Sunday, January 27, 2002

Few officers prosecuted

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The U.S. Department of Justice gets about 10,000 complaints a year alleging civil rights violations by law-enforcement officers nationwide, most of them about excessive force. About 3,000 get investigated, about 60 make it to court. Of those, about 60 percent result in criminal charges filed against officers.

        The criminal section of the department's Civil Rights Division has handled many high-profile cases, including: the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers; the Mississippi slaying of three civil rights workers in 1964 at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan and a sheriff; the 1970 Kent State shootings by Ohio National Guardsmen.

        Prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers involved violated the victim's constitutional rights by intentionally using more force than necessary. Recent prosecutions:

        • Last August, a Prince George's County, Md., canine officer was sentenced to 10 years in prison after siccing her dog on an unarmed, homeless Mexican immigrant.

        • A New Orleans police officer was convicted in 1996 of conspiring to murder a woman who watched the officer beat a young man. She was shot to death the day after reporting the incident. This was among the incidents that prompted a wide-scale Justice Department investigation of the New Orleans Police Department.


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