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Articles and Investigations – ProPublica

One Officer, Scores of Tickets and a Familiar Racial Disparity

by Topher Sanders, ProPublica, and Benjamin Conarck, Florida Times-Union

It was just before 9 a.m. one day last July, and Noemi Martinez was on her way from one job interview to the next, running to catch a bus on Atlantic Boulevard in Jacksonville, Fla. Sprinklers from a nearby nursery were showering water onto the broken sidewalk in front of her, so Martinez walked out into the shoulder of Lee Road and pressed on.

Things were fairly urgent for Martinez, 52. An eviction notice had been pasted on her apartment door on Jacksonville’s West Side. A job was vital, and she’d just interviewed for work as a bus driver. Now, she was off to interview for a position as a customer service representative at Florida Blue, the health insurance giant.

Just then, Officer C.J. Brown of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office cruised by on his motorcycle. Martinez’s luck could hardly have been worse.

Brown wrote more pedestrian tickets than any other member of the sheriff’s force over the last five years. And so at 8:58 a.m. on July 19, 2017, he issued a $62.50 citation to Martinez: “Pedestrian failed to use sidewalk. Walking in roadway where sidewalks provided.”

“I’ve never been stopped for anything and you’re going to stop me for walking, when I was doing everything right,” Martinez recalled saying to Brown. “He stopped me as if I was a criminal.”

ProPublica and the Times-Union examined more than 2,200 pedestrian tickets issued to people in Jacksonville from 2012 to 2017, and found that 55 percent of them were issued to blacks despite the fact that the city’s population is just 29 percent African American. The sheriff’s office says the tickets are issued in an effort to limit pedestrian fatalities and combat crime.

Brown has fully embraced the ticket enforcement effort. Records show Brown issued 198 pedestrian tickets over five years, four times the total of the next most prolific officer. Slightly more than 60 percent of his tickets went to blacks, meaning one of every 10 blacks to receive a pedestrian ticket in Jacksonville from 2012 to 2017 was cited by Brown.

Top officials with the sheriff’s office said they had no issue with Brown’s performance, or whom he ticketed. The sheriff’s office said Brown wrote a large volume of tickets because he’d been assigned to special enforcement shifts as part of a state-funded effort to make Jacksonville safer for pedestrians.

However, the Times-Union and ProPublica discovered Brown’s work on those shifts could not have accounted for his number of tickets. Those special enforcement shifts were aimed at issuing warnings, not tickets. Officers working those shifts actually wrote modest numbers of tickets.

Noemi Martinez walked in the street to avoid sprinklers flooding the sidewalk, from a nursery on Lee Road, as she walked to a bus stop. Martinez was ticketed by a passing JSO motorcycle patrolman for being in the road. (Bruce Lipsky/Florida Times-Union)

Presented with the findings, the sheriff’s office amended its explanation for Brown’s productivity, saying Brown was simply a traffic officer who was “good at his job.”

Brown would not agree to an interview.

Brown is one of 19 “motor officers” on the Jacksonville sheriff’s force. They operate on motorcycle and primarily perform traffic-related duties, such as traffic enforcement, traffic direction, and traffic crash investigations. There are also 29 other officers throughout the department that perform some similar traffic-related functions.

Brown joined the sheriff’s force in 1995, and worked first as a patrol officer in downtown Jacksonville. Even as a patrol officer, he received praise for his traffic enforcement. His personnel file indicates he joined the motorcycle traffic unit around 2005, and again he won praise from his superiors.

“He has shown advanced skills in traffic control, traffic enforcement, motorist safety and motorcycle operation,” reads one performance evaluation. “Officer Brown has shown the ability to determine the correct Traffic Statute or Criminal Statute to enforce an offense properly,” the evaluation continued.

“Officer Brown makes safety a primary focus. Officer Brown wears safety glasses, reflective jacket, bullet proof body armor, motorcycle boots, gloves and attends monthly motorcycle training classes. Officer Brown participates in numerous Police Motorcycle Rodeo, which have exercises stressing safe operation of the motorcycle. Officer Brown places with awards each rodeo.” 

Brown has also been commended for his “commitment to the Broken Windows theory of policing.” The approach emphasizes enforcement of low-level “quality of life” ordinances as a way to limit public disorder and, as a consequence, deter the kinds of more serious crimes that can flourish in neglected communities.

Over the years, the execution of this philosophy of policing has come under considerable fire. Critics say the police sometimes have cracked down too hard on minor crimes in distressed neighborhoods, generating ill will and driving some poor residents into a cycle of debt and needless incarceration.

Brown’s personnel file suggests his approach has not always played well with residents. The brief summaries in the file include nine reports of citizen complaints — “improper action,” in one case, “traffic violation” in another, “unbecoming conduct” in another. The documents underlying the complaints were not available because they are purged after one year. The sheriff’s office declined to open an internal affairs investigation in all but two cases. In those two cases, the allegations were not sustained.

The Times-Union and ProPublica asked the sheriff’s office for comment on Brown’s record of complaints, but got no response.

The 18 other motor officers accounted for a combined 144 pedestrian tickets, well short of Brown’s total. The officers who wrote the second-most and third-most tickets gave out 50 and 39, respectively. They, too, issued them disproportionately to blacks (60 percent and 74 percent, respectively.)

A number of experts said the ProPublica/Times-Union analysis of pedestrian tickets in Jacksonville raised worries about selective enforcement, and noted that the cost of the tickets can hit poor residents especially hard. Sheriff Mike Williams has said there is no targeting of black residents, and that he and his office could not comment further until they had more fully reviewed the ProPublica/Times-Union findings.

Brown issued 121 of his 198 tickets to blacks. Nearly 80 percent of those went to black males. The violations included crossing against a red light, walking “upon a limited access facility” and, of course, walking in roadway where sidewalks are provided, the citation he issued Noemi Martinez, who was listed on the ticket as black, but who describes herself as black and Dominican.

But Brown’s most frequently given ticket was for failing to cross the street in a crosswalk. The ProPublica/Times-Union analysis showed that more than half of all such tickets given in Jacksonville are given in error. The mistakes appear to result from sheriff’s officers’ confusion about how to interpret the statute. Williams told ProPublica and the Times-Union he had asked the State Attorney’s Office to look at the department’s enforcement of the statute for guidance.

Brown wrote 101 tickets for failing to cross in a crosswalk, and our analysis shows 50 of them were issued in error. Thirty of those went to blacks.

Martinez, the recipient of ticket #A8MO4TE, has struggled to find housing and job stability in recent years. By the time she got her apartment in the West Side, she had already been through all three of Jacksonville’s homeless shelters. The one-bedroom apartment was nearly without furniture when a reporter visited to interview Martinez. She had only a bed and two chairs, one of which she used as a nightstand.

The $62.50 ticket written by Brown, then, was no small thing. Any penalties she might accrue on her driver’s license could damage her chances at something like the bus driver’s job she had interviewed for that morning last July.

ProPublica and the Times-Union discussed Martinez’s ticket with Undersheriff Patrick Ivey, the sheriff’s office’s second in command. Ivey subsequently spoke with Martinez and opened an internal affairs investigation into Brown’s handling of the incident.

Martinez had multiple interviews with police, after which Ivey told her the office supported Brown’s actions. The investigators concluded she had failed to heed Brown’s instructions to move to the sidewalk on the other side of the road.

Martinez conceded she was told to get on the sidewalk by Brown, but she thought he was talking about the flooded one she was trying to avoid.

“What sidewalk?” she remembers asking Brown in exasperation. Martinez said she never felt unsafe, and wasn’t straying into traffic.

“I was just trying to walk from point A to point B,” she said.

Ivey acknowledged the discretionary nature of the whole episode. He said that Brown would not have ticketed Martinez if she had heeded his instruction to get on a sidewalk, rather than responding with a question.

Martinez is headed to court over the ticket. She is being represented pro bono by defense attorney Whitney Lonker.

As she was when she first met Martinez, Lonker remains dumbstruck by the effort to ticket poor people for pedestrian violations.

Lonker, who is white, said her own encounter over a jaywalking infraction went a lot differently, something she chalked up to her race and seeming greater affluence.

Lonker said she was crossing the street outside the Duval County Courthouse when a Jacksonville sheriff’s officer notified her she technically committed an infraction by not using the crosswalk.

It was a flirty exchange, Lonker said.

“I was crossing the street, and he laughed and looked at me and said, ‘I could write you a jaywalking ticket,’ and I laughed and said, ‘I know, right!’”

There was no ticket.

The sheriff’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Lonker’s account.

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The Breakthrough: Used as ‘Guinea Pigs’ by the U.S. Military, Then Discarded

by Jessica Huseman

When we think of the harm that befalls soldiers during wartime, specific images come to mind. The fallout from scientific experiments — especially those carried out by our own government — isn’t one. But that was the reality of tens of thousands of military men in the 1940s, who were poisoned with mustard gas by the U.S. government to see how their bodies would react. It took decades to bring to light the vast scope of the experiments, and it couldn’t have been completed without the work of two NPR journalists.

For years, veterans were sworn to secrecy about the tests, prohibited from even discussing them with doctors. While this curtain was lifted in the 1990s, and Congress and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs promised medical care and services, many vets didn’t get it. NPR reporter Caitlin Dickerson and research librarian Barbara Van Woerkom found records for and called hundreds of vets who were used in these experiments, and their work paved the way for the men — who are now well into their 80s — to receive the care and recognition they needed.

Listen to the Podcast


Dickerson was new to the investigative desk when she began working with Van Woerkom, who’d been gnawing around the edges of the story for years. She said she understood right away the urgency of what Van Woerkom was sitting on. “There was also this element of time, because most of the men who were used in these tests had died, and those who were still around were in their 80s or 90s,” she said. “It felt sort of dire.”

Dickerson started calling them. Because the men were older, communication was sometimes difficult. But they finally started opening up. They told her about their skin flaking off, about chronic health problems they couldn’t fully report to their doctors. Many hadn’t even told their wives about the experiments.

“Some of them said, ‘I just can’t believe that the government did this to me. I trusted them. I trusted that they weren’t going to hurt me,’” said Van Woerkom.

The pair set off to see if they could prove, systematically, that the government failed to keep the promise to get these vets care. They dug through the VA’s medical benefits database and found a pattern: In denied claim after denied claim, the VA asked the vets for more proof that they were actually involved in the experiments — proof they didn’t have, because the tests were classified.

The journalists found more disturbing information. In testing to see how different races would react to the poison, the military used Japanese-American soldiers as stand-ins for enemy soldiers — something Dickerson said struck her. “Some of them were recruited out of internment camps,” she said, only to be used “as guinea pigs on the frontlines of a chemical war.”

The journalists asked the VA why it had contacted only 610 veterans in the 20 years since the tests were made public, and officials said they’d done the best they could. But in only two months of research, Dickerson and Van Woerkom had found double that number.

Their reporting brought about change. After the story aired, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., proposed a bill requiring the VA to reexamine all claims made by vets used in mustard gas experiments. It was signed into law last August.

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Journalism Made Possible Because of the Freedom of Information Act

by Logan Jaffe

If the Freedom of Information Act were a person, who would it be? That’s a real question I asked our newsroom this week, because that’s the kind of thing I randomly think about.

Really, though, I asked this of our newsroom because I genuinely want you to care about FOIA. And I thought that if I could get inside our reporters’ heads — to understand what they envision when that acronym comes up, be it Dwight from “The Office” or whoever — I could help you put a metaphorical face on a law that is not only fundamental to the work we do as investigative journalists but is also essential to our democracy. Plus, if you have a face to associate with FOIA, maybe that would help it stick in your brain.

If you’re unfamiliar, the Freedom of Information Act is a law that allows anyone — yes, including you — to request records and documents from the government. This could mean, for example, a homeowner filing a request for records of government spending in their town, a lawyer filing for environmental assessments of a property or a journalist filing for records of incident reports in a prison. Although filing a FOIA request seems pretty straightforward — technically, all you need to do is send a letter or email to the FOIA officer detailing your request — we can vouch for the fact that, sometimes, the process can be anything but.

We at ProPublica Illinois are interested in exploring how FOIA plays out here in Illinois, and we’re particularly interested in hearing from non-journalists about how they’ve used FOIA. So, if you’ve got something to tell us, email me at logan.jaffe@propublica.org.

So, let me tell you about some of the work we would not have been able to accomplish in the last month if not for FOIA. And then you’ll hear about some of the bizarre characters that come to mind for the reporters of those stories when they hear the word “FOIA.”

via GIPHY

  • In our story about the city losing track of police discipline cases so officers escape punishment, a video of the 911 calls made by Brandon Whitehead, and the officer who pulled him over one night in 2006, was created through FOIA. The calls document the incident, which later led to Brandon filing a complaint against the officer, who did not serve his punishment until 11 years later. Reporter Jodi S. Cohen told me her FOIA request for other 911 calls was originally denied, and she had to argue to get them. So Jodi’s answer to the question, “If FOIA were a person, who would it be?” is this: “Anna from ‘Frozen.’ She gets ignored and is in the shadows but she has a lot of power.”

  • Mick Dumke, who reported our investigation into low-level gun traffickers, told me FOIA is “one of those things you use so often, you often forget” how much material in a story can come from it. In his story, he used FOIA to get records on prosecutions from the Cook County state’s attorney’s office and police reports on people associated with the case. “The trick is to figure out how to use it,” Mick told me. “I usually think of it as a public shaming device. If agencies or individuals don’t comply with the FOIA, we let everyone know.” So, here’s who comes to mind for Mick: “Basically a politician who’s gone on the record promising democracy. We know what it says, and now we have to find ways to apply pressure so everyone around it follows through.”

via GIPHY

  • And data reporter Sandhya Kambhampati told me one of the first things she did at ProPublica Illinois is FOIA the record retention schedules for major departments with the city and state. This, she said, helps her get a better idea of where and how their data is kept, so our reporters can be specific when requesting information. Since June, she’s sent 972 FOIAs, with 725 fulfilled as of Nov. 15. Only 424 were fulfilled on time. So when I asked her what comes to mind when she hears the word FOIA, she related her experience dealing with what can be a slow process. To her, sometimes waiting for FOIAs to come in is like standing in line at the counter with the sloth from “Zootopia.”

I thought this was too fun of a question to just keep in our newsroom, so I put the question out on Twitter, as I tend to do. Here’s what other people said:

Clearly, there’s some resentment out there when it comes to pinning down the ever-elusive FOIA. And if you’ve made it this far in the article, congratulations, your nerdiness has been confirmed. So if you’ve got something to say about the FOIA experiences in your life (or just want to share how you imagine FOIA as a person), here’s your big chance.

Write me at logan.jaffe@propublica.org. Or tweet me @loganjaffe.

’Til next time,

Logan

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New Jersey Bill Would Create Commission Empowered to Probe Deaths Related to Pregnancy and Childbirth

Two New Jersey lawmakers have introduced a bill to overhaul how the state examines deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth, proposing one of the most sweeping maternal mortality review processes in the country.

Under the legislation introduced last week, hospitals and clinicians would face new requirements to report maternal deaths to state regulators, families would play a much greater role in understanding what happened, and the findings would be used to push for adoption of life-saving treatment protocols and other concrete policies to protect mothers and babies.

State Sen. Joseph Vitale said the legislation, S3452, was inspired by a ProPublica and NPR report on the case of Lauren Bloomstein, a neonatal nurse who worked at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, New Jersey — and who died there from childbirth complications in 2011.

The ProPublica-NPR piece, part of our Lost Mothers project on maternal deaths and near-misses, highlighted a number of systemic problems in the way hospitals throughout the U.S. handle obstetric emergencies and sometimes prioritize the health and safety of infants over the well-being of their mothers.

Other ProPublica pieces have described widespread inadequacies in how maternal deaths are monitored and investigated in New Jersey and elsewhere. The new bill would address many of those problems.

New Jersey’s record on maternal health has long been mixed — a 2010 report by Amnesty International ranked it 35th among the states for its rate of pregnancy-related deaths. According to the most recent data, black mothers in the state are five times likelier to die from maternal complications than white mothers are.

The state already has a maternal mortality review committee in place to analyze deaths that occur within a year of the end of pregnancy. But the panel has little authority, it doesn’t assess the preventability of deaths, and its sporadic reports have had little impact.

Under the new bill, a 31-member commission would scrutinize maternal deaths in much greater depth, trying to understand why a death occurred, whether it was preventable and how those lessons might be translated into systemwide reforms. The commission would have the authority to review all existing reports on maternal deaths as well as patient and hospital records. It could also conduct its own investigations, hold public hearings and issue subpoenas. It would be able to interview witnesses, including members of a woman’s family — something no other maternal mortality review committee in the U.S. currently does.

“You need that [perspective],” said Vitale, a Democrat from Middlesex County who is the longtime chair of the Senate health committee. The underlying causes of maternal deaths “are not always just clinical. That information [from family members of a deceased woman] can a matter a lot.” The goal is “to really drill down into these issues and see what can we do to improve care.”

The commission would also develop two mechanisms for reporting maternal deaths to the New Jersey Department of Health for further investigation —a mandatory process for health care providers and medical examiners and a voluntary process for relatives and other interested parties. Both would be confidential.

That pleases Larry Bloomstein, an orthopedic surgeon who watched his wife perish from a form of severe preeclampsia, or pregnancy-induced hypertension, six years ago. After Lauren’s death, Larry was frustrated to discover that many maternal deaths didn’t result in investigations or even autopsies. “The one thing I think is so important is that every maternal death gets the attention it deserves and that we try to review it and figure out what the error was and what could have been done to alter that,” he said.

The commission would report its findings to state health officials, lawmakers and the governor’s office once a year, as well as to the hospitals and providers involved. The findings would be used to identify and promote practices — for example, protocols to treat preeclampsia, hemorrhage and blood clots — that could save lives. The commission would also work with the health department to develop education and training programs for doctors, nurses and other practitioners.

All names and other identifying information would be kept confidential and none of the findings could be used in malpractice lawsuits or other litigation.

Under the bill, the Maternal Mortality Review Commission could also elect to investigate cases involving life-threatening complications (also known as severe maternal morbidity), using data and information from patient registries.

“It is unacceptable that maternal death rates have risen in the United States despite vast improvements in medical science and technology,” M. Teresa Ruiz, a Democrat from Essex County who cosponsored the bill, said earlier this week. “As a nation we have to address this issue, but we have a responsibility in New Jersey to improve outcomes for mothers by embarking on an aggressive campaign to address maternal care. This commission is key to that process.”

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How We Calculated the Risks of Walking While Black

A Florida Times-Union/ProPublica analysis showed that law enforcement in Duval County, Florida, gives black people a higher proportion of pedestrian tickets than does any other large county in the state. Black pedestrians are nearly three times as likely to receive a ticket as nonblack pedestrians. Our analysis also showed that residents in the three poorest ZIP codes in Jacksonville (Duval County’s largest city) were nearly six times as likely to receive a ticket as were residents of the city’s 34 other ZIP codes.

We also found that the most common ticket type, “crossing the street while not in a crosswalk,” was issued in error more than half of the time.

The Jacksonville sheriff’s office contends that pedestrian tickets are an essential tool in reducing pedestrian deaths from vehicle collisions. But critics, including consultants hired by the city, disagree, saying that only changes to the city’s dangerous layout and infrastructure will improve pedestrian safety. A ProPublica analysis of crash location data did not find a strong relationship between where pedestrian tickets are issued and where crashes involving pedestrian fatalities occur.

Pedestrian tickets can be used to establish probable cause to search people, according to the sheriff’s office second-in-command. Our analysis found that 7 percent of pedestrian tickets came with additional criminal charges, most commonly drug possession, based on court records — likely an underestimate, based on an anecdotal review of the citations.

The Data We Used

We obtained Traffic Citation Accounting Transmission data from Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers through the Florida Sunshine Law. This dataset contains all tickets issued in the state of Florida from January 2012 to July 2017. Our analysis looked at pedestrian tickets as specified in Florida Statutes (see below for the list of statutes we used in our analysis). We narrowed our data to Duval County because of the completeness of its reporting and because black residents are ticketed at a higher rate there than in any other large county in Florida. This dataset covered 2,232 pedestrian tickets. We removed 24 tickets issued to cyclists, producing a dataset of 2,208 pedestrian tickets.

In the case of 746 tickets, the location where the ticket was issued was not reported in the data provided by Duval County. For these, we obtained the original citations, each as an individual PDF, and recorded the written address. We geocoded those addresses to approximately the block level. For 107 addresses, there was not sufficient information to obtain a latitude and longitude. We excluded those tickets from our geographic analysis.

The pedestrian ticket dataset included the recipient’s race, date of birth, gender and residence to the ZIP code level.

We received Pedestrian Crash Reports from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. This data covered crashes in Duval County from January 2012 to July 2017. Our analysis focused predominantly on the 191 crashes involving pedestrian fatalities. Due to the small sample size, we also looked at crashes involving severe injuries to pedestrians, defined in the data as “incapacitating.” There were 558 such crashes in the time period.

The Pedestrian Crash Report did not include the race of the pedestrians killed. To obtain race, we used a two-step process: First, we matched pedestrians in the crash report with individuals in disposition records and in Duval County’s Summary Report system, using first and last name and date of birth. In cases where we couldn’t find a match in the court data, we used the race identified on death certificates. We were able to determine race in 190 of 194 cases of pedestrian fatality. We did not determine the race of severely injured pedestrians.

We obtained disposition records from Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers and court records from the Duval Clerk of Courts Summary Report System data to look at the status of cases resulting from pedestrian tickets.

We also received data from the Jacksonville Transportation Authority on bus stop accessibility, including the distance to nearest crosswalk and the presence of a sidewalk.

Finally, we used data from the 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-year estimates (ACS) for demographic information including race and household income. We used county data to calculate incidence risk ratios. The data on pedestrian tickets includes the ZIP code of ticketed pedestrians. We used ACS data at the ZIP code level to better understand their communities. For analysis related to the location of tickets issued and crashes we used ACS data at the census-tract level.

The Analysis

Our analysis of pedestrian ticket demographics consisted largely of summary statistics from the Traffic Citation Accounting Transmission dataset. To test the likelihood of different populations to receive a pedestrian ticket, we computed the incidence risk ratio and conducted a chi-square test. Results showed an increased likelihood for black and low-income pedestrians to be ticketed, and were statistically significant.

To test the relationship between locations of pedestrian tickets and fatal crashes involving pedestrians, we looked at the number of each by census tract in Duval County. The Pearson’s correlation coefficient between the two was 0.37, demonstrating a weak relationship. We also tested the correlation between pedestrian tickets and crashes that killed or severely injured a pedestrian. The correlation coefficient was 0.57, demonstrating a moderate relationship.

To research the sentencing status of pedestrian tickets, we combined the Traffic Citation Accounting Transmission dataset and disposition records on the common citation number, which is unique to each citation. More than half of the tickets did not appear in disposition records, which Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers officials told us meant the tickets were unresolved. We verified this by looking up a random sample of unresolved tickets on the Duval County Clerk of Court’s Clerk Online Resource e-Portal.

We used the Duval Clerk of Courts Summary Report System data to understand how often criminal charges were brought in tandem with a pedestrian citation. There was not a common identifier between courts system data and pedestrian ticket data, so we looked at clerk filings that included pedestrian tickets over the same time period as our pedestrian ticket dataset, January 2012 to July 2017. To determine where additional charges were brought alongside pedestrian tickets, we made a subset of the data including only court cases that included both a pedestrian statute violation and another non-pedestrian criminal offense.

Finally, we investigated the enforcement of one statute in particular: “316.130(11) Between adjacent intersections at which traffic control signals are in operation, pedestrians shall not cross at any place except in a marked crosswalk.” We used Google Street View to determine whether traffic signals existed between adjacent intersections for each ticket issued. The majority of Google Street View images we looked at were taken in 2015. For tickets given since then we also referred to a list from the City of Jacksonville and Florida Department of Transportation of street lights installed since 2012. Our investigation found, at minimum, half of the tickets were given in error because there were not traffic signals between the adjacent intersections.

List of Statutes Used for Analysis

  • 316.075(1)(A)3 PE 0 Pedestrian failed to cross within crosswalk with Green Turn Arrow
  • 316.075(1)(B)2 PE 0 Pedestrian Facing Yellow Light must not cross roadway
  • 316.075(1)(C)2b PE 0 Pedestrian Facing Red Light must not enter roadway
  • 316.130(1) PE 0 Pedestrian Failed to Obey Pedestrian Traffic Control Device
  • 316.130(2) PE 0 Pedestrian Entering Roadway Against Steady Red Signal Light
  • 316.130(3) PE 0 Pedestrian Walking in Roadway where Sidewalks are Provided
  • 316.130(4) PE 0 Pedestrian Failed to Walk on Left Shoulder when No Sidewalks Provided
  • 316.130(4) PE 0 Pedestrian Walking in Roadway with Traffic when No Sidewalks Provided
  • 316.130(5) PE 0 Pedestrian Standing on Pavement with Traffic Soliciting Ride, Employment – Business
  • 316.130(5) PE 0 Pedestrian Standing in Roadway for Purpose of Soliciting
  • 316.130(6) PE 0 Pedestrian Standing in/near Street for Purpose of Soliciting Guarding Vehicle
  • 316.130(7)(c) PE 0 Pedestrian Failed to Yield to Traffic when Tunnel or Overhead Walk Provided
  • 316.130(8) PE 0 Pedestrian Suddenly Walking into Path of Vehicle, Impossible to Avoid
  • 316.130(10) PE 0 Pedestrian Failed to Yield to Traffic
  • 316.130(11) PE 0 Pedestrian Failed to Cross in Crosswalk
  • 316.130(12) PE 0 Pedestrian Failed to Cross Road at Right Angle/Shortest Route
  • 316.130(14) PE 0 Pedestrian Crossing Roadway in Intersection Diagonally
  • 316.130(18) PE 0 Pedestrian Walking upon Limited Access Facility or Connecting Ramp
  • 316.1305(2) PE 0 Pedestrian Fishing From Bridge with Posted NO FISHING Signs
  • 316.1575(1) PE 0 Pedestrian Failed to Obey Railroad Crossing Traffic Control Device
  • 316.2045(1) PE 0 Pedestrian Obstructing Flow of Traffic on Public Street

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The Ticketed Feel Targeted

by Topher Sanders, and Benjamin Conarck, Florida Times-Union

Maurice Chester Grant

  • 57 years old
  • Federal public defender
  • Ticketed on 5/24/16 for entering the roadway against the red hand
  • Paid ticket

Maurice Grant was cited on a Tuesday at around 4:30 p.m., just a block south of the federal courthouse where he works. He stepped into the road against the red hand. Grant declined to comment on his experience, saying he avoids airing issues out in the media. He did, however, confirm that he received the citation. Grant added that a quote written on the ticket accurately captured his response to getting cited: “You shouldn’t be messing with people who know how to cross the street.” Grant was ticketed by Officer Reinaldo Coll Jr., a 35-year veteran of the force.


Brianna Nonord

  • 13 years old
  • Student
  • Ticketed on 4/28/15 for crossing the road outside the crosswalk
  • Paid ticket

Brianna Nonord, who was 13 at the time, ended up in handcuffs over a pedestrian ticket.

As she was walking home from school, Nonord attempted to cross Wilson Street in the Moncrief neighborhood.

Officer Melissa Godbee later wrote in her report that she had to slam her brakes to avoid hitting Nonord.

Undersheriff Patrick Ivey said Nonord was arrested for resisting arrest without violence because she didn’t stop when Godbee told her.

The young girl was handcuffed and taken to the juvenile facility in downtown Jacksonville even after Lorina Nonord, Brianna’s mother, showed up and asked the officer to release her daughter.
Godbee refused, Lorina Nonord said, and told her she would have to pick up Brianna downtown.

At the root of all of this was an invalid ticket. Godbee cited Nonord for crossing outside the crosswalk at a location that a Times-Union/ProPublica analysis shows is not applicable to that specific pedestrian statute.


John F. Kendrick was ordered to the ground, detained for hours, arrested and charged with jaywalking and “resisting arrest without violence” after stepping off the sidewalk into a crosswalk.
(Bruce Lipsky/Florida Times-Union)

John Fitzgerald Kendrick

  • 48 years old
  • Truck driver
  • Ticketed on 4/8/15 for walking in the roadway where sidewalks are provided
  • Won settlement against the city, ticket dropped

John Kendrick, a Jacksonville truck driver, was trying to park his 18-wheeler in a leased parking spot when he came across an area taped off by police.

The officer regulating traffic, J. L. Kahre, would not let Kendrick pass. They got into a dispute.

Kendrick, who is diabetic and needed to get home to eat, eventually parked his truck in the median and called 911. The dispatcher told him to get the number listed on Kahre’s cruiser.
But when Kendrick stepped off the sidewalk, the officer pointed his Taser at him and ordered him to the ground. He then arrested him for a pedestrian violation.

“Anything he could put on me to hurt me, he tried,” Kendrick said. “Anything he could do to take more money out of my pocket, he tried.”

The officer repeatedly told him he “wasn’t going to have no job tomorrow,” according to Kendrick. He was detained in the backseat of the patrol car for several hours, during which Kendrick said he watched Kahre let a white truck driver pass through the same police tape.

Kahre testified in a deposition taken for Kendrick’s civil case against the city that he could not recall whether that happened or not. He said Kendrick repeatedly failed to comply with orders to get back on the sidewalk.

In the aftermath of his arrest, Kendrick hired a lawyer, Andrew Bonderud. The city settled the case for $10,000, while not admitting wrongdoing.


Devonte Shipman

  • 21 years old
  • Landscaper
  • Ticketed on 6/20/17 for failing to obey a pedestrian walk signal
  • Fought ticket and was adjudicated guilty

Devonte Shipman was walking with a friend in Jacksonville’s Arlington neighborhood when a sheriff’s officer told them they had crossed against the red hand.

Shipman said he at first declined to stop for the officer, J.S. Bolen, because he didn’t think he had done anything wrong.

When the officer pulled over and ordered Shipman to stop, the young man took out his phone and began recording video. He said he did so to prevent the situation from escalating.

In the video, Bolen is visibly agitated and scolds Shipman for his infraction, threatening to take him to jail. Bolen also gave Shipman an erroneous ticket for not having a driver’s license on him, a law that only applies to motorists.

The ticket was dropped after Shipman’s video went viral.
Three police cruisers ended up responding to Shipman’s infraction.

During the stop, Shipman said an officer told him he was stopped just to make sure he didn’t have any guns, knives or drugs on him.

One officer in the video, who was not identified, can be heard questioning why Shipman’s friend is wearing a hoodie.
Shipman fought his jaywalking ticket in court, but was eventually adjudicated guilty.


Bobby Wingate

  • 35 years old
  • Unknown
  • Ticketed on 12/26/12 for walking on the right-hand side of the road
  • Won a civil settlement against the city

Under Florida law, police officers can ticket pedestrians walking on the “wrong side” of a road that doesn’t have sidewalks.

On the day after Christmas in 2012, Wingate was walking on a residential street with no sidewalks when a Jacksonville sheriff’s officer asked to speak with him. Wingate declined. He told the officer he was in a rush.

Wingate went on his way without realizing that the officer, D.F. Will, had pulled over in his cruiser and started combing through his statute book to double-check that the 35-year-old was violating a pedestrian statute by being on the right-hand side of the road.

The officer returned about five minutes later. Wingate’s account was captured on a 911 call he made to the Sheriff’s Office in the midst of the stop.

Will pulled his car around, Wingate tells the dispatcher, and again asked him to stop.

“And I’m saying, ‘For what? I’m in a rush,’” Wingate says in the 911 call. “Then he gonna get out of his car, run up and grab me, and punch me in my fucking jaw.”

Wingate tells the dispatcher the officer’s name. Within moments, the officer can be heard commanding Wingate to put his phone down. A scuffle ensues.

“What did I do? Nothing,” Wingate said, “Walking down the street, minding my business … He stopped me for no reason.”
In addition to getting hit with a ticket, and hit in the face, Wingate was also charged with resisting without violence. He hired lawyer Andrew Bonderud, sued the city, and received a $9,500 settlement. The city did not admit wrongdoing.


Brelan Shoemo stands outside of EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida.
(Bruce Lipsky/Florida Times-Union)

Brelan Shoemo

  • 33 years old
  • Sports merchandiser/ticket broker
  • Ticketed for “walking in the roadway where sidewalks are provided” and “obstructing traffic/soliciting.”

Brelan Shoemo is from Jacksonville, but his work selling event tickets, shirts and other wares takes him all over the South, from Austin, Texas, to Charlotte, North Carolina.

On the day he was arrested, the Jacksonville Jaguars were hosting the Green Bay Packers. It was still early in the morning, around 9 a.m., on a Florida-hot September day when Shoemo encountered Officer Tim Terrell on the north side of the stadium, near the Tailgate Bar.

The then-32-year-old was holding a sign advertising tickets for sale. Traffic was sparse near the backroads of the stadium, he recounted, but cars were pulling up asking about tickets. Shoemo said Terrell approached him and his middle-aged business partner, calling them “boys,” and telling them they couldn’t be selling tickets in that area. They agreed to leave.

A short while later, Shoemo returned, trying to cross the road toward another set of parking lots. He said Terrell approached and began cursing at them. Shoemo said he asked to speak with the officer’s supervisor.

That’s when Terrell “flipped,” Shoemo said, wrenching his arm behind his back and pushing him back in the direction of Terrell’s superior. Once he was in front of the sergeant, Shoemo found him no more sympathetic. Terrell arrested Shoemo for “resisting without violence.”

“What crime was committed or what charge was committed for me to even resist in the first place?” Shoemo said. “Even when he chicken-winged my arm, I didn’t fight it. I didn’t push him off me. I didn’t do anything to make the situation worse because I know, being a minority, what can of worms that’s going to open.”

In Terrell’s police cruiser, Shoemo said he first learned of his pedestrian infraction while watching the officer fill in the police report. On a 90-degree day, Terrell rolled up the windows and cut the AC off in the back as he transported him — the long way — to the pre-trial detention facility, Shoemo said. He ended up having to spend the night in jail.

The charges were dropped after Shoemo hired a lawyer. He filed an Internal Affairs report and offered witnesses, but the Sheriff’s Office declined to open an investigation.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a request for comment on the specific claims made by Shoemo.


Michael Anderson

  • 29 years old
  • State worker
  • Ticketed on 4/15/17 for walking in the roadway
  • Ticket dismissed

Michael Anderson was enjoying some vacation from work when he visited his mother’s house on Jacksonville’s East side. She asked him to go to the store to pick up some items. His mother lives about two blocks from the neighborhood corner store.
Anderson said he noticed police as he was walking to the store, but paid them no mind. As soon as he crossed the street, he said the officers immediately pulled up and asked for I.D.

They said it was because he didn’t look familiar to the area.
When Anderson questioned why he was being stopped, one of the three officers told him they could write him a ticket for jaywalking, Anderson said. Anderson told the police, “You’re just fucking with me for no reason.”

Unprompted, Anderson said, an officer reached for his pockets to search him.

“He didn’t ask for permission or nothing, that’s why I pushed his hand away,” Anderson said. The officer then told Anderson he was “resisting” and that by pushing the officer’s hand away he could be charged with battery on a law enforcement officer.
Anderson described the officer who reached for his pockets as a short white man who then asked why he was giving them “so much attitude.”

“I said, ‘Why are You all bothering me? You’re only harassing me because I’m a black male, with dreads in this high crime area. If you check my I.D. you’ll see I grew up in this area.”
The officers ran his name and didn’t find anything of interest, Anderson said. One of the officers, Anderson recalled, asked why he felt he could talk to “police like that.”

“I said, ‘Why police got to be assholes and stereotyping?”
When the shorter officer gave him back his I.D., Anderson said the two exchanged looks.

“He said, ‘Oh, you act like someone is supposed to be scared of a 30-year-old punk like you,’” Anderson said. Anderson responded by saying, “One day when you ain’t in that uniform.”
The officer asked if Anderson was threatening him. Anderson said he just repeated his statement.

“He said, ‘Well, you can have a nice day, nigger,’” Anderson recalled. “And I said, ‘You can, too, cracker,’ and I walked off.”

Anderson said all three officers who stopped him were white. Anderson said he doesn’t remember the name of the officer who reached for his pocket and called him a nigger. But the officer who wrote him the ticket was Steven D. Vereen.

Anderson contested the ticket and none of the officers showed up for court. The ticket was dismissed.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a request for comment on the specific claims made by Anderson.

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How (Not) to Cross the Street in Jacksonville

How (Not) to Cross the Street in Jacksonville

Jacksonville, Florida, issues more tickets to pedestrians than all but five Florida counties. And it issues those tickets disproportionately to black pedestrians.

The city’s population is 29 percent black, but black pedestrians received 55 percent of the pedestrian tickets issued from 2012 to July 2017. Looking at each type of ticket issued reveals even bigger disparities.

Jacksonville’s 16 Most Commonly Issued Tickets From 2012 to 2017, by Race of Recipient

butterfly-dArtboard 1337132606346267042693850465378% black 5222% nonblackLorem ipsum293031374047485054545862676874Socilitated while on roadway or pavementDidn’t yield (tunnel/overhead walk provided)Didn’t obey railroad traffic control deviceOn limited access facility or connecting rampWalked into path of vehicle suddenlyDidn’t yield to trafficDidn’t cross in crosswalk with green turn arrowObstructed flow of trafficDidn’t cross in crosswalkDidn’t obey traffic control deviceEntered roadway against red lightCrossed roadway facing red lightIn roadway or left shoulder (no sidewalks)Didn’t cross road with shortest routeCrossed intersection diagonallyIn roadway (sidewalks provided)Total Jacksonville residents29% black 71% nonblack91719202426576496101127129198265386657TicketsViolationsTickets issued

butterfly-tArtboard 229% of Jacksonville’s residents are blackSocilitating on roadway or pavementDidn’t yield (tunnel/overhead walk provided)Didn’t obey railroad traffic control deviceOn limited access facility or connecting rampWalked into path of vehicle suddenlyDidn’t yield to trafficDidn’t cross in crosswalk with green turn arrowObstructed flow of trafficDidn’t cross in crosswalkDidn’t obey traffic control deviceEntered roadway against red lightCrossed roadway facing red lightIn roadway or left shoulder (no sidewalks)Didn’t cross road with shortest routeCrossed intersection diagonallyWalked in roadway (sidewalks provided)78% black717053606369423833322646505246

butterfly-mArtboard 329% of Jacksonville’s residents are black78% black7170536063694238332646505246Didn’t yield (tunnel/overhead walk provided)Didn’t obey railroad traffic control deviceOn limited access facility/connecting rampWalked into path of vehicle suddenlyDidn’t yield to trafficDidn’t cross in crosswalk with green turn arrowObstructed flow of trafficDidn’t cross in crosswalkDidn’t obey traffic control deviceEntered roadway against red lightCrossed roadway facing red lightIn roadway or left shoulder (no sidewalks)Didn’t cross road with shortest routeCrossed intersection diagonallyWalked in roadway (sidewalks provided)32Socilitating on roadway or pavement

Note: Tickets that were given out fewer than five times in five years are not shown. 2017 tickets include January through June.

Can You Cross the Street Legally in Jacksonville?

There’s a lot of confusion about what counts as crossing the street legally in Jacksonville, even among police officers.

Since 2012, law enforcement in Jacksonville have issued 658 tickets to people crossing the street while not in a crosswalk. According to an investigation by ProPublica and the Florida Times-Union, more than half of those tickets were issued in error.

Take this busy stretch of Beach Boulevard, in Jacksonville.

Is it legal to cross Beach Boulevard in the middle of a block, like at A or B?

It’s only legal at A

It’s only legal at B

A and B are both legal places to cross

Neither A nor B is a legal place to cross

According to statute 316.103(11), it’s illegal to cross between intersections that have traffic lights. The intersections on either side of A don’t have traffic lights, so it’s legal to cross as long as the pedestrian yields to traffic. We found that many tickets were issued to pedestrians who crossed the street at a place like example A, when it was actually legal to do so. We also found that a disproportionate number of these types of tickets were issued to black pedestrians.

Let’s look at the T-shaped intersection, where no crosswalk is marked. Can you legally cross here?

Yes, this is a legal crosswalk and cars have to yield to pedestrians.

It’s legal to cross here, but pedestrians have to yield to traffic.

No, it’s illegal to cross.

According to Florida law, “unmarked crosswalks” exist wherever roads intersect, including at T-shaped intersections, which means that pedestrians can cross legally. We also found tickets issued to pedestrians who crossed at T-intersections, when it was legal to do so.

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams denied his agency targeted its ticketing at pedestrians in black neighborhoods and said that ticketing is aimed at locations with greater numbers of deaths or serious accidents.

But after taking pedestrian deaths into account, the Times-Union/ProPublica found no real connection between where pedestrians were killed and where tickets were being issued.

But All These Tickets Are Saving Lives, Right?

Since 2012, at least 194 pedestrians have been killed by drivers in Jacksonville. It is one of America’s five most dangerous metro areas for pedestrians. Even as tickets are issued to black pedestrians at a far higher rate than nonblack residents, the proportion of pedestrians fatally injured in traffic accidents who are black — 30 percent — matches almost exactly the proportion of Jacksonville’s population that is black.

What’s more, we found no discernible connection between where pedestrian deaths occurred and where law enforcement issues tickets.

We also found that although census tracts where the population was mostly black had a similar number of fatalities to other neighborhoods, those residents were ticketed anywhere from two to five times as much.

Fatal Crashes Are Evenly Distributed, But Tickets Aren’t

Each group of census tracts below represents about 20 percent of Jacksonville’s population.

tickets-crashesArtboard 746 to 10025 to 4617 to 259 to 170 to 9% black174 tickets17 crashes40405143361265409882Census tracts
tickets-crashesArtboard 646 to 10025 to 4617 to 259 to 170 to 9% black174 tickets17 crashes40405143361265409882Census tracts

Note: 2017 crashes and tickets include January through June.

There’s also evidence that tickets do little to save lives. In 2015, Jacksonville hired consultants to make its streets safer. They recommended that the city slow down traffic and build sidewalks, marked crosswalks and other pedestrian-friendly infrastructure.

“Trying to educate people to cross the road safely when there aren’t crosswalks or where there’s missing sidewalks — it just doesn’t work,” said Andy Clarke, lead author of the recommendations.

Source: Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers, American Community Survey, Google Maps

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New York City Launches Committee to Review Maternal Deaths

by Robin Fields

Following in the steps of Baltimore and Philadelphia, New York City is establishing a committee to review deaths and severe complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, aiming to reduce their toll on expectant and new mothers in the nation’s largest metropolis.

There’s ample room for improvement: The city’s maternal mortality rate is thought to be slightly above average for the U.S., which has the highest such rate in the industrialized world. Of the estimated 700 to 900 deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth nationwide each year, New York City accounts for about 30.

Moreover, the city’s outcomes feature a worsening racial divide. Between 2006 and 2010, black women were 12 times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes, up from seven times more likely between 2001 and 2005.

The new committee will dig deeper into each maternal death than has previously been possible and, by mining their causes and circumstances, will guide efforts to prevent such tragedies, city health officials said.

“We want to advocate for quality improvement, not just in the city [overall], but in all the hospitals in the community,” said Dr. Lorraine Boyd, medical director of the city health department’s Bureau of Maternal, Infant and Reproductive Health. “We want to be able to say that the rates of maternal mortality, that the [racial] gap is closing and that we’ve put programs in place that are going to lead to that.”

The panel (officially named the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee, but already nicknamed M3RC) is scheduled to hold its inaugural meeting in early December and convene four times a year thereafter.

It will have up to 45 members, including not only doctors and nurses, but also doulas, midwives and social workers — “people in the community, who can better reflect how women live their lives,” Boyd observed.

Beyond examining maternal deaths, the panel will also compile and analyze data on severe complications experienced by expectant and new mothers. For every death, experts say there are dozens of cases of such complications, affecting more than 50,000 American women each year.

New York state has had a maternal mortality review committee since 2010 that examined cases statewide, including those in the city; the city has also had its own panel to assess death data in aggregate.

Officials said the city’s new review committee will work hand-in-hand with that of the state, with the city panel reviewing deaths within the five boroughs and the state committee reviewing those outside. The committees will collect a standardized set of data and pool their findings in a statewide report, said Jill Montag, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Health.

Beyond its potential to improve outcomes, health officials in New York and beyond said they see the city’s creation of a review committee as a step toward better, more complete data on maternal deaths.

Nationally, such data is so unreliable and incomplete that the United States has not published official annual counts of fatalities or an official maternal mortality rate in a decade.

Unlike the United Kingdom, widely considered the gold standard for maternal mortality data, the U.S. lacks a national system for reviewing pregnancy-related deaths.

Slightly more than half the states and a smattering of cities have active, stable maternal mortality reviews, but many get little or no funding and rely on volunteers to do time-consuming case analyses. Some large states have more deaths to review than one committee can reasonably handle and sometimes skip years or look into subsets of cases rather than reviewing every death.

Adding city committees that can shoulder a portion of the work “makes a lot of sense,” said David Goodman, who oversees maternal health efforts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s maternal and infant health branch. “The New York City and New York state collaboration is the first we are aware of, and perhaps a model approach for other large states to consider.”

Goodman also leads a privately funded effort to bring together and standardize data from state and local maternal mortality review processes. To do this, the initiative has created a tool, the Maternal Mortality Review Information Application, and New York City and New York state are among 12 jurisdictions nationwide that have begun using it. Another 13 are preparing to do so, Goodman said.

New York City officials said the new committee would be funded partly through a grant but would not specify the funder or the grant amount because the contract isn’t signed yet. Eight staffers at the city health department will work part time on the project, giving it anywhere from 5 percent to 90 percent of their time.

“This is something that we’re committed to, that the city has prioritized, that the health department has committed to fund and to see work,” said Carolina Rodriguez, deputy press secretary for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

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