In Defense of Us

Kevin R. Anderson
is a African American attorney and partner in the West Palm Beach offices of Anderson & Welch, LLC.  His concentration is criminal litigation and police liability.  He holds a B.S. in Criminology and Criminalistics with honors from Florida State University and J.D. from Syracuse University.

I had the honor of talking with Kevin concerning some issues within the African American community.  Specifically, we discussed the increased incidents involving the police and African American men.  Kevin and I have known each other since the mid-80s when we were both paralegals in the United States Air Force.  It’s an honor to be interviewing this man as he has followed his passion and attained the status he greatly deserves.

He has a wealth of knowledge and I think all of our readers will benefit from his experience.  He also has a article in this same issue entitled, “Pursuant of Justice for All”.  Please make sure you read that article as well.

Q:  Do you foresee a change in police departments to remove the negative perception of its officers?

A:  I don’t think that everyone has a negative perception of policing.  A heightened awareness and attention to important serious issues arising from law enforcement encounters deserves close focus.

Liability is a decision making event.  “When they pay – it changes the way we play.”  This signals that an adjustment in practices is warranted.   Also, where there is a jury verdict or precedent that forecasts a plaintiff oriented result, this too, changes the way agencies do business.  Litigation changes policies.

In addition, there  is a need for agencies to disappear from the public’s critical eye.  A more approachable, non-combative posture engenders a better reception by the community.

Finally, recruitment, retention and training issues are of the utmost importance.  The statistical img_0586numbers show that certain cities, agencies and personnel are responsible for the increasing numbers of police liability issues.  Anderson & Welch, LLC, practices in this area.  We see the same agencies, and shockingly, officers with negative personnel histories all the time.  When we look at their qualifications, a cursory review of their applications or work histories make it apparent that most of these officers would be better suited in other careers.

Q:  As an African American attorney, do you feel the criminal justice system is “stacked” against African American men?

A: There are 2 categories where black men are susceptible to problems within the “system.”  The first category pertains to unwarranted encounters with law enforcement.  An illustration is illegal traffic stops, or the infamous “not me” cases resulting in false arrest.  Unlawful detention or seizures, or, false arrest for that matter, wouldn’t represent a stacked system, but rather, deliberate or reckless acts by law enforcement agents.  We could not, therefore, indict an entire system for being “stacked” because of the actions of its rogue actors.

On the other hand, the second category involves cases where a lawful basis to initiate and continue with prosecution, resulting in a finding of guilt or conviction, exists. For instance case dispositions consisting of higher or longer sentences resulting in a disparate institutional impact on black criminal defendants.  The statistics show that blacks are no more likely to use or sell drugs than whites but yet have a higher rate of arrests than whites.  Per Human Rights Watch, blacks comprise 14% of illicit drug users but consist of approximately 37% of those arrested for drug offenses.  In addition, the United States Sentencing Commission reported that black offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than white offenders for the same crimes.  Moreover, the Sentencing Project, an organization that promotes reforms in sentencing policy, also reported that blacks are 21% more likely to be sentenced to mandatory minimum sentences than whites.   Finally, the National Academy of Sciences has documented that blacks when arrested are more likely to remain in jail awaiting trial than whites.

Even a cursory review of the statistics establishes a persuasive case of systemic, disparate impact upon blacks after they enter the criminal justice machine.

Q:  Have you had any cases involving the police that could be considered brutality against African American men?  If so, can you give us a synopsis of one or two cases?

A:  I have represented several black men as plaintiffs in excessive force cases.  I recently obtained a significant settlement in a handcuffed tasing case.  The case garnered national attention.  This was a case where law enforcement had a legal basis to arrest my client.  He had an outstanding warrant.  When he was initially taken into custody my client alleged that he was roughed up and shocked from a “drive stun” by placing the taser directly against his flesh.  After handcuffing and placing him in the rear of a patrol vehicle, my client became verbally irate.  The transporting deputy turned his dash camera around to video my client’s verbal rants.  Another deputy traveling directly behind the transporting unit heard my client yelling over the car radio as he communicated with the transporting deputy, so he directed this deputy to pull over.  While trapped in the rear of the patrol vehicle the transporting deputy allowed access to my client while the other deputy announced his intentions to “end the dog and pony show.”  My client was basically electrocuted by the deployment of pronged barbs into his flesh that transmitted surges of voltage.  Surprisingly he didn’t lose consciousness.  He did, however, soil himself and hyperventilated. This entire episode was caught on video and was my principle piece of evidence.  Although my client initiated a complaint it was not until the video was inadvertently discovered during a routine release of information request for another matter that the agency learned of the officers’ actions and was made to take my client serious by our office.  Get ready for this:  neither deputy was arrested.  In fact, they both lied about the event until the existence of the video was disclosed.  The deputy who did the actual tasing was terminated then had the audacity to file a labor grievance regarding the matter.  The other deputy was never terminated and remains employed with the agency to this day.

Q:  Have you defended any white men against police brutality?  If so, was it different than defending African American men?

A:  Our firm represents plaintiffs exclusively in police liability matters, so no, I haven’t defended anyone where excessive force was the claim.

Q:  Have you ever defended a police officer?  If so, were those cases easier or more challenging?  If so, in what ways?

A:  Yes, as a criminal defendant.  Several have sought my representation as criminal defendants and police liability defendant.  Would you believe I had a few officers request me in police liability cases?

The criminal defendant officer was charged with armed burglary and stalking related crimes.  I found that the jury did not require me to qualify his integrity.  It was obvious that they expected the state to overcome an extremely high burden of proof.  He entered the trial with what all criminal defendants should have:  the presumption of innocence.  It was amazing.  I was able to present testimony and make arguments that I could never, ever be confident with during this individual’s trial.  He was acquitted.  The jury actually waited around and talked to him afterwards.

The challenge was the officer, not the crime or facts.  He was arrogant, a bit theatrical and even stiffed our firm on the balance of his legal fees and court reporter expenses when he was acquitted and returned to his career.img_2262

The above officer’s case was not as difficult as a non law enforcement defendant in other ways.  Upon arrest he knew what, and what not to say, to the arresting and investigating officers.  In addition, he also knew what legal defenses  would be destructive to, and impede the investigation and subsequent charges.  He did everything possible so his defenses would be relatively unassailable.  Also, the investigation was helped along a bit as well because the investigators did what they had to do, rather than what could have been done, to make a solid case for a very serious crime.

I am in no way undermining the verdict, but rather, distinguishing facts that made my representation easier with a difficult client.  I believe he was not guilty.

Q:  What advice do you give to African American men, or women for that matter if they are stopped by a police officer?

A:  Stay calm.  Never run or take the police on a “ride,” so to speak.  This gives them a reason to use force to effect the detention.  Keep your hands visible.  No pockets or hands behind the back. No hiding.  Do more listening than talking.  Verbal exchange prolongs the detention and will not produce a victory during a street encounter with the police.  They win 100 percent of the time in the streets.  If you can activate your phone to video or leave an open line do so before the encounter, but do not hold the phone in your hand.  Place it in your pocket or on the dash.  There are statistics for the number of people who force has been used against where the detainee possessed cell phones.

Thanks Kevin for all this valuable information.  Remember Anderson and Welch can help you with your legal needs.  I know Kevin personally and he’s an outstanding attorney.