New Delhi: A month after an RTI activist in Madhya Pradesh’s Vidisha was shot dead at a government office, a fact-finding team has released a report noting that he had been under severe pressure from local government contractors to stop his activities.
The team travelled to Vidisha on June 19 to meet the family of Ranjeet Soni, who was killed on June 2. It comprised Anjali Bhardwaj, Rolly Shivhare and Amrita Johri who are members of the working committee of the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information; Ajay Dubey who is board member of Transparency International, India, and Santosh Malviya who works with Dubey in Madhya Pradesh.
The report states that Soni’s widow Gayatri said that he was most recently pursuing issues related to fake Fixed Deposit Receipts (FDRs) made by certain contractors in collusion with officials to bid for government contracts.
Soni himself was a contractor on government works but stopped working with two of those arrested for his murder – Jaswant Raghuvanshi and S. Kumar Choube – after a falling out. Police have arrested three others, including the shooter Ankit Yadav who was allegedly assigned the task.
Soni had been using the RTI Act to access details of public works and government expenditure and would file complaints against irregularities he had noticed. Local journalists told the fact-finding team that over 130 RTI requests had been filed by him.
Soni had not just been collecting information but also seeking redress.
Based on the RTI replies, he filed complaints to various authorities including the Lokayukta, public works department and the Chief Minister’s Office seeking appropriate action into the allegations.
“A perusal of the RTI applications filed by him show that in several cases he was seeking information which in any case should have been proactively disclosed by the concerned public authority as required under Section 4 of the RTI Act,” the fact-finders’ report notes.
The fact-finding report notes the discovery of several RTI applications made by Soni to unearth allocations and acquisitions at government hospitals, eligibility of persons appointed for government jobs, and details of road constructions. In 2016, Soni filed a police complaint alleging a physical attack by Raghuvanshi and his people over an RTI on road construction deals filed by him. Raghuvanshi allegedly also got a person, who Soni alleges he did not even know, to file a case under the SC/ST Act against him.
In April this year, S. Kumar Choube wrote to the Divisional Project Manager of Vidisha’s public works department, asking to be informed if information is provided to Soni under the RTI.
Gayatri Soni. RTI activist Ranjeet Soni’s widow.
The family, even before Soni’s death, had made significant changes to their lives to accommodate the shift in Soni’s profession, even selling their house and moving when payments to Soni stopped due to “action by these contractors.”
Crucially, the day after Soni was killed was when the next hearing of a case arising from a dispute of a bounced cheque allegedly given by Soni was scheduled. Gayatri and Soni’s lawyer told the team that evidence of corruption against the contractors was to be presented on that day.
“In our view, the connection between Ranjeet’s murder and his use of the RTI Act to access information and expose alleged corruption/irregularities cannot be denied,” the team notes in the report.
In addition to the criminal investigation into the murder of Soni, other related aspects also need to be pursued strongly, the report says, especially stressing on his complaints to various divisions of the government.
“The family is in deep financial crisis and the government must provide immediate compensation to the family,” the report also says, noting his wife’s meagre earnings of Rs 2,000 per fortnight as a handicrafts trainer and the fact that that couple have two schoolgoing children.
The report also requests relevant public authorities to place in the public domain, on the website of the concerned public authorities, all the RTI applications filed by Soni in the last one year (including any pending applications) along with the information and replies.
Publicity to information being pursued by people who are killed potentially acts as a deterrent against such attacks in the future, the report observes.
It also recommends the setting up of an inquiry committee, headed by a senior PWD official from outside the district, to probe into the various complaints of corruption and financial irregularities filed by Soni to the PWD.
In addition to fast-tracking the Lokayukta complaints that had been filed by Soni and a thorough police probe into his death, the fact-finding team also asks for a policy or law to provide protection to whistleblowers and people exposing corruption.
“…[The] Whistle Blowers Protection Act which was passed by Parliament in 2014 but has not been operationalised till date as the Central government has not notified the requisite rules,” the report observes.
Leaked disciplinary records reveal a notorious Baltimore cop’s shocking behavior
47 mins ago
August 13, 2022
After almost two and a half years, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office released a list they maintain of Baltimore City Police Department officers they once said had credibility issues. Officers on the list, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby noted back in 2019, include cops who were involved in “theft, planting evidence, perjury, corruption and fraud.”
Baltimore Action Legal Team (BALT), a nonprofit legal service dedicated to police transparency and accountability, demanded Mosby provide them with the list. But Mosby’s office refused, claiming that the list was part of a police officer’s “personnel record” and therefore could not be publicly disclosed. Last year, a court ruled Mosby could release it. BALT announced this week that the list is finally in the hands of defense attorneys.
“BALT sought this information because an officer’s integrity matters,” BALT said in a statement. “The entire system (from initial engagement with a police officer to determining whether someone should be held pre-trial) relies on a police officer’s word. There is no room for officers with integrity issues on the stand or on the street.”
The list features more than 300 current or former Baltimore Police officers. Battleground Baltimore has obtained a copy of the list, which was provided to BALT but has not been publicly released (Mosby put out a statement that downplayed the significance of the list).
Among the hundreds of officers on Mosby’s list is Officer Melvin Hill. While the SAO only provided a list of names, with no details as to what the credibility issues could be, Battleground Baltimore has separately obtained disciplinary police records for Hill. His extensive disciplinary records provide a look at just how serious these issues of credibility can be.
The Baltimore Police Department veteran, first employed by the police in 2007, has had shocking accusations made against him by citizens, including some complaints that the Baltimore Police Department “sustained”—which means police investigators believed that what a cop was accused of doing happened and that it violated police policy.
Hill’s record shows sustained complaints for criminal misconduct and making a false statement, among others. Also detailed are multiple allegations that Hill provided police information to people adjacent to criminal activity, as well as investigations into Hill’s possible gang affiliations and sexual misconduct.
Now 47 years old, Hill remained a cop until October 2021, when, according to Baltimore Police, he resigned. Before his resignation, Hill had been suspended on desk duty “related to a restraining order, and potentially criminal allegations,” a police report obtained by Battleground Baltimore said.
Accusations against Hill pre-date when the Baltimore Police Department was put under a consent decree in 2017, the start of an era of reforms and claims of greater transparency. Accusations against Hill continued all the way up to last year, long after those federally mandated changes within the department were touted by police commanders.
“We are not the same department we were five years ago,” Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison announced last month during an April oversight hearing about the consent decree.
In early 2021, the American Civil Liberties Union Maryland released a report detailing ongoing misconduct allegations against Baltimore cops since the police killing of Freddie Gray. “Although a few officers will undoubtedly continue to be arrested and charged with criminal behavior,” the report said, “countless others will escape responsibility, and be known as a danger only to those in the neighborhoods they patrol.”
Battleground Baltimore submitted a public information request for the entirety of Hill’s disciplinary records. Due to Anton’s Law, which passed last year, all police officers’ internal discipline records are required to be made available via Maryland Public Information Request. The request has not yet been fulfilled.
In the meantime, a number of investigative files and summaries of at least part of Hill’s disciplinary record were given to Battleground Baltimore by an anonymous source.
Here, Battleground Baltimore makes details of Hill’s records public, while accounting for the privacy and safety of those mentioned in the files. Victims, eyewitnesses, and others who are named in the files have been anonymized. We quote extensively from these documents, especially two substantial investigations into Hill, one for misidentifying possible eyewitnesses to a crime, providing information on a crime to someone in jail, and one for alleged connections to drug dealing.
“I Just Wanted This Whole Thing To End”
In February 2015, police monitoring of the calls of a woman in jail revealed that “the name of Officer Hill was mentioned as providing information regarding a crime of violence,” according to a report detailing an Internal Affairs investigation into Hill.
Hill, the police said, had told this woman about a murder, identified the victim to her, and expressed concerns about retaliatory violence. The woman knew Hill, she told investigators, because, police wrote, “Officer Melvin Hill sold her Ugg Boots and she planned to buy some other items from him.”
Hill sold “watches, Uggs, and other stuff,” the woman explained.
On another recorded jail call, police heard the woman speaking to her son and referring to observations Hill had made about other recent shootings in the area, which suggested to police he often talked to her about crimes that were still under investigation. Cops also heard her make references to a man whom Hill described as brutally beating someone up, who Hill said could be “trusted.”
“It is … disturbing how [woman’s name] describes [Hill’s] patrol tactics related to how he works when [the ‘trusted’ man] is present in the area,” the police’s investigative findings report said.
The same investigation also looked into why Hill had, as police said, “inaccurately identified” potential suspects or witnesses in a February 2015 shooting. Hill also discussed this 2015 shooting with the woman in jail, going so far as to provide her with nicknames.
That shooting was near Gleneagle Road and the Alameda in East Baltimore, about a half-mile from the Alameda Shopping Center where Hill patrolled. According to Hill, he heard a gunshot, saw two people running away, and called 911. Hill said one of the guys he saw had dreads. The other was bald.
Later that night, when Hill was told to come to the Northeast District police station to discuss what he witnessed, he was argumentative. He “had to pick up his girlfriend,” he told cops, and he had to get to his “secondary” security job—at an Exxon gas station at the Alameda Shopping Center.
Hill was then instructed by detectives to come to the hospital to see if the shooting victim was one of the people he had reported seeing running. At the hospital, Hill said the shooting victim was not one of the people he saw running away.
Later, police showed Hill photos of two men matching the description of the men Hill said he’d seen: one with dreads, one bald. Hill said the photos were of the men he saw. Soon after, Hill hesitated, telling detectives he wasn’t entirely sure about the identity of the guy with dreads. But the other guy, the bald one—Hill said he was sure that was the person he’d seen running after the shooting.
Police soon learned that the bald man Hill had “emphatically identified,” as police described it, was actually in prison and could not have been the person Hill saw that February 2015 night. Hill eventually backtracked on his identification. He claimed that “because of the way he was being treated” by police detectives about the shooting, he just went along with them and said whatever he felt he had to say. “I just wanted this whole thing to end. I was ready to get up out here. I’m ready to go. The whole time they were making me feel as if I’m just ready to leave,” Hill told an Internal Affairs detective.
The report also says that when investigators asked Hill about the password protector app he had on his phone, Hill explained it was “to protect his ‘intel,’” such as other cops’ private information and his own. But when they asked Hill to open up the app, he couldn’t: “Inexplicably, Officer Hill was unable to remember the specific password to the app when requested as part of this investigation,” the report said.
This investigation, which was completed in December 2016, resulted in sustained complaints against Hill for “general misconduct” and “false statement.” The report publishing the investigative findings is scathing.
“It is concerning that [woman’s name] has detailed knowledge of information related to crimes and investigations conducted by the Baltimore Police Department around the area of The Alameda Shopping Center. And, that she is discussing these events with her son, an individual who engaged in illegal activity in that area,” the report said. “Officer Hill has obstructed and hindered a non-fatal shooting investigation through knowingly providing false information and knowingly omitting vital information from investigation detectives.”
Hill was suspended 20 days without pay.
In April 2015, a few months after allegations that Hill was providing information about crimes to someone in jail, a man told Baltimore Police detectives “that Officer Melvin Hill setup and orchestrated with [another person] to falsely accuse him of attempting to commit a robbery,” the report said. “[The man] further alleges that Officer Hill has ties to drug dealers that operate out of the Alameda Shopping Center and that he extorts money from those drug dealers to allow them to freely operate.”
Police began a second, broader investigation into Hill’s alleged criminal connections, though they said it revealed little. Internal Affairs surveilled Hill following these accusations and said that they did not make “any pertinent observations” to suggest the accusations against him were true. Internal Affairs also obtained a search warrant and searched a cell phone of Hill’s, though, again, they said “no pertinent information was recovered.”
Hill was not interviewed during this investigation. This wider investigation into Hill, completed in February 2016, declared allegations that Hill “was associating with drug dealers” to be “not sustained.”
The Alameda Shopping Center
The Internal Affairs’ report following the investigation into Hill noted that the 2015 events for which he was investigated “occurred in and around the area of the 5600-5900 block of the Alameda, which is Officer Hill’s post.”
The Alameda Shopping Center has played a key role in police corruption. In 2017, it was revealed by federal investigators that a Baltimore cop, Detective Momodu Gondo, was working closely with a heroin-dealing crew who, in part, operated in and around the Alameda Shopping Center, including the Exxon gas station in that shopping center.
This loose-knit group of neighborhood friends, some of whom grew up with Detective Gondo, admitted they dealt heroin and used the presence and knowledge of their cop friend, Gondo, in order to more effectively evade law enforcement.
That heroin dealing operation’s activities helped lead to the indictment of a number of drug dealers, as well as drug-dealing Gun Trace Task Force cops, including Gondo, and another cop, Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, who was dealing cocaine through a bail bondsman friend. Some of the heroin dealing described by federal prosecutors was happening during the same time Hill was policing the area.
A source familiar with the drug trade around the Alameda Shopping Center did explain to Battleground Baltimore that the shopping center actually contained a number of different drug dealing crews, existing near one another but often separate.
Antonio Shropshire, currently in federal prison for his drug dealing role in the Gun Trace Task Force scandal, said over email that he “never heard of a Melvin Hill,” though it’s possible he “may have seen him working at the Exxon.” Hill held a “secondary” job working security at the Exxon gas station in the Alameda Shopping Center, the same location where heroin was sold by admitted and convicted dealers connected to the disgraced cops in the federally indicted Gun Trace Task Force police unit.
In 2016, that “secondary” Exxon security job got Hill in some trouble. A woman reported Hill to police for “patrolling the Alameda Shopping Center … in his personal vehicle.” According to the report, a woman complained that Hill was seen driving “either a Mercedes or a Hummer” while he was supposedly on the job.
Hill was eventually investigated and a complaint against him for a “secondary employment violation” was sustained in 2017.
Patterns and Practice?
Baltimore City Police Department Internal Affairs detectives are prevented from evaluating patterns among police misconduct, which means each accusation against an officer such as Hill must be handled entirely separately from previous ones. Hill’s record shows other incidents over the past ten years in which Hill told other acquaintances more about crimes than he told his fellow cops, seemingly slowed down another criminal investigation, and allegedly threatened people.
In February 2012, Hill was accused of tipping off a friend who had a warrant out for her arrest. Both her lawyer and bail bondsman couldn’t locate the warrant, so she called her cop friend Hill, who confirmed there was an outstanding warrant for her arrest.
“It was after this call that [the woman] changed her daily routine of going to school and then to her home,” the report said. “She stayed in a motel room … in an attempt to avoid capture.”
The report goes on to note that Hill, once he confirmed there was a warrant out for this woman, “did not contact Warrant Apprehension Task Force or relay anything about [the woman] to include her whereabouts or other pertinent information.”
This complaint against Hill was not sustained, although the summary of the incident notes, “it is believed that due to this encounter with Officer Hill, [the woman] was able to elude capture.”
In June 2012, there were gunshots on the 600 block of East 36th Street. Hill, who was working voluntary overtime on the night of this shooting, “failed to respond to multiple attempts to reach him via police radio” about the gunshots, the report said. Hill “also failed to respond to calls made to his personal cell-phone” by “several” police officers.
Hill said he did not respond because he was near the Alameda Shopping Center, about three miles away from the shooting. According to the report, Hill also claimed his “radio was turned down very, very low” and, as a result, “he could not hear any of the attempts to reach him.”
The police suggested that had Hill been present, this nonfatal shooting might not have happened. “Due to P/O Hill’s inattention to his assigned duties and his absence from his post, not only did this violent incident occur, but other officers were forced to assume his responsibilities and to conduct the preliminary investigation into what later proved to be an aggravated assault by shooting,” the report said.
Complaints against Hill for “general misconduct” and “off post/leaving assignment without permission” were sustained in 2013.
Twice, Baltimore Police documented accusations of child abuse against Hill by his stepson.
In 2013, the stepson said Hill “grabbed [the stepson’s] left wrist and twisted his arm behind his back.” Due to a lack of injuries, “both the Baltimore County Police Department and Baltimore County Child Protective Services deemed the case ‘unfounded,’” the report said. In 2014, the report said, “[the stepson] sustained bruises to his body… [and] stated that he was assaulted by his stepfather, Mr. Melvin Hill who is a Baltimore City Police officer.” Both the stepson and the stepson’s mother had called the police on Hill.
A February 2015 complaint against Hill from an ex-girlfriend claimed that while the two were seeing one another, the officer showed up at her house “nearly on a daily basis while he is working.” There, Hill’s ex told Internal Affairs, “they watch television and engage in sexual activity”; furthermore, Hill’s ex told Internal Affairs, while they were hanging out, Hill “will receive calls from the police radio … frequently ignore the call and not go and then tell the dispatcher he did go.”
That same report says that when the ex threatened to go to Hill’s supervisors because he wouldn’t give her house key back, Hill “threatened” her.
“I’m more vicious without my badge,” the ex claimed Hill said.
The woman, the report said, “took the statement as a threat against her physical safety and was in fear for her well being.”
These complaints for “criminal association” (the ex had a criminal record) and “general misconduct” were “not sustained” in 2017.
“A Possible Abduction”
In August 2020, Hill was involved in what police characterized at the time as “a possible abduction,” which led to an Internal Affairs investigation into Hill for “criminal/sexual misconduct.”
The mother of a woman in her early twenties called Baltimore Police and said that her daughter was missing, and that the daughter, when last seen by a neighbor, was “extremely intoxicated.” According to the neighbor, Hill arrived at the daughter’s home and “offered [her] a ride back to her vehicle,” which was parked in West Baltimore, a little over a mile away.
The neighbor told Hill the woman was drunk, but Hill comforted the neighbor. “The male, later identified as Officer Melvin Hill, said it was ok for [the woman] to come with him because he was a police officer. [The neighbor] stated Officer Hill then coached [the woman] to coming with him,” the report said.
The woman, allegedly very drunk, got into Hill’s car—“a 4-door silver vehicle.”
Hill did not drive the woman to her car a little over a mile away, but instead to a Holiday Inn about four miles away in Baltimore County.
Police knew this because a Baltimore Police sergeant called Hill, and Hill “admitted to picking up [the woman]” and taking her to the hotel in the county. Police showed up at the Holiday Inn and the woman was interviewed by Baltimore Police, who, the report said, “conducted an initial interview with the victim.”
Baltimore County Police then took over the investigation: “Officer Hill was escorted to the Southwestern District and his police powers were suspended,” the report said. “Baltimore County Sex Offense Detectives arrived at the Southwestern District and took possession of Officer Hill.”
Complaints against Hill were for “conduct unbecoming of a police officer” and “criminal misconduct/sexual misconduct.”
The report obtained by Battleground Baltimore does not show whether or not these accusations were determined to be “sustained” or “not sustained” by the police.
Public records for Hill show Hill was not charged with any crime and do not show the woman who was allegedly abducted filed any criminal charges against Hill.
By February 2021, Hill was suspended and on desk duty. Though the police report does not say what exactly those criminal allegations were, his suspension was for something “disciplinary in nature … related to a restraining order, and potentially criminal allegations.”
One day early last year while Hill worked at a desk, a police officer noticed a gun in his waistband. It was a .40-caliber Glock 27, in a black holster. The gun was loaded. Due to Hill’s desk duty suspension, he “was not permitted to carry a firearm in a departmental facility, the Western District Police Station,” a police report said.
Suspension procedure policy, which Hill had signed, reads, “if you possess any permit to carry a concealed, privately-owned firearm, you may not carry or transport that firearm into any Departmental facility, building, vehicle, etc.”
An officer confronted Hill about the gun and took him to “the roll call room” where Hill was told to place his gun in an unload box, because he was not allowed to have it on duty in the Western District station.
“Seriously?” Hill asked the officer who confronted him about the gun in his waistband that he wasn’t supposed to have.
Hill was investigated for “negligent use/handling/storage of firearms” and “criminal misconduct/misdemeanor.” Those charges were ruled “sustained” in May 2021.
For BALT and many Baltimore residents, an ongoing concern has been the lack of police transparency and accountability. Police have fought to keep disciplinary records inaccessible to the public, have refused to fully acknowledge police transparency laws, including Anton’s Law, and had offered up the same argument as Mosby’s office: that police disciplinary files are “confidential personnel records” and do not need to be disclosed.
A look at files such as Hill’s shows that these records contain issues much more significant than what most would reasonably consider a “personnel issue,” although some complaints do fall under that category (for example, Hill reported his badge lost in 2018). Hill’s misconduct and accusations of egregious misconduct demonstrate some of the behavior hidden from public view when police officers’ disciplinary files are protected. Hill has not been named in public criminal lawsuits and he has not been charged by the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, which means that, without access to his files, the full extent of an officer’s records is outside of the public record.
Following this week’s release of the SAO list to BALT, Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Harrison sent out an internal email to the entirety of the police department noting that “several members” of BPD “have only unsubstantiated or unfounded accusations related to credibility that were made against them.”
On Twitter, the Baltimore Police union tweeted out its unique version of essentially the same argument.“The corrupt @MarilynMosbyEsq has released her Do Not Call List. The vast majority of those @BaltimorePolice cops on the list are good, brave, & credible. She should be the 1st name on her own list,” @FOP3 tweeted. “Just remember, this list is coming from lying Marilyn Mosby!”
This all recalls, as The Baltimore Sun reminded readers, Deputy Commissioner Brian Nadaeau’s response to this list back in 2019. Nadaeau attempted to downplay the significance of the list, telling a police accountability commission that there’s “nobody on that list that [he] wouldn’t have working on the street, making cases.”
Hill was still on the force when Nadeau said that.
In 2020, Hill’s last full year as a Baltimore Police officer, he made a total of $150,711. His salary was $82,999, with an additional $67,012 in overtime.
In October 2021, Hill, who has had at least 42 allegations against him since 2012, finally left the Baltimore Police Department.
LIBERIA: As Anti-Corruption Boss Complains Of Threat To His Life, Police Assures Maximum Security
2 hours ago
August 13, 2022
The Liberia National Police says it takes seriously the claims of insecurity raised by the head of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, Cllr. Edwin Kla Martin and is acting accordingly to ensure his personal safety and wellbeing.
The Liberia National Police has offered to increase the security presence of its officers providing protection for the LACC Boss as he serves the country in the fight against graft.
Since the public disclosure by Cllr. Martin of threats against his life, the LNP has made efforts to beef up his security detail, but has not been successful due to his reported absence from his home, as the additional security officers were told.
“We have assigned and dispatched additional armed security to the home of the LACC Boss to ensure his personal security, but were told that Cllr Martin is out and upon return he will make such request to the LNP” Police Spokesman Moses Carter stated.
The LNP wants to assured all Public Officials that it takes seriously the security of every official of this government carrying out responsibilities that render them vulnerable and will not waiver in its duties of ensuring public safety and the collective security of all citizens.
The LNP leadership assures Cllr. Martin of its fullest priority in ensuring that his personal security is guaranteed.
Vigilance Bureau nabs police Head Constable red handed accepting bribe Rs 20,000
3 hours ago
August 13, 2022
CHANDIGARH:Aiming to eradicate corruption in the state the Vigilance Bureau Punjab during its ongoing campaign on Saturday arrested Head Constable (HC) Karaj Singh (No 1021/Ferozepur) posted at police station Zira, Ferozepur district taking bribe of Rs 20, 000.
Disclosing this here today a spokesperson of the State Vigilance Bureau (VB) said the accused HC Karaj Singh was arrested on the complaint of Karaj Singh from village Dhandian, tehsil Zira.
He further informed that the complainant has approached the VB and alleged that a mining case has been registered against his brother at police station Zira and the investigation incharge HC Karaj Singh was demanding Rs 30, 000 from him not to arrest his brother in this case but the deal has been struck at Rs 20, 000.
After verification of the facts in the complaint and the material evidence, a VB team laid a trap and the HC Karaj Singh was arrested while taking bribe of Rs 20, 000 from the complainant in the presence of two official witnesses.
In this regard a case under Prevention of Corruption Act has been registered against the accused police official at VB police station Ferozepur and further investigation is under progress.