Monday, August 31, 2009

Australia: Corrupt cop still in the Qld. police force

With only a minor demotion -- even though he used his senior position in an attempt to cover up an attempted murder!

It looks like the Misconduct Tribunal is a reincarnation of the old Police Whitewash Tribunal

The CMC has failed to have a police officer sacked for trying to convince a Brisbane couple not to take action against their daughter for conspiring to kill them. At the centre of Inspector Gerard McKendry's conflict of interest was that the 15-year-old schoolgirl was a good friend of his daughter's.

But although an internal police investigation also found McKendry had failed to protect the integrity of the crime scene, no sanction was imposed. New details can now be revealed about the sensational crime - and the Crime and Misconduct Commission's frustration with the police disciplinary service.

The CMC appealed the QPS decision and argued the officer should be sacked. Yesterday, the Misconduct Tribunal found he was unfit to continue as a commissioned officer and demoted him to sergeant level. The tribunal found he should not be sacked because of his history as a competent, hard-working officer.

Joshua Andrew Hockey and his teenage lover, who cannot be named, in 2006 plotted to kill the girl's mother and stepfather so they could run away. Hockey was supposed to cut the mother's throat and then kill the stepfather. But the plan went awry when Hockey could not overpower the stepfather.

Hockey and his girlfriend pleaded guilty to attempted murder and conspiracy to murder. Hockey received a nine-year jail sentence and his girlfriend, on appeal, had her sentence reduced to two years' jail.

McKendry was the regional duty officer on the night of the drama. A the scene, he provided "inappropriate advice to the (parents) in relation to providing the details of a particular solicitor, suggesting they not make a complaint against their daughter", a tribunal statement said. Evidence given by other police revealed McKendry was heard to say, "I would be getting her legal representation" and "I believe your daughter has mental health issues and I'd be directing your solicitor to take that path in relation to this". He was also heard telling the girl's mother that she could have a shower. Other police had directed the woman not to shower because it could destroy evidence.

The CMC's appeal decision comes after a major report into police corruption, a two-year investigation codenamed Operation Capri. CMC chairman Robert Needham said he was "prepared to accept" disciplinary findings taken by QPS in relation to Capri but said he was unhappy with aspects of the police disciplinary system.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Australia: Incompetent rape investigation costs Victoria police $20,000

(In the hope of shutting the woman up)

POLICE have reacted angrily to "hush money" TV claims by a woman who claims she was raped by a Carlton footballer. “Kate'', who alleges she was raped at a party after Carlton's 1999 Grand Final loss, claims she was originally offered $20,000 “hush money” by police to keep quiet before reaching a settlement with police. "They offered me some money... $20,000... on conditions that I don't proceed with having it heard it court," she told the ABC.

"You think you can pay me off with $20,000? $20,000 is nothing, not that it was ever about money. But I think in some way they owed me more than just 20 grand. They owed me - doing their job properly."

Victoria Police today confirmed they had reached a settlement with Kate, but said in a statement the offer of $20,000 was a show of good faith after legal advice provided to the force found they had no legal liability in relation to the matter. "She refused the offer and engaged in legal action against Victoria Police. That action was unsuccessful, however Victoria Police did not choose to pursue costs, even though we were within our rights to do so,” the statement said. “In a further show of good faith and for compassionate reasons, Victoria Police again offered the woman $20,000 because we believed it was the right thing to do. This offer was accepted and did include a confidentiality clause which is standard in government litigation.”

Kate says she had consensual sex with one player but later woke up to find another raping her.

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland, then an assistant commissioner, later admitted detectives had botched the case. A damning Ombudsman's report into the investigation found that police had failed to take DNA tests or interview key witnesses. Mr Overland said there had been an “almost total failure'' by investigators on the case and apologised to the woman.

Police said one member involved in the investigation was subject to disciplinary action while two other members have resigned from the force due to unrelated matters.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Mass. court OKs $102M wrongful-conviction award

The latest episode of a long-running story. I LOVE the size of the award. Given the deliberatesness with which government officials targeted men they knew to be innocent, every penny is justified. Fear of any more such awards should make officials more careful, one hopes. Presumably the money will come out of the FBI budget -- giving top FBI officials cause to crack down on crookedness in their ranks

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a $102 million judgment against the government for withholding evidence that could have cleared four men who spent decades in prison — including two who died there — for a murder they didn't commit. Joseph Salvati, Peter Limone and the families of Henry Tameleo and Louis Greco sued the federal government for malicious prosecution after U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner ruled in July 2007 that Boston FBI agents withheld evidence they knew could prove the men weren't involved in the 1965 killing of Edward "Teddy" Deegan, a small-time hoodlum who was shot in an alley.

"While we reject its finding that the government is liable for malicious prosecution, we uphold the court's alternate finding that the government is liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress," the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said on Thursday. "We conclude that the awards, though high, are not so grossly disproportionate to the harm sustained as to either shock our collective conscience or raise the specter of a miscarriage of justice." A U.S. Department of Justice spokesman said the agency would only comment after studying the ruling.

Attorneys for some of the men, however, were not restrained in their reaction. "It's a good day for civil rights, and I hope that the FBI will be able to put this sordid chapter in their history behind them and redeem themselves to be an institution that they once were," said Juliane Balliro, one of the lawyers representing Limone, Tameleo and their families.

Balliro said the quick ruling has left the two men and their families ecstatic. Attorneys for Salvati and Greco did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment.

The district court judge said FBI agents were trying to protect informants when they encouraged a witness to lie, then withheld evidence they knew could prove Limone and the three other men weren't involved in the Deegan killing.

She said Boston FBI agents knew mob hitman Joseph "The Animal" Barboza lied when he named Limone, Salvati, Tameleo and Greco as the killers. She said the FBI considered the four "collateral damage" in its war against the Mafia, the bureau's top priority in the 1960s. Tameleo and Greco died behind bars, while Salvati and Limone spent three decades in prison before they were exonerated in 2001.

A state judge found two Boston FBI agents had allowed Barboza to frame the men because Barboza and his friend Vincent "Jimmy" Flemmi, one of Deegan's killers, were FBI informants who provided evidence in the agency's highly publicized war against La Cosa Nostra. "This case exemplifies a situation in which the end did not justify the government's use of very unattractive means," the appeals court said Thursday. "In its zeal to accomplish a worthwhile objective (stamping out organized crime), the FBI stooped too low."

The appeals court said the district court used a permissible methodology in computing damages. The district court judge had awarded $26 million of the $101.7 million judgment to Limone, who served 33 years in prison. Greco's estate gets $28 million, Salvati gets $29 million and Tameleo's estate gets $13 million; the men's wives, ex-wives and children get the rest of the money.

Limone and Salvati were exonerated after FBI memos dating back to the Deegan case surfaced.

Original report here

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Australia: Violence censored by NSW police to give the public a false sense of security

This is reprehensible. People need all the information they can get in order to keep themselves as safe as possible. And the Leftist government is both behind it and lying about it

POLICE are censoring images of violent crimes to make the public feel safe on the streets. Police spin doctors have issued a blanket ban on releasing photos of criminals carrying weapons during attacks. Officers are also trained to play down violent incidents and public alerts are delayed by hours or days.

Experts said the first hours after a crime could be vital and the tight control of information meant some incidents were never solved.

Publican Peter Nellies, who had a gun repeatedly pointed at his head while his staff were held hostage for two terrifying hours, is angry about the cloak of silence police have thrown around the raid on his pub, the Bradbury Inn in Sydney's southwest. It took 11 hours before a bulletin was issued, giving the criminals a long head start before the public were alerted. Even then, despite the extreme violence, it was described as an "incident" in which people were "detained".

The changes came about last year when police radios were encrypted to keep details of raids secret and the media unit assumed total control of all information released to the public. Since then, carjackings have been described as "concerns for welfare", a violent robbery and shooting at Wentworthville was played down and the Lin family murder was kept secret for five hours before it was released as a "domestic related" incident.

The last time the media unit released images of a victim being terrorised with a weapon was in February 2005. The photograph of a commuter with a gun to his head in a daytime mugging at Harris Park train station appeared on the front page of The Daily Telegraph. Since then The Daily Telegraph has obtained similar frightening images taken during a Parramatta jewellery shop heist and a pub robbery at St Leonards but now even victims are being discouraged from releasing security camera vision. Police media advisers have admitted they would never release such photos due to a "protocol" that prevents the release of images showing the commission of a crime.

Former police officer Tim Priest said: "I have been complaining about the police media unit for years. Basically what it is is censorship. "It is not letting the public know there are dangerous offenders running around doing these sorts of things."

University of Western Sydney Bachelor of Policing degree co-ordinator Dr Mike Kennedy said the media unit was an extension of government. "They are more interested in doing the bidding of the Government," Dr Kennedy said.

A spokesman for Police Minister Tony Kelly denied there was a policy to censor or sanitise images or information about serious crimes.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Scotland: Wrongful conviction throws spotlight on unreliability of eyewitness evidence

William Mills was sentenced to nine years for bank robbery based on police identification from CCTV images, despite their showing a man in sunglasses with a scarf over his mouth and chin

Four people said they recognised William Mills as the man who robbed a bank in Glasgow's West End – but all of them were wrong. Having endured a dawn raid on his family home and roughly a year in prison, Mills was freed earlier this year. With more eyewitness evidence being gathered than ever before, could he be part of a growing trend of wrongful convictions?

"It was about 5.30 in the morning when I heard my partner Toni shouting loudly: 'They've got guns, they've got guns'," said Mills. "I jumped out of bed and ran to look through the spy hole but all I could see outside was a mass of black, people in black. "My two young girls and my partner were standing in the hall so I told them to stay back and I opened the door. The whole communal landing was covered in police, all dressed in black with ski masks on, with big rifles and shields ... They were telling us all to get on the floor and there were red dots from the guns everywhere."

Mills described how he was handcuffed, wearing only his boxer shorts, as the armed police stood by. The whole of his street had been cordoned off. "I had no idea what they wanted. I kept on trying to ask: 'Why are you doing this?' It was only when they got me to the police station that they told me they wanted me for a bank robbery."

Mills, from Partick, Glasgow, was arrested in May 2007 and held on remand for stealing £8,216 from the Royal Bank of Scotland's Dumbarton Road branch. Two policemen had identified Mills from CCTV stills and two witnesses – customers in the bank at the time of the robbery – picked him out at an identity parade. A year later he was found guilty and sentenced to nine years in prison.

Mills was freed earlier this year, six months into his sentence. DNA evidence found on a door stopper linked a convicted bank robber, Michael Absalom, to the crime. Including the time he served on remand, he had spent roughly a year locked up for something he did not do. "I'm still suffering through what they've done," he said. "My family's suffering. I'm going to see a psychologist because I don't like going out now ... It was crazy, man, just unbelievable; you just never think it would happen to you. On remand I was locked up 23 hours a day, that was for six months. "Being away from my family was the hardest thing, and not being able to protect my children [when the police came]. I felt so helpless. After they found me guilty, I'll never have faith in the judicial system again."

So how did it happen? "This was a prosecution that stood or fell by eyewitness identification alone," said Lord Gill, the lord justice-clerk at Mills's appeal. "That is a form of proof that has been shown to be, in some cases, a dangerous basis for a prosecution."

It was certainly not the first time that eyewitnesses had got it wrong. As early as the 1970s there was sufficient concern in England that eyewitnesses were making enough mistakes to warrant an investigation into several miscarriages of justice. This investigation resulted in the 1976 Devlin report, which recommended that no one should be convicted on the basis of eyewitness evidence alone. But this recommendation was never made law, and technological advances have meant that identification evidence is now more easily available than ever before.

Many police forces in England and Scotland use video line-ups instead of live identity parades. This has made it cheaper and easier to run a line-up, and means that many more are being conducted. "There are currently up to 100,000 line-ups held per year, compared to around 2,000 at the time of the Devlin report," said Professor Tim Valentine, a leading eyewitness researcher at the University of London. "Errors are going to be proportionate to the number of procedures that are run, so I wouldn't be surprised if there are more errors now than there used to be."

The proliferation of CCTV cameras has also led to an increase in the availability of identification evidence. According to the Police Foundation, the UK now has more surveillance cameras than any other country in the world, and footage is used to solve around 160,000 criminal cases a year. When CCTV footage is used to identify someone in court, a police officer or relative may claim to recognise that person from the footage, a jury might be asked to compare the defendant to someone in CCTV images, or an expert can use facial mapping techniques to compare the defendant's face to that of the suspect.

Under the Turnbull guidelines - introduced in 1977 by a judge who found that visual identification "can bring about miscarriages of justice and has done so" - a judge has to warn the jury of the need for special caution when relying on such evidence. But eyewitness testimonies can still be one of the most persuasive types of evidence a jury will hear. "A witness standing up and saying: 'That's the man, I saw him, I will never forget his face' is extremely compelling to a jury," said Valentine. "Witnesses can be completely honest and be mistaken."

Psychological experiments have shown that facial recognition from CCTV can be as prone to error as traditional eyewitness evidence. In an experiment which looked at 600 identity parades, a fifth of eyewitnesses picked the wrong person, Valentine said. In a recent experiment conducted by Valentine and Dr Josh Davis, 33% of participants identified the wrong person from close-up, high quality, video footage of the suspect's face. CCTV images are often bad quality, and the angle and lighting can change someone's appearance.

"You'd probably recognise your mother from a CCTV image, but recognising somebody you don't know well is very difficult," Valentine said. On top of this, in Mills's case the suspect's face was obscured by dark glasses and he had a scarf over his mouth and chin for most of the robbery. Yet two policemen were allowed to testify that they recognised Mills from the CCTV image.

At Mills's appeal Lord Justice Gill expressed his unease. "It is a matter of concern that an important part of the case for the prosecution was the evidence of two police officers, neither eyewitnesses, who made positive statements that Mills was the robber on the basis of looking at CCTV stills," he said.

An alarming aspect of Mills's case is that in some ways he was actually extraordinarily lucky. Having suffered the misfortune of being wrongly convicted because of faulty identification evidence, he was then very fortunate that both DNA evidence and a plausible alternative suspect were available to set the story straight. Given that DNA evidence is found at less than 1% of crime scenes, others in his situation may well not be so lucky. "Without the DNA evidence there's no way we would have won an appeal," said Mills's lawyer, Liam O'Donnell . "They would have said there are four identifications, it's up to the jury to assess the identifications and they've accepted them. End of story."

Even with the DNA evidence Mills was initially refused an appeal. It is very rare that someone is granted an appeal on the grounds that eyewitnesses in the original trial may have been mistaken. "I can think of at least three men I know of in prison now on the basis of what looks like unsafe identification evidence," said Valentine. "There was a time when if someone in prison told me they were innocent, I'd say: 'Nah, I don't believe you," Mills said. "But now I'd have to consider it. Who's to say there aren't more people like me out there?"

Original report here

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The first sign of a sociopath is torturing animals

Otis, a white boxer, got loose from his owner’s house in Lakewood, Ohio early in the morning about a month ago. Now a loose dog can be a problem — for the owner, for the dog, and for innocent bystanders. So when responsible people see a loose dog in their neighborhood, they’ll usually keep their distance, try to keep an eye on it, keep it out of the road, shoo it away from anyone who passes by, and, while they have an eye on it, find the owner to get them to bring the dog to heel and take it back to its home.

Unfortunately for Otis, the first people to encounter him were not responsible people but rather a couple of heavily-armed police officers working for the Lakewood city government, who had made their way into the neighborhood on an unrelated call. So, instead of trying to keep anyone from getting hurt, the cops decided that the situation needed controllin’. They surrounded the dog and started yelling at it and waving their weapons around. After being surrounded by these complete strangers barging into his neighborhood, Otis started barking and backing up defensively. A couple times he tried to run off. The dog posed a threat to exactly nobody, but since it wouldn’t stop barking, and since twitchy government cops have been trained not to consider themselves safe as long as anyone or anything in the vicinity is moving without their permission, rather than waiting the literal 90 seconds that it took for the dog’s owner to get out there, they decided instead to close in on the dog and try to get a noose around its neck. When the dog barked and bristled at the complete strangers moving in to grab it, Patrolman Terry Lowther decided to blast Otis with a 50,000-volt electrical charge from his taser. After the dog tried to stagger to its feet — while it already had a noose around its neck — they blasted him again with a second 50,000-volt electrical charge. Just to be sure, I guess. Then they dragged the senseless dog along the ground over to their patrol car.

When Otis’s owner showed up — a whole 90 seconds or so after the first taser blast — they hollered at him and gave him a citation for having a dangerous animal and for letting the dog run loose. I guess he’s lucky they just tortured his dog instead of killing it; according to the police report, the only reason consummate professional Patrolman Terry P. Lowther Jr. didn’t just whip out his handgun and shoot Otis dead is that he was afraid that the bullet might ricochet off the blacktop and harm a bystander.

When the story hit the local news, the cops tried to defend this electrical torture of a helpless animal that was already surrounded, did nothing more than bark, and posed no physical danger to anyone, in two ways. First, they made up lies about the dog’s breed — first they claimed it was a pit bull; when the owner contradicted their claim and put out photos of the dog, they claimed that it kinda looked like a pit bull and musta had some pit bull in ’im. Then they tried to spin the story back their way by releasing the video from Patrolman Terry Lowther’s taser-cam — video which they claimed showed the dog "acting aggressively" and threatening the cops. This seems to have been a serious miscalculation on the city government’s part — since the ideas that twitchy government cops have about what counts as "aggressive" and "threatening" is very different from the ideas that civilized people have, and the video didn’t show the dog doing much of anything more than barking. Also, presumably, since most people react poorly to hearing a helpless animal howl in agony and seeing it writhe on the ground while a cop shocks it twice in rapid succession. After the police released the film, it quickly spread through the Internet, and public outrage over the case intensified rather than petering out.

In any case, the city government responded to the situation by using the "vicious animal" charges to exile Otis and his owner, Daniel Kier, from the city: the city agreed to drop the utterly bogus "vicious animal" charges against Kier only in exchange for an agreement that he would not sue the Lakewood city government for torturing his dog, and that he would move with Otis out of the city limits (to the city of Cleveland, as it happens). None of the news stories I’ve read on this case have mentioned it, but the "vicious animal" charge is just a misdemeanor rap for Kier; but since the same law also provides for the impounded "vicious animal" to be "humanely destroyed," I suspect that the reason he was so ready to get it dropped, even if it meant moving out of the city, is because the city government was effectively threatening to kill his dog if he didn’t shut up and accept their terms.

So who are the real "vicious animals" running loose here? I’m pretty sure it’s not the poor son of a bitch that got tasered.

Original report here

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Why are cops tasering grandmothers, pregnant women and kids?

Police officers are brutalizing innocent civilians with accelerating lunacy. How did this happen? How can we make it stop?

Technology is a double-edged sword, the cliche goes. It can save and even extend your life, but it can also kill you in new and unpredictable ways. In the several years since the Arizona-based Taser International has deployed its terminologically challenging Electronic Control Devices (ECDs), colloquially known as stun guns or simply tasers, what started out as a midrange law enforcement weapon has turned into a surreal nightmare that has gone viral from streets to screens. It's now to the point that only a hyperreal comedian like Stephen Colbert can make sense of it.

"Nation, our gun rights are always under attack from the bleeding hearts," he cracked in late July, "and not just the hearts bleeding from a gunshot wound. Thankfully, there's the taser. It's the perfect weapon for when you really want to shoot someone, but killing them just seems like overkill."

Of course, Colbert milked the footage of accidental and purposeful taser victims, the latter being media and law enforcement members who signed up for shock therapy and provided the world with no shortage of hilarious video. But his point was well-taken: Thanks to the taser's wildfire deployment, classification as non-lethal weaponry and pop-cultural appeal in films, television, comics and even cartoons, cops have nearly lost their minds using it on everyone from children, the elderly, and pregnant mothers to the mentally unstable and physically disabled.

Or have their lost their spines? After all, the police are public servants, and were even once referred to as peace officers, charged with resolving disputes, defusing danger and, when necessary, applying lethal force to keep the public safe. But lately, and thanks partially to the taser's alleged safety, they have been leaving peace behind in favor of brutalizing innocent civilians with accelerating lunacy. That kind of unarmed diplomacy takes real work, and involves much more than simply firing off electrified darts and wires. But rarely is there a day that goes by without another news entry doesn't stun, pardon the pun, the senses.

The latest case, as of this writing at least, involves a Syracuse mother who was pulled out her car during a routine traffic stop. She was summarily tasered, cuffed and arrested in front of her kids by an officer who left them behind, alone in their car, while he took her to the station and charged her for resisting arrest, driving five miles over the speeding limit, and disorderly conduct -- the diaphanous charge controversially leveled on Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. earlier this year.

There's plenty more where that came from. Did you hear the one about the pregnant woman who was tasered because she wouldn't sign her speeding ticket, or the pregnant woman who was tasered at a baptism party thrown by her father, a bible-study teacher who was charged with public intoxication in his own backyard and whose wife and son were also tasered? How about the officer who tasered a pregnant woman while inside the police department?

Or the cop who tasered a girl, no lie, in the brain, because he couldn't chase her down on foot? Or the one that shoved a taser up a man's ass in Idaho? Or those who tasered and pepper-sprayed an umbrella-wielding man in a Dollar Store bathroom, and after finding out that he was both mentally disabled and deaf still decided to charge him with resisting arrest, failure to obey a police officer and (of course) disorderly conduct, charges which the on-duty magistrate refused to accept? And don't forget the belligerent baseball fan, the 72-year old grandmother, the bride and groom tasered at their wedding, the bicyclists who were tased after cops tried to run them off the road. And what about that guy who burst into flames? What about the six-year-old who was tasered after threatening to cut his own leg with a glass? (That'll teach him!)

More here

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Judicial murder from the Supreme Court?

Supreme Court justice Scalia’s shocking remarks about capital punishment are not just a distortion of the Constitution, says Alan Dershowitz, they’re also an outrage against his own Catholic church

I never thought I would live to see the day when a justice of the Supreme Court would publish the following words: “This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged ‘actual innocence’ is constitutionally cognizable.”

Yet these words appeared in a dissenting opinion issued by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas on Monday. Let us be clear precisely what this means. If a defendant were convicted, after a constitutionally unflawed trial, of murdering his wife, and then came to the Supreme Court with his very much alive wife at his side, and sought a new trial based on newly discovered evidence (namely that his wife was alive), these two justices would tell him, in effect: “Look, your wife may be alive as a matter of fact, but as a matter of constitutional law, she’s dead, and as for you, Mr. Innocent Defendant, you’re dead, too, since there is no constitutional right not to be executed merely because you’re innocent.”

It would be shocking enough for any justice of the Supreme Court to issue such a truly outrageous opinion, but it is particularly indefensible for Justices Scalia and Thomas, both of whom claim to be practicing Catholics, bound by the teaching of their church, to do moral justice. Justice Scalia has famously written, in the May 2002 issue of the conservative journal First Things, that if the Constitution compelled him to do something that was absolutely prohibited by mandatory Catholic rules, he would have no choice but to resign from the Supreme Court.

Unlike President Kennedy, who pledged to place his obligation to the Constitution above his commitment to his church, Scalia has insisted that in his view, “The choice for the judge who believes the death penalty to be immoral [according to the teachings of the Catholic Church] is resignation.” He put his point in “blunt terms”: “I could not take part in that process [of authorizing an execution] if I believed what was being done to be immoral.” He continued: “It is a matter of great consequence to me, therefore, whether the death penalty is morally acceptable. As a Roman Catholic—and being unable to jump out of my skin—I cannot discuss that issue without reference to Christian tradition and the church’s Magisterium.”

After reviewing the teachings of the church, he concluded that there is no conflict between his judicial role in affirming death-penalty sentences and the strict teachings of the Catholic Church, which counsel against the use of capital punishment but permit this extreme sanction in extraordinary cases, especially when there is no reasonable alternative. This is the way he put it:
“So I have given this new position thoughtful and careful consideration—and I disagree. That is not to say I favor the death penalty (I am judicially and judiciously neutral on that point); it is only to say that I do not find the death penalty immoral. I am happy to have reached that conclusion, because I like my job, and would rather not resign. And I am happy because I do not think it would be a good thing if American Catholics running for legislative office had to oppose the death penalty (most of them would not be elected); if American Catholics running for governor had to promise commutation of all death sentences (most of them would never reach the governor’s mansion); if American Catholics were ineligible to go on the bench in all jurisdictions imposing the death penalty; or if American Catholics were subject to recusal when called for jury duty in capital cases.”

But whatever the view of the church is on executing the guilty, surely it is among the worst sins, under Catholic teaching, to kill an innocent human being intentionally. Yet that is precisely what Scalia would authorize under his skewed view of the United States Constitution. How could he possibly consider that not immoral under Catholic teachings? If it is immoral to kill an innocent fetus, how could it not be immoral to execute an innocent person?

More here

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Accused, convicted, assaulted, raped, but innocent all along

Witch hunts are ugly things and people do really get hurt. As a budding writer back in the 1980s I was horrified by a series of hysterical sex trials that cropped up, almost at random, around the United States. Hundreds and hundreds of innocent people were charged with the sexual abuse of children—abuse that, in almost all the cases, simply did not happen. It was clear to me then that the cases in question were bogus.

What we saw was the combination of several forces. First we had power-hungry prosecutors wanting to make a name for themselves with high-profile cases. Second, we had the politically correct agenda of radical feminists who had concocted a theory of male sexuality and abuse that, while consistent with their premises, did not correspond with the facts. These feminists, in cooperation with the political classes, had created an entire “abuse industry” whose only purpose was to sniff out abuse. The problem was that the premises of this industry were such that abuse was always found.

Consider what was termed the Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome: any child who says they were abused, was abused because children don’t “disclose” unless it really happened. Children who were abused may also be terrified and afraid to disclose. Such fear of disclosure, revealed by denials, is thus an indication that the child was actually abused. So, a child who claims abuse was probably abused and a child who denied abuse was also the likely victim of abuse. And the purpose of the therapist in such cases is to bring the child to full disclosure, no matter what is required to do so. Thus anyone accused of abusing children was presumed guilty, all children were presumed victims and the entire “therapy” program was geared to convince the child to disclose.

The reality is that such therapy sessions ended up being indoctrination sessions where the goal of the therapist was to convince a child of abuse that the child didn’t believe happened. This was done in numerous ways. Children who denied abuse were insulted, interrogated for hours longer, ridiculed and promised gifts if they “told the truth.” Each denial of abuse resulted in negative feedback, any time a child would parrot back a comment made by the “therapist” the child would be praised and rewarded. It didn’t take long for children, subjected to this real abuse to begin repeating the script that the witch hunter had prepared for them.

Worse yet, many of these children, actually came to believe the stories themselves. There are classic symptoms of child abuse, symptoms that these children were remarkable free from until the therapists in questions were able to convince the children they had actually been abused. Children who didn’t wet the bed or suffer from nightmares suddenly exhibited these classic traits of abuse. The therapist had succeeded in creating, though their intensive, exhausting questioning, the very abuse that they claimed to be curing. And that was just the beginning of the horrors that these ideologically driven monster created.

Once the child had submitted to the therapists the arrests began. Many of these witch-hunts took place at day care centers. The most famous was the McMartin case in Manhattan Beach, California. There the McMartin family suffered through one of the longest trials in America history. As the trial endlessly dragged on it became apparent that the therapists, led by one Keep McFarland, had concocted the entire abuse scenario out of their own warped imagination. McFarland and her untrained band of social workers inflicted trauma on the children, discovered that the children were now traumatized and pointed their fingers at utterly innocent people—people who then lost years of their lives, and everything they owned fighting to establish their own innocence. (One of the McMartin children apologizes here for his lies in court.)

In other locals it was entire communities that were disrupted and dozens of people, most of whom had no connections with one another, were rounded up as “Satanic child molesters” by out-of-control cops. Horrified townsfolk who saw through the bogus charges, and spoke up in opposition soon found themselves under suspicion and in jail facing molestation charges as well. In the world of witch-hunting anyone who “defends” the witch does so because sure they too are a witch.

Two case in particular caught my attention, perhaps because the accused were themselves so child-like, so young and facing such horrific charges. One was the sad case of 14-year-old Bobby Fijnje who faced prison for child abuse charges brought by Janet Reno, who later became Attorney General of the Unites States. Reno prosecuted this boy on bogus charges of being a Satanist who abused children. Jurors, who found the boy innocent, wrote Reno complaining about the “the failure of the police to tape the questioning of the defendant on the day he was arrested. The failure of a stenographer to record and have the defendant sign a written confession. The clearly leading and suggestive questioning on the part of both child psychologists while interviewing the two children involved… [and] the contradictory testimony on the part of the children themselves….”

Bobby recounted how, without even knowing what the charges were, a cop took him to a squad car and told him: “Before I knew you, I knew that you were guilty, but not that I see you, I definitely know you’re guilty.” Bobby said: “I had no idea what was going on, the scope of what was going on. What that meant. I just started hysterically crying. I didn’t know what was going on.” It was almost two years before Bobby was finally out of custody, after having his name smeared by Reno, who was yearning for higher office. And what’s the life of a mere boy when your political career is at stake.

Fijnje was one of the lucky ones. He was found innocent. In the midst of witch hunts rarely is a suspected witch exonerated. No one wanted to be accused of being “soft on witches” so even those with doubts joined in the chant, “Burn the witch, burn the witch.” The media, always looking for sensationalistic stories that sell helped fan the flames. It was the perfect politically-created storm. Feminists loved it. The Left-wing media was making money off the misery they helped spread. Politicians were building careers on the accusations. Vast new departments were created to “address” the problem creating an entire abuse industry. Hundreds of millions flowed from taxpayers to these new organizations. Prosecutors and police found they were handed vast new powers. Conservatives were thrilled as well. They could blame the problem on “the decay of the family” and pornography and any other thing they disliked. Religious leaders said that God was the cure to the problem. Everyone benefited except the victims, the children and the taxpayers who paid for it all. Out of this crisis came a new plethora of horrific “sex offender” laws that plague us to this day.

The second case that caught my attention was that of Bernard Baran. Of the dozens and dozens of case histories I had compiled at the time, Baran’s most upset me. Perhaps to my shame, he was the only victim of the hysteria, who I wrote to in sympathy. Hundreds of others deserved encouragement as well. But Baran was so young and looked so vulnerable that his case upset me more than the others. Awash in a sea of such false accusations I had built up a tougher exterior to avoid the mental anguish of watching so many innocent people suffering needlessly.

While it was true that much of the hysteria was directed against men, not all men were equally suspect. Baran was doubly cursed by the system. Not only was he male, he was gay. Photos of Baran, taken at the time, showed a slight man, who looked like a typical high school student, desperately trying to grow a mustache just to prove he could. Baran didn’t finish high school, he dropped out. But he wanted to work and he liked helping people. He worked with autistic children but that was only temporary, so when a full-time job opened up at day care center he jumped at the chance.

Baran was only 13-years-old when he told his mother he was gay. She wasn’t very accepting of the idea. It was her long-time partner, Stanley Sumner, who pointed out to her how Baran was so caring and attentive to anyone who needed him. He told her: “If that’s being gay, then I hope all my children are gay.” Of course, this was two decades ago and not everyone held he same view. And that’s when the trouble started.

Two of the parents with children in the day care began to complain. The mother said: "I had a feeling that if they’re gay, they shouldn’t be with kids. They shouldn’t get married. They shouldn’t have kids. They shouldn’t be allowed out in public.” These paragons of virtue were druggies and had a history of domestic violence, but they could still feel superior to the awful faggot down at the day care center. And they seemed determined to save the children from these immoral influence and, as it turns out, make a few bucks in the process.

They reported that their son came home from day care with a bloody penis and had said that “Bernie did it.” The problem was that the day care center reported the boy was not at the school that day. Baran couldn’t have done anything as he didn’t see the boy. But stories of the complaint spread and panic-stricken parents, worried about a rampaging queer decided to interrogate their children. Under parental questioning, none of which was recorded of course, one small girl allegedly said she was fondled. By now a full fledged inquisition was in motion and the witch in their site was Bernard Baran, still a teenager himself. Parents were urged to question their children though none of them really knew how a proper interview should be conducted. Most believed that abuse had happened and by now they merely wanted the children to say it had, so they could move on.

Baran was arrested. He posted bail after two days and returned home only to be rearrested almost immediately with more and more charges being thrown at him. That was last time Baran was a free man. The prosecutor, to make sure he had something that would stick, threw 24 charges at the confused Baran. The boy was offered a plea bargain if he would just admit guilt to some charges. Knowing he was innocent Baran decided to fight, he had faith in the American justice system, a faith that was clearly misplaced. Baran was sentenced to two life sentences in prison, all for a crime that didn’t take place.

In this case the prosecutor didn’t just use the dodgy “interview” tactics that led to other false convictions. He also hide evidence from the defense. But they also spent weeks rehearsing the children to respond to questions. And that rehearsal paid off. Jury members said it was the way the children testified that convinced them of the guilty of Baran, not because any actual evidence existed.

More here

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Friday, August 21, 2009

DNA evidence can be faked and planted at crime scenes, researchers find

This is going to be very tempting for crooked police. It shows again that just one piece of evidence should not normally be regarded as conclusive

Until now, DNA was considered the "gold standard" of criminal investigations: Hundreds of wrongly convicted individuals have been freed around the world after DNA analysis proved them innocent of their crimes; and many of the guilty have been brought to justice through DNA evidence as well. But the days of DNA's supremacy in the courtroom could soon come to an end, as researchers in Israel say it can be faked and planted at crime scenes, using basic DNA analysis techniques. "You can just engineer a crime scene," Dan Frumkin, lead author of the paper, told the New York Times. “Any biology undergraduate could perform this.”

The researchers, who published their results in the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics, say there are two basic ways to fake DNA evidence. One is to obtain a small sample of someone's DNA -- from saliva, or hair, or blood, for example -- and multiply it using a common procedure called whole genome amplification.

The second technique revolves around police genetic profiles. Typically, law enforcement keeps genetic information stored as a sequence of numbers corresponding to 13 spots on a person's genetic code. The researchers were able to clone snippets of DNA and insert it into the right spot in a DNA sample, thus changing the results. “DNA is a lot easier to plant at a crime scene than fingerprints,” Tania Simoncelli, a science adviser at the ACLU, told the Times. “We’re creating a criminal justice system that is increasingly relying on this technology.”

"This is potentially huge news in the world of criminal justice, which hasn’t yet even fully had the time to embrace DNA for all of its uses," CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen reports. "And I suspect it won’t be long before defense attorneys are using this study to undercut DNA analysis and conclusions in cases all over the country. ... This is potentially terrible news for prosecutors and police and the military and all sorts of industries that use DNA testing to confirm or find information." Cohen adds that this is "good news for crime dramas on television but not so much to the criminal justice system."

But John M. Butler, a geneticist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, told the Times that these techniques are not something everyday criminals would be able to take advantage of. “I think your average criminal wouldn’t be able to do something like that,” he said.

The same techniques used to fake DNA at a crime scene could also be used to invade someone's privacy in serious ways. The Times writes:

Using some of the same techniques, it may be possible to scavenge anyone’s DNA from a discarded drinking cup or cigarette butt and turn it into a saliva sample that could be submitted to a genetic testing company that measures ancestry or the risk of getting various diseases. Celebrities might have to fear “genetic paparazzi,” said Gail H. Javitt of the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University.
Fortunately, it may be possible to tell when a DNA sample has been faked. According to the researchers, DNA that has been amplified lacks "methylation" -- certain molecules that are found attached to the DNA are missing in fabricated samples.

Thus, if investigators are careful, it may be possible to detect when there has been an attempt to fake DNA evidence.

Original report here

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Police beating: FBI to investigate

A man filmed by police being kicked and punched by Minneapolis officers says he made the recording public in order to prevent the same thing happening to others. Derryl Jenkins said: "No one deserved what happened to me that night." Police could have killed me'

What started as a routine traffic stop has sparked allegations of police brutality.

A Minneapolis officer pulled over Jenkins, 43, last February. The video shows the two talking, then struggling, and soon several other officers arrive and are seen punching and kicking Jenkins. The FBI and Minneapolis police are investigating the incident.

Jenkins' attorney says his client has not filed a lawsuit and won't until the investigations are complete. Charges against Jenkins of assault and refusing to submit to alcohol tests were later dropped. Chief Tim Dolan asked the FBI to investigate , saying some of the responding officers' actions are cause for concern.

Through his attorney, Jenkins said releasing the seven-minute video recorded by cameras attached to the police squad cars was in the public interest. "He wanted to put this out there to educate and make people aware of what happened," attorney Paul Edlund said.

The video shows the officer stopping Jenkins' PT Cruiser, then opening the car's driver's side door to talk to him. Then, after a few minutes, Jenkins gets out of the car and begins to struggle with the officer. The officer pulls Jenkins' hooded jacket over his head and throws him face-down into the snow while waiting for backup.

When five other officers arrive, several of them begin punching and kicking Jenkins as they try to apply handcuffs. A Taser is used at one point, but it is ineffective, according to police records.

Jenkins eventually was taken to North Memorial Medical Center, where he received several stitches above his eye. He was then taken to the Hennepin County Jail.

No disciplinary action has been taken against the officers involved, and Dolan said it appears that the officer who tried to make the initial arrest acted appropriately. That officer suffered a split lip and bloody nose during the incident.

Police spokesman Sgt. Jesse Garcia said the video shows how officers often have to deal with people who resist arrest, which he said can create a dangerous situation. Force "doesn't look good, but sometimes it is necessary, unfortunately. And I think people that aren't used to seeing that, it does raise concerns with them," Garcia said.

FBI spokesman E.K. Wilson said investigators would look into the case.

Original report here

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

High court: Condemned man should get hearing

In an exceptional move Monday, the Supreme Court ordered a U.S. court in Georgia to hear new testimony in the case of Troy Davis, who was sentenced to die for killing a police officer and whose appeal has drawn international attention.

The justices said a lower-court judge should determine whether fresh evidence "clearly establishes" Davis' innocence. Since a jury convicted him 18 years ago, seven of the prosecution's key witnesses have recanted their testimony about what happened in a Savannah, Ga., parking lot the night officer Mark Allen MacPhail was shot.

The high court rarely intervenes in death penalty appeals at late stages and almost never when a condemned inmate is filing the kind of special petition that Davis did. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas said in their dissent that it had been nearly 50 years since the court accepted such a petition.

Davis' case comes amid growing questions about the possibility of innocent convicts on death row and courts' treatment of evidence that emerges after a conviction. His claim of innocence had won earlier support from former president Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI, and his latest bid drew "friend of the court" briefs from the NAACP and former U.S. House member Bob Barr, a Republican from Georgia. Execution dates had been set for Davis three times then postponed by U.S. courts or Georgia officials. In 2008, he was within two hours of execution when a temporary reprieve came.

Monday's order was not signed and did not include a recorded vote. Sonia Sotomayor, the newest justice, did not participate. Three justices in the majority took issue with the assumption by Scalia and Thomas that Davis is guilty despite the new information from witnesses.

Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, noted that several key witnesses against Davis had recanted, and some people implicated the state's principal witness. The justices said no state or federal court has ever reviewed all the new evidence. "The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death" justifies a hearing, Stevens wrote.

Martina Correia, Davis' sister, said she was "elated" with the court action. "This tells me that there are people on the highest court … who believe more in fairness than in just following procedure," Correia said. "This is about getting to the truth."

Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker said he hoped the new hearing "will resolve the doubts about the verdict handed down" 18 years ago.

Anneliese MacPhail, the officer's mother, told the Associated Press she was "in shock" and worries the Supreme Court's action will cause further pain for a family seeking closure.

Original report here

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mercy in Virginia

Prosecutors normally block attempts to right a wrong but not in this case

A young man released from prison in 2007 for a wrongful robbery conviction avoided being sent back behind bars yesterday for violating probation. The General Assembly this year awarded Teddy P. Thompson a compensation package that included a $51,999 lump-sum payment and a $207,996 annuity -- to be paid over 25 years -- for the seven years he spent in prison for a robbery he did not commit.

The Virginia Department of Treasury confirmed that Thompson was given a check for $44,199.15 on July 31. That amount was the $51,999, minus a 15 percent cut because of the current state budget shortfalls. His annuity, which will be reduced similarly, still is being arranged.

Thompson, 26, was released in September 2007 after the victim in a 2000 robbery realized he mistakenly identified Thompson as the perpetrator. Prosecutors sought and won a court order vacating the sentence, and Thompson was released.

But Thompson had admitted to another robbery for which he received a 10-year suspended sentence. Yesterday, he was facing up to three years for violating the terms of the suspended sentence -- among other things for a conviction for breach of the peace.

But though Judge Wilford Taylor Jr. of Hampton Circuit Court found that Thompson, who has bipolar disorder and has applied for disability, violated parole, he said he believes Thompson is now in compliance with probation provisions and did not send him back to prison.

"I don't think that you need to be incarcerated two to three years," Taylor told Thompson. Earlier, a probation officer told Taylor that since April, Thompson has been clean of drugs and has been complying with the terms of his probation.

Valerie Bowen, an assistant commonwealth's attorney, told Taylor that this current brush with going back behind bars may have "scared [him] straight . . . I don't have any objection to maybe giving him a second chance."

Thompson's lawyer, Thomas Burcher, told the judge, "We've gotten his attention."

"He doesn't have maybe the toolbox that everybody else needs to have to get through life," Burcher said. But Burcher said Thompson had strong family support and was working hard, complying with his probation conditions and staying drug-free.

Thompson's wrongful conviction was set aside by a Hampton judge in 2007, though Virginia law bars the use of any evidence of innocence discovered more than 21 days after a case becomes final.

Unlike in most cases, however, the commonwealth's attorney's office sought Thompson's freedom. A spokesman for the governor's office said Thompson has a clemency petition pending in which he is seeking a pardon for the wrongful conviction.

Original report here

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Australia: Barmaid's skimpy clothing erects dubious police interest

"Skimpy" barmaids are something of a tradition in Western Australia

A 29-year-old skimpy barmaid who is accused of showing too much flesh believes police could be doing "more important things out there" than catching underdressed skimpy barmaids. Megan Brooks appeared in Fremantle Magistrates Court today to face a charge of being immodestly dressed on licensed premises at the Market City Tavern in Canning Vale in November last year, but today, the magistrate gave a strong indication that the case could be dropped.

Her lawyer Terry Dobson said he could not ascertain what the criminal conduct was, and needed more information on the statement of facts before Ms Brooks' next court appearance. The court was told that the accused was wearing black lace French knickers with a buttock exposed, but Mr Dobson wanted to know which buttock was exposed as well as the extent of the exposure. It was also stated that Ms Brooks' nipples were erect, although Mr Dobson questioned whether that too was criminal conduct.

The court was told by the magistrate that as it stood there was no charge against the woman. The matter was adjourned until September 11.

Outside court Mr Dobson said he would fight to have the charges discontinued, whilst Ms Brooks said she was just doing her job. "We informed the court that once we got further and better particulars we intended seeking a discontinuance," he said. "The reason being is our position would be that this is not in the public interest. Even if Ms Brooks has dressed in a manner they described, in 2009, we would say that just isn't immodestly dressing.

"I'd have to think that having two police officers sitting in a tavern checking out my client seems to be a complete waste of police resources. "I would have thought that they could be in some of the entertainment precincts, (such as) Northbridge and Fremantle - they'd be doing a far better job."

Mr Dobson said the charges claimed Ms Brooks had acted in a way that contravened a particular section of the Liquor Licensing Act by dressing immodestly, "and given that she is a skimpy barmaid, I'd say straight away the alarm bells were going off". "Our instructions were that she wasn't immodestly dressed anyway and she wasn't even engaging in any conduct that would have or should have attracted the attention of the police," he said. "There seems to be no reason why Ms Brooks should have been charged."

Ms Brooks said she was "just shocked and disappointed" that it got to this stage. "I just felt like I was doing my job and I don't think that I was immodestly dressed," she said, adding she had a body suit on and had her nipples covered at the time.

At the time of the incident, Ms Brooks said she went up to the officer and asked if he wanted a drink, and "he flashed his badge and said 'no'" before asking to speak to her elsewhere. Ms Brooks - who also worked as a beauty therapist - was still working in the barmaid industry. "There's more important things out there (for police) than sort of sneaking around undercover hoping to catch skimpy barmaids wearing not very much clothing," she said.

Mr Dobson said a discontinuance of the case would serve everyone's best interests and save the police time and energy from having to prepare a brief. "The courts have got far better things to deal with than things like this." he added. The penalty for the charge was "significant" the defence lawyer said, but he maintained Ms Brooks was behaving entirely properly.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Perverted cops in South Australia

And the "regulator" is of course taking years to do anything about it

MALE police are stripping distressed female prisoners, who are then put in cells under CCTV, a practice being questioned by the independent police complaints body. In a letter to Police Commissioner Mal Hyde, obtained by The Advertiser, the Police Complaints Authority says it has "long-standing disquiet" over the practice, which has been labelled "violent and disturbing" by civil libertarians.

It has only come to light after a mother of three complained about being stripped by up to four male officers and put into a padded cell at Christies Beach police station. She believes her complaint would have been "swept under the carpet" if not for a letter on her behalf from former Supreme Court judge Ted Mullighan. "Lee" - not her real name - told The Advertiser she continues to be haunted by the November 2006 ordeal, and that she is still waiting on a complaints authority ruling.

The Advertiser has also learnt of two teenage girls who claim to have been subjected to the same treatment at Christies Beach but say they are too afraid to lodge an official complaint.

Lee - who gave evidence at the Mullighan inquiry about being sexually abused in foster care as a child - said being stripped by male officers was "like being raped all over again". She was held inside a cell naked for about an hour after being picked up on a warrant for failing to attend a court hearing over a minor theft from a shop in the 1990s - a warrant which took police 13 years to execute despite Lee living at the same address the entire period. "I can't put words to what they have done to me, it's just inhumane," Lee said. "Nobody is game enough to talk about this sort of thing because they are the police, they've got a badge and they are allowed to do whatever they do - it's not right."

Complaints authority investigator Helen Lines outlined some of her concerns about the stripping practice in a letter to Mr Hyde dated June 22 this year.

"I first assessed the conduct of the police officers who were the subject of the complaint in June 2008," Ms Lines wrote. "That assessment was coloured by the long-standing disquiet I have felt about the practice of placing police prisoners in padded cells and of forcefully stripping them before such placement. "These practices are contemplated by SA Police general orders. "I decided that rather than focus on the actions of the individual officers who are subject of (the) complaint, I would focus on the practice of using padded cells to confine distressed prisoners to prevent them from harming themselves with their clothing."

The 25-page letter also contains excerpts from the letter written by Mr Mullighan, who chaired the Children in State Care Commission of Inquiry in 2006-07. Mr Mullighan wrote that, despite her traumatic and abusive upbringing, Lee had managed her life well, stayed out of trouble for most of her adulthood and had raised three children largely on her own. Another woman has told The Advertiser her 14-year-old daughter was also stripped by two male officers at Christies Beach and held in a padded cell in late 2007.

"She was worried the video footage that they took of her was going to be used in the officers' station to have fun with or whatever, which was pretty bad thing for a teenager to have to think ... she actually sat there with her hands over her private parts in her cell trying to hide herself," said the mother, who did not want to be named.

SA Council of Civil Liberties spokesman George Mancini said he was appalled at the "humiliating and violent" practice and said police had a "very high duty of care" to distressed prisoners who were deemed at risk of self-harm. "This goes back to the 19th century when we were dealing with people in the mental asylums ... this is not the proper way to treat people and it is obviously violent and disturbing," Mr Mancini said. He described the stripping practice as "inhumane" and counterproductive. "Surely the only way to reduce that sort of behaviour is to take action against individuals and then publicise it so that other officers know that they will be subject to public scrutiny if they behave that way," Mr Mancini said.

Under current laws, Police Complaints Authority investigations are private and only complainants are given access to findings.

Lee said Ms Lines - who has been examining the case for more than a year - was "horrified" when she watched a video of the incident in which she was stripped after becoming agitated when told she would have to spend a weekend in custody on the arrest warrant and that her children would be put into state care. Yesterday, an SA Police spokesman said police could not comment on Lee's case because it was still before the complaints authority.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Perilous police-backed "child welfare" investigations

A man who reads the news below -- and acts wisely in consequence

"Grab some clothes and get into the van, now." For an instant, that directive, and the tone in which it was issued, had the opposite of its intended effect: Korrin and our five older children, momentarily paralyzed by shock, looked at me in alarm. There was something in both the tone of my voice, and the expression on my face, that was new and a little frightening. None of them had seen my "game face" before. They were seeing it now.

Just seconds earlier, Korrin and I had been confronted on our doorstep by two very nice, well-dressed women who informed us that an anonymous "child endangerment" complaint had been filed with the Child Protective Services. One of the visitors was a social worker we've known for several years, and consider a friend. The other was a stranger who introduced herself as a CPS investigator. She intended to inspect our home and speak with our children.

After being summoned to the doorstep, I had ushered our children into our house and closed the door behind me. Short of being removed by force, there was no way I was going to permit a CPS investigator to have access to our home as long as our children were vulnerable to government abduction. "You seem like a conscientious and well-intentioned person," I quietly told the investigator, "but this is an adversarial situation, and I can't allow you to have access to my home in the absence of a warrant, and until I've consulted with legal counsel."

Although this clearly wasn't the response she had expected or desired, the investigator retained her professional composure. "Well, that is your right," she replied. "I must advise you that I will consult with law enforcement and return later today."

"I understand," I said, shooting a quick glance at the slender silver digital recorder the investigator wasn't successfully concealing in her left hand. "I also want the record to reflect the fact that I didn't consent for our conversation to be recorded."

The investigator nodded in assent, her brows pulling together ever-so-slightly as if in puzzlement. She and her associate returned to their car and drove away. As they turned the corner I turned to Korrin and our children and ordered – yes, it was an order, not a request – them to get in the van.

"Don't bother packing," I told them in syllables drawn taut with urgency. "Just grab a couple of things and get in the van." The kids, suddenly understanding that we were at Def-Con One, quietly and quickly did as they were told. Minutes later we were headed out of Payette County, beyond the jurisdiction of the local police and Sheriff, en route to a pre-designated safe house. Yes, as Foghorn Leghorn might put it, we had made plans to deal with just such an emergency.

Earlier this year, I met with a handful of close and trusted friends to discuss various crisis scenarios – from the systemic breakdown of the commercial food distribution network to the possibility that one of us might find his family targeted by the CPS. Those meetings were the idea of a good friend who is a very well-informed and astute survivalist. Relatively little was accomplished at those meetings, but as recent events testify, what little was done proved to be indispensable.

One of the participants at those gatherings (we chose a local club whose owner is defying an asinine local smoking ban; we refractory individualists need to support each other) very generously offered his home as a temporary refuge for my children in the event that the CPS came after my family. From there, working through communications cut-outs, we could make arrangements for Korrin and our children to stay in the homes of other reliable people who share our convictions. When the balloon went up, we knew what to do. I spirited our family to my friend's house, casting frequent glances in the rear-view mirror.

"This reminds me of that movie Not Without My Daughter," commented my genius son William Wallace, our family's resident cineaste. There was no undertone of eagerness or excitement in his voice; William was scared. So was Isaiah, who quietly explained that in cases of this kind children are often taken from their parents. That was a hard thing to say, but it needed to be said. Not surprisingly, this terrified our girls, six-year-old Katrina and four-year-old Sophia. Although he has the reflexive aversion to girls of any kind that typifies an eight-year-old boy, Jefferson wrapped his arms around Katrina and comforted her as she cried.

Once we crossed the county border, I relaxed a little bit and gave some instructions to Korrin and the kids. I told Korrin that it was important not to call our home, since caller ID would reveal the location of the safe house. I would contact them through an intermediary, and if she needed anything she was to call that person. I told the kids that they would be safe with our friends until I came to get them, but that if people from the government arrived they were to be courteously uncooperative.

The plan was for me to return to our house, tidy it up, and deal with the CPS and the police. This might mean I could face obstruction charges if they insisted on seeing Korrin and the children, I explained, so there was a possibility I would be in jail by day's end. They had to be prepared for that possibility, because I would not give the CPS an opportunity to seize our children.

Once at the safe house I called a friend who agreed to be my cut-out. Then we gathered for prayer and I went back home by a different route. Please, Dear Lord, I prayed silently as I neared our house, don't let it be a crime scene already. To my relief, nobody was there.

About forty minutes later, following a minimal investment of effort, the house was tidied up. We're messy, but not unclean; no parent would be surprised to see the clutter we deal with, given that we have six small children, and no honest person would consider our unremarkable untidiness to be a threat to our children's health or well-being. But I'm well aware of CPS enforcement actions that have resulted in charges being filed against parents whose homes aren't as antiseptic as a NASA white room.

Roughly a half-hour later, while speaking on the phone to my mother, I saw a city police car drive slowly by our house, turn around, and park in front of our walkway. From it emerged a young man, clean-cut and squared away, who strode up to our front door.

Well, here we go, I thought. I was wrong – and the day took an even stranger turn. "Who owns the vacant lot?" the young police officer politely inquired. "Do you mean the lot next to our house?" I asked. "No, the one behind it," he persisted. "That's not a `lot,' it's our back yard," I pointed out, gesturing for him to come with me to look through a nearby gate. "Who owns this property?" asked the officer. I explained that we were renters, not owners.

"Well, there are some weeds in the backyard that apparently need to be taken care of," the officer began, his tone suggesting that he had expected to see a much bigger problem than the one confronting him. Sure, there is a row of weeds along the rear fence line of our yard (which occupies a significant fraction of an acre), but it wasn't the Amazonian jungle he had anticipated.

"I suppose the weeds along the fence line need to be cut down," the officer observed, "but that's really the responsibility of the property owner." I assured him that I intended to attend to the weeds, whether or not that was my legal "responsibility," simply in the interest of living in a presentable home. The officer took down my publicly available contact information, gave me a polite nod, and departed, leaving me to contemplate an unsettling question:

Why would a police officer visit me with a complaint about overgrown weeds that are not visible from any of the streets that run by our house? He couldn't have seen them from the street. Clearly, he was responding to a complaint from someone who had recently been in our backyard. That fact may prove to be the critical clue in identifying the person who also hot-lined our family to CPS to report that our children were "endangered" by the untidiness of our living space.

Less than a half hour after the first police visit ended, an unmarked police car arrived and decanted the CPS investigator and the largest officer on the roster of the Payette City Police force – a genial man-mountain with a tonsured head, van dyke beard, and a ready smile. Seeing him, I simply had to chuckle: Yes, of course they'd send him.

The plainclothes officer identified himself. I replied that I had met him a couple of years earlier when he, along with practically the entire population of Payette, helped us find then-five-year-old Jefferson when he went missing. (Jefferson was found sleeping peacefully in his fortress of solitude, a secret space he created behind the headboard of a hide-a-bed.)

"I told her" – the officer began, gesturing to the CPS investigator – "that I've been in your home, and it seemed perfectly OK to me. But we have to clear up this complaint." Since Korrin and the kids were safe, I had no objection. I invited them in and busied myself paying bills. "Are Korrin and the children not here?" asked the CPS investigator. I told her, quite truthfully, that they had been invited to spend the afternoon at a friend's house.

About two minutes later the CPS worker and policeman were done. They explained as they left that the matter was closed but that I should contact Health and Welfare in the event that we "need any services."

"When we spoke this morning, you were very respectful," the CPS worker commented. "You did hold out for your rights, which is appropriate, but you treated me well, and I appreciated that." I smiled and said something to the effect that I try to treat people well. This episode turned out much better than it could have.

What if I hadn't been working at home, and Korrin – who suffers from a chronic condition that leaves her exhausted and bed-ridden most of the time – hadn't been able to stave off the CPS before the house had been tidied up? What if the CPS investigator had seen something – anything – "aberrant" in the behavior or appearance of our children, and decided that prudence required a more detailed examination?

What if we had been dealing with the kind of CPS investigator hard-wired to find evidence of abuse or neglect? Granted, we were blessed on this occasion to deal with someone who was sincere, polite, reasonable, and professional. That generally isn't the case in situations of this kind.

What if some combination of circumstances had resulted in a judicial order to appear at a "show cause" hearing, a procedure that almost always leads to some kind of catastrophic government intervention?

Once again, none of those things – or dozens of others, many of them worse – happened. This time. To us. But all of those terrible things have happened to families just like ours, because someone, for reasons only that person will know, filed an anonymous complaint with the child "protection" bureaucracy.

It's been said that one can't be a credible sportswriter unless he's actually played the games he covers, or a music critic without knowing how to play an instrument or carry a tune. After more than two decades of writing about the disruption, or outright destruction, of families by the child welfare bureaucracy, I can finally consider myself qualified, albeit in a limited sense, to pronounce upon that subject. That's a credential I could have done without.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today. Now hosted on Wordpress. If you cannot access it, go to the MIRROR SITE, where you can find out what is going on. During prolonged downtimes, posts will appear on the mirror site instead of the primary site)

Friday, August 14, 2009

“Uh-Oh They’re Here”

A persistent blogger annoys police -- and winds up in jail

A 34-YEAR-OLD woman, the mother of a 12-year-old girl, has been locked up in a Virginia jail for three weeks and could remain there for at least another month. Her crime? Blogging about the police.

Elisha Strom, who appears unable to make the $750 bail, was arrested outside Charlottesville on July 16 when police raided her house, confiscating notebooks, computers and camera equipment. Although the Charlottesville police chief, Timothy J. Longo Sr., had previously written to Ms. Strom warning her that her blog posts were interfering with the work of a local drug enforcement task force, she was not charged with obstruction of justice or any similar offense. Rather, she was indicted on a single count of identifying a police officer with intent to harass, a felony under state law.

It's fair to say that Ms. Strom was unusually focused on the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement task force, a 14-year-old unit drawn mainly from the police departments of Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the University of Virginia. (Her blog at, expresses the view that the task force is "nothing more than a group of arrogant thugs.") In a nearly year-long barrage of blog posts, she published snapshots she took in public of many or most of the task force's officers; detailed their comings and goings by following them in her car; mused about their habits and looks; hinted that she may have had a personal relationship with one of them; and, in one instance, reported that she had tipped off a local newspaper about their movements.

Predictably, this annoyed law enforcement officials, who, it's fair to guess, comprised much of her readership before her arrest. But what seems to have sent them over the edge -- and skewed their judgment -- is Ms. Strom's decision to post the name and address of one of the officers with a street-view photo of his house.

All this information was publicly available, including the photograph, which Ms. Strom gleaned from municipal records. The task force's officers may have worked undercover on occasion, but one wonders about their undercover abilities, given that Ms. Strom was able to out them so consistently. Chief Longo warned Ms. Strom that her blog posts were scaring off informants and endangering the officers and their families, but he provided no evidence. At no point did Ms. Strom's blog express a threat, explicit or otherwise, to police or their sources.

Ms. Strom is not the most sympathetic symbol of free-speech rights. She has previously advocated creating a separate, all-white nation, and her blog veers from the whimsical to the self-righteous to the bizarre. But the real problem here is the Virginia statute, in which an overly broad, ill-defined ban on harassment-by-identification, specifically in regard to police officers, seems to criminalize just about anything that might irritate targets.

It should not be a crime to annoy the cops, whose raid on Ms. Strom's house looks more like a fit of pique than an act of law enforcement. Some of her postings may have consisted of obnoxious speech, but they were nonetheless speech and constitutionally protected. That would hold true right up through her last blog post, written as the police raid on her home began at 7 a.m.: "Uh-Oh They're Here."

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today. Now hosted on Wordpress. If you cannot access it, go to the MIRROR SITE, where you can find out what is going on. During prolonged downtimes, posts will appear on the mirror site instead of the primary site)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wrongfully convicted Canadian Indian honored in death

But was justice done in the end?

Holding an eagle feather above Donald Marshall's coffin on Monday, Alan Knockwood came to say goodbye to his friend. Knockwood joined hundreds of mourners at Marshall's funeral service, remembering the man whose wrongful murder conviction led to a royal commission on the state of the justice system.

"The eagle is the one who is closest to the Great Spirit," explained Knockwood, who held the feather over the coffin as it was carried into St. Anthony Daniel Roman Catholic Church. "He is also our protector and when I raised the feather up it was to ask him to look after all who came beneath it and to protect Donald on his journey home."

Marshall, sometimes called a reluctant native activist, died at the age of 55 last week after complications linked to a double lung transplant six years ago. He was sentenced to life in prison for the stabbing death of a friend in 1971, but maintained his innocence throughout his 11 years in prison.

His acquittal in 1983 brought sweeping changes to the justice system, which the commission found was plagued by incompetence and racism. Anne Derrick, now a provincial court judge who represented Marshall as his lawyer at the inquiry, said she was able to spend a few hours with him in hospital before he died last Thursday. "He was a man with a lot of depth and a lot of resilience," she said outside the church under a grey sky. "I will never forget him and I feel fortunate to have been his friend and to have gotten to know him as a person."

Derrick said Marshall's wrongful conviction and his court battles over native fishing rights have left a lasting legacy. "He was not a man who sought fame, which he did acquire. But when the fight came to him he would see it to the finish."

Marshall's funeral was attended by judges, MPs, members of the Nova Scotia legislature, Premier Darrell Dexter and Lt.-Gov. Mayann Francis. Shawn Atleo, chief of the Assembly of First Nations, remembered Marshall as a figure who motivated others. "I feel so inspired, like so many others, inspired by a man who knew who he was, where he came from, and for what he believed in," Atleo told the funeral service. "A man who carried himself in a humble and dignified manner. A man who believed in his people."

Rev. Donald MacGillivray said Marshall was not embittered by his wrongful conviction. "Donald, during his years in jail, would have had to be about what he knew to be true, the truth that he was not guilty, his truth had to be his anchor," he said. "Donald, I think, can be an example of what it means to stand for truth, perhaps that will be one of his most important legacies, to be able to stand for what one believes to be true."

Marshall was 17 when he was charged with the violent murder of Sandy Seale, a friend who he met up with while walking through a park in Sydney one night in 1971. He was sentenced to life in prison but maintained his innocence and was eventually acquitted of the stabbing death in 1983. His case became one of the first high-profile wrongful convictions in the country.

The inquiry that followed produced a seven-volume report that found fault with the police, judges, Marshall's original defence lawyers, Crown lawyers and bureaucrats.

Roy Ebsary was eventually convicted of manslaughter in Seale's death and spent a year in jail. [Only a year?? When Marshall served 11?]

Marshall was one of 13 children of Caroline and Donald Marshall Sr., grand chief of the Mi'kmaq nation. Later in life, Marshall was arrested and convicted of violating federal fisheries laws for catching 210 kilograms of eels out of season and without a licence.

In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a centuries-old treaty between Mi'kmaq natives and the British Crown in acquitting Marshall of the charges. The ruling also found that natives have the right to make a moderate living by hunting, fishing and gathering. For Marshall, who led the fight with 13 native chiefs, the case represented a final vindication of native claims that ancient treaties still entitle them to fish, hunt and gather independent of government control.

Original report here

More background

"On January 26, 1990, the Royal Commission of Inquiry on the Donald Marshall Jr. Prosecution released its much-anticipated report on Mr. Marshall’s wrongful conviction for murder. (Commissioners’ Report – Findings and Recommendations 1989) For the Mi’kmaq community the most significant finding of the Inquiry’s three years of work (public hearings, roundtables and independent research studies) was the conclusion reached by the Commissioners that Donald Marshall Jr. was "convicted and sent to prison, in part at least, because he was a Native person." The Commissioners described the evidence supporting this “inescapable conclusion” as “persuasive” and said, “That racism played a role in Marshall’s imprisonment is one of the most difficult and disturbing findings this Royal Commission has made.”

On May 28, 1971 Donald Marshall Jr., walking through Sydney’s Wentworth park, met up with Sandy Seale, a Black youth from Whitney Pier. Marshall and Seale were casually acquainted. Proceeding through the Park together they encountered two men who struck up a conversation. One of these men, Roy Ebsary, described by the Commissioners’ Report as “an eccentric and volatile old man with a fetish for knives” with no provocation or warning, fatally stabbed Sandy Seale in the stomach. He died on May 29, 1971. On June 4, 1971, Donald Marshall, only 16 and still living at home on the Membertou reserve was arrested and charged with non-capital murder. The Royal Commission of Inquiry found that the fact that “Marshall was a Native is one reasons why John McIntyre [the Sydney Police Chief heading the Seale murder investigation] singled him out so quickly as the prime suspect without any evidence to support his conclusion.”

Donald Marshall’s journey through the criminal justice process proceeded with breath-taking speed, unthinkable today. Arrested on June 4, 1971, his preliminary inquiry occurred in one day on July 5, 1971 and his trial was heard over only three days from November 2 – 5, 1971. The justice system took only that short time to convict Mr. Marshall, by then just 17, and sentence him to life imprisonment for a murder he did not commit.

Mr. Marshall’s wrongful conviction occurred because of police and prosecutorial misconduct, the incompetence of his defence counsel, perjured testimony, jury bias and judicial error. It took 12 years for his wrongful conviction to be overturned and a total of nearly 20 years to exonerate him because, as the Royal Commission of Inquiry found: “The criminal justice system failed Donald Marshall, Jr. at virtually every turn, from his arrest and wrongful conviction in 1971 up to – and even beyond – his acquittal by the Court of Appeal in 1983.”

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today. Now hosted on Wordpress. If you cannot access it, go to the MIRROR SITE, where you can find out what is going on. During prolonged downtimes, posts will appear on the mirror site instead of the primary site)