Sunday, December 05, 2010

San Antonio police supervisors could have tracked, reined in habitually speeding cop who killed colleague

In the wake of a decision by a San Antonio jury to sentence a police officer to 15 years for killing a fellow officer with his vehicle while speeding to a non-emergency theft call, I was delighted to see that the jury foreman has published a couple of detailed blog posts regarding their decision - one on the guilt/innocence phase and another on deciding punishment, see:
The jury determined Seaton was a habitual speeder, that this wasn't an isolated incident. That observation implicates his supervisors as well: "Obliquely, we were also sending a message to the San Antonio Police Department, habitual speeding behavior that leads to deadly traffic accidents will not be tolerated."

I thought this tidbit was particularly interesting because it points the way to investigative tactics for identifying other officers who speed excessively on routine calls:
Patrol cars are also equipped with a special GPS system (called an AVL/MDT) that pings the vehicle every ten seconds and records it's position and speed.  This information is transmitted to a computer located at police headquarters where the data is stored.  According to the MDT records at 9:44:53pm on the night of November 28, 2008, Seaton's patrol vehicle was traveling at 102 mph.  That was the last record recorded for Seaton's vehicle.
The jury used that data to look back at Seaton's history in a way, apparently, that his supervisors never did:
We decided to look specifically at Seaton's speeds on Potranco Road that has a posted speed limit of 45mph.  Each file represented a shift's worth of records, so we decided to go backwards from the day of the accident.  We had already been notified by the prosecution of a record at around 3:45 to 3:50pm in the afternoon on Novemeber 28, 2008, the day of the accident.  According to the assistant DA the call was for shoplifting at Home Depot for $50.00.  The MDT records showed that the defendent had been traveling 95mph on Hwy 151 on a Code 1 call.  A Code 1 call is low priorty and officers are supposed to follow all traffic laws and go without lights or sirens.  When we searched the MDTs on November 27, 2008 (Thanksgiving Day) we found that his speed reached 80mph on Potranco Road at one point in the day.  The day before that, November 26, 2008 we found another instance of Seaton driving between 80 and 90mph on Potranco.  We felt this was as far back as we needed to go, Seaton was an habitual speeder.
This tells me that, in addition to Officer Seaton's personal culpability, this was an instance where San Antonio PD failed to adequately supervise its officer. They were in possession of evidence Seaton was routinely speeding on low-priority calls, yet he was never disciplined for it until he killed somebody. One wonders how many other officers engage in the same behavior? Seaton's attorneys argued that SAPD's protocols against speeding are routinely ignored. None of that excuses Seaton's actions, but it does point to broader "pattern and practice" issues that go beyond the defendant's culpability to call into question the lack of supervision by his superiors at SAPD.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

One set of rules for the LEOs and another set for the rest of us. What's WRONG with this jury? Don't they support the police?

R. Shackleford said...

I wonder if he would've gotten 15 years for killing a civvie? In any case, good call on the jury's part. The tin badge doesn't give you the right to break the law, only to enforce it.

Anonymous said...

This is such a sad situation, all the way around. I think grits has an excellent point about supervision. This isn't the only issue where there should be closer supervision in law enforcement.

I've noticed that its not always the best people who rise to the level of supervisors in these agencies. That seems to be true of goverment agencies in general, in my opinion.

But, in law enforcement in Texas in particular, I recently read where the Texas Ranger who committed perjury in the Graves case is now the Chief Senior (whatever its called ) Texas Ranger who is in charge of all the Texas Rangers. Does this make any sense? No wonder other Rangers, like Phillip Kemp (of the Mineola Swingers case) think they can also get away with perjury (and they obviously can.).

The supervisors at the San Antonio PD probably didn't do anything about this officer's reckless behavior because they probably do the same or similar things themselves.

Cheri Ledbetter said...

Come to Dallas, Fort Worth, Grand Prairie and especially Arlington if you want to watch speeding cops. They smile as the whiz by. No lights, no sirens. Perhaps a free lunch somewhere, who knows? As many have already commented...if a civilian had been killed this speeder cop would still be speeding. The fact that he killed one of his own is the only reason he is seeing prison. Good call jurors.

Phelps said...

Count me as one of the ones who doesn't believe it would have ever even made it to trial had he killed a regular citizen and not another cop.

Thomas Hobbes said...

If you consider that the location data and records of calls and assignments are all usually electronic records, a ton of activity can be screened by computer to discover a variety of situations that may warrant further review by management.

The whole situation is sad.

Anonymous said...

I was traveling home from a neighborhood store the other night when a police officer in front of me u-turned at a red light after observing no oncoming traffic and went the opposite way in no particular hurry. I see this kind of behavior quite frequently. It's an attitude. Do as I say, not as I do.

Anonymous said...

I recommend that LEO's obey all traffic laws even in the case of emergencies. As we can see the liability is too overwhelming. The burden is too great on the agencies, hence the taxpayers. No more code 3.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if I'd go that far 6:06. This guy's behavior would have been reckless even if he was running Code 3. Even with lights and sirens, when approaching an intersection, especially when the light is red, the officer should slow down and make sure the people at or approaching the intersection see him. Officers still aren't allowed to be reckless even with lights and sirens. It appears that this guy didn't even bother to slow down. That really makes me wonder about the laptop thing the juror mentioned. He was approaching an intersection at 100mph where there was other traffic. The light was red. Who in their right mind wouldn't slow down? The laptop thing sounds like the best explanation. If that's true, that just adds to his recklessness.

This is a sad situation but I think the jury did the right thing. A message needed to be sent. Their action may save other lives. This type of behavior is way too common.

rodsmith said...

i'm with the rest. If this criminal idiot had kiled anyone but ANOTHER COP it' would have been sweep under the rug...as a tough shit! I love this jury. I also think the dead cops family has some major ground to file a civil suit against this idiot and the police department.

Pity they didnt' try and charge the idiots who were supposed to be watching him.

Anonymous said...

The juror in question mentioned how they evaluated the officer's habitual negligence by the GPS readings, his call clearance rate and an assumed amount of time spent per call, insinuating that they could extrapolate ongoing behavior from that information.

I feel that there are far too many assumptions made with the limited amount of information they were provided. I'm not defending the officer in any way for his actions on the night in question in trial. I believe the jurors did what they believed to be right and they didn't take their charge lightly. However, I think the information they were provided during the punishment phase could have been more properly prepared and annotated to give a better perspective as to the information the officer would have had at the time.

Officers are required and expected by society to take certain actions. They are also governed by statutes and policies which can conflict with those expectations. It is a pretty bad place to be. I know many cops that are sent to calls "Code 1" when one dang well knows they need to be there now. Liability concerns subsequently bring up different liability problems, placed on the shoulder of the officer for doing what may be right. This is caused by the 1:07 Anon, but with a different definition of a "good supervisor", I think. Exceeding the speed limit, code (2 or 3) responses and other activities exist because officers respond to emergencies. The necessity for these responses will never change. The need for responsibility and due care when using them will never change, either.

Once again, I'm not defending this particular incident, I merely think that it has elicited some interesting comments which beg a general response.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"annotated to give a better perspective as to the information the officer would have had at the time"

I'm not sure what you're talking about, 8:04. They knew what road he was driving, how fast he was going, what was the speed limit and what type of calls he was on at each, discrete period. He was driving 80-90 in 45 mph zones on multiple days besides the one in question while on non-emergency calls. Hypothetically, what other information might the officer have had that would change any of those variables in favor of JUSTIFYING his speeding in non-emergency situations?

Anonymous said...

Well, Grits your bias is obvious. This was a cop, so we know he HAD to have been acting soley on the information provided to us in print. There couldn't possibly be any more information out there indicating that this petty crime may be related to a string of more violent crimes and maybe this was recognized by the officers who made a (very bad) decision to step up their response. Perhaps this officer was having to cover several districts because every other officer in these vacant districts was on days off without pay for having crappy response times. Blame the officer, next crucify his supervision, then move to attack the policies of the organization. This officer killed people without a doubt. I'd be willing to bet there are other factors, in addition to sheer recklessness, that facilitated the outcome that are not entirely attributable to the officer.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@9:39, If there were evidence that "this petty crime may be related to a string of more violent crimes," I suspect the defense would have raised it, don't you?

If the "officer was having to cover several districts," that wouldn't justify speeding through an intersection with a red-light at 100mph. Sorry. And again, don't you think the defense would have raised that if it were true?

I do agree that there "are other factors, in addition to sheer recklessness, that facilitated the outcome that are not entirely attributable to the officer." IMO those factors are a lack of adequate supervision or enforcement of departmental policies by his supervisors. You certainly haven't identified any others.

Alex S. said...

Incredible that the witness said she wanted "the max" but if Seaton had accepted responsibility she would not have opposed probation. How could Seaton imagine in his wildest dreams that he was going to beat this case? And how many times a day in prison will he lament that he didn't accept the plea bargain...

Anonymous said...

9:39, none of the issues you raise, even if they were true, would justify this officer's recklessness. Even if this guy had been responding to a Code 3 call using lights and sirens he still should have slowed down when approaching an intersection with other traffic where he was facing a red light. Going through an intersection under those circumstances at 100mph is reckless whether you have lights and siren or not. Ambulances run code much more often than police officers. Do you ever see them run through an intersection at 100 mph. No, they typically slow down, sometimes even stop to make sure they are seen by the other motorists at the intersection. There are absolutely no extraneous circumstances that I can think of, (except possibly a pursuit and even then the officer has to exercise appropriate caution) that would justify what this officer did.

Think about this. It doesn't do any good for an officer to try to get somewhere fast if he is driving so reckless that he causes an accident and never gets there. Sort of defeats his purpose, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

It doesn't take much to get this posse riled up against the cops.

Anonymous said...

If the deceased officer had been hit by a civilian who was on his laptop or texting on his cell phone, how riled up would the "cops" be towards them. They'd be hollering for the death penalty. Yet, when its a cop that used poor judgment and killed another cop, well, there's just a double standard, isn't there?

Its that same old attitude and I find it really disturbinng that so many cops believe that the rules shouldn't apply to them like they do to everyone else.

Zeety said...

Thank the command staff and a new generation populating the ranks of the SAPD for doing the right thing and referring this for charges instead of keeping it on the hush-hush as they have habitually done, even when it's a fellow police officer who is harmed.

Having been raised in SA and personally known many in the LEO community I can say they are basically a group of good, dedicated professionals the community can count on. But this sort of thing would have always been covered up in the past.

Kudos to the jury, the DA and the brass for doing the right thing.

Anonymous said...

Good point, Zeety. I read somewhere, it was the officers who investigated the crash that recommended that the charges be filed. Seaton's fellow officers felt he needed to be held accountable. That is commendable.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming tendency elsewhere is for cops to cover for each other.

A Texas PO said...

Seaton is a damned idiot who flagrantly violated SAPD policy throughout his career with the Department. Unfortunately, a young, up-and-coming officer lost his life due to another brother's poor choices. I am glad the officer's who investigated the crash recommended that charges be filed, but having lived in the San Antonio area for several years, I think these charges would have been filed whether the victim was a cop or a civilian. The reason: there was a string of officer-involved traffic accidents around this time involving officers violating SAPD speed policy that resulted in deaths or serious injuries.

I also think that it's unrealistic to expect that the vehicle data for each patrol unit be tracked to determine what an officer did during a particular shift. The manpower required for that in a department the size of SAPD would be ridiculous and a waste of precious resources. It would, however, be beneficial if the software in each unit had set limits for speed, location, etc., that would raise a red flag if, for instance, speed rose above a specific level. This would allow supervisors to focus on those particular officers who routinely raise these flags rather than repeatedly filtering through mountains of data.

Rest in peace, Off. Davis. Your shift is over and we have the watch from here.

Anonymous said...

"I think these charges would have been filed whether the victim was a cop or a civilian. The reason: there was a string of officer-involved traffic accidents around this time involving officers violating SAPD speed policy that resulted in deaths or serious injuries."

Just curious, what charges were brought against the officers who violated policy and injured or killed someone in those cases?

ken

Anonymous said...

@Grits, In reference to the "annotated information" mentioned above, lots of information. Where was he prior to being dispatched in relation to the call he was responding to? What were the specific circumstances of the call (not just the call nature)? I was also referring to the juries contemplation of the calls for service answered per shift. The "thirty minute per call" assumption is kinda silly. One could easily complete 15 traffic stops in 2 hours in a 4 block radius, or they could respond to 15 fights on opposite sides of the district. Numbers easily become skewed and meaningless when viewed in a vacuum.

I'm just speaking about their evaluation of his history during the punishment phase, not the night of the offense.

Zeety said...

Oh, okay, I see where this is going. Some of you (as usual) want to play White Knight for the cop who was playing White Knight and killed another cop.

Here's the cold hard facts:

One cop is picking up road flares after servicing a traffic accident. His cruiser is parked on the right side of the road with the lights flashing.

Another cop, who is harried and pissed off, goes to answer a minor shoplifting call and proceeds at 110 MPH with no lights and no siren to the destination. Some dumbass, not seeing the oncoming cruiser traveling at 110 MPH makes a legal left turn and is struck by the police car.

The cruiser then bounces off the car turning left and smashes the shit out of the cop picking up road flares, killing him.

The guy was at fault for going 110 MPH to answer a minor shoplifting call without lights or siren.

Fuck him, he deserves to go to prison for wrongfully killing someone, just like the rest of us would.

Problem solved.

(Isn't that how Glen Beck and Shawn Hannity do it?)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:40, the 30 minutes per call comment I completely agree was too general to base punishment on. I winced when I read that, but was relieved when, reading further, they also identified specific instances of speeding to non-priority calls on the same road in the previous couple of days using the GPS data, and that I think CAN be relied upon for this purpose. The electronic data also could easily be used to spot check for unnecessary speeding on an ongoing basis if SAPD supervisors cared to rein in such behavior.

I fail to see how it matters where Seaton was coming from (though I've little doubt the jury had that information). And the specifics of the call he was headed to don't matter beyond whatever the officer was told, and I feel certain the jury was given that information information as well. Indeed, if those details were in the least exculpatory, I'm certain his defense would raise them. It's not like he had incompetent counsel - Seaton called 35 mitigation witnesses at the punishment phase.

A Texas PO writes: "I also think that it's unrealistic to expect that the vehicle data for each patrol unit be tracked to determine what an officer did during a particular shift."

But they're already tracking it electronically in a manner that's not manpower intensive. The data is already being generated. I disgree that's a big concern: His supervisors had data in hand before the accident that told them he was habitually speeding on non-emergency calls, it's just that either a) nobody ever looked at it or b) they saw it and overlooked it because the policy just wasn't being enforced.

Texas PO also writes: "I think these charges would have been filed whether the victim was a cop or a civilian. The reason: there was a string of officer-involved traffic accidents around this time involving officers violating SAPD speed policy that resulted in deaths or serious injuries."

I'm unaware of any of those other cases resulting in felony prosecutions against the officers, so unless I'm missing something that statement seems to argue against your point that "these charges would have been filed whether the victim was a cop or a civilian."

A Texas PO said...

@Grits: What I meant was that several SAPD officers were involved in high speed crashes with civilians leading up to this particular incident and the Department was under some fire by the local media. "Non-biased" review boards cleared most of the other officers and there were no prior felony prosecutions, but this particular incident was so horrific.