Thursday, May 31, 2007

Keystone cops in Australia too

POLICE who arrested a man over a brawl at his daughter's wedding have been blasted by a magistrate, who described his prosecution as resembling a "Kath & Kim episode". Magistrate Roseanne McInnes has dismissed assault charges laid against Shane Miller, 48, following a fight between wedding guests and bouncers at the Semaphore Palais on February 11 last year. In a scathing judgment against SA Police, Ms McInnes awarded costs of $20,600 to Mr Miller.

The outcome was welcomed by Mr Miller's daughter, Amanda Crawford, who said her wedding memories had been ruined by the melee and subsequent criminal prosecution of her father. Ms Crawford, 24, of Paralowie, said she wanted police to return her blood-stained wedding dress, which was seized by detectives while she was on honeymoon but never forensically tested. "I just want them to give me my dress back so I can get it cleaned," she said. "Everything else about our wedding day has been ruined. It's not like we can look back on it like everybody else can and have good memories. "We didn't make it to our hotel that night, our wedding cake was given to people in the pokie room because it already had been cut up and our honeymoon in Sydney was wrecked because Brett (her husband) had a sprained foot."

In her judgment, Ms McInnes said police failed to properly investigate the brawl before six detectives arrested Mr Miller at his Salisbury North home seven days later. She said a police prosecutor consequently received a brief from police which was "manifestly inadequate". "The cumulative effect trivialised events with tragic consequences for a great many people," she said. "An uninterested observer reading the resulting transcript might well wonder whether he was reading evidence given at a criminal trial or a script written by a bloodthirsty Elizabethan playwright trying to adapt Dimboola (well-known Australian play about a country wedding) for televising as a Kath & Kim episode. "The reality is that people who did nothing to deserve pain or suffering have no choice but to live with both as a result of what occurred."

Ms McInnes said a considerable amount of the material provided by police "was of little assistance in proving the case or in determining the facts". "The evidence was not sifted before the defendant was arrested, before the charge was laid or before a brief was provided to prosecutors," she said. Ms McInnes said problems with Mr Miller's prosecution continued into his trial, with witness statements still being produced four months after its first hearings. "The court was told the prosecution would call eight witnesses and tender the statements of three police officers," she said. "By the end of the prosecution case four months later, the prosecutor had called 20 witnesses in addition to tendering statements made by more witnesses." New exhibits also continued to be introduced by police after the trial began, including a statement by a police officer signed the morning of a hearing. Ms McInnes said it seemed "some or all of the investigating officers had little or no understanding of the prosecutor's role and function".

Mr Miller declined to comment. His solicitor, Tim Dibden, said the outcome was a "victory for common sense".

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Crooked small-town cops in Virginia

Chilhowie Town Manager Bill Boswell spent Friday morning preparing for his employees’ Memorial Day picnic. But beneath the bounty of burgers, hot dogs, fun and games ran the undercurrent of a shake-up at the town police department that would rattle anyone. Earlier this week, the town’s former police chief and a recently fired sergeant were both arrested on charges involving the sexual assault of a 17-year-old girl at a Halloween haunted house last fall. In addition, a third officer was arrested on a charge of selling the painkiller hydrocodone. All three officers were indicted this week and had either resigned or been fired by the town. The arrests cut the town’s police force of six in half.

Friday afternoon, Smyth County Circuit Court Judge Charles B. Flannagan II set $20,000 secured bonds for both former Chilhowie police chief Dwayne Sheffield and Sgt. Brian Doss. The two had previously been held at Southwest Virginia Regional Jail in Abingdon. The judge also placed multiple conditions on the two defendants, including placing them under house arrest using electronic monitoring devices and ordering them to certify that there are no firearms or alcohol in their homes. They were also ordered not to have any contact with the victim or her family. Former officer James E. Runyon, 29, of Chilhowie, who was indicted on Tuesday for distribution of a Schedule III controlled substance, had already been released on a $1,500 bond.

The charges against Sheffield and Doss stemmed from an incident with a 17-year-old girl at a haunted house fundraising event in October, Virginia State Police investigators said. Sheffield is charged with rape, object sexual penetration, felony child endangerment, sexual battery and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Doss is charged with forcible sodomy, felony child endangerment, sexual battery and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. According to the indictments, Sheffield and Doss had sex with the girl "by force, threat or intimidation" and "against her will ... while having the custody of a child."

An indictment does not address guilt or innocence but reflects only the grand jury’s belief the charge merits prosecution. Reaction in the Smyth County town runs the gamut. "I was shocked," said Chilhowie Barber Shop owner Larry McClure, who has given the former officers a cut or two.

Lee Harrell, appointed as special prosecutor in the case in March, wouldn’t say much on the case. "These are serious allegations," he said. "The grand jury found probable cause for the indictments, and the case now proceeds to trial. Because the victim is a minor, I will not comment further on the case to protect the victim and the integrity of the investigation." Virginia State Police Sgt. Michael Conroy also had little to say.

In early May, the Chilhowie Town Council voted 5-0 in a special called meeting to terminate Sheffield and Doss. The council met in closed session and the meeting took place before the indictments came out. The officers were terminated" Boswell said. The town has advertised for two police officer positions, and in the meantime, it is working with the county sheriff’s office and state police to patrol the streets. "When something like this happens, what you do is reschedule and work with the other available law enforcement agencies to make sure you’re covered," Boswell said Friday. "Everyone’s working overtime now, but we’re having no morale problems. We’re doing fine."

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fuzz follies

The article below is a bit jaundiced but police misbehavior does need to be highlighted wherever it occurs

Seems DC has survived another "National Police Week." I'm trying to decide whether that's good or bad. From Tuesday, May 8, through Wednesday, May 16, "tens of thousands" of cops from around the country partied in the nation's capitol. Naturally, they drank. A lot. But that didn't stop them from climbing behind the wheel to cruise dark streets with sirens blaring. They gunned motorcycles and skirled bagpipes till 3 AM, yelled, fought, and generally broke laws they force the rest of us to follow. Their excuse for this annual rioting is that by annoying, inconveniencing, and even terrifying DC's civilians, they commemorate officers killed in the line of duty. Well, why not? Those cops likely annoyed, inconvenienced and terrified folks while they were alive.

Alas, after several sleepless nights, some citizens ran short of sympathy for the grieving survivors. They naively complained to the District's police, who responded by joining the fun. One canny taxpayer finally videotaped the lawlessness for This embarrassed DC's police chief into taking stern measures: she posted fliers asking the drunks to play nice. No doubt that had 'em trembling in their jackboots.

National Police Week has plagued us since 1962, when a "Joint Resolution... authorize[d] the President to proclaim May 15 of each year as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the calendar week of each year during which such May 15 occurs as Police Week." We already pay these petty tyrants and bullies, but Leviathan wants us to kiss their butts, too:

"Whereas the police officers of America have worked devotedly and selflessly in behalf of the people of this Nation, regardless of the peril or hazard to themselves..."

Oh, right, and all those benefits, overtime pay, early retirement with lifelong pension, meals extorted from restaurateurs, and drugs swiped from the evidence lab have nothing to do with it.

"... Whereas these officers have safeguarded the lives and property of their fellow Americans..."

Poppycock. By law, cops don't have to "safeguard" anything. Attorney and author Richard Stevens emphasizes, "[Cops] don't even have to come when you call. In most states the government and police owe no legal duty to protect individual citizens from criminal attack. The District of Columbia's highest court spelled out plainly the `fundamental principle that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any particular individual citizen.'"

But most Americans blindly believe that cops protect us from criminals. In reality, cops protect the State from us. That's been their purpose since the first police departments were organized in the early nineteenth century. Prior to that, kings relied on their armies to fight their enemies, foreign or domestic; witness the Redcoats patrolling colonial Boston. Then in 1812, George III's Chief Secretary for Ireland created the "Peace Preservation Police" to subdue Irish peasants upset at the British government's stranglehold. Nor has that purpose shifted over the centuries. Cops still keep muttering serfs from rising against Their Rulers:

"...Whereas by the enforcement of our laws, these same officers have given our country internal freedom from fear of the violence and civil disorder that is presently affecting other nations..."

Yeah, especially when they're liquored up.

"...Whereas these men and women by their patriotic service..."

I don't know about you, but subjugating one's fellow citizens isn't exactly my definition of "patriotic service."

"...and their dedicated efforts have earned the gratitude of the Republic..."

Or at least of its leaders.

And so cops annually invade DC. They raise many a bottle of Bud to those who "paid the ultimate sacrifice" during the preceding year - all 160 of them. That small number is the nation's annual average of cops who die in the line of duty. Has been for years. About half are shot; the rest might arguably be excluded from this figure because they perish in car crashes.

We can only envy such low fatalities since cops kill many times that number of civilians each year. And "justifiably," too: though it's "murder" when a citizen kills a cop, it's "justifiable homicide" when they kill us. A report from the US Department of Justice contains this stunner: "the use of deadly force against a police officer is almost never justified, while the use of deadly force by police often is... [K]illings by police are referred to as `justifiable homicides,' and the persons that police kill are referred to as `felons.'" What handy logic! Cops kill felons who are felons because cops killed them. "Police justifiably kill on average nearly 400 felons each year."

That estimate is low. It's also unreliable. Despite a 1994 law ordering cops to report all shootings, precincts "voluntarily" report only "justified" killings to the FBI. A neat trick, but you have to work for Leviathan to get away with it: when we murder, it's reported. And "felons" are merely the beginning of the casualties. What about the innocent bystanders these reckless drivers and poor marksmen slaughter? Or their murderous "mistakes," like 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston of Atlanta or bridegroom Sean Bell of New York City? Dead civilians might as well be roadkill. Their deaths literally don't count.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Australia: Police goons exposed by honest cop

Police have been accused of using camera phones to record themselves subduing people with capsicum spray and sending each other the images as part of a bizarre arrest ritual. The claims have come to light following investigations into an incident which allegedly left a man in hospital on life-support equipment. The accused constable is said to have doused the drunk and aggressive man with capsicum spray while filming his reaction. The officer's phone has since been seized to undergo forensic tests including those that would determine if deleted or forwarded footage could be retrieved.

A senior police source said: "The claim is that a group of these blokes have been filming people after they gas them to see who struggles the most and making a competition out of it. NSW Police Minister David Campbell yesterday described the allegations as "concerning". "I am advised by police that an internal investigation has been launched which will be overseen by the Ombudsman," he said. "Until that investigation is complete it would be inappropriate for me to comment further." Mr Campbell said he expected any officer found to have acted inappropriately would be dealt with swiftly by Police Commissioner Ken Moroney or his successor.

The assault is alleged to have occurred during a late-night arrest in Sydney's west some weeks ago and to have left the apprehended man unconscious and not breathing, resulting in him being rushed to Westmead Hospital by ambulance and placed in intensive care before making an apparent full recovery. However, it is understood an investigation was launched following a formal complaint lodged by another officer at the scene of the arrest and not by the injured man. "It's about him putting everyone else present in an unacceptable position," an officer said, summarising the allegations.

"After this bloke is in the wagon, where he's no longer a threat to anyone except perhaps himself, virtually a whole can of spray is emptied into him. "He's then found unconscious and not breathing and ends up in hospital on life support. He was in a pretty bad way for a couple of days."

A police spokesman said the accused officer had been among a contingent of NSW officers trained as Operational Support Group (OSG) personnel. Schooled in anti-riot procedures, the group is expected to be among the first chosen to work alongside the force's elite Public Order and Riot Squad (PORS) at Sydney's APEC summit in September.

However, PORS boss Chief Superintendent Steve Cullen said yesterday he was unaware of any practice whereby his own officers had used their mobile phones to video arrests. "With regard to OC spray, it has only been used by PORS police on a handful of occasions, each of these in a heavily supervised environment," he said. "There have been no complaints involving a PORS officer and their use of OC spray. "PORS officers are rigorously trained and are fully versed in the professional standards required."

When approached by The Sun-Herald on Friday, the accused officer declined to comment. The affair follows the suspension of several ACT police over the alleged improper use of capsicum spray.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Another "no knock" drug raid goes wrong -- this time in Australia

Let's hope the final outcome from this is better than in a recent similar case in California, mentioned here on 24th

POLICE face a six-figure civil suit payout after drug squad detectives allegedly injured a naked father-of-three during an illegal raid on the wrong house. Daryl Hurst, 39, a disability pensioner of South Townsville, claims to have suffered a broken nose and cuts to both lips when he resisted arrest during the bungled early morning swoop on his home two years ago. Police had the right number but the wrong street, the wrong house - and an innocent man.

Mr Hurst has filed a formal complaint with the Crime and Misconduct Commission after charges of common assault against him were dropped by the Crown. "They raided the wrong house," Mr Hurst said yesterday. "They came into my house like storm troopers out of a bad cop show. "I was in bed in the nude and woke up to find eight undercover police in my home. "Then they tried to throw me into handcuffs, it was a shock. "It was only natural that I retaliate and I kicked out at them, that is when they held me down and belted me three or four times in the head. "I got a gash in both my bottom and top lip and a broken nose from where they were belting me. "They owe my family an official apology, the way they humiliated my family, the way they spoke to my children, we need an apology."

Both the CMC and Police Ethical Standards Command are looking into the allegations of excessive force in the October 2005 raid. Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson declined to respond to questions about the matter yesterday, saying it was still under investigation. Officers had a search warrant to look for Mr Hurst's brother, Bruce Wayne Hurst, at another address, only a few metres around the corner.

"The drug squad should be embarrassed by their actions. They are just too in-your-face," Mr Hurst said. "It was like a home invasion. That is how it seemed."

Judge Stuart Durward, in his concluding remarks delivered in Townsville District Court yesterday, found the police to be "careless or reckless" in the execution of the search warrant. Judge Durward said it was an "unjustified and unlawful entry". "The police had no right to be in the residence nor to have entered it in the way that they did," he said. "The police conduct had serious consequences for all involved and particularly for the accused who was subsequently charged with three very serious offences arising out of the way in which he reacted to the entry by the police and their presence in the house, in what must have been a surprising and bewildering event."

The Crown dropped the charges, the jury was released without taking a verdict, and Mr Hurst was allowed to walk free. Defence lawyer Mark Stevenson said his client was now seeking a "six-figure" damages payout in a civil action. He said the matter was highly embarrassing for police.


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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Kids saved from a disgraceful British prosecution

They would probably be in jail now except that the father was in a position to afford a top lawyer

The son of a millionaire music producer accused of committing the first murder in half a century at Henley-on-Thames was freed yesterday after a jury found that he acted in self-defence. Kes Ingoldsby, 18, broke down in tears outside Inner London Crown Court after he and a codefendant were cleared of murdering Stephen Langford, a telecom sales director, in the Oxfordshire market town.

During the 2«week trial the court had been told that Mr Langford, a father-of-two known for his love of vintage cars and Liverpool football team, had suffered a brutal, unprovoked attack by the pair outside a late-night takeaway in Henley. Crown prosecutors alleged that Mr Ingoldsby and a teenage friend, James Diggens, had beaten Mr Langford, 43, to death, felling him with a single punch then kicking him repeatedly.

But Mr Diggens and Mr Ingoldsby, whose father Denis worked for music stars including Diana Ross, left court yesterday after a jury took less than five hours to agree that they had acted in self-defence and were telling the truth. They had admitted getting into a fight with the executive - a friend of Boris Johnson, the local Tory MP, - in December, but insisted that the powerfully built 18st (115kg) fitness enthusiast was the aggressor.

Mr Ingoldsby said that problems began when Mr Langford, who had drunk seven pints, started looking at his girlfriend. The student told jurors that the last thing he wanted was to get involved in a fight, insisting that it started only after Mr Langford ran down the street at the pair with clenched fists.

Describing the prosecution as "shameful, shoddy. . . an affront to British justice", Stephen Horwell, QC, his lawyer, said that the Crown's portrayal of a mysterious, unprovoked incident was designed to conceal the truth. "It is not a mystery because the defendants told the police what had happened - that they were threatened and under attack from Mr Langford."

As the not guilty verdicts to murder and and the lesser alternative of manslaughter were announced Mr Ingoldsby, a music student who lives in Henley, bowed his head and then rushed from the dock. Mr Diggens, a builder from Reading, gasped and swayed in his seat before following his friend.

The court was told that Mr Langford - a Ferrari-driving Liverpudlian who moved to Henley 12 years ago - spent his last evening with friends in the town centre. Later, on their way home in the early hours of December 9 last year, he and Gary Joynes decided to buy food at a takeaway. A bad-tempered exchange ensued between Mr Langford and Mr Ingoldsby, which the latter said culminated in the businessman shouting: "Why are you walking away, you little prick, I'll knock you out." He replied: "You probably would knock me out, you're about 50 stone."

The court heard that seconds later Mr Langford ran after the youth. "I was frightened, completely scared," Mr Ingoldsby said. "His fists were clenched. I didn't know what to do. Jimmy stopped him getting to me by hitting him in the face. He fell backwards. I just thought he had got knocked to the ground and he was dazed." During the trial Mr Diggens insisted that his concern for his friend led him to punch the "much bigger" man in the face. Mr Diggens admitted that as the man lay in the road he "half-heartedly" kicked his hip because he was scared he might get up. Mr Ingoldsby also accepted that he hit him, but said it was a single slap and not repeated kicks.

Dominic Desmond, a prosecution witness, gave a statement to police saying that Mr Langford had come "running at them. . . shouting at them with his fists up". He added: "If they hadn't swung at him he would have hit them. I would say the first hit was in self-defence." Responding to the evidence, Mr Horwell told the court: "The overwhelming likelihood is that Mr Langford died from the fall alone and yet murder is still before you as a possible verdict - that is as extraordinary, we suggest, as it is frightening."

Mr Ingoldsby's father, Denis, launched the careers of Louise Nurding and Dina Carroll, as well as working as a producer with Diana Ross. Mr Langford's parents, Joan and William, released a statement through Thames Valley Police yesterday. It said: "We live in a diseased society - one that needs urgent help to bring back important family and community values to prevent this happening again."

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Another DNA exoneration

A man who spent 19 years in jail for the murder of two children will be exonerated formally in July, putting the number of inmates in America cleared by DNA evidence at more than 200. Byron Halsey, who narrowly avoided the death penalty when he was convicted in 1988 of the sexual assault and murder of a girl, 7, and a boy, 8, had his conviction thrown out by a judge last week after DNA evidence pointed to another man as the killer.

Mr Halsey's exoneration means that since the first American inmate was cleared by DNA evidence in 1989 another 200 have now been proven to be convicted wrongfully, according to the Innocence Project, a New York legal charity that pioneered the use of DNA analysis. Of the 201 now exonerated, 120 were black and 15 had spent time on death row. Together, they had served 2,496 years. One of the most striking statistics from the cases, which demonstrates a distinct bias against African-American men, involves sexual assaults. Nationally, only 12 per cent of sexual assaults are between a victim of one race and an attacker of another - yet 64 per cent of those exonerated were black men convicted of raping white women.

In the cases, 28 per cent were convicted of murder. Overall, three quarters were the result of inaccurate identifications at police lineups. Remarkably, a quarter of those now proved innocent confessed, and 4 per cent pleaded guilty.

Among the people freed are Jerry Frank Townsend, who served more than 21 years in a Florida prison for six murders and a rape. Mr Townsend, who has the mental capacity of an eight-year-old, confessed to multiple crimes. After 20 years in jail, the mother of one of the victims convinced police to review the case. DNA testing cleared Townsend and implicated another man, already in prison on other rape and murder charges.

In another case, Frank Lee Smith was on death row for the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl. He died of cancer in 2000 before being exonerated officially.

The first US inmate to be cleared by DNA evidence was David Vasquez, a janitor of below-par intelligence who confessed to the 1984 rape and murder of a young woman in Virginia. Sentenced to 35 years, he had spent five years in prison before DNA testing - then a new science - cleared him. He was pardoned formally in January 1989.

Since then, convictions have been quashed thanks to DNA evidence in 31 states. In 43 cases the real assailant was eventually found. But the Innocence Project calls the 201 cases just the "tip of the iceberg". Only 10 per cent of crimes leave biological evidence that can be tested for DNA. Maddy Delone, the executive director, told The Times that the organisation now has another 250 cases and is processing requests from thousands of others. "We can't know exactly how many wrongful convictions there are," she said.

But she cited a random sample of 29 sexual assault convictions reexamined recently by authorities in Virginia. Two men were found to be innocent. In another study this year, of 319 rape/murder convictions between 1982 and 1989 where DNA evidence exists, 11 men were found to be innocent. DNA testing has led to widespread reforms, such as a national DNA database, the video-taping of interrogations and changes in line-up procedures, where victims were often "encouraged" by police when looking at a particular suspect.

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Background on the Halsey case. More police malpractice:

Halsey, 46, was convicted in 1988 of murdering and sexually assaulting Tyrone and Tina Urquhart, the children of his girlfriend, with whom he lived at a Plainfield rooming house. The bodies of Tyrone, 8, and Tina, 7, were found in the home's basement in November 1985.

Their mother, Margaret Urquhart, said in a statement issued through the Innocence Project she had doubted Halsey's guilt. "I knew Byron loved Tyrone and Tina," Urquhart said. "It didn't make sense to me that he could have done this. I always had my doubts, but I didn't know what to do about them."

The new DNA test shows a neighbor, Clifton Hall, 49, was the source of semen found at the scene. Hall, who testified against Halsey at trial, is now in prison for three sex crimes in early 1990s, authorities said. It was not clear whether he had an attorney, and state corrections officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Hall.

Halsey gave a confession after he was interrogated for 30 hours during a 40-hour period, Innocence Project co-director Barry Scheck said. "It would be a stretch to say that Byron Halsey even confessed to this crime given the state of mind he was in, the length of the interrogation, the tactics police used, and the words he actually said," Scheck said.

Halsey had been sentenced to two life terms, plus 20 years. He has been in custody since 1985. Halsey can apply for compensation of $25,000 for each year he was in custody, Potkin said.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Amazing verdict: It's reasonable to target whites when you are looking for blacks??

Mistakes sometimes happen when police conduct home searches, the Supreme Court said Monday in throwing out a lawsuit brought by a white couple in Southern California who were rousted from bed and held naked at gunpoint by deputies looking for several black suspects. The search of Max Rettele and his girlfriend, Judy Sadler, in their bedroom may have been an error, and it was certainly embarrassing to them, the justices said. But it did not violate their rights under the 4th Amendment, which protects against "unreasonable searches and seizures," they added.

Police obtain search warrants based on probable evidence, not "absolute certainty," the court said in an unsigned opinion. "Valid warrants will issue to search the innocent, and people like Rettele and Sadler unfortunately bear the cost."

In December 2001, Los Angeles County sheriffs were looking for four black suspects in an identity-theft scheme. One of them was known to have a gun. When the deputies set out to raid a home in Lancaster, they did not know the suspects had moved three months earlier. Rettele had bought the home in September and lived there with Sadler and her 17-year-old son. At 7 a.m., seven deputies with guns drawn came to the door and were let in by the teenager. He was ordered to lie face down. The deputies then entered the bedroom and ordered Rettele and Sadler to get up and to show their hands. They protested they were not wearing clothes, but the officers insisted they stand naked next to the bed for a minute or two. After a few minutes, the deputies admitted they had made a mistake, apologized and left.

Rettele, a civilian employee of the Defense Department, and Sadler, a real estate manager, filed suit against the police, contending the search was an unreasonable invasion of their privacy. A federal judge in Los Angeles ruled for the police and rejected their claim, but the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals revived it in a 2-1 decision and said a jury should decide whether police violated the couple's constitutional rights.

"After taking one look at [Rettele and Sadler], the deputies should have realized that [they] were not the subjects of the search warrant and did not pose a threat to the deputies' safety," said Judge Harry Pregerson, a veteran judge on the 9th Circuit. A jury might conclude the search was "unnecessarily painful, degrading or prolonged," he said. Los Angeles County lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court and argued that deputies should not be subject to suits for carrying out a lawful search of a home. Without bothering to hear arguments in the case, the Supreme Court agreed and ruled for the deputies.

The couple's "constitutional rights were not violated," the court said in Los Angeles County vs. Rettele. The deputies "believed a suspect might be armed…. In executing a search warrant, officers may take reasonable action to secure the premises and to ensure their own safety and the efficacy of the search." As for the innocent victims, "the resulting frustration, embarrassment and humiliation may be real, as was true here," the court said in its seven-page opinion. Nonetheless, "when officers execute a valid warrant and act in a reasonable manner to protect themselves from harm, however, the 4th Amendment is not violated."

Only Justice David H. Souter dissented from the order to reject the suit. In a separate statement, Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg concurred in the outcome without joining the court's opinion. John Burton, a Pasadena lawyer who represented the plaintiffs, said his clients had left California and were living in Kansas. "I think this means we are in a dark period for the Supreme Court," Burton said. "This was a case of incompetent officers finding themselves in the home of completely innocent people, and knowing they are not suspects, orders them out of bed stark naked. This is bullying, and it needs to be reined in."

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Not guilty but no compensation

This is a very widespread problem. A prosecution is often a severe punishment in itself but when there is no guilty verdict at the end of it, compensation for that prosecution is rare. Compensation for negligent or corrupt prosecution should at least be allowed

TWO Victorian detectives wrongly branded as drug-dealing cops have lost a civil case against their own ethical standards department and the State Government. Detectives Scott James Poynder and Robert John Sodomaco, who worked in the now disbanded organised crime squad, claimed damages for unlawful arrest and malicious prosecution that resulted from a routine drug raid in 1998.

The civil claim relates to accusations the police officers stole drugs from police custody after they raided two houses in suburban Airport West. The men were charged with drug offences, including trafficking, conspiracy to traffic and stealing cannabis, but the charges were discharged at committal proceedings. Following a four-week civil trial at the Victorian County Court, Judge Ross Howie today dismissed the two police officers' claims for damages. He said the men failed to prove their cases of malicious prosecution and wrongful imprisonment.

Outside the court, Detective Sergeant Poynder said he was shattered. "It's an amazing case, it's taken nine years of our lives and it's a decision that basically says the ethical standards department can do whatever they like," he said. A decision on costs has been reserved.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Australia: More foolish treatment of the dangerous mentally ill

He was a "ticking timebomb" waiting to go off .. a prisoner who warned authorities he would kill once freed, and carried out his threat just eight days later. The prisoner, with a history of violence and mental health problems, brutally bashed a man to death as he slept in Brisbane's City Botanic Gardens. But he will not be tried for the 2005 murder of Brisbane father John Simpson, 56, because health authorities have deemed him mentally unfit.

The case has sparked calls from the victim's family, mental health support groups and the State Opposition for an inquiry into the release of mentally ill people with violent tendencies. Mr Simpson's daughter has called for an inquiry into the man's release "in the public interest" to prevent similar tragedies. "We believe we are entitled to an explanation as to how someone so dangerous could be released into the public like a ticking timebomb waiting to go off," the daughter, who wanted to be identified only as Jodie, 27, said in a letter to the State Coroner this month. "His release from jail has put the public's safety in jeopardy because it appears that the system does not have a safety net for violent, mentally ill people who have been released."

Jeff Cheverton of the Queensland Alliance, a non-government agency representing mental health groups, said prisoners with mental health problems were not given the follow-up and referral to treatment they needed on their release. Mr Cheverton said there should be graduated release of prisoners with mental health problems. Psychiatrists treating the man charged with Mr Simpson's murder had warned of his psychosis and potential danger for the past decade.

Before Mr Simpson's murder, the man - who cannot be identified under mental health laws - had been serving a three-year jail sentence at the Maryborough Correction Centre after he attacked a Sunshine Coast taxi driver with scissors and a hammer in 2002. Sentencing the man in 2003, Brisbane District Court Judge Garry Forno recommended that Queensland Corrective Services transfer him to a health institution so he could get appropriate care and the public would be protected.

However, Corrective Services decided he did not meet the criteria for an involuntary treatment order. Police and Corrective Services Minister Judy Spence said that while in jail, eight different psychiatrists had decided he was not psychotic, but displaying threatening and disturbed behavior.

Before his release from Maryborough jail in 2005, the man told prison staff he was going to kill people, including a homeless man. Police were warned and put out a statewide computer alert before his release. But it was to no avail. After being arrested for the killing of Mr Simpson, the man told police he had needed to kill to "rejuvenate his brain" and he had caught a bus from Maryborough to Brisbane and gone to the gardens because he "wanted to commit a murder".

State Coroner Michael Barnes said he could "well understand" Mr Simpson's daughter's concerns and would look into them. In March this year, the charges of murdering Mr Simpson and the attempted murder of a fellow patient at a mental health unit in 2002 were dropped after Mental Health Court Justice Anthe Philippides decided the man was of unsound mind. She ordered he be detained in a high security mental health unit.

The Queensland Police Union said the Government needed to build a "modern purpose-built" mental health facility to house violent offenders if they were not going to be jailed. "Murders and suicides are all too common now and compulsory detainment and treatment is the only way to reduce these terrible consequences," union president Gary Wilkinson said.

The man's adoptive mother said public systems had failed her son, who was left for her and her husband to pick up from prison.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Australia: No justice, says rape victim's father

THE father of one of the Sydney women raped seven years ago by Bilal Skaf's gang says rape victims should avoid court, and take matters into their own hands instead. The father, who cannot be named, said criminal justice in the state was so biased against victims of crime that rape victims should have nothing to do with it. "Do not go to court. Sort it out outside of the court, if you get my drift," he said. "Once you get to court, you will not get justice. It is a justice system in name only."

This father's damning assessment was delivered after a man known as MG was acquitted of raping his daughter, who can be identified only as Miss C. While MG was acquitted of raping Miss C, he did not walk free. He is serving two 15-year sentences for his role in other rapes. Skaf and other members of his gang are already serving prison sentences for attacks on Miss C.

Her father's advice to avoid the justice system prompted the NSW Rape Crisis Centre to call for urgent reforms to ensure people are not tempted to take the law into their own hands. "Violence solves nothing," said manager Karen Willis. "I empathise with this man's position. What his daughter has gone through for seven years would be appalling. It shows we still need more changes such as special sexual assault courts to ensure people do not take the law into their own hands."

Miss C's father said his daughter had received "horrific" treatment by the courts and defence lawyers. "They subpoenaed her medical records and even said in court that she had an orgasm during one of the rapes. How in the hell would they know?" he said. "She now rarely goes out. She won't go out in crowds and when she does, she won't go out for very long. "She hates being outside, particularly when she sees Muslims. She is so anti-Islam it is unbelievable, and to be honest, so am I."

The fact that the MG case dragged on for more than five years meant he no longer had any faith in the adversarial system of justice. "The prosecution are hindered in what they can do, whereas the defence can rip these girls apart," he said. "It took seven years and my daughter could not do it any more and she was one of the strongest of the lot."

Miss C abandoned her involvement in the MG case because of delays and the removal of top prosecutor Margaret Cunneen. Her father said it was time to switch to a more inquisitorial system to stop defence lawyers dragging out cases. He also called for a better system of selecting judges. "They say the law is equal. Don't believe it," he said.

During his daughter's ordeal in the court system, he had taken his concerns to the NSW Law Society and both sides of state politics. He said he had been "spoken down to" by the Law Society, ignored by then Attorney-General Bob Debus and told by the state Opposition that real reform would require constitutional change.

He contacted The Australian after the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal wrote to this newspaper last week about the MG case. Miss C's father said he rejected the court's statement that Ms Cunneen's removal had not triggered his daughter's decision to walk away from the case.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Australia: Bashed granny's bail fury

But the thug is classed as a black so gets privileged treatment

A GREAT-grandmother savagely bashed in her bed and left for dead by a burglar wants to know why her alleged attacker has been granted bail. "It stinks. The justice system bloody stinks," 75-year-old Barbara Durea said. "It's a damn disgrace. I'm the one suffering, and (the alleged offender is) out there as free as a bird. "I'm very upset about that. If he's done the crime, he's got to pay for it."

Ashley Wayne Brooks, 18, was bailed on his own undertaking by Gippsland magistrate John Dugdale, and is living at an Aboriginal youth services hostel in Northcote as a condition of his bail. Mr Brooks was freed despite two previous failures to answer bail and a previous breach of a court undertaking relating to a charge of affray.

Mrs Durea is recovering from injuries that left her critically ill in an intensive care unit for 12 days. She was left lying unconscious in a pool of blood after being attacked in the middle of the night by a burglar who broke into her Housing Ministry flat in Traralgon. Mrs Durea said she could not remember the attack and did not know how long she had lain unconscious. "All I know is, my bedroom was a bloodbath," she said. "If you're not safe in your own bed, where are you safe? "Why didn't he just take the money and leave me? I didn't see him, but the pain -- I remember him by the pain."

Mrs Durea suffered a broken nose, a dislocated jaw, serious throat and eye injuries, and severe bruising. She was flown to Melbourne in a helicopter ambulance after the attack on March 17. Mrs Durea is still in pain eight weeks later, but says what hurts most is the way her alleged attacker has been treated by the law. She said she could not understand why the man charged with her assault had been released on bail.

Mr Brooks was arrested by Morwell police on March 20, aboard the last train from Traralgon to Melbourne. He was refused bail by a justice of the peace that night because of doubts over Mrs Durea's condition, and did not apply for bail in the Latrobe Valley Magistrates' Court next day. Mr Dugdale, the senior magistrate, granted bail on April 27 because of Mr Brooks' youth. [At age 18 the thug is legally and physically a man]

A police prosecutor opposed the bail bid by an Aboriginal Legal Service barrister from Melbourne. Sen-Det Dean Ludekens, of Morwell CIU, told the court Mr Brooks had made admissions about the burglary and assault and had failed to answer bail previously.

Mr Dugdale ordered Mr Brooks to live at the Northcote hostel and obey lawful directions of staff. He imposed bail conditions of a 10pm-7am curfew, a ban on entering Gippsland, and ordered Mr Brooks to abstain from alcohol and drugs. Mr Brooks is due back in court on June 12.

Mrs Durea, who has eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, said her first clear recollection after the attack was of one of her grandsons kneeling, crying, beside her hospital bed. Mrs Durea said her hands were black with bruises, injuries police believe she sustained as she fought back, trying to defend herself. She said a lens in her left eye was smashed, her arms, legs and stomach were also bruised, and she had "a huge cauliflower ear".

Mrs Durea went to bed about 9 the night she was attacked. She rang one of her children about 4.15am to raise the alarm. Daughter Christina Shephard said she'd feared her mother might not survive. "I just can't describe how shocked I was by the way she looked," Ms Shephard said. "I thought she'd been bashed with some kind of weapon. It was horrific, the state she was in."

Ms Shephard said her mother, who had been very independent, doing everything for herself, moved into the flat just before last Christmas. "She'd just got herself all settled and organised. She was happy as a pig in mud, and then this happened. "Now, she's too petrified to go anywhere near the place -- not that we'd let her."

Mrs Durea was in the intensive care unit at Royal Melbourne Hospital for more than a week, and has been back twice since then for operations on her nose and eye. She said she would now move into a nursing home with her invalid husband, Kevin. "I think I'll be safe there," Mrs Durea said.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Lawbreaking British government agency refuses to admit it was wrong

The husband of a lawyer killed on a pedestrian crossing has won his struggle to prove that the traffic lights failed to meet minimum safety standards and gave people too little time to cross. Iveta Iravanian, 33, was knocked down by a National Express coach near Victoria station in London on February 23, less than a minute after waving her husband goodbye when he dropped her off at work. Paramedics resuscitated her four times and she was taken to hospital by air ambulance. Two hours later, three police officers visited Leo Iravanian at his estate agency near Hyde Park to break the news that his wife of ten years was dead.

Mrs Iravanian had almost made it across the four-lane crossing but was crushed under the coach’s wheels just a few feet from the safety of the opposite pavement. There was a gap of only five seconds at the crossing between the green man for pedestrians turning off and the green traffic light turning on. Department for Transport guidelines state that the minimum period should have been 12 seconds. This is to ensure that pedestrians have enough time to cross in safety even if they step off the pavement just before the green man turns off. But Transport for London (TfL) ignored the guideline when setting the light phasing and also failed to comply with other safety recommendations.

Police told Mr Iravanian, 42, that his wife was to blame for her own death because she had ignored the red man on the traffic light telling pedestrians to wait. But he refused to believe that she had been reckless and he spent many hours at the crossing studying how pedestrians and traffic behaved. He became convinced that the crossing was unsafe because he noticed how people were caught regularly on the road as vehicles started to move. He informed TfL of his concerns but it told him there was nothing wrong with the crossing. TfL even ignored his specific complaint that one of the traffic lights had twisted around, obscuring the pedestrian’s view of the red man signal.

He decided to employ a private detective to find witnesses after the police refused to share with him any of the evidence they had gathered. He also paid £750 to a traffic engineering firm, Morgan Tucker, which specialised in road safety, to have an assessment of the crossing done. The most serious flaw it found was the seven-second shortfall in the crossing time. The report said: “It was observed on three occasions that pedestrians crossing towards the end of the green man period could not get to the other side before the traffic phase had turned green. The behaviour of drivers was, in all cases, not to wait for them to complete the crossing but to start moving forward across the crossing.” The report also found that the stop line for vehicles was too close to the crossing. The DfT recommends a minimum safe distance of three metres but the gap was as narrow as 0.8m.

After being told byThe Times of the findings, TfL at first denied that there was anything wrong with the crossing. A spokesman said that the report’s authors had been mistaken and added: “There are no plans to review signal timings at this part of the junction.” But this week, TfL contacted The Times to admit that it had failed to check the crossing before issuing its denial. In a new statement, TfL said: “Following an examination, this junction has been included as part of this year’s traffic signal modernisation programme. The signal timings will be reviewed as part of the design.” TfL admitted that a number of other signals did not comply with DfT safety guidelines but could not say how many. “They will also be modernised as part of a rolling programme,” it said.

Mr Iravanian said: “I am relieved that TfL are going to improve this lethal crossing but it is appalling that it has taken three months for them to admit there is a problem.” Last night TfL said: “Transport for London will vigorously deny at the inquest that the traffic lights contributed to Mrs Iravanian’s death.”

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Wrongly jailed Connecticut black gets $5 million

This wraps up a case previously covered on this blog on July 10 last year

A US man jailed for 18 years for a rape he did not commit was paid $US5 million ($A6.07 million) in compensation by the state of Connecticut. James Tillman, now 45, was arrested in 1988 and sentenced to 45 years in prison a year later. He was exonerated in 2006 and released after a DNA test proved his innocence.

"No amount of money we give Mr Tillman will erase this miscarriage of justice," Connecticut House of Representatives Speaker James Amann, a Democrat, said before lawmakers voted unanimously to give him $5 million. "We can, however, contribute to his healing, and help Mr Tillman move on with his life," Amann said.

The case had racial overtones. The victim, who is white, identified Tillman, who is black, from a police line-up. Police never caught the real rapist.

Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell, a Republican, has publicly apologised to Tillman on behalf of the state but previously offered him a much smaller $500,000 payment. She said she supported the legislature's $5 million figure. In exchange for the settlement, Tillman agreed not to sue the state and police for other claims, including medical malpractice over botched prison surgery that permanently damaged his right leg. The lump-sum payment will not be taxed by the state but is subject to federal income taxes.

Tillman, who was 26 when convicted, lives with his mother and works as an office assistant. He often speaks to school groups about his plight and expressed gratitude to lawmakers who supported his cause. His DNA test in 2006 was granted after lawyers from the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal clinic, got involved on his behalf, working with state authorities.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The ancient question above translates as "who will watch the watchers?". It is very much brought to mind when we read below that an Australian police officer who was put in charge of "cleaning up" police practices was himself a thuggish lawbreaker. It appears that there is also a Mexico Down Under

A SENIOR Victorian policeman who was appointed to clean up the troubled armed offenders squad has been charged along with three squad detectives over the alleged bashing of a suspect during questioning. Detective Inspector Bernie Rankin is the most senior officer charged by the Office of Police Integrity since it was formed by the Bracks Government three years ago. He has been charged along with suspended detective Robert Dabb and former detectives Mark Butterfield and Matthew Franc following explosive public OPI hearings last September that caused a schism between Commissioner Christine Nixon and the police union chief.

The hearings revealed secret video recordings of officers allegedly slapping, punching and kicking an armed robbery suspect in an interview room. Rankin, a former head of the homicide squad who is now on secondment with the Australian Federal Police in the Solomon Islands, is facing charges of "counselling or procuring" the alleged bashing.

His charges stem from tapes aired at the public hearings in which he was allegedly heard speaking to a suspect who was later allegedly beaten with a telephone after asking to make a call. On the tape, Rankin allegedly said: "I suggest you listen to some of the advice the boys are going to give you. It might be a lot less painful and a lot easier for you, all right?"

Rankin was appointed by force command to reform the controversial armed offenders squad, which was disbanded by Ms Nixon shortly before the public hearings.

The other three former squad members have been charged with a total of 23 counts of unlawful assault. All four former squad members have been charged with summary offences, which means a magistrate, rather than a jury, will rule on their case.

The laying of charges has reignited animosity between the OPI and the police union, which labelled last year's public hearings a "Spanish inquisition" because the detectives were denied the right to silence. Police Association secretary Paul Mullett yesterday questioned why it had taken so long to lay charges and why they were not being heard before a jury.
"Finally these members, who have been entitled to the fundamental principle at law of the presumption of innocence, will have their opportunity to defend themselves before a proper court," he said.

"This is unlike the previous process of attempting to convict them in the court of public opinion." Mr Mullett said he had serious doubts about whether the officers would receive a fair hearing because of the publicity surrounding last year's public hearings.

It is likely that graphic video footage shown at the public hearings but never released to the media will be aired in court.

During the public hearings it was revealed that a bungled search for a shotgun and stash of jewellery believed to belong to a suspect named "A100" sparked a two-hour interrogation in which he was allegedly bashed by detectives. At one stage, "A100" was allegedly struck once with each word: "F---ing . armed . robbery . squad."

Evidence aired at the hearings included footage of officers allegedly hitting the suspect, causing his ear to bleed. An officer is heard on the tape telling the suspect during the beating that: "That ear's coming off by the end of the day."

Franc, Butterfield and Dabb all denied before the public hearings that they were involved in the assault of the suspect.
Butterfield and Franc resigned from the force earlier this year while facing internal disciplinary charges. Dabb is suspended along with another member of the disbanded squad who is not facing any charges.

The squad was rebadged the Emerald taskforce last year but, after union pressure, renamed the Armed Offenders Taskforce.
The OPI and Victoria Police declined to comment on yesterday's filing of charges against the officers.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

British judgement slaps New Zealand judiciary in the face

This shows why New Zealand has for so long retained access to a British court for appeals -- a recourse that is, sadly, now being taken away. See an earlier comment about N.Z. justice on April 9th.

In a slap in the face for the New Zealand judiciary, the Privy Council has deemed the multiple murder convictions of David Bain a 'substantial miscarriage of justice' and quashed the convictions. The embarrassing decision also leaves open the major question: will the Crown proceed with another trial, given the criticisms and apparent weakness in their case and the evidence presented at the original trial?

The Privy Council, in their dramatic final act, have drawn down the curtain on a case that may remain as one of the most tragic and ill-fought prosecutions in the history of New Zealand law. It promises to leave open more questions and raise more issues about jurisprudence, police investigation and the political process than it served to answer in its actual decision.

Bain was convicted for murdering his parents, sisters, and brother in 1994 and the five law lords ordered a new trial. All had died from .22 gunshot wounds to their heads. However Bain would have to remain in prison awaiting that retrial.

The decision, in what is almost certainly the last case heard by the Privy Council, superseded by New Zealand's home-based Supreme Court, is also a supreme embarrassment for the New Zealand judicial system.

The Bain case has been heralded as a quagmire of contradictory, misleading and false evidence in the 13 years since the original trial and Bain's innocence has been championed by former All Black Joe Karam.

The Privy Council hearing was conducted by Michael Reed QC and Paul Morton while New Zealand's new Solicitor General, David Collins QC, appeared for the prosecution with others. Bain has maintained his innocence since being jailed for slaying five members of his family in their Dunedin home in 1994.

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Bain freed

"I LOVE you, now come and give me a hug," freed prisoner David Bain told his supporters last night as he was released on bail. After 12 years' jail for murdering his Dunedin family, Bain spent his first night of freedom at Christchurch's Clearwater Resort celebrating with friends. Outside the High Court after his release, Bain said he had not expected to be freed but it felt "pretty damn good". A long-time supporter, Patti Napier, said Bain had a "smile so wide it would take a crowbar to remove it".

Speaking outside the Christchurch court, a composed Bain - wearing a black suit and finely tailored open-necked white shirt that his chief supporter Joe Karam had delivered to him in prison - spoke about returning to Dunedin one day, and "trying to find some normality". His immediate home will be at Mr Karam's house in the small Waikato town of Te Kauwhata.

His bail conditions mean he cannot go to the South Island, Hamilton or Wellington, because members of his extended family live there. His freedom came five days after his last-ditch appeal to the Privy Council in London quashed the 1995 convictions for murdering five members of his family in June 1994.

Yesterday he again sat in a packed court, sitting bolt upright and with his hands clasped together in his lap, listening as the Crown opposed bail. The Crown argued Bain should remain behind bars to reflect the seriousness of the crimes, reminding the court "five premeditated, cold-blooded murders" had been committed. Moments later, however, Bain was free, Justice Fogarty noting Bain's case was "exceptional" and he was entitled to live "as normal a life as possible".

How normal that life can be now largely depends on the decision of the Solicitor-General, David Collins, QC, who will decide whether the Crown will seek a retrial. No date has been set for that decision, but it is expected to be weeks away. Bain said after his release that he had been "preparing myself for the worst", but now just wanted to spend time with those who had campaigned so long and hard for his release. "Last night I made sure I did a bit of exercise and got myself tired so I could get to sleep," he said. "In court, I was just trying to keep going, minute by minute, clasping on to the strength that Joe's given me. "It's a huge relief. I've had a lot of friends who have kept me going and I just want to show them how much I appreciate it all."

Report here

Background to the case is on Wikipedia. The deaths were apparently a murder-suicide carried out by David Bain's father but David Bain was never given the benefit of the doubt about that and much evidence was not considered despite many appeals to N.Z. courts

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Corrupt administration of justice in the Australian State of New South Wales

Last Thursday, the NSW Minister for Police, David Campbell, acted without any sense of irony or respect for due process. His tool of character assassination was a Dorothy Dix question from a crony during question time in Parliament. He was asked: "Can the minister update the house on the prosecution of the former deputy senior Crown prosecutor of the Director of Public Prosecutions [Patrick Power]?"

Campbell, a former lord mayor of Wollongong, responded to this set-up by accusing the former deputy director of public prosecutions, Greg Smith, SC, of impropriety, misconduct and hindering police. It is noted at this point that Smith recently had the temerity to run for Parliament as a Liberal candidate at the last state election, and won the seat of Epping. He is now shadow attorney-general. "On 4 July [2006]," Campbell told the Parliament, "Smith told Dr Power that child pornography had been found on his [Power's] computer and it was likely that he had committed a serious offence. Remarkably, despite having advised him of the discovery of evidence against him, Mr Smith then allowed Dr Power to go home. "What we now know is that police were not able to seize a [computer hard drive] which contained catalogued homosexual pornography. This drive, and any of the disturbing files that may have been contained on it, could not be considered by the court in sentencing Dr Power yesterday. That is because the member for Epping tipped off Dr Power before alerting New South Wales police."

Uproar. Question time was dominated by the minister's ensuing public inquisition of Smith. In fact, Smith had contacted the police within 30 minutes of his meeting with Power but it had taken the police two days to get to Power's house. A detailed report about the conduct of Smith and the DPP is with the NSW Attorney-General. The head of the DPP, and Smith's former boss, Nicholas Cowdery, is unimpressed by the way the integrity of his office has been attacked. "It has caused considerable distress for a lot of people," Cowdery told me by email on Friday. "I have given a very full report to the Attorney-General. The ball's in his court now."

Cowdery is right to be concerned. We seem to have reached a new low in the NSW justice system. The behaviour of the Minister for Police in Parliament is the latest example, and it follows by just one week the highly dubious contempt trial revolving around protecting the identity and reputation of a young man who can only be known as MWK.

It stemmed from a brief news story in The Daily Telegraph on July 12, 2005 which named MWK as a 16-year-old witness in a murder trial. As a juvenile, his identity is protected by law. I know a lot about MWK. I've seen him in action many times. He is the person who provided me with the title of my last book, Girls Like You, which comes from his comment "Shut up you bitch, you slut. Girls like you, I know how to fix them up", uttered before he assaulted his 16-year-old sister.

The justice system has been assiduous in protecting the interests of MWK, even though he has engaged in unrelenting perjury in no less than three matters before the courts. Yet MWK has never been charged with perjury. Instead, in the perverse logic of our justice system, the broadcaster Alan Jones has been charged and convicted with contempt because he read, on air, the report in which MWK's name appeared in print. It was there by mistake. A court reporter for The Daily Telegraph, Nicolette Casella, believed the suppression order concerning MWK's name had been lifted. As a result of her inadvertent error, which caused no damage to MWK, Alan Jones was put on trial, found guilty of contempt, and his company fined $3000. Another $4000 fine was separately imposed on News Ltd, publisher of The Daily Telegraph.

Jones had not been present in court when the judge issued the suppression orders, unlike Ms Casella. He wasn't the one who put this name into the public domain, unlike The Daily Telegraph. He did not commit perjury, unlike MWK. Yet he is the one who is convicted, because he read from the Telegraph's news story, which contained an error he was unaware of and did not make. It is extremely rare for the media to breach suppression orders, and thus it is a reasonable assumption that if a name appears in a court report, the name has not been suppressed. To compound this bizarre discrepancy, it was even suggested in court that Jones apologise to MWK.

I asked Nicholas Cowdery why there was such a gulf between the treatment of Alan Jones and the treatment of Nicolette Casella. He didn't know. He pointed out that although the DPP conducted the prosecution case, it did not make the decision over who to investigate and charge. "It is not my office's role to investigate offences or to charge anyone and we do not do so," he told me by email. "It is my office's role to prosecute matters referred to it by investigators. My office can only do its job in response to investigations and charges undertaken and put on by others."

Then who are the "others" who made the decision? Cowdery suggested I ask the police prosecutors. Such high-profile decisions are also made within the Attorney-General's Department. If this contempt trial was meant to buttress public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the justice system in NSW, it has had the opposite effect. So has last week's behaviour by the Minister for Police. It is part of a trend. Selective justice is becoming normalised.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Politicians who put themselves above the law

Post lifted from Reason . See the original for links

In the wake of New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine's recent car accident, much has been made of the governor's decision not to wear a seat belt. One of the governor's own aides suggested the governor be issued a citation, even as he lay in a hospital bed in critical condition. And a resident of New Jersey filed a formal complaint against Corzine.

While I'm not personally fond of mandatory seat-belt laws (I don't think it's the government's responsibility to protect us from ourselves), there is certainly some hypocrisy involved in his presiding over a state that requires the use of seat belts while the governor himself refuses to wear one. But I found it interesting that at a short press conference held just before he left the hospital, Gov. Corzine apologized for his "poor example" in failing to buckle up, but didn't apologize for the actual cause of the accident - conveying the idea that he, the governor, is too important to obey traffic laws.

We now know that Corzine and his driver were barreling down a busy highway at more than 90 miles per hour, flashing their lights, shunting commoner motorists to the side of the road. The sight of Corzine's car rushing up in one driver's review mirror caused him to lose control of his truck in an effort to get out of the way, triggering a chain reaction that resulted in the accident that put Corzine in the hospital. It's fortunate Corzine's driver didn't kill someone.

And what exactly was so important that Corzine had to put the lives and safety of his fellow citizens at risk? He was on his way to a reconciliation meeting between shock jock Don Imus and the Rutgers women's basketball team. Essentially a photo-op. It's telling that Corzine is contrite for putting his own life at risk, but not for jeopardizing the lives of everyone else on the road.

Corzine isn't the only one. There's an increasing hubris among many elected officials that their job is so important, their time so much more precious than ours and their position in public life so privileged, that they can zip by us on the road, pushing everyday folk aside so they can get to their far more important destinations.

This is about more than just traffic laws, of course. It's about the arrogance of power. These politicians not only assume their lives, meetings and fundraisers are more important than everyone else's to the point that they don't have to follow the rules, they're willing to put other people on the road at risk to prove their point.

In 2003, The Washington Post reported that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson routinely ordered his driver to whip down public roads at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. Even after those reports, when a police officer attempted to pull over Richardson's car for speeding in 2005, the governor's driver refused to stop. In the last two years, Richardson's lieutenant governor has also been caught running a red light and parking in a fire zone. For his part, Richardson refused to apologize for his law-breaking. He said he'd instruct his drivers to slow down, but cited his busy schedule as governor and said he wouldn't promise not to speed again. By April 2006, his car was seen pushing 90 again.

In 2003, South Dakota Rep. Bill Janklow blew through a stop sign while speeding and killed a man on a motorcycle. Janklow had been previously pulled over 16 times for speeding, but never ticketed. Though Janklow was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the accident, in 2004 prosecutors determined he was officially "on the job" when he struck the motorcyclist, meaning federal taxpayers will have to foot the bill for the $25 million lawsuit filed by Janklow's victim's family.

Press reports in 2004 revealed that Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell's car had been clocked traveling over 100 miles per hour on nine separate occasions. Rendell subsequently admitted to giving his drivers permission to speed to get him to meetings, though he did promise to stop giving those instructions in the future. After Corzine's crash in April, Rendell acknowledged that despite his prior assurances, his drivers do sometimes still exceed the speed limit to help him make appointments, but he assured Pennsylvanians that he always wears his seat belt. Well. Good thing he's keeping himself safe.

I happen to live in the Washington, D.C., area, a hotbed of the motorcade madness. I can tell you, it's a little scary to be humming along on the interstate at 70 miles per hour, only to see a bunch of cars with flashing lights zooming up on your bumper. Everyone scrambles to get out of the way, and it isn't difficult to see how accidents might happen. One D.C.-area blogger wrote about an accident last month where a D.C. motorcade plowed through a red light and slammed into a Jeep.

Anecdotally, there seem to be quite a few more motorcades than there used to be. I can understand why security concerns would cause very high-ranking federal officials - the president and vice president, for example - to require a motorcade and have streets opened up to allow them to pass (though I do find President Bush's tendency to shut down entire cities during rush hour so he can attend political fundraisers just as pompous). But the number of public officials who think they're important enough to push other motorists aside seems to be on the rise.

This past March, newly-elected D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty's car was caught on video racing across icy roads and ignoring red lights and traffic laws on his way to a political fundraiser. Fenty's excuse was lame. "If you're trying to make sure that you're on time so that the business of the city does not have to wait, stop or be delayed, I think it is appropriate," he said. Please. Fenty's job is no more important than anyone else's. It's certainly not so important that he should be able to put other motorists at risk. And let's not forget: He was on his way to a fundraiser. Fenty's wife gets a police escort, too.

There's also a measure of hypocrisy to all of this. Gov. Richardson is a staunch supporter of red-light cameras. Mayor Fenty supports his city's red-light and speed cameras, despite the fact that D.C.'s red-light cameras have been plagued by charges of corruption, poor maintenance and the tendency to issue tickets to innocent motorists. Gov. Rendell presided over the installation of the first surveillance cameras in Philadelphia (after, it's worth adding, a $75,000 campaign contribution from the company that was awarded the contract to install them).

All these politicians have supported laws that could generally be seen as anti-motorist, be it allowing for camera surveillance of public roads, increasing fines and punishments for traffic offenses or adding new offenses to the books. All sanctimoniously sign these bills while mouthing high-minded rhetoric about public safety (usually, such bills are more about generating revenue for city coffers). But the minute "public safety" conflicts with their own sense of self-importance, these politicians are quick to dispense with the laws they expect the rest of us to follow.

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Britain: No penalty for butcher surgeon

A gynaecologist who admitted failing to get a woman’s informed consent before conducting an operation that left her unable to have sex has been ruled fit to practise. Dr June Swinhoe accepted that she had failed to tell Marilyn Howland of the risks of operating on her vaginal prolapse because she assumed that she was no longer having sex with her husband. Mrs Howland, now 52, was not told that the operation, on March 3, 2003, at the King George Hospital in Ilford, Essex, could lead to complications such as dyspareunia – painful intercourse. She told the fitness to practise panel of the General Medical Council that Dr Swinhoe told her that the only risks were a recurrence of the prolapse and urine infections.

Despite ruling that Dr Swinhoe’s fitness to practise was impaired by her misconduct, the panel ruled that the consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist’s error was an “aberration”. Dr Peter Jefferys, the panel’s chairman, said: “The panel is confident that you do not pose any risk to patients by repeating the errors which resulted in this hearing. You have learned from this distressing experience.”

Mrs Howland, then of Epping but now living in France, was referred to Dr Swinhoe after complaining of a vaginal prolapse and discomfort during sexual intercourse. Dr Swinhoe admitted that before undertaking the vaginal repair surgery she had made “assumptions about her sexual activity that I now accept were probably incorrect”. Mrs Howland, who is also mounting a civil suit, told the panel she had not been able to have sex with her husband since the operation. She said: “I’ ve lost my husband, I’ve lost my lover, I’ve lost a lot of my life, and all unnecessarily.”

The panel described the hearing as a “wholly exceptional case”. Dr Jeffreys said: “You failed to take a full and appropriate sexual history from a patient, Mrs M Howland. You also failed to advise Mrs Howland fully of the risks associated with prolapse surgery. You thereby failed to obtain informed consent from Mrs Howland prior to undertaking vaginal repair surgery. “Your actions, in respect of this patient, fell significantly below the standards to be expected of a competent consultant gynaecologist. However, the panel finds that the deficiencies in your communication with Mrs Howland and your failure to obtain informed consent from her were an aberration and amount to an isolated departure from your usual high standards of professional competence and care.”

Dr Swinhoe, of East Finchley, North London, apologised to the panel, and said that she regretted her actions.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Murdering British cops are home free

Police watchdogs have cleared Scotland Yard officers of any disciplinary offence over the Stockwell shooting but the senior woman in charge could still face action. The Independent Police Complaints Commmission is expected to announce today that a decision on Commander Cressida Dick, and a number of officers who were advising her, will wait until the end of the Yard's trial under health and safety laws over the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. This is due to start in the autumn.

Last night, one source close to the Scotland Yard told The Times: "The IPCC is going to say various officers are OK but they will reserve their position on a number of others and wait until the end of the trial." Penalties imposed in police disciplinary hearings, which are normally in private, can range from an admonition or warning to loss of pay, a reduction in rank or dismissal. If a charge was brought against Ms Dick, it would be heard by the Metropolitan Police Authority because of her rank.

Mr de Menezes, 27, a Brazilian electrician, was killed on July 22, 2005, during a botched counter-terrorist operation the day after the collapse of an alleged attack on London's transport system. He was shot eight times as he sat in a carriage at the station after being wrongly identified as a terror suspect and followed by a Scotland Yard team fearing a fresh attack on the Underground system.

The IPCC issued warnings of possible disciplinary action to nearly a dozen Scotland Yard officers who took part in the operation at Stockwell station in South London. One investigation by the IPCC nicknamed Stockwell One has looked at the shooting and another, dubbed Stockwell Two, has examined complaints about what Sir Ian Blair, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and Scotland Yard said afterwards. The report on the actual shooting was passed to the CPS last year and the force now faces a trial this autumn.

Eleven officers were named in Stockwell One including the marksmen deployed on July 22 under the "Kratos" rules, which allow a "shoot-to-kill" policy for suicide bombers. Commander Dick, now a Deputy Assistant Commissioner, was the officer with the power to authorise the use of shoot-to-kill force to stop a suspected bomber. She had several middle-ranking officers acting as technical advisers. She was questioned by the IPCC investigators, but other officers submitted statements and employed their right to remain silent.

Documents and photographs from the investigation alleged that one of the undercover team meant to be identifying the shot man was relieving himself as Mr de Menezes left his flat. The IPCC also discovered that a Special Branch logbook had apparently been altered to hide that he had been identified wrongly.

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Friday, May 11, 2007


Alan Crotzer went to prison in 1982 for the kind of crime that could make a pacifist want to draw blood. He was convicted of being one of three armed black men who a year earlier had robbed five white occupants of an apartment in Tampa, and kidnapped and raped two of them - a woman, 38, and a 12-year-old girl. After the sexual assault, these bottom-dwellers left their victims tied to a tree.

Crotzer was arrested after the woman picked his picture from a group of photos shown to her by investigators. (He previously had been arrested as a teenager for stealing beer.) While in incarceration awaiting trial, Crotzer said, he was attacked by a white prisoner who slashed his face with an improvised knife while calling him a "raping ass nigger."

After a brief trial, a jury convicted Crotzer, who was sentenced to 130 years in prison. If you think he got what he deserved, consider this: Last year, Crotzer was released after DNA testing proved him innocent. "I did 24 years, seven months, 13 days and 4 hours," he told me of his time behind bars. Half a life

Now 45, Crotzer spent more than half of his life in prisons, where he says rape and violent attacks, sometimes at the hands of guards, occurred on a regular basis. Crotzer worried that he'd never get out alive. It was his mother's belief that he'd be freed that kept him going. "She used to tell me, 'Baby, don't give up 'cause God's gonna fix it. And when He fixes it, He's going to fix it right,' " he recalls her saying. Crotzer's mother died while he was in prison, a loss that was all the more crushing because he wasn't allowed to attend her funeral.

If all of this isn't bad enough, for the second time in as many years Florida's Legislature has failed to pass a bill that would give Crotzer financial compensation for his wrongful conviction - for the nearly quarter century that the state's criminal justice system mistakenly forced him to spend in prison. Though the House passed a measure that would have given Crotzer $1.25 million, the state senate didn't act on the bill in the recently ended legislative session.

'What's fair and not fair'

"I'm not going to give an opinion on what's fair and not fair. The Senate is not going to be put in a position where we're doing it at the last minute," Senate President Ken Pruitt said of the legislation, according to The Miami Herald. "Nothing good ever happens whenever you're rushed or you work late."

That's outrageous. Florida is one of 29 states that does not have a law prescribing how wrongfully convicted persons should be compensated for lost freedom, according to the Innocence Project, a national organization that promotes DNA testing to exonerate innocent people. The state deals with these matters on a case-by-case basis - and in Crotzer's case it has dealt with him badly.

"There has to be a process through the Legislature to pay people for the time they spend in prison for crimes they didn't do. The money and an apology are critical for their healing," says Jenny Greenberg, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida.

That idea shouldn't be a hard sell. Crotzer was robbed of what could well have been the most productive years of his life by a wrongful conviction. And in the 15 months since his release, he has struggled - without any useful job skills - to put his life back in order. How long will he be forced to wait for Florida to pay the debt it owes him?

What is it going to take to get Florida and the other states that don't have them to enact a compensation statute? DNA testing has made it possible for some people who have been imprisoned by mistake to go free. Now we've got to find a way to get state lawmakers such as Pruitt to move expeditiously - and predictably - to help make these victims whole.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Australia: Only three years for kiling a disabled cab-driver?

Two teenage girls jailed for killing a disabled Sydney taxi driver were "violent little animals" whose parents also deserved to be in prison, the victim's family said today. Youbert Hormozi, 53, died of a heart attack after he was bashed by the 14-year-old girls on January 31 last year. The cousins, who cannot be named, pleaded guilty to his manslaughter and were jailed today for up to six years. Mr Hormozi's former wife Anna and daughter Melina cried and shook with emotion after Supreme Court Justice Peter McClellan ordered the killers to serve a minimum three-and-a-half years. With time already served, the pair will be eligible for parole in August 2009. The state opposition has called for an appeal against what it called an "inadequate" sentence.

Outside court Mrs Hormozi asked how the sentences would deter others. "What sort of message is that going to send?" she asked. She compared the girls to "violent little animals", saying: "They should be caged." "My concern is that they shouldn't have been out there at two o'clock in the morning," Mrs Hormozi said. "Their parents should be right along there with them, serving their sentence with their kids."

The girls had been drinking heavily and smoking marijuana before they caught Mr Hormozi's cab in southwest Sydney. After refusing to pay the fare they punched and kicked the driver, whose left arm had been paralysed by a stroke. The pair fled in Mr Hormozi's stolen taxi and left the injured father of two in a Canley Heights street, where he died. Mr Hormozi had coronary disease and the attack was "sufficient to traumatise him and trigger the heart attack from which he died", Justice McClellan said.

Before they were arrested the next day, the girls boasted of what they had done. "I've been on the news," said one. "I killed someone and will kill again." The girls giggled and smiled during previous court proceedings – a sign of their immaturity, psychologists said, rather than a lack of remorse. Both came from violent families, with one saying: "If you do something wrong, you get smashed." The other was accustomed to "violence or aggression as a communication strategy", Justice McClellan said.

While the judge said "alcohol and drugs are not a licence for committing crime", the sentences took the girls' youth and impaired judgment into account. Now aged 15, the killers held hands in the dock after learning their fate.

Justice McClellan acknowledged that some in the community might consider the sentences inadequate, and the Hormozi family may feel that a much greater punishment should be imposed. "Every member of the community must be reminded of the vulnerability of other people to acts of violence," he said. But rehabilitation was important and the teenagers had been responding to the discipline and care they received in custody, the judge said. With time already served, the teenagers will be eligible for parole in August 2009.

Opposition justice spokesman Greg Smith said the sentence was inadequate and called on the Director of Public Prosecutions to appeal. "They acted very callously and had they been adults they would have attracted a very high sentence," he told reporters. "When young people act like adults, the court have said they should be punished like adults."

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Whoops! Sorry I shot your dog

Via Radley Balko's The Agitator comes word of a heavily armed Stockton, California, "code enforcement" team that arrived at the wrong address in the course of responding to a complaint about drug use--and ended up shooting the family dog and injuring a mother and her five-year-old daughter.

Yes, you heard that right; a code enforcement team which, according to the article, "addresses unsafe living conditions and includes armed deputies for the safety of environmental health workers... A team includes a sergeant, two deputies, two environmental health workers and two code enforcement officers, and often a California Highway Patrol officer." What are code inspectors doing tagging along on a drug raid? Conversely, what are cops doing tagging along for a home inspection?

Balko suggests that such teams have been assembled as an end-run around the Fourth Amendment. The inspectors can gain access to homes that would require warrants for police officers alone. While the article isn't clear on whether the team had a warrant, I think he's probably right; other jurisdictions--notably, Belleville, Illinois--have pulled similar stunts explicitly to get around the search-and-seizure protections that usually shield people from unwarranted intrusions into their homes.

But such stunts are almost certainly unconstitutional. In 1967, in the case of Camara v. Municipal Court of San Francisco, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled:

In summary, we hold that administrative searches of the kind at issue here are significant intrusions upon the interests protected by the Fourth Amendment, that such searches when authorized and conducted without a warrant procedure lack the traditional safeguards which the Fourth Amendment guarantees to the individual, and that the reasons put forth in Frank v. Maryland and in other cases for upholding these warrantless searches are insufficient to justify so substantial a weakening of the Fourth Amendment's protections.

The Supreme Court allowed an exception for "emergency situations," which Stockton may have invoked as a creative interpretation of the drug complaint. Or Stockton may simply have ignored the standard set by the Supreme Court as Belleville has done. The idea that home inspectors have super-constitutional powers seems to be stuck in the minds of certain government officials, never to be dislodged by mere legal precedent. That's dangerous enough, but the full extent of politicians' contempt for constitutional protections becomes clear when they attempt to piggyback police officers on the special powers they imagine to be possessed by code enforcers.

Unfortunately, the importance of constitutional protections is emphasized most strongly by incidents like the one in Stockton. Any encounter between citizens and government officials is fraught with legal risk for the citizens. Who can keep track of all the laws on the books and be sure that they've run afoul of none? But add armed police officers to the mix and the potential for violence becomes very real. That's especially true as police have become increasingly aggressive in their tactics.

A warrant requirement at least places some restraints on the encounter. At the very least, there must be suspicion of criminal activity and probable cause to persuade a judge (although too many judges these days are nothing but rubber stamps). Searches done by the book, with warrants, are sufficiently subject to abuse and mistake that loosening restraints on the state clearly opens the door for horrific results. Like arriving at the wrong address, shooting a harmless dog and wounding a mother and her daughter with bullet fragments.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Huge bill for husband in state mental hospital

Citing a 1967 law, California wants a Galt woman to pay $335,000 for holding disturbed spouse in facility -- making her responsible for the deeds of someone else, which is a violation of natural justice

Honorato Rodriguez had a history of mental illness and delusions that neighbors were out to get him when he lobbed a Molotov cocktail over the fence of his Galt home. Nobody was hurt and no home burned down, but the dangerous act landed the 55-year-old Rodriguez, a victim of Parkinson's disease, in a state mental hospital. Rodriguez's care is costing $455 per day. His wife, Gloria, a seasonal cannery worker whose only major asset is the family's 30-year-old, three-bedroom home, is billed for the amount under state law. "If I had the money, I would pay it -- but I don't have the money," Gloria Rodriguez said of demands by the state Department of Developmental Services for payment of $335,000 owed by May 2006.

The Rodriguez case is sparking questions about whether, and under what conditions, the state should seize assets from families that could neither prevent, nor predict, a violent act from an insane relative. Murderers, rapists and robbers don't pay for their imprisonment, but Rodriguez and others too mentally unstable to be guilty of any crime are liable for massive state hospital costs.

Rodriguez was sentenced to state care by Sacramento Judge Thomas Cecil, who found him not guilty of arson by reason of insanity. Family members did not choose the location or the duration of the placement, yet they must pay for it.

Assemblyman Guy Houston, R-San Ramon, recently wrote a letter asking state agencies temporarily to suspend collection efforts. "It is unconscionable that the state of California is allowed to collect money under these circumstances," he wrote. Houston said he understands, and does not necessarily oppose, efforts to reimburse taxpayers for bankrolling public services. "There has to be a middle ground," he said.

Kirsten Macintyre, spokeswoman for the state Department of Mental Health, said the agency is bound by state law to collect from the Rodriguezes but is trying to do so sensitively. "This is the law and we have to follow it," she said, adding that she does not know lawmakers' rationale for passing the reimbursement statute in 1967.

Targeting patients' families provides taxpayers with some hedge against very expensive care not covered by Medi-Cal. Collections last year totaled $3.3 million from 230 patients.

The state initially filed court papers seeking the entire Rodriguez estate, which would include the home, but later issued a settlement offer that would place a lien against half the residence and not force Gloria Rodriguez to move. "There was never any talk about taking her house from her, as long as she was living," Macintyre said. The settlement offer would resolve current debts, but not necessarily Rodriguez's future state hospital costs of $166,000 annually. Rodriguez is not expected to regain his sanity any time soon, if ever, raising the specter of astronomical expenses that could jeopardize assets of his two grown children, Raquel, 29, and Fabian, 28. "You know, it's OK if I lose my house," Gloria Rodriguez said. "But they're just starting."

A 2005 psychiatric report in Rodriguez's court file describes his delusions as "severe and pervasive." It mentions an incident in which he tried to head-butt a nurse while in custody. "Unfortunately, the Parkinson's disease is going to inexorably worsen in time," the report said.

Gloria Rodriguez recalls happier times. She met Honorato when both were 22. Both had immigrated from Mexico legally. He was a student in an English class where she was an aide, she said. The Rodriguezes married in 1975. Honorato, a high school dropout, worked various jobs at a farm, dairy and a company that made rubber mats. "He was a good person," Gloria Rodriguez said. "He was always a family person."

Honorato was stricken with Parkinson's disease at 37 or 38. His speech became slurred, his limbs stiff, and he often had trouble walking, she said. His mental condition also deteriorated. "It was mostly like the neighbors were out to get him," she recalled. "He thought they were looking through the windows, or at night, he could hear them jumping over the house and trying to get in the house."

Gloria Rodriguez does not know what provoked her husband, who had no criminal record, to toss a Molotov cocktail into the backyard of her neighbor in July 2002. He ultimately was sentenced to eight years in a state hospital or until he regains his sanity. Rodriguez's psychiatric report from Atascadero State Hospital said he allegedly had "bashed in the windows of his neighbor's truck" prior to the arson and "chased the neighbor's children with a stick." The longtime Galt resident currently is housed at Napa State Hospital. Rodriguez's ailment, Parkinson's disease, is a degenerative neurological disorder for which there is no known cure.

Lew Uhler, president of the National Tax Limitation Committee, which supports seeking reimbursement for other programs, said there is no compelling reason to charge the Rodriguezes. Taxpayers should pay to confine insane offenders, as they do for regular prisoners, because both pose the same danger to public safety, he said. "The only distinction is mental competence," Uhler said.

Attorney Randy Rosa, representing the Rodriguezes, argues the state's reimbursement laws may violate constitutional rights to due process and equal protection. While some mentally disordered offenders are placed in a state hospital, others land in a different type of locked facility -- licensed by the state, funded largely through Medi-Cal and operating under less stringent reimbursement statutes. State law sets no limits on a state hospital patient's cumulative bills, and it makes a patient's spouse, parents and children jointly and separately liable , he said. "It just strains my belief in a fair and moral system," Rosa said.

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