Tag Archives: federal bureau of investigation

First Amendment Audit: Imperial County Sheriff’s Sgt John Toledano Unlawfully Detains Videographers Filming in Public

California Guardian High Desert Community Watch First Amendment Audit Illegal Detention

Imperial County Sheriff’s Sgt. John Toledano handcuffed and illegally detained “California Guardian” and “High Desert Community Watch” during a First Amendment Audit by order of the FBI for legally filming in public.

Note: The video and description included within this post were shared with Nevada Cop Block via an anonymous reader submission. 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.

As is mentioned in the description, this video shows what is known as a “First Amendment Audit.” That consists of going out and filming government buildings and other public property. Oftentimes, the police, security guards, government employees, and even members of the public don’t understand that the First Amendment protects a citizen’s right to take photos and/or record video of anything that is within view of a public place.

Obviously, this video is very much an example of that (commonly referred to as an “audit fail” among those who do them). After initially confronting them and asking for ID, Sgt. Toledano (along with two other unidentified officers) handcuffed the two men who go by the pseudonyms “California Guardian” and “High Desert Community Watch” publicly.

Both of them were then forced to sit in the back of a police vehicle and threatened with trespassing citations, although they never at any time entered private property. According to what Sgt. Toledago states on the video, this illegal detention was at ordered by the FBI. Eventually, they were both released without any charges.

As already stated, you obviously can legally film in public. Also, you are not required to identify yourself unless a police officer has reasonable suspicion to believe you have committed, are in the process of committing, or are about to commit a crime (the requirement to be legally detained). And legally they can’t seize your camera (or any other personal property) unless they have actually arrested you or obtained a warrant or subpoena for specific content on it.

One of the main reasons for doing First Amendment Audits is to test whether the police or security officers understand the law regarding filming in public spaces. Also, part of that reasoning is making them understand that it is legal and thereby deter them from harassing people filming in the future.

Date of Incident: April 11, 2017
Officer Involved: Sgt. John Toledano
Department Involved: Imperial County (CA) Sheriff’s Office
Facebook Page:
Imperial County Sheriff’s Office
Twitter Account:

Instagram Account:
Imperial County Sheriff
Department Phone No.:
(442) 265-2005
Department Email: Sheriff Raymond Loera

Adam (California Guardian) and Phillip (High Desert Community Watch) were down in Imperial County video recording when a Deputy Sheriff, Sgt Toledano, stopped them and unlawfully detained them on behalf of the FBI for the sole intent of identifying them with no suspicion that they had violated any crime.

Adam and Phillip were cuffed, placed in the back of a patrol vehicle and driven down around the corner to await the arrival of the FBI. Adam and Phillip never provided identification and were released after being given detention slips in the name of John Doe.

Both detention slips used Calif. Penal Code 647 (h) – “prowling” – as an excuse. Adam and Philip never entered any private property and remained on the public right of way (sidewalk) during their recording.

The men in the video frequently post First Amendment Audits and other videos to their Youtube channels: “California Guardian” and “High Desert Community Watch.” You can support them by making donations via GoFundMe: California Guardian and High Desert Community Watch News Network. Although they sometimes travel to other areas, as the psuedonyms they use indicate, these two auditors live in Southern California.

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Best Buy’s Geek Squad Accused of Being a “Branch of the FBI” Over Hard Drive Data Searches

A lawyer representing a man facing trial over data found on the hard drive of his computer while he was having it repaired at Best Buy has exposed the fact that the FBI maintains a policy of paying “Geek Squad” supervisors for reporting potentially illegal content they find on customers’ computers.

Beyond the simple breach of trust that this entails between a business and its customers this also poses some security issues, due to the fact that it has prompted Best Buy employees to probe beyond what would be necessary to perform the services they were contracted to conduct.

Within that context, the nature of the paid relationship between those supervisors and the FBI also raises many issues of the legalities of circumventing evidentiary rules that normally apply to searches. Defense attorney James D. Riddet even went so far as to say that Best Buy could be effectively acting as a branch of the FBI.

Via the Washington Post:

At a giant Best Buy repair shop in Brooks, Ky., Geek Squad technicians work on computers owned by people across the country, delving into them to retrieve lost data. Over several years, a handful of those workers have notified the FBI when they see signs of child pornography, earning payments from the agency.

The existence of the small cadre of informants within one of the country’s most popular computer repair services was revealed in the case of a California doctor who is facing federal charges after his hard drive was flagged by a technician. The doctor’s lawyers found that the FBI had cultivated eight “confidential human sources” in the Geek Squad over a four-year period, according to a judge’s order in the case, with all of them receiving some payment.

The case raises issues about privacy and the government use of informants. If a customer turns over their computer for repair, do they forfeit their expectation of privacy, and their Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable searches? And if an informant is paid, does it compromise their credibility or effectively convert them into an agent of the government?

Best Buy searching a computer is legal — the customer authorized it, and the law does not prohibit private searches. But if Best Buy serves as an arm of the government, then a warrant or specific consent is needed. And a federal judge in the child pornography case against Mark Rettenmaier is going to allow defense attorneys to probe the relationship between Best Buy and the FBI at a hearing in Los Angeles starting Wednesday.

“Their relationship is so cozy,” said defense attorney James D. Riddet, “and so extensive that it turns searches by Best Buy into government searches. If they’re going to set up that network between Best Buy supervisors and FBI agents, you run the risk that Best Buy is a branch of the FBI.”The FBI and Justice Department declined to comment. Federal prosecutors argued in California that when a technician doing repairs “stumbles across images of child pornography” and the government wasn’t aware of the search, “the technician is clearly not performing the search with the intent of assisting law enforcement efforts.”

Best Buy spokesman Jeff Shelman said in a statement Monday that “Best Buy and Geek Squad have no relationship with the FBI. From time to time, our repair agents discover material that may be child pornography and we have a legal and moral obligation to turn that material over to law enforcement. We are proud of our policy and share it with our customers before we begin any repair.”

Shelman added, “Any circumstances in which an employee received payment from the FBI is the result of extremely poor individual judgment, is not something we tolerate and is certainly not a part of our normal business behavior.” Court records did not detail how often or how much the technicians were paid, other than one $500 payment to one supervisor.

But emails between Geek Squad technicians and FBI agents in the Louisville field office indicate a long-running relationship. In revealing those publicly in a Dec. 19 order, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney required technicians and agents to take the witness stand this week. The ruling was first reported by Orange County Weekly.

Many of the documents establishing the ties between the FBI and the technicians are sealed, but Carney discussed some in his order. He noted that the FBI acknowledged it considered technician supervisor Justin Meade a confidential human source for all but a few months between October 2008 and November 2012.

Different agents handled the Geek Squad technicians, Carney wrote. In October 2009, Agent Jennifer Cardwell emailed Meade to express interest in meeting “to discuss some other ideas for collaboration,” Carney disclosed.

In an internal FBI communication in July 2010, Agent Tracey L. Riley told her supervisor that “Source reported all has been quiet for about the last 5-6 months, however source agreed that once school started again, they may see an influx of CP [child pornography].” Meade was later identified as the “source.” Other internal communications show the “source” referring possible cases to Riley from computers sent to the Geek Squad from across the country.

“This two-way thoroughfare of information,” Riddet, the defense attorney. argued in his motion to suppress the evidence, “suggests that the FBI considers [Meade] . . . to be a partner in the ongoing effort of law enforcement to detect and prosecute child pornography violators. . . . Here it is very clear that Best Buy, and specifically the supervisor who reports its technician’s discovery of ‘inappropriate’ content on customers’ computers, are not only working together, but actually planning to conduct more such searches in the future.”

Obviously, since this is a case that involves someone accused of possessing child porn, that obfuscates the issues a bit. However, the larger issue is that the government always expands their abuses, especially in relation to privacy issues. This is, in fact, a perfect example of that and of the ultimate dangers from it.

Originally, computer techs who came across things of that nature would report it, but they weren’t actively searching for incriminating data. Now however, the Feds actually have employees of computer stores on the payroll creating an incentive for them to look for a reason to report their unwitting customers to law enforcement.

As the Washington Post story points out, that includes evidence of an ambiguous nature that potentially wasn’t placed on the computer by its current owner. That sort of evidence would not hold up in court, but because it’s coming from a perceived third hand source it is now accepted as legitimate.

Big Brother has found his latest loophole and it won’t be long before they expand it to other information and potential thought crimes.

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(Video) Las Vegas FBI Agent “Suffering Alcohol Fueled Paranoia Attack” Arrested For Shooting at Grand Rapids Police

“He’s got a badge, Federal Bureau of; he’s an FBI agent.”

Body camera footage shows Grand Rapids police chasing a man in a parking lot. At the end of the video, as that man whimpers and sobs while repeatedly stating that he’s sorry, one of the cops begins searching him. That officer announces the discovery of the badge, then after pulling his wallet out begins reading the department he works for. As the quote above indicates, that man was soon identified as FBI Agent Ruben Manuel Hernandez.

Apparently, Agent Hernandez got a little liquored up and decided he needed to get a workout in. At some point the Las Vegas based agent began suffering an attack of paranoia and after brandishing his gun and talking incoherently. He then took it to the next level by firing off three shots at a Grand Rapids Police Sergeant who responded to complaints from other people at the gym.

Although, it might also be “alcohol fueled” and not just a matter of Hernandez being a crappy shot, all three bullets missed their target. Also, once that alcohol fuel wore off, Agent Hernandez immediately expressed how shocked (shocked, I tell ya) he was about the whole thing.

Via MLive.com:

A Las Vegas-based FBI special agent, in town on an undisclosed investigation, felt intense paranoia before he drew a gun at a fitness center then shot at a responding Grand Rapids police sergeant, his attorney said.

The agent, Ruben Hernandez, 35, has only a “vague, hazy” recollection of the possibly alcohol-fueled events early Tuesday, Dec. 6, attorney Larry Willey said.

Willey spoke Wednesday after his client, a married father of two, was arraigned in Grand Rapids District Court on charges of assault with intent to commit great bodily harm, a 10-year felony, and assault with a dangerous weapon, a four-year felony.

He also faces a 90-day misdemeanor for brandishing a firearm.

Police say Hernandez brandished a firearm at Planet Fitness, 3681 28th St. SE, before he fired three shots outside at Sgt. Neil Gomez, who was responding to a call there.

The shots missed Gomez. Police then arrested Hernandez at gunpoint.

His attorney said the allegations – “atypical,” he said – shocked Hernandez’s family and friends, including his FBI colleagues. Willey just met his client but said after hearing from those who know him best, he found that “he’s a really good guy.”

Alcohol “may have played a role in the series of events” but Willey said his client has not previously suffered from alcohol or substance abuse.

“This is an episodic thing (with alcohol) rather than a regular problem,” Willey said.

He said his client has no known mental-health issues. Willey expected to investigate that possibility as he would for any client facing such serious allegations.

For whatever reason, Hernandez felt paranoid before the shooting. He thought people were going after him.

“I’m not saying that in fact happened. That’s what he believed,” Willey said.

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Iowa Police Chief Jeffrey Filloon Indicted For Selling Impounded Cars and Guns Stolen From Evidence

Chief Jeffrey Filloon, who resigned in August 2015 as the police chief in Tama, Iowa, was indicted by a federal grand jury on December 6th. He’s accused of selling several guns that were stolen from the department evidence room, as well as at least four cars that had been impounded. He also was charged with making false statements to an FBI agent during an investigation into the fraudulent sales.

Via the Courier:

Authorities allege Filloon took at least three firearms and four vehicles between August 2013 and March 2015.

One of the weapons, a Mossberg 12-gauge pump shotgun, had been held as evidence and was sold to General Store Pawn and Gun in Marshalltown for $200 in August. 2013.

Later that same month, Filloon sold a .45-caliber Keckler and Hoch UPS pistol to the same shop for $450, court records state. That weapon had been the duty gun of a Tama officer who surrendered it to the department when he retired in 2012.

Another firearm that was being held as evidence, a .44-caliber black powder revolver, was sold to the Marshalltown shop for $75 in Mach (sic) 2014.

Also in March 2014, Filloon allegedly sold a 1997 Pontiac Grand Prix, a 1994 Ford Econoline F150 van and a 1994 Ford Explorer to Sandhill Auto Salvage for Tama for $650, court records state. He allegedly requested the check be made out to him instead of the city, records state.

That same month, he returned with a 1996 Chevrolet Silverado pickup and sold it for $250, claiming it was his person vehicle, record state (sic).

The false statement charges stem from statements Filloon allegedly made to an FBI agent who was investigating the weapons and vehicles in May 2016. He allegedly told the agent a relative of the shotgun’s owner told him he could keep the firearm instead of returning it to a family member, court records state. He also allegedly told the agent he had purchased the Silverado before selling it to the salvage company, records state.

Personally, I’m not sure why people are giving this Hero a hard time about all this. It’s been pretty well established that police evidence lockers are really just a slush fund for hardworking cops and that telling the truth is completely optional under their list of job requirements. This stressed out Good Cop, who was obviously just trying to do his job and following orders, should be reinstated and given some sort of officer of the year award immediately. At least we know he’ll get the typical Policeman’s Discount and in the end won’t have to face any sort of real consequences for his “illegal” actions.

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Customs Officer Convicted of Stealing Over $65,000 Worth of Checks From International Mail

Carlos Canjura, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer at the International Mail Facility in Torrance, California, was convicted of nine counts related to a mail theft ring he had set up. Canjura’s  job consisted of inspecting incoming mail from outside the country for contraband, counterfeit goods, and possible fraudulent financial checks or credit cards. Instead, he used that access to steal checks and money orders from the mail. He then had accomplices launder the money by depositing them using forged signatures.

He was initially arrested on suspicion of stealing three checks totaling $15,000. However, during the ensuing investigation it was determined that he had actually stolen more than a hundred checks with a cumulative value exceeding $65,000. He was convicted on all charges, which included multiple counts each of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, and possession of stolen mail.

Via a U.S. Department of Justice press release:

During the three-day trial, federal prosecutors proved that the defendant stole personal checks, traveler’s checks and money orders from international mail. Canjura then informed his co-conspirator about the stolen checks using messages with coded language like “centurions,” “troops,” “projects” and “cases” to refer to the checks. Canjura gave the stolen checks to his co-conspirator, who fraudulently endorsed the checks or altered them before depositing the checks at ATMs or through mobile phone applications. Canjura stole well over 100 checks with a cumulative value of at least $65,000.

“The public is entitled to use the mail system without fear that officials charged with safeguarding the mail are abusing it for their own benefit,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “This defendant not only abused his position as a federal officer by stealing international mail, he also used the stolen mail in an elaborate scheme to defraud banks. In so doing, he violated the public trust he swore to serve.”

Canjura is scheduled to be sentenced on March 6 by United States District Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell. At sentencing, Canjura will face a statutory maximum sentence of 145 years.

That does sound like quite the elaborate code. Incidentally, I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for him to be sentenced to 145 years. My money’s on a really hurtful period of probation and a very sore wrist.

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Chicago to Pay $2 Million to Police Whistle-Blowers After “Few Bad Apples” Destroyed Their Careers

On Monday, Chicago’s City Council Finance Committee approved a settlement of $2 million to two police officers that were the targets of extensive and widespread retaliation after they exposed corruption within the police department. Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria had gone to the FBI back in 2007 after they were told by superiors to ignore illegal activity by Ronald Watts, a sergeant with the Chicago Police Department.

After Watts was convicted of extorting drug dealers and sentenced to prison, Spalding and Echeverria became targeted for retaliation throughout the department. This included threats of physical violence against them, ostracization, and overt attempts to ruin their careers. According to their accounts of the retaliation they experienced, it’s almost as if the “Few Bad Apples” were the ones running the entire police department and somehow outnumbered all of the “Good Cops” we hear so much about.

Via the Chicago Sun-Times:

Spalding and Echeverria allege they were retaliated against for helping to expose police corruption nearly a decade ago.

The partners had alleged their superiors told them in 2007 to ignore evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Sgt. Ronald Watts. Instead, on personal time, they said they reported it to the FBI.

What the officers thought would end with a simple meeting eventually turned into “Operation Brass Tax.” And while they tried to limit their involvement in the investigation to personal time, it became so time-consuming that the officers were forced to tell CPD’s internal affairs. As a result, they were formally detailed to the FBI.

Spalding and Echeverria spent two years working exclusively on the Watts investigation. Watts was sentenced in October 2013 to 22 months in prison for shaking down drug dealers.

But lawyers for the two officers say Internal Affairs Chief Juan Rivera blew their cover. Spalding and Echeverria were branded “rat motherf——” and told their bosses didn’t want them in their units. They were allegedly told their careers were over, given undesirable assignments and shifts and told fellow officers wouldn’t back them up. Their actions allegedly made the brass so angry that Spalding was warned to “wear her vest” so she wouldn’t be shot in the parking lot for crossing the thin blue line.

“One of the defendants … charged with some of the retaliatory conduct resigned in December of 2015 before the Police Department initiated disciplinary proceedings against him for his role in the re-investigation of the David Koschman case,” (First Deputy Corporation Counsel Jenny) Notz told aldermen Monday.

“Also in 2015, a key CPD witness who would have rebutted some of the plaintiffs’ most serious allegations of retaliation relating to their experiences in the Narcotic Unit was indicted on felony perjury charges relating to testimony that he gave in another case. … The police superintendent recommended [in March] that this officer be terminated.”

Notz added, “The plaintiffs would certainly, if this case went to trial, use these recent developments to attack the credibility of two of the defense’s key witnesses at trial, making this case difficult to win.”

The settlement was reached one day before Mayor Rahm Emanuel would have been forced to testify at their civil trial. This has spurred speculation that the settlement was really intended to keep Emanuel from having to testify about a code of silence within the CPD, that he has already publicly acknowledged.

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Cellebrite – Israeli Cellphone Surveillance Software the FBI and Police are Using to Spy on You

The following post was shared with the CopBlock Network by Mark Shotwell, via the CopBlock.org Submissions Page.

Within the post Mark discusses “Cellebrite” software, which is military grade surveillance software developed by an Israeli company and used by numerous governments, including the United States, to spy on citizens. For obvious reasons, this software represents a threat to the rights and privacy of innocent citizens, and especially anyone who is targeted by the government.

In addition Mark states:

All the scanned legal docs and Images of the Cellebrite extraction report are on this site. (Which I had to set up because of the retaliation I started getting from the police departments.)

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

Police agencies throughout the State of Delaware are illegally using Cellebrite software (a military-grade software program first made famous by the San Bernardino case when Apple refused to crack the iPhone for the FBI) to extract MASSIVE amounts of highly sensitive and personally private information from citizen’s cellphone.

This takes place daily and agencies have already performed 1,000’s of these extractions (mine was done months prior to the San Bernardino case ever occurred) and ultimately violating our Constitutional rights protected by the Fourth Amendment.

The main legal issue w/ using this software is it lacks the ability to set search parameters and can only do a complete dump which any private forensics expert will tell you is typically 10,000-20,000 pages of every imaginable thing a person has done for the past 10yrs, emails, pics, etc, etc…things your phone could have never possibly seen or had access to!

I’ve uploaded my personal legal documents from the case I had last year during which I finally obtained my Cellebrite extraction report form and which was ultimately dismissed. However it’s nearly impossible to ever come across one, it took me three separate scheduled trial dates to eventually obtain it through discovery. The ACLU in Delaware had never even seen one prior to mine.

Its highly illegal and completely violates the Constitutional and civil rights of US citizens. Check out the details, it definitely needs to be brought to the peoples’ attention.

– Mark Shotwell

P.S. – Keep up the good work, me and my friends love your page!

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The Department of Justice has (Finally) Decided to Start Keeping Track of How Many People the Police Kill

As everyone knows, the FBI and Department of Justice keep track of everything from how many people die sticking a fork in the toaster to how many times I stubbed my toe last year. So, of course, their is data and statistics on every crime committed in every city and state, no matter how minor they might be.

Similarly, you can easily look up how many and in what manner everybody who died in any given year met their ultimate fate. Except the one giant, glaring exception to that is the complete lack of any information related to the use of force and killings of citizens by police. It’s almost like they don’t want you to know just how bad it is or to realize that it is progressively getting worse every year.

This obviously has led to some people questioning why they would compile statistics on every  minor crime reported in the entire country but would not keep track of fatalities caused by police at all. One thing that does have to be pointed out is that this is a bit of a trick question because for some time the FBI has been mandated to include police related deaths. Local police departments across the nation have simply refused to comply (which for anyone not wearing a Magical Suit will often get you killed) by providing those numbers. Meanwhile, instead of requiring them to do so the FBI instead just threw their hands up and declared it an impossible task.

Now, however, after much criticism the DOJ has announced that they will begin actively compiling stats related to police killings and other types of violence.

Via the Hampton Patch (NH):

Until now, there has been no official nationwide effort to monitor the rates of police violence and killings in the United States.

“Accurate and comprehensive data on the use of force by law enforcement is essential to an informed and productive discussion about community-police relations,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch in a press release.

“The initiatives we are announcing today are vital efforts toward increasing transparency and building trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve,” she continued. “In the days ahead, the Department of Justice will continue to work alongside our local, state, tribal and federal partners to ensure that we put in place a system to collect data that is comprehensive, useful and responsive to the needs of the communities we serve.”

One of the biggest struggles in creating such a database is bound to be the localized nature of law enforcement, which gives a lot of administrative duties and day-to-day decision-making power to individual departments.

Prior to the Justice Department’s announcement, some news outlets have tried to provide as much data as they could on national police violence. By tracking local reports of police killings around the country, the Guardian, for instance, has found 847 incidents of civilians dying at the hands of cops in this year alone, in its database called “The Counted.”

It remains to be seen if the police will actually bother to report the amount of people they kill or if they will just ignore it again. Plus, the DOJ may once again respond by proclaiming it an impossible task instead of saying pretty please with sugar on top to see if that gets them to do it. Of course, the fact that it is so hard to keep a count of just how many people are killed by the police each year is pretty telling in and of itself.

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Washington Cop Indicted on Child Porn Charges for Sexting Thirteen Year Old Girl

Oak Harbor (WA) Police Officer John Little was indicted by a federal grand jury early this month on charges of receiving Child porn. Officer Little, a former high school resource officer, used the KIK cell phone messenger app to “sext” with a thirteen year old girl in another state between March and July of this year.

The texts included sexually explicit pictures, videos, and text messages. According to an FBI report, at least one of those explicit texts were sent while he was at work “protecting and serving” Oak Harbor residents. He also apparently was sexting with so many underage girls that he says he couldn’t specifically remember talking to the victim.

Via the Whidbey News-Times:

Little is accused of exchanging sexually explicit images, videos and messages with a 13-year-old girl in another state through a KIK messenger app on a cell phone. The FBI’s report states that he sent her images of his penis and face.

According to text conversations included in the report, Little also allegedly made lewd suggestions to the child regarding objects and urged her to send him photos.

Little told the child that he was “at work” during one of their explicit conversations, the report states. The girl wrote that she was at school in another of their conversations.

The charging documents indicate that the crime occurred “in or about March 2016 and continuing until at least in or about July 2016.”

The FBI report also states that Little may have also been communicating with other children.

During an interview with the FBI, Little allegedly admitted that he “had sexually explicit conversations with individuals he knew or had reason to know were minors,” though he did not specifically recall conversations with the victim.

Special agents from the Bellingham office of the FBI took Little, a 27-year veteran of the Oak Harbor police force, into custody after questioning him and serving a search warrant at his home.

Little was the school resource officer from 1998 to 2004 and filled in on a temporary basis in 2008, according to Oak Harbor police records.

According to Oak Harbor Police Administrator Terry Gallagher, Officer Little was immediately given a paid vacation after he was arrested by FBI agents at the Oak Hill Police Department headquarters. That should give him plenty of free time to sext young teen girls.

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Federal “Investigations” Only Enable Local Police Departments’ Abuses

The following post was originally posted at NationalInterest.org by  under the title “Washington Can’t Fix Broken Policing.” It addresses the idea that having a the Department of Justice (DoJ) or some other federal agency such as the FBI investigate abuses by local police or court official will lead to a fair or meaningful resolution.

Despite the prevalence of calls for the Federal Government to intervene in high profile cases, the truth is that what really happens when the Feds step in is it delays and distracts from the original issues and almost always leads to (intentionally) ineffective and superficial reform proposals, most of which are often not even adopted.

Many times after the “investigation” by federal officials has afforded time for tempers to cool and the spotlight has been removed from those on the local level, they end vindicating the abusers anyway or proposing a slew of hollow changes. When the “cavalry” arrives, they’re usually shooting blanks.

(Share relevant content or your own personal stories and/or videos  with the CopBlock Network, via the CopBlock.org Submissions Page.)

Washington Can’t Fix Broken Policing

Federal intervention allows local officials to evade responsibility.

It has been one year since Freddie Gray died while in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department. Gray’s death sparked peaceful protests and then calamitous riots that brought international attention and prompted the deployment of National Guard units. While local prosecutors indicted the officers involved in Gray’s arrest, the federal government promised to investigate the entire police department for a “pattern or practice” of constitutional violations. The impending outcome of that inquiry seems foreordained. The real question is whether federal monitoring can truly fix a broken police department. The conventional wisdom is that it can, but experience tells us that it can be counterproductive.

Since the Ferguson riot in 2014, police departments across the country have been under unprecedented scrutiny. When a pattern of wrongdoing or dysfunction is exposed, we hear a familiar refrain: this department is so bad that it is incapable of correcting itself, so federal intervention is necessary. After some initial resistance, the city of Ferguson has now agreed to a federal monitor. Last week, Newark also agreed to a federal monitor, to oversee its troubled police force. The Justice Department has also investigated and instituted reforms in many of the United States’ big-city police departments—Los Angeles, New Orleans, Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, to name a few.

Police StateClearly, police misconduct is more widespread than many want to admit. In Chicago, the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, caught on camera, has roiled minority neighborhoods because they see it as only the most recent episode of police wrongdoing there. It is safe to say that other cities may be one incident away from similar unrest.

Mayors and city councils don’t want police misconduct to occur, but in too many cities they let the problem fester. To the extent that they’re even paying attention, the typical political calculation seems to be this: it’s better to have the support of the police department and police union come election time, so don’t take steps that they will oppose.

There is, however, a cost to that political calculation: minority resentment toward city government—especially the police. After all, the victims of illegal detention, illegal searches and excessive force have friends, neighbors and relatives. And when bad cops are not dealt with, it is not unfair to conclude that the department itself is indifferent to injustice. This explains the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

When a shocking incident of police misconduct comes along, the fecklessness of local governance is exposed in the glare of the media spotlight. Suddenly, reporters are asking pointed questions. Exactly how many people have been shot by the police department? Why was video evidence withheld from the public? What accountability systems are in place to track and remove problem officers?

The optimal moment for police reform comes in the immediate aftermath of a police scandal. The public is aroused, and if the problems run deep into the department itself, voters want those problems corrected. Local politicians find themselves on the spot. They can’t afford to appear uninterested, but they’d rather not fight the police department either. Instead of rolling up their sleeves to make some politically difficult decisions, they posture as reformers by joining the chorus calling for a federal civil rights investigation.

When the feds do intervene, everyone seems to be pleased. The heat is off the local officials to address police misconduct. They say they’ll have to await the outcome of the federal investigation before taking any action. Federal officials are pleased because they are seen as the cavalry coming to the rescue. Civil rights activists are satisfied because they think a federal lawsuit will bring about needed reforms. The police department and police union benefit as well. The intense media scrutiny will now fade as the months roll past.

Unfortunately, federal intervention has a counterproductive “enabling” effect: it allows local officials to evade their responsibility to fix broken police organizations. When the local politicos make a plea for federal intervention, it deflects attention away from their oversight failure and actually squanders the prospect for sweeping changes at a pivotal moment.

There is a borderline reverence for federal intervention among academics and journalists, which has blinded them to political dynamics that should strike us as odd. On the surface, it appears as if the feds are imposing wide-ranging reforms on local officialdom. In truth, however, the local officials chose that outcome once the feds were invited in. Here’s the quandary: the local politicos had the capability to enact reforms all along, so why didn’t they embrace such measures to head off a federal lawsuit? Experience has shown, time and again, that local officials would rather cope with federal monitors than fight powerful police unions.

Federal monitors have not succeeded where local officials are intransigent about reform. Arizona’s Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, is an example. Arpaio may lose a case in court, but he remains defiant and wins reelection. There have been improvements in the cities with reform-minded mayors and police chiefs—but in those cases, federal monitors were never really necessary. The monitors merely provided the local officials with additional political leverage against the police lobby. Local political fights, however, should not be considered an appropriate basis for federal lawsuits and federal takeovers of local police operations.

Police misconduct is a serious problem. If the solution was simple, it would have already been adopted. The hard truth is that a good police department requires the sustained commitment of locally elected officials to that goal. If that commitment is absent, federal intervention will only obscure that reality, and make it more difficult for voters to hold the local politicos accountable for their neglect.

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