Saturday, May 31, 2008

Polygamist sect members waiting for children to be returned after Texas Supreme Court ruling

Officials say that they will comply

Now, the waiting begins. A Texas Supreme Court ruling paves the way for members of a polygamist sect to get their children out of foster care, but it remains unclear when that might happen or what kind of restrictions might be imposed. "I'm happy (when) all the children are back to their mothers and we're home," said Martha Emack, who was visiting her 1-year-old and 2-year-old in foster care in Austin when word of the ruling arrived Thursday.

The court said child welfare officials overstepped their authority and the children should be returned to their parents, a crushing blow to the state's massive seizure of children from a polygamist sect's ranch in western Texas. The high court affirmed a decision by an appellate court last week, saying Child Protective Services failed to show an immediate danger to the more than 400 children swept up from the Yearning For Zion Ranch nearly two months ago. "On the record before us, removal of the children was not warranted," the justices said in their ruling issued in Austin.

The high court let stand the appellate court's order that Texas District Judge Barbara Walther return the children from foster care to their parents. It's not clear how soon that may happen, but the appellate court ordered her to do it within a reasonable time period. Walther may still put restrictions on where the parents could live, for example, once the children are returned.

The ruling shatters one of the largest child-custody cases in U.S. history. State officials said the removals were necessary to end a cycle of sexual abuse at the ranch in which teenage girls were forced to marry and have sex with older men, but parents denied any abuse and said they were being persecuted for their religious beliefs. Every child at the ranch run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Eldorado was removed; half were 5 or younger.

CPS officials said they were disappointed by the ruling but would take immediate steps to comply. "We are disappointed, but we understand and respect the court's decision," the agency said in a written statement. FLDS elder Willie Jessop said parents were excited about the court's decision but would remain apprehensive until they get their children back. "We're just looking forward to when little children can be in the arms of their parents," he said. "Until you have your children in your hands, there's no relief. But we have hope."

The case before the court technically only applies to the 124 children of 38 mothers who filed the complaint that prompted the ruling, but it significantly affects nearly all the children since they were removed under identical circumstances. The Third Court of Appeals in Austin ruled last week that the state failed to show that any more than five of the teenage girls were being sexually abused, and had offered no evidence of sexual or physical abuse against the other children.

The FLDS, which teaches that polygamy brings glorification in heaven, is a breakaway sect of the Mormon church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago. Roughly 430 children from the ranch are in foster care after two births, numerous reclassifications of adult women initially held as minors and a handful of agreements allowing parents to keep custody while the Supreme Court considered the case.

Texas officials claimed at one point that there were 31 teenage girls at the ranch who were pregnant or had been pregnant, but later conceded that about half of those mothers, if not more, were adults. One was 27.

Under state law, children can be taken from their parents if there's a danger to their physical safety, an urgent need for protection and if officials made a reasonable effort to keep the children in their homes. The high court agreed with the appellate court that the seizures fell short of that standard. CPS lawyers had argued that parents could remove their children from state jurisdiction if they regain custody, that DNA tests needed to confirm parentage are still pending and that the lower-court judge had discretion in the case.

The justices said child welfare officials can take numerous actions to protect children short of separating them from their parents and placing them in foster care, and that Walther may still put restrictions on the children and parents to address concerns that they may flee once reunited.

Original report here (Follow the link for some pictures)

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Texas still fighting to keep kids away from their mothers -- despite no evidence of harm

I can see Texas taxpayers being hit with a huge damages bill at the end of this. Just watch the lawyers start talking about pain and suffering, for a start. Then multiply that by the big number of people victimized by the official goons. Texas is in such a deep hole now that they will probably have to go to the Supreme Court in a desperate attempt to escape what's coming for their illegal actions -- but that will just cost the taxpayers even more in the end

The Texas Supreme Court ruled today that the removal of 468 children from a polygamist sect on grounds they were at risk of abuse was unwarranted. The ruling upholds a Texas appeals court decision on May 22 that state authorities had had no right to remove the children from the sect because it had not proven they were in imminent danger. It was not immediately clear if the children would soon be returned to their parents. Observers said the case could make its way to the US Supreme Court before it is resolved.

Officials raided the sprawling compound of the reclusive sect on April 3 and took more than 450 girls and boys into state custody amid allegations of systemic sexual and physical abuse. Officials said girls were being "groomed" to accept sex with their middle-aged "spiritual husbands" as soon as they hit puberty and boys were being indoctrinated to perpetuate the cycle of abuse, at the ranch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) near Eldorado, Texas.

But the Texas Court of Appeals ruled that the Texas Department of Protective Services overstepped its authority by removing children who were not in "immediate" danger of harm. The state high court today upheld that decision, denying an appeal by Texas authorities who said they needed to remove the children from the ranch to ensure their safety. "On the record before us, removal of the children was not warranted," the ruling said.

It said Texas child protection authorities took possession of "all 468 children at the Ranch without a court order". "The Family Code gives the district court broad authority to protect children short of separating them from their parents and placing them in foster care," the high court said. It suggested Texas authorities had at their disposal other methods to ensure the safety of the children, including "restraining a party" from taking a child outside a certain area and "the removal of an alleged perpetrator from the child's home". "While the district court must vacate the current temporary custody orders by the court of appeals," it added, "it need not do so without granting other appropriate relief to protect the children".

The FLDS split from the mainstream Mormon church when polygamy was banned. The group holds that plural marriage is a way to get to heaven. Mainstream Mormons now excommunicate members who engage in polygamy and reject any connection with the FLDS. The ranch was purchased in 2003 and built by Warren Jeffs, the leader of the group, who was convicted last year by a Utah court on two counts of being an accomplice to rape, relating to the forced marriage of a schoolgirl to a cousin.

Original report here

What did CPS think it was doing?

Comment by David Friedman

The FLDS case is not yet over; the Child Protective Service has appealed the court decision to the Supreme Court. Nonetheless, I think it's worth looking back at the history of the case in order to figure out what CPS thought it was doing and why it thought it could get away with actions that a court has now found to be totally without legal justification. Two possibilities occur to me.

The first is that the CPS knew its actions were unjustified but was relying on the prejudice of the population and the court system to get away with them. On this reading the real objective was to drive the FLDS out of Texas and/or to destroy it. That is consistent with at least some of the evidence. It seems clear that, about three years ago, a local legislator introduced a package of bills to the legislature, some of which passed, intended to target the FLDS. They included an increase in the legal age of marriage with parental consent from fourteen to sixteen and raising polygamy to a felony. It is even possible, on this reading, that the CPS expected to eventually lose in the courts but believed, perhaps correctly, that they could impose large enough costs on the FLDS families in the process to persuade them to go somewhere else.

It is worth noting that the only justification offered by the CPS for seizing male children was that they were being brought up to be child abusers—which is to say, being brought up in their parents' religion. It sounds from some news stories as though the implicit deal being offered to parents was that if they would accept suitable psychological counseling, they would eventually get their children back. Combine those two and it looks as though the idea was to force people to renounce their religion, holding their children hostage until they did.

The alternative interpretation is that the CPS believed its own story. Based on the picture of the FLDS painted by anti-polygamy activists, primarily ex-members, they may have expected to find lots of pregnant minors, some of them thirteen or fourteen, and lots more minors with children. Having found them, they would then have sufficient legal justification for a good deal of what they wanted to do and sufficient public support for all of it. And if the story they believed was true, they were in fact doing their job, protecting minors from abuse, even if they were stretching the law a little to do it.

When they actually got control over the children, they discovered that the data were strikingly inconsistent with the theory. Apparently none of the minors were pregnant and only five had had children--a rate not far from the average teen pregnancy rate for the state. The CPS officials were reluctant to either recognize that they had made a mistake or admit it, so tried in various ways to fudge up evidence to support their actions. So far as public opinion was concerned, they mostly succeeded, with the help of major media too biased to do a competent job of looking at and reporting the facts.

In their defense, they were not the only people to believe the story. I believed it too. While I might have suspected some exaggeration, I assumed that the account given by defectors from the sect was substantially accurate. If I had been asked to predict the number of pregnant minors on the ranch, my guess would have been substantially above zero.

The evidence now available suggests that the story was not true, or at least not true of this community of the FLDS. Either things have changed over time, or the Texas FLDS community was different from the Colorado City community, or the FLDS defectors were giving a false and biased report from the beginning.

All of those alternatives are possible. What is not possible is that, in a community functioning as the FLDS was said to be functioning, where girls just past puberty were routinely married to much older men and forced to have sex with them and bear their children, no minor was pregnant and fewer than a fifth of the minor women aged 14-17 had ever had children. Yet those, apparently, are the facts of the Texas case.

Original report here

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tallahassee drug cops put a young woman in harm's way and then blame her for her own death

They heavied her into taking part in a drug sting but then did nothing to protect her

Tallahassee attorneys Johnny Devine and Danielle Joyner Kelley have issued a news release critical of the Tallahassee Police Department's handling of Rachel Hoffman, who was working as a confidential informant at the time of her disappearance Wednesday. Her body was found Friday morning in rural Taylor County. Two men are facing charges in her death, authorities have said. Here's the full news release:

Attorneys for Slain Rachel Hoffman have issued a response to the Press Release held by the Tallahassee Police Department on May 9, 2008 on behalf of the Hoffman Family.

Local Attorneys Johnny Devine with the Law Office of Johnny Devine, P.A., and Danielle Joyner Kelley with the Law Offices of Marie Mattox, P.A. have issued a statement on Saturday, May 10, 2008 responding to the press conference that was held yesterday by the Tallahassee Police Department. Both attorneys and their firms are representing the Hoffman Family. The following is a joint statement by both attorneys:

Today, the community of Tallahassee, Florida mourns the loss of a beautiful girl. Today, those living in Pinellas County and the Clearwater Beach, Florida area mourn the loss of a beautiful citizen. Today, the State of Florida mourns the loss of a vibrant, intelligent, beautiful, and loving young woman.

No one feels this loss more strongly than the family and friends of Rachel Hoffman, whose life was taken in a senseless act of extreme violence. The anger and outrage in the community is great, and many questions are beginning to surface. The family is in the middle of grieving Rachel’s murder. Yesterday, they had only known for a short time that she was killed and would never be coming back. On that very day, a press conference was held by the Tallahassee Police Department regarding the death of Rachel.

From the press conference’s inception, the Tallahassee Police Department took the opportunity to inform the community of the victim’s criminal charges, and made the point, both directly and indirectly, that her death was the result of her breaking protocol during the sting operation. The family and the attorneys for Rachel Hoffman have serious concerns about the statement that Rachel somehow caused her own death.

Rachel Hoffman was a 23-year-old woman, a graduate of Florida State University, and a daughter, beloved family member, and friend. At no time during the press conference was it addressed that Rachel Hoffman was not a trained law enforcement officer, was not on the Tallahassee Police Department Vice Squad Unit, or that she had taken any training classes regarding the Tallahassee Police Department’s “protocol”. It was not addressed why Rachel was placed in this situation in the first instance, other than she had criminal charges pending. However, even with criminal charges pending, the main concern is how Rachel came to this position and what measures were taken in order for her to agree to go there. Her family and attorneys believe it was her involvement in the drug sting that led to Rachel’s death, and not the fact that she allegedly broke any protocol, but rather that she was led to the site in the first place.

At no time was it discussed how police lost sight of her or what precautions they took to prevent her from being lost. At no time was it discussed what safety precautions were taken by police who knew she would be meeting with armed individuals.

At no time during the press conference was it addressed that Rachel Hoffman had no pending or past cocaine or handgun charges in the very county where she was to meet the individuals, yet she was sent into a sting operation to buy cocaine and a handgun. It was never addressed whether her vicious murder was committed with the very handgun she was going to purchase.

At no time during the press conference was it addressed that with regard to her first drug charges for which she was in drug court, a diversionary program, that she had a defense attorney who was representing her. The new charges that led to her agreement to become a confidential informant would have affected her success in drug court. However, her defense attorney, Johnny Devine, was not notified. Mr. Devine’s client was talked to by the police regarding this matter. However, her attorney was not present nor was he notified. No details regarding this meeting were discussed at the press conference, although had Rachel asked to consult with her attorney and been denied that right, it would have been a severe miscarriage of justice. It was not discussed what charges she was told she was facing, or how much time she would spend in jail for them.

Although a concern for the family was expressed at the press conference, it was greatly overshadowed by an immediate shift to the victim’s criminal record and details of how she caused her own death by botching a sting operation. No where was it discussed why a 5 foot 7 inch, 135 pound young woman was sent into an operation to buy items that she herself has never been accused of having in her own possession.

During the press conference, mention of the fact that the Tallahassee Police Department did not know the two men that Rachel was helping to set up in a drug bust that night came immediately to light. However, at no time during that press conference was it addressed whether or not the Tallahassee Police Department has any policy or protocol of whether or not the research the very suspects and review their criminal record before they send in a confidential informant to bust them. At no time was it discussed whether or not Rachel knew how dangerous those individuals truly were. Clearly, the police knew about the individuals by the time they were trying to get Rachel to set them up for arrest. And most definitely, the police were aware of the individuals’ identity in order for them to find them in Orlando, Florida so suddenly and take them into custody.

Bringing to light the victim’s criminal charges, her alleged faults during a sting operation, and repeatedly addressing the fact, in so many different words, that the Tallahassee Police Department is not responsible for the death of Rachel Hoffman did nothing to inform the public about what truly happened the night of the drug sting. It did nothing to inform the public about what is going to happen to the individuals who killed her. It did nothing to inform the public about what policies and procedures are in place to protect a confidential informant before they engage in a police drug sting.

The only purpose this information served was to both attack a woman who has been taken away from society in a ruthless, reckless, and vicious manner, and to allow her family to watch it all on television while they are still reeling from the shock of their loved ones death.

Today, a family is still grieving and a public outcry is being heard. Tomorrow, a mother will spend a Mother’s Day planning a funeral for her daughter. The attorneys for the family of Rachel Hoffman wish that her memory and her family’s well-being stay first and foremost in the minds of everyone who mourns her loss. People will remember Rachel fondly at her funeral and speak well of her. She deserves no less from the very government agency, the Tallahassee Police Department, which she helped to risk and ultimately lost her life trying to help.

Original report here. Further comment here.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Chicago man jailed for 14 years - but he's innocent

Eyewitness ID again

DNA tests have exonerated a Chicago man who has served nearly 14 years in prison for the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl who was attacked in the autumn of 1994 as she walked to school. Dean Cage, 41, was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 40 years in prison despite his assertions that he was innocent and was home at the time of the attack.

Lawyer Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the New York-based Innocence Project, which investigates wrongful convictions, said that he was informed by the Cook County state's attorney's office that it had the case dismissed after DNA tests eliminated Cage as the victim's attacker. Cage, who has been confined to the Illinois River Correctional Centre in Downstate Canton, is expected to be released within 24 hours, Neufeld said.

The exoneration of Cage is the 29th such case of innocence in Illinois and the 217th DNA exoneration in the nation, according to the Innocence Project. The case is another example of an erroneous eyewitness identification leading to a wrongful conviction, Neufeld said. More than 75 per cent of the wrongful convictions that have resulted through DNA testing involved faulty eyewitness testimony, he said.

The victim had testified in a trial before Circuit Judge Michael Bolan that she was walking to catch a bus about 6:25 am on Nov. 14, 1994, when a man wearing blue jeans, a black leather jacket and a hat with a snap on it grabbed her and dragged her between two porches of an apartment building. She was then slammed against a wall and sexually assaulted, she said. After her attacker fled, she ran into the street where a newspaper truck driver saw her and notified police, according to trial testimony.

A computer-generated composite sketch was circulated in the neighbourhood and about a week later a tipster told police that a possible suspect worked at a meat-packing plant nearby. Police took the victim to the business, where Cage was employed. The woman identified him as her attacker, according to trial testimony. Cage testified at the trial that he was home on the morning of the crime and did not leave until about 7:30am

Original report here

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The disastrous New York justice system

Frank Clark answers the question softly, but without hesitation. "Oh, yes," he says. Innocent people have been put to death. Lawyers routinely make that claim, of course, but they usually labor for the defense. As Erie County's district attorney, Clark works the other side of the street, charged with punishing rapists, killers and other criminals.

Clark is as discomfited as anyone else at the thought of an innocent man being strapped into an electric chair or onto a gurney, thence to absorb the jolt or injection that will deliver him to his unjust fate. Only once has Clark sought the death penalty. The jury opted for prison. But the DA is also a professional, and in the fast-spreading recognition about wrongful convictions - whether they involve the death penalty or not - Clark perceives a rising threat to the American criminal justice system. Public confidence is its foundation, and with every revelation of an innocent person cast into the hell of prison, the foundation weakens.

In New York, that foundation is under severe strain. The state has one of the nation's most troubling records on wrongful convictions and is also among the worst at responding to it. With at least 23 people cleared through use of post-conviction DNA testing, New York has the third-highest number of people exonerated, but it has done little to keep the law from ensnaring more innocent residents.

That number should be kept in perspective. There are nearly 63,000 state prison inmates and 30,000 local-jail prisoners in New York State, put there by hard-working police and court personnel and often by careful jurors, and the vast majority of those prisoners deserves to be behind bars. But each wrongful conviction is a failure of the justice system, and the price paid by innocent people is severe.

Clark knows about wrongful convictions. In the space of one year, he was confronted with facts that upended convictions the DA's office had won in two shocking, high-profile cases. Anthony Capozzi, convicted of rapes he did not commit, and Lynn DeJac, pronounced guilty of murdering the daughter she did not kill, served a combined 35 years in prison before authorities caught up to the truth.

In each case, the chasm separating wrongful conviction from eventual exoneration was bridged by the microscopic markers known as deoxyribonucleic acid: DNA. In Capozzi's case, another man's DNA proved beyond dispute that Capozzi was not the Delaware Park Rapist. It was his bad luck that, in 1985, before DNA testing was possible, he bore some resemblance to Altemio Sanchez, a sociopath who would soon metamorphose from rapist to serial killer.

Sanchez, betrayed by his own DNA as the Delaware Park Rapist and the Bike Path Killer, is now serving a prison term of 75 years to life. Capozzi was imprisoned for more than 21 years for crimes Sanchez committed. But for DNA, he could have served 14 more before completing his sentence. While Capozzi was serving hard time, Sanchez was still targeting women.

Capozzi, now 51, suffered from schizophrenia before he was convicted. Today, he's worse, mentally and physically, said his father, Albert. "He was a gentle, beautiful man. Prison did something to him."

In DeJac's case, recent DNA tests disclosed the presence of her ex-boyfriend, Dennis Donohue, in the bedroom and the body of her 13-yearold daughter, Crystallynn Girard. That revelation, alone, was not enough to clear the Buffalo woman, but it quickly led to her release from prison pending a new trial.

When reinvestigation unexpectedly - and to some critics, implausibly - concluded that Crystallynn did not die from manual strangulation, as a jury was told in 1994, but from a cocaine overdose, Clark dropped the charges. But DeJac had already spent almost 14 years behind bars. She had been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

This is the startling, even bewildering, new world of genetic forensics. Without the development of DNA testing and subsequent advances, Capozzi and DeJac would, in all likelihood, remain behind bars today, and Americans might have remained comfortably unaware of the disturbing facts of wrongful conviction.

DNA is the most powerful tool the criminal justice system has ever had at its disposal, both to assign guilt and to establish innocence. But it doesn't do everything. Mostly, it doesn't explain how police, prosecutors, defenders, judges, juries and even victims - which is to say, the system - got it wrong in the first place. How many other innocent people have been sent to prison in Western New York? How many remain behind bars?

This phenomenon is not confined to Erie County. The Web site of the Innocence Project, a New York City-based advocacy group, documents 216 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States since 1989, not counting DeJac. Sixteen of those unlucky souls had been sentenced to die. No one can guess how many innocent people were actually executed in the days before - or, for that matter, since - the dawn of DNA testing.

DNA also doesn't help when it's not present. It's becoming more difficult to avoid DNA detection, but some miscreants may commit their offenses without leaving behind their genetic fingerprints, or their profiles may not be in a database to match them with. Even killers, shooting from a distance, may leave no DNA evidence, or what is found may not be usable. Without reforms, that leaves suspects in those cases vulnerable to the teeth of the same system that got it wrong on Capozzi, DeJac and at least 214 other Americans.

To be sure, those unfortunates represent only a small fraction of the nation's population of convicts, but also to be sure, more innocent men and women remain behind bars. Some, no doubt, will die there. And even if the proportion is small, the raw numbers of those wrongly convicted over the past three decades could reach 185,000 or even higher by some estimates - more than enough "mistakes" to shock the public conscience. The criminal justice system must account for these errors if Americans are to retain confidence that their criminal justice system is, indeed, just. "We have to deal with this from a public relations standpoint as well as a legal one," said Clark. "Confidence in the system must remain."

Misidentification is common

On lower Fifth Avenue, around the northern edge of Greenwich Village, lies the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. A part of Yeshiva University in New York City, the law school is the home of the Innocence Project. Founded in 1992 by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld - former members of O. J. Simpson's "dream team" of defense lawyers - the Innocence Project's mission is straightforward: "to assist prisoners who could be proven innocent through DNA testing." It has been depressingly successful.

The organization's Web site counts 216 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States and blames them largely on seven factors: eyewitness misidentification; unreliable or limited science; false confessions; forensic science fraud or misconduct; government misconduct; informants or snitches; and bad lawyering. At least three of those influences were at play in the Capozzi and DeJac cases.

"Eyewitness misidentification is the single most frequently observed cause of wrongful conviction," Neufeld said in a telephone interview earlier this month, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily the most important factor in need of reform. Other causes may go undetected, he said. If, for example, prosecutors fail to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense, as they are required to do, an innocent person may be convicted and no one would ever know the cause.

Misidentification can occur for a number of reasons. Victims and witnesses, undergoing a period of intense stress, often don't get a clear view of an assailant. If a criminal has a weapon, victims usually keep their eye on that. Also influential is the manner in which any given police agency runs lineups or otherwise gets victims and witnesses to identify a suspect.

Misidentification is the main reason Capozzi was wrongly convicted. Three women who were raped in Delaware Park identified Capozzi as their attacker, but it was a year after the assaults. Capozzi was convicted of two rapes, based on those identifications and that of a city employee who said he had seen Capozzi in the area.

In his case, Capozzi actually bore some plausible resemblance to Sanchez at the time of the crimes, but often, Neufeld said, little similarity exists between a wrongly accused suspect and the actual criminal. Yet through some quirk of human nature - sometimes aided by law enforcement officers too eager to solve a crime - victims can start out believing that a suspect is not their attacker and then become wholly, unalterably - and wrongly - convinced that he is.

The Capozzi case contains elements of that phenomenon. Even though Capozzi and Sanchez shared some striking similarities, there were also notable differences. Most prominently, Capozzi had a red scar, 3 inches long, on the side of his face, a feature none of the victims had mentioned on their attacker. The women also had described their attacker as around 150 pounds, much trimmer than the 200 to 220 pounds Capozzi weighed at that time. The rapist wore shorts; Capozzi's parents say their son didn't like to wear shorts. And, tellingly, similar attacks continued in Delaware Park, even after Capozzi's arrest in September 1985. Still, he was convicted, and so sure of his guilt was one of the women who testified against him that Clark said she continued to insist he was the one, even after DNA proved he wasn't.

That would come as no surprise to Robyn Wiktorski-Reynolds, victim advocate coordinator for Crisis Services. Rape victims have already endured repeated trauma, she said, beginning with a harrowing attack and continuing, sometimes for years, through the process of telling and retelling the details to family, friends, police, prosecutors, grand juries, trial juries and, of course, themselves. "There is an attempt to find some closure," she said. "It doesn't always work, but they may be hanging their hat on that. Then, to find out years later that, in fact, that wasn't the correct person can reopen wounds. "Guilt may come out about getting the wrong guy," she said, and about knowing the actual criminal "is potentially committing other crimes" - as Sanchez did. Wiktorski-Reynolds tries to hammer home to the women that it's not their fault, but the discovery of a wrongful conviction can cause a "re-triggering" that drags survivors back into crisis.

If law enforcement could make procedural changes that diminished the risk of convicting innocent people, improved the chances of convicting the right ones and spared the victims, wouldn't that be worth doing? The state of New York seems unsure..... "None of this is about coddling," Neufeld said. "It's about strengthening law enforcement."

An important part of the Innocence Project's work is lobbying for legal reforms. While its goal is to keep innocent people out of prison, achieving it has the corollary effect of helping to get the guilty. It's a perfect blend of conservative and liberal impulses, yet the state of New York can't seem to come to grips with it.

Only two states - Texas and Illinois - have had more post-conviction exonerations than New York, yet New York has done less than most other states to address the issues that lead to wrongful conviction. The state has no law on preservation of evidence, for example, no law on recording of interrogations, no standards on how to conduct lineups.

Most tellingly, it has thus far resisted efforts to create a reform commission, whose task would be to examine the state's history of wrongful convictions and recommend specific reforms meant to diminish the chances of repeating those tragedies.

It almost happened last year, said Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, who sponsored the bill. But the legislation to create an "innocence commission" was packaged with a more controversial law enforcement bill, expanding the state's DNA database. The Senate and Assembly couldn't agree on that, so the commission died, and New York went about ignoring its problem with wrongful conviction.

Some of this will solve itself, it's true. Assuming competence and honesty among police, prosecutors and scientists, the laser-light of DNA will, in many cases, exclude or incriminate suspects with clarity and finality. "Had either the Capozzi or DeJac cases happened today, [their convictions] wouldn't have happened," Clark said.

With organizations like the Innocence Project digging through past cases, more wrongly convicted inmates will, no doubt, be freed. Others, where DNA evidence does not exist, may find salvation through other efforts, such as separate ones of journalism and law students in Illinois - or, perhaps more likely, they will languish in prison.

But a just society cannot rest easy knowing innocent men and women - some of them only teenagers - are behind bars, even on death row. But knowing that those injustices have occurred, it is at least as important - and possibly even more so - to take all reasonable steps to diminish the chances of producing more Capozzis, DeJacs, Warneys and Deskovics.

Less than 10 percent of crimes produce DNA evidence, Neufeld said. Without reforms, suspects in the other 90 percent of crimes will be left to a criminal justice system that, whatever its virtues, has already shown itself to be catastrophically flawed.

More here

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Monday, May 26, 2008

An Australian bureaucracy says: You are guilty even if proven innocent

A paramedic cleared of sexually assaulting a drug-affected patient is shattered that Melbourne's ambulance service won't reinstate him. Simon Howe, 32, was found not guilty of digital rape and indecent assault by the County Court this week and now wants his job back. But the Metropolitan Ambulance Service yesterday claimed he was sacked for breaching his employment contract by not filling out an incident report. They said working for the MAS again was not an option.

Mr Howe yesterday said he had proved his innocence in court and was now being put through the added trauma of an unfair dismissal case. "I'm devastated, shattered, my life has been turned upside down," Mr Howe said yesterday. "As far as MAS is concerned I was guilty. I have had to pay for the right to prove my innocence and I still have to pay today."

Mr Howe said stricter security measures such as cameras were needed in ambulances to protect paramedics against false allegations or violence. He said he had held his head high since the complaint, cleared his name and now wanted to get back to work helping people. "Unfortunately there are more and more reasons for paramedics not to stay on the job," he said. "Ambulance paramedics are already cautious about which patients they take and have refused to take patients."

The Ambulance Employees union yesterday condemned the MAS for their refusal to reinstate Mr Howe and said he was being victimised and unfairly treated. They said a second paramedic in the ambulance at the time had not filled out an incident report either but was never disciplined or sacked. "It's appalling -- the court has found him to be innocent, yet MAS are still treating him like he is a criminal," Ambulance Employees Australia state secretary Steve McGhie said. "They should accept the jury's decision and reinstate him immediately."

Mr Howe was sacked by the MAS in February last year after a 22-year-old drug-affected patient claimed she was assaulted as she was being rushed to hospital at 6.19am on November 5, 2006. The MAS decided that Mr Howe failed to provide an adequate explanation of the allegations, failed to inform them what had occurred with the patient and did not lodge a report. A court heard that traces of the drugs ice and GHB were found in the woman's system. It was told Mr Howe was restraining the female patient because she was behaving erratically. It also heard her memory was scrambled by the drugs.

A MAS spokesman yesterday said they could not comment on the matter further as it was before the courts.

Source. (Via Australian Politics)

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

British policegoons lose one

Harry Redknapp, the FA Cup-winning football manager, won a High Court battle yesterday, proving that police raided his home unlawfully as part of an investigation into alleged corruption. Lord Justice Latham condemned the City of London Police for “wholly unacceptable” failures in obtaining and executing a warrant to raid Mr Redknapp’s home in November.

The decision heralds the end of a culture compared by his solicitor to that of a “police state” where forces use searches as a routine method to gather information. The force was ordered to pay the Portsmouth FC manager and his wife, Sandra, 1,000 pounds damages and 25 per cent of his legal costs, believed to be more than 10,000 pounds. The case has cost the taxpayer about 50,000 pounds.

The High Court decision is also a severe blow to the force’s investigation into corruption in football because addresses linked with five senior football individuals were named on the same warrant now judged to be flawed. Legal sources believe that police may have to return anything seized from the homes of the Rangers midfielder Amdy Faye, the Portsmouth chief executive Peter Storrie, the Leicester City chairman Milan Mandaric and the agent Willie McKay. Papers and a computer had already been handed back to Mr Redknapp.

The City of London Police, the country’s top fraud-investigating force, was humiliated in December by the collapse of the 10 million pound trial of the champion jockey Kieren Fallon and others for alleged race fixing.

The judge, sitting with Mr Justice Underhill, complained of “slipshod” completion of warrants to raid properties. “The obtaining of a search warrant is never to be treated as a formality,” the judgment read. “It authorises the invasion of a person’s home.”

Mr Redknapp was seething about the raid on his home in Sandbanks, Dorset. His wife was at home while he was returning from watching a match in Germany. Photographers were there and pictures appeared in The Sun. When Mr Redknapp went voluntarily to meet officers at Chichester police station later that day, he was arrested and put in a cell, a decision that did nothing to soothe his frustration. He was freed on bail.

Mr Redknapp sued City of London Police and has won on two grounds. His lawyers argued successfully that the police failed to explain why they needed a warrant: why they thought that they could not communicate with the occupier, why the occupier would not let them in or why it was suspected that the subject of the investigation might destroy evidence. The judges, however, added that the officers involved had not acted in “bad faith”.

The other successful argument by Mr Redknapp’s lawyers was that the document omitted his address. The raid was therefore deemed as trespass and police were ordered to pay damages, which will be donated to charity.

Mr Redknapp’s solicitor, Mark Spragg, a fraud and white-collar crime specialist, said that forces were too quick to resort to what he called draconian powers. “It is an outrageous abuse. His wife is still utterly in shock. The problem is that they are issuing these warrants all the time but it’s very rare that people take the police on and complain about it. Obviously more people should do. Otherwise they are behaving like a police state. There are many other ways they could get documents from people. They could ask.”

The investigation is into allegations of corruption surrounding player transfers. City of London Police said: “We accept the judges’ decision. We have already reviewed our procedures and will be working to ensure that warrants meet current guidelines. “Having consulted with the Fraud Prosecution Service we are satisfied that nothing contained within the judgment has any impact on the main body of evidence.” Mr Redknapp was reinterviewed by City of London Police last night, as part of a pre-existing arrangement.

Original report here

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Cops are here to protect you (?)

Government cops protect you by roughing up a "suspect" woman and breaking her arm, then by making up demonstrably false excuses about how she must have been "drunk," and besides which, she might have yelled at them and "struggled" when a cop tried to grab her. I mean, he she was a preschool teacher and he only had about 150 pounds or so on her; what else could he do? But, before we go any further, let's review.

Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies. They routinely shove their way into situations where they aren't wanted, aren't invited, and have no business being; they deliberately escalate confrontations in order to "stay in control" through superior belligerence; they commonly use force to end an argument and then blame it on their victim; and they invariably pass off even the most egregious abuses of power as "self-defense" or as the necessary means to accomplish a completely unnecessary goal. Cops carry a small armory of weapons and restraints that they can freely use to hurt or immobilize harmless or helpless people, and a small library of incredibly vague laws ("disorderly conduct," "resisting a police officer") that they can use as excuses for hurting, restraining, and arresting their victims, with virtually no danger of ever being called to account for their actions by as long as other cops, who already have a professional interest in minimizing or dismissing complaints about abusive pigs, can figure out some way to fit the use of these incredibly vague "offenses" into the police department's incredibly vague Official Procedures for arrests and for the use of force.

And they can always count on their fellow cops to make up, and the mainstream newsmedia to dutifully repeat, absolutely any lie at all, no matter how implausible, and a chorus of city officials and freelance sado-fascist bully boys to get their backs and smear the victim in every media outlet that they can befoul. The practical consequence of the training cops get, and the institutional culture of impunity within which they operate, are squads of arrogant, unaccountable, irresponsible hired thugs with massive senses of entitlement, organized into a paramilitary chain of command, who contemptuously regard their neighbors as mere "civilians," who treat anyone who dares to give them lip or who questions their bellowed commands as a presumptive criminal, who have no scruple against using pain or arrest in order to force you to "comply" with their arbitrary orders, and who excuse any sort of abuse by sanctimoniously informing you that it became necessary to stomp on you in order to "protect" you - whether or not you ever asked for the "protection" in the first place.

Thus, for example, consider the case of Kelly Medora and Officer Christopher Damonte. Officer Christopher Damonte found it appropriate to pull Ms. Medora and her friend aside over jaywalking, to scream at them, grab them, and then, when Ms. Medora asked for his name and said he was acting improperly, called in his posse to surround them, then grabbed her arm and wrenched it behind her back, breaking the bone "with an audible crack."
Kelly Medora, a petite preschool teacher who weighed about 118 pounds, went out with a friend in North Beach one Saturday night in 2005 for some fun. Instead, San Francisco police officer Christopher Damonte, who weighed about 250 pounds, arrested her for jaywalking, twisted her arm behind her back and broke it with an audible crack....

Damonte grabbed her friend's arm, held it up by her face and demanded she tell him her age, Medora said. Damonte said he would cite her, but didn't say why.

Medora saw the name "R. Fitzpatrick" on Damonte's jacket - he had borrowed it from another officer - and asked if that was his name. This seemed to set him off, she said. He said yes and demanded why she wanted to know. "I don't believe you're treating my friend appropriately," she replied, court records show. "You haven't told us what we're being cited for. Please let go of her arm."

Medora said Damonte started to scream at her. Fearful, she said she turned and walked up to another officer and complained about Damonte. By her account, Damonte then demanded Medora's driver's license. Medora said she'd give him her license if he told her what she did.

Instead, Damonte said "detain her," by this account, and he and two other officers surrounded her. She said she did not resist them, but merely clutched her purse. Then Damonte grabbed her right arm. "It all happened very quick," she testified. "Like he physically took my arm and twisted it up back by my neck to a point where I was completely immobilized. And I said "ow, ow." And he pulled even harder, and he snapped it." There was an audible "pop," according to a police report.

-Seth Rosenfield, San Fransisco Chronicle (2008-05-11): S.F. settles excessive force suit for $235,000

The violence against women and the hypermasculine domineering control-freak behavior aren't the only things that this uniformed thug has in common with a walking, talking stereotype of a wife batterer. For example, there's the self-pitying lies, and the retaliation, and the bizarre victim-blaming excuses.
The city's lawyer said in court papers that Damonte used an approved method of holding her arm, but she struggled. Then "in an effort to escape," she squatted down and "broke her own arm."

-Seth Rosenfield, San Fransisco Chronicle (2008-05-11): S.F. settles excessive force suit for $235,000

Let me just pause to say that I wish I could say that I never expected to see another excuse from a violent cop that's as contemptible and ridiculous as "She fell". But honestly, there is no excuse so contemptible and ridiculous that I would be surprised, at this point, to hear it from cops and their defenders. "She broke her own arm" included. Maybe next week a cop can explain that his victim wasn't beaten; she just ran into a door.
Medora cried out in pain. Police called an ambulance and cited her for jaywalking. At Kaiser Hospital, she was treated for a spiral fracture to her right humerus. Medical records state she was not intoxicated. Medora said she phoned police from Kaiser to file a misconduct complaint, but no one responded. Instead, an officer delivered a new citation for resisting, delaying and assaulting an officer. The charges were later dismissed.

-Seth Rosenfield, San Fransisco Chronicle (2008-05-11): S.F. settles excessive force suit for $235,000

So, according to Officer Christopher Damonte, Medora assaulted him. By "breaking her own arm."

If you're baffled as to how violent pigs could feel free to indulge in this kind of outrage, and why it keeps happening over, and over, and over again in so many different cities, on so many different police forces, even in these days when brutality like this can no longer be kept in the back of the paddy-wagon, and are easily documented, commonly exposed and widely discussed in newspapers, local TV, on YouTube, on blogs, well, here's why:
Although Damonte and the city denied wrongdoing, the city recently mailed Medora a check for $235,000, the largest amount ever to settle a lawsuit claiming San Francisco police used excessive force not involving a weapon. The Office of Citizen Complaints, meanwhile, has found that Damonte used excessive force in the incident and that another officer failed to investigate Medora's complaint. Damonte faces a disciplinary hearing at the Police Commission and potential punishment including dismissal.

-Seth Rosenfield, San Fransisco Chronicle (2008-05-11): S.F. settles excessive force suit for $235,000

Cops don't have to give much of a damn about being exposed, because even when they are exposed, cops almost never face any kind of personal consequences whatsoever for their actions, no matter how violent, no matter how widely known, and no matter how obviously helpless, harmless, or innocent their victim. Officer Christopher Damonte, an aggressive, domineering control freak of a man, who flies into violent rages over ridiculous non-crimes and broke a woman's arms over the slightest questioning of his conduct, will never face any legal consequences for his actions; at the worst, he faces "potential" administrative discipline from fellow cops, which amounts to either a paid vacation and a verbal reprimand, or else, if they're really ready to throw you to the wolves, losing your job.

If you or I ran up to a woman, a complete stranger, and got in her face about jaywalking, grabbed her, shoved her around, and then, after she dared to ask for a name and object to her treatment, called in our posse to surround her, and grabbed her and broke her arm, we wouldn't get fired; we'd be in jail, and we'd also be on the hook to pay her money as damages for her injuries and for her pain and suffering. Officer Christopher Damonte, however, has the Gangsters in Blue and the city government of San Francisco to get his back, so instead of him paying damages, the city government will pay it out for him. And then - dedicated public servants that they are - they will turn right around and send the bill for Officer Christopher Damonte's brutality to a bunch of innocent San Francisco taxpayers, who will be forced to pay for what he did, even though they had absolutely nothing to do with it.

The State will never police itself; the government will never make a serious effort to protect you from your supposed "protectors." Why should they, when there is nobody to check their abuses and when they can always force you to cover the bill for their own f*ck-ups?

Original report here

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Court rules against polygamist raid

The whole operation was nothing but a witch-hunt -- resulting in State-perpetrated child-abuse - B

TEXAS overstepped its authority when it removed some of about 460 children from a polygamist compound last month, a state appeals court ruled today. The ruling is the latest twist in an unfolding saga that has riveted Texas with lurid tales of adolescent brides, teen pregnancies and a secretive religious sect following its faith in a dusty corner of the state.

Texas Child Protective Services and heavily armed police units last month raided the isolated compound in west Texas and removed the children in response to allegations of abuse. But the appeals court said that the state had not proven that the children were in immediate physical danger, and therefore were improperly separated from their parents. [quite right] "The department ... failed to establish that the need for protection of the children was urgent and required immediate removal of the children," the court said.

While the opinion covers the children of only 48 mothers, a lawyer said that the ruling will likely apply to all of the children, most of whom are in foster homes across the state. "Essentially this decision from the Third Court of Appeals said that Child Protective Services had absolutely no evidence that would justify them going in there and removing these children from this household," said Cynthia Martinez, who represents 48 of the mothers whose children were removed.

The appeals court opinion gives a lower court, which initially approved the state's actions, 10 days to act. "We just received this information from the Court of Appeals and it is being reviewed. We are trying to assess any impact this may have on our case and decide what our next steps will be," the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said.

The compound is run by followers of jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs. They belong to a renegade Mormon sect known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints renounced polygamy over a century ago and is at pains to distance itself from splinter groups such as the FLDS that continue to practice plural marriage.

FLDS men typically marry one legal wife while those who follow are "spiritual wives". This makes those women single in the eyes of the state which can entitle them and their children to various welfare benefits. FLDS communities usually keep to themselves and lead austere lifestyles. The girls and women wear 19th century-style pioneer dresses and are taught from an early age to obey men.

Report here

Raissi update

Previously mentioned here as a case of disgraceful police lies on Feb. 16th

The Ministry of Justice has been refused permission to appeal against a ruling that it should compensate an Algerian man wrongly jailed for five months on suspicion of training one of the September 11 hijackers. The Appeal Court ruled said earlier this year that Lotfi Raissi, 33, had been “completely exonerated” and heavily criticised the conduct of the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Jack Straw sought leave to appeal to the House of Lords but was refused. Mr Raissi said: “There can be no more appeals and no more excuses. The courts have held that I was the victim of a miscarriage of justice at the hands of the police and CPS. Jack Straw should accept the decision of the courts and offer me the long-awaited apology I have asked for.”

Mr Raissi, who is from Chiswick, West London, was qualified to fly Boeing 737 jets and was 27 at the time of his arrest. Compensation based on lost earnings for the rest of his career could run to £3 million.

Report here

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Crooked cop gets off lightly

A Fulton County jury acquitted an Atlanta police on two charges but found him guilty Tuesday of lying to investigators about a botched drug raid that led to the fatal shooting of a 92-year-old woman. The verdict came after the jury deliberated for three days and spent hours reviewing a transcript of Detective Arthur Bruce Tesler's testimony in his own defense.

Tesler, 42, faces up to five years in prison, with sentencing set for Thursday. He was the only officer to face a jury on charges related to an illegal search warrant that led to the death of Kathryn Johnston in a case that drew national attention.
State Sen. Vincent Fort struggled to contain his anger that Tesler had escaped conviction on two of the charges. "He is just as responsible for what happened to Mrs. Johnston as the other two officers [who participated in the raid]," said Fort. "No matter how much time he spends in jail, he will have to live with himself."

Tesler was charged with violating his oath of office, lying in an official investigation and falsely imprisoning Johnston, who was shot in her home after she fired a revolver at plainclothes officers as they burst into the house on Nov. 21, 2006.

The jury acquitted him of the violation of oath and false imprisonment charges. He could have faced 20 years in prison if convicted of all charges. Defense lawyer William McKenney acknowledged that the jury would have had trouble acquitting his client of lying in an official investigation.

Tesler had testified that he participated in the coverup of the illegal warrant because he feared for his safety from his partners and he feared being labeled a "rat" if he informed on them. "We admitted he did not tell the truth to the FBI," McKenney said. "The issue was whether they felt he was coerced into making a false statement."

Tesler's two partners, Gregg Junnier and Jason R. Smith, who were charged with murder in the case, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Tesler, stationed at the rear of the house, fired no shots. Smith and Junnier both fired their weapons.

Tesler, 42, has contended he did not know that Smith lied to a judge to get a no-knock search warrant for a house at 933 Neal Street. The detectives said they had been told a kilo of cocaine was hidden in the house. Instead, Smith planted drugs in the house after the officers killed Johnston, according to testimony.

There appeared to be a heavy police presence in the neighborhood Tuesday evening. Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington said Tuesday his force was prepared for any outbreak of "civil unrest" รข€” backlash if the Tesler verdict was not received well in the community. The 2006 killing shocked metro Atlanta and enraged many in the African-American community, who complained that shoddy or heavy-handed police work in the war on drugs was a source of repeated abuses.

Pennington responded to the verdict at news conference announcing the results of the new narcotics unit's first major operation since it was disbanded and rebuilt after the Johnston shooting. "I think the jury has spoken," Pennington said. "He [Tesler] has been given an opportunity to go before his peers, in terms of a trial by jury." Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said, "One of the things we hope that people in the community realize is that it doesn't make a difference if you commit a crime in Fulton County whether you are a police officer or a citizen, you will be held accountable."

Neal Street residents near Johnston's house expressed outrage at the verdict. "There's a lot of people down here who have lost their respect for the police," said Marie Thomas, 36. "This verdict is a slap in the face. If they're going to get away with it this time, they'll do it again."

But the Rev. Markel Hutchins, a spokesman for Johnston's family, said Atlanta has a different police department because of the case. He contended no-knock warrants aren't being issued so easily and that supervisors are being scrutinized to ensure they followed policies. He said conviction of Tesler on the single charge is a partial victory for justice, but that superiors of the three officers should have also been held accountable. Hutchins noted testimony in the trial from Junnier, Tesler's partner, that the head of the narcotics division adopted a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil approach to supervision. "We will continue to push for criminal prosecution for those who turn their heads," he said. "We certainly hope that this is not over."

Report here

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Chicago: A dangerous cop given an easy ride

A Chicago police officer accused of attacking a 61-year-old man and his 50-year-old companion early Saturday at a Niles restaurant had a run-in with the Police Department two years ago that could have cost his job. Police spokeswoman Monique Bond said then-Supt. Phil Cline recommended Gerald Callahan's dismissal in 2006, but the police board decided to reinstate him. She offered no further details.

In an interview with CLTV on Sunday, Callahan, who was charged with two counts of battery after Saturday's incident, denied the accusations and said he was mistreated by Niles police. Callahan, 42, was arrested early Saturday in the 6700 block of Forestview Lane in Niles after leaving Chambers Seafood Grill & Chop House, 6881 N. Milwaukee Ave., Niles police said. Police alleged that Callahan, who was off duty at the time, attacked a man and his female friend about 2:30 a.m. Saturday for no reason as they were sitting in the lounge.

At his home Sunday evening, Callahan, a 15-year veteran of the force, told CLTV that he has been going to the restaurant for years and has never had any trouble there. He said he had only two beers Friday night when a woman he did not know began flirting with him and asking him to dance, and he declined.

Later, Callahan said, a man whom he assumed to be the woman's boyfriend became angry and violent with her, slamming her head into a bar. Callahan said he pushed the man and left the restaurant, worrying about how it would look for another Chicago police officer to be involved in an altercation at a bar.

After his arrest, Callahan said, he was bit on the leg by a Niles police dog and that police denied him medical treatment and access to medication while he was in custody. Callahan "can say that pigs can fly," Niles Police Sgt. Robert Tornabene said of his accusations of police mistreatment and version of the confrontation. "He can make all the accusations he wants. He has not made a formal complaint."

Tornabene said the charges were brought based on the statements of witnesses at the restaurant.

Report here

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dibor Roberts denied justice

The jury in the Dibor Roberts case returned a verdict that I can only describe as contemptible, finding her guilty of resisting arrest and felony flight from a law officer as a result of a brutal attack upon her by Sgt. Jeff Newnum of the Yavapai County Sheriff's Department.

Greg Nix of Larson newspapers has an interesting insight, suggesting that the trial could have come down to the prosecution painting a picture for the jury of "'angry black woman' v. 'respectable white officer.'" He adds, "I grew up in the South so running the 'angry black woman' strategy is nothing new and generally works for getting convictions."

Perhaps he's right, and the decision was essentially racist. Or maybe the prosecution succeeded in picking jurors who bow down and bang their heads on the floor every time they see a uniformed government employee. Or the result could have resulted from a little bit of both factors.

An appeal is possible, of course. Also, the Maricopa County chapter of the NAACP has asked the U.S. Justice Department to intervene, and Roberts reportedly plans to sue, so she may yet get a measure of justice in this case.

But it bothers me that a creature like Jeff Newnum, who apparently has so little control over his emotions and such an inflated sense of his place in the world, probably walked out of the courtroom feeling vindicated, with a license to assault the people of Yavapai County.

Update: Dibor Roberts was sentenced to six months unsupervised probation. Her attorney, Stephen Renard, said, "This is flat out the lightest sentence I have ever seen for a Class-5 felony, period." That suggests Judge Michael Bluff may have had reservations about the prosecution or the severity of the "offense" committed by Roberts -- especially since he reduced the resisting arrest charge from a Class-6 felony to a Class-1 misdemeanor.

But she still has a conviction on her record.

Report here

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Monday, May 19, 2008

FLDS wrongful imprisonment

Texas child welfare officials conceded Tuesday that a newborn's mother, held in foster care as a minor after being removed from a polygamous sect's ranch, is an adult. A Child Protective Services attorney told state District Judge Barbara Walther that the mother of a boy born April 29 is not a minor, as CPS had claimed as justification for holding her.

The woman had been held along with more than 400 children taken last month from a west Texas ranch run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. State officials say the children were endangered by underage and polygamous spiritual marriages. "We were presented with credible evidence that this minor is, in fact, an adult," said CPS spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner. She declined to say what the evidence was or how old the woman is. According to FLDS records, the new mother, Pamela Jeffs, is 18.

She was one of two pregnant sect members who state officials had said were minors. The other sect member, who gave birth to a son Monday, also may be an adult, state officials have said. Both mothers are with their babies, who are in state custody.

CPS has complained that sect members have given different names and ages, confusing the identification process in one of the largest, most convoluted custody cases in U.S. history.

But FLDS spokesman Rod Parker has accused the state of holding on to pregnant women and treating them as minors to ensure the state could take custody of the newborns, who might otherwise be born outside of Texas. A call to Parker was not immediately returned Tuesday.

There are 27 claims of women being misidentified as girls when they were taken into state custody from the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado. If evidence is provided proving they are not minors, they will be released, Meisner said. "We are still in the midst of an investigation. We continue to speak with the children, parents and others who have information that would be helpful to us," she said. "We cannot just dismiss these cases without credible evidence regarding their ages. We have an obligation to protect children."

The state's admission on Tuesday takes the total number of children in state custody down to 464. Texas child welfare authorities took the children into custody on the argument that the polygamist sect abused children by pushing underage girls into marriage and sex and by raising boys to be future perpetrators. FLDS members have denied any abuse. All the children are expected to get individual hearings starting May 19.

Report here

Australia: It pays to be the son of a cop

A SENIOR constable says he took a breath test on behalf of a teenager with a blood-alcohol reading of .2 per cent because he felt sorry for him, not because he was the son of a police officer who worked at his station. Mark Christie, from Orange, told the Police Integrity Commission that he carefully turned his back to a CCTV camera and blew into a breath analysis machine to protect Adam Clunes, 19, from a drink-driving charge. He knew Mr Clunes - who had been out drinking before driving back to his girlfriend's house, despite being on P-plates - would lose his licence if he was convicted. "I felt a great deal of empathy for his position."

That the boy's father was a police officer "had nothing to do with my decision", even though he previously tested others who faced losing their licence. "I want the Commissioner to understand and believe me that I acted alone," Senior Constable Christie said.

The commission heard that Mr Clunes's father, Colin, once "had a bitch" that a police officer had issued his son with two traffic infringements, one for driving more than 30kmh above the speed limit, and one for failing to put P-plates on the car. Senior Constable Clunes told the commission that he thought the officer had "loaded up" his son on that occasion, and that the second ticket was unnecessary.

Constable Kate Lancer arrested Mr Clunes at a roadside breathalyser and took him to the station for the second test. She knew the teenager, she had worked with his father and knew of his father's displeasure about the earlier tickets. She contacted Senior Constable Clunes about the arrest.

When asked whether Senior Constable Clunes told her "we have got to do something, Katie, he will lose his licence", she said yes, although did not know what he meant. Senior Constable Clunes denied protecting his son, saying he simply told a colleague to "do what you've got to do". It did cross his mind that a colleague may have taken the test at the station on his son's behalf.

Source. (Via Australian Politics)

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Collaborators in a civil rights violation

Via Radley Balko comes the tale of Tunde Clement, a New York City resident stopped in the Albany, New York, bus terminal by police for no good reason, subject to a brutal search, and then billed for the cost of his own abuse.
He was quickly handcuffed and falsely arrested. He was taken to a station to be strip-searched and then to a hospital, where doctors forcibly sedated him with a cocktail of powerful drugs, including one that clouded his memory of the incident.

A camera was inserted in his rectum, he was forced to vomit and his blood and urine were tested for drugs and alcohol. Scans of his digestive system were performed using X-ray machines, according to hospital records obtained by the Times Union.

The search, conducted without a search warrant, came up empty. In all, Clement spent more than 10 hours in custody before being released with nothing more than an appearance ticket for resisting arrest -- a charge that was later dismissed.

Clement was billed $6,792 by the Albany Medical Center Hospital for the cost of his forcible drugging and ... well ... anal rape. The egregious misconduct by Albany County Sheriff's Department deputies in the case is obvious. The Times-Union article rightly expends much ink on the history of abusive and, apparently, racially motivated searches conducted by police at that bus terminal. But what about the doctors and nurses who voluntarily participated in the violation of this man's rights?
[J]ust before noon, Clement -- fully shackled and still in custody for a minor offense -- shuffled into Albany Medical Center Hospital with a phalanx of cops at his side, hospital records show. He was locked in a gurney and listened anxiously as a group of doctors and nurses debated the cops' request to have Clement forcibly sedated so his body could be searched for drugs. The doctors asked Clement to sign a consent form, but he refused.

The medical records show one of the doctors placed a call to the hospital's risk management director to assess the liability exposure of what they were about to do. In some cases, prisoners or people under arrest can be forcibly sedated without a court order if they are in imminent danger, such as when a bag of drugs bursts open inside them and they begin to have a seizure or fall unconscious. But the hospital's records indicate Clement was behaving normally and showed no signs of any medical emergency.

"Spoke to Shirley of Risk Management," a physician wrote, documenting the medical decision-making that afternoon. "OK to treat, sedate & remove FOB (foreign object body) against (patient's) will despite his personal refusal."

Note that police had no search warrant. Even if a warrant had been presented, medical personnel are under no obligation to cooperate with police in inflicting such an ordeal on a prisoner. The article refers to one San Francisco hospital's refusal to cooperate with police, and I quickly found another such incident from Davidson County, Tennessee in which doctors balked at even drawing blood without the subject's approval. There seems to be plenty of precedent for declining to forcibly administer powerful drugs and then insert equipment into an unwilling patient's rectum without a really good reason.

So what excuse do the medical personnel at Albany Medical Center Hospital have for committing battery upon Tunde Clement? The hospital administration seems to have clammed up, but I can think of two different rationales for the actions of the doctors and nurses at that scene.

Most or all of the people present may have been the kind of creatures who think the police can do no wrong. They may have willingly collaborated in the brutalization of a fellow human being.

Or maybe the doctors and nurses were intimidated by overbearing police officers. Perhaps, surrounded by ticked-off deputies with a reputation for working outside the bounds of the law, they grudgingly cooperated with the egregious civil rights violation. Dissenters in the room may have walked away and refused to participate, or else swallowed their pride for fear of their jobs.

I lean toward the willing-collaborators explanation. Emergency room docs -- and this was almost certainly in the emergency room -- are, by and large (yes, I'm generalizing here in a big way), cowboy adrenaline junkies with minimal empathy. They don't intimidate easily, and they don't spend loads of time agonizing over moral quandaries. They're also likely to laugh at cops who get in their faces. "Were you counting on anesthesia the next time a uniform shows up in my ER?" is a not-unlikely rejoinder to any police officer who tries to get emergency room staffers to do what they don't want to do.

But either way, medical personnel, like the rest of us, are responsible for their actions. In the absence of guns at their heads, doctors and nurses must answer for the things they do -- even if those things are performed at the request of state officials. You don't get a moral get-out-of-jail-free card because the cops said "pretty please" before you agreed to participate in a horrible civil rights violation.

As much as I hope the Albany County Sheriff's Department is penalized for its conduct in this matter (and its overall history of conducting abusive searches) I also think the administration and some staff members at the Albany Medical Center Hospital also need to answer for their actions. As the Clement case makes abundantly clear, collaborators make possible rights violations that don't need to happen. Hospital personnel couldn't have undone Clement's arrest, but they could have refused to enable -- and had no right to participate in -- the rest of the man's ordeal.

Let's hope Tunde Clement's lawsuit against both institutions makes him a wealthy man -- and the cops and doctors of Albany just a little more thoughtful.

Report here

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Sun lover battles the goons

Beach Bob likes to sunbathe in a Speedo. Nearly every cloudless morning for more than 10 years, he’s wheeled his tattered lounger down to the same spot, which he says is due west of where the boardwalk opens onto the sand at Bonita Beach, and sets up camp for the day.

And so his retirement was going. Sun-drenched, uneventful. Until one day a Lee County Sheriff’s deputy stopped by and wrote him a warning for trespassing. The reason? “Exposed scrotum,” the notice read. “Never return to Bonita Beach Main Access.”

But it turns out that, belied by his self-proclaimed “super-lazy” lifestyle, Beach Bob (more properly known as Robert Hezzelwood, 61, retired court reporter and Bonita Springs resident of 16 years) is a heckuva fighter. Not the sort to let even a warning of a misdemeanor charge go unchallenged. Not when it comes to his blue Speedo. Not when he says he was falsely accused.

Eventually, he got the trespass warning thrown out. It wasn’t easy. He hired a lawyer, studied maps of the Collier-Lee county line, trotted some of the other beach regulars up to Fort Myers to testify on his behalf. They reported the patch of sand he claims every day is in fact south of the Lee border, so Deputy William Dunaske had no business patrolling there anyway. They said Hezzelwood never rolls in the sides of his Speedo like the deputy alleged.

Then, even winning in court wasn’t enough. Eighteen months after he received the trespass warning, and about a year after a judge threw it out, Hezzelwood now says he’s planning to sue the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. He claims his civil rights were violated. “This whole thing could have been just nipped right in the bud early on,” Hezzelwood said, if Sheriff Mike Scott had responded to him by saying, “‘Yeah, our guy blew it, we apologize.’”

Scott says his office looked into Hezzelwood’s allegations that Dunaske had lied about the exposed scrotum and found in favor of the deputy, declining to launch an investigation. That didn’t satisfy Hezzelwood. “My concern is, if that can happen to me, “ he said, “and the sheriff stonewalls me, I don’t think I’m that unique. And anybody is at risk.”

This story begins in 2005. Hezzelwood, who says he has suffered insomnia because of the stress, meticulously catalogues the relevant dates and records of his correspondence in the case. According to Beach Bob, his first run-in with Dunaske was on July 25 — the deputy approached his lounger and told him to unroll the Speedo. “I have occasionally rolled the top of the Speedo so that the (straps) are a little narrow,” Hezzelwood explained. But he insists there’s nothing X-rated about it: “I’m an old, retired fart who likes sitting on the beach. I was a little embarrassed.”

He says he challenged the deputy, believing they were positioned south of the Lee border and out of his jurisdiction. Soon after, Hezzelwood says, he marched off to the Sheriff’s Office to complain to a supervisor.

To David Mourick, the attorney who represented Hezzelwood in his fight over the warning, what happened next was a matter of prurience. “It was just a Barney Fife that thought it just wasn’t proper, (Hezzelwood) wearing that bathing suit.” For his part, Hezzelwood says it was retaliation.

More than a year later, on October 31, 2006, Dunaske approached Hezzelwood again on the beach. Out came the trespass notice. “The first couple (verbal) warnings didn’t obviously make an impression on him,” Dunaske, who says he’d in fact told Hezzelwood multiple times before not to expose his genitals, said in an interview. “He didn’t attempt to cover up or anything. He said he just wanted to get the most sun he could get.”

Legally, Mourick says, a trespass has to be based on somebody’s complaint. Dunaske said several people complained to him about Hezzelwood’s bathing suit — he told the attorneys in his deposition that the suit was rolled in so much that part of Hezzelwood’s penis poked out. When Maurick pressed him to say who precisely complained, he said they were vacationers who didn’t want to identify themselves.

In Hezzelwood’s eyes, these are all manifestations of Dunaske’s lies. But the deputy says so many people were bothered by the skimpy suit that he was once cheered by beach-goers for telling Hezzelwood to cover himself. As for the county line, Dunaske points out that as a contract deputy for the city of Bonita Springs, he knew precisely where he was when he wrote the warning. “I have no doubt I was in Lee County, and Mr. Hezzelwood was in Lee County. But I respect the judge’s” decision, he said.

It was, indeed, the jurisdictional issue that the judge cited in tossing out the warning. Not only did Hezzelwood’s beach friends place him south of the county line, but Hezzelwood claims a deputy-trainee who was with Dunaske that day later said the same. “I think that’s what the judge chose to go with because it was easiest,” Mourick said.

He wondered why Dunaske didn’t simply arrest Hezzelwood on an indecent exposure charge, if that was the offense underlying the trespass. “It’d be like trespassing someone from a public highway because they’re driving drunk. You arrest them for driving drunk.” In his deposition, Dunaske said his supervisors told him to pursue the trespass route in such cases. Now, he’s a detective assigned to the Central District. In his more than 10 years in law enforcement, he said Hezzelwood’s case doesn’t particularly stand out. “It wasn’t the crime of the century,” he said. “I was doing my job and saw an infraction that I thought bothered the people who were legitimately enjoying the beach.”

But Hezzelwood says the incident mattered a great deal to him. “It frightens me and embarrasses me to go public with it. But by the same token, I don’t know what else to do,” he said. “I’m a civilian out here who’s been picked on by a little bully deputy and that’s wrong. It’s just wrong.” “It was a good case in that it showed these deputies can’t just go in there and trespass people just because they don’t like what they’re wearing,” Mourick said. He asked the reporter if she’d ever seen Hezzelwood in his Speedo. “I don’t find it attractive,” Mourick said, “but I think if he wants to look ridiculous he can go ahead and do it.”

Report here

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Canadian victims advocate says justice system to blame for wrongful conviction

"Someone made a mistake" but not the cops involved?? Give us a break!

A lobby group that defends the wrongfully convicted said Tuesday it is scandalous that one police officer is taking the fall for the entire justice system that sent Simon Marshall, a mentally handicapped man, to jail for five years for sexual crimes he didn't commit. Three Quebec police officers have been cleared by the Police Ethics Commission of botching the case against Marshall, who was convicted of sexual assaults and later cleared by the Court of Appeal. But the commission blamed one of the three officers for making false accusations against Marshall regarding one of the alleged victims.

"It's a second scandal after the first scandal when it was revealed Marshall was innocent," said Carlo Tarini, director of Injustice Quebec, a group lobbying for victims of judicial errors. "It's a major blunder from the Justice Department and the prosecuting attorneys that is responsible for what happened to Marshall and yet in the end, who gets the blame? One police officer," he added. Tarini renewed his call for a broader public investigation into the entire Marshall case, but the Justice Department has closed the door to such an inquiry.

In 1997, Marshall was arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual assault. Marshall, who was nicknamed the Ste-Foy Rapist, confessed to the crimes, and was released in 2003. Soon after his release, Marshall was arrested on three more counts of sexual assault. Again, he confessed.

He was about to be sentenced and risked being declared a dangerous offender when DNA evidence cleared him. Quebec City's top police officials acknowledged someone made a mistake and overlooked DNA tests. A Quebec Court of Appeal ruling reversed all of Marshall's convictions in 2005. The Quebec government awarded him $2.3 million in compensation in December 2006 for the wrongful conviction, the highest compensation in provincial history.

Quebec's police conduct commission investigated the officers who handled the case - retired Ste. Foy police Lt. Luc Barrette, Det.-Sgt Raymond Matte, who is also retired from the Ste. Foy force, and Det.-Sgt. Helene Turgeon of the Quebec City force. Pierre Gagne, the presiding ethics commissioner in the case, found Barrette, Matte and Turgeon didn't abuse their authority or conduct incomplete investigations. The commissioner found Matte did go against his ethics code by making false accusations in connection with one of the cases in 1997. The charge related to that false accusation was dropped before Marshall's trial started.

Lawyer Robert DeBlois, representing Matte and Turgeon, said the police officers were "very happy" about the decision. "They were judged by the public before the hearings started and are very relieved to see their names cleared," he said. He added the blame against Matte is "minor."

Lawyer Serge Goulet, who represented Marshall during the appeal procedures and negotiations for compensation, said there is only one conclusion to be drawn from the decision. "This means that the police officers didn't go against their ethics code during their investigation, that's it," Goulet stressed. "The commission didn't say anything about the quality of their work. You can botch your job and not go against your ethics code."

Goulet said the Marshall family doesn't cry out for revenge and wants to turn the page. Marshall's family said while in prison he was the victim of sexual, physical and verbal abuse from fellow inmates. He was sent to a psychiatric facility following his ordeal in prison and he is still there, Goulet said. "He still can't stay alone and there is no sign that in the near future he will be able to live in society," he said.

Report here

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Scotland: Fraser case wrapup

Previously covered here on June 12, 2006. It seems that sloppy police and prosecution work went very near to letting a guilty man go free

NAT Fraser, the businessman convicted of murdering his estranged wife, yesterday failed in an attempt to have his conviction quashed. The decision came a few days after the tenth anniversary of his wife's disappearance. Fraser, 48, of Elgin, Moray, was jailed in 2003 after a jury found him guilty of murdering Arlene, 33, despite no body being found.

As they emerged from the court in Edinburgh, Mrs Fraser's mother, Isabelle Thompson, her father, Hector McInnes, and sister, Carol Gillies, were smiling. With his voice shaking and full of emotion, Mr McInnes, who gave a thumbs-up, said: "We are pleased with the outcome. It has taken ten years of our life. Unfortunately, we have not found out about Arlene, but he is where he deserves to be. "He has given us a life sentence, so he deserves a life sentence as well."

But as he was led away from the back of the court building, Fraser tugged on his handcuffs to delay a Reliance officer putting him into a security van and said to waiting reporters: "The fight will go on, as will the fight to get to the truth."

The mother of two went missing from her home in Elgin in April 1998 after waving her two young children, Jamie and Natalie, off to school. Last year Fraser's lawyers claimed he had been the victim of a miscarriage of justice and argued that evidence from two police officers was not disclosed to the defence or to the trial. The prosecution case had included claims that Mrs Fraser's engagement, wedding and eternity rings were placed in the bathroom of her house several days after she vanished. Evidence later emerged that the police officers may have seen the rings in her house shortly after she disappeared.

But yesterday, at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh, three senior judges ruled that Fraser's appeal against conviction should be refused. The Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, concluded that the proposed evidence of PCs Neil Lynch and Julie Clark was not new and that even if it was, the verdict could not be regarded as a miscarriage of justice. He said: "The circumstantial evidence alone constituted a compelling case against the appellant. There was evidence that he had motives for the crime. There was evidence of his previous malice and ill-will towards the deceased." Lord Gill added that there was evidence of "preparatory acts" by Fraser in setting up an alibi.

At one point during the proceedings, Fraser tried to interrupt Lord Gill as he delivered his opinion, saying: "Excuse me, excuse me."

In a highly unusual departure from the usual proceedings in a Scottish court, television cameras were also allowed in.

At a press conference in a nearby hotel, Mrs Fraser's family spoke of their "sheer relief". They also revealed that they would be prepared to do a "trade-off" with Fraser, giving him a reduction of his life sentence if he would disclose where Mrs Fraser's body was buried. Mrs Gillies said: "I'm appealing to Nat's human side. We'd like to give Arlene a proper burial and a trade-off might be the only way we can get that information." Mrs Gillies and her father said they were still prepared to put up 20,000 pounds each as a reward for information, despite the fact that no-one had come forward with information in the past.

Mrs Fraser's sister, describing the strain of yesterday's proceedings and seeing Fraser in court, continued: "This case has been full of surprises. I was terrified going into court. I have no feelings towards him. Maybe pity; he's completely ruined his life, he's got nothing ahead of him.

Mrs Gillies added that she "did not feel hatred" towards Fraser. "I just see him as a source of information. He needs to go back to his cell and think about his future. People talk about 'closure'. We will only get closure when Arlene is found. We need to be true to ourselves and accept that we might never know."

The case could now be considered by the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission if there were sufficient grounds that a miscarriage of justice had occurred.

More here

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This blog is a collection of what I regard as the interesting justice reports and commentary of the day. It therefore consists almost entirely of reprints from other sources, often accompanied by brief comments from me.

Until recently, I had never had from anybody a complaint about my reproducing their writings. I am sure that most people feel as I do: That it is a compliment to have one's writings re-run by someone else.

My post of 12th, however, got an unusual reaction. It reproduces a post on a libertarian group blog called The Line is Here. One member of the group posted a comment thanking me for re-running the piece.

Subsequently, however, I received a most abrasive message from yet another member of the group with an opposite implication: Some woman named Hazel Stone demanded that I delete the post. She also has a rage-filled post about the matter on the group blog. She sounds frankly hormonal.

I have therefore written to the author of the piece -- who has so far not been heard from -- and asked him for his wishes. If he wants it deleted, I will delete it.

I guess that Hazel is a poor thing. Her social relationships must be in a bad way.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Canadian victim of Mexican corruption

Just in time for Mother's Day, Marjorie Bletcher got what she had been hoping for over the past two years – her daughter. Bletcher's daughter, Brenda Martin, was released on parole from a Kitchener prison Friday night, May 9 and returned to her mother's Trenton home.

"It feels great. Justice prevails in the end," Martin said Monday. Martin, 51, will remain on parole for the next three years and seven months. Her parole conditions stipulate that she stay within 40 kilometres of her mother's home, provide a financial statement, and not associate with convicted criminals, "Providing the statement is easy, I don't have one," Martin joked.

Martin was found guilty in April by a Mexican judge of knowingly accepting illegal funds from her former boss Alyn Waage, who ran a fraudulent investment company that scammed 15,000 investors of $60 million. Martin, who denied having any involvement in the scheme, was sentenced to five years in jail and fined $3,500 Canadian. Following her conviction, Martin was able to apply for a transfer to Corrections Canada.
Although Martin has come a long way from the Guadalajara prison where she spent the past two years and two months, she does not consider herself free. "I'm on parole and considered a convicted felon," she said. "Why does Canada have to assume the sentence passed down to me by a corrupt judicial system? It makes me confused." ...

Martin worked as a chef for Waage, but was fired in 2001. To help prove her innocence, Martin plans to start a website with the assistance of friend and supporter Debra Tieleman. An English version of her conviction will be posted on the website. "The conviction actually says there is no evidence, but I couldn't prove my innocence," Martin said.

Martin said she was never formally arrested and was told she was going to make a declaration before being thrown into the Guadalajara prison. "Basically, I was kidnapped. I wasn't arrested or handcuffed," Martin said. "I was asked for $50,000 in exchange for going to the airport."

Martin believes she was held in prison because she was one of the few left in Mexico with any connection to Waage. Waage's business associate Rebecca Roth was also arrested and sentenced to nine years in prison. "To be convicted of a crime I didn't commit in the first place is a miscarriage of justice," Martin said. "But a miscarriage of justice isn't worth the ink it is written with in Mexico. Mexico is about corruption and who you pay off."

Martin and her mother had questioned the Canadian government's response to her imprisonment, but recent efforts by Secretary of State for Multiculturalism Jason Kenney to bring Martin back to Canada has restored their faith. "They have redeemed themselves as far as I'm concerned," Martin said. However, Martin believes if the Canadian government would have filed an amparo, a constitutional injunction that can be filed when human rights are violated, she would have been home a long time ago. "If the government would have been there my first week of incarceration, I probably wouldn't have spent more than a month in jail," Martin said.

Report here

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