February 09, 2016
By Matt Kessler in Oxford, Mississippi
Why did police shoot Ball that night? Why did a string of police officials resign in the months that followed? And why did police claim Ball stole a gun from a police officer’s home only after his death?
Attempts to obtain police documents about the case have raised a new question: why did police release two different versions of events from the shooting?
Documents obtained by the Guardian show police altered a document labeled “uniform incident report” in Ball’s death. An initial version published by the Commercial Dispatch said an officer “tased” Ball before he fled. A new version of the incident report released to the Guardian does not include any mention of Taser use.
“One of these two reports is not true,” said Philip Broadhead, director of the criminal appeals clinic at the University of Mississippi law school. Broadhead said he’s never seen an incident report altered the way the document was in this case. “For police officers to offer up this type of information in the form of an incident report as sworn law officers … It’s a violation of their oath.”
City attorney Jeff Turnage said in an email the “documents created after the incident clearly were not incident reports, though that was the caption at the top”. He said “the city was not going to produce those because they were investigative in nature and exempt from production.”
An incident report is an official piece of evidence in the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation’s ongoing inquiry. It could also be used in a grand jury proceeding for officer Canyon Boykin.
Community members have held marches, vigils and launched a website seeking justice in Ball’s name in a case they have flagged as suspicious since it happened on 16 October. Ball was shot by Boykin after he and two other officers stopped a Mercury Grand Marquis in which Ball was the passenger. Ball jumped out of the car and fled. A coroner at the Baptist Memorial hospital declared Ball dead from a loss of blood at 11.12 pm.
But the details are hotly disputed.
According to Kamal Karriem, former city councilman and community leader, many members of the black community believe police fired shots without justifiable cause and planted the gun on Ball’s body.
That alternative theory is the basis for a website, Justice For Ricky Ball, which has been meticulously documenting the twists and turns of the case over the past four months. It has also served as a sounding board for members of the community who feel ignored by the city government and local media.
“Ricky didn’t deal with guns,” said Ernesto Ball, uncle of Ricky and organizer of the vigil and march. “That’s one thing he never dealt with. He never owned a gun. He never dealt with people that owned guns.”
Suspicion in Columbus grew as police did not release any information about the incident until five days after Ball’s death, and then only in small increments.
At a city council meeting on 20 October, former police chief Tony Carleton said the car was pulled over for a faulty tag light and a “lack of insurance”. He then said body camera footage existed, but that he had not reviewed it. This drew derisive heckling from citizens in attendance.
The next day Carleton said he viewed the footage on former councilman Karriem’s radio show, but would not elaborate.
On 28 October 2015 – almost two weeks after the shooting – the police department issued an incident report, its first official account of events, as well as a press release that stated that a handgun, marijuana, narcotics and a scale were found within arm’s reach of Ball’s body. The press release said the three officers failed to activate body cameras during the incident, and only one officer activated a camera after the shooting.
Police also said the handgun was stolen from the house of Columbus police officer Garrett Mittan, one of the first officers to arrive at the scene.
The very same day, police issued two reports for alleged burglaries at officer Mittan’s house. Although one alleged burglary occurred more than a year earlier, in September 2014, and the other occurred several months earlier in August 2015, police did not report them until after Ball’s death.
The September 2014 report claims that the robbery occurred while Mittan was at work. But a police schedule obtained by the Guardian says he was not at work that day.
In the days that followed, there were a string of departures in the police department. First, the city fired Boykin, the officer who shot Ball, for unrelated reasons. The department said Boykin violated department policies by using derogatory language on Instagram, and allowing his girlfriend to ride in his patrol car.
The day after that, the chief of police, Carleton, resigned. He took a position as a training officer with the the police department in Oxford, Mississippi. The voluntary demotion raised eyebrows.
The assistant police chief Tony McCoy and narcotics officer Joseph Strevel also resigned before the end of 2015.
In January, the Guardian requested a copy of the incident report and received one that looked different from the earlier version published in the Commercial Dispatch, omitting a report that police “tased” the suspect.
Turnage claims that the second version of the incident report was given to the Guardian erroneously. He said in a follow-up email: “You can very well take my word as the City Attorney for Columbus that the incident report that says Boykin tased Mr Ball is the ONLY official incident report.”
Columbus police use the Taser X26, which stores data on an electronic control device). So if police did use a stun gun, it should be impossible to alter or delete this information.
Broadhead was alarmed by the two copies of the incident report, and said the altered incident report further discredits the police department’s account. Typically, he said, if police receive new information, they would indicate that the report had been changed. They would not, however, simply replace an old report with a new one.
“The series of events are not the same,” he said. “For this incident report to bear the same serial number … I’ve seen police reports supplemented. But I’ve never seen one that’s completely substituted.”
Blake Feldman, advocacy coordinator at the ACLU of Mississippi, says that the credibility of the document has been compromised.
An incident report is considered to be archival evidence and most police departments do not allow them to be altered, but the Columbus department has no standard operating procedure for them.
According to Broadhead: “For a city not to have a written policy concerning incident reports, that’s very unusual. But unfortunately it’s very common. Because if you don’t have a stated policy then you can’t be called for not following your stated policy.”
“When police make up rules as they go along,” former councilman Karriem said, “it creates blatant mistrust between the police and the communities that they are policing.”
The ACLU believes the state’s body camera policy is to blame.
“The circumstances of this incident, based on the information available, understandably invite suspicion of the officer’s version of events,” Feldman said. “Had audio and video been recorded from the time Boykin initiated the traffic stop, we wouldn’t be wondering if evidence was planted or whether a Taser was used. We wouldn’t be wondering why another young black man was fatally shot by a law enforcement officer.”
February 09, 2016
By Valerie Strauss, Washington Post
How do the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia support their public schools? Badly, according to a new report card (see in full below) which evaluates their performance on six key criteria and finds all of them wanting. The best overall grade is a C, with most states earning D’s or F’s.
The report card is being issued Tuesday by the Network for Public Education (NPE), a nonprofit group co-founded several years ago by education historian and activist Diane Ravitch to advocate for America’s public school system. The authors evaluated states on criteria they see as promoting a professional teaching force, equitable and sufficient funding and equal opportunities for all students to succeed — all critical to the health of public schools.
Specifically, the reports looks at how states approach high-stakes standardized testing and school finance as well as how much they promote teachers as professionals and resist privatizing public education. How states spend taxpayer money is another criterion, as is whether states promote policies that affect the income, living conditions and governmental support for students to give them all a chance to succeed in school. Some states earned A’s in a category or two but none earned higher than an overall C. You can see the breakdown below.
This list of criteria is very different than would be one coming from a school reform group that promotes the use of high-stakes standardized tests for “accountability” purposes. As Ravitch said in an introduction:
These measures are not always easy to quantify, but in the current environment, it is important to find a way to recognize those states that have invested in their public schools in positive ways. And it is also important to identify states that have weakened public education—by seeking to privatize their schools or turn them into profit-making ventures, as well as states that have aggressively instituted a regime of high stakes testing that unfairly sorts, ranks and demoralizes students, educators and schools. Unlike other organizations such as The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, whose report cards rank states in relation to their willingness to privatize public education and weaken the status of the teaching profession, we take another path. We give low marks to states that devalue public education, attack teachers and place high stakes outcomes on standardized tests.
The report says that state policies and laws enacted since the beginning of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002 have “taken a toll on our public schools.”
Prior to NCLB, nearly every state would have earned a grade of “A” in the criteria, No High Stakes Testing. This year, only 5 states earned a grade of “A.” Grades in the criteria Chance for Success are lower than they would have been a decade ago, due to rising numbers of students living in poverty and increased racial isolation in schools. And when it comes to school finance, our national grade is a dismal “D.”Still there are bright spots. Seven states have rejected charters, vouchers and other “reforms” that undermine community public schools. Three states — Alabama, Montana and Nebraska — each earn an “A” for their rejection of both high stakes testing and privatization. No state, however, received high grades across the board. For example, although Alabama scored high in resistance to high stakes testing and privatization, its schools are underfunded and far too many students live in poverty or near poverty in the state.
January 27, 2016
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jackson, MS -The ACLU of Mississippi applauds Attorney General Hood's restorative justice efforts via creation of the re-entry pilot program, which would promote principles of restorative justice and rehabilitation. Mississippi must continue to evaluate its prison system to ensure that former offenders have a fair chance at living a crime-free life beyond bars. This will in turn reduce recidivism rates and decrease our prison population.
However, we strongly oppose his intent to exempt from the Public Records Act the identities of the state execution team as well as the lethal injection drug supplier. Citizens have a right to this public information. Too often, states have been allowed to conduct executions cloaked in secrecy and free of public and judicial scrutiny, to rely on drugs from unknown and untested sources, and to employ personnel of unknown and unverifiable qualifications—with disastrous results. This pattern should be unacceptable in a civilized society dedicated to transparency and the rule of law.
We vehemently oppose the articulated alternative barbaric means Attorney General Hood proposes. The American Civil Liberties Union believes the death penalty inherently violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment and the guarantees of due process of law and of equal protection under the law. Furthermore, we believe that the state should not give itself the right to kill human beings – especially when it kills with premeditation and ceremony, in the name of the law or in the name of its people, and when it does so in an arbitrary and discriminatory fashion.
January 22, 2016
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jackson, MS -The ACLU of Mississippi applauds Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann's push for legislation that encourages greater voter participation. Secretary Hosemann's proposal to allow early voting and online voter registration increases our right to engage in the political process.
ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director Jennifer Riley-Collins served as a member of the Secretary of State's panel that examined election practices. In that 51-person study group, she aggressively advocated for the inclusion of early voting and online registration. The ACLU of Mississippi is pleased to see these recommendations included in his proposed legislation.
The ACLU of MS will continue to monitor this proposed legislation in an effort to protect Mississippians' fundamental right to access to the ballot box.
January 14, 2016
In 2016, 10 states will be putting into place restrictive voting laws that they will be enforcing for the first time in a presidential election. These laws range from new hurdles to registration to cutbacks on early voting to strict voter identification requirements. Collectively, these ten states are home to over 80 million people and will wield 129 of the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the presidency.
The ACLU has been fighting to ensure that all Americans have access to the polls. We have been on the ground in half of these 10 states:
What all this activity shows is that the wave of voter suppression efforts that swept across the country in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision eliminating a core provision of the Voting Rights Act, Shelby County v. Holder, has continued. In fact, in 2015, voter ID laws were proposed in half a dozen states: Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, and West Virginia. But five of those bills failed; only North Dakota’s became law.
It feels like the tide is turning, but as the 2016 election draws closer, we expect that politicians will be tempted to engage in yet more efforts to manipulate the democratic process — to try to choose the voters instead of letting the voters choose them.
What does this look like? CHECK OUT OUR MAP
January 05, 2016
By Maura Moed, MPB News
At a townhall meeting yesterday, the ACLU highlighted the importance of School Resource Officers - or SROs - regarding restraint and seclusion in the classroom.
Gerald Jones is Executive Director of Campus Enforcement at Jackson Public Schools. He says training can help SROs make and enforce proper decisions.
"It helps an individual distinguish between administrative action and criminal action. We don't criminalize non-criminal behavior. A cell phone is an administrative violation. It's not a criminal act. So, the SRO distinguishes between the two. Their job is to create and help foster a safe and secure environment," says Jones.
A student brawl in November at a Jackson high school is leaving some people concerned about SRO presence at schools.
Robert Laird is a retired Director of School Safety. He says school officers shouldn't get all of the blame when it comes to restraining a student.
"When you have that situation it's because you have poor quality administrators and principals. If a teacher is not intervening, it is the fault of the principal for not making the teacher do their job," Laird says.
Erik Fleming is with the ACLU. Agreeing with Laird, he says the training should be administered to all parties within a school system.
"The administrators should be trained to deal with the escalation. They should be trained in conflict resolution even more so than an SRO because they don't have any law enforcement capacity. So, their only weapon is to be more of a counselor or guide," Fleming says.
The ACLU is collaborating with the Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities to propose a bill on restraint and seclusion in the next legislative session in January.
January 05, 2016
By Erik R. Fleming, Legislative Strategist
The 2016 Mississippi Legislative Session promises to be intriguing. There will be a host of new faces roaming the Capitol in both houses and a number of issues will dominate the session, primarily education funding, changing of the State Flag and the allocation of the $1.5 billion BP settlement. However, the ACLU of Mississippi will push a set of legislation that we believe will be topics of substantive debate as well.
This legislation protects all Mississippians from discrimination and is the major focus of our “We Are ALL Mississippi” Campaign, which will affect a culture change in our state. With the support of a coalition of organizations, the Campaign holds our state accountable and stands on our bedrock values: respect, equality, and acting with decency towards our fellow man. We are asking the state legislature to protect everyone and prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, immigrant status, disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation. WE ARE ALL MISSISSIPPI!
Imprisoning citizens because of debt is unconstitutional in the United States. However, we have seen a resurgence of “debtors’ prisons” that has put thousands in jail for being too poor to pay fines for traffic tickets or other minor misdemeanors, under the cover of contempt of court. A clear definition of an indigent defendant has never been established in Mississippi, therefore, adequate representation has been arbitrary and incarceration as a result of an inability to pay fines, fees and court costs has been almost certain. The ACLU of Mississippi is introducing legislation that clearly defines indigency, establishes a substantial right for poor people to be represented by counsel in court, and limits the courts’ ability to incarcerate citizens for failure to pay fines in a timely manner. No one should be forced to face jail time because of their inability to pay fines.
We will resubmit legislation to amend Section § 37-7-321, of the Mississippi Code of 1972 that requires all School Resource Officers (SROs) complete a uniform statewide training program prior to being permitted to serve in a school. That curricula should include, at a minimum, training on child and adolescent development; cultural competence; violence de-escalation; identifying a student’s social, emotional and mental needs; alternatives to use of force; and due process protections for students. Currently, school districts that qualify for MSCOPS grants for SROs send their officers to a comprehensive training program. This legislation will provide a safety net for all school districts, in that they would have competent officers to compensate for the 20% attrition rate of potential SROs that do not complete the MSCOPS training.
Police search thousands of cars each year at Mississippi traffic stops, usually looking for guns or drugs, through a simple request for a driver to consent. Drivers often don’t know that they can say no, or may feel coerced and isolated by the side of the road. However, law enforcement does not need permission to search a car if there is evidence of reasonable suspicion of a crime. The ACLU of Mississippi is introducing legislation to ensure that drivers understand their constitutional right to say no to a request to search by requiring written consent with a simple disclosure. This will cover instances when an officer doesn’t have a warrant, is not making an arrest, or does not have probable cause. Written consent improves policing as well as protects public safety and civil liberties.
Body cameras have the potential to serve as a check against the abuse of power by police officers. They are a win-win, helping to protect the public against police misconduct, and at the same time guarding against false accusations of abuse. The challenge body cameras present is the potential for invasion of privacy, while also balancing the strong benefit in promoting police accountability. We will introduce legislation that ensures that body cameras will serve to protect the public, without becoming another system for routine surveillance. While our legislation will not mandate that all Mississippi law enforcement officers be equipped with body cameras, it will, for the sake of public confidence in the integrity of valued privacy protections, make sure that those that are equipped will do so within a framework of strong policies.
The ACLU of Mississippi looks forward to working with the 174 members of the Mississippi State Legislature to obtain the successful passage of these measures, while at the same time remaining vigilant to defeat any legislation that goes against our core principles of reformation, justice, equality, and freedom.
December 04, 2015
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Zakiya Summers, 601-354-3408, firstname.lastname@example.org
November 23, 2015 - Jackson, MS – Incidents like the one seen on social media and reported in the news from South Carolina and even November’s student brawl at a Jackson high school are raising concerns about student discipline and the use of School Resource Officers (SROs).
The ACLU of Mississippi is addressing these concerns and offering solutions at a town hall meeting. “Keeping Our Students Safe: Addressing School Discipline Town Hall Meeting”is scheduled forThursday, December 17, 2015from6-7:30 p.m.at the Mississippi Public Broadcasting Auditorium(3825 Ridgewood Road).
“This town hall meeting is an opportunity to learn about the importance of SRO training and the need for policy around use of restraint and seclusion inside the classroom,” said ACLU of MS Executive Director Jennifer Riley-Collins. “Plus, the community will hear from a school board member, principal, campus enforcement officer, and counselor as part of a panel discussion on best practices for addressing school discipline.”
Get your questions answered at this free and open to the public community forum. For more information, contact the ACLU of MS office at 601-354-3408 or via email to email@example.com.
November 24, 2015
By Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director
Fear is toxic to a democracy. Fear divides. Fear overreacts. Fear discriminates. It's a lesson we've learned throughout our history, from the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II to the post-9/11 Patriot Act. And now in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks, we're relearning that lesson again as some of our leaders put forth proposals that would undermine our commitment to a free, pluralistic, compassionate, and open society.
Currently 31 governors are on record opposing resettling any Syrian refugees in their states. These efforts to subvert federal policy would be unconstitutional. Only the federal government has the authority to determine who is allowed to enter the country -- the states do not. And once immigrants are admitted, the states cannot restrict them from settling wherever they choose.
The governors say they worry that terrorists may hide among those who are fleeing the Islamic State and the Assad regime. This is a good argument for a rigorous and multi-layered screening process -- but we already have one. The current U.S. refugee screening system includes background checks by multiple agencies, biometric tests, medical screenings, and in-person interviews with Department of Homeland Security officials.
But that didn't stop the House of Representatives on Thursday from passing a bill that would bring resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees to a grinding halt by adding additional layers of bureaucracy to an already rigorous process. By singling out Syrian and Iraqi refugees, the bill also shamefully discriminates against them based on their national origin, nationality, and religion. If the Senate follows suit and passes the bill, President Obama should veto this callous piece of legislation that will only further fan the flames of Islamophobia inside and outside the country.
Let's remember, too, that most of the Paris attackers were European citizens, and they would not have had to claim to be refugees in order to enter the United States. It makes no sense to close American borders to Syrian and Iraqi refugees -- to deny sanctuary to some of the world's most vulnerable -- because a tiny number of Europeans committed a terrorist attack.
Our country has a long history of sheltering the persecuted. Many of the colonies that eventually became the United States were founded by people who were fleeing religious persecution in Europe. In the late 1970s, we gave refuge to Vietnamese people who fled war in Southeast Asia. In 1980s, we gave refuge to thousands of Cubans who arrived in the United States as part of the Mariel boatlift. In the late 1990s, we gave refuge to those fleeing the Kosovo war. These refugees, and their children, have become Americans. On the whole, this is a history we should be proud of.
Moreover, refugees enrich our society. Our country is stronger because of the energy and talent that millions of refugees have contributed to it. The suggestion that we should deny sanctuary to those who are fleeing persecution loses sight of this.
Current proposals to close our doors to refugees are connected to a deeper undercurrent of prejudice. Some political leaders have called for blanket surveillance of American Muslims, with presidential candidate Donald Trump even going as far asto suggest that American Muslims should be required to carry special cards identifying themselves as Muslims. Trump has also calledfor renewing government surveillance of mosques inside the United States and has suggested that mosques might be shut down altogether. All of this would be unconstitutional as well as stigmatizing, divisive, and unfair.
And though there's never a time for such irresponsible and inaccurate rhetoric, it is particularly dangerous now. On Monday, the FBI released its 2014 report on hate crimes, which found that the number of incidents fell in every victim group except one: Muslims. Calls for discriminatory surveillance and religious profiling will only increase the vulnerability of our American Muslim neighbors and friends. We should not help ISIS drive a wedge between Muslims in the West and the democratic societies they call home. Many first-generation American Muslims, it should be noted, came to America precisely because of the freedoms that some politicians now want to curtail. And Muslims have been part of this nation's fabric since its founding.
It isn't difficult to stand for freedom, compassion, and tolerance in times of relative peace and security. These basic tenets of the American civic faith aren't tested until times like these. But we don't have to give in to hate and fear. We don't have to compromise our beliefs in freedom and equality. Principle can defeat prejudice if we don't lose sight of what matters most: protecting the very values and rights that make us Americans, especially in the most trying of times.
Published on Huffington Post
November 17, 2015
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Zakiya Summers, 601-354-3408, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jackson, MS – ACLU of Mississippi Vice Chairman Jack Williams has issued the following statement on behalf of the organization in response to Governor Bryant’s attempt to block Syrian refugees from being placed in Mississippi.
“Although Governor Bryant has the difficult responsibility of protecting his citizens’ safety, he should do so while respecting the federal executive branch’s responsibility for foreign affairs. He should do so while respecting the federal government’s responsibility for setting refugee and asylum policy.
We ask that he learn from hysterias of years past, hysterias that led to the internment of Japanese American citizens and to the exclusion of Jewish refugees from our shores as they fled the tyranny of Nazism.
The ACLU of Mississippi urges Governor Bryant to welcome Syrian refugees who are fleeing the brutality of ISIS.”