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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Whackademia: Nutty Professors 2

The Phantom Professor

     During the 2009-2010 academic year, Venetia Orcutt, an assistant professor in George Washington University's department of Physician Assistant Studies, went AWOL from class in two of her courses. She just didn't show up. Students who signed up for these teacherless courses, however, all received As. This went on for two semesters. After someone finally came forward, the dean of the medical school fired Orcutt and announced that the students who had not attended her classes would still get credit for the teacherless courses.

     In college, grades are a form of currency. Being a professor is a lot like being able to print money. Like money, grades can be used by academic slackers to buy the silence of  students in a conspiracy of fruad against parents, taxpayers, and alumni contributors. Professor Orcutt, had she not reached for the moon, might have gotten away with her scam indefinately. I'm sure many professors have.

Students or Guinea Pigs?

     Oklahoma University placed assistant professor Chad Kerksick on leave of absence following accusations from his Health and Exercise Students that, as a part of his research, he injected them with substances that caused pain and bruising. The university, on September 2, 2011, removed Kerksick from his duties. After the professor challenged the school's right to remove his tenure-track position, the university agreed to pay Kerksick $75,000 and give him one year of unpaid leave during which time he could look for a teaching position elsewhere.

     As a retired criminal justice professor who worked at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania for thirty years (and actually showed up for class and didn't taser my students for a paper on nonlethal force), I now realize I was working at the wrong university. I should have been in Oklahoma.

Publish or Perish

     Emory University Professor Mark Bauerlein, in a recent paper, argues that professors who teach English Literature spend far too much time writing books, essays, reviews, and dissertations, stuff that nobody reads. According to the Modern Language Association, the number of these scholarly works published every year in the fields of English and foreign languages and literature has climbed from 13,757 in 1959 to 70,000 a  year. This glut of dense, arcane babble is not only killing innocent trees, it's keeping the writers of this unreadable stuff from teaching classes and interacting with students. Unless academic administrators eliminate publication as a prerequisite of academic advancement and tenure, trees will continue to fall and students will be taught by graduate assistants. (And English departments will continue to be called "Anguish" departments.)

No Snacks, No Class

     At California State University at Sacramento, students in professor George Parrott's Psychology 101 lab class, were required to bring homemade snacks each week to the laboratory. If the professor didn't get his snacks, a policy he established in the early 1970s, he canceled the class. Over the years, the professor's students went along with the joke without complaint. But a few weeks ago, when students in the professor's morning section of Foundations of Behavorial Research failed to bring muffins, professor Parrott walked out of the lab.

     On November 23, members of the Psychology Department ruled that professor Parrott's decision to walk out of class because his students had violated his homemade snack rule, was unacceptable. So, the dean told professor Parrott, who is retiring at the end of the year, to teach without snacks. (It's hard to image all of this was news to Parrott's teaching colleagues.) Since I didn't major in psychology, I am not equipped to figure out what in the hell was going on with this teacher, or his department.      

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Missing Prosecutor: What Happened to Ray Gricar?

     On April 15, 2005, Centre County (Pennsylvania) prosecutor Ray Gricar told his girlfriend he was going out for a drive. The 59-year-old district attorney didn't return, and his body is still missing. No one knows where he is or what happened to him. While women and children go missing every day, some to be found alive and others not, it's not everyday that a prosecutor, or any public official for that matter, disappears. The Gricar disappearance was a mystery in 2005, and more than six years later, as a result of its possible connection to the Penn State scandal, it has become a mystery that crys out once again for a solution.

     The Gricar case reminds us that coincidence can be the investigator's worst enemy. If the prosecutor's disappearace is not related to the Jerry Sandusky case, then suicide seems to be the most reasonable explanation. If the two matters are in some way connected, one has to add homicide to the equasion. Put bluntly, the question is this: Did someone murder Ray Gricar to cover up the Penn State sex molestation scandal?

     In 1980, attorney Ray Gricar moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, the seat of government in Centre County ten miles northeast of State College, the home of Penn State. Gricar was elected district attorney of the county in 1985. Nine months before he planned to retire from office in 2005, the twice-divorced prosecutor went missing.

The Missing Persons Investigation

     After not returning home on April 15, 2005, the police found Gricar's vehicle parked in an antiques market parking lot in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania fifty miles east of Bellefonte. Three months later, his lap top computer was found, missing its hard drive, in the Susquehanna River. In October 2005, the damaged and useless hard drive was found up river from where police had found Gricar's lap top. On his home computer, Gricar had recently researched how to destroy a hard drive.

     On July 25, 2011, at the request of the missing prosecutor's daughter, a Centre County judge declared Gricar legally deceased. Among the people Gricar had recently prosecuted, none of them surfaced as suspects in Gricar's disappearance.

The Sandusky Connection

     Early in 1998, the mother of an 11-year-old boy reported to the Penn State Univeristy Police that assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had made her son feel uncomfortable in the locker room shower. Coach Sandusky, according to the mother, had hugged her son while both of them were nude. University police detective Ronald Shreffler conducted the investigation which included an audo recording of the mother's confrontation with Coach Sandusky over the incident. The mother asked Sandusky if he had been sexually aroused by his physical contact with her son, and if his "private parts" had touched the boy. The coach did not deny being in the shower with her son. Regarding the arousal question, Sandusky said, "I don't think so...maybe. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won't get it from you. I wish I were dead." Acording to subsequent testimony before a grand jury looking into the case, the boy, referred to as victim # 6, described how coach Sandusky lathered him up with soap then said, "I'm going to squeeze your guts out."

     Prosecutor Gricar, in my view, had enough evidence against Jerry Sandusky to support Indecent Assault, Corruption of a Minor, and Child Endangerment convictions. The district attorney chose, however, not to pursue the case. Had he done so, more victims may have surfaced the way they are coming forward now, and Penn State would have been scandalized then instead of now. Coach Joe Paterno may or may not have been fired. Who knows how many molestation victims would have been spared had prosecutor Gricar taken action in 1998.

     Shortly after the grand jury testimony of victim # 6, Jerry Sandusky, at age 57, resigned from Penn State coaching. He did not however, leave town or the campus.

The Speculation

     I would imagine that most people familiar with the case believe that Ray Gricar is dead. Dr. Cyril Wecht, former Allegheny County Medical Examiner and famed forensic pathologist, has publicly said that Gricar may have committed suicide over guilt he could have protected more children. Dr. Wecht has not ruled out the possibility of homicide motivated by someone who didn't want the prosecutor re-opening a case against coach Sandusky.

     Robert Buehner, the district attorney for nearby Montour County and longtime friend of Gricar's, doesn't believe there is any connection between the disappearance and the Sandusky case. Rejecting the probability of suicide, Buehner thinks it's more likely that Gricar had been the target of a violent criminal he had prosecuted or was in the midst of prosecuting.

The Future of the Gricar Case

     Without a body there is no way to know what killed Ray Gricar. That means there is no way to determine how he had died. Unless someone comes forward with a credible confession and information that leads to Gricar's remains, the case will remain in limbo. The matter will eventually be forgotten, but until then, at least as long as the Sandusky case is in the news, the speculation will continue.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Role of Fans in the Penn State Scandal

     Although I prefer the Pittsburgh Steelers to other NFL teams, watch PGA golf during the winter months, and enjoy HBO and ESPN boxing, I cannot call myself a real sports fan. I guess I'm a little defensive about this because not being an avid fan is kind of un-American. I just can't imagine myself waving a terrible towel, painting my face team colors, or having my day ruined because the Steelers lost a game. ( While this probably reveals a latent cruel streak,I've often wondered what it feels like for face-painters leaving the stadium after their team has lost.) Outside my dentist's office, I've never leafed through a "Golf Digest" or "Sports Illustrated." (Coming across one of these publications in Barnes and Noble conjurs up bad memories.) If it weren't for the fast-forward control, I wouldn't watch any sports on TV. Golf announcers--I guess they prefer sports broadcasters--are really annoying with their slobbering Tiger Woods hero-worship, and their obsession with the mechanics of the golf swing. (I doubt that people who actually play golf understand any of that golf swing terminology. No kidding, it's brutal.) And the golfers themselves hang over putts longer that it will take me to write this blog. Now that I think about it, why do I watch golf at all?

     While I'm obviously not an avid sports fan, I'm fascinated with fandom itself. The subject interests me because I've never really understood it. Peter Abrahams' 1995 book "The Fan," is one of my favorite novels. In this beautifully written, tightly plotted story, the fan, in the person of Gil Renard, is fixated on a slugger with the Chicago White Sox. As the plot unfolds, the unemployed knife salesman turns from an obessive fan into a murderous maniac. In the 1996 film version, Renard, a rabid San Francisco Giants fan, is played by Robert De Niro.

     The Penn State scandal, besides the horrors of child molestation, is also about the nature of sports fandom in America. Except for the victims, all of the main characters are former athletes and coaches. And the alleged crimes have scandalized and demoralized tens of thousands of Penn State football fans. In the sports world, no fans are more avid than Penn State supporters. Many of them are worried that the sex scandal will cost the team a prestigious postseason bowl game invitation. The school could end up playiing in the--this is no joke--Mieneke Car Care Bowl in Houston.This devotion to sports presents an interesting but difficult question: had Jerry Sandusky been a history professor instead of a Penn State football coach, how long would it have taken for someone to report him to the authorities? And once reported, how long would it have taken to get him indicted? Thirty-five years?

     According to a recent poll, 51 percent of Pennsylvanians still have a positive view of former coach Joe Paterno. Twenty-one percent aren't sure how they feel about him. Of the men polled, 59 percent still support the coach. Only 3 percent have a positive view of Jerry Sandusky, the alleged child molester Paterno failed to report to the police. Thirty-eight percent don't even think Paterno should have been fired. On that issue seventeen percent aren't sure.

     The only way I can make sense of the above statistics is in the context of sports fandom. Penn State football fans have loved Joe Paterno for making their lives as football fans so rich and fulfilling. If he and Jerry Sandusky had been history professors, they would have been run out of town on a rail, and we wouldn't be talking about the story. In American, I don't think you can under estimate the power of fandom. That's what makes it so fascinating for people like me.         

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Walmartology: Crime in Consumerland 4

     So-called "serious" writers of literary fiction, in hundreds of pretentious, unreadable award-winning novels, have for decades portrayed Americans as frenzied consumers who mindlessly eat, polute, and shop until obesity, pharmaceuticals, boredom, and booze puts them in their pre-purchased, overpriced graves.

     After nine-eleven, President Bush told us to dust ourselves off and shop. Today, retail consumers line-up around the block to buy the latest high-tech gizmo. Customers camp out overnight in the vast spaces of box store parking lots. A fake doctor is caught injecting cement into the butts of women who have exercised their asses off. (Sorry, I dropped that in because I might not find another place to use it.)

     Black Friday has become, like Superbowl Sunday, a defacto holiday. On Black Friday we spend money we don't have, and on Superbowl Sunday we eat bad food and get drunk. All of this plays into the above novelistic theme that might be becoming more than a literary stereotype.

     At four in the morning on Black Friday 2008, two thousand bargain hunters were pressed against the sliding glass doors of a Long Island Walmart. As opening time neared, six brave Walmart employees lined up against the quivering glass doors in an effort to hold back the mob. Eventually, under the weight of the pulsating retail mass, the doors snapped loose and the crowd stampeded into the store. The frenzied bargain hounds knocked a 34-year-old Walmart employee to the ground and trampled him to death. Several other shoppers and employees were bowled over, but survived the onslaught.

     On Thanksgiving 2011, a Black Friday early-bird shopper at a Los Angeles area Walmart, pepper-sprayed several customers to keep them from getting their sweaty hands on merchandise the spritzer fancied. One shopper landed in the hospital while the other casualities were treated on the retail battlefield. The pepper-spray combatant escaped capture by disappearing into the mob with the spoils of battle.

     In Walmart and other stores across the country, several Black Friday shoppers were robbed and shot. Also, in-store fights broke out causing injuries, knocked over displays, and trampled merchandise. In Phoenix, police slammed a grandfather to the ground on suspicion he had shoplifted a game. The shopper had stuck the item into his waistband to free up his hands to lift his grandson above the mob.

     Shopping on Black Friday is not for the faint of heart, or even the moderately courageous. This Black Friday, 152 million shoppers hit the stores.  Americans need their stuff, and some of us are willing to stand in line, camp out, and even fight for our things while muggers lurk between the cars, SUVs and trucks waiting to ambush us as we come out of the stores. There's got to be a better way. Wait, there is, the internet! And that's called Cyber Monday.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bishop Sam Mullet: Amish Outlaw

     Whenever an Amish man gets his name in the paper, or is seen on television, it's because he has run afoul of the law. That's because the Amish, unlike their English counterparts, avoid calling attention to themselves. The crimes that bring unwanted publicity to these private people are mostly petty, and usually involve alcohol and Amish boys in their teens.

     Edward Gingerich got on TV and in the regional press after he stomped his wife to death in 1993. My mass market paperback about the case, Crimson Stain, made him the most notorious Amish man in the country, perhaps the world. Earlier this year, when he hanged himself in a barn, he briefly popped up in the news. If his name comes up again in print or on TV, it will be as a deceased relative of an Amish law breaker.

     Sam Mullet, the 66-year-old bishop of an eighteen-family Amish enclave in and around the village of Bergholz, Ohio, has been in and out of the local news for almost ten years. The cult-like leader of a renegade group at odds with the larger Amish community in central and eastern Ohio, Mullet has been accused of beating and brainwashing members of his clan as well as having sex with a number of married Amish women. In September 2008, Mullet's son Chris pleaded guilty to three counts of unlawful sexual conduct with two minors in 2003 and 2004.

     In my book, Swat Madness, I wrote about a 2007 SWAT raid on a Bergholz Amish school house. In that raid, Jefferson County Sheriff Frank Abdalia, a longtime Mullet adversary, seized the children of a Bergholz Amish man who claimed that members of Mullet's enclave had sexually molested his children. The complaintant's wife, Wilma Troyer, had refused to let her husband take their children to another community.

     During a three week period in late September and early October 2011, men from the Bergholz group, allegedly on Sam Mullet's orders, invaded Amish dwellings in Holmes and other Ohio counties where the intruders forceably cut the hair and beards off the men, and shaved the heads of the Amish women. These terroristic raids were intended to degrade, intimidate, and humiliate the targets of Sam Mullet's wrath. The bishop had allegedly asked his raiders to bring back photographs and clippings of his victims' hair as proof his orders had been carried out.  (According to author and Amish scholar Donald B. Kraybill, mens' beards and the uncut hair that married Amish women roll into buns are treasured symbols of religious identity.)

     On October 8, 2011, Sheriff Abdalia's deputies arrested Sam Mullet's sons, 38-year-old Johnny and 53-year-old Lester. The deputies also arrested Levi and Lester Miller. Johnny and Lester Mullet were charged with burglary and kidnapping in connection with the hair and beard cutting home invasions in Holmes, Carroll, and Trumbell Counties. Shortly after their arrests, the Amishmen were released after making bail.

     FBI agents and Jefferson County deputies, on November 22, arrested Sam Mullet, three of his sons, and three others from his clan on federal civil rights charges as well as a number of state violations related to the hate crime home invasions. The United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio said, "While people are free to disagree about religion in this country, we don't settle those disagreements with late night visits, dangerous weapons, and violant attacks."

     Articles about Sam Mullet that included photographs appeared in the New York Times and hundreds of newspapers across the country. CNN and Fox News aired segments on the FBI arrests. Suddenly Sam Mullet and his local band of Amish outlaws were national news figures, an extremely rare event in the Amish world. While the Amish abhor notoriety, the media loves it because people are fascinated with Amish culture. Although stories like this tell us virtually nothing about how the Amish really live, they provide the illusion of accessibility into the darkest corners of Amish life.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Why do the police use force?

Most people, it seems, have condemned the use of pepper spray on the UC-Davis student protesters. On the more general question of when and where tools of this kind (for example, Tasers) should be used, there is some disagreement (two excellent summaries of the debate are in The New York Times and at Inside Higher Ed).

I had a fairly vigorous discussion with my students yesterday about this, and the tenor and contour of it reminded me of debates over water-boarding (still approved by many; see the recent endorsements of torture by supposed Christian-values candidate Michele Bachmann).

There are two important distinctions to draw in cases involving police force and the military use of torture:

1. Whether using force in a given circumstance is necessary or merely convenient. Using force is a favorite tool of the lazy and incompetent. It is harder to get people to 'do' things, like confess to a crime, reveal information, or move out of a public space, by talking to them. Being a good police officer requires a lot of restraint and patience, and it also requires good 'people' skills. Having pepper spray or a Taser (or water-boarding) at one's disposal is a temptation to skip the hard work of convincing people to cooperate. In the UC case, the police officer did not appear to consider any alternative (including a less painful use of force) before employing the spray.

2. Whether force is used because it is effective or because it is emotionally satisfying. There is little to no evidence that torture actually produces actionable information. Still, anyone who has watched Jack Bauer on 24 or Detective Sipowicz on NYPD Blue knows that torture can be very emotionally satisfying-- as long as the person being tortured is clearly seen by the audience as 'the bad guy.' Pepper spray and Tasers do produce compliance! I suspect, however, that police officers often use them to dole out punishment as pleasure or revenge. 

Limits on the government's use of violence is a core American political value and one of the things that supposedly makes us 'exceptional.' Asking the police and military to use force only when necessary and effective is itself necessary, and, in the long run, more effective.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Close your eyes and think of the Marlboro Man

The Australian government is attempting to reduce smoking by forcing cigarette companies to adopt packaging containing off-putting design features and repugnant images of cancer caused by cigarette consumption. I guess they figure that you won't want to smoke if, in the act of drawing a cigarette out of the pack, you are fighting throwing up in your mouth.

Predictably, this has resulted in a massive lawsuit. In the United States, there would be a decent chance that these kinds of regulations would violate the First Amendment.

I love free speech issues, but I think the more interesting question here is this: If the Australian government, and by extension the Australian people, are so bothered by the negative effects of smoking, why don't they just outlaw cigarettes? The libertarian in me wants the government to either do what they so clearly want to do-- criminalize smoking-- and take the heat, or let people smoke and suffer the consequences.

What do you think?

Whackademia: Nutty Professors

Kennesaw, Georgia
     On December 6, 2010, the police in this town 20 miles north of Atlanta, arrested a 57-year-old accounting professor for public indecency. The part time instructor at Kennesaw State University, amid a classroom rant about refusing to live up to other peoples' standards, stripped naked in front of fifty students. The next day the professor walked (fully clothed) out of jail on $5,000 bond.

     Not everyone exposed to the professor's exhibition came away from his unveiling shocked and appalled. According to one of the students who witnessed the public indecency (is a classroom public?), "He didn't flash us for some sick, perverted kick out of it." (That's probably why he wasn't charged with public exposure.) "I think he did it to make a point (no pun intended) loud and clear to his students. Live life without regrets and shame!" (Perhaps not a good message for future accountants.) "And always have an open heart, be forgiving and grateful. He is a very brave man." (Indeed.) "I respect him deeply." This feeling was not shared by the provost who quickly fired the courageous professor.

     I do not know the disposition of this case, but venture a guess this man is not in prison, or in academia.

Santa Fe, New Mexico
     The 71-year-old former president of the University of New Mexico was arrested in June 2011 for his alleged role in a massive online prostitution enterprise headed by a Fairleigh Dickinson University (New Jersey) physics professor. A political science professor before becoming president of the University of New Mexico (August 2002-July 2003), the arrestee posted a $100,000 bond and was released from custody.

     The online prostitution service arrange for sexual hook-ups and included a three-tiered hierarachy system whereby trusted "johns" could move up in status through certain acts with prostitutes. The highest level of access included a rating system for prostitutes as well as detailed information about prostitution stings.

     The professors of prostitution are awaiting trial.

San Bernardino, California
     A 43-year-old associate professor of kinesiology (the study of human movement) at California State University, San Bernardino, was arrested in September 2011 following the search of his home by deputies with the San Bernardino Sheriff's Office. The officers recovered more than a pound of methamphetamine, rifles, handguns, and body armor. Also, as evidence the professor was president of the local chapter of the Devils Diciple Motorcycle Club, deputies found biker vests and other motorcycle gang paraphernalia. The authorities believe the professor has been involved in the distribution of drugs to a network of dealers in California. The case is pending.

Nassau County, New York
     On November 18, a former New York City police officer turned criminal justice professor at Long Island University accidentally shot himself in the leg and groin just before the start of class. The professor was about to give a test when his concealed handgun went off while he was "securing the weapon." He is expected to recover fully. As a former criminal justice professor myself, I know how dangerous students can be, particularly after you have given them a test. While I never carried a piece, I did keep my eye on the D students, and never got too far from the door.
    

The Occupy Movement and the Bathwater

At the Saturday "faith and values" forum for Republican candidates for president, Newt Gingrich took all of us back in a rhetorical time machine to the late 1960s, dismissing Occupy protesters with a wave as lazy, smelly hippies. What advice does he have for the protesters? "Go get a job right after you take a bath."

As I asserted in an earlier post, the Occupiers have largely failed to take advantage of their remarkable publicity. Others, of course, are happy to pick up their slack and use the Occupy Movement to advance their own goals. Conservative politicians and voters, for example, thrill with horror at examples of people driven mad by the welfare-state entitlement virus. See what happens when you have an out-of-control welfare state? The Occupy Movement.

Once the messenger has been co-opted, the empirical accuracy of its assertions can be safely ignored. Have we developed a country with vast inequalities in wealth and income? Could it have a corrosive effect on the stability of the economy and the political system? Answer: The protesters are aimless, lazy, and dirty!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Natalie Wood's Death: Accident or Murder?

     If you're familiar with the name Natalie Wood, you're probably either a film or true crime buff. However, in the 1960s and 70s, the film star was a household name married to the actor Robert Wagner. She died suddenly and violently on November 29, 1981, and according to the orthodox version of her death, she died by accidental drowning. At that time, Wood's death was news because she was a movie star. Today, it's news because the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office has re-opened the case as a possible homicide.

      There were only a few doubters at the time of Wood's death. Most people accepted the following story of how the 43-year-old actress died: On the evening of her demise, Wood had dinner with her husband and actor Christopher Walken at Doug's Harbour Reef on Catalina Island off the Los Angeles coast. After their dinner, accompanied by alcholol, the three actors returned to Wagner's yacht "Splendour" where they continued drinking. An argument broke out between the two men. As the story goes, Walken had angered Wagner by suggesting that Wood put her acting career ahead of her husband and their children. After Wood took leave of the men, the actors calmed down and bid each other goodnight. Wood was not in the stateroom upon Wagner's return. He heard a noise on deck and assumed his wife was unsecuring a dinghy roped to the yacht. Wagner figured his angry wife was going ashore on her own in the little boat. Several hours later, Wood's body was discovered floating in the ocean. She was wearing a long nightgown, socks, and a down jacket. The dinghy was located a mile from the yacht, and a mile from where they found Wood's body. When officials boarded the yacht to inform Wagner of the discovery of his wife's corpse, Wagner asked the captain of the boat, Dennis Davern, to identifiy the body for him. And the captain did.

     Los Angeles County Coroner and Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Noguchi performed the autopsy. Known as "the coroner to the stars," Dr. Noguchi had autopsied, among other celebrities, Marilyn Monroe, Robert F. Kennedy, Janis Joplin, William Holden, John Belushi, and Sharon Tate. Regarding Natalie Wood, Noguchi ruled she had died from accidental drowning. The forensic pathologist considered the bruise on Wood's left cheek and the several other abrasions on her body consistent with accidentally falling off the boat. Noguchi wrote about the autopsy in his 1983 bestseller, Coroner.

     The vast majority of drowning deaths are accidental. A few are suicidal, and the rest are homicides. While an autopsy can establish the cause of death in such cases (asphxia), the manner of death is usually determined by an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the drowning. Did the deceased fall into the water, jump in, or did someone throw the victim into the drink against his will? Forensic pathology alone will seldom answer those questions.

     In 2000, Vanity Fair published an article about the Natalie Wood case that featured an interview of the Wagner yacht captain, Dennis Davern. Davern had been the fourth person on the yacht that night. Although he had not said this to investigators in 1981, Davern claimed that Natalie Wood had been killed by her husband, Robert Wagner. He said he had heard the couple arguing loudly just before she went missing. According to the captain's more recent story, Wagner had coached him on what to say to the police after Wagner had waited four hours before calling the coastguard. Davern's critics have accused him of fishing for a lucrative book deal.

     In 2009, Davern's version of the case appeared in "Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour" a book he co-authored with his friend Marti Rulli. The captain's shocking accusation gained little attention in the media. True crime books featuring revisionist accounts of old celebrated cases are common. This week, however, the media has been all over the story because the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office has reopened the case.

     Lieutenant John Corina, at an afternoon press conference on Friday, November 18, said that Robert Wagner was not a suspect in Natalie Wood's death. Obviously, if the manner of death is changed to homicide, who else would emerge as the suspect--Christopher Walken? Dennis Davern?  "We're going to re-interview some people, talk to some new people, and reevaluate some evidence," Corina said. According to the lieutenant, the intense media coverage has led to several tips his officers would be following up. Good luck with that. Tips generated by media exposure almost always consist of useless stuff from a motely crew of mentally unbalanced, lonely people who often claim psychic powers. Following up on these dead-end leads consumes a lot of time.

     I will be surprised if the new investigation results in proof that Natalie Wood was murdered. But, like most crime buffs, I will be following the case closely, and writing about it here. If you have a tip on the case, please notify the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office.

UPDATE

     A witness has come forward with new information regarding the circumstances surrounding Natalie Wood's death. Marilyn Wayne says that at eleven oclock on the night the actress went into the ocean, Wayne and her boyfriend, on a nearby craft, heard a woman scream, "Help me, I'm drowning!" The couple heard these cries for up to fifteen minutes. Wayne has told investigators with the Los Angeles County Sherif's Office that she and her boyfriend could see nothing in the dark. They called the harbor patrol but no one answered. They called for a helicopter but it didn't arrive. According to this witness, the police never questioned her or her boyfriend. Moreover, she received a threatening note cautioning her to remain silent. Assuming this witness is telling the truth, I see nothing here that would prompt the authorities to change the manner of death from accidental to homicide. This will probably not be the last witness to be drawn into the limelight by all of the media attention.

    

Policing the Police

     Police departments cannot police themselves anymore than federal politicians can resist using insider information to make killings in the stock market. Politicians get rich and police officers get away with their corruption and misbehavior. Departmental internal affairs units put in place to unearth and investigate police corruption, wrongdoing and misconduct, are, for the most part, window-dressing.

     In New York City, recent cases of police corruption were not uncovered by the department's Internal Affairs Bureau but exposed by outside agencies such as the FBI and the Queens District Attorney's Office. The Mayor's Commission to Combat Police Corruption, a tiny group responsible for monitoring the Internal Affairs Bureau, has no subpoena power and must rely on the department's good will. The watchdog group is therefore toothless.

     Recently, outside agencies uncovered, within the NYPD, cases of evidence planting (drugs), gun smuggling, and a false arrest to cover the crime of a cop's cousin. In the recent NYPD ticket-fixing scandal (see: "They Still Fix Tickets?" October 30, 2011), a scheme uncovered by the Internal Affairs Bureau, internal affairs investigators initially did not want to pursue the case, directing detectives to focus more narrowly on the drug case (involving an officer) that uncovered the racket. Also, one of the IA officers on the case has been indicted for leaking information to the subjects of the inquiry.

     Law enforcement agencies that investigate their own police involved shooting cases almost always justify the use of deadly force. Every year, in numerous cases, after officers have been cleared in-house, outisde agencies draw contrary conclusions. Because cops generally do not trust outsiders, often have things to hide, and by nature are a bit paranoid, they will always resist outside, independent monitoring.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cop Versus Cop: The Law Enforcement Brawl in South Florida

     Florida State Trooper Donna Jane Watts, in the early morning hours of October 11, spotted a Miami police cruiser speed past her in the southbound lanes of the Florida Turnpike. In following the cruiser with her lights flashing and siren blazing, Trooper Watts reached speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour. The pursuing trooper's supervisors at headquarters repeatedly radioed Watts to "back off," but she didn't

     When the Miami officer, Fausto Lopez, finally pulled over, Watts approached the police car with her gun drawn. She then handcuffed him and escorted him to her vehicle, all the while berating Lopez for reckless driving. For his part, Lopez remained docile, even polite. Trooper Watts released the Miami officer after writing him a ticket for reckless driving.

     By stopping and ticketing Lopez, Trooper Watts violated a sacred, unwritten rule of police conduct: never pull over a fellow officer for a traffic violation. According to this silent code of procedure, Watts should have kicked the problem upstairs so police administrators could cover it up. Speaking about the incident to the press, North Miami Police Major Bob Lynch, a law enforcement training instructor, said both officers were wrong: Lopez for driving recklessly, and Watts for handcuffing a fellow cop. Most civilians, however, seemed to side with Trooper Watts. It was not surprising that Miami Police Department's police union spokesperson harshly criticized the Florida trooper.

     Bad feelings between the two agencies flared up when an unidentified Miami Police officer (or supporter), in retaliation for Lopez's traffic stop, dumped five gallons of human excrement on a state patrol car parked in front of a trooper's house. And tensions heightened a few days later when a Miami patrol officer pulled over a Florida State Trooper for a traffic violation. In this instance, as it turned out, the trooper's brother happened to work in the Miami Police Department's Internal Affairs Division.

     In an editorial published in The Miami Herald on November 12, the author wrote: "Police solidarity has plunged ignobly into senseless acts that stink as much as the poop thrown on a state trooper's car last week. A few Miami officers--or their supporters--appear to be out of control...."

     This law enforcement feud comes at a time when the Miami-Dade Police Department is under attack for a rash of questionable police involved shootings. So far this year, Miami-Dade officers have shot 21 people, killing 17 of them. New York City Police, by comparison, have this year shot 14, killing 7.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Prison for Paterno?

     A reader has asked a question a lot of people are asking. Assuming the child molestation charges against Jerry Sandusky are true, could Joe Paterno go to prison? Given the sex abuse reporting law in Pennsylvania, and the fact no jury would convict an 84-year-old football icon, I think the more relevant question is this: Does Joe Paterno have any moral responsibility for the boys' molestations by his close friend?

     In a November 12 article entitled, "Joe Paterno's Troubling Attitude Toward Sex Charges," published in "The Daily Beast," Nick Summers writes: "To many, Paterno's fall from grace came as a sudden and stunning shock. But in recent years, the football regime over which he presided like a god had begun to show signs of ethical decay." Having analyzed lesser sex-related scandals involving several of Paterno's players, Summers concludes that the legondary coach didn't consider such matters a big deal.

     Former Pittsburgh Steeler and Penn State running back Franco Harris apparently doesn't think his former coach has moral responsibility for the molestations that took place under Paterno's watch. After calling the officials at Penn State "cowards" for firing Paterno, Harris lost his TV spokesman/meet-and-greet celebrity gig at the Pittsburgh area Meadows Race Track and Casino. In the wake of his defense of Paterno, the board of a Pittsburgh charitable scholarship organization voted to remove Harris from its ranks. Sometimes free speech isn't free. And sometimes you end up eating your own words.

     Before the Penn State scandal plays itself out, I think we will know the degree to which coach Paterno is morally responsible for the molestation of Sandusky's alleged victims.  

UPDATE

     Penn State trustees on November 21 announced that former FBI director Louis Freeh will head an independent, private investigation into the child molestation scandal. At a press conference, Freeh said his investigation team has established its own toll-free hotline for tips. The NCAA has also launched an investigation into the matter. With four parallel investigations underway, the Penn State campus will be crawling with investigators for the foreseeable future.

The Pedophile Problem

     Anyone who follows the news regularly comes across stories about boys who have been repeatedly sexually molested by relatives, neighbors, mothers' boyfriends, teachers, priests, ministers, Boy Scout Leaders, coaches, and youth counselors. These accounts tend to have the same narrative arc: following years of suspicious behavior and rumors of molestation, someone finally comes forward to report the crimes. After a plea bargained sentence, families of the victims sue the pedophile's school, church or institution, and if the offender is a public employee, the city or the state. Following this, local politicians and others call for measures that will protect future victims. But it never shops. Why?

     While we are familiar with the general profile of the adult male who preys on boys under thirteen, we have no idea how many of them are out there working in our schools, juvenile facilities, churches, and day care centers. Dr. Gene Abel, an expert in this field, has estimated that between 1 and 5 percent of our adult population sexually molests children. If this is true, there are hundreds of thousands of them among us victimizing millions of youngsters. Because pedophiles are serial offenders who cannot be cured or rehabilitated, the victimization rates for this type of offense are through the roof. According to studies, before being caught for the first time, the average pedophile assaults 120 boys. Once released from prison, a vast majority of them reoffend. Since only a small percentage of pedophiles end up in prison, who knows how many children are victimized during the sex life of just one of these criminals.?

     Although conscientious parents teach their children to be wary of strangers, most cases of pedophilia involve preditors who are either related to or acquainted with the boy. The most vulnerable targets are "at-risk" youths from dysfunctional families.

     Pedophiles flourish in our society because, in matters of criminal justice, we are taught to be careful with out accusations. No one wants to be part of a "witch hunt." Moreover, if you make a false accusation, you can be sued. Besides pedophiles, America is home to a lot of lawyers. According to the FBI, only between 1 to 5 percent of child molestation crimes are reported to the police. I believe it's more like one percent. According to one study of 255 cases involving students sexually molested by their teachers, in only one percent of these cases did the school district superintendent attempt to revoke the offenders' teaching licenses.

     Pedophilia is a crime of stealth, single-minded and clever offenders, frightened victims, and, on the part of people who should intercede on the child's behalf, denial. Pedophiles are often charming, hard-working employees who have ingratiated themselves into the community. Nothwithstanding the increased awareness of this crisis, it wil not go away. Unfortunately, there are certain social problems that cannot be fixed by a criminal justice system. At least not ours.

Walmartology: Crime in Consumerland 3

     On November 15, a man in his twenties in Knoxville, Tennessee became the third Walmart shoplifter this year to be shot by the police. (See: "Shooting Shoplifters at Walmart," November 10, 2011) When the Knoxville officers arrived at the scene, they encountered two shoplifting suspects being interrogated in the loss prevention office by a store detective. One of the suspected retail thieves became violent, and in the struggle, produced an unspecified weapon that lead to his shooting and death. The store remained open. With Christmas on the horizon, why let a little gunplay interrupt the shopping? If I worked at Walmart I'd request that my "May I Help You" vest be bulletproof.

UPDATE

   The police identified the man shot in the Walmart security office as 21-year-old Zachary Blaine Russell. He was on probation following several theft convictions. Store personnel had detained Russell for concealing small appliance light bulbs in his clothing. In the loss prevention office, Russell had pulled a small caliber handgun. Russell's death marks the fourth police involved shooting this year in Knoxville.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An Autopsy of the Occupy Movement

The Occupy movement, as an agent of change, is likely over. Active members in the movement have to date failed to follow a few basic tenets of social organizing.

For one, the movement never translated their abstract concerns (inequality in wealth, for example) into specific objectives. A concrete goal motivates members of the movement, allows for the formulation and assignment of tasks, and provides the movement with momentum and legitimacy for the next battle when they generate 'wins.' Even the Tea Party movement, which was and is pretty nebulous, had the goal of kicking certain people out of office or electing certain candidates. What do the Occupiers actually want to see happen? No one really knows.

Identifying a specific set of desired changes also allows activists to identify the decision makers that would effect the change. The Occupiers are attempting to scare politicians and capitalists, but there isn't one specific person or institution that they are pressuring. Who is supposed to do what? Again, no one really knows.

The other major problem is that the Occupier philosophy of how a political movement should work-- extreme non-hierarchical democratic deliberation-- is just not an effective way to get things done. Generally, social movements need leaders and some hierarchical decision making, whether formal or informal (some charismatic leader or leaders who command respect and deference). Sometimes the hierarchy is borrowed from existing institutions. The American civil rights movement relied heavily on churches and church leaders, for example.

The movement, in this re-occupy phase, is in danger of being relegated to a comfortable and harmless cultural space. For the last few weeks, sympathetic spectators basked in the warm glow of outrage. Those spectators, however, were not challenged and mobilized to actually do anything about inequality of wealth and influence in America. The movement was like a good movie-- a vehicle for emotional release without consequence.

The actual Occupiers, meanwhile, are energized by having to fight for their survival. Instead of being forced to figure out how to effect real change, they will likely focus their attention on battles over camping rights and police brutality. This is tempting, because there is a concrete goal to accomplish (retaking public spaces) and the outrage itself is specific and felt daily.

Focusing on re-occupation, however, would be a false cure: It would transform the Occupy movement from a means by which the American system was to be reformed to an end in itself. Like a faded movie star on reality television, the movement would exist only to continue existing. It might hang on a while longer, but the rest of us will have already changed the channel.

Criminal Intent in the Sandusky Case

     In life and in law, actions speak louder than words. Jerry Sandusky, the center of the Penn State child molestation scandal, recently and publicly admitted to a TV sportscaster that he touched boys while showering with them. While not a criminal confession, this is a powerful statement against interest that is to the point of being incriminating.

     Without the intent to gratify oneself sexually, touching a boy in a shower is not, by itself, a crime. But, under the circumstances, what other reason than sexual gratification would a grown man regularly participate in this form of behavior?

     In my view, it would be reasonable for a jury, in weighing Sandusky's words against his actions, to infer  the criminal intent necessary to convict him of a sexual offense. Assuming that no further evidence of his guilt is forthcoming, the former coach has just talked himself into prison.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Part-Time Congress?

Texas Governor Rick Perry floated a proposal today to make members of Congress serve part-time with a 50% cut in pay. As the New York Times noted, this has no chance of becoming reality—but realism is not a threshold test anymore for making a presidential candidate’s platform. If it ever was.


Have you ever said something out loud—something outrageous and stupid-- just to hear how it sounded coming out of your mouth? Just to taste it rolling off of your tongue, to make yourself cringe? This is what presidential candidates appear determined to do now every day, either by inclination or by design.


If this proposal were enacted, it would only serve to strengthen the power of the presidency. Given the size of the federal government (even just the part that relates to national defense), we could not have a similar part-time president. The oversight and balancing functions of Congress would be compromised, while the size and reach of the federal government would remain the same.


The irony is that Governor Perry is a self-proclaimed fan of old-time federalism, with a limited federal government role in American life. The key concern of the authors of the Constitution was less an out-of-control Congress than an out-of-control presidency. They were wary of even having a President at all (there was no chief executive or executive branch in the central government under the Articles of Confederation).


So for someone who rails against federal power to propose disabling Congress (which the framers thought would always be the dominant branch of the federal government) while leaving a powerful presidency makes no sense. This would be the worst version of a federal government.


But analyzing the logic of the proposal—or analyzing much of what goes on in presidential politics-- is perhaps like analyzing the logic of the color of the sky. The point isn’t to make sense of it but to appreciate its aesthetics. I am cringing. Mission accomplished.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ross H. Spencer: Armed and Humorous

     Private eye novelist Ross H. Spencer (1921-1998) is, in my view, one of the funniest fiction writers ever. Born in Hughart, West Virginia and raised in Hubbard and Youngstown, Ohio, Spence served in the Army in World War II (Bronze Star) and in the Air Force during the Korean conflict. After working in Chicago as a railroader, landscape contractor and chain link fence salesman and installer for forty-two years, the cigar-smoking, beer drinking writer returned to Youngstown with his wife Shirley.

    In his one-story house on North Dunlap Avenue on the west side of town, Spence built a model railroad layout and a bar in his basement where he regularly entertained a few close friends. I met Spence and Shirley in July 1990, and until his death eight years later, spent at least one night a week in his bar listening to Dixieland Zazz, classic country tunes, and music from the big band era. In 1992, we traveled to Chicago where Spence took me around to his former stomping grounds to meet some of his old beer drinking buddies. Spence knew a lot about baseball, and loved the Chicago Cubs. In football he hated the Bears and favored the Browns. As often revealed in his whacky, off-the-wall private eye yarns, Spence didn't think much of politicians, Bible-thumping preachers, or fakers of any kind.

    As a self-taught writer without a high school degree (he was kicked out of eleventh grade for smoking), Spence started writing at age 58. During his relatively short but intense writing career, he published thirteen novels. His first five books were mass market paperbacks published by Avon between 1978 and 1983. This series, begining with "The Da Da Caper," are written in an unique style of one-sentence paragraphs. From the "Da Da Caper:"

     That afternoon a little guy with straggly red hair and shiny blue eyes came in [to the PI's office].

     He said I want you to find out why my mother is receiving a lot of obscene telephone calls.

     I said well before we find out why we got to find out who.

     He said oh that's easy.

     He said I know who.

     I said who?

     He said me.

     He said but I don't know why.

     I sent him over to the Ammson Private Detective Agency.

     I said Ammson is absolutely tops in situations of this nature.

     Ross H. Spencer's remaining books initially came out in hardback, then were published as paperbacks. Several of them were also published in England, France, Italy and Japan. My favorites include: "Echoes of Zero," "Monastery Nightmare," "The Missing Bishop," "Kirby's Last Circus," and "Death Wore Gloves." Critics, including those at "The New York Times," compared his brand of humor to the works of Mark Twain, Ring Lardner, S. J. Perman, Groucho Marx, and Damon Runyon. I see similarites in his work to writers Donald Westlake, Elmore Leonard and Charles Bukowski. And you can throw in a pinch of Mickey Spillane.

     Spence gave me the title to my book "The Ghosts of Hopewell," a work I dedicated to him. He died on July 25, 1998, a year before the book came out. Tom Grimes, in his recent memoir, "Mentor," wrote: "Every writer is alone, and every good book is difficult to write." This is probably true for most writers, particularly the serious literary types, but it didn't apply to Ross Spencer. He was not only a happy guy, he loved to write. This is because Spence's talent far exceeded his literary ambition. Writers of "serious" fiction tend to be angst-ridden basket cases because their literary ambition exceeds their talent.

     All of Spence's books are available on Amazon.com. If you give him a try,  I think you'll thank me.

    

      

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Full Employment and Crime

     Since oil companies have been pumping crude out of the ground in northwestern North Dakota, crime rates have soared in the boomtowns of Williston and Watford. Hundreds of young male oil workers with money in their pockets and no families to go home to after work, has significantly driven up the rates of assault, rape, and a variety of alcohol related crimes. The loose money flowing through these towns has created criminal opportunities for armed robbers, burglars, prostitutes, drug dealers and swindlers. The understaffed police departments have been overwhelmed by the surge in the crimes against property and persons.

     When unemployment rates go down, crime rates do not necessarily go down with them. What causes crime is a complicated matter involving a combination of factors and variables. In this part of North Dakota, high employment has brought high crime.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Edgar Friedrichs, Jr.: The Profile of a Pedophile

     The recent allegations of pedophilia involving a former Penn State football coach during the years 1994 to 2009 reminds me of a murder case private investigator Dan Barber and I investigated ten years ago in central West Virginia. (Dan Barber, who works out of McKean, Pennsylvania, specializes in criminal cases.)

     On November 5, 2011, the police arrested 67-year-old Jerry Sandusky on charges he had sexually molested boys he'd met through The Second Mile, a charity he had founded in 1977 for at-risk youths. According to investigators, officials at the university knew of sexual accusations against the coach but failed to alert the authorities. According to one of Sandusky's accusers, a man now 27 years old, the coach initiated physical contact with boys in the locker room showers through a game he called "soap battle." According to this accuser, Sandusky had given him clothing, golf clubs, and hockey and football gear. He also gave the boy $50 to buy marijuana which the youngster smoked in his car. Sandusky drove this victim to The Second Mile functions and to Penn State football games. When the victim resisted Sandusky's advances, the coach, according to the allegations, threatened to send him home from the Alamo Bowl.

     In 2002, a Penn State graduate student reportedly saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a 10-year-old naked boy in a team locker room shower. The student reported the incident to head coarch Joe Paterno who passed the information on to athletic director Tim Curley. Paterno, when it became obvious this information had not gone any further, did not report Sandusky to law enforcement.

     Instead of falling on his sword for his role in the sex abuse scandal, Coach Paterno promised his team and his school he would complete the football season, then retire. No real coach would let a sex scandal distract him from the next big game. A day later the trustees, apparently more concerned about the scandal than beating Nebraska, fired Paterno. In response, a thousand PSU students took to the streets in protest.

Edgar Friedrichs and the Murder of Jeremy Bell

     In 1999, a professor at Edinboro University related to Jeremy Bell showed me a newspaper clipping featuring the 12-year-old's 1997 death in a cabin along the New River owned by 58-year-old Edgar Friedrichs, the boy's former teacher in Fayette County West Virginia. While the healthy boy had died suddenly under extremely suspicious circumstances, his death had not been investigated by the local authorities. As a result, when we begain our investigation, Friedrichs was still teaching in the local school system. It looked to us that he had gotten away with murder.

     After interviewing several of Friedrich's fellow teachers and a number of his former students, it became obvious that the teacher had been obsesed with Jeremy Bell. He had taught the boy to swim in his indoor poor at his home in Fayetteville, West Virginia. The teacher had attended all of Jeremy's little league baseball and basketball games, took him skiing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, hiking, rock climbing, and to plays, movies and amusement parks. Friedrichs bought Jeremy expensive gifts and employed him to cut his grass and do other household chores. At the Beckwith Elementary School, Edgar made sure Jeremy received extra helpings of food in the cafeteria, took him out of class to tutor him privately in his office (Friedrichs was also the part-time principal), and organized field trips for Jeremy and his friends. Friedrichs also sponsored special student groups such as chess club, honors club, intramural club and art club. During field trips to amusement parks Friedrichs would let the boys smoke cigarettes, drink beer, and look at sexually explicit magazines. Edgar and his students also spent a lot of time swimming nude in the New River.

     Friedrichs, since coming to West Virginia in 1975 from Delaware County Pennsylvania where he'd taught at an elementary school since 1964, had worked at five elementary schools in Fayette County. In 1985 and 1986, at the elementary school in Powellton, West Virginia, Friedrichs sexually assaulted one of  his students. When the boy's parents found out, Friedrichs, a wealthy man by local standards, bought their silence by buying the father a gas station, and giving the mother a secretarial job in the school system.

     In November 2001, based on our investigation of Friedrichs and his relationship with Jeremy Bell, a Fayette County grand jury indicted him for sexually molesting four boys. Finally, after 26 years of teaching in the state of West Virginia, Friedrichs was taken out of the classroom. In January 2002, after a three-day trial, a jury found him guilty of sexual abuse by a custodian. The judge sentenced him to no less than 30 and no more than 65 years in prison.

     In July 2005, a Fayette jury found Friedrichs guilty of murdering Jeremy Bell on November 8, 1997. He was sentenced to life without parole. (A few months earlier "NBC Dateline" aired a forty minute documentary about our investigation of Jeremy Bell's death.)

     I already see similarities between the Jeremy Bell case and the developing Penn State scandal. One is the nature of the relationship between the coach and his alleged victims. The other involves how knowing co-workers allowed suspicious behavior to go on indefinitely. Pedophiles are serial predators. Until they are caught and brought to justice, the victimization continues.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Walmartology: Crime in Consumerland 2

October 28, 2011
Bowie, Maryland
     Four thieves, at a Walmart in Bowie, Maryland, stole a cash box from a group of Girl Scouts selling cookies outside the store. The men worked as a team to pull of the caper. The girls had collected $200.
When it comes to criminal opportunity, no group is sacred, and no place is safe.

UPDATE

     On November 12, police arrested one of the suspects, a juvenile who returned to the scene of the crime. He has been charged with theft under $500.

October 29, 2011
Concord, North Carolina
     In two days, two crooks stole three television sets from two Walmart stores in Concord, New Hampshire. In the first theft, a lanky theif with stringly black hair and a scrufy beard set two small diversionary fires to boost the big-screen TV. The next day the same man, in the same store, walked off with another television, knocking over merchandise displays as the ran out of the building. That day, another thief, this one sporting a goatee-styled beard, in a second Walmart in Concord, stole a television then rode off with a woman driving a blue getaway van.

October 30, 2011
Albion, New York
     Louis A. Rodriquez-Flamenco, 24, in an attempt to carjack a vehicle in the parking lot of a Walmart northwest of Albion near Lake Ontario, stabbed to death the car's 45-year-old owner, Kathleen L. Byham. When interrogated by the police, the subject admitted he had intended, as his car theft MO, to stab the victim. According to his police statement, Rodriguez-Flamenco ran up to the victim, snatched her car keys, and stated stabbing her with a small kitchen knife. He has been charged with second-degree murder.

November 3, 2011
Los Angeles, California
     A 47-year-old homeless man stalking the aisles of a Lakewood Walmart, without provocation, grabbed a baseball bat from the sporting section of the store and used it to beat a 74-year-old male customer he didint know to death. Richard Lawrence Kalfin, a local transient, attacted the man because he wouldn't give him  money. In 2005 a jury in Los Angeles County found Kalfin guilty of arson. After the senseless and bloody attack, the madman walked calmly out of the store where he was met by police officers who took him into custody without incident. The bludgeoning, caught on surveillance video, closed the store for a day.
Charged with murder, Kalfin is being held on $1 million bail. Unless the million or so unmedicated schizophrenics in this country are rounded up and intsitutionalized, there is no way to prevent this form of violence.
  

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Police Involved Shootings For October, 2011

     During the month of October, law enforcement officers in the United States shot 98 people, killing 48. This brings the yearly police shooting total to 973. 532 of these shootings were fatal.

     Police in California, in October, shot 26 people, killing 8. So far this year California officers have shot 160 suspects, killing 83. In October, police in San Jose shot 4, killing 1. So far this year there have been 6 police shootings in this city, 3 of them fatal. Police officers in Los Angeles have shot 16 people this year, killing 13 of them.

     In Arizona, this past October, police shot 8, killing 4. There have been 39 police involved shootings in the state so far this year of which 27 were fatal. In October, officers in Phoenix shot 4, killing 1. So far this year in Phoenix, officers have shot 15, killing 9.

     In Ohio this October, police shot 2, killing 1. There have been 42 police involved shootings this year in the state. (In neighboring Pennsylvania, there have been 37.) In October, officers in Columbus shot 2, killing 1. So far this year in Columbus officers have shot 13, killing 10.

     In Maryland this October, police officers shot 3, killing 1. There have been 30 police involved shootings this year in the state of which 12 were fatal. In Baltimore this October, the police shot 3, killing 2. So far this year in Baltimore, officers have shot 13, killing 4.

     This year, 6 percent of the nation's police involved shootings have taken place in California. Besides Los Angeles and San Jose, there have been numerous shootings in Oakland (8), Fresno (7), San Diego (7), Long Beach (4) and Bakersfield (4).

FEATURED CASE

     At 7:48 AM on Sunday, October 23, officers with the San Jose Police Department, in response to a 911 call involving "a suspicious person with a weapon," arrived at the Extended Stay Deluxe Hotel on East Brokaw Road. They found Javier Gonzales-Guerrero, 25, passed out or sleeping in a stairwell. The subject, having attended a Halloween party, was dressed in medical scrubs. When the officers roused the suspect, he reached into his waistband for what looked like the butt of a handgun. Several officers fired their weapons. Although several bullets hit Gonzales-Guerrero, he wasn't killed.

     The gun in the suspect's waistband turned out to be a plastic, gold-colored toy six-shooter. I guess the lesson to be learned here is: when dressing up for Halloween, don't include a toy gun. (And, in a few cities, don't wear a mask, because it's against the law.)  

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Police Shooting Gone Wrong

     At three in the morning of August 30, 2009, 45-year-old James Lee Whitehead, a well-known female impersonator in San Antonio, Texas, was walking home from his waiter's job in the city. Wearing men's clothing at the time, Whitehead was set upon by three assailants who demanded money and knocked him to the ground. Witnesses called 911 and within minutes San Antonia patrol officer William Karman arrived at the scene. Two of the muggers jumped into a nearby car and fled.

     The third mugger, 22-year-old Jesse Ramon, intoxicated and high on marijuana, remained behind and pistol-whipped Whitehead. Officer Karman repeatedly ordered Ramon to drop his weapon. Instead, Ramon approached the officer with his handgun drawn. When Ramon ignored Karman's demands to drop the gun, the officer fired two shots, both bullets striking, but not stopping the subject. Karman fired three more times. Two of those bullets hit Ramon, the third went into and killed the victim, Mr. Whitehead.

     Shot four times, Ramon remained in a coma for more than a month but survived.

     In September 2011, Ramon went on trial for criminally causing Mr. Whitehead's death under the felony-murder doctrine that criminally holds a felon responsible for any death related directly to his felony. In this case, Mr. Whitehead had been killed as a result of Ramon's robbery and his threatening behavior toward the police officer. On October 29, the jury, after deliberating thirty minutes, found Ramon guilty of murder. A few days later the jury sentenced Ramon to forty years in prison.

     Officer Karman, to save his own life, had no choice but to use deadly force. The shooting of Mr. Whitehead was a tragic accident. The fact the victim died from a single bullet and Ramon, his assailant, survived four, shows just how unfair life can be. While Ramon may regret the incident because he got caught, the police officer will struggle a long time with the outcome of his justifiable act.  

Ambulance Chasers

     Years ago, when the legal cannon of ethics prohibited lawyers from advertising their services, a number of unethical attorneys would literally follow ambulances to emergency rooms where they solicited business from accident victims, encouraging them to sue. Today, civil litigators don't have to chase ambulances, they simply solicit personal injury and wrongful death clients through television ads.

     In a New York Times blog posted on May 14, 2010, a Montclair, New Jersey resident wrote about what happened after her husband was involved in a fender-bender car accident. There were no injuries, the car was quickly repaired, and in a week the incident was history. At that point the car owner began getting next-day delivery letters from attorneys with a common pitch: "I just had to get to you before it's too late--call me immediately for a free consultation to possibly receive cash payments for injuries." This potential client, following this minor traffic accident, received seven letters from lawyers and one from a rehabilitation center, plus a phone call from a chiropractor.

     John Grisham, the best-selling author of legal thrillers ("The Firm"), spoke recently to a CNN correspondent about his new book, "The Litigators." The novel features two attorneys in a "boutique law" firm which is nothing more than a third-rate operation run by a couple of ambulance chasers. Asked by the correspondent what inspired the novel, Grisham said, "I think it goes back to what seems to be a deluge of lawyers advertising on televison. The airwaves are just flooded these days with what I find to be unseemly appeals for cases by lawyers, all types of cases, tractor-trailer accidents, medical malpractice, mass tort drugs, asbestos and things like that. You've got these lawyers who come on with these high powered, very expensive ads, who just sign up as many cases as possible and if you have time to read the fine print on the TV screen, most of these cases they bundle them up and sell them to other law firms, so these guys are just peddling their names....They're in the big cities by the thousands, hustling around trying to get cases. They're in small towns where there's not quite as much business and they're still hustling around trying to get injury cases or more lucrative cases, but they're everywhere."

     The fact that Grisham practiced law for several years lends credibility and a sense of reality to his novels. While he is not a particularly fine writer, his books are tightly plotted and populated by interesting and realistic characters. "The Litigators," an unflattering look at one segment of the legal profession, is already a best-seller.