fire. Rogelio Serrato, who was — remember — known not to be the man they were after; who was — remember — never suspected of anything other than having a couple misdemeanor warrants out — was killed in the house fire.

So, Monterey County sheriff’s office, here is what I have found in my probe, which I will helpfully share with you. What went wrong here is that the cops believed they were on an operation that required an extraordinarily violent storm-trooper raid, even though they already knew that their original reason for being there turned out to be a complete mistake, and even though they also already knew that the man whose family they were attacking was wanted only on a pair of misdemeanor warrants. In the interests of better protecting their own hides during this needlessly violent high-stakes operation, they felt free to make use of dangerous incendiary grenades which are perfectly capable of setting a building on fire. No matter how many people or buildings are set on fire due to the use of these grenades, police consistently blame the victim (e.g., in another case: It’s unfortunate that those guys packed that house with materials that were flammable[ref name=”source2″]

!! Apparently a right-thinking, responsible citizen keeps their house on the assumption that at any moment police might be throwing incendiary grenades into their living room.

[/ref]), and just go right on asserting that these explosives are non-lethal force, and defend them as tools which provide the necessary means to the police’s completely unnecessary operations. They even have the gall to tell the press that these dangerous explosives are a life-saving tool, when explaining how they just killed a man by using them.

Do you feel safer now?

(Via Dr. Q @ CopBlock 2011-01-19.)

See also:

This was originally posted at CopBlock.org