Criminal Justice

Police Professionalism in Boston

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The Boston Phoenix investigates the sad case of Stephan Cowans, wrongfully imprisoned for killing a Boston police officer. Cowans was exonerated in 2003, then murdered in 2004 by someone with designs on his $3.2 million settlement. The paper digs into Cowans' conviction, and finds evidence that police knew Cowans was innocent, yet forged ahead with his prosecution anyway. You might recognize this language:

What disturbs some political critics, as well as some defense attorneys, is that an unusually high number of botched police cases have not resulted in significant internal reform or any disciplinary action. This despite police conduct that a judge called "a fraud upon the court," in Christopher Harding's conviction, and that another judge, presiding over Donnell Johnson's appeal, said "suggests either serious misconduct or negligence."

In other cases of wrongful conviction, there was no effort made to answer tough questions about what went wrong. A feeble attempt was made in the wake of Cowans's exoneration. But its inadequacy only underscores the rottenness of the system. And of all these cases, it is the Cowans conviction that raises the biggest questions about local law-enforcement officials' ability to police themselves.

[…]

After examining 15 wrongful convictions — all but four in Boston — Reilly and the state's DAs concluded that they "did not suggest a present systems failure," and laid most of the blame vaguely on "erroneous eyewitness identifications."

In the only specific reference to Cowans, the report said that "the Commonwealth's fingerprint evidence was flawed."

Such comments fail to acknowledge what the BPD itself concluded more than two years earlier — that the fingerprint evidence was not flawed, but deliberately manipulated and lied about in court.

Defense attorneys who have fought wrongful-conviction cases say that without a more honest and thorough explanation, the public and law-enforcement officials alike cannot know whether a "present systems failure" exists.

It's a damning article. But if history is any indication, it's unlikely to change much.

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  1. You wait to post these on Monday mornings, right?

  2. It sometimes surprises me that some ambitious politician doesn’t push for changes to make a name for himself and then at least make an attempt to implement them. That everyone always covers everyone else and says it’s no one’s fault is strange.

  3. This simply cannot be. The picture on the article shows a black man. According to joe, this should never hit the media, only white people hit the media, black people are never freed by such. Something must be fundamentally wrong here, couldn’t be joe, couldn’t be.

  4. Matt, I would just like to warn you that joe has endless energy for pissing matches, and if you call him out, you’ll get your endless argument. If you’re up for that, good for you, but I just wanted to hip you to joe’s vibe.

  5. It sometimes surprises me that some ambitious politician…

    Fighting for the “Rights of the Accused” really doesn’t bring out the soccer-mom vote, if you know what I mean.

  6. Like finding out there’s no Santa…

  7. Reilly and the state’s DAs concluded that they “did not suggest a present systems failure,” and laid most of the blame vaguely on “erroneous eyewitness identifications.”

    Fortunately, the prosecution would never “encourage” a witness to be more certain than he might really be, in order to get points on the board protect the public from dangerous predators.

  8. Piss off, troll.

  9. No one cares because it doesn’t cost them money. What do the DAs and the police care if the tax payers are stuck with the multimillion dollar bill for their incompetence or outright malice? It is paper money to them. That is the reason why civil rights laws didn’t make a dime’s worth of difference in employment discrimination when they were first passed. Until you make people personally responsible for their actions, you will never stop abusive behavior, you will just cost the company or the tax payers’ money in compensation for past behavior but you will never stop future behavior. If you want to stop this kind of thing, you pass a law that says DAs and police who negligently convict an innocent person are personally liable for any resulting judgment. What that would mean is police and DAs would have to get malpractice insurance. It would police out that bad ones because the first time some moron DA or cop ended up maxing out his policy to pay off a judgment, the company would just cancel his policy and he would no longer be employable. Until you waive sovereign immunity and make cops and DAs responsible for their actions, you are never going to stop this kind of thing.

  10. http://www.gurapossessky.com/news/parker/documents/07-290bsacBuckeyeFirearmsFoundation.pdf

    Speaking of police professionalism, take a few minutes and read the above brief filed in the DC gun case. It basically shows DC to be a failed state incapable of protecting its citizens yet now intent on disarming them so that they can’t protect themselves. It is one hell of a litany of police incompetence and misconduct within the District.

  11. I bet everyone sure is glad you’re working so hard to turn the threads into pissing matches over nothing, troll.

  12. Until you waive sovereign immunity and make cops and DAs responsible for their actions, you are never going to stop this kind of thing.

    I’ll agree with this, but it’ll happen about the 12th of never. Why the cops don’t pull their head out of their ass and realize this is the behavior that makes everyone leery of the cops is beyond me.

  13. T,

    Some do, but they are in the minority and there is an entire establishment of police unions committed to the short sighted goal of protecting all cops good and bad. It is like teachers. There are lots of teachers who privately will rail against the NEA and the need to fire bad teachers. Yet, the culture and the entrenched power of the NEA ensures that that never happens.

  14. There was an earlier case, involving a cop named Cox, in Boston. He was in street clothes – I think he might have been undercover – and ended up chasing a suspect through the streets, when some uniformed cops showed up, didn’t recognize him, and beat him into a coma.

    Even after it came out that he was a fellow police officer, the Blue Wall came down to protect all of the other cops.

    The new police chief, Ed Davis, is from out of town (the first one in a long time), so maybe things will get better now.

  15. This simply cannot be. The picture on the article shows a black man. According to joe,

    *slaps forehead*

    It’s too early to be starting this stuff, kids.

  16. Police, government, prosecutors, and of the like HATE IT WHEN THEIR AUTHORITY IS QUESTIONED. Look at the number of innocent people being released from prison. The police/prosecutors rarely, if ever, appologize for taking 10-20 years away from an innocent person.

    I hope this attitude with Police Change

  17. “Reilly and the state’s DAs concluded that they ‘did not suggest a present systems failure,’and laid most of the blame vaguely on ‘erroneous eyewitness identifications.'”

    The system isn’t flawed, just the eyewitness and fingerprint evidence that goes into the system that is built upon that evidence and how that evidence is collected.

    See, my plants didn’t die because I’m a bad gardener. They died because I never watered them.

  18. “The system isn’t flawed, just the eyewitness and fingerprint evidence that goes into the system that is built upon that evidence and how that evidence is collected.”

    Yes, eyewitness accounts and evidence can often be flawed but the “system” bears no responsibility for considering that fact when prosecuting cases. What a dumb ass.

  19. I meant that verifying evidence is part of the system, not some uncontrollable x-factor. And for your information, my ass is much smarter than my brain.

  20. You wait to post these on Monday mornings, right?

    Gotta get the week off to an upbeat start!

  21. I know what you meant Lamar and you are right. You can’t just blame, bad eyewitness accounts. The police and the DAs have a duty to look at the credibility of evidence, not just say ‘they told me so’.

  22. Watching Joe call somebody a troll is like watching Snoopy call someone a son of a bitch.

  23. Wouldn’t Snoopy technically be a son of a bitch?

  24. Me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me…

    What was this thread about, again? The Patriots, right?

  25. This is why Hit & Run will always be more fun than the LRC blog.

  26. The Patriots got pwned, joe! ZING

  27. BTW, here’s a fun exercise. Go to the LRC blog and see how many times you can find one of their writers referring to someone they dislike as “crazed”. Or, alternatively, someone they like as “heroic”.

  28. After examining 15 wrongful convictions – all but four in Boston – Reilly and the state’s DAs concluded that they “did not suggest a present systems failure” …

    That happened before I got here.
    It’s all fixed now.
    Don’t you worry your pretty little head over it.
    Nothing to see here, move along.
    Just an isolated incident.
    We’ve changed our internal procedures. No, you can’t review them, they’re confidential.
    We still believe he’s guilty, he got off due to a technicality.

    Like we libertarians do with standard disclaimers, LEOs should number these excuses to save everybody’s time.

  29. Bring it on, Episiarch. I’m philosophical about the whole thing.

    When your team makes it to the Superbowl every couple of years for the better part of a decade, you know what? Eventually, they’re going to lose one.

    That’s just the Law of Averages.

  30. As usual, nothing will happen to the corrupt cops in question.

    I’d rather have the Mafia after me than the cops. At least with the Mafia, there’s no pretense that the ones coming after you are anything other than bullying murderous thugs.

  31. For record I sympathize with Joe on this one. I run into the same thing on here when some troll comes on a completely unrelated thread and says something like “what the war in Iraq John, I bet the Stones could have had a decent album in the last 10 years if it hadn’t been for the fucking neocons starting all those wars!”

  32. And the mafia doesn’t usually bother you without a good reason, ones that most people can avoid.

  33. joe, Tom Brady is a pussy! NEENER NEENER.

    Oh, wait, he has a supermodel girlfriend and makes millions as a top quarterback.

    joe, Tom Brady is a jerk!

  34. And the mafia doesn’t usually bother you without a good reason, ones that most people can avoid.

    This is true. I’ve never had a member of the Mafia pull me over solely to fuck with me before, as I’ve had with cops. No members of the Mafia ever forced me to be late for work by holding up traffic during morning rush hour for a bullshit “seatbelt checkpoint.”

    Actualy, no members of the Mafia ever fucked with me even when I was working in clubs they actually owned. But a cop will annoy you just because he’s bored.

  35. Jennifer,

    They would have fucked with you if you had decided to open a competing club or buy your booze from someone besides them. Not to defend the cops here, but the mafia fucks with lots of innocent people.

  36. joe, the 49ers made 5 Super Bowls in 13 years and won them all (4 in 9 years if you want to get all deacadey on us). The law of averages does not apply because the events are not random. Best team wins barring referee error which by all accounts did not occur in SB XLII.

  37. John, try opening a club without a cops (state) sanctioned license. They’ll fuck with you, too.

  38. So, by that standard, the Patriots need to win 1 Superbowl over the next 3 years to surpass the 49ers (5 appearances, 4 wins in 9 years vs. 4 appearances, 4 wins in 9 years), and 2 in the next 7.

    I’d put the odds of that at better than 50/50.

  39. Joe Montana never threw an interception in a Superbowl. He didn’t win every year, but everytime the 49ers put a great team around him, he won a championship. In four Superbowl appearances only one game was close and one was a blowout of historic proportions. Brady, in contrast has never played well in any of his four Superbowls and needed a last second fieldgoal to win two of them. Give the Patriots Lyn Elliot rather than Adam Viniteri and the Patriots might have been the Buffalo Bills of the 2000s. Not that they didn’t deserve the championships, they did or were not the best team of their era, they were, but when you start talking “greatest ever” style points matter. The Patriots 18-0 or not were never the equal of some of the great teams of the past.

  40. joe,

    Not if they don’t get their defense fixed. The end of the season and the playoffs demonstrated that vulnerability. It’s something Belichick should be able to fix, if he’s still around and not coaching Arena ball next year.

  41. Joe, 4 of 5 is not better than 4 of 4. It means you lost once putting you at 80% in Super Bowls over the same span, instead of the 100% of the 49ers, but all that aside, the point was that it is not the law of averages. It is the fact they did not win all the Super Bowls in this decade that they played in. You said eventually a team will lose one when they go that often. I say not necessarily. The Steelers won 4 in 6 years. By your faulty logic, they should have lost one. They didn’t.

  42. I can’t blame the Pats defense for losing the Super Bowl. They held the Giants to 17 points. The offense just wasn’t good enough to score 18. The offense, as great as they were all year, was beaten by the Giants defense. Good coverage and a lights out performance by the D-line. That’s what won the game. Eli was good but the D-line unit should have been named
    MVP(s).

  43. I don’t think you can just write off 18-0, 51 TD passes, and records for points in a season, John.

    Pro Lib,

    They held the Giants to 17 points. The defense wasn’t the problem.

    Joe, 4 of 5 is not better than 4 of 4. It is if you have to qualify for the games. 4-1 means doing everything the 4-0 team did, plus reaching another Superbowl. PS, the Law of Averages thing was a joke.

  44. See, my plants didn’t die because I’m a bad gardener. They died because I never watered them.

    Brawndo. It’s got the electrolytes that plants crave.

  45. All his talk about the Pats, the ’70s Steelers, and the ’80s 49ers naturally depresses me. Detroit Lions, fifty yaers, ONE playoff win. If it weren’t for the Tigers, Red Wings, Pistons and Shock (all serious threats to win the title), I’d be depressed.

  46. “I don’t think you can just write off 18-0, 51 TD passes, and records for points in a season, John.”

    Without a ring you can. The 1998 Vikings set the record the Patriots broke and went 15-1 but no one cares because they didn’t win the title. The 1973 Celtics won 68 regular season games but no one remembers that because they lost to the Knicks in Eastern Conference Finals. 18-0 was a statistical quirk. Remarkable but no indicitive of the Patriots being the best ever. The 84 49ers were one appalling interference call in October from being 19-0. The 85 Bears were a hot night in the Orange Bowl from being 19-0. Change a couple of pretty insignificant things and those teams do it. The Patriots probably should have lost to Phildelphia and definitely should have lost to Balitmore. But they didn’t because they were lucky. You win 14 or 15 games because you are really good. You win 16 games because you are really good and really lucky. The fact is that the great teams peak at the end of the year. The Patriots peaked in October and hung on for dear life after that. Think about it, they nearly lost to two teams that didn’t make the playoffs. They gave up four 80+ yard drives against Jacksonville. They let a San Diago team whose best three offensive players were hurt get inside the 20 four times. Contrast that to the 85 Bears shuting out the Giants and Rams in the playoffs or the 84 49ers beating the Bears, just one year before they won the Super Bowl and with a statistically better defense than they had in 85, 24-0 in the NFC championship. Not that the Patriots weren’t good, but their body of work this year 18-0 or not, doesn’t stack up to those teams and several others.

  47. “”” and laid most of the blame vaguely on “erroneous eyewitness identifications.””””

    It’s always the other persons fault. Can’t they take responsibiltiy for believing those erroneous identifications?

  48. joe, it’s not a better winning percentage, which is what I said. You really can’t be wrong, can you? I seriously doubt your sincerity when you say the law of averages statement was just a joke.

  49. “No one remembers” a lot of things, John. Let’s compare the 2007 Patriots (18-1) to the 1985 Bears (18-1). The Bears loss came to a team that didn’t make it out of the conference playoffs, and the Bears were 0-1 against that team that year. The Patriots loss came against a team that won all of their playoff games including the Superbowl. The Patriots were 1-1 against that team that year.

    I don’t think this proves that the Patriots were better than Da Bears, but it certainly isn’t a slam dunk that Da Bears were the better team, either.

    BTW, the Vikings didn’t go 18-1. They lost two games that year, one in the regular season (the difference between the Vikings at the Patriots) and 1 in the playoffs.

    Whatever, Nick. You certainly are grouchy.

  50. Ah, John: one blah blah away from blah blah, the Patriots could be saying that just as much about this or that call in the Superbowl. Are we now going to ignore actual wins and losses in favor of “what ifs?” Because you seemed to find the actual records pretty impressive when you noted “Without a ring you can.”

    And 16-0 is certainly not a statistical quirk. Look at the records of the teams they were beating.

    BTW, the Patriots were 4th in the league in defense.

  51. They peaked at the wrong time Joe. The Bears peaked at the end of the year and dominated the playoffs. The Patriots peaked in October. Play the October Patriots versus the October Bears and the Patriots have a chance. Play the two in Janurary and the Patriots would have gotten crushed. It is not that the Patriots are not good. They are really good. They are just not a great team. You have to win a ring to be that.

  52. I agree, they peaked at the wrong time. And the Giants peaked at the right time.

    FWIW, I’d say the same thing about the 01 Rams (who lost to the Patriots) that I’m saying about the 07 Patriots; they were the better team over the course of the season, but that’s why they have playoffs instead of just looking at records.

    I’d rank this year’s Patriots ahead of a number of ring-winning teams. I’d certainly rank them as a better team than the ring-winning 01 Patriots.

  53. I’d rank this year’s Patriots ahead of a number of ring-winning teams.

    Early-season Pats, yes. Late-season Pats, not so much.

    Like my beloved Cowboys, the Pats dropped off precipitously late in the season, and especially in the post-season. Brady in particular went from great to just pretty good. Just take a look at his post-season stats.

  54. I think that’s just right, RC, but I was trying to make a point about the teams’ quality over the course of the whole season.

  55. joe, I’m grouchy because I’m a Bills fan. (cocks revolver)

    What pisses me off the most is that while the Giants showed what must be done against the Pats, the Bills still will not implement any part of that defensive scheme next year against NE. (puts barrel into mouth)

    mumblemumblemumble (pulls trigger)

    (wife screams)

    Ghost of Nick: winning the Super Bowl is all that matters, regardless of record. (God bitch slaps Nick for being depressed in Paradise)

  56. Hey, now, the Bills are just one year away from serious playoff contention.

    And have been for years.

  57. Sorry, I came in late, but how did this change from a thread about “Police Professionalism in Boston” – to a thread about just Boston? Or just football — or (lightbulb on!) about joe?

    hmmm let’s see…. ah yes here it is, joe changed the subject, and some of y’all fell for it – it occurred at 10:39 am

    joe | February 11, 2008, 10:39am | #
    Me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me…

    What was this thread about, again? The Patriots, right?

    Typical tactic, and a cunning plan, by joe to dodge off topic when it started looking like he was going to be sacked – so he tosses it away and voila, y’all chase it.

    (Excuse the feeble football analogy, it really ain’t my game, but I did looooove watching the Super Bowl this year!)

    Oh yah, almost forgot:

    joe | February 11, 2008, 9:16am | #
    I am never wrong.

    BTW joe, have you forgotten, you used that technique “me me me me etc” a couple of days ago with the same link on the Second Amendment thread (https://www.reason.com/blog/show/124876.html) I liked it then, and I’m glad you brought it up again today. It’s definitely a great word for a joe moment, and consistent.

  58. I will always talk about football over everything else. And now that Joe knows my weekness, I’m totally fucked. Just call me Threadjacker Nick from now on, cuz I’ll fall for it every time.

  59. Please know that the wrongful convictions in Boston are not yet all exposed. Alfred Trenkler and Tom Shay were wrongly convicted in Boston Federal Court in 1993 of building a bomb that killed Boston Bomb Squad officer Jeremiah Hurley and maimed his partner, Francis Foley. Both Trenkler and Shay are “perfectly innocent” which is the name of the book about the case, posted at the website http://www.alfredtrenklerinnocent.org.
    The Boston Police Dept. was pursuing the reasonable leads in the case, but they turned the case over to the U.S. Attorney’s office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).
    Alfred Trenkler and Tom Shay barely knew each other and Alfred didn’t even know about the lawsuit that Tom’s father was expected to win and from which the U.S. Attorney’s office claimed Tom wanted to inherit a share. Given Alfred’s private school background, the money motive was absurd. Alfred Trenkler had been with Tom Shay a total of only a few hours during hitchhiked rides, and their last contact was two months before the October 1991 Roslindale Bomb explosion.
    Alfred is now pursuing a habeas corpus claim in Federal Court, and has learned that the ATF had destroyed the evidence that we believe had DNA in it. This past week, Alfred Trenkler was transferred to the Federal Prison in Devens, Mass after being out-of-sight, out-of-mind for 15 years in prison in Pennsylvania.

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