During a sentencing hearing earlier this month, a Wisconsin police officer who confessed to planting evidence during a murder investigation faced one year of jail time and a second year of probation. But after pleading with a judge to cut him some slack, the officer won’t go to jail after all.
In April 2014, Kyle Baars of the Kenosha Police Department was one of several officers tasked with looking for evidence in a murder case. During a house search, Baars told a colleague that he found a backpack with one of the primary suspect’s ID card, as well as a .22 caliber bullet. Months later, Baars admitted to a detective that he’d planted both items.
The planted evidence was not used during the murder trial, although the suspect was later convicted. Baars resigned in 2015, and was charged with misconduct in a public office and obstruction. He was convicted in April following a guilty plea to misconduct. But instead of serving a year in jail and a year of probation, he convinced a judge to keep him out of jail because he freely admitted his wrongdoing.
“This was not uncovered,” he said. “I was not confronted with this. I was literally the first person to bring this to the attention of the appropriate people.” He also claimed that he testified with the understanding that he wouldn’t be prosecuted, due to a deal he made with a district attorney, which prosecutors refuted. “To be honest I can’t help but feel I’ve been penalized for trying to do the right thing.”
According to Baars’ lawyer, the officer was worried the murder suspect would walk free, so he did what he could to prevent that from happening. “The fact of not having ever seen a murder victim before and being afraid that something like this, the people who did it go free,” Attorney Mark Richard argued at the sentencing hearing.http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2015/11/25/3725986/laquan-mcdonald-chicago-accountablility/
Judge Chad Kerkman, who presided over the case, told Baars that he was fully responsible.
“You’re the person who put yourself in that seat right now,” he said. “People should be able to trust law enforcement and you violated that trust.”
Yet the judge ultimately took jail time off the table. Instead, he sentenced Baars to one year of probation and 80 hours of community service.
It’s difficult to discern how common planting evidence is, as no government agencies regularly investigate and track the practice. But officers who are caught falsifying statements, tampering with evidence or committing perjury are rarely punished at all. For instance, the Chicago Tribune discovered that Cook County cops who lied about crucial details, including where they were when a crime was committed, weren’t pressed or disciplined by judges. A WNYC investigation found at least 120 officers with documented credibility issues, most of whom kept their jobs.
Recently, however, video footage has been the key to cracking down on police who lie. In Chicago, Jason Van Dyke said Laquan McDonald was lunging with his knife, but dash cam footage proved otherwise. Officer Ray Tensing of the Cincinnati Police Department claimed he fired his gun because as he was being dragged by Sam Dubose’s car. Body camera footage showed that the car was not moving when Tensing shot Dubose in the head. And in South Carolina, a witness recorded Walter Scott running away from Officer Michael Slager when he was shot in the back. Before video of the shooting was released, Slager said Scott was attempting to grab his taser.
All three officers were charged.