Thursday, July 31, 2008

More stupidity from thuggish British police

And they are denying it and apologizing for it at the same time!

Julie Maynard was on her way to Calais with 12-year-old Joshua when she was stopped and questioned at the Channel crossing about her relationship with her son. When she insisted that he was her child, she was questioned for several hours and told: "It is obvious he has nothing to do with you". Miss Maynard, a legal advocate from Ware in Hertfordshire, was taken to a separate detention room - leaving her son in distress - before eventually being released.

She described the episode as an "unpleasant and frightening experience" and has now received compensation and an apology from Kent Police for their "lack of tact". The female detective constable handling the case was transferred to other duties.

The incident happened in Folkestone, Kent, on February 20 this year after Miss Maynard, Joshua - who is autistic and suffers from cerebral palsy - and her husband Leslie Coombs went to France for the day. On the way in the Channel Tunnel, they were stopped by the plain clothes police officer from the Channel Tunnel Policing Unit, who did not identify herself, before requesting their passports and asking about Joshua. Miss Maynard said: "My son is mixed race and the officer then told us, 'I believe you are child trafficking'."

When she asked if she would be asked the same question if her son was white, she claimed that the officer replied: "Are you accusing me of being a racist?" The family was then surrounded by 10 police officers, detained under the Terrorism Act and told to get out of their car. Miss Maynard was taken to a detention room and warned that police could hold them for up to nine hours under Section 7 of the Terrorism Act, but they were released after two.

She said: "More and more people are being stopped under the Terrorism Act. There's absolutely nothing in the act to stop individual officers abusing their powers. "They have a difficult job to do in a difficult climate, but their approach needs to be reasonable and not presumptive that every person is somehow guilty of a possible terrorism or criminal offence."

Kent Police paid a "substantial sum" of money to the welfare fund at Joshua's school, reimbursed the Channel crossing fare and offered Joshua a visit to its marine launch. Inspector Helen Shaw, from Kent Police's Frontier Operations, said: "The officer's manner (was) insensitive, lacking in tact and her conduct overall lacked the professionalism I expect."

Kent Police denied that they had separated Miss Maynard from her son and husband or that they had detained her under the Terrorism Act. A spokesman said: "Miss Maynard was asked to go to an office voluntarily with the officer to reassure her about why the checks were being done, before spending some time with her registering her complaint, along with a uniformed police sergeant. "At no point were the couple or the boy detained under the Terrorism Act."

The spokesman said the police officer involved had moved to other duties but not because of this incident. "Our border officers have a duty to make rigorous checks at our ports. Police routinely stop vehicles and often have to make a quick assessment of the circumstances. "Officers' interceptions do result in serious organised crime being exposed. We have also prevented children from being removed from the UK illegally."

Original report here

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

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Britain: 'Sickening attack' attracts only minor sentences

The animals should have been locked up for life. There is very little justice in politically correct Britain

FIVE people caught on CCTV taking part in a "sickening" attack in which an unconscious man was kicked in the head have been jailed. Peter Shaw, 20; Andrew Harbourne, 19; Joshua McErlean, 19; Gemma Stafford, 18; and an unnamed17-year-old have been jailed for the attack in Manchester, England on March 15.

After an argument with the 27-year-old victim the group bashed and robbed the man, an act police described as "mindless violence at its worst". The victim was knocked unconscious but Shaw, Harbourne, McErlean and the 17-year-old continued to punch, kick and stamp on the victim, as blood started to pool around his head, police said.

The video showed three of the group running off while Shaw and Stafford stayed behind, with the young woman rifling through the victim's pockets to steal money and cigarettes. Stafford even rolled the victim over to get access to his front pockets while Shaw continued to kick the victim in the head. Shaw took one last running kick at the victim's head before they left him for dead, police said.

Detective Sergeant Lee Johnson of Greater Manchester police said it was "sheer luck" that the victim suffered only minor injuries. "The ferocity of the blows to his head could have caused serious and lasting damage. Their actions were sickening to watch and is mindless violence at its worst," he said. "The group were prepared to lie their way out of it, Stafford in particular who only decided to change her account when she was faced with CCTV footage. "I am pleased to see these thugs have been brought to justice for their callous behaviour and the victim can start to put the incident behind him. "This case also helps to show how valuable CCTV and the quality of the footage has been a major assistance in putting these yobs behind bars."

Stafford was yesterday sentenced to 18 months after pleading guilty to violent disorder and robbery. Shaw was sentenced to four years after pleading guilty to causing grievous bodily harm with intent and violent disorder. Harbourne was sentenced to four years after pleading guilty to violent disorder and robbery. McErlean was sentenced to four years after pleading guilty to causing grievous bodily harm with intent, robbery and violent disorder. The 17-year-old was sentenced to 18 months' youth detention after pleading guilty to causing grievous bodily harm with intent, robbery and violent disorder.

Original report here

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Public abuse and x-rated searches now common

Every day millions of Americans, and foreign tourists, are subjected to humiliating and often abusive treatment by the morons who work for the Orwellian Homeland Security Department’s Transportation Security Administration.

One television station documents some of the cases that continue to pop up as clueless, classless apes get hired by government to harass and intimidate people. What is astounding is that the TSA brags that they are doing something right because only 112,000 complaints have been filed against them.

I have regularly been subjected to “extra” security checks every time I force myself to fly through U.S. airspace. I have been barked at and threatened by the uniformed goons at the airports. In one case I was delayed by a TSA thug who refused to let anyone through security until everyone trying to get in was standing in a “straight line”. He kept barking about the straight line as if he were taking second graders to the bathroom during a school break.

I have been fondled by people who I wouldn’t voluntarily let near me. I have been swabbed in public as if I were a dangerous criminal. I had one official take my suitcase and dump it out on a table while he pushed through my belongings with a pencil. As he dumped everything I was carrying in public view he screamed at me” YOU will stand behind that line. YOU will not touch your things until I give you permission.”

In one case I was subjected to numerous test, one right after the other. First, I was X-rayed and cleared. But that wasn’t enough. Next I was put in some chamber where they “sniffed” me. Then I had the wand run all over me. Not finding anything they then patted me down. I was then take aside where they used a chemical swab on everything I carried but mainly my shoes, my briefcase and my laptop and wallet. Then I was subjected to another very hands-on pat down all in public view.

As the TSA official and a female assistant finished this extensive and embarrassing search he announced: “I am required to tell you that all this can be done in private if you request but since I’m finished anyway that wouldn’t make much sense.” Obviously his routine is to only inform people that they have the option of some privacy after it is too late for them to utilize it. But this way, if he is ever asked he can claim that all his victims were informed of their options -- if only when it was too late.

Even though there were times that I was livid about how badly I was treated I never filed a complaint. Like many I don’t see any use in it. Even if something is done about it I am the one who has to collect information and then deal with another brain-dead TSA official. I have to get the name of the harassing or rude employee. Right! Like I’m going to question people who have been filmed attacking passengers who question their authority. Just asking for a name so I can file a complaint later could mean missing my flight or worse.

The TSA may brag about “only” 112,000 complaints. I’m amazed they got any. The system is set up against the public and in favor of the travel Gestapo. They have all the power and most of us don’t want to take the risk of complaining. Many no doubt fear that an official complaint will only put them on the “watch” list with 1 million other Americans and that will mean extra harassment everytime they fly -- if they are allowed to fly.

Of course the whole TSA search is pretty much ineffective. All the 9/11 hijackers went through airport security and were cleared. And if terrorists were wanting to kill a lot of people there are millions of opportunities to do so. One bomb in a briefcase, which is set off at one of the long TSA backups that routinely accumulate large numbers of people into a small area could kill hundreds. A bomb in the New York subway during rush hour could kill thousands.

There are multiple targets that could be used and which would effectively kill thousands at a time. The most we can say about the TSA is that they might force terrorists to pick other targets, targets which can never all be secured by any means. But then we have also seen that with all the barking, rudeness, harassing and humiliation the TSA routinely fails security checks. Devices that can be assembled as bombs get through all the time.

It is doubtful that any of this increases public safety since so many alternative targets exist. Any terrorist who wants to kill large numbers of people won’t be short of ways to do so. But it does accustom Americans to the routine of being herded about like compliant cattle by armed government thugs. It teaches obedience and silence. Speaking up when subjected to abuse may lead to arrest and certainly will lead to assault and being denied the right to travel.

I remember reading an account of an inmate in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. He wrote how inmates tried not to be noticed. They were silent, heads bowed as they feared to look the guards in the eyes. Anything that made one stick out was dangerous.

Now watch people in line at TSA. There is often complete silence from the inmates—— I mean passengers. They shuffle through processing complying with every order. Most say nothing. They speak only when spoken to. They try not to look into the eyes of the travel Gestapo. People don’t want to be singled out by these goons so they try not to stand out. Don’t be noticed is the rule. Don’t talk back. Don’t question them. And whatever you do NEVER invoke any of your Constitutional rights. And maybe if you are quiet and compliant and obedient these thugs will let you catch your flight. The TSA method of dealing with the public is training citizen to act like sheep.

Original report here

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

Monday, July 28, 2008

Another ill-founded British prosecution ruins a life

Not even enough evidence to go to a jury

A society nanny accused of shaking to death a three-month-old baby walked from Liverpool Crown Court a free woman yesterday after the prosecution case against her collapsed. Linda Wise, 47, who worked for European royalty, Greek shipping magnates and a host of wealthy, privileged or famous mothers, always protested her innocence of what she described as an “appalling crime”.

The prosecution alleged that she handled Isaac Rowlinson, the 13-week-old son of two Lancashire police detectives, so roughly that he suffered bleeding over his brain causing severe brain damage. He died ten months later from an epileptic fit. Five weeks after the start of the trial, Mr Justice David Clarke ruled that the medical evidence presented to the jury was insufficient for the court to convict safely. The case has underlined the difficulties of achieving a successful conviction in “shaken baby” trials, and raised serious questions about whether the Crown Prosecution Service should have proceeded to court.

Mr Justice Clarke told jurors: “There are no winners in this case. The loss of the parents is incalculable and the defendant herself has been under a cloud of suspicion for a long time, and that cloud will not necessarily lift at once just because the trial is coming to an end.”

Paul Rowlinson, 41, a detective inspector, and his wife Lisa, 38, a detective constable, have been in the public gallery every day of the trial except one, when they attended their daughter’s sports day. They were notably absent as the judge directed the jury to return a not-guilty verdict. The couple employed Miss Wise through an agency shortly after Isaac’s birth because he was sickly and had difficulty keeping down his feeds. In September 2006 she stayed in sole charge of Isaac at the family home in Penwortham, Lancashire, while his parents left for an overnight break in the Lake District.

It was while she was alone with the baby that Miss Wise is accused of handling him so roughly that it prompted a brain haemorrhage from which he was never able to recover. Miss Wise, of Gaerwen, Anglesey, North Wales, denied manslaughter. Mr Justice Clarke said that he had been “greatly troubled” by aspects of the medical evidence since halfway through the trial. He said that the prosecution had established the presence of three symptoms, notably subdural and retinal bleeding and encephalopathy, but this in itself is not enough to prove nonaccidental head injury.

The prosecution had sought to link Isaac’s injury to an incident involving a hospital visit several weeks earlier. However, medical experts were unable to agree with a prosecution claim that the injury happened while Miss Wise was in sole charge of the child. Also, the judge concluded: “Any handling of a baby involves lifting and moving them about and some people may be less gentle than others but this does not constitute an unlawful act.”

After the hearing Miss Wise emerged from court beside Neil Hampson, her solicitor, and members of her family. There was little sense of jubilation. She acknowledged that her career as a nanny was effectively over. Over her 25-year career she has worked for many rich and famous people, enjoying the millionaire life-style of her employers in New York, Switzerland and Monte Carlo. She has worked for the Greek shipping magnate Philippe Niarchos and his brother Spyros.

She has also worked for Tamara Mellon, the society figure and founder of the Jimmy Choo fashion empire, Santa Sebag-Montefiore, sister of Tara Palmer-Tompkinson, the philanthropist Sir Peter Lampl, and Prince and Princess Frankopan, members of the Croatian Royal Family. In a statement read by her solicitor she said: “The last two years of my life have been on hold because of a dreadful allegation made against me. I have dedicated the last 25 years to caring for babies and young children. I have never harmed a child in my care and would not do so and certainly did not harm baby Isaac.

“Despite the allegations made against me I have nothing but sympathy for Paul and Lisa Rowlinson. They have lost their beloved child and nothing will bring him back. “I have been totally vindicated by the outcome today but the proceedings have effectively put an end to my career. I have been accused of an appalling crime that I did not commit. “Now I have to pick up the pieces of my life and just want to work towards making a positive and productive future for myself.”

After the hearing, Helen Morris, who works on complex cases for the Crown Prosecution Service, defended the decision to bring the case to court. She said: “At the conclusion of his address to the jury the judge said that the criminal justice process comes out of this very well. I think the judge’s comments make it clear that the trial was properly brought.”

Original report here. Previous "shaken baby" travesties here

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

Sunday, July 27, 2008

TSA abuse again

When travelers go to the airport, they know what kind of security to expect: luggage searches, metal detectors and shoe inspections. It's all part of our post 9-11 reality enforced by the Transportation Security Adminstration. But as CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman reports, thousands of travelers have complained that some of these screenings can become abusive and even x-rated.

For arguing with a TSA agent, Robin Kassner wound up being slammed to the floor. She's filed a lawsuit. "I kept begging them over and over again get off of me ... and they wouldn't stop," Kassner said.

And it wasn't enough for another woman to show TSA agents nipple rings that set off a metal detector. The agents forced her to take them out. Mandi Hamlin said, "I had to get pliers and pull it apart."

In Chicago, people like Robert Perry are subjected to exhaustive security checks. He was patted down, his wheel chair was examined and his hands were swabbed, all in public view in a see-through room at the security checkpoint. Perry, 71, is not alone. "It's humiliation," Perry said. Perry was also taken to a see-through room by a TSA agent when his artificial knee set off the metal detector. "He yelled at me to get the belt off. 'I told you to get the belt off.' So I took the belt off. He ran his hands down over and pulled the pants down, they went down around my ankle," Perry said.

At that point, Perry was standing in his underwear in public view. He asked to see a supervisor. That made things worse. "She was yelling 'I have power, I have power, I have power," Perry said. The power to stop him from flying to Florida with his wife that day to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. "It makes you feel like you have no rights," Perry said.

Perry said he always alerts TSA agents about his metal knee and wonders why they can't just check his leg. "If somebody told me that I would save the people on the airplane by taking my pants off out in public out there, I wouldn't mind doing it, but this was not necessary," Perry said.

TSA officials said that when the metal detectors go off, their agents must resolve what caused the alarm. But experts have said it's important to use common sense when balancing security and customer service. Carlos Villarreal, former director of security for the Sears Tower, said proper training is crucial. "When you're wanding somebody and you can identify which part of the body set of the alarm, that should be sufficient to clear a person," Villarreal said.

But all too often, it's not enough for 16-year old Michael Angone. She frequently flies as a member of the Chicago Children's Choir. "I've had to completely take my pants off and show them like my entire leg," Angone said. As a baby, Angone was diagnosed with cancer. Her parents, both Chicago police officers, had to have her leg amputated. She said she always warns TSA security agents that her prosthetic leg will set off the metal detector, but many insist on doing an embarrassing full body pat-down. "I feel like I'm being felt up in public," Angone said.

Her father Bob Angone wanted to know, "What's the reason for all the feeling up, you know the groping at the back of the neck, the chest, underneath the bra, all the groping on her body, her buttocks?"

CBS 2 News asked the TSA those questions, but got no answers. "The key word here is reasonable, and they have gone off the track. They are not reasonable," Bob Angone said.

The TSA declined to comment on the Angone and Perry cases, but the agency has announced that soon, passengers who set off an alarm that cannot be resolved will have a choice: Agree to a physical pat-down or what some believe is an even worse invasion of privacy. This fall, O'Hare International Airport will get its first advanced digital x-ray machine. It allows TSA agents to see through clothes and discover any hidden weapons. Critics have likened it to a virtual strip search.

A spokesman said that out of 2 billion passengers screened nationwide since 9-11, there have been only [ONLY???] 110,000 abuse complaints. As for the nipple ring case, TSA did change its procedures regarding body piercings.

Original report here

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

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Big brave Australian cops shoot pet, mace baby

A mother carrying her four-month-old baby watched in horror as police doused her family's beloved pet dog Daisy in capsicum spray and then shot her dead. Daisy had become tangled in her lead causing her to fight with the family's other dog Princess but, before Kirsten Small could intervene, plainclothes police killed the staffy cross. The 32-year-old mother was carrying baby Eva in a sling on her front and the pair was covered by the capsicum spray aimed at Daisy, leaving Ms Small fearing for her daughter's safety.

Daisy's playmate Bugsy was also with her on a lead and, like Ms Small, was yesterday still traumatised by the shooting outside her Ermington home last Thursday. "They shot my dog three times in front of me. They were judge, jury and executioner and it is just not right," Ms Small said. "I didn't know they were police, they were plainclothes, they just stopped and I was saying I needed a stick and they sprayed stuff and I was asking what are you spraying and my baby was screaming. "She got it all over her baby carrier, it missed her eyes. I keep seeing the gun, I keep playing it back in my head.

Police confirmed senior police were investigating the incident but declined to comment further. Two-year-old Daisy had grown up playing with shitzus, chihuahuas and other small dogs without incident and Ms Small said she had also been protective of Eva in her pram. Ms Small's father Mick was outraged at the shooting. "They're called Daisy and Princess, that gives you an idea of how wild they are," Mr Small said. "It is overkill - literally."

Daisy's ashes were returned to the family this week after her body was taken to the RSPCA. RSPCA Inspector Skye Adams confirmed she was called to see Princess and to assess her for injuries. "There are no charges being considered with regards to the police or the owner in relation to the prevention of animal cruelty acts," she said.

Original report here

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

Friday, July 25, 2008

End Asset Forfeiture!

Quote of the Day:

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury . . . nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." - Fifth Amendment to the Constitution

Civil asset forfeiture is government seizure of property or cash owned by individuals not charged with any crime. Law enforcement agents can seize a piece of property if they merely suspect it was used in a crime, whereas its owner must prove innocence to get it back. This is an inversion of justice and a gross violation of the Bill of Rights. But if you think the federal courts will protect innocent property owners, think again . . .

* A police dog's sniff of bundles of cash totaling $124,700 was used as sufficient evidence for the government to confiscate the money, even though a large percentage of currency in circulation contains traces of narcotics, and the government couldn't establish how or when the money was used in criminal activity.

* An Ohio man who kept a small amount of medical marijuana and who also kept his life savings in his own home saw the money taken by the FBI - even though he was never charged with marijuana possession.

* Individuals who consent to police searches can lose money kept in their vehicles - even where there is no trace of illegal drugs or suspicion of illegal activity.

* A woman charged with illegally selling medical equipment saw her assets frozen by the government, on the grounds that her wealth was from ill-gotten gains - preventing her from hiring adequate council to defend herself, as is her right under the 6th Amendment.

Civil asset forfeiture laws breed conflict-of-interest . . .

* Federal law enforcement seized $1.6 billion last year - triple the amount four years ago.

* The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives ordered Leathermen toolkits for their agents, engraved with the motto "Always Think Forfeiture." Fortunately, the program was halted thanks to the objection of Rep. Bill Sali, but it expresses the attitude that federal law enforcement agents should put plunder ahead of the interests of justice.

* States seized $1.52 billion in 2007; the State of Texas by itself collected $125 million, and many police department budgets are reliant on forfeiture, or "addicted to drug money." This encourages them to seize the money after drug sales have been made, rather than keeping the drugs away from children - defeating the nominal purpose of the War on Drugs.

Unfortunately, federal courts have used twisted logic to uphold civil asset forfeitures. They have contended that since the property itself is condemned, and not its owner, norms like "innocent until proven guilty" do not apply. But if the government can seize your life savings, or your house, or the car you need to get to work, the effective punishment can be as bad or worse than the penalties imposed upon conviction of a crime - yet the owner of the seized property possesses no due process rights.

Because the courts will not act to end civil asset forfeitures, Congress must. A "compromise" asset forfeiture bill will only lead to more abuses and outrages. Civil asset forfeiture must be abolished. Tell Congress to . . .

* Require full Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendment protection for all federal proceedings against owners of personal property.

* Permit seizures of criminal profits only upon criminal conviction of its owner.

* Permit seizures of legally-owned property only if its owner is convicted of a crime, to pay for fines, court costs, or restitution.

* Withhold federal funds to all state and local law enforcement agencies that engage in civil asset forfeiture.

* Enforce the 14th Amendment's requirement that "no person shall be deprived of ... property, without due process of law" by allowing victims of state and local seizures to contest forfeitures in federal court.

Original report here

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

Thursday, July 24, 2008

WV man sues feds over ‘unjust conviction’

And the WV State is being nasty too. They hate seeing someone exonerated

Bob Graham spent 13 months behind the bars of a federal prison on a conviction that he cashed in $31,129 in sick leave payments without getting approval of the buyout from the Wyoming County Council on Aging while serving as the agency’s director. Now that a three-judge panel has declared him innocent and set him free, Graham is suing the U.S. government for “wrongful conviction.” Under law, the maximum damages he can claim is $50,000 in the federal lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Claims.

Graham sees his suit as “pretty much cut and dried,” but emphasized he wouldn’t characterize it as “a slam dunk.” “What this complaint is about is unjust conviction and imprisonment, including, but not limited to, deprivation of liberty, loss of earnings, and all that,” he said in an interview this week.

Graham initially faced 31 charges involving his tenure at the Council on Aging, but was sent to prison on the single count involving his sick leave buyout. After 13 months and four days, a three-judge panel reversed the conviction.

In another legal issue, Graham is still battling to get his Individual Retirement Account fund, worth about $250,000, in a struggle with the state of West Virginia. “The state has a civil case pending,” he said. “At the same time they had the civil case pending, they attempted to tax my IRA. They had an injunction stopping me from being able to spend. They did a two-pronged effort. I call it harassment.”

In a recent order, an administrative law judge tossed out the West Virginia personal income tax assessment on the IRA for the only year left in question, 2003, finding that only the Internal Revenue Service is authorized to determine the adjusted gross income on Graham’s returns. “The important part of the decision, other than the excessive contributions were ruled void, was it goes on to say it is premature and void because it is not based on a final determination by the Internal Revenue Service by the IRS or by another competent federal authority to the effect that excess contributions to a certain retirement plan had been made,” Graham said. “They can’t tax the IRA or what they consider excess contributions, unless the federal government would take the lead and say it was excessive. The state has no jurisdiction.”

Graham says his IRA has been held in limbo while the state contends that he should return the money to the Council on Aging. “What I say is, the only people who have jurisdiction over that IRA is the federal government,” he said. “It’s still in question in the state’s civil case. But this takes care of the tax issue and very clearly says the statute known as the Employment Retired Income Security Act is one which is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the IRS and other competent federal tax authorities and the U.S. Department of Labor.”

Graham says a hearing is planned Wednesday to see where he and the state stand after being ordered to mediate the dispute. “The whole question of the civil case becomes one of, ‘Do you want to see the state set a precedent in my case that could affect people’s 401(k)s?’ Or their IRAs in the future?’”

Original report here

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Secretive British "family" courts partially opened up at last

Must not criticize the authorities if you want to get your kid back

Details of private family court proceedings that led to a mother fleeing the country with her son after he was placed in foster care have been disclosed after legal action by The Times. The highly unusual ruling allows the publication of undisclosed details of the case. The boy’s stepfather was sent to prison for 16 months for helping the mother to remove him from care and flee abroad.

She has since had another baby, the couple’s first child. The stepfather has been released from prison but is forbidden to contact his wife. The Times fought to publish more information after an outcry from readers when the case was reported by Camilla Cavendish . She highlighted the perceived secrecy of family courts and the lack of scrutiny of social workers, who have sweeping powers to remove children from their parents. Times readers

Sir Mark Potter, the President of the Family Division, dismissed Medway Council’s argument that it should not be named publicly in case it led to identification of the child, known as S. With more than 300 children in local authority care in the Kent borough, he said that this was unlikely.

The judge accepted that there was considerable public interest and that reporting a fuller story would “enable the public to form its own view whether the actions of the [Medway] council or the decisions of the court to date have been fairly characterised”.

His summary of the care proceedings provides an insight into the secretive family courts, where decisions to remove children from their parents’ care are made every day. The Times can report for the first time that social workers became involved shortly before the mother and father split up. In the ensuing care proceedings the mother made claims of domestic violence that were “heavily disputed” by the father. The judge found that, while the mother had exaggerated many claims, the father had on occasion acted “in an aggressive and intimidating manner, which placed S at risk of harm”. The mother was found to have a “tendency to play the role of victim”.

Judge Cox, the family court judge, concluded that S was “suffering emotional harm due to the conflict between the parents”. She ordered that S be taken into foster care until matters improved. There were also concerns about living conditions, with the family home described as “like a building site”. At a later hearing the judge said that she was troubled that S was keeping secrets with his mother, who was manipulative.

In a final care order the court ruled that the boy would stay in foster care and his mother was given a list of conditions to meet before he could be returned. These included weekly counselling, a move to secure accommodation and a settled lifestyle. She was also not allowed to discuss with her son the possibility of his returning to her care without social workers’ permission. Contact with her son would be reviewed and would depend on her “promotion” of his foster placement. She also had to cooperate with “counselling with S concerning the father’s gender identity issues”.

A final hearing on the case was due to take place last October. A social workers’ report said that there had been no significant improvement in the mother’s “insight/approach” towards S. Although the mother had moved house and remarried, the social workers noted that she was still challenging the care proceedings: “Significant improvements are not possible while the mother continues to be of the opinion that much of the previous judgments has been wrong or exaggerated,” they wrote. They concluded that adoption would give S “the best possible opportunity for permanency”.

At 4am on September 11 last year, the mother, assisted by M, her new husband, took the child from his foster home and drove to France. When M returned two days later he was arrested and charged with abduction.

John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat MP campaigning for more openness in family courts, said: “I am pleased that Sir Mark has recognised the public interest in people understanding that the reasonings of the family court outweighs the need for the activities of practitioners to be kept secret.”

Original report here

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Vermont police made to follow the rules

Children's librarian Judith Flint was getting ready for the monthly book discussion group for 8- and 9-year-olds on "Love That Dog" when police showed up. They weren't kidding around: Five state police detectives wanted to seize Kimball Public Library's public access computers as they frantically searched for a 12-year-old girl, acting on a tip that she sometimes used the terminals.

Flint demanded a search warrant, touching off a confrontation that pitted the privacy rights of library patrons against the rights of police on official business. "It's one of the most difficult situations a library can face," said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of intellectual freedom issues for the American Library Association.

Investigators did obtain a warrant about eight hours later, but the June 26 standoff in the 105-year-old, red brick library on Main Street frustrated police and had fellow librarians cheering Flint. "What I observed when I came in were a bunch of very tall men encircling a very small woman," said the library's director, Amy Grasmick, who held fast to the need for a warrant after coming to the rescue of the 4-foot-10 Flint.

Library records and patron privacy have been hot topics since the passage of the U.S. Patriot Act after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Library advocates have accused the government of using the anti-terrorism law to find out — without proper judicial oversight or after-the-fact reviews — what people research in libraries.

But the investigation of Brooke Bennett's disappearance wasn't a Patriot Act case. "We had to balance out the fact that we had information that we thought was true that Brooke Bennett used those computers to communicate on her MySpace account," said Col. James Baker, director of the Vermont State Police. "We had to balance that out with protecting the civil liberties of everybody else, and this was not an easy decision to make."

Brooke, from Braintree, vanished the day before the June 26 confrontation in the children's section of the tiny library. Investigators went to the library chasing a lead that she had used the computers there to arrange a rendezvous. Brooke was found dead July 2. An uncle, convicted sex offender Michael Jacques, has since been charged with kidnapping her. Authorities say Jacques had gotten into her MySpace account and altered postings to make investigators believe she had run off with someone she met online.

Flint was firm in her confrontation with the police. "The lead detective said to me that they need to take the public computers and I said `OK, show me your warrant and that will be that,'" said Flint, 56. "He did say he didn't need any paper. I said `You do.' He said `I'm just trying to save a 12-year-old girl,' and I told him `Show me the paper.'"

Cybersecurity expert Fred H. Cate, a law professor at Indiana University, said the librarians acted appropriately. "If you've told all your patrons `We won't hand over your records unless we're ordered to by a court,' and then you turn them over voluntarily, you're liable for anything that goes wrong," he said. A new Vermont law that requires libraries to demand court orders in such situations took effect July 1, but it wasn't in place that June day. The library's policy was to require one.

The librarians did agree to shut down the computers so no one could tamper with them, which had been a concern to police. Once in police hands, how broadly could police dig into the computer hard drives without violating the privacy of other library patrons? Baker wouldn't discuss what information was gleaned from the computers or what state police did with information about other people, except to say the scope of the warrant was restricted to the missing girl investigation.

"The idea that they took all the computers, it's like data mining," said Caldwell-Stone. "Now, all of a sudden, since you used that computer, your information is exposed to law enforcement and can be used in ways that (it) wasn't intended.'"

Original report here

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Scottish police drive out whistleblower

The police bosses should have been thanking him for exposing crookedness in police ranks. That they did not incriminates them too

A FINGERPRINT worker who blew the whistle on colleagues, accusing them of tampering with the thumbprint at the heart of the Shirley McKie affair, is to sue the troubled Scottish Police Services Authority for forcing him out of his job. Gary Dempster, 40, will launch a civil action against his employers after claiming he was driven out, despite being exonerated by a six-month disciplinary inquiry into his involvement in BBC Frontline Scotland's programme about the case in March 2006. Today the Sunday Herald can also reveal that Dempster, who was based with the service in Aberdeen, has been in a relationship with McKie for 18 months.

Dempster told the documentary that colleagues had deliberately cropped and distorted the print that ended McKie's police career when she was arrested, tried and subsequently cleared of perjury in 1999 and led to David Asbury's wrongful conviction for murder. McKie was accused of disturbing the crime scene at the Kilmarnock home of murder victim Marion Ross two years earlier. She received a $1,500,000 payout from the Scottish Executive in 2006 after the mis-identification by experts at the Scottish Criminal Record Office, which is now under the wing of the Scottish Police Services Authority (SPSA).

Dempster has been on unpaid sick leave since last year after claiming his health was wrecked by the stress of the six-month disciplinary action, which claimed he brought the service into disrepute. In fact, it transpired his line manager approved the TV interview appearance. Dempster also co-authored a report that found fingerprint experts wrongly identified McKie's print as being that found in the house.

Dempster is claiming he was forced to take sick leave under pressure from the Glasgow bureau. His legal action is backed by the Aberdeen branch of the Unison trade union and the SNP MSP Alex Neil. Chris Morran, Unison branch convener in Aberdeen, said: "Gary followed his employment guidelines to the letter. He was shown no support whatsoever, despite that support being enshrined in the workplace policy for people who whistleblow on alleged malpractices."

Neil alleged SPSA chief executive David Mulhern broke recent promises that Dempster would be fairly treated. The MSP said: "We are in the ridiculous situation that three people who still maintain it was Shirley's fingerprint are employed by the SPSA as expert witnesses, while Gary has been victimised by the senior management for telling the truth."

In an SPSA statement issued to the Sunday Herald, Mulhern said: "Everyone has a right to confidentiality in personal matters and we take that right seriously. We have no further comment on this particular matter." Dempster, of Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, refused to comment.

Original report here

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

More crooked cops in the Australian State of Victoria

It must be getting hard to find any honest ones

A PROBE into possible criminal behaviour at a high level of Victoria Police has intensified with three reviews started. And in a radical bid to fix the corrupt culture, the force is trying to move part of the police IT section linked to irregular multi-million dollar blow-outs. Sources told the Sunday Herald Sun an internal corruption probe by the Ethical Standard Department was scrutinising all links to a corrupt senior police manager. The manager, who stepped down while under investigation, was recently convicted of obtaining a financial advantage by deception.

Senior sources said the corruption probe - which has been running for six months - could soon net more scalps. Victoria Police did not rule out further criminal charges.

A review of top management was in progress while Business Information Technology Services was under examination. Victoria Police was trying to separate and move the procurement division of BITS into a different part of the Flinders St headquarters. The move came after a police contract with IBM blew out by $85 million.

A Sunday Herald Sun investigation also found:

SOME police staff who were whistleblowers and informants in recent probes and audits felt victimised by colleagues and management.

TWO senior managerial positions for BITS section had recently been advertised.

THE restructure moves were rubbing staff the wrong way, with a potential industrial showdown looming.

Victoria Police spokeswoman Joanne Hammond confirmed an internal audit had identified "a range of matters around process". "The audit team is currently working with BITS management to rectify these issues," she said. In relation to criminal charges of police employees, Ms Hammond said the investigation was ongoing and would not comment further.

Victoria Police has been involved in scandals about IT contracts, computer fraud and database breaches. One senior manager was discovered with child porn links on his laptop, scores of mobile phones and other items were missing and financial record keeping was highly irregular. Workers with the police's technology partner IBM were also found with keys and security passes for police headquarters up to year after they left the company. Kickbacks to police employees from suppliers and embezzlement were also being investigated.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Extreme leniency towards extreme traffic offences in Australia

Why should anyone have any respect for the law if this is what the law is?

A magistrate has opted against recording a conviction against an unlicensed teenage hoon who led police on a high-speed chase in a defective car. Beenleigh magistrate Joan White yesterday fined Nikol Maksuti, 17, $1000 after he pleaded guilty to dangerous operation of a vehicle, unlicensed driving as a repeat offender and driving a defective, unregistered and uninsured car.

The magistrate's decision comes less than three weeks after her son, who has an appalling traffic history, received a $750 fine in the same court for a swag of traffic offences. On July 1, Jeffery White, 23, was fined $750 by Beenleigh magistrate Peter Webber for driving without due care while unlicensed, failing to wear a seatbelt or obey a stop sign and obstructing police. He also was disqualified from driving for six months.

And on Monday, acting Holland Park magistrate Chris Callaghan decided against disqualifying the licences of two hoons with appalling traffic histories after they took part in a slow "rolling blockade" before an alleged race on Brisbane's Pacific Highway.

The decisions come despite a crackdown by the State Government and police and the issue of hooning on Queensland's roads prompted calls by a senior surgeon for law-breaking motorists to be shocked into driving responsibly. Princess Alexandra Hospital surgical director Daryl Wall said hoons should be forced to watch their cars crushed in front of their eyes. "That would be a very powerful force," he told The Courier Mail.

Prosecutor Joanne Mills told the Beenleigh Magistrate's Court that Maksuti was caught driving at 110km/h in a 50km/h zone at Waterford West about 10.40pm on May 17. Senior-Constable Mills said Maksuti, who was driving a defective and unregistered car, had never held a driver's licence and twice tried to avoid arrest by speeding away from police. She said at one point Maksuti turned off the car's headlights and came to a skidding halt before fleeing.

Ms White told Maksuti he needed to understand it was a privilege to hold a driver's licence and to think himself lucky she did not record a conviction against him. She also disqualified him from driving for six months. [Since he hasn't got a licence anyway, what does that mean?]

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Tear Down the Stop Signs!

Day after day in Warren, Mich., people wait in a long line to pay traffic fines. Many are there because police say they didn't come to a full stop at a stop sign. Often the policeman saying that is Officer David Kanapsky. On last week's "20/20," you heard a motorist in court insist that she did come to a complete stop. The judge replied, as judges there often do: "I find Officer Kanapsky's testimony to be credible. He is an unbiased witness." But the officer is not really unbiased. The more tickets he writes, the more overtime he gets. Last year, Kanapsky spent so much time in court he increased his pay by $21,000.

Rolling through a stop sign in Michigan puts two points on your driving record. That hikes your car insurance premium. Fighting the ticket could cost even more. So to avoid the points and legal fees, most people plead guilty to a lesser offense: impeding traffic. The court sounds like an assembly line, " ... no points ... $135 ... " Last year, the town made half a million dollars from such fines. Some drivers told us it "seems like a moneymaking scam.

I don't know if that's true, but when some angry motorists complained to Heather Catallo, reporter for Detroit's ABC affiliate, she took her cameras out to see if the cops themselves stopped at the stop signs. Most didn't. Her expose caused a ruckus in town. The mayor hired a new police commissioner, who told me the cops might have been on emergency calls. "They don't necessarily have to have their lights and sirens on," Commissioner William Dwyer said.

I told him the tape showed police cars rolling through stop signs on the way back to the police station. "Did some officers make mistakes? Perhaps so," he said.

Dwyer denied the tickets were a moneymaking scam. He said he didn't think it odd that Kanapsky wrote thousands of tickets. "It's not unusual for a traffic officer to write 10 to 20 traffic violations a day, if not more."

Please. I'm all for highway safety, but I suspect that America's roads have too many rules, and that gives cops too much arbitrary power to harass people or profit off them. As the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tse said, "The more laws that are written, the more criminals are produced."

I bet most Americans roll through stop signs. I do. It makes for a smoother ride, and it saves gas. "ABC News" put cameras by stop signs in Warren, Mich., and in New York City. The video showed that in Warren, 72 percent of drivers did not come to a complete stop. In New York, 82 percent kept going.

Warren and other towns probably have too many stop signs. There's no proof that more signs save lives. Studies show that sometimes installing stop signs lowers accident rates, but in some cases more accidents occurred after signs were installed.

In this month's Atlantic, John Staddon argues that that America's omnipresent stop signs make us less safe. He writes, "Stop signs are costly to drivers and bad for the environment: Stop/start driving uses more gas, and vehicles pollute most when starting up from rest. ... [T]he overabundance of stop signs teaches drivers to be less observant of cross traffic and to exercise less judgment when driving -- instead, they look for signs. ... "The four-way stop deserves special recognition as a masterpiece of counterproductive public-safety efforts. Where should the driver look?"

One Dutch town experimented by getting rid of most of its traffic signs. The result? Fewer accidents and fewer injuries. Drivers look out for people instead of signs, and they negotiate their way through town.

Remember the stop sign in Warren, Mich., where Kanapsky wrote many of his tickets? It's been changed to a yield sign. One result: fewer accidents. Police say, "[B]etween Jan. 16, 2008, and May 21, 2008, there have been no accidents reported. During that same time frame in 2007, there were four crashes reported." Good. Let's get rid of more signs.

And to all the cops who eagerly punish us for doing what they do, give me a break.

Original report here

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Britain: A moving response to our family justice campaign

The Times call for an end to secrecy has produced a huge reaction - except from the man who could change it

I am awed by the response to the family justice campaign that The Times launched last week. So many readers have e-mailed their MPs that I am getting calls from all three main parties. Several MPs have also raised their private concerns about how their own local authorities behave. It is uplifting to see democracy in action.

There are chinks of light already. Thoughtful people on all sides of the argument seem to accept that some degree of change is needed. Sir Mark Potter, President of the Family Division, gave broad but qualified support to many of our proposed reforms, although he argues strongly that the courts are private, not secret, and that families want them that way. Bridget Prentice, the Justice Minister, has announced that the Government will finally publish new proposals this autumn. Many social workers restrained the urge to hurl rotten eggs and supported our call for openness, while saying that the system is not as Kafkaesque as I fear.

Bill McKittrick, a social worker for 35 years and director of Bristol Social Services for ten, wrote to say that openness is a moral imperative in care proceedings where, he tells me, “lawyers get rich, social workers check and check, but children and parents get lost”. He says that “groupthink” can easily take hold. “The more people involved in a decision, the more dangerous the decisions are.” But he still thinks that mature professionals would get a better press if they gave their side of the story, being honest about the uncertainties involved in decisions, rather than trotting out the mantra of “never apologise, never explain”.

Two main arguments have been made against The Times's position. First, that the family courts should not be open to the press because the parents and children involved in cases dread being identified. Sir Mark, the heads of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health and Family Justice Council have all made this point. It is understandable that families don't want the neighbours to know highly personal details.

The same argument was used by Lord Falconer of Thoroton last year to reject the recommendation of the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, that the family courts should be open and parents no longer gagged. It is prompted by a visceral dislike of the press, which I can partly understand. Yet it is overdone. I see from the inside how concerned the press is to remain within the law. In rape cases and family appeals, reporting restrictions have successfully kept names secret while allowing evidence to be reported.

The halfway house proposed by many, including the Government, is to publish all judgments, but made anonymous. That would be a good step. But without access to the underlying evidence, it will be impossible to discover whether experts or social workers are making repeated errors. The public do not need to name names for justice to be done. But they do need to see the evidence on which people are effectively convicted.

The second criticism is that professionals do their job properly, and we critics do not understand the complexity they have to deal with. The Family Justice Council states that “the courts do not shrink from exposing poor practice by social workers and questionable medical evidence”. I cannot agree. In the past few years, Court of Appeal judges have made blistering criticisms of lower courts for relying on shockingly poor statements from social workers and experts. Family court judges can rely heavily on such people, in cases where there is no circumstantial evidence.

It seems Orwellian to ask us to trust people who are not subject to scrutiny to make correct decisions about cases which we are repeatedly told are too complex for us to understand. Years can pass between children being taken into care and a successful appeal. Those are formative years in which children are deprived of their parents, and sometimes adopted before an appeal is even heard.

The Royal College of Paediatricians gives warning that doctors will stop giving evidence for fear of vilification in the media. That very real fear is made worse becuase so many paediatricians still support Professor Sir Roy Meadow, who went beyond his remit, and gave evidence that led to the jailing of innocent people. If innocent experts do live in fear then that is entirely the media's fault, and we must correct that. But I do not believe that they would have to.

Intriguingly, only one person challenged our view that the system is unaccountable. That was Sir Rodney Brooke, chair of the General Social Care Council. I have seen no evidence that the GSCC has disciplined a single social worker denounced by appeal court judges in the past few years. But I hope to be corrected. Nor did any one of the eminent bodies who wrote to us deny that miscarriages of justice occur. Some of the glib references have made miscarriages of justice sound like a standard occupational hazard. There are 550,000 referrals to social services every year. It makes the Birmingham Six fade by comparison.

Yesterday, Frank Lockyer wrote to point out that the authorities have closed ranks in response to our campaign. “The agencies defend themselves by persisting that things are done as they expect, rather than as they are,” he said. Mr Lockyer should know. His daughter was Sally Clark, jailed for killing two of her sons until her conviction was quashed, and who has since died. Mr Lockyer knows that his daughter was exonerated only because she could protest her innocence in public. In the family courts, gagging orders make that impossible. We cannot know how many Sally Clarks have lost their children. The volume of mail on this topic has been hugely welcome. Only one person has remained silent. Jack Straw, the Secretary of State for Justice, holds the power to change the system for the better. It would be good to know what he is going to do about it.

Original report here

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Catching Liars With Technology

It's the truth: It may be getting tougher to lie in court. A wide range of tests designed to catch liars are starting to gain some respect in court, including the much abused polygraph, voice-stress analyzers and a newer test that tries to tell if someone is faking an illness or injury.

In recent years, courts have expanded the use of polygraphs in particular, allowing lie detector results to be admitted as evidence, and subjecting more individuals to mandatory testing, including parolees, sex offenders and police officers.

Many lawyers cite technological advancements and increased use of lie detectors in general as reasons for their growing acceptance. As the tests get more reliable, and more people use them, they say, more judges are willing to consider them as evidence. "Nobody could spell polygraph five years ago. But as the technology gets better and better, judges are feeling more comfortable with at least eyeballing the results, " said Susan Moss of New York's matrimonial firm Chemtob Moss Forman & Talbert. Moss also noted that family law attorneys are getting "more wiggle room" to submit polygraph results in motions for judicial review.

But lawyers aren't just asking judges to eyeball lie detector results. They're pushing to get the evidence submitted at trial -- and some of them are succeeding. In Ohio, a law student accused of rape was acquitted last summer after a judge allowed his polygraph results to be admitted as evidence, over the objections of the prosecutor. The judge acquitted the defendant, in part, because of the polygraph results. Ohio v. Sharma, No. CR 06-09-3248 (Summit Co., Ohio, Ct. C.P.).

In New Jersey, an appeals panel last June upheld the burglary conviction of a man who failed a voice stress analysis -- another type of lie detector that measures stress in a person's voice. The defendant claimed the voice-stress exam was deceptive and coerced him into making a confession, but the court disagreed. New Jersey v. Torres, No. A-3350-0574 (N.J. App. Div.).

In Florida, a motion is currently pending before a federal court to allow jurors to hear that a suspect in the murders of four people at sea passed a lie detector test. Prosecutors are fighting to keep the evidence out. U.S. v. Archer, No. 07-20839-CR (S.D. Fla.).


On the civil litigation front, a new test known as the Fake Bad Scale is increasingly being used by defendants in personal injury cases who claim that plaintiffs are lying or exaggerating about injuries. The Fake Bad Scale is a true-or-false test that attempts to identify those faking pain, psychological symptoms or other injuries alleged in personal injury claims. In the last year, the Fake Bad Scale has been upheld by one administrative law judge, but rejected by two courts in Florida.

Currently, New Mexico is the only state that allows polygraph results to be admitted without stipulation by both the defense and prosecution. About a dozen states allow polygraph results to be admitted if both parties agree to it. Most states, however, ban the practice altogether.

In the federal courts, judges have discretion over polygraph admissibility. The U.S. Supreme Court gave them that discretion in 1998, when it held that "the scientific community remains extremely polarized about the reliability of polygraph techniques," and thus left it up to individual jurisdictions to decide such matters. U.S. v. Scheffer, 523 U.S. 303 (1998).

"I think there is a slow trend building that is overcoming the courts' reluctance to admit polygraph results. I think that they are being used more, and I think that their reliability is increasing," said criminal trial attorney William Matthewman, of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Seiden, Alder, Matthewman & Bloch. Matthewman is pursuing the motion to have polygraph results admitted in a Florida murder trial involving four crew members of the Joe Cool fishing boat who were killed at sea. A defendant passed a lie detector test, and Matthewman is trying to get that before a jury. He is relying on a 1989 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, which allows for the admission of polygraph results in federal trials, provided that certain requirements are met. U.S. v. Piccinona, 885 F.2d 1529 (11th Cir. 1989). Matthewman, who has successfully used polygraph results in prior cases, argued that if jurors can hear DNA evidence, ballistic evidence and hair evidence, "there's no reason to exclude polygraph evidence."

Kirk Migdal, the Ohio defense attorney who successfully had lie detector results admitted in a sexual battery case over prosecutors' objections, agreed. "[The polygraph] is either good science or it's not. I think it's good science," said Migdal, a solo criminal defense lawyer in Akron, Ohio. "You shouldn't require stipulation. They don't for fingerprinting, DNA, blood splatters. ... The jurors can weigh it just as if it were any other piece of scientific evidence."

But jurors might give too much weight to lie detector results, countered Robin Sax, a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles who believes its safer to omit polygraph results during trial. "It's better to keep it out than risk a prejudice it has to a jury," Sax said. "It's good enough as an investigative tool, but I wouldn't want a case to rest on the reliability of the polygraph." ......

More here

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Louisiana pays a pittance for 26 years of wrongful imprisonment

Rickey Johnson knows $150,000 is not adequate payback for the decades he wrongly spent in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. But he also knows it can mean a fresh start when he needs it most. Johnson, who was freed earlier this year when he was cleared of the rape he served 26 years for, will get the money thanks to Rep. Frankie Howard, R-Many. Gov. Bobby Jindal endorsed the $150,000 in reparations. It will be paid from the general fund for the fiscal year 2007-08.

Johnson learned to craft leather in prison and says he has the leather works business he wants to open here in his hometown ‘‘mapped out.’’ He says he’s just trying to put his life together the best he can, and that means making the best of everything. Howard says Johnson could get his money as early as this month. Howard had sought an additional $40,000 for Johnson, but that was not approved with the supplemental bill.

Johnson was released in January based on DNA results proving his innocence, according to the Innocence Project, which represented him. “Rickey Johnson lost more than a quarter of a century, nearly his entire adult life, to a wrongful conviction. He had three young children when he was arrested, and a fourth was born shortly after he was incarcerated; all of those children are now adults,” said Vanessa Potkin, the Innocence Project staff attorney representing Johnson. “Rickey Johnson’s long nightmare will be in vain if we don’t learn from it and make sure other people in Louisiana have access to DNA testing that can prove their innocence.”

Johnson was arrested in 1982 for the rape of a woman in Many in July 1982. The victim said a man broke into her home at 1 a.m. and stayed for several hours, during which he raped her. She later identified Johnson in a photo array that included an old photo of Johnson and just two other photos. Johnson was convicted of the rape in January 1983 and sentenced to life without parole. He has been at Louisiana’s Angola Farm Prison ever since.

Ironically, he served his prison sentence alongside the man who was later convicted of the crime for which Johnson was serving. The two became acquaintances while in prison, though they never discussed their charges, Johnson said.

In June 2007, the Innocence Project (which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law) asked Sabine Parish District Attorney Don Burkett to agree to DNA testing on a vaginal swab collected after the rape. Within days, Burkett agreed, and testing was conducted. The DNA profile did not match Johnson, and late last week, state officials entered the DNA profile in a database of convicted offenders -- yielding a match to John Carnell McNeal, who was already in prison for a rape in the same apartment complex just nine months after the rape for which Johnson was wrongfully convicted.

After McNeal was convicted of the April 1983 rape, he was sentenced to life without parole. “If police and prosecutors had not focused on Rickey Johnson so early in their investigation -- and if a proper eyewitness identification procedure had been used instead of a deeply flawed photo lineup -- the real perpetrator might have been brought to justice sooner and might not have been free to rape another woman in the same apartment complex,” Potkin said. “Anyone who doubts that our criminal justice system is stronger when we take steps to prevent wrongful convictions should take a close look at Rickey Johnson’s case.”

Original report here

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Monday, July 14, 2008

The Central park case

On April 19, 1989, a young woman jogging in Central Park, New York, was attacked. That understates it. She was brutally beaten and raped. Her terrible injuries left doctors convinced she would die. Eventually she pulled through, although without a memory of the attack.

The case of the Central Park Jogger became a symbol of a city out of control. The story became even bigger when the first arrests were made. New York police rounded up a gang of young African-Americans who quickly confessed. Apparently they liked to attack strangers, regarding their frenzied assaults as a form of entertainment. Wilding, they called it, and the word became famous.

Now I am going to tell you something you may not know. Certainly I didn't until I stumbled across it a couple of days ago. About ten years after being sentenced for his part in the wilding, Kharey Wise met a man in prison, another New York rapist, called Matias Reyes. And the more Reyes got to think about it the sorrier he felt for his new friend. For Reyes knew something that the police and the courts did not. The wilding story was nonsense. The confessions were coerced, as the young men had claimed for years. How did he know it? Because he, Matias Reyes, had really raped and beaten the Central Park Jogger.

What follows is the shocking bit - shocking but instructive. The moment that Reyes confessed, it was clear that he was indeed guilty. His DNA was linked to the rape, and the chance that the link was mistaken was one in six billion. The wilding teenagers had left no DNA. And, when you came to look at it, their confessions didn't really add up. They weren't consistent with each other or with the facts. The District Attorney concluded that the convictions must be overturned and there can't be much doubt that he was right.

Yet the prosecution lawyer in the original case refused to accept this. She was furious. She stridently opposed the finding of the DA. So did the New York Police Department. They convened a panel that concluded that the police had done nothing wrong and that, even if Reyes was guilty, he may not have acted alone. They concluded, lamely, that the teens must have started the assault with Reyes taking his opportunity later.

Even though the teens were eventually freed, this sort of behaviour is typical.

Why does this happen? Why do people refuse to accept what simply has to be true? Social psychologists use a term to describe this behaviour that you may have come across - it is called cognitive dissonance. This is the tension that arises when a person holds two attitudes that are psychologically inconsistent. And it is tension that is hard to live with, tension that simply has to be resolved.

So what do you do? A brilliant new book by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson - Mistakes Were Made, but not by Me - explains. You believe that you are a good person, say, yet you know you have done a bad thing. There is dissonance. You resolve it by deciding that the bad thing was not that bad. The worse your behaviour, the harder you will try to twist it around in your head until you can reconcile it with your view of yourself.

It is commonly thought that we have theories and that they are tested by the facts. The opposite is true. We have theories and then we strive mightily to fit the facts into them, ignoring those that don't quite work or reinterpreting them if we have to. The more we have at stake emotionally, the more pressing this task becomes.

Now look at the Central Park Jogger case. People suffered because mistakes were made. The police and the prosecution, believing themselves to be good people doing good work, could not reconcile this suffering with their view of themselves. So they insisted, they had to insist, that the teenagers were guilty. The facts challenged their theory of themselves, so the facts had to be reinterpreted.

When groups - police, medics, politicians, social workers, the Family Court apparatus - get together, convinced of their own righteousness, the facts can go hang. They are certain that they are right, certain they are just and often, you know, they really are. But when they are not, they will never ever admit it, digging themselves in more and more deeply.

Original report here

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

You can’t trust a witness’s memory, experts tell courts

The memories of witnesses are flawed, marred by gaps or inventions and should not be relied upon in court cases, researchers say. Memories are a record of people’s experiences of events – not a record of those events themselves, their report concludes. People also “remember” events that they have not in reality experienced and such recollections could – if heavily relied upon – lead to wrongful convictions.

Memory and the Law is being published today by the British Psychological Society, along with guidelines to help those in the legal system to evaluate evidence based on memory. It recommends that courts use memory experts to help juries to evaluate memory-based evidence where, for instance, given by a child or elderly person.

Martin Conway, of the University of Leeds, the report’s main author, said: “Without corroborating evidence, witness testimony based on memory should not be relied on. In many legal cases, memory may feature as the main or only source of evidence, and it is nearly always critical.”

It was difficult, if not impossible, for jurors to know how accurate a memory was likely to be, he said. “What we say is that there is really not such a thing as a true memory. It is a record of experience – but is your experience a true record of reality?”

The memory would lose details and have gaps, would be modified and changed by subsequent recall and could conflate events or experiences.

The report says that memories dating from below the age of 7 cannot be relied upon without independent evidence. Memories of specific events after the age of 10 can be highly accurate, highly inaccurate or wholly false.

A memory of a traumatic event such as being in the Second World War could be highly accurate decades later, the report says, as could vivid memories of one’s circumstances when hearing of a big news event, such as Margaret Thatcher’s resignation. “Set against this are findings, for many of the same events, of wholly false memories and memories that are partly accurate but which contain clearly false details.”

Professor Conway cites a middle-aged man who had a vivid memory of his father talking to him about the first man on the Moon. His father had been on the telephone to his mother, who had just given birth to his brother. Only decades later did he realise that his brother was born one year before the Moon landings.

“The event probably did occur but on a different occasion and has been transposed in memory,” the report says. “This does not necessarily entail deliberate deception.”

In the criminal justice system, witnesses’ memories of events might be influenced by the way they were questioned, Professor Conway added. He cautioned particularly against reliance on memories of younger children, older adults and other vulnerable groups, as well as those with memories of traumatic events. “Older adults are more prone to false memories because of an overreliance on the gist of an event.”

With children, memory of events before the age of 3 should not be accepted without corroborating evidence, and memories of events from 3 to 5 should be “viewed with considerable caution”, the report says.

Original report here

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

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Consumer Protection or Legal Extortion?

On April Fool's Day of this year, New Mexico resident Mark Hershiser received a letter from Erika Wodinsky, a San Francisco attorney, demanding Hershiser turn over all revenue from Native Essence Herb Company, a small business co-owned by Hershiser and his wife Marianne. The letter was not a joke or a mistake. It was a premeditated act of extortion by Ms. Wodinsky. She had never met or spoken with Hershiser; her staff discovered Native Essence through its modest website.

Internet scams and predators are commonplace. What distinguishes Erika Wodinsky from a Nigerian banker or a pedophile is that she's the assistant director of the Federal Trade Commission's San Francisco office. Her staff spends their days trolling the Internet for small business owners, like the Hershisers, who sell herbs and herbal remedies to willing customers. The FTC routinely targets such businesses as part of its "consumer protection" mission — which in practice has nothing to do with actual consumers.

Ms. Wodinsky's demand letter said that her office had conducted a "non-public investigation" of Native Essence and determined that the company's website contained "false and/or unsubstantiated claims" that "induced" customers to buy certain herbal products. This itself was a false statement. Ms. Wodinsky and her staff never interviewed any of Native Essence's customers. Indeed, many of the website statements deemed illegal by Ms. Wodinsky offered firsthand customer testimony praising Native Essence's products and customer service.

But in "consumer protection" cases, the FTC does not have to allege or prove any actual consumer injury. Instead, midlevel bureaucrats like Ms. Wodinsky merely substitute their own judgment for that of a business's customers. Since she wouldn't buy Native Essence's products based on the company's website, neither should anyone else. Anytime an FTC official disagrees with the content of a commercial website, it logically follows that the website operator is making "false and/or unsubstantiated claims" in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1917.

Having made a unilateral determination that the Native Essence website should be censored, Ms. Wodinsky offered the Hershisers a simple choice: sign an enclosed "negotiated settlement," where she had already decided the terms, or face an FTC-controlled administrative litigation process. Of course, if they opted for litigation, Ms. Wodinsky would ask a federal judge to place Native Essence under a government receiver and freeze all of the couple's personal assets to ensure they couldn't afford to defend themselves.

The "negotiated settlement" was hardly a better option, however. Under its terms, Native Essence and the Hershisers individually would be under FTC control for the next ten years. This would mean, among other things, that all of the couple's business records — for any business they own now or in the future — would be subject to FTC search and seizure without a court order: accounting records, personnel records, customer files (including names, addresses, dollar amounts paid, and products purchased), advertisements, and promotional materials would all be under the FTC's control.

The "settlement" would also require the Hershisers and Native Essence to turn over all money earned through the sale of their products to the US Treasury. In theory, the FTC would administer refunds to "injured" customers, but since there are no injured customers, the money will simply remain in the Treasury "as disgorgement." And since the FTC didn't know how much money the Hershisers earned, detailed financial disclosure forms accompanied the proposed "settlement" for Native Essence and the Hershisers individually.

Most recipients of extortion letters from Ms. Wodinsky and other FTC regional bureaucrats simply sign the "settlement agreement" and pray for mercy. The Hershisers took the opposite approach — they filed a preemptive lawsuit against the FTC in US District Court in Albuquerque. They have asked the court to enjoin the FTC from proceeding against them, primarily on the grounds that the First Amendment protects their website from government censorship.

Ultimately, Hershiser v. FTC is about the free-speech rights of businesses and their customers. The FTC is actively preventing individuals from seeking information about products that they might find useful. If you read the feedback on one of the Hershisers' websites — posted after news of Ms. Wodinsky's extortion letter became public — you'll find dozens of satisfied customers who don't want or need the FTC's interference. Here's a particularly eloquent explanation of what the Hershisers really do, from a customer identified as "V.M.":
I have been buying herbal products from Native Essence Herb Co. for nearly 14 years. I have engaged in extensive conversations with Native Essence Herb Co. owner, Mark Hershiser, and I have read the data on his website.

At no time has Mark, his literature, or his web site claimed anything could prevent, treat, or cure disease. Period! All information we discussed was clearly indicated to be based on research on traditional uses of herbs.

Not only is Mark's traditional information and practice NOT deceptive, it isn't even different from data that I've found from other sources when I cross reference the information. In fact, Mark has even suggested books so I could do my own research.

Mark is one of the kindest and most caring people I know. Many times he didn't even charge me for an item. He is not mercenary, but instead truly intends to help improve people's lives and the world we live in.

By providing high quality herbal products that we, as his customers, can rely on, Mark is filling a genuine need in our society. Vast amounts of traditional healing information and knowledge are being lost. Mark is helping us by researching the data, bringing it together, and offering some excellent traditional herbal products for those of us who prefer to follow tradition.

To fine or threaten to sue Native Essence Herb Co. and its owners in an effort to "redress injury to consumers" is to threaten and cause injury to those very consumers the FTC is imagining it is redressing. I will not be as well off without the web site and other data from Mark. All sources of data about traditional healing practices are available. Any threat which inhibits the free flow of information and knowledge about traditional healing practices undermines our constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech.

In my case, it could stand in the way of following traditional health practices I have chosen to follow and which work well for my family. Mark's knowledge and information have played a major role in keeping my husband (66) and me (63) healthy through traditional knowledge and trustworthy products based on that knowledge. Neither of us are on any prescription drugs nor do we have any major internal diseases.

Mark has never prescribed any of his products for us. The choice is completely mine based on traditional knowledge and contemporary research which I get through, among others, Dr. Andrew Weil, head of the Program of Integrated Medicine at the University of Arizona.

The FTC's ideological position is that any information about herbs and herbal remedies must be censored through the federal government — preferably the FTC. In other words, the government alone will decide what information consumers are allowed to consider. Any information published without state permission is inherently "deceptive" and illegal.

Some libertarians use the phrase "Nanny State" to describe this sort of government intervention. But "nanny" implies an overprotective caretaker who nonetheless has the child's best interests at heart. People like Erika Wodinsky are more akin to abusive, alcoholic parents who beat their spouses and children to enforce strict obedience. Indeed, Ms. Wodinsky's rage seems more directed at Native Essence's customers — how dare they discuss and purchase herbal remedies without my permission — than at the Hershisers themselves.

Hopefully, Mark and Marianne Hershiser's stand against the FTC's abuse will encourage other victims to stand up and be heard. The public rarely hears about the FTC's extortion until after the "settlements" have been signed and approved by FTC leadership. It's too early to know if the Hershisers' First Amendment lawsuit will succeed, but one thing is almost guaranteed: the FTC will fight this case tooth and nail; after all, the power of people like Erika Wodinsky to violate the privacy, property, and due-process rights of all Americans could hang in the balance.

Original report here

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

Friday, July 11, 2008

Murder in Black and White

A black guy who MAY (or may not) have committed a crime was executed in his prison cell by Maryland prison officers. But that's fine, apparently

A healthy young suspect left alone in his maximum-security cell "died of either strangulation or asphyxiation" and "suffered two broken neck bones" a week ago Sunday. Predictably, "authorities" at the prison "have no idea how it happened." Hmmm. Where have we heard that story before?

Ronnie White, 19, is hardly a sympathetic victim. Though the State persecuted him for owning a gun and drugs it doesn't like, he had also committed armed robbery and assault during his brief time on earth. Last weekend, he may have been driving someone else's vehicle. A cop who was "monitoring the suspected stolen truck" tried to intercept it by blocking its path with his cruiser. The Chevy pickup rammed it. Out of the wreckage slithered Richard Findley, 39, a corporal with the police force of Prince George's County, Maryland.

Law enforcement in Prince George's County is violent and abusive. And has been for decades. From 1990 to 2001, according to the Washington Post, cops from the Prince George's Police Department [PGPD] shot 122 people, 47 of them fatally. That works out to more killings per cop than "any major city or county police force from 1990 through 2000. Almost half of those shot were unarmed, and many had committed no crime. .Prince George's top police officials concluded that every one of the shootings was justified. .Since 1990, no officer has been fired or demoted for shooting someone." No wonder the 828,000 residents of Prince George's County "sometimes see [the PGPD] as an occupying army," according to a former honcho at the US Department of Justice (DOJ).

The PGPD's carnage "concerns" Amnesty International. So do the dogs it sics on citizens, its beatings, intimidation, and withholding of attorneys, food, and sleep from kidnapped - sorry, arrested taxpayers. The abuse was so egregious that in 2001, the DOJ could no longer avoid "investigating" the PGPD. Which is rather like Stalin's investigating Mao: this is the same DOJ that pronounced torture not only legal but constitutional. Imagine the meeting of thuggish minds on this one as the DOJ and the PGPD "agree[d]" to standards "governing the PGPD's Canine Section and a memorandum of agreement (MOA) addressing the department-wide use of force." Naturally, this sham wasn't worth the do-do from one of those doggies, as this testimony from the Fraternal Order of Police confirms: "We are confident that the Prince George's County Police Department will be able to satisfy the requirements of the Justice Department." Yep, so am I.

Cpl. Findley was a loyal Praetorian with ten years' experience in defending Leviathan. He crawled out of his smashed cruiser to fire at the pickup. Bad move. Its driver mowed him down, killing him, and left the scene. One of Findley's shots had wounded the truck's passenger. A snitch reported a bloody man to 911; this casualty fingered Ronnie White as the hit-and-run driver when cops captured the two men at an apartment building. They arrested Mr. White on Friday, June 27, charged him with first-degree murder, booked him into the county's jail the next day, and - mirabile dictu - found him dead Sunday morning.

Col. Gregory Harris is the deputy director of the Prince George's County Department of Corrections, a bureaucracy as abusive as the PGPD. Without "signs of trauma on [the] body," Harris had to admit Mr. White didn't commit suicide: "There was no cloth or rope or materials tied around his neck[,] there were no cuts on his wrists or anything." Nor is an inmate responsible since the dead man was "classified as a `high-profile offender' and was being housed alone in a maximum-security cell with steel doors." We can't blame his demise on a visitor, either: he received none.

In fact, the only folks he encountered that weekend were the guards on duty at the cellblock and possibly their supervisors. Yet bigwigs from the county executive to the head of the prison-guards' union pretended bewilderment at Mr. White's death while refusing to "speculate" about what killed him - a reluctance they didn't show when "speculating" on who and what killed Richard Findley. An autopsy foiled their act. Broken bones and strangulation don't happen by themselves, to the chagrin of cops and wardens everywhere.

Meanwhile, Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson called Mr. White's murder "vigilante justice." He frets that if the vigilante version replaces the stuff the State dispenses, "our society will fall apart." Jack set a pretty high bar for hypocrisy, but the president of the prison guards' union trumped him. Curtis Knowles acknowledged that despite Mr. White's wrongdoing, "he was human, and we hate to lose human life in the Department of Corrections.'" Yeah, right. "Public Safety Director Vernon Herron told corrections center guards that if they don't cooperate with the homicide investigation at the jail, they could be fired..." No doubt they're trembling in the jackboots we buy them.

Fortunately for the murderer, a wounded and unreliable witness claims Mr. White first took out a cop. Sheeple short on both brains and guts seize that as an excuse to grant police a pass: "Pease [sic] Officer Findley" was "a brave hero who made the ultimate sacrifice" while Ronnie was "scum of the earth".

These inconvenient facts didn't keep Maryland's Gov. Martin O'Malley from decreeing that flags fly at half-mast for Findley. No word on how he's memorializing the taxpayer Findley tried to kill before his accomplices finished the job.

Original report here

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

Thursday, July 10, 2008

DA clears Ramsey family

The Boulder district attorney's office announced today that new DNA evidence discovered in the clothing worn by JonBenet Ramsey identifies "the perpetrator of the homicide" and excludes all members of the murdered girl's family. District Attorney Mary Lacy said in a letter posted on the DA's website and first reported by Paula Woodward of 9News that the Ramsey family should "be treated only as victims," and she apologized to them.

Six-year-old JonBenet was discovered with a garrote around her neck in the basement of her parents' Boulder home on Dec. 26, 1996. No one has ever been charged in her death. Boulder police once said "an umbrella of suspicion" was over her parents, Patsy and John Ramsey.

Tabloids pointed the finger at their son, Burke, who was 9 when his sister was killed. But today, in a letter to John Ramsey, Lacy said her office wanted "to state that we do not consider your immediate family - including you, your wife, Patsy, and your son, Burke - to be under any suspicion in the commission of this crime. "I wish we could have done so before Mrs. Ramsey died." Patsy Ramsey died June 26, 2006, of ovarian cancer at age 49.

Lacy's office took over the investigation into JonBenet's death in December 2002. One of the clues they inherited was male DNA found in JonBenet's underwear that did not match that of anyone in her family. Last year, Lacy attended a National Institute of Justice program on forensic biology and DNA that introduced her to a new technology called "touch DNA," she said in the release. "Forensic scientists scrape a surface where there is no observable stain or other indication of possible DNA in an effort to recover for analysis any genetic material that might nonetheless be present. This methodology was not well-known in this country until recently and is still used infrequently," she said.

At the end of last year, her office opted to work with Bode Technology to apply the new technology to the Ramsey case. The lab scraped both sides of the waist of the long johns JonBenet was wearing over her underwear the night she was killed. This area was chosen, the release said, because it was assumed that her killer took off JonBenet's clothing and then redressed her and would have handled the long johns. The lab notified the DA on March 24 that DNA was found on both sides of the waist of the long johns. That DNA matched the DNA found years ago in JonBenet's underwear. Lacy's office had the Colorado Bureau of Investigation analyze other samples to make sure the DNA profile could not have been left during the autopsy, when JonBenet's clothes were removed. That was not the case, the CBI reported on June 27.

Lacy called the DNA found on JonBenet's clothing "very significant and powerful evidence." She said in the release, "It is very unlikely that there would be an innocent explanation for DNA found at three different locations on two separate items. It is, therefore, the position of the Boulder district attorney's office that this profile belongs to the perpetrator of the homicide." And "the most reliable forensic evidence we can hope to find" excludes all members of the Ramsey family, the release concluded.

Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner issued a statement this afternoon on the new DNA findings: "The discovery of additional matching DNA in the JonBenet Ramsey murder case is important information that raises more questions in the search for JonBenet's killer. The Boulder Police Department concurs with the Boulder District Attorney's Office that this is a significant finding. We remain committed to bringing JonBenet's killer to justice. That is, and always will be, our goal."

In the letter Lacy sent to John Ramsey dated July 9, she explained how the new DNA was found. She apologized to him and his family, saying: "To the extent that we may have contributed in any way to the public perception that you may have been involved in this crime, I am deeply sorry." She told him "solving this crime remains our goal."

When asked what receiving the letter means to him, Ramsey replied, "The most significant thing to me was the fact that we now have pretty irrefutable DNA evidence we now have very, very solid evidence and that's always been my hope, at least in the recent past, that that would lead us to the killer eventually as the DNA database grows and is populated."

Original report here

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