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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Those Lying Bastards

     The art of politics is the art of lying. Only extremely stupid people believe what politicians say. To get elected, a candidate has to lie his or her way into office. Abama, in talking his way into the White House, told more than a few whoppers. Promising Americans that under his rule there would be more governmental transparency was, pardon the expression, a load of crap.

     The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), passed in 1966, was intended to give citizens access to documents generated by the federal government. There were, ofcourse, exceptions or exclusions such as papers related to national security and other "sensitive" governmental matters. In 1987, U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese established an informal Department of Justice policy that directed his bureaucrats to withhold, as "sensitive," the release of documents that could either expose criminal informants or alert subjects that they were under federal investigation. Under this informal policy, a FOIA requestor denied documents on these grounds can attempt to get the Department of Justice determination overruled in court.

     The Department of Justice under Obama wants to allow DOJ bureaucrats, in situations outlined by Edwin Meese, to simply deny the existance of requested documents, papers that do in fact exist. And they want to make this policy either a formal regulation or elevate it to federal law. In other words, the Obama people want the legal authority to lie to the American people. Under this new rule or law, a denied FOIA requester has no recourse in a court of law.

     If government officials aren't controlled, this is what they do. The last thing elected officials and their bureaucrats want is transparency. If we knew what they were doing, or not doing, we would vote them out, and maybe even stop paying our taxes. If members of congress do not kill this proposal, many of them will end up spending more time with their families, or applying for lobbying jobs.    

    

They Still Fix Tickets?

     Following a long-running internal affairs and grand jury investigation in The Bronx New York, sixteen New York City police officers were indicted on October 20 for ticket fixing and various counts of corruption. Two of the defendants are officials in the Patrolman's Benevalent Association, the city's largest police union. Also facing charges are two seargants and a lieutenant. The lieutenant, who had worked on the case when assigned to internal affairs, has been indicted for leaking wiretap information to the ticket fixing defendants. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has reminded the media that the scandal represents a tiny fraction of the 35,000-member department.

     According to the District Attorney's Office, more than 800 traffic summonses were fixed during the three-year investigation. When the investigative dust settles, more than 400 police officers could either face criminal charges or disciplinary action. The investigation began in December 2008 with an anonymous tip that an officer had been protecting a drug dealer. In the suspect's wiretapped conversations, internal affairs investigators learned about the ticket fixing racket.

     What surprises me about this case is that, given computers and modern technology, it's still possible for a cop to fix a traffic ticket. Mayor Bloomberg, when asked about rumors of an upcoming scanda a few days ago, said it was almost impossible in New York City to fix a ticket. Apparently the mayor was wrong about that. Where there's a will, there's a way. This developing police scandal makes me wonder how prevalent this form of corruption is in other departments around the country.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lawyers Without Licenses: A Good Thing?

     In October 2008, at the request of the Allegheny County Solicitor ( Pittsburgh, PA), the Institute for Law and Policy Planning conducted a study of the Allegheny County Public Defender's Office. In its report, the Institute, citing lost files, delays, lack of training, poor case preparation, and lousy management, concluded tht the public defender's office was "dysfunctional" and wasting millons of taxpayers' dollars. This study came three years after the county signed a settlement agreement related to a class action sit filed by the ACLU in 1996 alleging that the public defender's office performed shoddy defense work, had excessive caseloads and lacked trained staff. As a result of this settlement, the office, among other measures, doubled its staff of attorneys and hired thirteen investigators. The settlement ended in 2005, but problems in the public defender's office--lost files, excessive continuances, lack of preparation, management problems, and lack of attorney incentives to perform well--have, according to its critics, continued.

     The quality of legal services for criminal defendants generally, across the country, has for years been classified by critics as inadequate and substandard. Moreover, many jurisprudence scholars think there are too many third-rate law schools and too many unqualified lawyers practicing in the criminal justice system.

     In a recent New York Times article, Clifford Winston, an economist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes that the licensing requirement that practicing lawyers must graduate from American Bar Association accredited law schools and pass state bar examinations has not protected clients from shoddy legal work and incompetence. (This article is based on the author's new book, First Thing We Do, Let's Deregulate All The Lawyers) Winston asserts that the licensing requirements/restrictions, rather than insuring professional quality, simply exist to protect lawyers from competition from non-lawyers and firms that are not lawyer-owned, competition that would reduce legal costs (without sacrificing quality) and give the public greater access to legal assistance. Winston writes: "...the existing legal licensing system doesn't even do a great job at protecting clients from exploitation. In 2009, the state disciplinary agencies that cover roughly one million lawyers practicing in the United States received more than 125,000 complaints....But only 800 of these complaints--a mere 0.6 percent--resulted in disbarment."

     In Clifford Winston's deregulated legal profession: "Legal costs would be reduced because non-lawyers, who have not had to make a costly investment in a three-year legal education, would compete with lawyers, who in many states are the only options for basic services like drafting wills. Because they will have incurred much lower costs to enter the field--like taking an online course or attending a vocational school--and can operate as solo practitioners with minimal overhead, these non-lawyers would force prices to fall...."

     As a libertarian, and unlicensed law school graduate, I like Winston's idea. And having witnessed, upclose, many lawyers at work, I know how incompetent (and expensive) they can be. But having lived in the real world, I also know that while pigs may someday fly, Winston's vision of a deregulated legal profession will never become reality. And, I must also admit that while para-legal practitioners can write wills, interview potential clients, handle real estate transactions and the like, I would not like one of them defending me against a charge of first-degree murder.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Rape Investigations in New Orleans

   The head of the New Orleans Police Department's sex-crimes unit was replaced in June 2010 after an audit by the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement found that 32 percent of the rape complaints filed in 2009 ended up in the books as "miscellaneous incident" cases. This study followed a 2009 Times-Picayune report revealing that in 2008, 60 percent of rape complaints in the city had been written-up as so-called Signal 21 cases. Police superintendent Ronal Serpas, in response to the scandal, announced that the city planned to hire two DNA specialists to work on rape cases in the Louisiana State Crime Laboratory.

     In March 2011, a review of the New Orleans Police Department's sex-crime unit by the U.S. Department of Justice revealed that detectives rarely interrogated rape suspects, and while questioning rape accusers, suggested they were to blame for their attacks. Investigators, in questioning victims' credibility, often emphasized inconsistent statements, gaps in memory, and various motives for false accusations. This approach encouraged victims to become less cooperative with the police which in turn justified the filing of cases as Signal 21s rather than rapes.

     The head of the New Orleans Police Department's criminal investigations division, in October 2011, announced a backlog consisting of 800 untested rape kits dating back to the late 1980s. These kits contain DNA evidence that had been collected by nurses following reports of sexual assault. The hiring of the two additional DNA analysists had not cleared the backlog at the Louisiana State Crime Laboratory. Some of the New Orleans rape kit testing would be done by DNA experts at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.

     While law enforcement agencies across the country are adding expensive and unnecessary SWAT vehicles to their crime-fighting arsenals, crime labs are struggling with DNA backlogs that keep rapists on the loose.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The War on Crime: Cracking Down on Impersonators and Barbers

Phoenix, Arizona
October 20, 2011
     Jace Lankow, an undergraduate student at Arizona State University, interrupted a college football game by running onto the field dressed as a referee. The intruder blew his whistle then ran toward the end zone while stripping down to his underwear. A deputy sheriff apprehended the streaker with an open-field tackle. A few seconds later Lankow found himself on the ground on the bottom of a pile of police officers and security guards. The authorities hauled the offender to the Prima County slammer where he spent the night. Lankow told officers his antics were motivated by his desire to enhance his chances of getting on the TV show "Wipeout" as a contestant.

     The next day, a local prosecutor charged Lankow with Criminal Impersonation, a Class 6 felony that carries a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison. In Arizona, it is a felony to impersonate a referee. Under federal law, it's a misdemeanor to impersonate a FBI agent. When I was in the bureau, when assigned one of these cases, I'd interview the offender then close the case. I couldn't participate in the prosecution of someone impersonating a FBI agent when I was doing the same thing and getting paid for it. But the impersonators I dealt with hadn't interrupted a football game, and given the seriouness of college football, and the importance of being a referee in a big game, justice can only be served by putting this man in prison and throwing away the key. We simply can't have fake referees running up and down football fields in their underwear. It's unAmerican, and a threat to the peace and dignity of the Game.

Orlando, Florida
June 2011
     Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) agents and Orange County Sheriff's Deputies, wearing flakjackets, masks and all the rest, burst SWAT team style into Brian Berry's barbershop, and in front of his frightened customers, handcuffed him and his staff of barbers. The reason for this sudden, violent, and humiliating raid was to determine if Mr. Berry and his employees were all properly licensed. As it turned out, they were.

     In October, Brian Berry and several other Orange County barbers asked a federal judge to direct the DBPR to pay monetary damages to Berry and the other barbers who had lost business after being subjected to these unwarranted, militaristic raids. Three DBPR raiders were fired over these invasions, and raids of this nature have been discontinued. Still, it's disturbing that they happened in the first place. If the police are not restrained, this is what they'll do. This is, unfortunately, the nature of the beast.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dr. Michael McGee: Another Foresnic Pathologist Under Attack

     In 2006, in Alexandria, Minnesota, a jury found Michael Hansen guilty of second-degree murder in the 2004 death of his infant daughter Avryonna. Dr. Michael McGee, the medical examiner for Douglas County, Minnesota, had ruled the death a homicide. The baby had suffered a fractured skull, an injury five forensic pathologists for the defense believed happed in a Walmart accident six days before the baby died. These defense medical experts testified that Avryonna had accidentally suffocated to death in her crib. Dr. McGee told jurors that the Walmart accident could not have caused the baby's skull fracture, and that it wasn't possible for a baby to die by accidental suffocation.

     Douglas County Judge Peter Irvine has recently ordered a new trial for Hansen based on new evidence that infants can in fact die by accidental suffocation. The judge, in his decision, wrote that Dr. McGee stopped looking for a cause of death when he found the child's skull fracture. The judge found that Dr. McGee gave "false or incorrect" testimony at the Hansen trial. Judge Irvine ordered Michael Hansen's immediate release from prison. A few weeks later, the Douglas County prosecutor dropped all charges against Hensen.

     Dr. Michael McGee works out of the Ramsey County, Minnesota Medical Examiners office in St. Paul. Since 1985, his company, M. B. McGee, P. A., has provided an autopsy service for Ramsey, Douglas, and twelve other counties throughout Minnesota. The 63-year-old forensic pathologist earned $1million last year, most of it from a $700,000 contract with Ramsey County. McGee's company, in the other counties, charges a $500 fee per autopsy. Last year Dr. McGee performed 500 autopsies in these jurisdictions. Out of his company's revenue, McGee pays Ramsey County for the use of the building and supplies.

     As a result of Judge Irvine's ruling in the Hansen case, the Ramsey County Attorney's Office has initiated an investigation and review of Dr. McGee's work. The county attorney has also hired a retired prosecutor to review the Hansen case. McGee's pathology contract with the county is set to expire at the end of 2014. His contract could, however, be terminated.

     Over the years Dr. McGee has testified in 150 homicide trials held throughout the state. Some of these cases might be coming under review as well.

     Due to the critical shortage of medical examiners in the country, Dr. McGee is one of many forensic pathologists who do work, on a contract basis, for several counties. Critics of this arrangement believe that these forensic pathologists, because they are stretched so thin, and motiviated by profit, do substandard work. Moreover, when they get into trouble, they aren't fired because there is no one to replace them.
(See: "The Troubled Career of Dr. Thomas Gill," September 27, 2011)

Walmartology: Crime in Consumerland 2

October 8, 2011
Baltimore City, Maryland
     A fight broke out in a Walmart store between two women who knew each other and had fought before over a man. When one of the combatants poured bleach and Pine-Sol on her opponent, Walmart officials had to close the facility for two hours. The fumes sent nineteen customers and employees to area hospitals. Police charged the 33-year-old woman who poured the hazardous material (mixing ammonia and bleach can create toxis gas) with first and second degree assault. Bond was set at $350,000.

October 7, 2011
Palm Springs, California
     At 7:30 PM, a Walmart customer, on his way to his care in the parking lot, got into an argument with two people in another vehicle. One of the occupants of that car shot the customer several times. Paramedics rushed the wounded man to a local hospital. According to the police, the shooting was not gang-related.

October 10, 2011
Columbia, South Carolina
     At 6:00PM, after a 41-year-old female Walmart customer had placed her grocery bags in the trunk of her car, a man reached into the front passenger seat of her vehicle and grabbed her purse. The woman fought him for the handbag until he pulled a handgun. The robber jumped into a getaway car with the purse and was gone.

October 12, 2011
Beaumont, Texas
     Shortly after 5:00PM, a man put a gun to a 64-year-old woman's head while she loaded groceries into her car. The victim was parked no more than 250 feet from the entrance to the Walmart Store. When the woman refused to give up her purse, the robber pulled it off her shoulder, knocking her to the ground. The gunman jumped into the backseat of a waiting car that sped off.

     It may not be a bad idea for women who shop at Walmart to leave their purses at home.  (See: "Walmart: Bargains, Jobs and Crime," October 4, 2011)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Joe Biden: Is Our Vice President a Political Hack--Or Just An Idiot?

     On October 19, Vice President Joe Biden told a reporter from Human Events that if Congress failed to pass President Obama's Jobs Act, "...murder will continue to rise, rape will continue to rise, all crimes will continue to rise." When confronted by the reporter's skepticism regarding rising crime rates, Biden told him to check the crime statistics for Flint, Michigan, pointing out that when police officers were laid off in that city, rape rates went up.

     According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, the number of rapes in Flint, Michigan declined from 2009 to 2010. In 2008, the city employed 265 sworn police officers. In 2010, there were 144. So, in Flint, as more and more officers were laid off,  the incident of rape, according to the FBI's statistics, dropped. Flint's chief of police, Alvin Lock, said this in September 2010: "A smaller police force doesn't automatically mean more crime. There's been years when we had 300 officers and we still had more homicides."

     Because police officers generally react to crime rather than prevent it, there is little relationship between policing and crime rates. This is particularly true with regard to crimes like rape and homicide. If an escalation of police manpower and weaponry affected crime rates, we would have won the drug war twenty years ago.

     Let's assume that the Obama administration gave the city of Flint enough federal money to double their police force. How would the police department use those funds? They would hire patol officers and buy expensive weapons and SWAT gear. The money would not be used to solve rape cases. The crime lab would still have a two to three year DNA analysis backlog, and there would still be a shortage of forensic nurses, rape kits, and trained sexual offense investigators. The citizens of Flint would see more militarized policing in the form of an increased use of SWAT teams to conduct predawn, no-knock drug raids.

     Rape is primarily a crime committed behind closed doors involving people who know each other. Having ten combat equiped officers on the street in front of the crime scene will not prevent the offense. The incidence of rape depends on demographics and the availabilty of criminal opportunity unrelated to how many police officers are on patrol. Rape statistics depend upon the percentage of victims who report the crime. Crime researchers believe that most victims of rape, for a variety of reasons, don't report the offense.

     Joe Biden's linkage of bailout money to rape and homicide reduction makes me think he's an idiot and a political hack. At least as a hack, he's not particularly bright. It's the smart ones you have to worry about.

    

Monday, October 24, 2011

Police Shootings: Aurora 9 Denver 2

     So far in 2011, the police in Denver, Colorado, a city of two million, have shot two people, killing both of them. In Aurora, the suburban city of 325,000 that sits adjacent to Denver on its eastern border, the police this year have shot a total of nine people, killing six. (This year 14 Aurora police officers have been assaulted, eleven more than in 2010. Firearm-related homicides are up 33 percent over the past year.)

     This year in Denver, 950 police officers--the entire patrol force--have completed Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, a week-long course. In Aurora, about 150 patol officers have completed CIT training this year. That's about half of the officers assigned street patrol duty. Denver is one of a handful of cities that employs an Assessment Response Team which works with licensed social workers from the city's Mobile Mental Health Unit. The goal is to reduce police contacts with mentally ill people.

     In October, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates ordered each of the city's officers to attend specialized training. In the all-department letter in which the chief acknowledged the "disproportionally high number of officer-involved shootings," said it was time for the department to review its use of deadly force policy. The new training will cover "de-escalation skills including tactical retreat and the use of nolethal force." (In most states, an officer is justified in using deadly force to protect himself or others from serious bodily injury or death. Questionable shootings often include fleeing suspects; vehicles used as weapons situations; cases where the officer thinks the suspect is reaching for a gun; and suspects' holding things in their hands that look like guns. The shooting of manifestly insane people in stand-off situations also brings criticism of the police.)

     What follows is a summary of each police involved shooting case this year in Aurora, Colorado:

Shooting Episode Number One
January 14
     The first shooting of the year involved the wounding of an armed bank robber. (Because there was so little media coverage of this event, I have not been able to identify the subject or gather additional information about the shooting.)

Shooting Episode Number Two
February 10
     Someone tipped the police that Richard Arreola was selling methamphetamine at a middle school. The narcotic officers were surveilling the suspected when, for some unknown reason, he approached them. At some point the suspect raised a handgun. One of the surveilling officers shot and killed Arreola on the spot. 

Shooting Episode Number Three
March 15
     At 11:00 PM officers were called to a Super 8 Motel on a report that a man was threatening a woman with a gun. En route, the police learned that the disturbance had moved to a car in the parking lot south of the motel. According to information issued to the officers, the subject was holding two people hostage. The police blocked off the parking lot and called in the SWAT team.
     As more officers converged on the scene, police heard a shot frired from inside the car. Officers rushed the vehicle, broke out a window, and opened fire. In the gunfight, an officer was shot in the wrist. The hostage taker, 25-year-old Danial A. Garcia, was shot to death. The police also shot and wounded one of the hostages.

Shooting Episode Number Four
March 18
     At 8:15 PM an Aurora officer on patrol spotted a man matching the description of the suspect accused of shooting at a police officer. When patrolman pulled the man's car over, the suspect bolted on foot into an apartment complex courtyard where the suspect fired at the pursuing officer, hitting him in the leg. Police set up a perimeter and began searching for the shooter. As residents of the complex were being evacuated, police learned that the suspect had taken a family in the apartment complex hostage.
     During the stand-off that followed, a member of the SWAT team established communications with the subject who advised that he planned "to go out shooting." The hostages managed to escape and inform the officers that the suspect was holed-up in a back bedroom of their apartment. The SWAT team tried unsuccessfully to flush the man out with tear gas. When the subject, armed with a handgun, tried to escape through a window, officers opened fire, killing him on the spot. Police identified the dead man as 20-year-old Aaron Williams. Williams had been the one who, the day before, had shot at another police officer.

Shooting Episode Number Five
March 20
     Just before midnight, Aurora officers spotted three male suspects inside a fenced-in car storage lot behind a automotive service garage. Several cars had been recently stolen from this neighborhood. The suspects saw the police, jumped into a pickup, and sped off. During the vehicular chase, the police opened fire on the suspects' truck, hitting two of the subjects. One of the men survived his wound, the other died in the hospital a few hours later. The dead man was a 22-year-old Russian immigrant named Oleg Gidenko. The man wounded by the police was 18-year-old Yevgeniy Straystar.
     On May 18, Gidenko's family filed a lawsuit against the city of Aurora. Three weeks later, the Aurora city attorney announced that he was exploring the possibility of a court settlement with the plaintiffs. Court papers revealed that the police officers had fired more that a dozen bullets, and that Gidenko, shot in the head, had died instantly. The city settled the lawsuit out of court.
     On July 11, the Arapahoe County District Attorney announced that the Gidenko/Straystar shootings were justified. In the press release, the district attorney wrote: "I find that Mr. Gidenko's driving constituted an imminent use of deadly physical force and that the officers were justified in using deadly physical force to protect themselves and each other."

Shooting Episode Number Six
July 23
     An elderly woman called the police from a store parking lot. After losing her car keys, she had found a note on her car offering the return of her keys in exchange for $50. The note writer left a phone number. A plainclothed officer used a spare key to drive the woman to meet her would-be extortionist. At a Family Dollar parking lot, the officer met 59-year-old Juan Contreras who now demanded $100 for the keys. While trying to take Contreras into custody, the suspect, while sitting in his car, punched the officer. He then, according to the police report, reached for a 9-inch knife. After repeatedly identifying himself as a police officer, the officer shot Contreras three times in the chest. The suspect died later that night in a local hospital.
     On July 29, Chief Danial Oates, in announcing a Tactical Review Board investigation into the shooting, said, "We need to take a thorough look at the decisions we made that evening and the tactics we employed. We need to determine whether we can learn from this event. Could we have done this better? We have an obligation to be the best we can as a police department, and if we can learn from what occurred here and thereby avoid a deadly confrontation in the future, that will be a positive outcome."

Shooting Episode Number Seven
September 29
     At three in the morning, a homeowner called the Aurora  police to report that a man and a woman were having a loud agrument out in the street. When officers pulled up to the scene, they found two people inside a van. Officers asked the man to alight from the vehicle and he did. When an officer tried to pat this man down, he ran off. After a brief foot chase officers caught up with the subject and tasered him. The shock had little effect. When the man pulled a handgun, the officers shot him. Jerome Blackmon, 21, died a few hours later in the hospital. Police said they had no idea why Blackmon had fled when they tried to frisk him. (Perhaps it was because he was armed with the handgun.)
(See: "Armed and Dangerous: Who the Police Shoot and Why," September 22, 2011 and "Wednesday, October 12: A Busy Day in the Shooting War on Crime," October 22, 2011)



Sunday, October 23, 2011

Police Taser Abuse in New York State

     In October, the New York Civil Liberties Union released a report, based on 851 taser incidents from eight police departments in the state, called "Taking Tasers Seriously: The Need for Better Regulation of Stun Guns in New York." According to this report, 60 percent of taser incidents failed to meet departmental guidelines that limit the use of taser guns to situations where physical aggression is encountered. Moreover, 75 percent of taser use in the study didn't involve verbal warnings prior to the execution of this form of nonlethal police force.

     According to departmental regulations in all of the agencies studied, officers are not supposed to taser children and elderly people. Notwithstanding these guidelines, police, in an astounding 40 percent of cases, tasered these "at-risk" subjects. Even though the excessive shocking of a person can be fatal, one-third of these cases involved prolonged shocks. In 15 percent of these incidents, the police tasered subjects who were already restrained, including people in handcuffs.

     The authors of the taser report noted that officers with the New York City Police Department had complied with departmental policies and guidelines. However, other law enforcement agencies in the study had used tasers in an "inappropriate, irresponsible and downright deadly manner." (See: "Taser Madness," October 6, 2011) 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Another Best-Selling Memoir Under Attack

     In 1973, the memoir, "Sybil" told the story of Sybil Dorsett (real identify Shirley Mason) who claimed to have had sixteen separate personalities as a result of childhood abuse. The best-selling book (7 million copies) created the multiple personality disorder and planted the notion of the repressed memory syndrome into the American consciousness.

     According to a new book by Debbie Nathan called "Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case," the 1973 memoir was a phony book contrived by Munson, her therapist, and a journalist. In a 1958 letter uncovered by Nathan, Mason confessed that she didn't have multiple personalities. Shirley Mason died of breast cancer in 1998. (In the years that followed the publication of the 1973 memoir, several defendants in serial murder cases, pursuant to insanity defenses, claimed--unsuccessfully--multiple personality disorders.)

     Mason's memoir led 40,000 readers to claim they had repressed memories of childhood abuse, an unknown syndrome prior to 1973. Several of these claims led to the sexual abuse convictions of innocent people. In 1976 and 2007 two movies based on Mason's memoir were produced. One of them starred Sally Fields. (See: "The Memoir: Fact or Fiction?" September 26, 2011 and "Mommie Dearest Books: The Art of the Hatchet Job," October 9, 2011.) 

Wednesday, October 12: A Busy Day in The Shooting War on Crime

12:15 AM
Kansas City, Missouri
     Just after midnight, an out of control vehicle crashed into a grocery store. A man at the accident scene started shooting at the driver who was still inside the car. When the shooter didn't drop his handgun, a Kansas City police officer shot and wounded him. The subject has yet to be publically identified.

11:00 AM
Myrtle Creek, Oregon
    In this town of 3,500 in southern Oregon, John Bocock, 58, shot and wounded 51-year-old Vincent Lytsell outside a real estate office. The two men had been arguing. After the shooting, Bocock fled the scene on foot. When encountered by local police officers, Bocock refused to put down his handgun. Myrtle Creek officers shot him dead. Bocock believed that Lytsell had been sleeping with his estranged wife.

5:00 PM
Indianapolis, Indiana
     City police shot Jarvis Clay after a foot pursuit following a traffic stop. When the 27-year-old pointed a handgun at the pursuing officers, they shot him in the leg. This year in Indianapolis, the police have shot and wounded two other men in separate incidents.

7:00 PM
Downey, California
     When two Downey police officers approached a man standing near a palm tree fire (I didn't know people set them on fire), he drew a knife and charged them. The officers fatally shot the subject. A week after the shooting, the dead man has not been publically identified. As far as I can tell, there has been only one piece of reportage on this case. Police involved shootings have become that ordinary.

7:00 PM
Lower Burrell, Pennsylvania
     On October 2, Charles Post, 33, fired shots at his boss at a construction company in a neighboring Pittsburgh area town. As a result of this incident, Post was wanted by the authorities. On October 12, Post shot and killed Lower Burrell K-9 officer Derek Kotecki outside a local Dairy Queen. After the shooting, police officers chased Post on foot into a wooded area behind the fast food place where they shot the fugitive in the head, chest, and abdomen. Post, who had an extensive criminal history dating back to the late 1990's, died at the scene.

10:00 PM
Tacoma, Washington
     After a police officer tried but failed to pull over a motorist driving without his headlights, the sergeant drove to the driver's house and waited for him to come home. When the suspect pulled into the parking lot of his apartment complex he saw the police car and sped toward it in an aggressive manner. The officer fired six to eight shots into the approaching vehicle, hitting the driver in the neck. The car then crashed and burst into flames. Because officers pulled the suspect out of his burning car, he survived. They had saved a man who had tried to kill one of their own. This was the third police shooting this year in Tacoma. The earlier incidents were both fatal. (In November 2009, a gunman burst into a Lakewood, Washington coffee shop near Tacoma and shot four uniformed police officers dead. It was a targeted ambush by 37-year-old Maurice Clemmons who was killed a few days later by police in Seattle.
(See: "Armed and Dangerous: Who the Police Shoot and Why," September 22, 2011)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Gun Control Problem: Securing SWAT Weapons

     Burglars, on October 13, 2011, stole twenty-one MP-5 submachine guns and fifteen Colt .45-caliber handguns from storage at a SWAT training site in downtown Los Angeles. Fortunately the training weapons had been converted to fire rounds with plastic bullets. According to a Los Angeles police commander, it would take significant skill and special parts to make these weapons functional.

     What follows are a few examples of what has become a recurring problem regarding the security of SWAT weapons and gear:

June 3, 1997
Memphis, Tennessee
     Thieves stole, from an FBI SWAT team Chevrolet Suburban parked in a hotel parking lot, a cache of M-16 rifles, shotguns, tear-gas equipment, bullet-proof vests, helmets, shields, and ammunition. Police found the burned-out shell of the vehicle on the other side of town.

November 5, 2004
Dayton, Ohio
     After SWAT team practice, an officer with the Dayton-Montgomery County Regional SWAT team parked his pickup outside a restaurant where he stopped to eat. While he had dinner, someone broke into the vehicle and stole a shotgun, two rifles, and a submachine gun.

February 6, 2005
Jacksonville, Florida
     On Super Bowl Sunday at 3:45 in the morning, thieves broke into an Atlanta Division FBI van and stole eight assault weapons including four sniper rifles. Also taken were scopes and 80 rounds of 308 ammunition. The unmarked van had been parked at a Holiday Inn

November 10, 2006
Orange County, Florida
     From a SUV parked outside an Orange County SWAT team member's house, a thief stole an UMP-45 fully-automatic machine gun with a silencer, an H & K G3 assault rifle, and a Glock 21 semi-automatic handgun.

April 23, 2007
Memphis, Tennessee
     While a Wake County (North Carolina) SWAT team ate dinner at a barbecue restaurant, thieves stole seven guns from their van. Stolen were three Sig Sauer Model 551, .223-caliber fully automatic assault rifles; two Remington Model 870 pump-action 12-gauge shotguns; and one Sig Sauer Model 226, 357-caliber semi-automatic handgun.

March 5, 2008
Dallas, Texas
     A SWAT officer with the Dallas Police Department parked his pickup near a department store in a shopping plaza. A thief pried open a door and stole an assault weapon, ammunition, and two flakjackets. Less than a month earlier, a thief stole a semi-automatic handgun from a police car parked in a church parking lot.

June 29, 2008
Orange County, Florida
     A car burglar stole an AR 15 assualt rifle from a Florida Highway Patrol vehicle parked on a residential street. The thief also took a SWAT uniform, body armor, a gas mask, and more than $4,000 worth of speed-detection equipment. The car had been left unlocked, and the gear had not been secured in the trunk.

November 21, 2008
White City, Utah
     After persuading a suicidal man to surrender following a four-hour standoff outside the subject's house, the Salt Lake County SWAT team left a M 4 assault rifle in the front yard of a neighbor's house. The weapon was recovered after a citizen notified the authorities.

October 28, 2009
Dallas, Texas
     A thief stole eight Dallas SWAT team weapons from a Chevrolet Tahoe parked outside the officer's apartment building. The burglar also took body armor, uniforms and a badge. One rifle, which shoots three bullets with one trigger pull, was worth $25,000 on the black market. Three Dallas SWAT vehicles had been broken into that month.

     SWAT weapons and gear, in recent years, have also been stolen from police vehicles in: Palm Beach County and Orlando, Florida; Washington, DC; Jefferson County, Colorado: Las Cruces, New Mexico; Seattle, Washington; Frederick, Maryland;and Phoenix, Arizona.  

Despicable Versus Criminal Behavior

     Five years ago congress passed The Stolen Valor Act which makes it a crime to falsely claim to have earned medals for service in the U.S. armed services. The law imposes a maximum sentence of $5,000 and six months in prison. In 2007, Xavier Alvarez, a newly elected member of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District in Claremont, California, introduced himself to his fellow board members as a retired Marine of 25 years who, in 1987, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Alvarez never served in the military.

     Following his federal indictment under this law, Alvarez pleaded guilty then appealed his conviction to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which, in a 2-1 decision, struck down the act on the grounds it violated free speech. The U.S. Solicitor appealed this decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

     In my view, unless the questioned lying is under oath, or pursuant to theft by deception, this behavior should not constitute a crime. If we're going to criminally prosecute fake war heroes, what about job applicants who submit phony private sector resumes, people who exploit bogus diploma-mill degrees, and politicians who tout fake backgrounds and nonexistent accomplishments? Where would it end?

     While phony war heroes should be exposed and humiliated, I don't see what is gained, from a jurisprudence point of view, by sending this particular type of liar to prison. If despicable behavior is criminalized, there will be more people in prison than out. I will be surprised if the Supreme Court doesn't declare this law unconstitutional. (See: "Zero-Tolerance Policing," October 18, 2011)

Monday, October 17, 2011

This Year's Mass Murder and Killing Spree Cases

     The term "mass murder" pertains to cases involving two or more victims killed in a single incident at one location. (Cases in which a killer murders more than two with a cooling off period between each homicide are called serial killings.) A "spree killing" consists of murders at two or more locations with a little time between each of the homicides. Sometimes these events are referred to in the media as homicidal rampages. Mass murderers and spree killers fall generally into three groups: family annihilators, paramilitary enthusiasts, and disgruntled workers.

     While homicide rates in most jurisdictions have been falling or staying the same, there seems to have been more mass murders and spree killings this year than usual. Moreover, the victim counts in these cases have been startingly high. The motive common to most of these cases is pathological hatred and rage. Unlike serial killers who are cold-blooded and organized, mass murderers and spree killers are often mentally ill and out of control. Quite often these killers take their own lives or are shot to death by the police. These cases almost never go unsolved and grab a lot of media attention. When taken alive, these homicidal subjects usually plead not guilty by reason of insanity. 

     Allthough it is impossible to predict who will go off the deep end and start shooting people, most of these killers have histories of violence and/or mental illness. And no matter how much we militarize our police forces, the spree killing and mass murdering will continue. It's a troubled population, not a lack of policing that is causing all of this mayhem. The following is a summary of this year's most deadly cases:

January 8, 2011
Tuscon, Arizona
     Jared Loughner, a 23-year-old schizophrenic, shot six people to death and wounded thirteen at a political event outside a supermarket. Because one of his nonfatal victims was U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, this mass murder received even more media attention than usual. The crime also engendered an endless wave of sophomoric talk about toning down political rhetoric deemed too violent by certain politicians and media wags. Loughner's attorneys say his is too mentally ill to be tried for murder.

February 12, 2011
Brooklyn, New York
     Maksim Gelman, an Ukranian immigrant, stabbed and killed his stepmother, his ex-girlfriend and her mother in their apartment. He stabbed aman in the process of stealing his car, then killed a pedestrian by running him over. Before being arrested, Gelman stabbed six other people. The obsessive 23-year-old had been stalking his ex-girlfriend for weeks. Police arrested Gelman without incident.

July 7, 2011
Grand Rapids, Michigan
     Thirty-four-year-old Rodrick Dantzler shot and killed his former girlfriend, his estranged wife, his 12-year-old daughter, and four others. Before taking his own life, Dantzler wounded two others. In his suicide note, Dantzler blamed his mother-in-law for breaking up his marriage. He had a history of cocaine abuse.

August 7, 2011
Copley, Ohio
     For reasons that remain a mystery, Michael Hance, 51, fatally shot seven people. He also shot and wounded his girlfriend. He killed two teenage girls, an 11-year-old boy, and four adults. Police officers shot him to death.

September 6, 2011
Carson City, Nevada
     Eduardo Sencion, a Mexican citizen with a valid U.S. passport, fired sixty shots in an IHOP restaurant, killing four and wounding seven. Three of those killed by Sencion were members of the Nevada National Guard. The mass murder ended with Sencion killing himself. According to his family, he had struggled with mental illness.

September 25, 2011
Laurel, Maryland
     David Ison, 46, shot and killed four members of the Napier family, and one other person, in the Napier's moble home. Taken into custody, he his being held on $5 million bond. His motive has not been revealed.

September 26, 2011
Everett, Washington
     David Pederson, 31 and his 24-year-old girlfriend, Holly Grigsby, shot and killed Pederson's father and the father's wife in Everett. A few days later they killed two other people in California. Police arrested the couple several days later in Yuba County, California. According to media reports, Pederson is a white supremacist who hates jews.

October 4, 2011
Crow Agency, Montana
     On the Crow Indian Reservation, 22-year-old Sheldon Chase shot to death his grandmother, his cousin and his cousin's best friend. Mentally ill and off his medication, Chase was arrested without a fight.

October 5, 2011
Cupertino, Texas
     Shareef Allman shot nine of his co-workers at a cement plant, killing three. He was angry at being assigned night duty. A few days later Allman was killed by the police. People who knew Allman are shocked he was capable of  mass murder.

October 12, 2011
Seal Beach, California
     Forty-two-year-old Scott Evans walked into a hair salon and shot nine people, killing eight. One of his victims was his ex-wife. According to people who knew the couple, Evans had a history of wife abuse. It is believed this mass murder was motivated by revenge. When the police arrested Evans he offered no resistence.  

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Venezuelan SWAT: A New Weapon in the War on Drugs

     The Venezuelan National Assembly in Caracas is debating a proposed law that would allow its military to shoot down planes suspected of carrying drugs. To those who love militarized policing, this is almost as good as it gets. Imagine, a SWAT team with its own air force!

Campus SWAT: The Militarization of the College Cop

     As a result of the fear mongering that follows public school and college campus spree shootings--the so-called Columbine Effect--the aging campus security guard has been replaced by the SWAT equipped and trained commando. The militarization of campus security has not made our colleges and universities any safer. It could be argued that militarized campus policing has had the opposite effect.

The Adu-Brempong Case

     On March 2, 2010, in Gainsville, Florida, members of the University of Florida's Critical Incident Response Tearm (CIRT), responded to a 911 call that a 35-year-old doctoral student from Ghana was screaming inside his on-campus apartment. Kofi Adu-Brempong was having psychotic delusions brought on by his fear that his student visa would be denied.

     Adu-Brempong, a man disabled by childhood polio, refused to come to his door and speak to the police. This led to an eleven hour standoff that ended with the CIRT officers breaking into the apartment. After failing to subdue Adu-Brempon with a taser gun and a beanbag device, a CIRT officer shot the deranged man in the head with his Bushmaster M-4 rifle. According to the police, the subject had attacked them with a knife and a pipe.

     Adu-Brempong survived his head wound and was charged with one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill, and five counts of resisting an officer with violence. A judge, ruling that the police did not have sufficient evidence to support these charges, dismissed the case against Adu-Brempong.

     On August 11, 2011, the University of Florida Police Department announced that its internal investigation had found the Adu-Brempong shooting unjustified. The head of the CIRT unit, a 17-year veteran of the force, was fired. According to the internal review of the shooting, the CIRT officers should not have been deployed in this case.

    As a result of the shooting, a group of educators and filmakers produced a documentary about the case called "In His Own Home." The film reveals that the CIRT officer who shot Adu-Brempon remained on the force until he was fired for roughing up a white student who was driving a Mercedez.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Terrorism: Amish Style

     Sam Mullet is the bishop of an eighteen-family Amish enclave in and around the village of Bergholz, Ohio in Jefferson County in the eastern part of the state across the Ohio River from the northwest panhandle of West Virginia. Mullet's group has been at religious odds with the main body of old-order Amish clustered in Holmes and other counties in the eastern half of the state. During a three week period in late September and early October, men from the Bergholz splinter group, allegedly on Sam Mullet's orders, invaded Amish homes in Holmes and other counties where the intruders forceably cut the hair and beards off the men and shaved the heads of Amish women. The attackes were intended to degrade the targets of the intruders' wrath. Bishop Mullet had allegedly asked his raiders to bring him clippings of his victims' hair as proof that his mission had been carried out.

     Frank Abdalia, the sheriff of Jefferson County and long-time Mullet adversary, claims that the renegade bishop has threatened his life. Sheriff Abdalia has called the 66-year-old bishop "dangerous" and out of control.

     On October 8, 2011, Sheriff Abdalia's deputies arrested Sam Mullet's sons, 38-year-old Johnny and 53-year-old Lester. The officers also arrested Levi and Lester Miller. Johnny and Lester Mullet were charged with burglary and kidnapping in connection with the hair-cutting intrusions in Holmes, Carroll, and Trumbell Counties. They are being held on $250,000 bond each.

     Bergholz bishop Sam Mullet has been in the news before. In September 2008 his son, Chris Mullet, pleaded guilty to three counts of unlawful sexual conduct with two minors in 2003 and 2004. The judge sentenced him to probation. In my book, "SWAT Madness," I wrote about a 2007 SWAT raid on a Bergholz Amish schoolhouse. In that raid, Sheriff Abdalia seized the children of a Bergholz Amish man who claimed that members of the enclave had sexually molested his children. His wife, Wilma Troyer, had refused to let her husband take their children to another community. In "SWAT Madness," I criticized the sheriff for using a regional SWAT team to execute the court order. The Amish kids, having no ideal what was going on, thought they were all going to be killed by the heavily armed SWAT officers. Although I had no objection to the sheriff's mission, I questioned his methods.  

The Art of the Interview

     Journalist Janet Malcolm wrote a book called "The Journalist and the Murderer" (1990) about how true crime writer Joe McGinnis, in writing his book "Fatal Vision" (1983) lived with the Jeffrey MacDonald defense team as they prepared for the Green Beret doctor's murder trial. MacDonald was being tried for the 1970 murder of his pregnant wife and two daughters. The defendant and his legal team had every reason to expect that McGinnis' book would be sympathetic to MacDonald's claim of innocence. The jury found the doctor guilty, and when "Fatal Vision" came out, the insiders who had invited the journalist into the inner circle of the defense were shocked. McGinnis portrayed MacDonald as a sociopathic, narcissistic, cold-blooded killer who had murdered his family to free himself of the contraints of family life. ("Fatal Vision" is ranked 97th in Modern Library's 100 Best Works of Nonfiction.)

     In "The Journalist and the Murderer," Janet Malcolm's first sentence reveals an ugly truth about the relationship between the journalist and the people he interviews: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse."

     The following quotes are from other journalists about the art of the interview and the relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee:

...it's [journalism] a very strange way to make a living, to go into other people's lives and scrape those lives for what you can use for your stories and then go out and display those scrapings in front of others.
Bob Greene

Many reporters, especially in the era of celebrity journalism, far from betraying the subjects in their pieces, praise them and cater rather slavishly to them--so that the reporter's fortunes and his subject's rise together.
Renata Adler

The secret to the art of interviewing--and it is an art--is to let the other person think he's interviewing you. You tell him about yourself, and slowly you spin your web so that he tells you everything. (In his infamous article, "Answered Prayers," Capote betrayed members of high-society who had befriended him.)
Truman Capote

I don't even like interviewing people, because I feel once I've interviewed someone, it's much harder to write critically about them unless you bring up every critical feeling you have in the course of the interview.
Norman Mailer

Walking up to a rank stranger who probably doesn't want to talk to you, introducing yourself cold, then making certain that you're the one in charge and what you're conducting is not a friendly conversation but an interview--these are not natural, or even particularly friendly, ways to behave and not a piece of cake to perform.
Beverly Lowry

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Police Involved Shooting of Barry Deloatch

     Just after midnight on September 25, 2011, two New Brunswick, New Jersey police officers shot and killed 47-year-old Barry Deloatch. The officers, after a traffic stop (Deloatch had been a passenger), chased Deloatch on foot into an alley where, according to the police, "a struggle ensued and resulted in a shooting." Deloatch was not armed with a gun or a knife. The officers claimed the suspect attacked them with a stick.

     Members of New Brunswick's black community were outraged by this police shooting. Those who have questions about the incident are accusing the police department of covering-up an unjustified killing.

     On October 12, the controversy surrounding the Deloatch shooting heated up with the Middlesex County Prosecutor announced that an investigator with the police department's Internal Affairs Unit had been charged with mishandling 81 cases. According to the criminal complaint, officer Richard Rowe, between 2003 and 2007, knowingly made false police record entries to cover-up the fact he had failed to conduct thorough internal affairs investigations. Rowe was also charged with concealing and destroying police documents related to some of these cases. (Officer Rowe was not investigating the Deloatch shooting.)

     The convergence of the Deloatch shooting controversy and the developing internal affairs scandal has undermined public confidence in the New Brunswick Police Department. Time will tell if the Deloatch shooting was justified, and if officer Rowe was covering-up bad police behavior or was simply a lazy and incompetent investigator. Until police involved shootings are at the very least investigated by outside law enforcement agencies, the public will not have much confidence in the outcome of these cases. 

UPDATE

     In October, the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office asked the New Jersey State Police to investigate the Deloatch shooting. Physical evidence from the shooting site has been sent to the state crime laboratory for analysis. The prosecutor's office will make the final determination as to whether the case will be presented to a grand jury sitting in New Brunswick.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More SWAT Madness

Budapest, Hungary

   A few days ago, in Budapest, Hungary, a SWAT team raided a warehouse near the airport and seized eighty-five fully-functional military-type assault rifles. The assault weapons had been flown into the country for a zombie movie being produced by Brad Pitt called "World War Z." In justifying the raid, Hungary's anti-terrorism Unit Director said the shipping documents falsely listed the weapons as non-functional.

     Now that Hungary has reduced the threat ot terrorism, what are they doing about the zombies?

Dickson, Tennessee

     Officers from several states spent a week of high intensity SWAT training in central Tennessee. The training camp, funded by Homeland Security, included sharp shooting and dealing with hostage and standoff situations. An officer from Hickman County, Tennessee told a local reporter that his SWAT team stayed "surprisingly" busy. (I'm not surprised.) The officer reportedly said this: "We have been on several calls where you may just be trying to serve a civil paper on somebody...." So, in Hickman County, if you forclose on your house, or owe back taxes, or are issued a summons because of your barking dog, expect a raid by federally trained SWAT team.  

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Battered Wife Syndrome: Self-defense or Premeditated Murder?

     Traditionally, courts have not recognized the battered-wife syndrome as a valid defense in homicide trials in which a battered wife kills her abusive husband at time when she is not being attacked. To successfully employ self-defense in a homicide case, the defendant must prove by a preponderence of the evidence that deadly force was necessary to avoid the imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death. Under standard self-defense rationale, the careful planning and execution of an abusive husband's death is first-degree murder. (Crime historians believe that before the science of toxicology, wives were able to dispatch abusive husbands by slowly poisening them to death.)

     For years activists concerned with domestic violence have lobbied courts and legislatures to make the battered-wife syndrome a valid murder defense in cases where the defendant was not in immediate danger of serious bodily injury or death.

CASES

Queens, New York

     In 2008, 47-year-old Barbara Sheehan shot and killed her abusive husband, the retired New York City police sergeant she had been married to for twenty-four years. Charged with first-degree murder, Sheehan went on trial in September 2011. The defendant took the stand and described years of marital abuse and terror.

     According to the Sheehan prosecution, the morning the defendant killed her husband, she was on the computer looking for travel bargains. The assistant district attorney called the killing a "self-serving execution." On October 5, after deliberating three days, the jury found Sheehan not guilty. Proponents of the battered-wife defense see this case as a referendum on this issue. The Sheehan acquital raises a difficult legal question: Is the premeditated killing of someone who will hurt you in the future self-defense or first-degree murder?

Memphis, Tennessee

     In 1985, Gaile Owens hired a hitman to kill her abusive husband. Found guilty of first-degree murder, she was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection. Last July the governor of Tennessee commuted her sentence to life in prison. In September 2011, the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole released Owens from prison after twenty-six years behind bars. The hitman is still serving his time for the contract killing. Notwithstanding the fact that no crime is more cold-blooded than murder-for-hire, the general feeling in Tennessee is that Gaile Owen's sentence of death, under the circumstances, exceeded her crime.

     The message here may be this: If you're a battered woman, call for help. Do not call a hitman. But if you do, and get caught, call the lawyer who represented Barbara Sheehan.   

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Politics of Literary Awards

     The people in Sweden who selected President Obama for the Nobel Peace Prize--perhaps they hadn't foreseen the Afghan war escalation, the military intrusion into Libya and the assassination of a U.S. terror suspect--just awarded a Swedish poet named Tomas Transtomer the Nobel Prize for Literature. It's been more than eighty years since an American received the literary prize. If that's ever going to happen again, the novel, poems or book of short stories will have to be extremely anti-American. Otherwise, forget it.

     As Anthony Arthur points out in his book, "Literary Feuds," literary awards are lightning rods for controversey. Prominent in the history of the Nobel Prize are stories of writers who should have won the prize but were passed over. Arthur writes: "The Swedish selection committee had given the first prize, in 1901, to the mediocre Sully Prudhomme, over Leo Tolstoy, and the list of other great writers who have not won the prize included Marcet Proust, Henry James, and Joseph Conrad."

     While many writers scorn literary prizes, few ever turn them down. In 1926, Sinclair Lewis refused the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, "Arrowsmith," but only because he was miffed about not winning it earlier for "Main Street." Four years later, however, he accepted the Nobel Prize, becoming the first American so honored. In winning the Nobel, Lewis beat out Theodore Dreiser. Many American writers and critics considered his selection an insult, believing that Lewis had been awarded the prize because his novels were so critical of American culture. (Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw turned down a Nobel Prize.)

Police Fatally Shoot Unarmed Woman: The Car as Weapon Justification

     In June 2010, police in Brunswick, Georgia approached 35-year-old Carolyn M. Small who was sitting in her 1991 Buick smoking dope. When the suspect spotted the approaching officers she drove off. During the low-speed pursuit, with Small driving erratically on and off the road, officers flattened her front tires with stop sticks then forced her off the street into a telephone poll where she sat trapped inside her car. As a pair of Glynn County officers walked toward her car with their guns drawn, Small began rocking the car back and forth to get free. At that point the officers fired eight bullets at the unarmed woman. One of the slugs hit her in the face.

     An ambulance rushed Carolyn Small to the hospital where a week later, while on life-support, she died. In response to the question of why these officers had shot at this woman, the answer was predictable: because she was using her car as a deadly weapon, they feared for their lives.

     An internal police review of the shootings found that the officers, in using deadly force, had acted within departmental guidelines. A Glynn County grand jury heard the case and returned a no bill. No criminal wrongdoing here. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took up the case and agreed with the county police that the officers had been justified in killing this woman.

     In response to an open records request filed by The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville), the Georgia Bureau of Investigation released the dashboard-camera video of the chase and the shooting. After shooting Small, neither officer rushed to check if she were alive. One of the officers said, "I hit her in the face....Right on the bridge of the nose."

     "I think I fired twice," said the other officer.

     A wrongful death lawsit has been filed against the officers and Glynn County by Carolyn Small's daughters aged five and twelve.

     Polce officers rarely shoot women, and when they do, it is usually because they are threatened by a crazy person with a knife. What isn't rare is the justification for the Carolyn Small shooting. The vehicle, as a deadly weapon against the police, is more frequently cited as the justification for deadly force than the posession of knives, shotguns, rifles, and blunt objects added together.

     While the fatal shooting of Carolyn Small may, under the letter of departmental policy and the law, be justified, the question has to be asked: was it necessary? 

UPDATE

     On October 13 the Florida Times-Union reported that the FBI would be investigating the police shooting of Caroline Small.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Self-Publishing E-Books

     Bloomsbury, a publisher based in England, has recently created a publishing arm under its Perseus Books Group, that will release digital-only editions of backlist books in which the copyrights have reverted to the authors. The new Perseus unit, called Argo Navis Author Services, will be available only to authors represented by literary agents. (For a lot of authors this may be a fly in the ointment.) The E-book distributing service will receive 70 percent of book sales with the balance paid to authors in the form of royalties.

     While Argo Navis will provide distribution and marketing services, the books will still be self-published works. Argo Navis will place product pages on retailer web sites, and for a fee, provide more extensive marketing services. E-books will be distributed to retailers such as Amazon, BN com, Google, Kobo, Sony and Apple. This publishing service is aimed at out-of-print books that still have potential for significant sales.

J. Edgar Hoover: The Man, The Myth

     My interest in J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI is both scholarly and personal. I became an FBI agent in June 1966 and left the bureau--on good terms--in November 1971. Eight months after I mustered out, J. Edgar Hoover died. Since his death in May 1972, other than late-night jokes alluding to his cross-dressing--an unfounded rumor injected into mass culture by a hack-written book--serious interest in the FBI's fourth director (1924-1972) has faded. Now, with the upcoming release of  "J. Edgar," a big-budget film directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Leonardo Di Caprio as Hoover, the bureau's most controversial director is back in the news. While the film covers Hoover's career from the gangster era through the Lindbergh kidnapping case, the McCarthy witch-hunt, and the cold-war spy v. spy period, the real buzz concerns the film's depiction of Hoover as a closet gay.

     Over the years I have written pieces, mostly critical, about Hoover and the FBI. I have been particularly critical of the FBI Crime Lab. However, regarding the director and his views of militaristic law enforcement, I wrote the following in my book, " SWAT Madness:"

     "FBI agents in the Hoover era dressed like businessmen. Hoover would have considered the now common FBI lettered jackets, ball caps, and quasi-military wear unprofessional. If agents needed more firepower [agents didn't carry guns until 1936] for a high-risk arrest or raid, they called on the local police for assistance. But his was rare. Most of the time FBI agents used patience, stealth, intelligence, and timing to arrest fugitives believed to be armed and dangerous. During Hoover's tenure, only a handful of agents lost their lives on duty, and very few civilians died at the hands of his agents. Although Director Hoover had his faults and excesses, he did not believe in a national police force, and he did not want his beloved agency over militarized. He preferred the image of the professional, scientific criminal investigator to the crime-fighting warrior. Today, the FBI has at least 56 SWAT teams attached to its field offices around the country. Mr. Hoover must be turning in his grave."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Taser Madness

     From my book, "SWAT Madness:" "Tasers, which have been around since the 1970's, are handheld devices that deliver an electrical shock that temporarily stuns and disables suspects who resist authority or pose serious physical threats to arresting officers. The original five-watt stun gun, which produced a major jolt, was followed in 1994 by a seven-watt version called the Air-Taser, a product manufactured and sold by Taser International. In 1998, the company developed a higher-powered taser designed to stop the more combative, dangerous suspect likely to fight through the lighter applications. A year or so later, Taser International came out with the M 26, a 26-watt device that stunned subjects with 50,000 volts. The company began selling the X26 in 2003, a lighter, more portable version of the M 26.

     "While representatives of Taser International insist that their nonlethal device is safe, critics of the stun gun, such as Amnesty International, claim that tasers have killed more than a hundred people. In cases where citizens have died after being shocked by the police, forensic pathologists have found preexisting illnesses or the presence of drugs and other toxic substances. The safety debate continues in forensic medicine and in the courts. But among those who recognize and appreciate that tasers provide a nonlethal  alternative to billy clubs and guns, there is concern over the indiscriminant use of the device on people whose behavior doesn't call for such force. Over the past few years, police officers have tasered (or tased) children as young as six years of age; people who were mentally ill or physically disabled; and elderly women. Police officers have also stunned peaceful protestors and citizens stopped for traffic violations and other minor offenses whose actions did not justify the unpleasant experience of being jolted by 50,000 volts.

     "At present, officers in 11,000 police agencies carry taser guns. Although there is no governmental agency that keeps a record of the frequency and consequences of taser use, groups like Amnesty International  assert that the frequency of taser use in on the rise. [Studies have also shown that the increased use of taser guns has not reduced the number of police involved shootings.] The increasing number of outrageous examples of taser use reported in the news provide anecdotal evidence that officers are becoming less reluctant to deploy this nonlethal but extremely unpleasant type of force."

CASES

     A police officer in Rome, Georgia was fired recently for twice tasering a 20-year-old man who, having been stunned, fell off a ledge paralyzing him from the neck down. (A few years ago in New York City a man fell to his death after being tasered.)

     The city of Boulder, Colorado has just settled a civil rights lawsuit brought against the city and two police officers by a woman tasered in her home in 2006. The city will pay 53-year-old Sylvia Asten $80,000. The incident began when officers responded to the mentally ill woman's house after reports she had been out on the street screaming. When they tried to enter her home through the screened front door, she tossed the contents of a wine glass at them. The police cut a hole in the screen through which they tasered her. Asten, without her consent, was held two weeks in a mental ward.

     When the police on September 28, 2011 pulled over a car in New York City for running a stop light, the passenger, 30-year-old Howard Cooke, jumped out of the vehicle and ran. When the police caught the unarmed suspect, he resisted arrest. To subdue him they employed a "drive stun" which involves holding the device against the body without firing the electronic projectiles. The officers did this after the initial tasering had no effect. Cooke, who suffered from severe asthma, died. New York State Police detectives are investigating the incident to determine, among other things, if Cooke died from being tasered.

    

Female Homicide Defendants Who Walked

     In 1893 Lizzie Borden got off because the all-male jury didn't think young women from good families were capable of committing grusome homicides. (Borden was accused of killing her parents with a hatchet.) Casey Anthony got off because her jury didn't think the prosecution hadn't proven its case. Amanda Knox, initially convicted of cutting her roomate's throat in Italy, is free because her second jury believed the Italian police had bungled the murder investigation. Because after Lizzie's trial no one was ever arrested for the double killng, she lived the rest of her life under a cloud of suspicion. This fate may be awaiting Casey Anthony and Amanda Knox.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Walmartology: Crime in Consumerland

     Walmart, the nation's largest private sector employer, has its critics who complain that these superstores have destroyed smaller retail businesses turning downtowns into blight areas. Some don't like the fact that Walmart employees aren't unionized while others object to the land eaten up by these giant box stores and their vast parking lots. Although millions of consumers (myself included) take advantage of the convience and low prices of the Walmart experience, there is a growing awareness that Walmart locations have become a magnet for crime, and are perhaps not the safest places to shop or work. (Studies have shown a high rate of crime at hundreds of Walmart stores. In 2004, at 551 stores, one million crimes were reported to the police.)

     Millions of consumers, of whom 70 percent are women, shop at these 24-hour locations. This concentration of merchandise, people, their vehicles and money attracts almost every type of criminal offender. Walmart crime victims include the corporation itself, its employees, and visitors to the store. Crimes committed against the corporation include: bad checks, merchanise return fraud, employee theft, credit card fraud, and shoplifting. Inside the store crimes against visitors and employees include: homicide, assault, kidnapping, and robbery. The parking lot offenses include: vehicle theft, carjacking, purse-snatching, rape, assault, vehicle burglary, robbery, homicide, and kidnapping.

     While Walmart cannot be blamed for the nation's criminality, the corporation does have a moral and legal duty to protect, the best it can, its employees and customers. It also has a right to protect itself against visitor and employee crime.

CASES

Las Vegas

     At 4:30 in the morning, on September 9, 2011, at a 24-hour Walmart superstore in Las Vegas, police officers were arresting a man and a woman for credit card fraud when the man pulled away, drew a handgun from his waistband, and fired several shots at the officers, wounding one of them. At least one of the officers returned fire, hitting the gunman several times. The suspect died in the hospital later that day. None of the customers or employees in the store at the time were injured.

Elyria, Ohio

     A judge in Elyria, on September 30, 2011, sentenced 49-year-old Toni Duncan for assaulting a Walmart employee. The judge sentenced Duncan to fifteen days in jail and ordered her to take an anger management course for choking a 71-year-old Walmart greeter who asked to see a receipt as Duncan left the store. The judge also banned Duncan from this particular Walmart for five years. This customer was no longer welcome at Walmart.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Police Involved Shootings for September 2011

     So far this year the nation's police have shot 872 people, killing 483. In September they shot 103 killing 53. Seventeen of this month's shootings took place in California with 9 being fatal. There were 7 in texas (5 fatal), 5 in Massaschusetts (1), 5 in Florida (2), 4 in Pennsylvania (2), 5 in Ohio (4), 4 in Washington (3) and 4 in Nevada. Wyoming (Chleyenne) saw its first police involved shooting of the year.

     By city, there were three fatal shootings in Los Angeles, three in Chicago (1 fatal), two fatal shootings in Cleveland, two in Amarillo, two shootings in Philadelphia (1) and two nonfatal shootings in San Francisco. In September the vast majority of police involved shootings took place in the smaller cities and in suburban settings. There were also several shootings in small towns and rural areas.

     SWAT team officers shot two people in September. Two police officers were wounded, and no female subjects were shot. The oldest person shot by the police was 90, the youngest, 21. (See: "Armed and Dangerous: Who the Police Shoot and Why," September 22, 2011.)

FEATURED CASES

Toledo, Ohio
     Police in Toledo, on September 3 fired 40-50 bullets at 48-year-old Brian Everett Lipp who posessed what turned out to be a pellet gun. (There have been a couple dozen pellet or replica gun cases this year.) Before dying in the hail of lead, Lipp lit up a crack cocaine pipe.

Oakland, California

     At 5 PM on September 25, when Oakland officers pulled over a car for an unspecified traffic violation, a passenger jumped out of the car and ran. An officer gave chase which resulted in a struggle which in turn led to the fatal shooting of this man who threatened the officer with a loaded gun.

     This case is special because the officer videoed the shooting with a pager-sized camera affixed to his uniform. More than a thousand police agencies across the country are using chest cameras to record police activity such as traffic stops, sobriety tests, apprehensions and street questionings. In these departments, officers are prohibited from viewing the footage in the field. After the shooting in Oakland, the officer involved and his partner were not allowed to see the footage before speaking to internal affairs detectives looking into the shooting. In Oakland, officers were allowed to review footage of recorded traffic stops and arrests after they had filed their initial reports of these incidents. This policy, however, does not specifically deal with filmed police involved shootings.

     This Oakland police shooting case has created a rift between local police watchdog groups and the police union. The officers want the right to view the footage before speaking to investigators while police accountability organizations exect a departmental policy that prohibits officers from seening the tape before anyone else. This case reflects the ongoing tension between the police and the people they are paid to protect and to serve. Police officers are public servants and the cameras they wear are for our protection, not theirs.  

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Possible Violation of the Lacey Act!? Call Out the SWAT Team!

   The Gibson Company, located in Nashville, Tennessee, has been manufacturing quality guitars since 1830. On August 24, 2011, heavily armed U.S. Marshals and a Fish and Wildlife Service SWAT team (Yes, the Fish and Wildlife Service has a SWAT team--hell, they all do.) burst into the Gibson plant in full combat gear. Terrified employees looked on as the federal agents ransacked the place, carrying off computers, documents and other material. These SWAT unites weren't raiding a huge meth lab, a Mafia headquarters, a nest of Hell's Angeles, or a terrorist bomb making hideout. The SWAT officers had no reason to believe that anyone of the Gibson premises was armed, a fugitive from the law, or in anyway dangerous. In fact, no one associated with the company had been charged with a crime. The place could have been searched by a couple of laid-off postal workers, well, maybe more than a couple. This is government work.

     Pat Nolan, writing for National Review Online ("The Gibson Raid: Much to Fret About," September 27, 2011) describes the occasion for the SWAT raid this way: "The law that Gibson allegedly violated is the Lacey Act, which bars importation of wildlife or plants if it breaks the laws of the country of origin. It was intended to stop poachers. The ebony and rosewood that Gibson imported was harvested legally, and the Indian government approved the shipment of the wood. But Fish and Wildlife bureaucrats claim that, because the wood was not finished by Indian workers, it broke Indian law. In other words, a U.S. agency is enforcing foreign labor laws that the foreign government doesn't even think were violated."

     So what's really going on here? According to Henry Juszkiewcz, Gibson's Chairman and CEO, it's federal harassment and intimidation. Juszkiewcz has stated that the seizures (this was the third raid) and resulting manufacturing disruptions, have cost the company more than $1 million.

     In my book, "SWAT Madness," regarding modern shock-and-awe policing, I wrote: "Stunning the enemy with overpowering, high-tech ordinance as a prelude to a full-scale military invasion, while effective as a combat stategy, is not a suitable approach for ordinary, everyday law enforcement."  Regarding the trend town federalizing criminal law and law enforcement: "Police authority has become increasingly centralized through the federalization of criminal law. In the 1960's, there were fewer than 1,000 federal crimes. Today, there are 4,450 federal offenses and dozens of federal law enforcement agencies staffed by thousands of armed officers. The FBI alone fields 56 SWAT teams. Several other federal agencies have SWAT-type units such as the Special Response Team of the Bureau of Alcohol Tax and Firearms (ATF), the Special Operations Group of the U.S. Marshals Office, and the Special Response Team of the U.S. Immigration and Custums Enforcement (ICE) Office....Even the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has its own SWAT Team."

     At the time I wrote that last sentence, I wondered how the Fish & Wildlife people would inappropriately utilize their SWAT teams. (Once you get a SWAT team, whether you need it or not, you have to use it.) I figured it would take imagination on their part to abuse their power this way, and I was right.