Friday, April 22, 2016
DOJ finds University of New Mexico's "flawed system" for handling sexual assault claims fails to meet Title IX requirements
Title IX of the Civil Rights Act requires colleges and universities to investigate allegations of sexual assault and harassment. As The Huffington Post's Tyler Kingkade reports, the University of New Mexico (UNM) doesn't seem to care--at least according to a recent DOJ investigation into the university's handling of sexual assault and harassment allegations over a six-year period. As Kingkade writes:
During much of that time, UNM had no written protocol on how long it should take with investigations, and cases often took twice as long to resolve as the 60-day timeframe recommended by the U.S. Department of Education. Both complainants and respondents were often not told about delays or why things were taking so long, the DOJ said...
Further problematic was that until the DOJ investigation, the [Office of Equal Opportunity], which handled sexual assault investigations, reported to the office of the university’s general counsel.
“This management structure created a conflict between OEO’s stated goal of eliminating and redressing harassment and OUC’s role in limiting the University’s liability,” the DOJ said.
Interim sanctions were inconsistent...
Students speaking with federal investigators accused campus police of gender bias, saying officers questioned victims about why they didn’t do more to fight off their attackers or lectured them on why young women should not drink in public, the report said. UNM cops often believed at “face-level” the accused students’ claims that victims consented and rarely challenged them, federal investigators found.
University administrators had similar sentiments, the DOJ said, sometimes describing victims as “lonely” or “clingy.” In interviews, “University officials made several statements placing blame with students who are assaulted, reflecting a significant lack of understanding about the dynamics of sexual assault.”
The DOJ will now require UNM to provide better and clearer information about reporting options for sexual violence, and disclose more details to students and staff on where to go for assistance or to begin grievance procedures. The university will also have to revise policies, procedures and investigative practices to ensure “prompt and equitable resolution of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations.”
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Last Wednesday, the Justice Department announced the resumption of the controversial equitable sharing program, which had been on hold for the past four months. The program allows police departments to seize and retain citizens' personal property without charging them with a crime; and, if one is charged with a crime, the police can retain possession of the seized property even when charges are dropped or the accused is found innocent. The police must only suspect that the property was somehow linked to a crime. The threat of abuse is obvious, and not merely hypothetical.
Of course, the inequalities that pervade the criminal justice system are present in the execution of the program. Indeed, the Center for American Progress recently released this report finding that the program most dramatically (and unsurprisingly?) affects minorities and those living in low-income communities. Here's the abstract:
In the United States, the basic tenet of the criminal justice system is that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, over the past several decades, many thousands of people across the country have had their property seized by the government without being charged with a crime. Regardless of these individuals’ innocence, their cash, homes, cars, and personal property can be taken if law enforcement believes it was involved in a crime or if it is the proceeds of a crime.
This practice, known as civil asset forfeiture, was established as a tool to dismantle criminal organizations. But over the past 30 years, the use—and in many cases abuse—of this practice has spiraled well beyond the purposes for which it was created. In recent years, civil asset forfeiture has come to create perverse incentives that can lead law enforcement agencies to seek profit over justice.
For many years, one of the primary drivers of these perverse incentives has been a federal practice called equitable sharing. Under this practice, state and local law enforcement can have a seizure adopted by the federal government—that is to say, placed under federal jurisdiction—and be allowed to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds from the adopted seizures, with the remaining 20 percent going to federal agencies. Some $3 billion in seizures were distributed through equitable sharing between 2008 and 2014.
Amid media and public controversy around the program, equitable sharing was curtailed in 2015 by then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. While the new federal policy that Attorney General Holder put in place last year was without question a step in the right direction, it left room for continued abuses. Today, congressional lawmakers continue to work on a bipartisan basis to pass federal legislation to achieve further reform. Moreover, many states still have laws on the books that permit unjust and harmful civil asset forfeiture practices. Without additional reform, innocent people across the United States will continue to face seizure of their cash, vehicles, and even homes—many without ever having their day in court.
In Michigan, for example, an elderly disabled woman had every penny of her savings taken by law enforcement—money she had received from disability payments and a car accident settlement—even though the government had not proven that it was connected to illegal activity. This left her unable to challenge the seizure because she had no funds left to post the bond in court. A low-income Philadelphia grandmother had her house seized because her niece’s boyfriend was accused of selling drugs outside her home. And a Los Angeles taco truck owner had thousands of dollars of earned taco sales taken by law enforcement despite no evidence of criminal activity. While he initially challenged the seizure, he was forced to drop the case because it was too expensive to fight and he feared the legal proceedings would risk the deportation of his relatives.
Although civil asset forfeiture affects people of every economic status and race, a growing array of studies indicates that low-income individuals and communities of color are hit hardest. The seizing of cash, vehicles, and homes from low-income individuals and people of color not only calls law enforcement practices into question, but also exacerbates the economic struggles that already plague those communities.
Making matters worse, these individuals are the least able to shoulder the cost required to regain their property through complicated legal proceedings that are heavily weighted in favor of law enforcement. Moreover, because there is no constitutional right to an attorney in forfeiture cases, property owners who cannot afford legal representation are often left with no choice but to attempt to represent themselves in court.
Fortunately, as bipartisan outrage at unjust civil asset forfeiture practices continues to grow across the United States, policymakers have a unique opportunity to find common ground and enact laws that restore forfeiture to its original purpose. While federal reform is urgently needed, states can do a great deal to protect their residents—and especially vulnerable populations—from the abuse of civil asset forfeiture laws.
This report provides an overview of the rise of civil asset forfeiture abuse by law enforcement, highlights the impact of these abusive practices on low-income individuals and communities of color, and offers steps that state policymakers can take to prevent civil asset forfeiture abuses from pushing already struggling families and communities into or deeper into poverty.
Here's the full report.
Sunday, November 2, 2014
DOJ and the Albuquerque PD agreed Friday to a consent degree requiring an independent monitor of APD and sweeping reforms to its use-of-force policies. The LATimes's Cindy Carcamo reports:
The main points call for disbanding a problematic tactical investigative unit that became something of an unofficial SWAT team, revision of when and how force should be used and implementation of a civilian police oversight agency to conduct independent investigations of all citizen complaints concerning the police force.
The settlement calls for the Police Department to consider specialized responses that would minimize the need for use of force when officers are dealing with people in mental health crisis. The agreement also requires the department to establish a mental health response advisory committee, provide crisis intervention training to all officers and expand the number of detectives assigned to the crisis intervention unit.
The agreed-to terms were expected. In April, a DOJ report chided APD for "structural and systemic deficiencies -- including insufficient oversight, inadequate training, and ineffective policies -- contribut[ing] to the [pattern and practice of] use of unnecessary force." Shortly before the report's release, a helmet-cam recording surfaced that shows APD officers shooting a homeless man in the back. Protests of course ensued, as did clashes between citizens and APD officers.
Friday, October 31, 2014
...for the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, reports The Orlando Sentinel's Rene Stutzman. Although it's not yet clear how many witnesses will testify, DOJ has issued a subpoena for Zimmerman's former neighbor, Frank Taaffe, who supported Zimmerman when he faced second-degree murder charges for the killing. Now, however, Taaffe says he believes Zimmerman was motivated by race.
Not long ago, WaPo quoted "three law enforcement officials" as saying there's likely not enough evidence to charge Zimmerman.
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Lehigh resolves civil rights investigation into university's handling of incidents of discrimination with voluntary agreement
Thursday, October 23, 2014
With a grand jury decision looming on whether a white police officer should face charges in the killing of an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Mo., the investigation has sprung a few leaks.
New details from the inquiry into Michael Brown’s Aug. 9 death — all provided by unidentified sources and which seem to support Officer Darren Wilson’s story of what happened that day — have emerged in St. Louis and national news outlets in recent days.
The U.S. Department of Justice condemned the leaks Wednesday as “irresponsible and highly troubling” and said, “There seems to be an inappropriate effort to influence public opinion about this case.”
...reports the AP:
Instead, officers can lock down every inmate in an affected area, or individual inmates suspected of being involved in the incident or the gangs that were involved.
The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation also agreed to provide inmates with opportunities for outdoor exercise any time a lockdown lasts longer than 14 days.
The agreement with attorneys representing inmates came after the U.S. Justice Department said in a non-binding court filing last year that the old policy violated the 14th Amendment that requires equal protection under the law.
Justice officials said that policy was based on generalized fears of racial violence and affected inmates who have no gang ties or history of violence.
State officials did not acknowledge any violation of inmates' constitutional rights as part of the agreement.
Friday, October 17, 2014
NYTimes's Jesse Wegman calls President Obama's selection of the ACLU's Vanita Gupta to run the DOJ's Civil Rights Division an "inspired" but "risky" decision. Although perhaps an ideal candidate, partisan gridlock in Washington could create significant obstacles to Gupta's confirmation. Wegman writes:
In less polarized times, the answer should and likely would be an unequivocal yes. What argument could there be against naming a highly-experienced civil-rights lawyer to the top civil-rights post in the country? Ms. Gupta would, if confirmed, also represent a groundbreaking trifecta for the position: the first woman, the first South Asian, and, at 39, the youngest in the department’s history.
But nothing is unequivocal these days, particularly in light of the Senate’s spectacular failure to confirm Mr. Obama’s previous nominee, Debo Adegbile.
Mr. Adegbile was also very qualified to lead the division, but he was voted down 52-47 last March, after a concerted push by law-enforcement groups furious at what they considered to be thecardinal sin of doing his job. As a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Mr. Adegbile was involved in appeals on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, then on death row for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer.
By these low standards, Ms. Gupta’s nomination might seem even riskier. She has spoken bluntly and often on issues that were once considered untouchable on both sides of the aisle. In a 2013 New York Times op-ed, Gupta wrote of the vast racial disparities in America’s “prison-industrial complex” and called for, among other things, the elimination of mandatory-minimum sentences and the decriminalization of marijuana possession.
Nevertheless, as Wegman observes, Gupta has support in some suprising places -- from the likes of Grover Norquist to a former head of the NRA. Wegman thus concludes:
Mr. Obama has named Ms. Gupta acting chief, and has indicated he plans to put her nomination before the Senate. He should hold to that, even if the Democrats lose in November. A vote is always a risk, particularly since the fight to replace Mr. Holder may not be pretty. But as Attorney General Eric Holder prepares to leave after six transformative and tumultuous years, Ms. Gupta is primed to expand on the most important parts of his legacy. She also has the potential to exploit a rare point of bipartisanship in a splintered era. If Mr. Obama can’t fight for someone like her, whom can he fight for?
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
President Obama plans to nominate the ACLU's deputy legal director, Vanita Gupta, to head the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, WaPo's Sari Horwitz reports. Gupta has a strong record of civil rights activism as well as support from unlikely sources -- including a former head of the NRA, the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, and Grover Norquist. Horwitz presents the highlights of Gupta's career:
Her first case involved leading an effort to win the release of 38 defendants in Tulia, Tex., whose drug convictions and long sentences were discredited by her legal team. All of the defendants were pardoned in 2003 by Gov. Rick Perry, and Gupta helped negotiate a $5 million settlement for the defendants.
Gupta won a landmark settlement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency on behalf of immigrant children detained at Hutto, a privately run prison in Taylor, Tex., which ended “family detention” at the facility. She also has challenged racial disparities in high school graduation rates in Florida and successfully challenged the denial of passports to Mexican Americans born to midwives in southern border states. And she managed a project that ended HIV segregation in U.S. prisons.
Since 2008, Gupta has taught civil rights litigation and advocacy clinics at New York University School of Law. She received her JD from New York University School of Law and her BA from Yale University.
The position has remained unoccupied ever since Tom Perez began his term atop the Deptartment of Labor. Earlier this year, the Obama administration failed to get the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's Debo Adegbile confirmed by the Senate. Opponents made hay on Adegbile's involvement in Mumia Abu-Jamal's appeal of his conviction for the 1981 killing of a Philadelphia police officer. In the end, the Senate rejected him, 47-52.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
...Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) told The NY Daily News's Sarah Ryley. The congressman and five of his colleagues recently sent a letter to DOJ requesting a civil rights investigation into the NYPD's crime-fighting tactics. They claim evidence shows the NYPD's practices -- e.g. issuing summonses, stop-and-frisk, use-of-force -- discriminate against the city's blacks and Hispanics. Ryley reports:
Jeffries said he and the other members of congress are in the process of gathering evidence to present to the Civil Rights Division, which they hope to do this year.
Jeffries said The News' report on summons activity - which found blacks and Hispanics received a disproportionate share of summonses, with a spread of 20 percentage points or greater than their share of the population, in 32 of the city's 75 police precincts - "will be central to the case that I believe exists for racially disparate treatment."
DOJ is still considering the request.
Sunday, October 5, 2014
DOJ opens criminal investigation into inmate's death from thirst after spending 35 days in solitary confinement
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
The DOJ is ordering the nation's largest loan servicer to pay restitution and penalties for "systematically violating the legal rights of U.S. service members." The title of this post comes from this Air Force News Service article, which explains:
A 2012 CFPB report found that service members faced serious hurdles in accessing their student loan benefits, including the provisions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act that cap the interest rate on pre-existing student loans and other consumer credit products at 6 percent while the service member is on active duty, CFPB officials said. Servicers were not providing them with clear and accurate information about their loan repayment options.
The CFPB heard from military borrowers, including those in combat zones, who were denied interest-rate protections because they failed to resubmit unnecessary paperwork. These kinds of obstacles prevent service members from taking advantage of the full range of protections they have earned through their service to this country, officials said.
The CFPB has partnered with the Defense Department to create better awareness of the rights and options for service member student loan borrowers. A CFPB guide for service members who have student loans contains clear information on the various ways student loans can be repaid.
Officials noted that the CFPB began accepting student loan complaints in March 2012, and added that service members who have an issue with their servicers should submit a complaint to the CFPB.
Friday, November 29, 2013
Latinos want DOJ to sue over redistricting in Los Angeles County that allegedly unfairly reduces their influence; and, Pennsylvania legislature considers a bill to curb voter intimidation.
Some experts question whether new encryption services actually will protect users from spying.
Same-sex couple files lawsuit challenging Texas's ban on same-sex marriage.
Missouri sheriff faces a second lawsuit over allegations he sexually harassed female employees.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Revelations about the extent of the NSA's surveillance program could put international data-sharing agreements at risk; federal judge hears arguments regarding the release of DOJ documents on the legality of NSA's surveillance program; The Atlantic explores the inception of the NSA; and, Microsoft will change encryption to prevent NSA surveillance.
Texas National Guard will allow same-sex couples to apply for benefits immediately; gay teen banned from mall at which he allegedly was attacked; Kentucky couple fined one cent for remaining in county clerks office after closing time to protest same-sex marriage ban; and, judge okays terminally ill woman's request to marry her female partner before Illinois same-sex marriage law becomes effective.
Colorado Democrat resigns after gun-rights advocates successfully petition for her recall; and, Plain Dealer guest columnist argues that Ohio legislature should pass gun-safety laws to prevent children from accessing guns.
Voters claim Lousiana segregated African Americans into one racially-gerrymandering congressional district.
SCOTUS to hear arguments as to constitutionality of ACA's contraceptive rule; and, it will consider the First Amendment rights of Bush protesters alleging official's attempts to disperse them were not supported by valid security interests.
November 27, 2013 in Department of Justice, Election Law, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Press, Freedom of Speech, Gun Policy, Same-sex marriage | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
The title of this post comes from this Washington Post article reporting that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is unlikely to face criminal charges for releasing classified documents. The article begins:
The Justice Department has all but concluded it will not bring charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for publishing classified documents because government lawyers said they could not do so without also prosecuting U.S. news organizations and journalists, according to U.S. officials.
The officials stressed that a formal decision has not been made, and a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks remains impaneled, but they said there is little possibility of bringing a case against Assange, unless he is implicated in criminal activity other than releasing online top-secret military and diplomatic documents.
“The problem the department has always had in investigating Julian Assange is there is no way to prosecute him for publishing information without the same theory being applied to journalists,” said former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller. “And if you are not going to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information, which the department is not, then there is no way to prosecute Assange.”
Justice officials said they looked hard at Assange but realized that they have what they described as a “New York Times problem.” If the Justice Department indicted Assange, it would also have to prosecute the New York Times and other news organizations and writers who published classified material, including The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
NSA director doesn't really want to give the FBI and DEA access to surveillance data.
Federal appeals court upholds ruling requiring changes to NYC's stop-and-frisk policy.
Decades-long civil rights dispute over Little Rock schools could be nearing its conclusion.
Federal lawsuit over the use of Tasers by prison guards alleges 'callous and sadistic' constitutional violations.
Atlantic City PD face another civil rights suit alleging excessive force.
November 24, 2013 in 14th Amendment, Abortion, Civil Rights Litigation, Department of Justice, Equal Protection Clause, Excessive Force, Fourth Amendment, Prisons and Prisoners, Stop-and-frisk, Theories of Punishment | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Happy Election Day!
PA voters might think they need photo ID in order to vote today, but a state judge has stayed the PA voter ID law until the court has a chance to resolve a recent challenge to its constitutionality by the ACLU. The ACLU also has challenged the constitutionality of the WI voter ID law. In TX, a former U.S House Speaker was denied a voter ID card.
DOJ announced yesterday that it will monitor some Nov. 5 elections in MI, NY, and OH to ensure compliance with Voting Rights Act.
Parents of the 13-year-old boy killed by a sheriff's deputy while carrying a plastic gun have filed a civil rights lawsuit against the county.
New study finds that the cost of hospital treatment for firearm-related injuries exceeds $2 billion.
Sharpton demands assurances from Macy's CEO that racial profiling will not be a problem during the holiday season.
Monday, October 28, 2013
Sen. Paul believes abortion and scientific research might lead to eugenics, and a Texas judge finds certain limitations on abortion unconstitutional.
Sen. Reid says Senate will vote on bill to ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by Thanksgiving.
DOJ will not prosecute guards from private prison for alleged criminal civil rights violations.
J. Posner: "The point I was making in my book in mentioning the Crawford case was not that the decision was right or wrong[.]"
All new FBI agents ordered to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial to remind them of past abuses by the FBI and of their commitment to better practices in the present and future.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
The Supreme Court will re-examine mental disability standards used to determine eligibility for death penalty.
Gov. Jindal condemns DOJ for denying request of four families to join state as defendants in civil rights case.
Des Moines Register editorial questions interrogations by state troopers during traffic stops.
In Iowa, former state employees allege "culture of discrimination and retaliation" in the workplace.
The Atlantic documents Sen. Wyden's efforts to reform the NSA's surveillance program.
Glenn Greenwald speaks with Newsweek about NSA leaks, governmental abuse of power, and future plans.
Sen.-elect Booker says he looks forward to working with Sen. Paul and others on reforming drug laws.