Why isn’t Buffalo Police Officer Robert Eloff not in jail?

When it comes to police misconduct, few do it better than Robert Eloff.  The fact that he’s still employed by Buffalo is astonishing, but that may finally be changing.  Currently Eloff is on unpaid leave pending the investigation into an incident at Molly’s Bar in Buffalo.  Bar manager, and Eloff’s off duty employer, Jeffrey Basil is currently facing 1st Degree Assult charges over an altercation that occurred in Molly’s on May 11th.  Little is known about the event, since police are actively investigating, but what is known is not looking good for Eloff.

Witnesses claim that Basil pushed William Sager, Jr. down a flight of stairs.  Sager’s family reports that the doctors believe he was already unconscious before he was pushed, since there is no evidence that Sager tried to protect himself in any way.  It is clear that Sager was unconscious and bleeding from his nose and ears when he landed at the bottom of the staircase.  That’s when Eloff got involved.

Eloff and another officer allegedly dragged Sager out of the bar.  This is a violation of every medical text and concept about what to do for someone with a traumatic head injury.  Eloff should have known better than to move Sager at all.  But it gets worse.  It is reported that Eloff propped him against a wall quite a distance from the bar and then handcuffed him.  Eloff called 911, but didn’t give the bar’s name or location, instead a nearby cross street.  It is important to note that Eloff was under the employment of the bar at the time.  When medical personal arrived, Eloff removed the handcuffs and Sager was rushed to the hospital, where he remains unconscious today.  At some point after Eloff and his partner, also off duty and working for the bar, moved Sager, the video system inside the bar stopped working.  The tapes (reports differ, but it seems to have been some sort of electronic device, and not tapes) were found in the dumpster of a nearby convenience store.

As a result of this incident, Eloff was put on unpaid leave, and cops in Buffalo no longer are allowed to work directly for bars.  The fact that New York state law banned them from working directly for bars, and has for decades, is irrelevant.  Buffalo had allowed off duty officers to work for the bars as long as they stayed outside to handle crowds.  At the time of the assault, both off duty officers were inside the bar.

Being so directly involved with such an assault is bad enough, the fact that Eloff, to the medical detriment of Sager, attempt to cover it up is repulsive.  Eloff also arrested one of Sager’s friends who came to check on him for trespassing, a charge that didn’t stick.  The goal would seem to be clear, Eloff was trying to protect Basil, his employer, by getting Sager as far from the bar as he could before calling for help.  Instead of acting like an officer and preserving the scene of the crime and securing the evidence from the video system, Eloff conspired to try and hide the crime.  There really is no other way to view it.

Christopher Kozac after his run in with Officer Eloff.

Had this been Eloff’s first brush with police misconduct, it might be understandable.  But it isn’t.  Since Eloff’s been on leave, at least four more have come forward with testimony that he used excessive force with them.  Just this week, a man filed notice that he is suing the city of Buffalo over Eloff’s unprovoked attack outside of the Bottom’s Up Bar, where Eloff was again working as security.  This event was back in March 11, 2014.  Video from the event shows Eloff tackling Christopher Kozak right after he left the bar after witnessing an altercation inside.  Eloff and other officers tackled Kozak to the ground, leaving Kozak bloodied and bruised.  And what was this level of force used for?  Absolutely nothing, Kozak was not charged with any crime.  This is how his attorney put it:

“Assault and excessive force, assault battery and excessive force against my client. I can not charge them with false arrest and malicious prosecution because they didn’t even charge my client,” said Cercone.

– Ronald Cercone as reported on WIVB’s Website

Video of the attack can be found here.

On St. Patrick’s Day, just a few days after the beating Kozac suffered, Eloff was implicated in another incident.  A woman was filming police breaking up an altercation during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  She has video of Eloff walking up to her and knocking her phone out of her hand.

Eloff has also been implicated in a double incident from January 2013.  In this incident, Devin Rooney was at one of two bars that are side by side on Elmwood in Buffalo.  He noticed a young black man handcuffed sitting in the entrance to Toros Tapas Bar, the bar next door to the one he was in.  Rooney stepped out on the sidewalk and snapped a photograph of the man, because he suspected that he was being mistreated.  After snapping the picture, Rooney returned to the bar next door, but off duty and again working for the owner of both bars, Eloff followed Rooney into the bar, demanding that he turn over his phone.  When Rooney didn’t comply, Eloff reportedly slammed Rooney’s head into the wall of the bar three times, handcuffed him, and forced him out of the bar and back to Toros.

With all of these incidents, and more coming forward since the assault at Molly’s, the question isn’t why Eloff isn’t working, but why he isn’t in jail.

H/T To Scott Greenfield

Advertisements

A Solution To Swatting That’s Safe For Everyone

There is a nationwide trend, heavily in use among the gaming community, that is playing Police Department deficiencies against unwitting citizens.  It’s called swatting and is beyond repugnant.

The basic aspect of the game is that through one of several means, a phone number is spoofed and the prankster (a name that belittles the seriousness of this crime) calls the police and reports that some horrific murder and hostage situation is occurring at a specific address.  The goal is to get the biggest police response possible to the target’s house.  According to what the Long Beach Police Commissioner told the Huffington Post:

“In this … bizarre world of swatting, you get points for the helicopter, for the police cars, for the SWAT team, for the type of entry,” Michael Tangney, Long Beach police commissioner, told CBS New York. “It’s very sophisticated. Unfortunately, it’s very dangerous.”

I tried to find a website that had the so called rules and point system for this swatting game, but my brief use of Goggle found nothing. Not surprised, this isn’t really something those playing want the police to discover.

In a recent case in Long Island, the result of the prank was a $100,000 response of over 70 officers, a dynamic entry into a home, and terrifying a mother and her two sons. The prankster got points for just about everything but the helicopter.

This is not a game, at least not a game in the same way that Russian Roulette is not a game.  People can die in this game.  So far, I can’t find an instance where someone has, but the potential for things going seriously wrong is huge.  Consider the kid who answered the police knocking on his door with his game controller who ended up shot and killed. In this case the police officer who did the shooting is under a grand jury ordered investigation.

Frankly it seems to me that the problem is as much with the police policies as it is with the prankster asshats that call in the swatting.  Specifically how they handle these hostage situations. Keep in mind how these work, the asshat calls the police claiming murder and hostages at a specific address. He clearly WANTS the police attention.  From the police point of view, they arrive on scene and they have a couple of options. One shouldn’t be to kick in the door.

The first thing that I would expect the police to do is attempt to make contact inside the house. Talk with the neighbors, did they hear gunshots?  Do they have a land line phone you can call?  Do neighbors know their cell phone number?  Does the house look like it’s barricaded and ready for a police response? Does the house look like the homeowners are blissfully unaware of the growing army outside?  Then perhaps it’s time to make peaceful, respectful contact.  If there is no land line and no cell numbers found, do a ding dong ditch and leave a cellphone and a sign on the front porch and see if the door is opened and the phone is picked up.  In other words, make peaceful contact first.

That’s not really as radical as you think, and it has worked.  A swatting event in Huntsville, Alabama turned out just that way. As the police infiltrated the area, they quickly realized things were not as they seemed, and managed to put no one at risk, including themselves.  Because no-knock entry into a home is a dangerous thing for police to do.  The people inside have the constitutional right to fight back when an unknown force bursts through their front door.  And police SWAT teams will not respond kindly to being shot at.

The truth is that SWAT raids are a dangerous business, even when the SWAT is the correct use of force.  But lately, SWAT has been used to deliver more warrants than ever.  Even knock and announce warrants.  And that puts the public at danger.  Since 1981, use of SWAT style raids have exploded, and is partially to blame for the fact that police have killed more American’s than terrorists since 9/11. It’s all tied up with the further militarization of police.

A part of that militarization and why SWAT raids have become so dangerous is what a blogger known as ExCopLawStudent has written about extensively known as the first rule of policing. Basically, the first rule of policing is “Go home alive.”  As a result of this rule, Officer Safety is the number one excuse for any use of force, however outlandish.  A subset of this rule is the level of respect generated.  There was a time when the police actively worked hard to gain the respect and trust of the community they served.  Sadly, that is rarely the case today.  Instead, the respect (at least in the mind of the police) is generated because they have the badge.  As a result, they expect us to give them respect from the outset of an encounter, be that a traffic stop, a public arrest or a SWAT raid.

Personally, I do. Not because they earned it. And not because it’s the “right thing to do.” But because, on the street, like it or not, thanks to the first rule of policing, they have all the power.  I’m respectful and kind. I do what they tell me.  I’m not stupid.  I raise my rights, I don’t answer questions and I refuse to consent to searches, but I don’t argue. Because on the streets is not the place to plead your case.  Police are the brute force of the Government, militarized or not.  The place to plead your case, correct the wrongs (if any) done to you at the hands of the police, are in the courts.  Although that is a whole other bag of trouble.

But overall, I can’t help to think that if police went into every encounter not with the concept of shock and awe, but with the concept of de-escalation the system would be far safer for everyone.  Wouldn’t it be nice if reducing crime AND reducing arrests was the stated goal.  And if police action and use of force is determined by the best result for everybody and not just the police.  Then, maybe just, there wouldn’t be federal investigations into police brutality.

 

How much does it cost to educate the public servants?

The City of Chicago is paying a heathy fee for not being able to learn from past mistakes.  In the past ten years, the city has paid over half a billion dollars to settle police misconduct cases.  Yet in the past ten years, there has been little to nothing done about the root causes of the problem.  2013 was a particularly bad year for Chicago, they paid over $87 million but had only budgets $27 million. Why a city would budget to cover a problem that shouldn’t exist if they held their officers to the same standard that McDonalds holds their cashers to is beyond me.  It didn’t take long for the city to bust the budget.  They settled a single case for $22.5 million in January of 2013.  In August, another single case was settled for $12 million.

Chicago isn’t the only city with significant bills for police misconduct.  Cities around the nation are faced with higher and higher settlements and awards for the police abusing their authority.  And there is no excuse for it.  Police have qualified immunity, which means they can not be sued for doing their job and doing it correctly.  If they follow the law and their own policies, they would be immune from being sued.  That they are getting sued as often as they are means that judges across the country are agreeing that police are not following the law and are not following their own policies.   Municipalities are rapidly learning to settle cases once the veil of qualified immunity is pierced, juries are quite unforgiving once they are convinced that the police did wrong.  

What is sad is that the common public hold the belief that it is a few bad cops that are making the whole force look bad.  But when these so called good cops stand around and do nothing when the bad cops act up, they aren’t good cops.  Then again, perhaps police don’t call out other police action because of the very real retaliation their brother in blue will perform against them. But that retaliatory attitude is tacitly supported by the system police have built for themselves, and it is quite a system.  

Thanks to police unions and lobbyist, the laws and contracts of the police force is a powerful thing.  In the millions Chicago paid out, most of the officers who performed the misconducts didn’t get any punishment.  So much so, that not included in that $500 Million payout is the paid leave the officers got.  Once the complaint was filed, the police department does its own internal investigation.  It’s the police policing the police, and it doesn’t work.  And often leads to weird situations such as both defending and going after the officer at the same time.

A few things need to change, or you are going to see this payout to private citizens continue.  Police must stop policing themselves.  An independent, outside agency should handle all the complaints that come in against officers and departments.  Chiefs must be able to fire problem officers without interference from the union.  And cops need to stop covering cops who do bad things.  Until those three things are fixed, all the training in the world won’t stop the money bleeding out of departments around the country.