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Police Conduct: Racial Profiling, Excessive Force

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

ACLU of Nebraska Considers OPD Action a "Positive Step"

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Group urges continued steps towards reform from OPD


April 05, 2013

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

LINCOLN - ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Becki Brenner released the following statement in response to Omaha Police Department's recent announcement of disciplinary action in response to allegations of law enforcement misconduct.

Since the release of the video and allegations of misconduct in March, trust between the Omaha Police Department and people in Omaha has been strained. We appreciate that Police Chief Todd Schmaderer has taken these allegations seriously and moved forward with disciplinary action. The ACLU will continue to monitor this situation and work with our community partners to ensure that this incident is dealt with in an appropriate manner.

While the action in this instance is admirable, it will take more to build the trust of the community. We hope that this sparks a series of reforms from the Omaha Police Department and that they actively work with community leaders moving forward.


Statement in Response to Recent Allegations of Police Misconduct

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March 25, 2013

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

LINCOLN - ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Becki Brenner released the following statement in response to an online video of an Omaha Police Department incident last week:

Whenever there is an allegation of misconduct, it has the potential to undermine a community’s trust in law enforcement. I am pleased that the Omaha Police Department has said they will investigate this incident and the ACLU intends to monitor the situation.

The goal of criminal justice policies should be to keep our communities safe, treat people fairly, and use taxpayer dollars wisely. Any allegation of misconduct has the potential to interfere with all of these goals. Law enforcement officials, most of whom do their jobs professionally, are not able to keep communities safe if they have lost the trust of individuals in their community.

No matter what the facts were in this particular instance, the Omaha Police Department has a responsibility to build trust with the community they serve. Allegations such as this are not new, so we renew our calls to have the United States Department of Justice conduct an external investigation of the Omaha Police Department.


ACLU Launches Nationwide Investigation into Police Use of Military Technology & Tactics

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Militarization of Local Law Enforcement Erodes Civil Liberties, Encourages Overly Aggressive Policing

March 6, 2013 

CONTACT: Amy Miller, (402) 476-8091, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ; Tom Rosenthal, (212) 549-2582; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN – American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska and affiliates in 22 other states today simultaneously filed public records requests to determine the extent to which the states are using federally subsidized military technology and tactics that are traditionally used overseas.

"Equipping state and local law enforcement with military weapons and vehicles, military tactical training, and actual military assistance to conduct traditional law enforcement erodes civil liberties and encourages increasingly aggressive policing, particularly in poor neighborhoods and communities of color," said Kara Dansky, senior counsel for ACLU's Center for Justice. "We've seen examples of this in several localities, but we don't know the dimensions of the problem."

ACLU of Nebraska has filed a public records request with the Nebraska National Guard, seeking information regarding:

  • Cooperative agreements between local police departments and the National Guard counter-drug program
  • Incidents of National Guard contact with civilians
  • Whether the National Guard is loaning or leasing Light Armored Vehicles (LAV) to local law enforcement agencies

"Nebraskans deserve to know how military weapons and tactics are being used for everyday policing," said Amy Miller, ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director. "The militarization of local police is a threat to Americans' right to live without fear of military-style intervention in their daily lives. We need to make sure these resources and tactics are deployed only with rigorous oversight and strong legal protections. Tanks don't belong in Nebraska towns."

Additional law enforcement agencies in Nebraska will be asked to provide similar information in the next few weeks.

Affiliates from the following states filed the public records requests: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin. Once the information has been collected and analyzed, if needed, the ACLU will use the results to recommend changes in law and policy governing the use of military tactics and technology in local law enforcement.

ACLU of Nebraska has previously participated in open records requests seeking information on Automated License Plate Readers ("ALPR") and GPS trackers. The ACLU discovered that multiple law enforcement agencies were using these technologies but with minimal policies and training behind them. "We have done open records requests on use of ALPRs and GPS tracking in this state, and discovered that modern technology has arrived in Nebraska, but few policies or procedures have been developed yet in response to those new technologies," noted Miller.

The ALPR requests done by ACLU Nebraska last year revealed some disturbing realities about the use of technology. Omaha Police Department, Lincoln Police Department and the Nebraska State Patrol were all asked about their use of ALPRs. All three departments are using ALPRs with no written policies, written procedures and no guidelines regarding the use of the technology, data retention, or sharing of the data with third parties. Combined, these three departments spent over $150,000 on ALPR units.

The Nebraska State Patrol units have been used to read thousands of plates but at the time of the NSP evaluation, not a single hit was generated, though many false hits were initially given. While the technology is intended only to check license plates as cars rapidly move down the roads, the NSP admits to using the reader "during a gang funeral" in Omaha to conduct surveillance.

"Whether its GPS trackers, License Plate Readers or tanks in towns – the people of Nebraska have the right to know what police tools their taxpayer dollars are being spent on," said Miller.

You can learn more about responses to this previous request online at

A copy of ACLU of Nebraska's letter to the Nebraska National Guard is available on our website at An overview of this nationwide effort can be found at



You Have the Right to Photograph Police

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‘I have the right to take pictures’ says teen.

June 19, 2012
CONTACT: Amy Miller, (402) 476-8091, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN – 19 year old Caitlin Hoer was at a New Year's Eve party in Blair and arrested by Washington County deputies for “obstructing an officer.” She was not drinking, though some of her friends were. She did not physically interfere with law enforcement and when given a breathalyzer, she tested 0. Her crime: recording police as they apprehended friends for alcohol violations.


Caitlin Hoer was charged with 'obstruction of justice' for taking a photograph. ACLU points to recent DOJ memorandum stating that individuals have the right to photograph law enforcement.

“I know police have hard jobs, but I have the right to take pictures when I'm worried about how my friends are being treated by police. Getting arrested was embarrassing, my reputation in the community is tarnished, and it seemed like it was just retaliation for me standing up for my rights,” says Hoer.

Today ACLU Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller sent a letter to all Nebraska sheriffs and police chiefs informing them of court precedent that, according to the letter, “the First Amendment permits the public to record law enforcement engaged in public duties.”

“Our message to the public is simple: you have every right to photograph police,” says ACLU Legal Director Amy Miller. “We have provided this information to law enforcement to prevent Nebraska tax-payers from paying for the costly litigation that we have seen in other states. Caiti’s case is just one of the many complaints we’ve had from across the state. Nebraskans have been ordered to stop taking pictures or recording in public by police in small towns as well as in Omaha and Lincoln, so we know this is a statewide problem in need of a solution.”

In May, the Department of Justice provided official guidance to law enforcement in response to a complaint brought by the ACLU of Maryland. “Now that we have this guidance from the DOJ, we think it is important that law enforcement take steps to ensure individual rights to photograph police are not violated,” said Miller.

Additionally, ACLU Nebraska provides “Know Your Rights” resources on its website, include information about rights for photographers.

“Our Know Your Rights materials and trainings save tax-payer dollars by giving the public tools to discuss matters with law enforcement before a violation and costly litigation occur,” said Miller.

Read more about Caitlin's story and another report recieved by ACLU Nebraska.

Individuals can learn about their rights to photograph law enforcement here.


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