Police Practices

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: www.aclu.org/militarization.


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


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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.


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