Use-of-force investigations in Ferguson a "joke," attorney says

FERGUSON, Mo. – The Ferguson Police Department's excessive use of force reports are a "joke," according to civil rights attorney.

At most police departments, when a citizen files a complaint for excessive use of force, internal affairs or a supervisor conducts an investigation, there is a chain of command and a formal report is filed. Sometimes, civil rights advocates criticize this practice, claiming police cannot fairly police themselves.

In Ferguson, however, police took self-policing to a whole new level.

The department's standard operating procedure came out during depositions from a case involving Henry Davis. In September 2009, Ferguson police charged Davis with destruction of property for bleeding on their uniforms. Civil rights attorney Jim Schottel filed suit claiming four officers beat up his client while he was handcuffed in the Ferguson jail.

The chief at the time was Thomas Moonier, who testified how excessive use of force complaints were handled.

"The officer himself could complete it and give it to the supervisor for his approval," Moonier said in a deposition taken last September.

Documents revealed a copy of the report was never placed in an officer's personnel file.

"How do we know these officers haven't used excessive use of force over and over again, that they haven't shot people or tazed people or kicked people or injured other people?" Schottel said.

In the deposition, Schottel asked who was in charge of the officers' personnel files.

"I have no idea," Moonier said. "I believe city hall, but I don't know."

Schottel: "Was there any way to identify any officers that were subject of one or more citizens' complaints?"

"Not to my knowledge," Moonier said.

Schottel: "Was there any way to identify officers who had … several use-of-force reports?"

"I don't recall," Moonier said.

Schottel: "An officer writes their own report and then, not being seriously reviewed by anybody independently, and then not keeping track of it? I'd say a lot of our citizens would say it's a complete joke."

Chief Tom Jackson, who took over in 2010, was deposed as well; he testified he put in a new centralized system in place. In his deposition, Chief Jackson said:

A. We changed the use of the form. As far as the retention of use-of-force investigative reports, that remained the same.

Q. And what was that, if it remained the same, what is -- What are you required to -- What is the policy for that?

A. There's a copy kept in my office in lock file and also the Commander of Field Operations.

Q. And are you referring to the use of force forms?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Would a copy also be placed in the personnel file of the officer that completed the use of force form?

A. Yes, sir. The one in my office, yes.

"They can say they made changes, but you have to make sure those changes are actually done and executed," Schottel said.

In December, Henry Davis's civil rights claim was granted summary judgment and thrown out.

The judge wrote in her decision:

"As unreasonable as it may sound, a reasonable officer could have believed that beating a subdued and compliant Mr. Davis while causing only a concussion, scalp laceration, and bruising with almost no permanent damage did not violate the Constitution...The Court grants summary judgment to Defendants on Count I."

Schottel is appealing that ruling.

In the meantime, NewsChannel 5 asked Ferguson police to prove that Chief Jackson actually made changes to the excessive force reporting system in 2010. We haven't heard back.

Schottel hopes the changes have been made, but added, "It's hard to get people to clean things up when they've been doing things a certain way for so long."


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