Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States
Officer Len Davis: Former Officer Len Davis, reportedly known in the Desire housing project as "Robocop," ordered the October 13, 1994 murder of Kim Groves, after he learned she had filed a brutality complaint against him.21 Federal agents had Davis under surveillance for alleged drug-dealing and recorded Davis ordering the killing, apparently without realizing what they had heard until it was too late. Davis mumbled to himself about the "30" he would be taking care of (the police code for homicide) and, in communicating with the killer, described Groves's standing on the street and demanded he "get that whore!" Afterward, he confirmed the slaying by saying "N.A.T.", police jargon for "necessary action taken."22 Community activists reported a chilling effect on potential witnesses or victims of brutality considering coming forward to complain following Groves's murder.
According to a partial list of complaints and disciplinary action against Davis, obtained by an attorney, he was the subject of at least twenty complaints between 1987 and 1992, most involving brutality and physical intimidation; in most cases the complaints were not sustained, but in one case he was suspended for fifty-one days for hitting a woman in the head with his flashlight.23 One officer told a reporter,"He's got an internal affairs jacket as thick as a telephone book, but supervisors have swept his dirt under the rug for so long that it's coming back to haunt them."24
On November 6, 1996, Davis was sentenced to death in federal court, on federal criminal civil rights charges, for ordering Groves's slaying.25 And on December 18, 1996, Davis was sentenced to life plus five years in federal court for his involvement in the cocaine ring.26 Along with Davis, a half-dozen other former New Orleans police officers were convicted on drug trafficking charges, all stemming from the same FBI sting operation.
Officer Antoinette Frank: At 1:00 a.m. on March 4, 1995, New Orleans police officer Antoinette Frank and an accomplice entered a Vietnamese restaurant in east New Orleans, shot the off-duty police officer moonlighting as a security guard, and then executed a brother and sister who worked at their family's restaurant as they knelt on the floor praying and begging for mercy. The victims' brother and sister hid in a cooler and witnessed much of what transpired. Frank, who did not disguise herself, knew the family and had moonlighted as a security guard at the restaurant before, and even responded to their call for help after the incident, as though she knew nothing about what had transpired. She was quickly convicted and sentenced to death in September 1995.27
Frank had been hired as an officer in February 1993; after failing the civil service psychiatric evaluation, she had hired her own physician to find her fit. Following the department's rules, the two contradictory evaluations were thenevaluated by a second civil service psychiatrist, who found her suitable.28 Concerns of fellow officers about her behavior were ignored.29
Lt. Christopher Maurice: Lt. Christopher Maurice was charged with two counts of simple battery by the district attorney's office on August 10, 1994, after allegedly assaulting two motorists during separate traffic stops on Interstate 10.30 In one of the cases, Maurice allegedly slammed the head of radio personality Richard Blake (known as Robert Sandifer), against his police car's hood after Blake was pulled over on June 22, 1994. Blake reportedly suffered facial lacerations. The altercation began when Blake yelled at Maurice, who was in an unmarked car, to slow down after he tailgated then quickly passed Blake's car; after the incident, Blake did not get a ticket. In November 1995, Maurice was convicted on battery charges in relation to this incident and sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to seek help from a stress management clinic.31 After a panel of Criminal District Court judges overturned the conviction, the 4th Circuit Court reinstated the conviction in December 1996.32 According to press reports, the district attorney's office only took up the case against Maurice involving Blake after a government watchdog group pressured the prosecutors to review the case.33
Prior to this incident, Maurice reportedly had been the subject of more than a dozen discourtesy and brutality complaints.34 According to civil service records,Maurice had been reprimanded twice between 1985 and 1994, and suspended once.35 The suspension stemmed from an argument with a neighbor in which he allegedly brandished his gun.36 And in a 1991 civil lawsuit, the city paid a $25,000 settlement to a man who claimed Maurice hit him in the head with his police radio.37 Despite his record, Maurice served as the commander in charge of enforcing the internal rules of the department.38 The civilian review agency, the Office of Municipal Investigation, had reviewed several of the complaints against Maurice, but none had been sustained. Commented one officer about Maurice's job to enforce internal rules, "Having him in that position is ridiculous....Here's a guy with a history of complaints and it's like he's being rewarded for it."39 Maurice is no longer on the police force.40
21 Complaints are supposedly confidential, but it was widely believed that this complaint was leaked by Internal Affairs Division or another department branch.
22 James Varney, "Trust in police vanishes as horror stories unfold," Times-Picayune, December 14, 1994; Michael Perlstein, "Officer had a history of complaints," Times-Picayune, December 7, 1994; Jesse Katz, "Corrupt cops: the big sleazy?" Los Angeles Times, March 8, 1995.
23 Attachment to letter from attorney Mary Howell to Mayor Morial and Superintendent Pennington, December 6, 1994.
24 Perlstein, "Officer had a history...," Times-Picayune. An internal affairs "jacket" means file.
25 Bill Voelker, "Ex-officer gets life for role in coke ring," Times-Picayune, December 19, 1996.
27 Christopher Cooper and Walter Philbin, "NOPD didn't see red flags, records say," Times-Picayune, March 7, 1995; Cynthia Sanz, "A killer in blue," Miller, "The big sleazy," Sunday Times Magazine (London); "Unthinkable horror," Commentary, Gambit, March 14, 1995.
28 Cooper and Philbin, "NOPD didn't see red flags," Times Picayune.
30 Perlstein, "Radio exec: cop hit me," Times-Picayune; "Cop faces battery charges," Times-Picayune, August 11, 1994. Also in June 1994, Maurice was served a warrant for a battery charge against a cable company worker in St. Tammany parish. Perlstein, "N.O. cop accused of abuse in past," Times-Picayune, July 2, 1994.
31 Michael Perlstein, "Former officer wants old job," Times-Picayune, October 11, 1996.
32 Walt Philbin, "Ex-officer's battery conviction is reinstated," Times-Picayune, December 5, 1996.
33 Perlstein, "DA's office takes up cop probe," Times-Picayune, August 6, 1994.
34 Just after the incident involving Blake, Maurice was found in violation of department rules for getting into an argument and nearly a fistfight with a fellow officer in early 1994. A two-day suspension was ordered, but Maurice was already suspendedbecause of the Interstate 10 altercation described above. Perlstein, "Accused cop broke rules, sources say," Times-Picayune, June 25, 1994.
35 Michael Perlstein, "Radio exec: cop hit me," Times-Picayune, June 24, 1994.
37 Michael Perlstein, "DA's office takes up cop probe," Times-Picayune, August 6, 1994.
38 Perlstein, "N.O. cop accused of abuse in past," Times-Picayune, July 2, 1994.
40 Maurice was dismissed in November 1995 after he was convicted in the Sandifer case. Philbin, "Ex-officer's battery conviction is reinstated," Times-Picayune, December 5, 1996.
© June 1998
Human Rights Watch