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Police Conduct: Racial Profiling, Excessive Force

Dangerously Out of Bounds: Tasers in Nebraska

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ACLU Report shows Nebraska agencies regularly use TASERs against vulnerable people

Agencies have inconsistent policies, training and reporting.

August 19, 2014

CONTACT:  Tyler Richard, (402) 476-8091 x104, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN – Today the ACLU released a report on Taser use that finds Nebraska law enforcement has grossly misused Tasers in several instances. The report, entitled Dangerously Out of Bounds: Tasers in Nebraska, investigates eleven police departments from January 2013 to May 2014. Two agencies that had previously cooperated with ACLU requests, the Omaha Police Department and the Lincoln Police Department, refused to provide any records.

Tasers release 50,000 volts of electricity that jolt the body’s central nervous system. While often classified as a “less-lethal” weapon, Amnesty International reports that there have been over 540 Taser-related deaths in the United States in the past thirteen years. Because of the dangers associated with using a Taser, the Department of Justice has provided guidelines for safely using a Taser. The ACLU evaluated Nebraska law enforcement agencies adherence to these guidelines.

These guidelines include:

  • Taser deployment is only justified when a subject is exhibiting active aggression or actively resisting in a manner that will cause injury to themselves or others.
  • Law enforcement officers must avoid using Tasers in a coercive or punitive manner, which means the avoidance of drive-stun mode and ensuring that multiple shocks are warranted.
  • Targeting sensitive body areas—including the chest—can increase the risk of injury or death and thus should be avoided.
  • Lastly, officers must be aware that members of vulnerable populations may be more susceptible to injury or death and should be Tasered only in extreme circumstances.

The ACLU’s investigation found that most policies failed to comply with the above guidelines. Policies frequently provided minimal information that would help a law enforcement officer determine if Taser use was appropriate.

“The lack of oversight and guidance for law enforcement officers who may be using a Taser is beyond appalling,” said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. “50,000 volts of electricity can be lethal. The fact that officers on our streets and in our schools have these weapons and little, if any, policies or are in place on how to use them should concern all Nebraskans.”

In addition to asking for policies, the ACLU also asked for use of force reports related to Tasers. According to the ACLU, it is difficult to compare one department to another because the reporting forms vary greatly. For example, some ask for race of the individual who was Tasered and others do not.

The reports reviewed by the ACLU documented several instances when Tasers were used against the recommendations of the Department of Justice. These include:

  • An elderly disabled man with dementia Tasered by Omaha Police
  • A man Tasered by Grand Island Police for “staring down” officer from hospital bed.
  • A Hastings man Tasered in retaliation for spitting on officers.
  • A woman with mental illness Tasered while sitting in Grand Island.
  • A ten year old child Tasered by Kearney Police in a public school.

“Some of the individuals who have been Tasered by Nebraska law enforcement have been incredibly vulnerable and at risk for extreme mental and physical health problems due to being Tasered. It is time that all Nebraska law enforcement agencies have policies that rein in this inappropriate use of force. The lack of accountability and oversight on Tasers can be improved with comprehensive written policies that include the Department of Justice recommendations,” said Miller.

The report has minimal information on two of Nebraska’s largest police departments, the Omaha Police Department and the Lincoln Police Department. While these agencies have provided records in the past, both agencies refused to do so.

“This means nearly three-quarters of a million Nebraskans live in a community that refuses to be accountable and transparent about their use of a weapon that has killed hundreds of Americans,” said Miller. “This is one of the most disturbing instances of police withholding public information that we have seen. When a device can kill or severely injure someone, people have a right to know how that device is being used in Nebraska.”


ACLU Report on Local Law Enforcement Complaint Practices Finds Lack of Accountability

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Report Shows Agencies Severely Limit Public Comment Including Through Intimidation

August 12, 2014

CONTACT:  Tyler Richard, (402) 476-8091 x104, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN – After receiving many individual reports of intimidation or difficulty making a complaint to a local law enforcement agency, the ACLU of Nebraska investigated the practices of the 31 largest law enforcement agencies in Nebraska. The findings were released Tuesday in a report entitled For the Good of the Public: How Nebraska Police Complaint Processes Fail the Public. The report found most agencies had complaint procedures that did not comply with expert guidelines.

“Whether witnessing an officer driving poorly or excessive force, the public should be able to easily make comments about local law enforcement without feeling intimidated,” said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. “Unfortunately, all but one agency made it very difficult to file a complaint, and some agencies used intimidating language that could discourage someone from making a valid complaint. Without ways to report complaints, law enforcement agencies lack transparency and accountability.”

The ACLU reviewed the websites of 31 law enforcement agencies and found that only eight provided information about their complaint process online. Even fewer provided a walkthrough of the complaint process. Many agencies failed to provide a phone number on their website for taking complaints.

A smaller number of agencies were surveyed by phone. According to the report, some agencies were unwilling to discuss complaint processes over the phone unless someone wanted to file a complaint. Other agencies required someone to come to the office in-person to file a complaint, one even requiring that the visit take place during business hours.

“While most agencies failed to meet national best practices for complaints, it is important to note that the Lincoln Police Department most closely adheres to expert guidelines. Additionally, the Bellevue Police Department was rated highly by our volunteers in the phone survey. More agencies should follow the examples of their peers in Lincoln and Bellevue. The changes we’ve proposed are easy and nearly free, such as an online complaint form that can be submitted at any time by anyone with a concern. We call for Nebraska police chiefs and sheriffs to update their complaint policies. A supervisor should want feedback on their employees, particularly when taxpayers are those being served.”

The report is available here:


ACLU’s Report on Police Militarization Finds Weapons and Tactics of War Used Disproportionately Against People of Color

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Report Shows Injustice, Suffering, Caused by SWAT Teams Deployed for Low-Level Police Work, Not Crises

For Immediate Release
June 24, 2014

CONTACT:  Alexandra Ringe, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , 212-549-2666

Tyler Richard, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , 402-476-8091 x104

NEW YORK – After obtaining and analyzing thousands of documents from police departments around the country, today the American Civil Liberties Union released the report War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. The ACLU focused on more than 800 SWAT raids conducted by law enforcement agencies in 20 states, including Nebraska, and on the agencies’ acquisition of military weaponry, vehicles, and equipment.

“We found that police overwhelmingly use SWAT raids not for extreme emergencies like hostage situations but to carry out such basic police work as serving warrants or searching for a small amount of drugs,” said Kara Dansky, Senior Counsel with the ACLU’s Center for Justice. ”Carried out by ten or more officers armed with assault rifles, flashbang grenades, and battering rams, these paramilitary raids disproportionately impacted people of color, sending the clear message that the families being raided are the enemy. This unnecessary violence causes property damage, injury, and death.”

The report documents multiple tragedies caused by police carrying out needless SWAT raids, including a 26-year-old mother shot with her child in her arms and a 19-month-old baby critically injured when a flashbang grenade landed in his crib.

“We hope Nebraska law enforcement will continue to resist this national trend,” said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. “While agencies in our state have not purchased large amounts of military equipment, we do see an alarming number of SWAT team deployments for search warrants in Omaha. Given the expense involved in SWAT teams, Omaha tax-payers should be asking if using military-grade tactics and equipment for a search warrant is the best use of law enforcement resources.”

The report calls for the federal government to rein in the incentives for police to militarize. The ACLU also asks that local, state, and federal governments track the use of SWAT and the guns, tanks, and other military equipment that end up in police hands.

“Our findings reveal not only the dangers of militarized police, but also the difficulties in determining the extent and impact of those dangers. At every level – from the police to the state governments to the federal government – there is almost no recordkeeping about SWAT or the use of military weapons and vehicles by local law enforcement,” noted Dansky.

In addition, the report recommends that state legislatures and municipalities develop criteria for SWAT raids that limit their deployment to the kinds of emergencies for which they were intended, such as an active shooter situation.

The report is available here:


Make Your Voice Heard: Tell OPD Reform is Needed

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Omaha needs smart reform that would make the Omaha Police Department (OPD) more accountable and open. As the OPD goes through accreditation this year, make sure your support for reform is heard.

Based on years of complaints received by our office, along with seeing what has worked in other communities around the country, the ACLU of Nebraska has developed a five point reform proposal:
  • The creation of a police advisory board, which would provide civilian oversight, have subpoena power, and the right to publish results
  • Body worn cameras for OPD officers
  • De-escalation training and anti-bias training for OPD officers
  • The entire OPD policy and procedure manual made available online
  • Revise process for making complaints about law enforcement

Learn more and take the survey.


Johnson Family Sues Omaha Police Alleging Excessive Force

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Footage shows over twenty officers responding to a parking incident


January 06, 2013
CONTACT: Tyler Richard, (402) 476-8091 x104, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Hi-resolution image available here.

Learn more about your rights to photograph law enforcement.

View the original YouTube video hereBy clicking this link, you will be served content from which is not governed by ACLU's privacy statement.

OMAHA – Members of an Omaha family filed a lawsuit in federal court today alleging that excessive force and a warrantless search and seizure were used in response to a parking incident in March 2013. The Johnson family has never received compensation for the damages to their property or their medical expenses resulting from the incident. All charges against the Johnsons were dropped. An internal investigation resulted in the termination of four officers and criminal charges being brought against two of the officers for either tampering with evidence or being an accessory.

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU of Nebraska and Diana Vogt of Sherrets, Bruno & Vogt on behalf of five members of the Johnson family. It names Todd Schmaderer, Chief of Police, eight named officers, and 24 unnamed officers.

A neighbor captured video of the incident across the street from the Johnsons. His recording was posted on YouTube and circulated through several national media outlets. Throughout spring 2013, multiple rallies and demonstrations were held in support of the Johnsons, calling for reforms to OPD practices.
On Mar. 21, 2013, two officers responded to a request from a tow-truck driver who was removing unregistered vehicles. The lawsuit alleges that when Octavius Johnson walked up to try to determine what was happening to the family's cars, Octavius was placed in a chokehold, thrown to the ground and beaten. In the video, it appears as if the officer who struck Octavius looks around to ensure he is alone and then begins to hit Octavius. Brothers Juaquez and Demetrius Johnson filmed the incident from either the sidewalk or the front porch of their home at 33rd and Seward. Over twenty additional officers, including a command officer, arrived on the scene. Officers chased Juaquez into his home and conducted a search without a warrant. Inside the home, Sharon Johnson, aunt to the Johnson brothers, was thrown from her wheelchair while Juaquez was thrown to the floor and repeatedly struck. Officers did not help Sharon back into her wheelchair and instead placed her in handcuffs. The phone and video cameras used by Juaquez and Demetrius were confiscated and have never been returned. Criminal charges were filed against the officers involved in the conspiracy to destroy or hide the material. Sharon was taken to the hospital and the Johnson's two dogs were taken into custody at the Johnson's expense.

"Despite the fact that no crime, drugs, or weapons were involved, more than twenty officers arrived at the Johnson's home, invaded their privacy, confiscated their property and unnecessarily injured four members of the family," said cooperating attorney Diana Vogt. "You do not lose your right to be treated with respect by law enforcement simply because of where you live in Omaha or the color of your skin."
"Pulling over twenty officers away from other parts of the city should sound an alarm for taxpayers," said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. "Omaha Police have already been warned by the ACLU about their failure to respect the rights of those filming law enforcement. This incident further reinforces that independent oversight is needed to help evaluate training practices and provide for responses when officers depart from their training and standards."

The ACLU reports that they have received multiple complaints in recent years alleging police misconduct and racially biased practices from officers in Omaha. Many community groups, including the ACLU, have called for reforms which include independent oversight.

"People in Omaha should expect police practices which treat people fairly, keep our communities safe, and use taxpayer dollars wisely," said Nebraska ACLU Executive Director Becki Brenner. "OPD failed on all three counts in this situation. People in Omaha now have to wonder if either their family will be treated as poorly as the Johnsons or if resources are being diverted from a serious crime because of biased practices. While the ACLU is pleased that OPD has taken action against some of the officers in this case, the Johnsons have still not received justice. The people of Omaha have yet to be assured that actions from law enforcement will be independently monitored."

In the lawsuit, the Johnsons ask for monetary damages for their medical bills, damages to property, lost time from work and other expenses. Additionally, the ACLU hopes for punitive damages against four officers along with mandatory training for all OPD officers in de-escalation and First Amendment rights of those filming police.

"This incident will live with our family for the rest of our lives," said Sharee Johnson, mother of the three brothers and Sharon's sister. "None of us can call 911 when we need help and believe that police would be there to help us. We live in a city where we feel we have no protection."

Statement from Octavius Johnson
"I feel like I am on the opposite end of justice. A parking ticket turned into officers storming my house and me being thrown to the ground and put into a chokehold. When I was on the ground and police ran towards my house, I was worried about the family that raised me. I have seen incidents like this happen to other people. I now know that something like this could happen to not just my family, but any family."

Statement from Sharon Johnson
"Officers entered the home while I was watching from the front door. Juaquez enters and next thing I know an officer enters, throws my wheelchair and me out of the way. I end up with the wheelchair on top of me, my legs in the air. Several officers continued to walk over me as they entered the house. I eventually rolled my way into the living room and got myself upright. I saw Juaquez surrounded by officers and started asking what was going on. I ended up in handcuffs. It wasn't until a family member came by later that I was able to get back into my wheelchair. I was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. I still have physical pain from that day."

Download this file (Complaint FILE STAMPED.pdf)Johnson Complaint[ ]230 Kb
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