Monday, March 31, 2008

Corrupt NY justice again: DNA frees wrongly convicted mother

She is now suing for compensation. And because of their error, the authorities cannot try the likely real murderer. This case was last mentioned on this blog on Sept., 25, 2007

In 1994, Lynn DeJac was found guilty of strangling her 13-year-old daughter during a night of drinking and bar hopping. On Wednesday, Ms. DeJac walked out of the Erie County courthouse free, and the first woman in the United States to have her conviction for killing someone overturned based on DNA evidence. The 44-year-old Ms. DeJac — whose husband and twin sons were seated behind her in the courtroom — began weeping after Judge John L. Michalski ordered her released on her own recognizance.

After her release, Ms. DeJac left the courthouse with her husband, Chuck Peters, whom she married while in prison, and their sons, who were born during her first year in prison. She did not speak to reporters. “The first thing she wanted to do was go to my sister’s grave, then reunite with everybody — it’s been so long,” said Ms. DeJac’s 22-year-old son, Edward Girard, an Army sergeant stationed in Fort Bragg, N.C. “She hasn’t met my wife yet; she hasn’t met her grandkids.”

Yet despite Ms. DeJac’s legal victory, she faces another legal hurdle. Frank Clark, the Erie County district attorney, said he planned to retry her on a charge of second-degree manslaughter because, since her conviction, the legal definition of murder due to depraved indifference had changed. As a result, Mr. Clark said, even if Ms. DeJac was found guilty at a second trial, she would probably not return to prison because she had already served nearly the maximum sentence possible for the lesser charge. Explaining why he planned to proceed with the case, Mr. Clark said: “The question of guilt or innocence still has not been determined. That’s why we have every trial.”

Earlier in the day, Judge Michael L. D’Amico, who presided over her trial and sentenced her to 25 years to life, set aside Ms. DeJac’s murder conviction. He ruled that new tests showing that bloodstains in the room where the body of her 13-year-old daughter, Crystallynn Girard, was found on the afternoon of Feb. 14, 1993, contained DNA belonging to a former boyfriend of Ms. DeJac’s, Dennis P. Donahue.

But Mr. Donahue will never be tried for Crystallynn’s murder, even though members of the Buffalo Police Department’s cold case squad suspect him of committing the crime. Mr. Donahue, a 55-year-old former bartender, who was charged in September with the 1993 murder of another Buffalo woman he had dated, cannot be charged in Crystallynn’s death because prosecutors granted him immunity in exchange for his testimony before a grand jury and at Ms. DeJac’s trial.

Ms. DeJac’s lawyer, Andrew C. LoTempio, urged the police to re-examine evidence found at the crime scene after Mr. Donahue’s arrest. Later, tests not available at the time of the trial indicated that a man’s DNA was present in skin cells found in a smear of blood on a wall, on bedding and in the vaginal cavity of Crystallynn, who was menstruating at the time.

Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the Innocence Project, a legal clinic based at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, said Ms. DeJac was the first woman to be exonerated of murdering someone among the 209 people cleared through DNA evidence since 1989. An Illinois woman, Paula Gray, was exonerated along with four men in 2002 after DNA testing cleared them in a 1978 double murder, but she had been charged as an accomplice, rather than someone who played a direct role in the crime. “More often than not, DNA cases involve sexual assaults, so the defendants are most often men,” Mr. Ferrero said.

At Ms. DeJac’s trial, prosecutors said she had strangled her daughter during an all-night drinking binge that took her and Mr. Donahue to a wedding, back to her home, and to several local taverns. At the trial, Mr. Donahue admitted having confronted Ms. DeJac and another man that night, and that at one point he put a knife to the man’s throat.

Although prosecutors said there was no physical evidence connecting Ms. DeJac to her daughter’s murder, they relied on the testimony of a man convicted of forging checks, who said she confessed to the killing in a bar several months later. [And one wonders what "incentives" the police gave him to testify]

The circumstantial case also hinged on Ms. DeJac’s behavior on the night of her daughter’s death: she made a 911 call shortly before midnight, then did not answer the door when the police responded about 15 minutes later. Several witnesses from the working-class neighborhood of Buffalo where Ms. DeJac lived and her mother owned a tavern described her as a troubled woman, a heavy drinker and erratic mother. They said she frequently left the girl and her 8-year-old brother alone while she stayed out all night. Crystallynn’s stepfather was convicted of sexually abusing her before she was 10 years old. “I think about 80 percent of the jury’s verdict was based on innuendo created by neighbors who didn’t like her,” said Mr. LoTempio, a former Buffalo city court judge.

Mr. LoTempio said the new DNA tests provided more evidence implicating Mr. Donahue than prosecutors had presented in the case against Ms. DeJac. “Throughout the night, he had the opportunity to be in the house, and throughout the night, he had the motive,” Mr. LoTempio said at a hearing last week on the motion to dismiss the verdict, suggesting that Mr. Donahue killed Crystallynn because he was angry at her mother. “He’s not only in her room, he’s in her blood.”

For now, he said he hoped that the attention did not hamper her in rebuilding her life. “She’s got no money, she’s got no clothes, she’s never seen the house where her husband and children live,” Mr. LoTempio said. “Think about being taken away from the world for 13 years and then being dropped back in. Hopefully, she won’t slip back into that neighborhood and the things that caused the problems in the first place.”

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Quick as a link, you're in the clink!

I hate it when I click on links and don't find what I want. Plenty of times I click on the wrong link. Or a dead link. Or I'll get those infuriating popups which sometimes hang my machine. But imagine if they made clicking on the wrong link a crime! Well, they have, or at least, the FBI has taken it upon itself to arrest people in pre-dawn raids for what they say is the crime of clicking the wrong link:
The FBI has recently adopted a novel investigative technique: posting hyperlinks that purport to be illegal videos of minors having sex, and then raiding the homes of anyone willing to click on them. Undercover FBI agents used this hyperlink-enticement technique, which directed Internet users to a clandestine government server, to stage armed raids of homes in Pennsylvania, New York, and Nevada last year. The supposed video files actually were gibberish and contained no illegal images.

A CNET review of legal documents shows that courts have approved of this technique, even though it raises questions about entrapment, the problems of identifying who's using an open wireless connection--and whether anyone who clicks on a FBI link that contains no child pornography should be automatically subject to a dawn raid by federal police.

They could post these links, or send them out (or they could be resent to everyone on someone's mailing list), and innocent or clueless idiots might click on them without any idea that their IP numbers were being sent straight into an FBI computer, and that a search warrant would be issued. The scariest part is that the FBI does not even care where the link-clickers got the links. Anyone might have emailed or posted them:
When anyone visited the site, the FBI recorded the Internet Protocol address of the remote computer. There's no evidence the referring site was recorded as well, meaning the FBI couldn't tell if the visitor found the links through Ranchi or another source such as an e-mail message.

With the logs revealing those allegedly incriminating IP addresses in hand, the FBI sent administrative subpoenas to the relevant Internet service provider to learn the identity of the person whose name was on the account--and then obtained search warrants for dawn raids.

And of course, once they've forced their way into your home, anything you've got becomes fair game:
The search warrants authorized FBI agents to seize and remove any "computer-related" equipment, utility bills, telephone bills, any "addressed correspondence" sent through the U.S. mail, video gear, camera equipment, checkbooks, bank statements, and credit card statements.

Can this be legal? Would any American court dare actually say that a mere click on a link justifies such a raid on someone's home? Oh yes they would! Read and weep:
While it might seem that merely clicking on a link wouldn't be enough to justify a search warrant, courts have ruled otherwise. On March 6, U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt in Nevada agreed with a magistrate judge that the hyperlink-sting operation constituted sufficient probable cause to justify giving the FBI its search warrant.

The defendant in that case, Travis Carter, suggested that any of the neighbors could be using his wireless network. (The public defender's office even sent out an investigator who confirmed that dozens of homes were within Wi-Fi range.)

But the magistrate judge ruled that even the possibilities of spoofing or other users of an open Wi-Fi connection "would not have negated a substantial basis for concluding that there was probable cause to believe that evidence of child pornography would be found on the premises to be searched." Translated, that means the search warrant was valid.

In other words, not only does it not matter where or how you got the link you clicked, you don't even have to have clicked it! Some asshole drive-by stranger could have done it! The possibilities of abuse are enormous, to say the least.

When link clicking is criminalized, we are all at risk. I don't care whether they manage to entrap the worst child molester in the world this way; that does not justify the risk of harm to a totally clueless person.

In fact, those who imagine they have nothing to fear because they're "not into that stuff" might be more at risk than actual pedophiles, as they're less likely to be cautious. If someone dared me to click a link, I'd probably click it. (Frankly, I don't think it should ever be a crime to click on a link, because of the possibility of abuse alone.)

What kind of person would set up a hyperlink system that could trap the unwary into clicking links? These scumbuckets are worse than Nigerian spammers, and if it isn't nipped in the bud, they'll probably resort to mass spammings in order to trap more people, and increase their damned budgets. What kind of government would allow this to go on? They call this law enforcement? These people are behaving like Soviet apparatchiks. I'm not on the left, and I abhor socialism, but things like this make me want to write out a check right away and send it to the ACLU. Some of what passes for law enforcement in this country is sickening. ....

The irony is that predators who go out and commit actual crimes against real children can feel a bit safer, because the more time the police devote to seekers of fake Internet kiddie porn, the less time they'll have to go after the predators in real time. This is not to defend kiddie porn, but are there any stats on how many kiddie porn violators have ever actually touched a child? What are the priorities? I'd hate to think that the cops are devoting most of their time to going after the easier cases, but the fact is that cases based on possession are a lot easier case to make.

More here

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Prosecutorial injustice

The US is the world’s greatest prison state; of that there can be little debate. By any method of counting we incarcerate more of our citizens than any other country in the world. Even China has fewer total prisoners than the US, and China’s per capita rate is also much smaller than the US rate. Yes my friends, even China has fewer criminals in jail than we do. Surprised?
"Statistics released today by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), a branch of the US Department of Justice, show that at the end of 2006, more than 2.25 million persons were incarcerated in US prisons and jails, an all-time high. This number represents an incarceration rate of 751 per 100,000 US residents, the highest such rate in the world. By contrast, the United Kingdom’s incarceration rate is 148 per 100,000 residents; the rate in Canada is 107; and in France it is 85. The US rate is also substantially higher than that of Libya (217 per 100,000), Iran (212), and China (119)." (Human Rights Watch)

The question is whether the law is a shield that protects "the people" or a club that is used to beat down them down. If we incarcerate many times as many of our citizens per capita than our European allies, can we find an explanation for this difference? Are we really that much more criminally inclined here in the good old USA than populations abroad that seem to be very similar to us?

Paul Craig Roberts once wrote that the principles that make our law a shield of protection for the citizens, and not a weapon of tyranny in the hands of prosecutors, are called "the Rights of Englishmen." The Rights of Englishmen were listed by Mr. Roberts as: due process, the attorney-client privilege, equality before the law, the right to confront adverse witnesses, and the prohibitions against attacking a person through his property, bills of attainder, self-incrimination, retroactive law, and crimes without intent. He claimed these rights are the bedrock of our legal system.

Let us look at due process; what is it? The Constitution guarantees that the government cannot take away a person's basic right to life, liberty or property, without due process of law. I suppose one could say that "due process" is basic fairness. You could say that due process means that the state must prove its case in a manner that is just and moral in a court of law while respecting the other rights as outlined above. In our system we expect that the truth will come out in the court trial of the accused, and we believe that everyone accused will have their day in court. At least, that is our hope.

I invited a criminal defense attorney to speak to a class of 8th grade students in a private school a few years ago. He was a parent of one of the children and after he was done he recommended another parent who was also a defense attorney to speak; and I gave that other attorney equal time.

The talks by both men were simply amazing. They both eventually got to the fact that over 97 percent of the cases in our town are settled by plea bargain. Both had stories of men who pleaded guilty to avoid trial even though they were innocent. These stories would immediately get the attention of the children, "why would someone say they were guilty when they were not"?

The answer has to do with the awesome power of the prosecutor's office and the idea of piling criminal counts on top of other criminal counts until any matter could net one untold years in jail. We were told by both attorneys that for centuries on end criminal charges were not arbitrary. We in America would charge a horse thief with theft, but not with conspiracy to steal horses, willful evasion of taxes on stolen horses, cruelty to animals and diminishing the civil rights of horse owners; but this is no longer true.

The prosecutor's office is also funded by the taxpayer and can spend untold fortunes on "expert witnesses" that are paid to testify in court to whatever the prosecutor's theory is in the matter. The prosecutor can also offer time off or immunity to convicted criminals if they will testify against the defendant in the case. The criminals will often say whatever is necessary to help their own situation and the truth or justice has nothing to do with it.

We were told that it is a fiction that the government will not retaliate against you if you demand your constitutional right to a jury trial in a criminal case. That was the most shocking statement of the day to my young charges.

The class and I were left with the distinct impression that the courts were rigged to fill jails and that justice was not on the agenda. When one of the children asked, "how is that fair?"; the answer was that the fair came to town in October and was at the fairgrounds on west Highway 50. This seems to be a well-known joke among lawyers, but it was a real comedown for the children and myself.

We were left with the idea that our system is founded on the idea that only in a proper court case tried by a jury of our peers could justice even have a chance of prevailing. The famous rights of Englishmen identified by Mr. Roberts are without meaning as long as there is no trial. That means in my town there is no justice in at least 97 percent of the cases. No wonder the jails are full. As long as we circumvent the court trial by jury with the plea bargain there will be no justice in America for the accused, be he innocent or guilty.

Do we really not care that justice is arbitrary in our country? I know I care; but what can be done? I suppose for now we try to inform our fellow citizens and hope that they see that an injustice in any one case is an injustice for everyone.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

CA: Molestation case against music teacher dropped

Contra Costa County prosecutors dropped child-molestation charges Monday against a Lafayette music teacher who had been accused of assaulting three teenage boys, after a judge ruled that an investigator in the case had shown a "reckless disregard for the truth." Prosecutors dropped the case against James Toland, 63, after Superior Court Judge John Sugiyama granted a defense motion to throw out evidence obtained under a warrant to search Toland's computers.

Sugiyama agreed with the defense that the Contra Costa sheriff's investigator had made misstatements and omissions in asking a judge to approve the search warrant.

The investigator reported that one of the alleged victims, a 15-year-old boy who took singing lessons from Toland, said the teacher had "grabbed his penis and buttocks and moved it around," said Ellen Leonida, an attorney for Toland. But Toland had simply touched the boy's lower back and abdomen to adjust his posture, a standard technique in voice lessons, Leonida said. The boy was offended by Toland's actions, but the sheriff's investigator warped his statement with a false assertion that the teacher had touched the boy's genitals, the defense attorney said.

Prosecutors contend that the boy did report being molested, saying the incident was separate from being touched on the back or stomach. Authorities said two other teenage boys had alleged that Toland molested them. Toland has taught choir and other music programs at Campolindo High School in Moraga, Acalanes High School in Lafayette and Miramonte High School in Orinda. "We are, of course, gratified that the case has been dismissed, although the damage already done to Jim's reputation may be irreparable," Leonida said. "From the beginning, I have been confident of Jim Toland's innocence, and I sincerely hope that he can now put this painful chapter of his life behind him."

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Crazy Canada again

Several times a week I go on the net or go to several international news services, scan many a paper and periodical and watch the local news to find items which I believe deserve to be disturbing enough to be mentioned here in my column. Every subject has touched a nerve in me on some level, but few have infuriated me as much as this next item. As much as I love my birth place of Toronto, it truly isn’t the city of my youth. Crime is the most horrific poison that exists in our society today and much of the ills of our society such as drugs, violence and abuse are tied to a society infrastructure that is incapable to properly combat it. One of last glimmers of hope are the good men and women of the Toronto Police who do their utmost to protect and serve us in these times of extreme liberalism and the evolvement of a judicial system that protects the rights of the criminal without, in many cases, offering such a luxury to not only the innocent victims of crime but also to the people on the job that protect our citizens. This week an item appeared in a local paper that highlights the above problem in a clarity that I have seldom witnessed in my journalistic career.

Ontario Justice Carol Brewer this week handed down her written ruling and dismissed criminal charges against a citizen by the name of Fitzroy Osbourne who was charged last year for causing a disturbance and for striking a female police officer who had stopped to talk to Mr. Osbourne. It seems that Officer Judy Grant, of the Toronto Police Services, was subjected to an obscenity laced tirade from Osbourne and attempted to detain him to explain his erratic actions. In the confrontation that followed, Osbourne struck the offending officer with a punch to the female officer’s chest.

Justice Brewer ruled that the accused was within his rights to do so to the officer who he claimed unjustifiably detained him and in doing so opened a Pandora’s Box that will effectively put handcuffs not on the deserving scumbag criminals but on the wrists of the police that have to bravely combat open warfare crime on the streets. Brewer is a poster person for everything that is wrong in this once safe and beautiful city of ours. Can you imagine what long term implications her misguided ruling may affect policing in this city with the ever growing crime statistics? May I be the first to apologize to Officer Grant and tell her not to be offended by such a disgusting ruling by another member of an entrenched left wing judicial system whose actions not only negatively interfere with the polices ability to handle crime, but puts every officer in even more danger in the pursuit and apprehension of such scumbag potential criminals. Justice Brewer, you may never see this column but believe me with your injudicious ruling of last week, you did as much to effectively aid crime as the gun in a murderer’s belt or the bags of dope in the pockets of a drug dealer. You should be ashamed.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Useless stalking law enforcement in NYC

Talk-show host Tyra Banks is living in fear of a hulking [black] stalker who's been terrorizing her for months and was set free by a judge last week. Cops finally busted the burly ex-con drifter Tuesday for allegedly stalking Banks from coast to coast, but he was released without bail - an act that has added to her anxiety. Brady Green, 37, has hounded Banks with multiple letters and phone calls since early January, cops and prosecutors said. He then started sending her flowers and showing up in person at her Los Angeles TV studio, they said.

The Dublin, Ga., native then took a bus to New York with the idea of visiting the studio where "The Tyra Banks Show" is taped. He arrived in the lobby at 4:23 p.m. on Tuesday, asking to speak to the former supermodel, the authorities said. Green was carrying a large duffel bag stuffed with magazine write-ups about Banks and notes to himself about his various attempts to reach her, they said.

Cops were called to the scene, where Banks said she feared for her safety. Green was cleared from the premises. But at 7:22 p.m., Green was back - sitting across the street in a window seat at a McDonald's, drinking coffee and flipping through one of his magazines, said witness Jesus Nunez. Nunez described the 6-foot-2 Green as "huge, strong with a lot of muscles."

Green told police he was homeless, although he appeared clean and dressed in neat, casual clothing, they said. Cops arrested him in the restaurant and charged him with stalking, harassment and criminal trespass. The next morning, Green appeared in Manhattan Criminal Court and pleaded not guilty to the charges. No bail was requested, despite Green not having provided a New York address. Judge Anthony Ferrara released him on his own recognizance - but issued an order of protection for Banks.

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office did not know that Green had pleaded guilty to felony pot-selling charges on Oct. 16, 2006, when he was sentenced to two years of probation and fined $1,620. DA spokeswoman Barbara Thompson said the office gets defendants' New York state criminal records in one day off fingerprints sent to Albany. Rap sheets from elsewhere take at least two days. But a call by The Post to the county prosecutor in his Georgia hometown turned up a second arrest - for obstruction on Nov. 23, 2006. That charge was dismissed. Said NYPD spokesman Michael Collins, "It's up to other agencies to await the prints to be run and to be certain of a person's ID before letting them go."

Staff at the Chelsea studio are worriedly anticipating Green's return. "There's no security at this building," said a producer at 225 W. 26th St., where photos of Green were still being handed out on Friday with a warning to stay away from him. "It's very scary."

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Australia: Cops fail integrity testing, but results remain secret

The wallet containing $285 handed in at the Katoomba police station was too tempting for Senior Constable Kate Michelle Howes to ignore - so she went shopping. That mistake cost the 27-year-old officer her career. Howes had no idea the lost wallet was a deftly targeted test of her integrity, orchestrated from within the NSW Police Force.

Her case is the only public evidence that the force still conducts integrity tests among its own ranks as part of its fight against corruption. But the results of these tests, a good barometer of the cleanness of the force, is not information the police want you to know. It is one of a growing list of matters sought by The Daily Telegraph under Freedom of Information that is being refused release by the force.

Last May, Howes pleaded guilty in the Mount Druitt Local Court to embezzlement. She was fined $1000 and placed on a three-year good behaviour bond. Worse was to come. On February 2 this year, Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione dismissed Howes, using his authority under section 181d of the Police Act 1990.

Integrity testing was a key reform arising from the Wood royal commission in the mid-1990s. But details of how the tests are done - and, more important, how many officers pass or fail them - are not for public discussion. The police have argued that to discuss any aspect of its program - even the release of statistics on how many are undertaken - would undermine its effectiveness.

In a ruling earlier this month, the Ombudsman backed this secrecy. "The public interest favours the continued successful operation of the integrity testing system and consequently continued secrecy regarding the numbers and conduct of integrity testing," investigation officer Maya Borthwick said.

In Howes' case, it was a clever sting. Foreign coins were tossed in with the cash to make it appear as though the wallet belonged to a tourist who would not be around to claim it. The person who handed it in appeared to be a member of the public. Howes succumbed to temptation and went shopping, apparently for clothing and manchester. She still had $150 left when she was charged.

Figures released in 1998 revealed that of the 40 sting operations carried out, just 18 officers passed. Despite this, a police spokesman yesterday ruled out releasing any details of the integrity testing program. "Police will not reveal methodology or how regularly integrity testing is conducted," the spokesman said. "However, police can confirm that integrity tests have led to criminal charges being laid." Not all officers who fail the tests are sacked. Some remain in the force but face internal disciplinary proceedings.

Report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Australia: Drunken cop promoted

A POLICE officer who admitted to drinking at least 18 beers before going on duty to carry out a breath test has not been disciplined. Instead, Senior-Constable Alan Reedy has been promoted - despite telling a court last month about a wild night in Cunnamulla that ended with him knocked unconscious after trying to arrest a woman.

Reedy was at the Warrego Hotel about 10pm on May 14, 2005, when asked by colleagues to carry out a breath test. After the test he drank two rums at the Club Hotel and about 12.45am declared himself on duty to arrest local woman Corrinne Mitchell, who he says spat on him, sparking a fight that ended in Reedy being flown to Toowoomba Hospital for treatment. Three people pleaded guilty to charges over the incident but five others fought the charges, which were dropped last month when a judge ruled Reedy's evidence unreliable. A police spokesman said the matter was being reviewed but "at this time the Queensland Police Service has not received any complaint about the matter".

Reedy, who is now a plainclothes detective in Cairns, admitted in the District Court in Charleville to drinking about two mid-strength beers per hour between 10am and 6pm while off-duty at a golf function. From there, the then-constable went to a barbecue where he continued to consume alcohol, before moving on to the Warrego Hotel about 10pm.

In court, defence barrister Phil Hardcastle asked Reedy: "Now how many drinks did you have at the Warrego before you went back on duty to do this breath test?" "Mate, it was just one drink all up," Reedy replied. Mr Hardcastle says: "Then you drop into the Club Hotel. You have two rum and Cokes and you're called away by Senior Constable Lahey?" "Yep," Reedy replies.

An attempt by Constable Lahey to take Reedy home failed - he returned instead to the Club Hotel where he was later assaulted by a group of people after he put himself back on duty and tried to arrest Ms Mitchell. In court, Crown witnesses backed the defendants' claim that Reedy had directed racial comments at Aborigines in a bar and then dragged Ms Mitchell by her hair, pulling clumps out. Reedy denied the claims.

A statement from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions states the charge of grievous bodily harm against Ms Mitchell and four others was thrown out because "the judge concluded that it would be unsafe to rely on the complainant's memory to establish guilt beyond doubt". "The reasons for this were that the complainant had consumed a large amount of alcohol before the injuries were inflicted . . . and he had been knocked unconscious in the attack." A police spokesman admitted a driver had been charged over the earlier breath test performed by Reedy.

Queensland Council for Civil Liberties vice-president Terry O'Gorman said the public had the right to have their breath tests carried out by officers who were not affected by alcohol. QPS policy states officers who have a blood alcohol content above .02 face disciplinary action. Mr O'Gorman called for a Crime and Misconduct Commission inquiry into the police handling of the matter. A police spokesman said Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson and Reedy were unavailable for comment.

Report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Alarming Videos of South Carolina Highway Patrol Prompt Federal Probe

The U.S. Justice Department has started an investigation of the South Carolina Highway Patrol after dash-cam videos showed a trooper using a racial epithet and two other patrolmen ramming their cruisers into fleeing suspects, a federal prosecutor said Thursday. "I've reviewed some of the videos, and based on that review, felt that it was appropriate to have our office involved," said Kevin McDonald, acting U.S. Attorney for South Carolina. "We will open a file like any other criminal case, and work with the FBI in their investigation, and then make prosecutorial decisions."

Highway Patrol Col. Russell Roark and his boss, Public Safety Director James Schweitzer, resigned last month after a tape surfaced showing a trooper using a racial slur. "You better run," then-Lance Cpl. Daniel C. Campbell said to a suspect, using a derogatory term for blacks, "because I'm fixin' to kill you." Campbell was reprimanded, suspended and ordered to undergo anger and diversity training, but Gov. Mark Sanford said he should have been fired.

This week, the Highway Patrol released two more videos showing troopers using their cars to ram fleeing suspects. In one of those tapes, Lance Cpl. Steven C. Garren drives after a black man on foot, striking him when he crosses in front of Garren's cruiser. The man flips over the car's hood and into high grass on the roadside. "Yeah, I hit him. I was trying to hit him," Garren, who is white, can be heard telling another trooper.

Garren received a three-day suspension, which he has appealed. Another trooper who also ran down a suspect with his car was reprimanded and completed a stress management course, disciplinary records show.

Sid Gaulden, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said none of the troopers were available for comment Thursday. He said the department welcomes the investigation. "I believe that such an inquiry will prove the fact that there is no systemic pattern of misconduct at the Department of Public Safety," Gaulden said. "We saw problems and took action to correct those problems."

McDonald, the federal prosecutor, wouldn't say whether indictments could come from the investigation, which was first reported Thursday by The State newspaper of Columbia.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Scottsdale cops play at stormtroopers

Via the Phoenix New Times (scroll down the page) comes word that police in upscale Scottsdale, Arizona, are continuously subjecting bar patrons to a dose of unwanted Eastern-bloc nostalgia.

Typically, the po-po show up on a Friday or Saturday after midnight, sometimes six to a dozen strong. They ask to speak with the owner, and inspect the joint's liquor license, employee log, fake ID log, and other records. They run through a checklist of liquor-related issues. And they prevent anyone from entering or exiting the premises. Sometimes the cops check customers' IDs, running them for warrants. ...
Most bar owners, citing fear of reprisals, would not talk to The Bird on the record.

Club Mardi Gras owner Jeffrey Chazen was the one exception. Chazen described how the bulls raided his saloon about 1 a.m. Sunday, March 9, during a performance by geezer rocker Barry "The Fish" Melton of Country Joe and the Fish fame. "Why did they stop me from doing business and hold my people hostage?" wondered Chazen, adding, "The more I think about it, the more it rubs me the wrong way. I mean, if I held my customers for an hour, wouldn't that be kidnapping?" ...

As for the reports of customers being detained by Scottsdale cops, Clark equivocated in classic cop flack-ese. "A typical bar check does not include the detention or seizure of any patrons," Clark claimed. "However, the officers may restrict customers from entering based on articulable officer safety concerns or in the furtherance of an investigation."

The AZ ACLU's legal director, Dan Pochoda, thinks differently. "It's a Fourth Amendment violation of unreasonable seizure," said Pochoda. "Seizure is defined as when a person unreasonably isn't permitted to leave pursuant to the orders of law enforcement. That's exactly what's going on here."

Despite its western-individualist aspirations, Arizona is home to some truly bizarre police-state excesses -- and a population that often cheers the same. Maricopa County's Sheriff Joe Arpaio has made a hobby of egregious civil-liberties violations, including arresting members of the press who offend him. Nevertheless, his approval ratings remain north of 60%. So Scottsdale's police department is just following local traditions.

But the Fourth Amendment, among other constitutional protections, is something of a tradition, too. That's something Scottsdale's Police Department might want to remember before it starts racking up Arpaio-sized legal settlements.

Report here

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Widow of man shot by police files $10-million claim

Video is the only way to circumvent chronic police lying and collusion

The widow of an unarmed man whose fatal shooting by the LAPD was captured on a video now appearing on YouTube filed a $10-million claim against the city Monday, alleging that one officer's gunfire led other officers to wrongly fire their weapons. Attorney Carl Douglas, who filed the claim on behalf of the widow of Maurice Leroy Cox Jr., said the man did not provoke the fatal shots March 1.

Douglas said that far from being a "suicide by cop," as police accounts portray it, the shooting was a case of "contagious fire," with one officer firing after hearing another do so. "This wasn't a suicide by cop. He never went toward officers. He ran away when they fired," Douglas said. More than 30 shots were fired at the unarmed man, he said.

The video of the shooting has appeared on YouTube and shows Cox getting out of a pickup after crashing into a tree at Crenshaw Boulevard near 57th Street, then backing away from police and then running after an officer opens fire. As Cox runs through a dark parking lot, the video records a second volley fired by police; when he goes around the corner of a building, more shots can be heard.

The video, shot by Alex Alonso, a doctoral candidate at USC and operator of, does not show the final shots fired at Cox, but it does depict him on the ground after being hit multiple times.

According to a Los Angeles Police Department statement, Cox, after crashing his gray pickup about 7:05 p.m., reached into his glove box, then told officers to move away or they would be killed. About 15 minutes later Cox got out and pointed what appeared to be a weapon at officers. Officer Jose Campos, a six-year veteran, opened fire, according to police. Cox then ran through a bank parking lot. When he turned back toward officers, they responded by firing again, police said. He then ran toward another group of officers, drawing more shots, police said. Officers later discovered that the alleged weapon was a cigarette lighter adapter, police said. During the incident, five officers fired their weapons.

In his claim for Laura Cox, Douglas said her husband was dazed by the collision and that when he got out of the truck he back-pedaled with hands in plain view before officers opened fire, striking him two or three times in the upper body. Douglas said Cox never made a verbal threat toward police or any furtive gestures.

The claim, a required precursor to a lawsuit against the city, also alleges that after Cox was shot, officers did not get him immediate medical care.

Report here

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Rate-My-Cop: New Website Has Police Furious

Rogue cops don't want their "form" uncovered

Police agencies from coast to coast are furious with a new website on the internet. has the names of thousands of officers, and many believe it is putting them in danger. Officer Hector Basurto, the vice president of the Latino Police Officers Association, recently learned about the site. "I'd like to see it gone," he said. "Having a website like this out there puts a lot of law enforcement in danger," he said. "It exposes us out there."

Kevin Martin, the vice president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, agrees. "Will they be able to access our home addresses, home phone numbers, marital status, whether or not we have children? That's always a big concern for us," he said.

Creators of the site say no personal information will be on the site. They gathered officers' names, which are public information, from more than 450 police agencies nationwide. Some listings also have badge numbers along with the officer's names.

Rebecca Costell says, in a statement, that the site helps people rate more than 130,000 officers by rating them on authority, fairness and satisfaction. She adds, "Our website's purpose is to break the stereotype that people have that cops are all bad by having officers become responsible for their actions."

The site is so new that many Bay Area police agencies are not aware of it. San Francisco police say they have no connection with the site and would not take any of its comments seriously.

Police associations that represent more than 100,000 police and sheriffs in California are now seeking legislation to see if they can eliminate the site altogether. They say that officers who are rated face unfair maligning without any opportunity to defend themselves. The CPCA will work with other law enforcement associations to pursue legislation to stop the website.

Constitutional attorney and former San Francisco Police Commissioner Peter Keane said eliminating the site is difficult. "Any kind of publication is protected as long as it's not publishing privileged information," he said. The First Amendment would be the site's protection.

Report here

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Australia: Man who stuck finger in light socket awarded $30,000

How on earth did the judges figure that the club was liable for this?

A COURT decision to award a NSW man more than $30,000 for sticking his finger in a light socket has been criticised as an embarrassing reward for his own stupidity. Bryan Jones sued Dapto Leagues Club in the Wollongong District Court after the incident while he was playing pool in 2002, which his doctors claimed left him with post traumatic stress disorder.

After the original hearing, 63-year-old Mr Jones was awarded $700. Yesterday that figure was increased in the NSW Court of Appeal to $30,652, plus costs. The court found he had accidentally put his fingers into the light bulb socket, despite admitting to joking just half an hour earlier that he was going to do it. In making the new order for damages, Justice Keith Mason said the shock which burnt Mr Jones' middle finger and knocked him unconscious could not have been forseen. "He was aware the power had been turned off but no one in his group realised that someone, probably a club employee, reconnected the power shortly afterwards," Mr Mason said.

Clubs NSW spokesman Jeremy Bath yesterday said the decision had dealt a harsh financial blow to the club. "The trend of courts rewarding stupidity is one that sadly appears to be on the increase," he told The Daily Telegraph. "It's hard to believe a grown man could be rewarded for sticking his finger in a light bulb socket. Clubs are sick and tired of being instructed to write cheques to victims of stupidity when they would otherwise be donating the money to sporting teams and charities. "The people of Dapto have every right to be baffled by the court ruling, which has short-changed them $30,000."

In their decision, Justice Mason, supported by Justices Margaret Beazley and Virginia Bell said the injuries sustained by Mr Jones warranted $22,000 in damages. They also awarded him $8652 for future and past out of pocket expenses, as well as costs. Mr Jones was not in court for the decision and his solicitor said she had been unable to contact him to tell him of the windfall. Mr Jones suffered "dizziness, headaches, bad dreams, flashbacks and an impending sense of death" after the accident, the court heard.

Report here

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Politically correct Australian judge again: Six months' jail for raping 13-year-old girl

Black kids are not entitled to the same protection as whites, apparently. This is not the first time judge Martin has put the law second to the depraved values that have become common in dysfunctional black communities. He condones the depravity instead of fulfilling his duty to correct and discourage it.

The Northern Territory's chief judge has warned men in Aboriginal communities to stop condoning child abuse after a 20-year-old was sent to jail for having sex with his 13-year-old promised bride under her parents' roof. However, child abuse campaigners yesterday criticised as inadequate the six-month sentence given to the offender by Chief Justice Brian Martin, who accepted that the 13-year-old victim, who fell pregnant as a result of the abuse, had "actively encouraged" the relationship.

Yesterday, in the Supreme Court at Alice Springs, Justice Martin said senior figures in Aboriginal communities "must learn to accept" that sex with children was illegal. The judge made the comments after acknowledging that both the parents of the victim and offender, as well as senior figures in their remote Aboriginal communities, had accepted the sexual relationship between the 13-year-old child and the man, who was 19 at the time the offences took place, as normal.

The offender, who cannot be named, pleaded guilty to three charges of having sexual intercourse with a child over a two-month period in 2006. Lawyers for the offender had pointed out in submissions at his plea hearing that the victim's father was an Aboriginal community police officer in the remote central Australian settlement where the offences occurred. The Australian is unable to name that community as it would identify the victim.

In sentencing the 20-year-old man yesterday, Justice Martin accepted that the offender was a young man with an immature understanding of sexual matters who had been "subject to conflicting messages" within his community. "Those who might be expected to tell you that a sexual relationship with a child was wrong took the opposite view and encouraged your relationship," Justice Martin said. "You had approval for the relationship not only from your parents, but also from the child's parents. Their approval extended to occupying the same bed together within the homes of both sets of parents."

The court heard yesterday that the victim had been subject to violence within the relationship by her promised husband, who abused alcohol. She had also fallen pregnant as a result of the abuse, and when she was seen at a community clinic, health workers discovered that she had contracted three different sexually transmitted infections. The court was told that the young victim's baby had died in-utero.

Justice Martin said that the "tragic and traumatic" consequences of the sexual abuse were a "graphic illustration" of the dangers of such relationships within Aboriginal communities. "There is a need to send a message to men in Aboriginal communities, both young and old, that sexual intercourse with children is never acceptable and is against the law," he said. "The message must go out that whatever view may be held by a community or individual Aboriginal man about traditional marriage or traditional relationships with young children, sexual intercourse with children is against the law and will result in offenders being sent to prison."

Bernadette McMenamin, chief executive of the anti-child abuse group Child Wise, said the sentence was inadequate, and slammed Justice Martin's suggestion that the victim had "actively encouraged" the sexual relationship.

Report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Michigan madness: More questions over who knew about Claude McCollum's possible innocence and when did they know it

A state police detective who's been in the middle of this controversy has just filed court papers responding to McCollums wrongful conviction lawsuit, and tells his side of the story.

Michigan State Police Detective James Young claims that he told the assistant prosecutor three months before McCollum's trial that he didn't think McCollum committed the crime. Young examined video evidence that shows McCollum was in a different location when the murder happened, and from that video, Young wrote a report concluding McCollum's innocence.

Now it's that report that's been in question. Who saw that report and when did they see it? The court papers just filed by Young never make it clear whether or not the prosecutors had it before Young's testimony at trial, but while they may have not had it in writing, Young's court papers specifically say that he met with prosecutors before the trial and told them he thought McCollum was innocent.

Many questions remain, but the attorney general is investigating the matter and will eventually release his findings into who knew what and when they knew it. The Ingham County prosecutors have also filed a response to McCollum's lawsuit, saying they never knew Young's report existed until the day he testified at trial.

Report here

Some background

Imprisoned for a murder he didn't commit, Claude Zain-Shahee McCollum knows that sometimes justice really is blind. It took but a few days for authorities to blame him in the January 2005 rape, strangulation and beating death of a Lansing Community College professor.

The jury that convicted McCollum on Valentine's Day 2006 did so based primarily on a hypothetical statement painted as a confession, and it never saw a key police report that appeared to show McCollum in another building at the time of the attack. Michigan State Police wrote that report in March 2005, three months before a judge determined there should be a trial.

"Somebody knew that he couldn't have committed that offense," said Hugh Clarke Jr., who is expected soon to file a civil lawsuit on behalf of McCollum, now 30. "Somebody knew."

The crucial report, recently obtained by the Lansing State Journal, is an analysis of video surveillance evidence from LCC. It is part of an ongoing criminal investigation by the state attorney general's office. The probe involves "circumstances surrounding the McCollum investigation and trial," according to a Jan. 14 letter from the attorney general's office. That letter is the first confirmation that the review is a criminal investigation. Ingham County's top prosecutor requested that investigation last fall after a judge threw out McCollum's conviction.

Evidence of McCollum's innocence emerged in late summer when, according to State Police, another man confessed to the murder. Police then re-analyzed the video.

Why did it take another man's confession for officials to see the video as possible proof of McCollum's innocence? Why did McCollum have to serve a year and a half of a life sentence before his 2005 statement to police was no longer seen as an admission of guilt? And how could any of the mistakes have been made?

The State Journal spent the past three months seeking answers to those questions. It is unclear how the McCollum evidence was forwarded from police to prosecutors and to defense attorneys. Tracking is hit or miss. And without complete taping of police interrogations, the context of a suspect's statement can be lost.

Much more here

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Guilty cop acquitted

Last month, in Irvine, California, Officer David Alex Park, stalker and rapist, was acquitted by a jury of eleven men and one woman. He was acquitted, not because he is anything other than a stalker and a rapist—which he as much as admitted in open court, and which was proven well enough anyway by phone records, license plate requests, and DNA evidence. He was acquitted because he is a cop, and the woman that he harassed and sexually extorted danced at a strip club, and so the jury concluded that she made him do it, and besides, if she strips for a living, she must have been asking for it anyway.

You might think that I am exaggerating the defense’s position for polemical effect. No, I’m not. Here’s defense attorney Jim Stokke: “She got what she wanted, … She’s an overtly sexual person.” And in cross-examination of Lucy, the survivor: “You do the dancing to get men to do what you what them to do, … And the same thing happened out there on that highway [in Laguna Beach]. You wanted [Park] to take some sex!”

Back in the real world, outside of Jim Stokke’s and Officer David Alex Park’s pornographic power-trip succubus fantasies, what actually happened is that a professional cop, while armed and on patrol, used the extensive arbitrary powers that the law grants to police in order to get personal records on several different women at the strip club, picked out the one he liked the best, followed her, waited for the first excuse to use his legally-backed coercive power against her, used the power of his badge and gun to force her to pull over, used that same power to bring her under his “custody” and keep her there against her will, threatened her with arrest and jail, and then forced her into sex against her will. He didn’t give a damn about what she wanted because she’s just a woman, and an “overtly sexual” one at that. And he could force what he wanted on her because he’s a cop—so he has the power to restrain and threaten her—and she’s a stripper—so he had every reason to believe that a jury would give him every possible (and some impossible) benefit of the doubt, while they treated her bodily integrity and her consent as worth less than nothing, and blamed her for anything that happened to her, anyway. As, in fact, they did.

As I said about a case with several male cops in San Antonio back in December:
What as at stake here has a lot to do with the individual crimes of three cops, and it’s good to know that the police department is taking that very seriously. But while excoriating these three cops for their personal wickedness, this kind of approach also marginalizes and dismisses any attempt at a serious discussion of the institutional context that made these crimes possible — the fact that each of these three men worked out of the same office on the same shift, the way that policing is organized, the internal culture of their own office and of the police department as a whole, and the way that the so-called “criminal justice system” gives cops immense power over, and minimal accountability towards, the people that they are professedly trying to protect. It strains belief to claim that when a rape gang is being run out of one shift at a single police station, there’s not something deeply and systematically wrong with that station.

If it weren’t for the routine power of well-armed cops in uniform, it would have been much harder for Victor Gonzales, Anthony Munoz, or Raymond Ramos to force their victims into their “custody” or to credibly threaten them in order to extort sex. If it weren’t for the regime of State violence that late-night patrol officers exercise, as part and parcel of their legal “duties,” against women in prostitution, it would have been that much harder for Gonzales and Munoz to imagine that they could use their patrol as an opportunity to stalk young women, or to then try to make their victim complicit in the rape by forcing her to pretend that the rape was in fact consensual sex for money. And if it weren’t for the way in which they can all too often rely on buddies in the precinct or elsewhere in the force to back them up, no matter how egregiously violent they may be, it would have been much harder for any of them to believe that they were entitled to, or could get away with, sexually torturing women while on patrol, while in full uniform, using their coercive power as cops.

A serious effort to respond to these crimes doesn’t just require individual blame or personal accountability — although it certainly does require that. It also requires a demand for fundamental institutional and legal reform. If police serve a valuable social function, then they can serve it without paramilitary forms of organization, without special legal privileges to order peaceful people around and force innocent people into “custody,” and without government entitlements to use all kinds of violence without any accountability to their victims. What we have now is not civil policing, but rather a bunch of heavily armed, violently macho, institutionally privileged gangsters in blue.

In Irvine, the same thing is happening all over again—just another Bad Apple causing Yet Another Isolated Incident. Except that in Irvine, the legal system has not even gone so far as to get to the part about individual blame and personal accountability. Overt misogyny against women who dare ever to be “overtly sexual,” combined with overt authoritarianism in favor of any controlling macho creep with a badge and a gun and a pocketful of wet dreams, have combined to get this admitted sexual predator completely off the hook, and leave all of his old buddies back at the department free to stalk, harass, extort and rape “suspect” women, with every expectation of more or less complete impunity for their actions.

Christ, but there are days when I hate being proven right about the things I write about.

Report here

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

More gross stupidity and disregard for justice from Australia's Federal police

And do they HATE admitting that they were wrong! It has to be forced upon them. They need a new boss at least -- plus wide-ranging remedial education in the rules of evidence. Latest on the best-known AFP bungle -- the Haneef case -- here. They were real Keystone Kops in that matter

Australian Federal Police agent Gerry Fletcher, a veteran investigator lauded for bringing down some of Australia's biggest organised crime gangs, was this week back on the job, working the phones. After a two-year fight against now-descredited allegations of corruption, the former narcotics strike-team chief was sitting alone, on the seventh floor of AFP offices in Sydney fielding tip-offs from the public.

Just three years ago, Detective Sergeant Fletcher, 54, was the pride of the AFP, awarded one of its highest honours - the Australia Day Medallion - for his "nationally and internationally" recognised work busting open drug syndicates. But it all turned horribly wrong in April 2005 when Fletcher answered his work phone and agreed to meet a mystery caller the next day at a cafe across the road from his Sydney office. His coffee companion was cocaine kingpin and then AFP target the now-dead Michael Hurley.

The 25-minute meeting, immediately reported by Fletcher to his superiors, led to the 30-year veteran's sacking in February 2006, which was overturned last June by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, but the reinstatement order was obeyed by the AFP only 10 days ago.

While Fletcher is not allowed to talk about his ordeal, his wife Jenny yesterday took the extraordinary step of going public about the "witch-hunt" her husband endured at the hands of Australia's top cops. "What was done to my husband was unconscionable and wrong," she told The Weekend Australian. "He deserves more than the dishonourable and disrespectful manner with which he has been treated by a very small minority within the hierarchy of the AFP. "He was suspended, reinstated and sacked without cause, being the finding of the AIRC, but maintained his loyalty to the AFP throughout."

With this week's announcement of the judicial inquiry into the Mohamed Haneef affair, Ms Fletcher called for a similarly independent review into the AFP's handling of her husband's case. "The disturbing parallels between Gerry and the Haneef case are striking - they tried to brick-in my husband like they did with Haneef," she said.

The Fletcher case is not the first time the AFP has drawn the ire of the AIRC, which in 2004 slammed its professional reporting and confidant network, under which agents can anonymously report on their colleagues but which has allegedly been abused to secretly smear reputations. AIRC deputy president Brian Lacy said the internal network of "clandestine informers" was dangerous, just as likely to contribute to corruption and unethical behaviour as eradicate it.

The system remains in place, albeit with some changes; not so the Federal Police Disciplinary Tribunal, which did not hear a case from 1999 until it was closed down in 2006. The tribunal - following attacks the top brass didn't want to air their dirty laundry in public - was meant to give natural justice to officers under investigation. Instead, they are forced to mount expensive litigation to defend themselves - an avenue that Fletcher was forced to take, to the tune of $60,000.

An old-style policeman, Fletcher was regarded as an investigator who spent time on the street rather than in front of a computer screen, building contacts and finding informants. In the words of former assistant commissioner Bob McDonald, who gave evidence on his behalf, Fletcher had a unique understanding of "who's who in the Sydney criminal underworld". But it was a style that occasionally brought him into conflict with his bosses. Within weeks of the meeting with Hurley, the crime boss was picked up on a listening device saying he had been tipped off to the operation into his activities. He then disappeared as police swooped.

Hurley was eventually caught, but died of cancer early last year before he could stand trial for masterminding a cocaine cartel that smuggled drugs into Australia through Sydney airport. AFP bosses suspected Fletcher was the source of the tip-off to Hurley. Fletcher told the AIRC that until he got to the coffee shop, he didn't know he was to meet Hurley, thinking instead it might be a retired policeman. When he realised it was Hurley, he immediately reported it to his superior.

Fletcher, suspended with pay, was eventually cleared by the NSW Crime Commission for the alleged leak. But it didn't stop there. As a result of the meeting, Fletcher was counselled and told he would be soon moved from his position with narcotics in Sydney. Later, he was accused of failing to uphold AFP standards and was in need of further counselling - which Fletcher rejected. He then went on the front foot with his bosses. He wrote back, saying that apart from Hurley he had never met with informants alone and remained committed to AFP policies and guidelines as to "human sources". The AFP didn't like it and said it no longer trusted the veteran policeman. He was then sacked.

Over the next two years, Fletcher fought for his career in various courts. Spectacularly, during the hearings, it was revealed that Hurley had spoken about his contact with Fletcher while under AFP interrogation. Hurley was asked what Fletcher's reputation was on the street. "100 per cent honest. I think he's locked everyone up you can talk about," he said.

Maybe it hurt Fletcher more than it helped. But for Jenny Fletcher, her husband's long record of arrests and commendations should have been enough. "He gave 30 years to the force and they treat him like this," she said. "Every man and woman in this country who has chosen a career in the AFP ought to have the peace of mind that that career will not be ripped out from under them 5, 10, 20 or 30 years on by personal agendas."

The AFP last night issued a statement saying Fletcher "has been fully reinstated at his substantive level into an operational area of the AFP".

Report here (Via Australian Politics)

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Australia: Police goons walk free

This is a tremendous disgrace. For betraying their position of trust they should have been locked up for years

Confronting secret footage of an armed robbery suspect being bashed by three Victorian detectives has been publicly released for the first time. The three policeman whose bashing of an armed robbery suspect was caught on secret video have walked free. A magistrate yesterday cleared the release of the video that killed the trio's police careers.The damning footage shows the suspect being kicked, slapped, tackled and hit with a telephone at the St Kilda Rd police complex.

The three former armed offenders squad officers were charged after the screening of the video footage at a police corruption watchdog hearing in September, 2006. It is the first time the graphic and damning video has been released to the media. The video, credited with leading to the disbanding of the armed offenders squad, was first aired at a controversial Office of Police Integrity hearing in September, 2006.

Yesterday, former Sen-Det Robert Lachlan Dabb, 36, former Sen-Det Mark Harrison Butterfield, 38, and former Det Sgt Matthew Adrian Franc, 38, left court free men, but with their careers over. Magistrate Peter Lauritsen sentenced Dabb and Butterfield to 10-week intensive corrections orders and Franc to a five-week Intensive Corrections Order. An ICO is a jail sentence served in the community [????] that combines community work, education and treatment.

The men pleaded guilty to the unlawful assault on May 10, 2006, of a suspect arrested over two armed robberies. Unlawful assault carries a maximum three-month jail term. The trio, who were given glowing character references in court, still face charges of misleading the OPI director.

The black and white video is filmed from a camera hidden in the ceiling of an interview room at the armed offenders squad offices in St Kilda Rd. It was placed following a letter of complaint to the OPI about the activities of members of the now-disbanded armed offenders squad. The suspect is slapped, kicked, flung across the room and hit with a telephone and tissue box in five separate attacks over four hours. He repeatedly cries in pain.

At one stage Butterfield tackles the man to the ground and tells him: "Welcome to the armed robbery squad." At another point he is told: "Start showing us some respect here. F------ (slap) armed (slap) robbery (slap) squad." In the final assault, Dabb strikes the man with a phone after he complains that he has yet to be given a phone call: "Want a phone call? "Here it is, here's ya f------ phone call . . . "Don't learn about attitude, do ya? Want to make another one?"

In dramatic scenes, Dabb collapsed in the witness box at the OPI hearing when he first viewed the video clips. The three men initially denied it was them in the video. All three have since resigned from Victoria Police.

On Wednesday, a former colleague of Franc gave evidence that he regretted that his offence had affected more than 30 detectives in the disbanding of the armed offenders squad. The court heard the assaults were aimed at getting a gun used in the armed robberies off the streets.

Report here (Via Australian Politics)

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

"Innocent until proven guilty" not applicable in Louisiana

The first person in Louisiana awarded money under a program created to compensate the wrongfully convicted had the judgment overturned last week by a state appeal court. The ruling by the 1st circuit court of Appeal in Baton Rouge means Calvin Williams, who spent 15 years and eight months at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola following a 1977 first-degree murder conviction in New Orleans, must go back to court.

Williams had been awarded $150,000 by state District Judge Curtis Calloway on March 22, 2007. But the appeal court said Calloway erred by not allowing attorneys with the state Attorney General's Office to ask Williams questions during the 2007 hearing. The court set aside the damage award and ordered Calloway to continue the hearing, this time allowing Williams to be questioned by assistant state attorneys general.

Louis Heyd Jr., an attorney for Williams, said Tuesday no decision has been made on whether to ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to review the 1st Circuit ruling, but he doubts he will object to Calloway continuing the hearing. "We're trying to establish some guidelines for these cases," Heyd said.

Williams was convicted of being a principal to first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in the shooting death of Keith Norse. According to the 1st Circuit ruling, Williams was granted a new trial after it was determined his trial lawyers did not receive a police report that contained inconsistencies in the testimony of one witness. The ruling also indicates the witness could not identify Williams in a police photo lineup.

After Orleans Parish prosecutors chose to not bring the case back to trial, Williams was released from the penitentiary in 1992 and on Aug. 19, 1996, the murder charge was dismissed. In the ruling, the 1st Circuit determined that the 2005 state law that created the compensation program requires an inmate "prove by clear and convincing" evidence that he is "factually innocent" of the crime for which he went to prison.

During the hearing, Williams claimed to be innocent of the charge and claimed that a coat, taken from his room and allegedly worn by the person who did commit the 1976 murder, could not have fit him at the time of trial. Calloway refused to allow assistant attorneys general to question Williams, claiming that would amount to a retrial of Williams' case. The 1st Circuit ruled that Calloway should have allowed the questioning because Williams had the burden of proving he was "factually innocent" of the crime.

Report here

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Some really helpful officials (NOT)

On Christmas day, 2007, a tiger named Tatiana escaped from her enclosure in the San Francisco Zoo. What happened just before and just after her escape remains a subject of debate. Although the wall that Tatiana had to scale was only about 12 feet high, there is no record of any tiger leaping out of an enclosure like that before. It seems likely that, as zoo personnel have suggested, Tatiana was being taunted by a person or persons who provided some means - perhaps a pair of legs dangling over the wall - for her to get a toehold and escape.

After scrambling out of her "grotto," Tatiana mauled three young men, Carlos Sousa, 17, and his two friends, Amritpal (Paul) and Kulbir Dhaliwal, 19 and 23, brothers. Sousa died. The Dhaliwals survived. Tatiana was shot to death while standing over the soon-to-be-made-a-corpse of one of them.

By that time, the tiger had been loose for about half an hour, while the brothers tried to summon help on their cell phone. In case you're wondering how the people on the other end will regard you if you ever make a 911 call, consider the tone of this conversation (source: San Jose Mercury News):

"A very agitated male is claiming he was bitten by an animal." Prove it, you bastard. "They do not see any animal missing. Male is bleeding from the head." That's not enough proof. "Zoo dispatch now say there are 2 males who the zoo thinks they are 800 [code for 'crazy'] and making something up but one is in fact bleeding from the back of the head." "Who the zoo thinks they are 800": we're from Mars; that's how we talk.

Seven minutes later comes the reassuring report that although zoo officials aren't letting police inside, they themselves are "dealing with it." Deal with it, dude. OK?

Some of the rest of the conversation is even more predictable, given its source. Have you ever called any public official about an urgent problem? You have? I'm sorry. And what was that person's primary concern? Right: he or she wanted to make sure that you calmed down. And so, on Christmas day at the zoo, the 911 dialogue went like this (source: San Francisco Chronicle):
"OK, calm down, all right," the dispatcher replied.

"It's a matter of life and death," Dhaliwal said.

"If the paramedics get hurt they cannot help your brother, so you need to calm down and . . . "

"Send more paramedics then!" Dhaliwal said. Not a bad idea.

The dispatcher replied, "You are going to be the best help for your brother right now, so you need to calm down and help him until we can get there, sir, all right?"

The next time you're calling an ambulance, or reporting a burglary, or being chased by a tiger, this is precisely the irritated and patronizing tone that you can expect to hear: Sir, all right?

Finally, after the cops arrived and the Dhaliwals were rescued, a refreshingly human emotion was expressed. "Have cat, shot cat," a policeman remarked. It was almost as good as Perry's account of the Battle of Lake Erie: "We have met the enemy, and they are ours."

But this no-nonsense style did not persist. A fire department flak provided a fashionably verbose (not to mention partially inaccurate) summary: "The tiger went into a cafe at the zoo and attacked a patron. That person ended up dying at the scene . . . [Police] shot the tiger, and the tiger is deceased." Note that human "patrons" end up dead, while animals are reported as deceased. One pictures, in the former instance, the gerbil that your kids forgot to feed; one imagines, in the latter instance, a flower-decked casket at the Hubbard Memorial Funeral Home and Mortuary, with Tatiana lying in state, her paws crossed reverently across her chest. The tiger didn't end up dying; she passed on to a better life.

Things also seemed to have worked out well for the zoo. The director, a moron named Manuel Mollinedo, proclaimed himself "extremely satisfied that our zoo staff acted appropriately. . . . I'm very proud of the way that our zoo staff operated that evening." Perhaps Mr. Mollinedo didn't remember the fact that "our staff" had started by overestimating the height of Tatiana's enclosure, believing, or at least saying, that it was several feet higher than it was; and that this staff responded to the tiger's escape by keeping rescue workers off the premises, while making its own chaotic attempts to figure out how many tigers were roaming free. Then there was the zoo cafe worker who apparently refused to let the Dhaliwals into the restaurant when they sought refuge from the tiger. But oh well. Who cares? All was "appropriate."

According to Mollinedo, "Some of our staff did heroic things, and I hope that eventually they can be recognized for the way they handled some very difficult situations where they actually put their lives on the line." Hey, that's great; tell us more. But according to the Associated Press, Mollinedo "did not detail their actions, citing a continuing police investigation." In other words, to paraphrase King Lear:
We have done such things, -
What they are, yet I know not: but they have been
The wonders of the earth.

I don't need to tell you that Tatiana was memorialized by animal lovers and animal rights agitators with the predictable candles, bonfires, and other votive trash that the English-speaking peoples now use to express a grief that lies too deep for tears.

And the tiger victim, Carlos Sousa? He was eulogized on a memorial website (what else?) with his own MySpace rap (what else?): "Hey What's Up!? My Name is Carlos, Im portugeese and brazilian. I'm 16, I love my life, but its gonna get better. I want to be DJ someday. I Hang with the family, and my true homies play basketball and go out to the movies and party harder then a rock star, only sumdayz wen i have my days off of work. I'm just a laid back guy looking for some cool new friends! So if anyone wants to talk, just say wat it doo doo!!"

Obviously, this was an outstanding young person. Granted, both Carlos and his true homies had been smoking weed and drinking vodka before they went to pay their call on Tatiana at the SF Zoo. Nevertheless, his father stepped up to the plate and pitched cliches like a professional: "My son Carlos was a very good boy."

Not so, perhaps, his friends the Dhaliwals. There had been certain legal problems with them (as with Carlos), including a 140-m.p.h. police chase involving one of the brothers, an episode for which he got (you guessed it) a life-changing term in . . . probation. Then there was the little matter of the Dhaliwals' refusal to reveal what happened at the zoo, or even to communicate for some time with their dead buddy's parents. But Carlos' mom forgave them; and when she did, she had a fund of orthodox words to bestow in absolution. According to the San Jose Mercury, she intoned, "Other people can say my kid's a bad kid, too . . . Kids are kids." A is A.

She went farther. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, she "said in an interview that Paul Dhaliwal had told her, 'We didn't do nothing. We were just normal kids in the zoo.' She added, 'That's what happened - just dancing, talking, laughing like normal kids.' " Yes, in America, what you do when you're a normal 19- or 23-year-old "kid" is to get wasted and hang out at the zoo on Christmas day, "dancing."

Besides dancing, the Dhaliwals spent the holiday season hiring a high-priced lawyer, Mark Geragos, and made ready to sue the zoo. But then - what do you know?! - it emerged that one of the Dhaliwals had actually deigned to talk with Carlos' dad, and had admitted that the three buddies had been, well, sorta gittin' in dah tigah's face - "standing on the railing," "yelling," and "waving their hands."

This yelling and waving and talking and dancing probably happens rather frequently, wherever "normal kids" get their chance to play Dr. Doolittle with the zoo animals, but no tigers have ever gotten sufficiently riled up about it to make a successful lunge at the idiots who annoy them. So the San Francisco police suggested that (to put it somewhat more bluntly than they were willing to do) the trio got what they deserved. The Chronicle quoted a police report as saying that "as a result of this investigation, [police believe] that the tiger may have been taunted/agitated by its eventual victims . . . This behavior may be consistent with a tiger that has been agitated and/or taunted."

I suppose it was the police department's barely repressed emotional agitation that resulted in the understated language of its report: "may have been," "may be consistent," "taunted/agitated." In any event, the tiger wasn't the only thing that escaped from the zoo on Christmas day. A lot of weasel words also got out of their enclosures. What the hell does "taunted/agitated" mean? Did the errant youths merely taunt the tiger, or did they manage to "agitate" her as well? And what kind of word is "agitated"? It's the kind of word you use when you want to diminish something: "A very agitated male is claiming he was bitten by an animal." Oh, he was just agitated.

Of course, the cops didn't want to diminish the righteousness of Tatiana's indignation; they want to get the goods on the Dhaliwals. But contrary to what many cultural theorists believe, even established authority often surrenders to the language of its time - pure, dumb, stupid language. Agitated isn't the right word for the cops' purpose. Try tormented, and drop the stupid slash ( / ) mark.

Then there's that word "consistent," which appears every 30 seconds in any TV story about cops and courts and lawyers: "The findings of the autopsy were consistent with death by blow-gun . . . " But what does consistency amount to? A lot of things are consistent with a lot of things. The existence of this column is consistent with my owning a Dell computer, but that doesn't mean that Dell was the weapon I actually used. Consistency is not a cause-effect relationship, although it often plays one on TV.

Looking at this tiger thing as a whole: did you ever see a sequence of events, outside of an election campaign, that reflected worse on the American language, as currently employed?

I'm sorry, very sorry, to say this, but Mark Geragos, one of the nation's (circus) star attorneys, emerged with more verbal honor than most of the other dramatis personae. That may not be saying much. He made his usual share of ridiculous statements. He claimed there was no evidence his clients had taunted the tiger. He claimed that Tatiana's enclosure "couldn't hold a house cat." Right. Just try urging your house cat over a 12-foot wall. And naturally he charged that his clients were the victims of a "smear campaign."

But the great thing is that after the weasely "taunted/agitated" report came out, Geragos said relatively little about the case. No dancin', no laughin', no tauntin' the tiger. No wat it doo doo. Mainly silence, the absence of speech, the silence of an animal when it's biding its time. He knew that the zoo would issue some face-saving statement and await negotiations on the legal settlement that will make the Dhaliwals rich.

Finally, the statement came. "The zoo firmly believes that something highly unusual happened that provoked Tatiana out of her enclosure. This has been a tragedy for everyone involved but we continue our investigation to determine what happened on that day."

Sure. I hope you do. And I hope, somehow, you manage to nail the Dhaliwals. But in the meantime, you might try to define what was "tragic" about "that day," for anyone except the tiger. Tatiana, at least, fell in the line of duty. As for the others . . . This wasn't "Oedipus," and Carlos Sousa wasn't the King of Thebes. Neither was Manuel Mollinedo, if the zoo's leading bureaucrat is what's implied by "everyone." A major sign of decay in American civilization is ignorance of the fact that "tragedy" isn't the only word for something bad that happened. Another word is "farce."

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

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Britain: More than 2,000 serious criminal cases thrown out after prosecutors were not ready

More than 2,000 cases that should have gone to trial in the Crown Court were thrown out last year because they were not ready, a watchdog says today. The cases involve serious offences including burglary, theft, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, possession of drugs and possession with intent to supply drugs.

The inspectors of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) say today in their report on the performance of the service that even though this throw-out rate is better than it was, it remains poor. In total 2,325 cases were lost because prosecutors were not ready to proceed. The cases come before magistrates, who decide if the cases should be sent to the Crown Court for trial. Under pressure not to grant repeated adjournments for prosecutors, magistrates are increasingly taking a tough line and discharging cases when papers are not ready, evidence not complete or witnesses not lined up.

Stephen Wooler, the chief inspector of the CPS, said that the issue had been flagged up in the inspectors’ previous report and “yet there continues to be too high a number”, he said. The total represented 2.5 per cent of all cases destined for the Crown Court. That was particularly the case now that the CPS had taken over responsibility for bringing charges and therefore should have sufficient evidence to lay a charge in the first place.

The discharge rate is slightly better than for 2005-06, when it was 2,420; and for 2004-05, when it was 3,444. Thousands of cases are thrown out by the CPS itself before they even get to court. In the year up to March last year, the CPS decided before a charge had been laid that there should be no further action because of insufficient evidence in 169,821 cases and on public interest grounds in 16,276 cases.

After charge, the cases are continually reviewed. In the same year, the CPS stopped proceedings in 107,651 cases in the magistrates’ courts — or nearly 11 per cent of the 998,910 cases that went to trial before magistrates; and a further 12,102 Crown Court cases, or 13.1 per cent of all the 92,340 cases that went to crown court trial.

In general the inspectorate report found that the CPS had improved its performance, with higher conviction rates in both magistrates’ courts and the Crown Court. At the same time the courts’ workload had fallen, with more offences dealt with through increasing the use of cautions, fixed penalty notices and formal warnings. Out of 42 CPS areas in England and Wales, five were rated as excellent: Humberside, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, South Yorkshire and Warwickshire; 15 were assessed as good; and 20 as fair. Two areas, Leicestershire and Surrey, were assessed as poor. The report says that these latter areas “were the subject of inspections during 2006-07 and both are starting to address the concerns, under new management teams and with the benefit of assistance from CPS headquarters”.

Mr Wooler said that the CPS now needed to focus on its core area of magistrates’ courts’ work. “The policies of taking over charging, and also of doing more advocacy work in the Crown Court, are both very sound policies — but they are very intensive and has meant the CPS’s resources are stretched.” The CPS welcomed the report’s finding that more areas had qualified for the “excellence” rating and that nearly all 42 areas were up to standard.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Texas: Harris County to pay $1.7 million in civil rights case

Police wrongdoing again

Harris County commissioners voted unanimously Monday morning to pay $1.7 million to settle a lawsuit that led to the resignation of District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal. After an emergency, closed-door meeting, commissioners agreed to settle with Sean Carlos Ibarra, 37, and Erik Adam Ibarra, 28, two brothers who claim that they were wrongfully arrested by sheriff's deputies, whom they photographed and videotaped during a 2002 drug raid at their neighbor's home. Because of a subpoena filed in that lawsuit, Rosenthal's personal, romantic e-mails to his secretary surfaced.

The settlement comes as the sheriff's deputies were scheduled to testify this week in the Ibarra's civil trial in U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt's court. The Ibarras were seeking $5 million in damages for the alleged civil rights violation. The lawsuit claims that a sheriff's deputy hit Sean Ibarra after he refused to hand over a camera that he had used to photograph deputies during a raid on his neighbor's home. When deputies then burst into the Ibarra home, Erik Ibarra, then a 21-year-old college student, grabbed a video camera to film the officers' actions. The lawsuit claims the deputies drew their guns and one threatened to shoot Erik Ibarra.

Both brothers were taken into custody on charges of resisting arrest. Sean Ibarra also was charged with evading arrest. Both were later cleared of wrongdoing.

In court papers, Sheriff Tommy Thomas denied that his officers did anything improper. Deputies only used force to defend themselves because one of the Ibarras turned to hit and kick a deputy during the confrontation, he said.

Rosenthal and Harris County prosecutor Sally Ring were deposed as witnesses in the civil case because one of the deputies claimed they acted on instructions from the District Attorney's Office when they arrested the Ibarras and destroyed film in their cameras.

The Ibarras filed a subpoena for all e-mails Rosenthal sent or received in a three-month period from July 2007 through Oct. 15, 2007. That subpoena, intended to turn up correspondence about the Ibarra case, also generate Rosenthal's personal e-mails. About six weeks later and amid tremendous political pressure, the district attorney resigned.

The Ibarras' lawyers made the offer over the weekend — before Monday's scheduled testimony from deputies involved in the case, said County Judge Ed Emmett. Commissioner Steve Radack said he voted for the settlement because sheriff's deputies made mistakes on the day of the incident. ``There were some policies that were violated,'' he said. ``You had somebody on the street who went beyond what was reasonable.''

Emmett said, ``The rational thing to do was to accept this settlement offer. Sometimes you make the best deal you can and move on. It allows the sheriff's office to get back to being the sheriff's office.''

Hoyt will determine whether the county will pay more for the Ibarra brothers' legal fees. Emmett speculated the county may pay as much as $1 million to cover those fees. The settlement would end all legal actions against the sheriff's department, the four deputies, Thomas and the county. But it would not end contempt actions brought by Hoyt against Rosenthal, Radack said. The county has spent more than $125,000 on Rosenthal's contempt proceedings and his attempts to keep some e-mails private.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Australia: A prosecution without evidence?

A district Court judge has slammed a shoddy police investigation into child-sex accusations against a teenage boy. He said officers had failed to go to the alleged crime scene, take photos or interview witnesses. Judge Philip Eaton was scathing of police handling of the case against 19-year-old Luke Wilkinson, who this week stood trial on one count of sexual intercourse with a child aged between 13 and 16. A jury of six men and six women took 20 minutes to return a unanimous verdict of not guilty on Thursday after a three-day trial.

Police laid the charge against the former Bible College student last March after a girl alleged that Mr Wilkinson, then 16, had sex with her in January 2006 in the coolroom of a Victoria Park supermarket when she was aged 14. Mr Wilkinson vehemently denied the charge. The court heard that investigating officers from Kensington police did not inspect the alleged crime scene or interview supermarket staff. No forensic evidence was tendered to the court and no clothes were seized to back-up the sex claim.

"I have to say in relation to the police investigation, that it seems to me somewhat extraordinary that the person who is investigating wouldn't go to the alleged scene of the crime and have a look around and possibly take some photographs,'' Judge Eaton told the court. "It is lamentable that a factual investigation and proper investigation, I have to say, was not carried out in this case, which may have led to the matter taking a different path to what it presently has''. Judge Eaton said that while it was "entirely proper'' for prosecutors to proceed with only the testimony of the girl, the lack of other evidence had made the defence of the allegation ``more difficult''.

The defence team twice urged the the DPP to drop the charge. Some jury members were visibly upset as defence lawyer Linda Black detailed the ``gross injustice'' of pursuing the case. "It is an absolute disgrace to find him (Mr Wilkinson) sitting in that box on the state's evidence in this case,'' Ms Black said in her closing address to the jury. "I would hope you have come to the same view as me: how on earth did this case get to here? "Clearly, the system has failed.''

Ms Black said the girl was "deliberately lying'' and had concocted a "ridiculous story'' in association with another man -- who is close to her family -- as a diversionary tactic to take attention away from child-sex charges against him.

Mr Wilkinson now wants to know why police and the DPP continued with the case against him when they had no evidence. Outside court, he demanded an apology and described the past year as a "year from hell''. "I actually wish that I had done something wrong because then I would have deserved this,'' he said.

WA Police spokesman Insp Peter Hatch said the police, along with the DPP and the Department of Child Protection, would review the handling of case. Sex-assault allegations were commonly difficult to investigate and this case more so, given the report was made 14 months later. "The lengthy lapse in time impacted on the gathering and value of available forensic evidence,'' he said. DPP corporate services director Peter Byrne said the prosecutor was right to proceed to trial because the girl maintained she was telling the truth.

Report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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