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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/9/10

American Justice on Trial: Gratuitous Police Violence, False Testimony by Police, and a Rush to Bad Judgment

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Message Linn Washington

Hours after police in a Philadelphia suburb proudly paraded Kenneth Woods, 21, in front of the news media as the man responsible for killing a college student during a hi-speed crash while allegedly fleeing police in a stolen SUV, the cops backpedalled, admitting they arrested the wrong man.

Shortly after Woods' arraignment on vehicular homicide and third-degree murder charges, the real culprit Donny Sayers telephoned police, reportedly confessing to his crimes and clearing Woods of any involvement.

That confession imploded a case against Woods that police had previous proclaimed was rock-solid, resting, they claimed, on fingerprint evidence, a cell phone photo and supposedly positive identification by the policeman who had pursued the SUV immediately before the fatal crash. (The driver of the stolen vehicle had fled on foot after the collusion and escaped pursuing police.)

Yet, when law enforcement authorities in Delaware County staged a press conference hours after Sayers' surprise confession, they refused to fully accept responsibility for erring in so quickly fingering Woods, who was roughly body-slammed during his arrest despite his offering no resistance.

Delco DA G. Michael Green and Haverford Township Police Chief Carmen D. Pettine, during their press conference remarks, both defended Woods' arrest as "absolutely correct" citing that supposedly rock-solid "evidence," which they simultaneously acknowledged had been incorrect.

No question, authorities were absolutely right to question Woods, even elevating him to the status of "a person of interest. But authorities were absolutely wrong in their rush to judgment, given the shaky nature of the evidence they declared certified Woods' guilt.

It turns out that the so-called "fingerprint evidence" police and prosecutors had touted was not on the steering wheel but was Woods' print found on the outside of that SUV's rear passenger side window. Woods readily admitted having been with the SUV driver hours before the crash, telling police he only knew the driver by his first name: Donny. (Woods' fingerprint had been in the law enforcement system because of a prior conviction for smoking in a non-smoking area.)

While some say "the system' worked, clearing Woods of a crime he didn't commit, others contend the Woods incident is yet another example of an unspoken scandal in the criminal justice system"the scandal of false arrests.

False arrests some from honest mistakes by authorities but far too many others resulting from malicious misconduct produce hundreds if not thousands of wrongful convictions annually in America, including persons who end up on death row.

The injustice of false arrests disproportionately impacts persons of color like Woods, an African-American"charged with the killing of a white.

Three days after the release of Kenneth Woods, news broke in New York City that authorities there had agreed to pay two brothers $300,000 for their false drug arrest in 2008.

One of the narcotics officers who arrested brothers Jose and Maximo Colon resigned and pled guilty. The other officer responsible for the false arrest of the Colons, who lost the grocery store they owned during their legal ordeal, is awaiting trial. That officer also resigned from the NYPD yet is working for a suburban NYC police force that hired him despite his indictment for falsely arresting the Colon brothers.

Weeks before Woods' release the ACLU filed a lawsuit against police in Camden, NJ just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, charging that city's police with widespread false arrests of innocent people on drug charges.

Late last December authorities in Chicago grudgingly dismissed hundreds of DUI cases upon discovery of false arrests by two decorated policemen.

Surprisingly, some judges encourage and facilitate the malicious practice of false arrests.

Danita Mitchell, a single parent, fled North Carolina this past summer after judges in Charlotte falsely jailed her multiple times during the past two years on questionable charges arising from a child support payment dispute with her ex-husband.

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Linn Washington is a weekly columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune and This Can't Be Happening. Washington writes frequently on inequities in the criminal justice system, ills in society and failings of the news media. He teaches multi-media urban (more...)
 
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