Saturday, February 28, 2009

Real perpetrator caught in Texas sex-assault case that led to wrongful conviction

Negligence all round

All the while that Ricardo Rachell, wrongfully branded a child predator, sat in jail accused of assaulting an 8-year-old, similar attacks on young boys in his Houston neighborhood continued. Rachell churned through the system, from his arrest in October 2002 to jail to trial and finally to prison with a sentence of 40 years.

Still, more children were assaulted. An 8-year-old in November 2002. Another five weeks later. And a 10-year-old in October 2003. But in 2003, records show, police closed in on a registered sexual offender, Andrew Wayne Hawthorne, who lived less than two miles from Rachell and who later pleaded guilty to assaulting three boys. But none of this, according to the Houston Chronicle's review of court and police records, led anyone to question whether Rachell was the wrong man. Not two police investigators working in the 30-officer division that pursued both cases. Not prosecutors. And not Rachell's trial attorney, who dismissed his client's pleas to investigate the other suspect.

Last week, after more than six years in custody, a judge ordered Rachell, 51, released because new DNA evidence cleared him of any involvement in the assault. Instead, the evidence points to another man as the attacker - though prosecutors have repeatedly refused to identify him, or say whether Hawthorne is the man, citing a continuing investigation. Houston police officials also have declined to discuss Hawthorne's conviction, referring questions to the district attorney handling Rachell's case.

Emma Rodriguez, the HPD sex crimes officer who investigated Hawthorne in 2003, said Wednesday she could not talk either because "it is going to be connected to that other case." Hawthorne is now in prison in Amarillo, serving a 60-year-sentence.

The sexual assaults on children that followed Rachell's Oct. 23, 2002, arrest brought panic to the south Houston neighborhood clustered near Scott Street and Old Spanish Trail. Business owners plastered their stores with police sketches of a suspect. Apartment managers warned their tenants of the predator at hand. FBI officials and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee held community meetings. And at least one news story quoted HPD officer Lisa Clemons, the same officer who arrested Rachell, on the details of the attacks. She also has declined comment.

Rachell sent a copy of that story to his trial attorney, Ron Hayes, who acknowledges he received it in December 2002 - six months before Rachell was to face a jury - but decided not to investigate. "I received from Mr. Rachell the newspaper article about other sexual assaults," Hayes said in an affidavit provided for one of Rachell's appeals. "Since there were very few similarities and connection between the sexual assaults and the sexual assault Mr. Rachell was accused of committing, I did not believe that this information from Mr. Rachell merited much investigation."

In their investigation, HPD officers noted similarities among the unsolved attacks. "We finally recognized a pattern," Rodriguez, the HPD juvenile sex crimes investigator, told reporters Oct. 25, 2003. "Through our research we discovered a bike was being used in all of the cases, and then things started building, started looking familiar." She also noted the attacker's use of a knife and promises of money for doing small doing odd jobs - patterns also present in the attack for which jurors wrongfully convicted Rachell, evidence now shows. Two weeks later, on Nov. 12, 2003, with the help of DNA evidence from one of the unsolved attacks, police arrested Hawthorne. They considered him a suspect in five attacks, but only charged him in three.

A registered sex offender, Hawthorne's DNA profile already was in a state database from a case in 1992. Facing a charge of aggravated sexual assault of a child, Hawthorne accepted a deal and pleaded guilty to indecency with a child. He served eight years in prison.

In Rachell's case, biological evidence that could have definitively cleared him never was tested before his conviction. No one has been able to explain why. His trial attorney insists that he had no idea that any such evidence existed. The assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case, Jimmy Ortiz, now a defense attorney, has not returned multiple phone calls seeking comment on the case.

Prosecutors overseeing the effort to officially overturn Rachell's conviction have said the rape kit and victim's clothing always have been available and should have been tested then - on the request of either the prosecution or the defense.

Records show that Clemons, the officer who led the investigation against Rachell, checked a sexual assault kit and a bag of clothing into the police property room on Oct. 21, 2002, one day after the attack. Less than two months later, HPD shut the DNA division of its crime lab, amid concerns about the accuracy of its work. The evidence that Clemons submitted to the property room never was mentioned until last year, when Rachell appealed for DNA testing. That evidence, which ultimately cleared him, was still sitting in the property room, records show.

Mayor Bill White said Wednesday that he will review HPD's investigation of the case, adding, "I don't have a complete briefing of the chronology of that particular case, but I will get one and review it."

In the Hawthorne case, it was the FBI that processed the DNA evidence that led police to their suspect. With the HPD DNA lab closed and the continuing assaults on children, federal analysts stepped in. "If our lab had been up and running as it should have been, we could have had this processed earlier," Acting Police Chief Joe Breshears said then. Once confronted with the DNA evidence, Hawthorne pleaded guilty and accepted a 60-year sentence. He is at the Clements Unit in Amarillo.

Original report here

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Australian cops kill black with pepper spray

If there were four of them holding him down, why did they need to spray him at all?

A man died shortly after being held on the ground by four police and sprayed with capsicum spray, an inquest heard yesterday. Coroner Greg Cavanagh was told the man's friends warned police not to spray him as he suffered from asthma. The man - who cannot be named for cultural reasons - was taken from the Palmerston home where the incident happened on January 1, 2008, to Royal Darwin Hospital but died later that night.

Eyewitness Simon Pascoe told the coronial inquest that people at the house had told police to let the man go and be careful because he had asthma. "Every time we tried to warn them, they said: 'Don't come any closer or we're going to use our spray on you'," he said.

The inquest heard there had been an argument over "grog" at the house, and a woman had called the police and told officers that the man needed to go to the sobering-up centre. An autopsy found he only had a blood alcohol concentration of .035 per cent. [legal to drive]

The inquest into the man's death will run concurrently with an inquest into the death of Alice Springs filmmaker Bob Plasto. He was arrested and ground-stabilised in Darwin on December 22, 2007 after staff at the Cavanagh Hotel called police when he was behaving irrationally. Police took him to Royal Darwin Hospital for a mental health assessment - but not until after he waited in a caged police car at the Darwin watch house for a shift change. He was pulled to the ground by police officers at the hospital and kept in custody while he was in hospital for several days before he died.

Original report here (Via Australian Politics)

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

British policeman hauled before court and suspended for 20 months for defending himself against yob who headbutted him

Another example of British prosecutors being on the side of the criminal

A police officer told of his anger yesterday after being taken off front-line duty for a year and hauled before a court for defending himself against a suspect who he thought was about to headbutt him. Sergeant Bob Woodward spoke out after the case against him collapsed at the start of his trial when it emerged the supposed victim would not appear - because he was on the run after skipping bail over a separate violent attack.

The officer, a married father of three with 30 years' unblemished service, retires in April but said the episode had soured his last year in the force. Condemning the criminal justice system, he claimed his experience - the second time he has been wrongly accused of assaulting a drunken suspect - would make other officers think twice about confronting violent individuals.

Sergeant Woodward, 52, said Ashley Pearson had lashed out at him in July 2007 as they stood together in a custody suite at Cannock police station in Staffordshire, where Pearson had been taken after being arrested for an alleged breach of bail. The 6ft 8in policeman said he blocked the blow and pushed his attacker on to a desk, chipping Pearson's front tooth.

Pearson did not make a formal complaint but Staffordshire Police launched an investigation following an anonymous tip-off. Details were passed on to the Crown Prosecution Service which decided to prosecute Sergeant Woodward. He was taken off front line duties early last year when formally summonsed for assault and has since been doing other work or been on sick leave. The officer has now been fully reinstated after the case against him collapsed at Birmingham Crown Court on Monday.

Sergeant Woodward had previously been acquitted over an incident in July 2002 when he tried to stop a drunken yob spitting at him by pushing his face away. On that occasion, he had to endure seven months of anxiety before he was cleared.

The sergeant, from Hednesford, Staffordshire, said yesterday: 'There is something wrong when police officers end up in the dock for doing their job while thugs are left free to laugh at the justice system. They were ludicrous prosecutions. When they told me I was being charged I could hardly believe my ears. 'I had to keep it secret from my 80-year-old mother or it would have worried her to death.'

Announcing the CPS would offer no evidence against Sergeant Woodward, Zaheer Afzal, prosecuting, told Judge Sean Morris on Monday: 'Regrettably our main witness is not here today, and we have not been able to find him.'

David Mason, defending, said he found it ' staggering' that the case had taken so long to get to court, telling the judge: 'The officer thought he was going to be headbutted and was using reasonable force to protect himself from a clearly drunk, violent and aggressive man.' Pearson, from Cannock, Staffordshire, ended up in jail for an unrelated matter. He was released and has been on the run since February after being bailed on suspicion of being involved in a pub 'glassing' attack.

Original report here. (Via PC Watch)

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Virginia man to receive state compensation for wrongful conviction

A bill approved by state legislators last week will compensate a Hampton man for seven years he spent in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Teddy Pierries Thompson maintained his innocence in a 2000 robbery, but was convicted after being identified by one of two victims, according to the bill which passed the General Assembly. Thompson was 17 at the time of his arrest.

Thompson said he had rented time at a Virginia Beach recording studio the night of the robbery and produced a receipt in court. The other robbery victim testified at a pretrial hearing that Thompson was not the man who robbed him. Thompson was convicted in 2001 and sentenced to 16 years in prison. He continued to fight the conviction in court.

In 2007, a Hampton judge vacated Thompson's conviction because the witness who identified him said he'd made a mistake, according to the bill. Thompson will receive more than $50,000 in a lump sum, plus an annuity of more than $207,000 to be paid monthly to him for 25 years. He also will receive up to $10,000 in tuition costs for college or technical training. Thompson will receive the money after Gov. Timothy M. Kaine signs the bill.

Original report here


Thompson, who went to prison in 2001 at age 18, was freed Monday, two months after Antonio Mitchell recanted and told law enforcement officials he'd identified the wrong person. Thompson had served more than six years in prison, and could have served at least 10 more. Thompson said he harbors no bitterness toward Mitchell, who once said he was "100 percent sure" Thompson was one of two men who robbed him and a friend at gunpoint on March 26, 2000.

On July 30, Mitchell told investigators that another man has since acknowledged being the robber, and even offered to return the money he took. Investigators who interviewed him believe Mitchell was being truthful in recanting his identification of Thompson. "I know people make mistakes," Thompson said of Mitchell.

He's not as forgiving when it comes to the criminal justice system. Thompson said Hampton detectives were quick to target him, and that the jury went with the word of one person over strong counter evidence in Thompson's favor. "I have nothing against the jury, but you're supposed to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," he said. In this case, he asserts, there should have been lots of doubt - especially since he had witnesses and documentation placing him at a Virginia Beach recording studio at the time of the robbery.

Doubt should also have been raised, Thompson said, when the other robbery victim said Thompson was the wrong man. Although a written statement from that victim was allowed in court, that victim failed to show on two scheduled trial dates.

Original report here

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Police harass reporter

Yes. In America, not Russia

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan is asking a Detroit judge to consider whether felony police obstruction charges by the Wayne County prosecutor’s office against a freelance reporter could have a chilling effect on journalism. Diane Bukowski, a freelance reporter for The Michigan Citizen, a Detroit-based newsweekly focused on the state’s African-American community, was arrested and charged with five felony counts of obstructing police officers while reporting from the scene of a fatal police chase on Election Day on Detroit’s northeast side. In her story, Bukowski reported:
A Detroit motorcyclist returning from the polls Nov. 4 was allegedly hit by two Michigan state troopers during a chase on the city’s northeast side. The impact of the crash pushed him into a pedestrian who was also killed, then into a pole, according to one eyewitness.

Bukowski said that she was arrested as she stood photographing the scene of the crash, an officer seized her camera and erased pictures. At a preliminary hearing in front of 36th District Court Judge Beverly Hayes-Sipes in December, three of the five charges against Bukowski were dismissed. “The case at bar raises important issues, including whether the First Amendment rights to freedom of the press are being abridged by a prosecution that is pursued for retaliatory or other improper purpose,” the Michigan ACLU wrote in its brief in support of Bukowski’s motion that the charges against her be dismissed.

The ACLU wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court has explicitly acknowledged the important role played by the press in serving as a check against abuse of power by the police and prosecutors.

The charges against Bukowski are particularly troublesome, the group wrote, because of her “long, distinguished history of exposing government irregularities and corruption.” The ACLU noted that Bukowski has reported on allegations of illegal strip and cavity searches by police in southwest Detroit and the refusal of Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to prosecute police involved in killings.

“ [T]he danger is real that any ruling or verdict by the court that is adverse to the defendant’s interest (whether deserved or not), will be perceived by many as retaliation for her journalistic work,“ the group wrote. “These suspicions can be bolstered by questions about why the defendant is being prosecuted zealously given the absence of allegations that any real harm in the way of physical injuries or property damage resulted from her actions. Such perceptions and questions can chill journalist’s aggressive pursuit of information that the Constitution’s framers believed was essential to a healthy democracy.”

A spokeswoman for Prosecutor Kym Worthy denied the charges were retaliation against Bukowksi. “We do not bring cases to retaliate,” said Maria Miller, spokeswoman and assistant prosecutor for Wayne County. “Her case was charged and is being prosecuted because we believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt the charge in this particular case.” Miller declined to answer further questions.

A motion to dismiss the remaining charges against Bukowski will be heard by Judge Michael Hathaway on Feb. 20 at 9 a.m. A trial date for the case has been set for April 27. “We are hoping for dismissal,” Bukowski told Michigan Messenger, “but my attorney said he is prepared to go to trail. There is no evidence to back up their charges.” She added that video from a news team and numerous eyewitness accounts support her innocence.

Supporters have formed the Committee to Support Diane Bukowski and Freedom of the Press to draw attention to the case. The groups members include state Rep. Lamar Lemmons Jr. (D-Detroit), Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, Michigan Citizen publisher Catherine Kelley, several union locals and dozens of civil rights activists and community groups.

Original report here

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Your dog is not safe when police are around

My contempt for the American police certainly can't go any lower. But some people who read this blog still cling to the fantasy that they are a decent lot. I say they are not. The "good" cops may not violate rights immediately but they know the ones who do and usually cover for them. Cops are criminals with permits to be criminals.

Take what a cop did to Lee Ann Hutts as an example. The cop in question is a sheriff's deputy from Pinellas County, Florida. Hutts had done nothing wrong at all. The thug in uniform was Sgt. Robert McGuire. People should know that McGuire is armed and dangerous and a threat. He is violent. McGuire is also not very intelligent. He had gone to a mobile home park to investigate a robbery. But like the terminally dumb he kept getting lost and couldn't find the home he was looking for. So he randomly went to the home where Hutts lives with her fiance and a roommate.

Hutts had a dog that was known to bark but was also known to be gentle and playful. When the door bell rang the dog started barking -- dogs do that. Stupid cops get upset because dogs don't respect their authority (but neither do I). Hutts and a neighbor both say the dog never left Hutts side and never came at McGuire. McGuire ordered the dog to be removed. Hutts tried to lock it in a bedroom but got out. At this point McGuire kicked the dog. Of course McGuire claimed "he shooed the dog with his foot." Cops seem to use what little brain power they have to come up with creative ways to lie about what they did. "No your Honor, I didn't kick him in the teeth. I shooed his cavities with my foot."

McGuire, as you might expect, claims the dog tried to attack him. Kick me and I might attack him too. The neighbor who witnessed the event said that was not true. Imagine that, someone implying a police office might lie. What would surprise me is when one tells the truth. In response to the non-existent "charge" by the dog McGuire pulled his gun and shot the animal in the head. Hutts was covered with blood.

She rushed the dog to a vet and was told it would cost $3,000 to perform surgery. She couldn't afford that and took some pain killers and brought the dog home where it died. Neighbors are so upset they called the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and filed a complaint against this disgusting police officer. One neighbor told the SPCA that the dog "was a total sweetheart. There's a gazillion cats around here, and they're not even scared of him."

Remember that Hutts did nothing wrong. McGuire couldn't find where he wanted to go so he knocked on her door. Her mistake was answering the door. I have repeatedly said that decent people should never cooperate with the police without a lawyer present. The police are a threat to you and your family. Hutts should have asked, through the door what the officer wanted. If he said he was lost she should note that she has no wish to speak to him and will not open the door unless he has a search warrant or arrest warrant. He had neither of course. Her willingness to cooperate with the police is the reason her beloved pet ended up dead.

Police officers in America are out of control. They believe they are little Gods entitled to act any way they wish. They are easily provoked, have little intelligence, and quickly resort to violence. Your innocence is of little concern to them. You risk yourself, and those you love (including pets) merely allowing cops to speak to you on your property. If you have important evidence in a crime your best bet is to take some friends and collectively go to a police station to make a report. Do not speak to the officers at the scene or at your home alone. They can not be trusted.

In case after case they routinely kill people's dogs. In every case they sound like a broken record claiming that the dog attacked them. Dogs never known to attack anyone suddenly become violent around cops and lunge --- hmmm, perhaps dogs are smarter than we give them credit for. In more cases than I remember witnesses to the incidents have testified that the cop is lying and the incident did not take place as he claimed. In all the cases, as far as I can remember, the local authorites claim the cop did the right thing. It doesn't matter how many people testify that the cop is a violent, lying predator. Unless they have film they don't matter when they question the actions of one of the Little Gods in Blue. (Another reason I'm an atheist.)

Just remember that the cops are your enemy. And I mean that literally. They are not out to serve and protect. They must be seen as a criminal gang and you must steer clear of them as much as possible. Any attempt on your part to be helpful, which is what Hutts was doing, can lead to very severe consequences for you.

Original report here

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

MO: After wrongful conviction, Kezer is seeking more than an apology

Joshua Kezer says he doesn't harbor any ill will toward Kenny Hulshof. But that doesn't mean he's not angry. On Wednesday, Kezer became a free man for the first time in nearly 16 years. The man who put him in jail was Hulshof, the ex-congressman and failed gubernatorial candidate who at the time was a special prosecutor working for the attorney general's office. According to the judge who set Kezer free, Hulshof never should have tried the case.

He ignored evidence that pointed to another suspect, said Cole County Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan in a scathing opinion that concluded Hulshof prosecuted an innocent man. As Hulshof argued Kezer's guilt to jurors in successfully obtaining a 60-year sentence for the killing of 19-year-old Angela Mischelle Lawless, this is what he said: "You are our only hope. We put him at the scene, we put a gun in his hand, we put the victim with him, we have got blood on his clothes …"

But jurors weren't told the truth, Callahan — himself a former prosecutor — wrote in his 44-page opinion: "We now know that none of what Mr. Hulshof said in that final summary was true. (The) testimony putting him at the scene is totally discredited. No gun was ever found, and there is no credible evidence that he ever had a gun … There is now uncontroverted evidence that he was not at the Halloween party ... New testing indicates there was no blood on his jacket."

Callahan's opinion criticized the entire judicial process. But for Kezer, Hulshof is the name he remembers. Asked as he was released whether he is angry at Hulshof, Kezer took a long pause while standing in the prison lobby. "Do I feel anger from time to time? Yes," he said. "I'm not going to act like I'm superhuman. … But I think that Hulshof has to live with his own actions. I'm not going to be judge and jury."

All too often, prosecutors do act like both judge and jury, says University of Missouri journalism professor Steve Weinberg. An investigative journalist by trade, Weinberg has had Hulshof in his sights for some time. In the late 1990s, Weinberg and the Center for Public Integrity embarked on an investigative project that studied 30 years of criminal cases and 12,000 opinions. Published in 2003, "Harmful Error" concluded that prosecutorial misconduct in U.S. courts is widespread.

The study found that between 1970 and 2003, judges or appeals courts cited prosecutorial misconduct in more than 2,000 criminal cases in which verdicts were reversed. Many of them, like the Kezer case, found a claim of "actual innocence."

Weinberg said that in his research in Missouri, Hulshof's name comes up over and over again when talking to defense attorneys about prosecutors who had a reputation for going too far. "This case is not at all surprising in terms of what Hulshof has done," Weinberg said. Hulshof has been accused by defendants of prosecutorial misconduct in at least five murder cases, other than the Kezer case. In four of those cases, death sentences were overturned because of trial errors, though the convictions stood.

In one 1996 case, Hulshof obtained a murder conviction of a Springfield banker, but the case was overturned because of inappropriate evidence Hulshof introduced at trial. In a second trial, the banker was acquitted of killing his wife.

Weinberg, who like Hulshof lives in Columbia, was instrumental in bringing the Kezer case into public view. In 2006, after Columbia social worker Jane Williams had been working for a decade to try to free Kezer from prison, Weinberg challenged his graduate journalism students to look into the case. Master's student Ben Poston, now an investigative reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, took the challenge. Poston's yearlong investigation was published in the Post-Dispatch in 2007. Now, nearly two years later, Kezer is free.

Hulshof has refused interview requests since the news of Kezer's release broke. He issued a statement that indicated he still believes the man he helped convict is guilty.

Weinberg said he's not surprised that Hulshof is sticking to his guns. "I just don't get the inability of prosecutors to say I'm sorry," he said. "We all make mistakes. Hulshof owes Kezer an apology." Kezer wants more than an apology. He says he plans a civil suit against the state for being wrongfully convicted. The case will pit an innocent man who had been jailed from the time he was 18 against the prosecutor who put him there. The man at the helm of the state Kezer seeks to sue? That's Gov. Jay Nixon, Hulshof's boss during the Kezer trial. Nixon defeated the former prosecutor in the race for governor.

Kezer believes a corrupt system run by politicians put him in jail and stole his youth. Now he wants them to pay. "I'm the winner today," Kezer said as he was released from prison. Then he turned his thoughts to Hulshof. "My life from this day forward will prove him wrong."

Original report here

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Determined coverup of wrongful conviction by crooked British police

Merseyside Police offered an extraordinary list of excuses in refusing to provide documents relating to the Eddie Gilfoyle case. The force refused one request by The Times for a list of documents in the case, saying that it might break health and safety laws to hand it over. It has declined to provide a single internal record to the newspaper in spite of requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) filed nearly a year ago. At one point the force said it calculated that the cost of responding to a request for information by The Times would be “24,483.33 pounds including 50 for copying/printing”.

This week Merseyside Police was forced to order an urgent search for long-lost notes from an internal inquiry into blunders made by police who attended the scene of Mrs Gilfoyle's death, after it wrongly told the newspaper that they never existed. Only after The Times faxed copies of what appeared to be the documents to the force's headquarters did the Assistant Chief Constable admit the notes had been taken. The Times has now reported Merseyside Police to the Information Commissioner.

The Times asked in March last year for information relating to the internal inquiry, known as the Humphreys report. In a separate request, The Times asked for a copy of the Police Complaints Authority report into the flawed murder investigation. Merseyside Police wrote back saying that it would take “58,760 minutes or 979 hours” to respond to the request and 13 hours had already been spent reaching that conclusion. The maximum time for an FoI request is 18 hours so only 5 remained. The Times then asked for “a list of the documents and statements mentioned in your reply”. Carl Dewhurst, a disclosure analyst, responded in June last year saying he had decided to “exempt” the records under various grounds:

Investigations: Mr Dewhurst said: “This report may yet be of relevance to any future legal proceedings in respect of the man convicted of the murder from which this report resulted. Any release of the information may prejudice such proceedings.”

Health and Safety: “It is a fact that this case caused documented harm to the health of a number of parties involved in this enquiry. Due to the risk of releasing personal information, no expansion of this evidence can be provided in respect of this exemption.”

Personal data: “The information requested contains much personal information from which a person may be identified by name. It would be unfair to release such detail without their consent.”

The Times then exercised its right to an internal review of the decision to withhold information, saying that the police decision to keep the list of documents secret was remarkable and unacceptable, and that the reasons for doing so could not be justified.

Original report here

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Uncovered: police notes cast doubt over alleged murder by British prisoner

After 17 years in jail, his conviction is in question -- police coverup of evidence revealed. Initial case all based on speculation

Sixteen years after a man was sentenced to life in prison for murdering his heavily pregnant wife by hanging, The Times has uncovered evidence that throws his conviction into doubt. Long-lost notes of police interviews have emerged that suggest that Eddie Gilfoyle was at work when his 32-year-old wife, Paula, died. The notes catalogue a series of blunders, including the destruction of evidence before scene-of-crime officers arrived. They also show that those first on the scene were convinced that they were dealing with a tragic suicide. The notes were not shown to the jury and not mentioned during Gilfoyle’s trial in 1993. Merseyside Police repeatedly denied that they existed.

Paula Gilfoyle was eight-and-a-half months pregnant when she was found hanged in the garage next to the couple’s home in June 1992. A note was found in her handwriting that said that she had decided to “put an end to everything”. Her husband was later charged with her murder. Since his conviction, he has lost two appeals.

The Times has obtained notes of interviews with the officers called to the house on the day that she died. They state that the doctor who declared Mrs Gilfoyle dead told police that she had died six hours earlier – when her husband was at his workplace. The 20 pages of notes appear to have been taken during an internal inquiry into police blunders at the scene. Until their disclosure today, there had been no suggestion that the doctor had addressed the question of time of death at the scene. There is no mention of it in his statements to the murder investigation. Instead, the doctor told the trial jury that Mrs Gilfoyle had been dead for between three and eight hours before being found. This could have given Gilfoyle time to kill her after work.

During the trial the judge, Mr Justice McCullough, expressed amazement that no time of death had been given to the defence, saying that it was “a rather obvious question”. The notes detail a series of mistakes that led to the internal inquiry by Merseyside Police. Mrs Gilfoyle’s body was cut down without any photographs being taken. Evidence was destroyed or tainted. The existence of the inquiry was not disclosed to the defence before trial. The records also indicate that officers let a mortuary assistant destroy the noose – a vital piece of evidence that could have revealed who tied it.

Last night Gilfoyle’s solicitor Matt Foot said that the disclosure could have changed the course of the trial. “It’s clear that the judge and the defence were left with the impression that there wasn’t an estimate of time of death given at the scene,” he said. “According to these notes, there was an estimate of the time of death. This was never put before the jury.”

He said that he would use the nondisclosure of the notes in a fresh plea to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates miscarriages of justice. Experts agree that establishing time of death is an inexact science. Gilfoyle’s hopes of establishing that he was wrongly convicted rest on the Crown’s failure to tell the jury the full story of what happened at the scene. Mr Foot said: “It would have been extremely useful for the defence to have been able to explore with prosecution witnesses points raised by the notes.”

At the trial, the Crown insisted that Gilfoyle had tricked his wife into writing her suicide letter, then coaxed her into the garage where he hanged her. The notes show that the officers knew that the marriage was unhappy and that Mrs Gilfoyle may have doubted that the baby was her husband’s. DNA tests later showed that Gilfoyle was the father.

According to the notes, nothing at the scene suggested foul play. The notes emphasise that there was no evidence of a struggle. Her body had no marks or defensive injuries. The doctor examined her and decided that there was nothing suspicious. He was “99.9 per cent happy with it being a hanging”. However, when family, friends and workmates described how happy and optimistic Mrs Gilfoyle had been, the police began to wonder if she might have been murdered.

The evidence at Gilfoyle’s trial was almost all circumstantial. Nearly twenty witnesses said that Mrs Gilfoyle had been making plans for the future. A trial source told The Times: “For two days, friends and relatives and workmates gave evidence in which they said that this girl was vivacious, bubbly, so excited about this new birth. The morning she ‘committed suicide’ she got books about children’s names. After two days of people saying she was happy, the idea that a pregnant woman hanged herself? The jury just looked astonished.”

Gilfoyle’s family contacted the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), which was so alarmed by its inquiry into the handling of the investigation that it alerted the Crown Prosecution Service to doubts about the conviction. The criminal profiler David Canter, who worked with police to help to convict him, revealed last year that he had had second thoughts. Writing in The Times, he said that fresh research into suicide notes had persuaded him that Mrs Gilfoyle took her own life.

Alison Halford, who was a Merseyside assistant chief constable at the time, Desmond Browne, QC, the Chairman of the Bar Council, and Graham Gooch, the retired superintendent who investigated the case for the PCA, have all stated that the conviction was unsafe.

Original report here

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Not guilty but not innocent? Some strange New Zealand justice

The Government has rejected Rex Haig's plea for compensation for wrongful conviction and imprisonment after a Queen's Counsel's report cast doubt on his innocence. Justice Minister Simon Power declined the application on the advice of Robert Fisher, QC.

Mr Haig served 10 years in prison after being convicted in 1995 for murdering Mark Roderique on his fishing boat off the West Coast. He had claimed his nephew David Hogan, 31, who was one of the three crew members, was the actual murderer. His conviction was last year quashed by the Court of Appeal, after his lawyer presented affidavits from 14 witnesses saying Mr Hogan confessed or implicated himself in Mr Roderique's murder.

Mr Haig had failed to show he was innocent of the crime with which he was charged, Mr Fisher said. "If anything the inquiry suggests the reverse," Mr Fisher wrote. Mr Haig cannot be prosecuted again and Mr Fisher's findings only related to the compensation decision.

Mr Haig said he had been denied compensation for his wrongful conviction and imprisonment for murder. As part of his appeal, he also said Mr Hogan contracted another man to murder his key defence witness, Anton Sherlock, in March 1995. Mr Haig said the 189-page report "raises more questions than it has answers".

Mr Haig said his lawyer, Jonathan Eaton, had told him the lack of witnesses in the case made it difficult for a judgement on compensation to be made. "But I consider the matter's unfinished because David Hogan should be arrested for this murder, because Robert Fisher has said that he has done the murder and there's a prima facie case against him for the murder of my witness, Anton Sherlock."

Mr Haig said he was not surprised by the decision. "The way the justice system works, they just want it to go away."

Original report here

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My three-and-a-half-year ordeal, by man accused of shaking baby

Arrogant British doctors get it wrong again

A man accused of shaking an 11-week-old baby and causing severe brain damage has been cleared after a series of hospital blunders was revealed. Stuart Bailey, 41, insisted he had done nothing to harm the infant and his lawyers claimed the case against him was 'very seriously flawed' and based on mistakes by doctors. His three-and-a-half-year ordeal ended when a judge halted the trial at Sheffield Crown Court and ordered the jury to find him not guilty of cruelty to a child.

Mr Bailey, of Barnsley, said afterwards: 'I am very relieved it is all over after three years. I just want to rebuild my life which was shattered by this case.'

Bailey's barrister told the court the injuries, which have left the baby blind, deaf and severely disabled, could have been caused by an infection. But he said doctors ignored NHS protocol by failing to carry out a lumbar puncture test that would have identified if the baby had an infection. And a blood sample taken from the baby and sent for analysis was lost and the results never revealed. Expert prosecution evidence also cast doubt over the existence of the 'triad' of injuries used by doctors to diagnose shaken baby syndrome.

The baby was taken to hospital on July 21, 2005 after she became ill while left alone with Bailey by her mother for the first time, for half an hour. He said she suddenly 'went limp' while he was giving her a bath and then became 'wheezy' and was struggling for breath. The little girl, who had also vomited blood in her Moses basket, was transferred from the local hospital to specialist care at Sheffield Children's Hospital, where doctors became suspicious of her injuries.

But Robert Smith QC, defending, told the court hospital doctors 'got it wrong from the start' and were 'reluctant to acknowledge their mistakes'. Dr Christopher Rittey, a consultant paediatric neurologist, concluded from head scans that she had suffered a skull fracture, and soft tissue 'impact' swelling indicated she could have been 'thrown against a brick wall or beaten with a baseball bat', the court heard. But Mr Smith said the baby did not have a fracture and the swelling Dr Rittey regarded as suspicious was 'old' damage suffered during labour. He said the absence of any bruising on the baby - which could be associated with a violent episode of shaking - left 'huge question marks' over the issue.

Prosecutor Andrew Robertson QC, told the jury the existence of the 'triad' of bleeding above the brain, damage to the brain because of oxygen starvation and bleeding at the back of the eyes amounted to a 'very strong pointer' that the baby was violently shaken. He rejected the possibility of infection. But his case collapsed ten days into the trial when one of his own witnesses, Dr Carlos de Souza, from Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, said under cross-examination that the notes showed retinal bleeding was only discovered on the fourth examination of the child - more than a day after the alleged incident. In that case he would not be able to say the most likely explanation was shaking, he said.

The court heard the baby's mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, ended her relationship with Mr Bailey after reading doctors' reports concluding the injuries were 'non-accidental'. She said her baby had been healthy and normal before the incident in July 2005. They had no rows on the day, the baby was 'not crying' and Bailey was his 'normal self' when she left for half an hour to take her mother to bingo. When she returned after being called on her mobile by Bailey the baby looked as if she was dead.

Bailey, of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, who has no previous convictions, said:'I am very relieved it is all over after 3½ years. I just want to rebuild my life which was shattered by this case. 'The experience I have had to endure was absolutely devastating for me and my family. 'If it wasn’t for my family and friends I don’t think I’d be here to be honest. I hope no one has to endure what I’ve had to endure over this last 3½ years.'

His solicitor Tim Gaubert said: 'He's relieved although he was always confident he would be cleared. But his relief is tempered by the fact that the child is seriously ill. There are no winners and losers in this case.' He said Mr Bailey's prosecution highlighted 'the grave dangers and difficulties in cases of alleged baby shaking.'

Original report here

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Insurance victory for British grandmother who besieged head office of big company

Big companies can be as arrogant as government instrumentalities

When Dorothy Green needed to contact her insurance company, she encountered the sort of frustration familiar to millions. Dozens of phone calls followed over several days, during which she was kept on hold for a total of three hours, but got nowhere. When others might have given up in despair, this 79-year-old grandmother refused to surrender to faceless bureaucracy. The retired primary school teacher, who has just lost her husband to cancer, wanted to know why the 56,400 pound value of her life insurance policy had been halved.

Despite being 'very frightened', she travelled 130 miles in the snow from her home in Peterborough to the York office of Norwich Union chief executive Mark Hodges. Staff refused to let her speak to the boss but, undaunted, Mrs Green returned three days later, only to be arrested after police were called. Mrs Green spent several hours in a cell, but the next day she pressed on with her battle. After again being told Mr Hodges would not see her, she reported him to police - as a missing person.

In the end, bosses at the insurance giant decided they could ignore her no longer and promised to honour their original settlement. Mrs Green said they told her it was a 'misunderstanding'.

Her story has echoes of the 1989 film Roger And Me, in which maverick director Michael Moore relentlessly pursues General Motors boss Roger Smith who closed the plant in his hometown. Mrs Green was sold a life insurance plan in 1994, guaranteeing a payout of 56,400 when she died. But over the past six years, Norwich Union has reduced this to 26,000, she said. A letter last month saying the new sum would be introduced unless her premiums soared left her 'shaking' with anger.

After drawing a blank with her phone calls, Mrs Green made her first visit by train to York on January 30, spending several hours in the offices. She said staff initially claimed Mr Hodges was on holiday for a month and later that he was 'in a meeting'. Distressed, she returned home, only to return three days later. This time, the reception desk called the police.

'I was taken away in a car in a police cage,' said the pensioner. 'They didn't treat me badly, I just talked to a doctor to see if I was loopy. They decided I wasn't.' She was released without charge and stayed the night in a hotel. 'The next day I went back to the offices one last time to ask if I could see Mr Hodges, but I never did.' During this final visit, she posed outside the office with a placard around her neck reading 'Dorothy Jean Green' in a desperate attempt to attract attention.

Tragically, the day after her return home her husband Paul died. However, Mrs Green now has the peace of mind of knowing the full amount of her policy will go to her four grandchildren on her death. 'But it has taken nearly six years of worrying, two-and-a-half days in York, six hours on the telephone and sitting in a police cage,' she said.

'I just wanted to ask Mr Hodges why they kept asking for more money and trying to reduce the payout. 'It's not really about the money. I think something should be done to make things fairer. I have asked Norwich Union to come to my husband's funeral as a goodwill gesture.' A spokesman for the insurer said: 'A director has spoken directly with Mrs Green and resolved her complaint.'

Original report here

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Innocent victim of police raid convicted for act of self defense


In Chesapeake, Virginia, Ryan Frederick was convicted by a jury of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of a burglar who was breaking down his door. It could have been worse; Frederick faced capital murder charges in the case, since the burglar was Jarrod Shivers, a police detective who was participating in a misfired marijuana raid on Frederick's home. But it also could have been better. Frederick could have received the same slap on the wrist that police officers usually get for killing innocent people during SWAT raids gone wrong.

The case has been mired in controversy since the beginning. The raid was apparently sparked by a report from a freelance burglar who had earlier broken into Frederick's residence during the course of his work as a police informant who served as Fourth Amendment-evading eyes and ears for local law-enforcement.

That burglar reported seeing marijuana plants growing in Frederick's home. In fact, while the resident apparently did grow a few illegal plants at one time for his own use, the crop the burglar spotted appears to have been an unrelated and perfectly legal plant -- at least, police found only a small baggie of grass when they raided the place.

And raid they did. Ryan Frederick was in bed when he heard his door being knocked down. Fearing a return of the earlier burglars, he retrieved a gun and opened fire on his assailants, killing Shivers. During the trial, Frederick's neighbors testified that police made no audible announcement of their law-enforcement status, giving the man inside no warning of who he faced.

For his act of self defense, Frederick was convicted of voluntary manslaughter by a jury, which rejected stiffer charges, but also recommended a maximum sentence of ten years.

It's impossible to treat this incident outside the context of similar violent, paramilitary raids, which have resulted in dead people, dead pets, terrorized familes and growing divisions between good people and the law-enforcement officers who use such tactics. In the past few days, I've heard from Anita Culosi, whose son Salvatore, an optometrist, was gunned down by police in Fairfax County, Virginia, in the course of a SWAT raid over alleged sports gambing. I've also heard from Cheye Calvo, Mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, whose two dogs were killed during a misfired SWAT raid on his home.

Both Culosi and Calvo are pursuing justice in their respective cases, as well as reforms to ensure that nobody else has to go through what they've suffered.

Which brings us back to Ryan Frederick. Frederick was lucky; unlike Salvatore Culosi, he survived the ordeal. But whereas Officer Deval Bullock was suspended for three weeks without pay for killing Culosi -- a penalty many of his fellow officers found too harsh -- Frederick will likely spend years in prison for killing Shivers.

Treat people as if they're the equals of police officers? What a radical idea.

Here's a more radical idea: Curtail the use of D-Day-style SWAT raids for the enforcement of laws against nonviolent activity.

Original report here

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Appalling: New doubt over 'shaken baby' theory that sent dozens of women to jail

Medical arrogance again

A medical theory that has led to dozens of women being jailed for shaking babies to death has been called into question by a new study. Researchers found a combination of injuries, known as the triad, which doctors use to diagnose ‘abuse’, may occur naturally in babies. The evidence could now be used in a string of appeals – including the case of childminder Keran Henderson, currently serving three years for manslaughter over the death of 11-month-old Maeve Sheppard.

Medical experts argued that Maeve’s injuries suggested that she had been violently shaken. But Henderson, of Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, said the baby had a fit while she was changing her nappy. Her lawyer, leading child-abuse expert Bill Bache, said: ‘I’m already aware of this research and I’m absolutely sure it will be used in appeal cases. It is very likely we will use it in Keran Henderson’s appeal.’ Mr Bache said the evidence may also be used in at least four further cases.

Researchers looked at 55 babies who had died of brain haemorrhages either before birth or shortly afterwards and who had never been out of hospital. All had the symptoms normally consistent with a diagnosis of ‘shaken baby syndrome’ – bleeding on the brain and retinas, swelling of the brain and oxygen deficiency. But they could not have been exposed to violence because they were being cared for by medical professionals. The study concluded the symptoms are common in newborns and could be caused by genetic conditions or by a traumatic birth.

One of the lead researchers, Irene Scheimberg, from Bart’s and The London NHS Trust, said: ‘We may be sending to jail parents who lost their children through no fault of their own. Our research shows that haemorrhage of the part of the brain known as the sub dura is quite common in newborns. 'We also know that many of these bleeds resolve themselves – with no outward sign of damage in the first few weeks of life and these children grow up to live a normal life.’

But she said in some children the bleeding can continue and get worse – and they then show the symptoms of shaken baby syndrome. 'These are the children who the courts suspect have been harmed by their parents. To start to suggest that some babies have been harmed – without additional evidence – is dangerous,’ she warned.

The ‘triad’ of symptoms first came to public attention in 1998 in the US trial of British au pair Louise Woodward, convicted of killing baby Matthew Eappen. Around 200 cases of ‘shaken baby syndrome’ are diagnosed in Britain every year and many accused of abuse continue to protest their innocence.

Original report here

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

TX, Tenaha: Property seized by police called “highway piracy”

A two-decade-old state law that grants authorities the power to seize property used in a crime is wielded by some agencies against people who are never charged with, much less convicted, of a crime. Law enforcement authorities in this East Texas town of 1,000 people seized property from at least 140 motorists between 2006 and 2008, and, to date, filed criminal charges against fewer than half, according to a San Antonio Express-News review of court documents.

Virtually anything of value was up for grabs: cash, cell phones, personal jewelry, a pair of sneakers, and often, the very car that was being driven through town. Some affidavits filed by officers relied on the presence of seemingly innocuous property as the only evidence that a crime had occurred.

Linda Dorman, a great-grandmother from Akron, Ohio, had $4,000 in cash taken from her by local authorities when she was stopped while driving through town after visiting Houston in April 2007. Court records make no mention that anything illegal was found in her van and show no criminal charges filed in the case. She is still waiting for the return of what she calls “her life savings.” Dorman’s attorney, David Guillory, calls the roadside stops and seizures in Tenaha “highway piracy,” undertaken by a couple of law enforcement officers whose agencies get to keep most of what is seized. Guillory is suing officials in Tenaha and Shelby County on behalf of Dorman and nine other clients who were stripped of their property. All were African-Americans driving either rentals or vehicles with out-of-state plates.

Guillory alleges in the lawsuit that while his clients were detained, they were presented with an ultimatum: waive your rights to your property in exchange for a promise to be released and not be criminally charged. Guillory said most did as Dorman did, signing the waiver to avoid jail. The state’s asset seizure law doesn’t require that law enforcement agencies file criminal charges in civil forfeiture cases. It requires only a preponderance of evidence that the property was used in the commission of certain crimes, such as drug crimes, or bought with proceeds of those crimes. That’s a lesser burden than that required in a criminal case.

But Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said the state’s asset forfeiture law is being abused by enough jurisdictions across the state that he wants to rewrite major sections of it this year. “The idea that people lose their property but are never charged and never get it back, that’s theft as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Supporters tout the state’s forfeiture law, when used right, as an essential law enforcement tool, allowing state and local departments the ability to go after criminals using the criminals’ money. Law enforcement agencies last year captured tens of millions of dollars from such seizures statewide, according to records from Whitmire’s office. But in Tenaha, a town of chicken farms that hugs the Louisiana border, critics say being a black out-of-towner passing through with anything of value is almost evidence of a crime.

Tenaha Mayor George Bowers, 80, defended the seizures, saying they allowed a cash-poor city the means to add a second police car in a two-policeman town and help pay for a new police station. “It’s always helpful to have any kind of income to expand your police force,” Bowers said.

More here

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Friday, February 13, 2009

British Gas -- an obnoxious monstrosity -- might finally be made to take responsibility for its actions

There have been many complaints about their harassment of people who owe them nothing

A judge yesterday praised a woman for fighting back against British Gas after the company deluged her with bills and threatening letters for money she did not owe. Lisa Ferguson was also told she could pursue her David and Goliath-style legal campaign and sue the energy giant for harassment. She is seeking 10,000 pounds in damages for distress, anxiety and financial loss.

British Gas sent 47-year-old Mrs Ferguson a stream of bills for eight months after she switched her account to another supplier. The firm threatened to disconnect her supply, send in debt collectors, take her to court and have her credit rating blacklisted.

But the self-employed property investor, whose business would have faced ruin if she had been blacklisted, refused to lie down and has risked at least 70,000 pounds of her own money to pursue the case in court. She has already run up legal bills of 35,000. Three Appeal Court judges backed her two year legal campaign yesterday, ruling that British Gas could not stop her from trying to sue for harassment. They dismissed an appeal by the firm against a High Court decision last year that she could bring a case.

Lord Justice Jacob said: 'It is one of the glories of this country that every now and then one of its citizens is prepared to take a stand against the big battalions of government or industry. Such a person is Lisa Ferguson.'

Mrs Ferguson, from Bromley, South-East London, told the court that a simple decision to change gas suppliers in May 2006 had led to months of harassment from British Gas. She switched to German-owned npower but was sent a string of incorrect bills from British Gas asking for hundreds of pounds that she did not owe. When the businesswoman refused to pay and sent proof she had changed supplier, the energy giant repeatedly threatened to cut off her supply, start legal proceedings against her and report her to the credit rating agencies. It even sent one letter out on Christmas Day.

It took five months for the supplier to say sorry for its actions, but then five days after receiving its apology Mrs Ferguson was sent another wrong bill, for 253 pounds.

Lord Justice Jacob said the months of problems had left the businesswoman in 'a state of considerable anxiety'. He told the Civil Appeal Court in London: 'British Gas sent Ms Ferguson bill after bill and threatening letter after threatening letter. She wrote letter after letter pointing out that she had no account with British Gas. She made phone calls, with all the difficulty of getting through, but to no avail. 'Mainly her letters received no response. Sometimes she received apologies and assurances that the matter would be dealt with. But then the bills and threats continued. 'She complained to (consumer watchdog) Energy-Watch. She wrote to the chairman (of British Gas) twice with no response.

'She says she wasted many hours and, more importantly, was brought to a state of considerable anxiety, not knowing whether the gasman would come at any time to cut her off, whether she would have legal proceedings served upon her or whether she would be, or already had been, reported to a credit rating agency.'

British Gas denies its actions amounted to harassment. It claims that - because its bills and letters of demand were computer-generated - Mrs Ferguson cannot prove that the company knew she was suffering harassment. Lord Justice Jacob, sitting with two other judges, ruled Mrs Ferguson was entitled to take the case to a civil court trial. He said she had pledged to give a large part of any damages to charity.

'Ms Ferguson's principal object is to bring British Gas to book,' he said. 'In her words, they should "not simply blame information technology. They should instead start taking responsibility for the running of their company in a competent, honest and ethical manner".' He added: 'Real people are responsible for programming and entering material into the computer. 'Moreover, the threats and demands were to be read by a real person, not by a computer. A real person is likely to suffer real anxiety and distress if threatened in the way which Ms Ferguson was.'

Outside court, Mrs Ferguson refused to discuss the case for fear of prejudicing the harassment trial, which will be heard at a later date. But earlier she said: 'It's about principle. It's blighted my life for two years. They can't go around treating people like this.' Eight years ago a judge dismissed a case of harassment against British Gas brought by a customer in London. Pam Spooner, from Pimlico, had claimed the firm harassed her by pursuing her for unpaid bills for three years without providing an accurate bill.

Original report here

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Justice for Jon Burge’s victims?

U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald dominates the news these days for his arrest and probe of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. But the aggressive prosecutor is also pursuing a case that finally may bring justice to an infamous story of nearly two decades of police abuse in which more than 100 black men were gruesomely tortured.

Last October, Fitzgerald arrested and indicted Jon Burge, a retired Chicago police commander long accused of leading a corps of torturing cops. Fitzgerald charged Burge with obstruction of justice and perjury in a three-count indictment. At a news conference, he said Burge “broke the law when he was supposed to uphold it,” and he warned that others who lied about torture could eventually be charged.

According to several independent investigations, between 1972 and 1991, Burge and detectives under his command routinely tortured black males. A 2006 probe led by a court-appointed special prosecutor found that Burge and his men used torture techniques that included electro-shocks to the genitals, burning skin on radiators and mock suffocations with plastic bags. However, the statute of limitations prevented prosecution.

Fitzgerald’s indictment hurdles that legal barrier by charging Burge with perjury instead of actual torture. While answering questions in a 2003 lawsuit filed by one of the alleged victims, Burge denied using torture methods. The recent indictment cites those answers as evidence. Fitzgerald’s action justifies the strategy pushed by attorneys for many of Burge’s victims, who felt frustrated by the special prosecutor’s report that detailed torture, but provided a legal sanctuary.

The charges also echo a strategy urged by five Chicago City Council members in a Sept. 20, 2007, letter to Fitzgerald. “We believe that federal prosecution of Burge and his men is possible and that the five-year federal statue of limitations would not be a bar,” they wrote. “Burge and the others could be prosecuted for perjury, for obstruction of justice and for an ongoing conspiracy to cover up their torture scheme.”

Although Fitzgerald’s action indicates progress, members of the group Black People Against Police Torture are not mollified. “Burge is still free,” says Patricia Hill, executive director of the African American Police League.

Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan freed four death row inmates after he concluded their confessions were brutally and illegally coerced. More than 25 inmates remain imprisoned because of confessions extracted in Burge’s torture chambers.

The latest wrinkle in the saga is the news that the local Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), which represents thousands of officers below the rank of sergeant, voted to pay for Burge’s defense in his upcoming federal trial on perjury and obstruction of justice. G. Flint Taylor, an attorney for the Chicago-based People’s Law Office, who has pursued the Burge case for more than two decades, calls the FOP’s action “outrageous.” The notorious police union has long been an outspoken Burge supporter. In 1993, the group provoked controversy by attempting to enter a float honoring Burge into the South Side St. Patrick’s Day parade. By footing Burge’s legal bills, Taylor says, the FOP “continues a sordid and racist history for … the FOP of defending police torture in the city.”

But the police group itself is also being sued for its support of Burge. One current and one former Chicago cop, both African Americans, recently filed a lawsuit against the FOP for racial discrimination. They say the union refused to pay their legal fees, while at the same time funding Burge’s defense.

In the face of such plausible charges of police torture, it may seem odd that a group representing the forces of law and order would willingly associate with the torture ringleader. But Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police apparently has another motive. “The FOP was created in the 1960s by the South Side Irish to protect the fraternity of what was mostly Irish cops in those days,” explains Brendan Shiller, an attorney for one of the black police officers suing the group. “Although the police force has become a bit more diverse since then, there has been little change in its political power dynamics, and the FOP’s agenda reflects those persisting forces.”

Despite those complications, Fitzgerald’s aggressive indictment gives hope to many that Burge and his boys may finally face the music, even if the song is a bit out of tune. 

Original report here

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Update on the Calvo affair and other police abuses

There's no way to know how badly things would have gone at the Berwyn Heights, Maryland home of Cheye and Trinity Calvo if Amir Johnson hadn't shown up when he did. Johnson, a private on the local police force, was making his accustomed rounds in the neighborhood when he saw a swarm of heavily armed men laying siege to the Calvo home. Inside, Cheye and his mother-in-law, Georgia Porter, were being held face-down at gunpoint with their hands tied behind their backs. The Calvo family's two black Labradors, Chase and Payton, were dead from gunshot wounds. The assailants who killed the dogs were leaving bloody bootprints throughout the home.

This home invasion was, of course, a law enforcement operation, typical of "no-knock" drug raids conducted practically every day across the country. The most significant difference wasn't that Cheye Calvo was completely innocent of involvement with narcotics; innocent people are terrorized and killed by drug raiders all the time. The key distinction here is that Mr. Calvo is Mayor of Berywn Heights. That's one reason why Officer Johnson intervened to help.

"That guy in there is crazy," one of the stormtroopers complained to Johnson as he emerged from the crime scene (that is, the scene of a crime committed under color of state "authority"). "He says he's the Mayor of Berwyn Heights." "That is the Mayor of Berwyn Heights," Johnson told the assailant, a member of the Prince George's County police department (which has overlapping jurisdiction with the town police). Johnson quickly contacted Berwyn Heights Police Chief Patrick Murphy to tell him that a SWAT team had just laid waste to the Mayor's home and killed the family's dogs. Glancing around, he couldn't see any evidence of a search warrant. Inquiries about this omission were greeted with the assurance that the document was "en route."

Then, rather than continuing on his daily rounds, Officer Johnson stayed put, in order to make sure that Mayor Calvo and his mother-in-law weren't mysteriously hurt or killed. "Not that I don't trust the police," Johnson later commented to the Washington Post. "But I wanted to personally witness what [was] going to happen to my mayor, so if they [the SWAT team] say this guy went for a gun – and he didn't – it's not going to happen on my watch."

Roll that comment around in your mind for just a second. Officer Johnson stayed behind to make sure his mayor wasn't murdered by his fellow police officers. A few days later, long after the raiders failed to find so much as a molecule of evidence to justify their criminal assault on the Calvo home, Chief Murphy publicly expressed exactly the same sentiments. Addressing a rally on behalf of the victims, Murphy pointed out that the SWAT team declined to notify him about the impending raid, which would have permitted the Chief to help them arrange a peaceful, orderly search of the property.

"I never imagined, when I set out to protect people from the crooks and criminals, that I would have to protect them from fellow police officers," Murphy regretfully declared. Granted, it's entirely unfair to consolidate cops and crooks into one undifferentiated group. Police are far more dangerous to innocent people.

Prior to the assault on the Calvo family last July 29, narcotics investigators had discovered that local drug dealers had been shipping drug-laden packages to the addresses of innocent people and then intercepting the packages before the residents picked them up. In mimicry of that tactic, drug investigators deposited a package on the Calvo family's front step, and then sent in a SWAT team to collect it.

Prince George's County Police officials later maintained that the forcible entry – the use of a battering ram to break down the door, followed by the cuffing of Calvo and his mother-in-law, Georgia – was "justified" because Georgia let out a scream when she saw masked, heavily armed men scurrying across the front lawn. Apparently, being terrified when confronted by state thugs employing terrorist tactics justifies the use of those tactics. In a variation on that rationale, police officials insisted that killing the dogs was the proper course of action because the labs "engaged" the SWAT team by barking at them.

There's no evidence that either dog bit or otherwise harmed or threatened the police; in fact, one of them was shot from behind, which would make it terribly unlikely that the dog had "engaged" the SWAT team. A thorough inspection of the home turned up only one item worth confiscating: The same box of marijuana the narcotics officers had planted on the Calvo family's doorstep. Nobody involved in ordering or executing the raid has been fired, sanctioned, or punished in any way. Georgia continues to show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The Calvo family lost their dogs, and had to spend countless hours scrubbing the bloodstains from their home.

After having their lives thrown into violent disarray by the raid, Cheye and Trinity – with the help of a very astute attorney – had to take pre-emptive measures to protect their reputations following the raid. They got no help at all from the Prince George's County Police. Displaying the familiar mixture of arrogance and contempt that suppurates from police bureaucrats in such circumstances, Chief Melvin C. High and Sheriff Michael Jackson (no, really) refused to apologize to the Calvo family or publicly exonerate them after the police had apprehended the people responsible for the drug package scheme.

As Calvo points out, "police can do what they did to us with impunity. There are no consequences, not for them." But once again, it could have been immeasurably worse. Imagine how the same incident might have turned out had Cheye Calvo not been the mayor, and had Officer Johnson not been willing to keep the SWAT team under surveillance. Johnson himself points out that Calvo could conceivably have been murdered by the uniformed marauders as a way of justifying the raid after the fact. Another possibility is that "evidence" could have easily been "discovered" to justify the seizure of the Calvo family's home for the purpose of forfeiture – which is the entire purpose of such raids in the first place.

This year, Prince George's County expects to spend $2.5 million collected last year through drug-related forfeiture. Drug enforcement raids of the kind that terrorized the Calvo family have no documentable impact on the availability of drugs. They do, however, help generate revenue for local governments. Here's how the racket functions:

Special enforcement units round up small-caliber drug users or dealers for use as informants and provocateurs; these "reliable informants" then provide tips that are used to justify no-knock raids on people identified as drug dealers. This leads to the seizure of cash or valuable assets that can be stolen in the name of "civil asset forfeiture," thereby slopping tax-feeder troughs that may start running low as the current depression unfolds.

Maryland, one of the most government-afflicted states in the Union, has likewise been plagued with this variety of corrupt, predatory "drug enforcement." Just recently, the wire services carried news of a lawsuit filed by Daryl A. Martin, a 35-year-old football coach who was accosted on the streets of Baltimore by an "elite" Special Enforcement Team (SET) of the notorious Baltimore Police Department.

Martin recalls that he was on the way to a tailor shop when he was pulled over and swarmed by several police officers, who – without probable cause or even bothering to supply a reason – searched his car and then subjected him to what amounted to a public strip search. After frisking Martin's buttocks and genitals through his clothing – while making lewd and disgusting comments – Officer Shakil Moss reportedly forced Martin to strip below the waist, then, after putting on a clear plastic glove, performed a body cavity search in front of a stunned crown of onlookers. Martin, understandably, describes the experience as akin to being raped.

"I think this group of officers randomly pulled over and searched dozens of people a day," comments Martin's attorney, Steven D. Silverman. "If they found something, they altered the statement of charges to make [the search] appear constitutional. If they found nothing, they would send you on your way." Martin's suit against the Baltimore PD is the second to be filed in the wake of the now-disbanded SET's rampage.

Even before the suits were filed and the team was closed down, dozens of cases built on evidence and testimony provided by the SET were thrown out. But so far, none of the officers has been cashiered from the force; instead, they were simply handed new assignments. While relatively uncommon, incidents of this kind are not aberrations; they are the logical, predictable result of the incentive schedule produced by the Regime's "War on Drugs."

Conducting drug raids is immensely lucrative and (official propaganda notwithstanding) exceptionally low-risk. And there are no significant negative career repercussions for most police officers who make mistakes – even when they involve well-respected civic officials like Cheye Calvo. If the Anointed One's "stimulus package" passes intact, we're likely to see a huge escalation in officially sanctioned criminal violence of the kind suffered by Daryl Martin and the Calvo family.

Obama's $900 billion wad of socialist boodle includes $3 billion for the federal Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, as well as another $1 billion to revive the Clinton administration's Community Oriented Policing (COPS) program. Both of those initiatives will expand federal subsidies of – and, thereby, federal control over – "local" law enforcement, thereby further diminishing whatever remains of local accountability. The Byrne Grant program is the deadlier of those two subsidies, not merely because it's significantly larger but also because its raison d'ĂȘtre is to fund counter-narcotics programs.

This means more money for criminal gangs in uniform like Baltimore's Special Enforcement Team, or the Campbell County, Tennessee outfit that beat and tortured a small-time drug dealer for several hours to force him to sign a "consent" warrant for the search of his home. It means more money for tax-funded snitches, and for no-knock SWAT raids that will leave innocent people terrified or dead...

Byrne funds are disbursed as block grants to the states, which means that they are distributed at the discretion of state governments. Every effort is made to keep this process opaque by burying the specific funding mechanisms as deeply as possible. The United States Conference of Mayors "Main Street Economic Recovery" Plan offers some useful clues: This wish list of "infrastructure" and "job-building" expenditures contains Byrne Grant requests from cities such as Sunnyvale, California; Hialeah, Florida; Athens, Georgia; Elizabeth, New Jersey; Albany, New York; and Akron, Ohio. Residents of those cities should make preparations for a spike in drug-related police violence.

Although the rest of us may not have the benefit of advance warning, it will be easy to deduce where the Byrne Grant funds are flowing. We'll just follow the trail of blood.

Original report here

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

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Australia: Thicko police goons kill unresisting teenager

A grieving mother has accused police of putting their own lives before her son's after he was run over and killed while lying handcuffed on a busy Ipswich road. About 11pm on Saturday, Andrew Bornen, 16, was arrested by police following a complaint of a man wielding a machete in Albion St, Brassall. Although Bornen was not armed when the plainclothes officers approached him, police said the teenager was "obviously aggressive". Local residents said they were awoken by police shouting to a youth to "get down on the ground" but yesterday officers insisted Bornen lay on the road himself. "This young person made his own choice to lie down on the road once a Taser was presented to him," Deputy Commissioner Ian Stewart said.

As he lay face-down and handcuffed on Albion St, police tried to flag down an approaching car but the young woman driver failed to stop and struck the teenager. He suffered massive head injuries and was pronounced dead at Ipswich General Hospital.

Yesterday his devastated family was struggling to understand how their "soft-hearted, loving son" could die in such a tragic way. "I blame the police for my son's passing away. He was left on the road to die," said his mother, Helen Bornen, who was being supported by husband Joe and their seven other children. "If police had time to get out of the way, why couldn't they have moved him?"

She said the family did not know why he was out at that time of the night and believed he may have been chasing a burglar from the house. "We don't even own a machete but if he was out with a baseball bat it would have been for a good reason," she said. Sister Amanda said she and her brother were inseparable.

Mrs Dornan said the police investigator who contacted the family had described the officers involved as "irresponsible and inexperienced". The Ethical Standards Command is investigating the death

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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

Monday, February 09, 2009

Goons raid innocent man, assault him and shoot his dog

It could happen to YOU!

After a Howard County police raid on his house three weeks ago, Mike Hasenei says he has a sprained wrist, a dead dog, a bullet hole in his bed and a 12-year-old daughter who is scared every time she hears a knock on the door. Hasenei, 39, of the 6600 block of Deep Run Parkway, Elkridge, said he was sleeping shortly after 9 p.m. Jan. 15 when a police tactical team kicked in the door to his house.

He woke up and walked into his living room to find it swarming with officers, he said. When he asked what was going on, he was ordered to get on the ground, and when he asked again, he said, he was knocked to the ground and told he was under arrest.

Police then searched his house, looking for items stolen from two marked police cars that were reported broken into on Jan. 14 in the Elkridge community of Mayfield, according to Hasenei, who said he works as a computer analyst at Marriott International.

During the raid, Hasenei said, police shot his Australian cattle dog, in his bedroom.

Earlier that night, police also raided the nearby house of his stepson, Michael Leon Smith Jr., and turned up nothing, Hasenei said.

Police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn confirmed the raid on Hasenei's house, noting that police had a search warrant signed by a judge. Llewellyn would not confirm whether the raid was related to the items stolen from police vehicles on Jan. 14, citing an ongoing investigation.

No one was arrested in the raid, she said, and no arrests have been made relating to the thefts from the police cars, which she said police are still investigating. Llewellyn confirmed the dog shooting, but said the dog charged police, forcing them to shoot it.

Llewellyn said police had reason to believe a gun was in the residence, which was why they did not knock. A copy of the warrant provided by Hasenei listed items to be seized, including a Sig Sauer Rifle and three ammunition magazines for the rifle, as well as a police gear bag, county police field procedures manual and guide, and more police-related items. Llewellyn added that when police have reason to believe there might be firearms in a residence, they take precautions to ensure the safety of the officers and anyone inside the house. "This often includes the use of the tactical team, which is specially trained to deal with potentially dangerous situations," she said.

Llewellyn confirmed Hasenei filed a complaint about the incident with the Howard County Police Department and that police are investigating. She said no officers had been placed on any kind of administrative duty following the complaint. She declined to comment on whether any items were seized in the raid on Hasenei's house, citing an ongoing investigation.

At Hasenei's house last week, the door to his daughter's room was off its hinges -- a result of the police raid, he said -- and Hasenei's hand was wrapped in a bandage because, he said, it was sprained when policed cuffed his hands too tightly. "They looked through everything," Hasenei said of the raid. "They didn't find a single thing. I knew they wouldn't because we don't commit crimes."

What appeared to be a bullet hole was visible in a mattress in his bedroom, where, Hasenei said, police shot his dog, and a bloody sheet was stored in the front deck of his home. "They shot three times. Two hit the dog, one hit the bed," he said.

When police raided his house, Hasenei said, they produced a search warrant relating to Hasenei's stepson. But Hasenei said Smith has not lived at the address for years. Smith, 20, also of Deep Run Parkway, said police also raided his house that night, but did not find anything. He said police also pushed him to the ground during the raid. "I stay in my house and keep to myself," Smith said. Smith said he does not have a driver's license. He said his state-issued identity card, however, lists his stepfather's address as his home.

Llewellyn declined to comment on any raid on Smith's house, saying only that multiple warrants had been served that night.

Hasenei said he has contacted a lawyer and plans to file a lawsuit. His lawyer did not return a call seeking comment.

Police Chief William McMahon, through Llewellyn, declined to comment on the raid.

Original report here

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

Sunday, February 08, 2009

British tennis star tells of nightmare over rape allegation in US

Only the unusual fact that he supplied no booze for his party saved him

A promising young star of British tennis has told of his nightmare ordeal after being falsely accused of rape in America’s Deep South. Chris Doerr says he contemplated suicide after he was locked up with drug-dealers and killers and told he faced a life sentence in Mississippi’s notoriously brutal jail system. The 21-year-old Londoner feared his life was all but over after falling foul of laws in the Bible Belt that mean a girl only has to claim she had sex after a man got her drunk to bring a rape charge.

Chris was arrested just two days after sleeping with the 20-year-old brunette at a party at Mississippi State University, where he is studying under a sports sponsorship. Although there was no suggestion he had used force, he was locked up almost immediately. ‘When they told me I could go to prison for life, I considered suicide,’ Chris said. ‘I got a Facebook message saying, “I hope you rot in jail and get raped in jail.” I knew that kind of thing happened in Mississippi. ‘I thought about slitting my wrists and also about how I could get my hands on a gun, but I just had to fight to clear my name for my parents’ sake.’

He recalled how he willed himself not to cry as he sat on the metal bunk in his windowless cell. ‘I’d seen films like The Shawshank Redemption and knew I shouldn’t show any weakness.’ Of the accusations, Chris said: ‘The most terrible thing about this is that it could happen to any guy. These lies can ruin your life. ‘My perception of rape was force, or having sex with a girl when she was unconscious. I had no idea that a girl can have you arrested if she claims she had sex after you got her intoxicated.

‘Mississippi is old-fashioned compared to London. One of my friends is waiting until his wedding night to have sex. But a lot of girls say they’re virgins, when they obviously are not. ‘I think the girl I slept with told a little lie to her friends and it grew from there,’ he said.

Chris’s nightmare began in November at a party in the flat he shared with another student tennis player and two former US Marines in the deeply conservative city of Starkville. I was 20 at the time,’ he said. ‘The laws here say you have to be 21 to drink. No one takes that seriously on campus but we didn’t have enough money for alcohol, so we sent out texts saying BYOB – bring your own beer. ‘There were about 50 people and we were playing drinking games, but I didn’t get hammered. The girl arrived with two guys. My roommate said they brought beer and maybe vodka.

‘She started flirting with me and she was by my side all night. I had my arm around her and we were kissing. She was quite nice looking. She knew I was a tennis player and laughed at my jokes. Then she asked if she could sleep with me. It’s rarely in Mississippi that girls say that to a guy. But she was extremely forward. ‘When we had finished, she cuddled against me and fell asleep. I woke up at about eleven the next morning and she had gone.’

About two hours later, a sheriff’s deputy arrived at his flat. ‘He asked, “Did you sleep with a girl last night?’’ I thought that was a strange question. But I said yes,’ Chris recalled. ‘He said she was claiming she was raped, and asked me to go to the station for questioning. I was freaked out, but to me rape meant violence, holding a girl down, and I would never, ever do anything like that. I had nothing to hide so I gave him a statement. ‘The first thing I did when I got home was text my parents. I told them there was nothing to worry about, but my dad said he was going to fly over anyway.’

Chris was arrested the following afternoon. His hands were manacled and he was taken to jail, where he was forced to wear the customary prisoners’ orange jumpsuit. He was strip-searched by a female nurse, who plucked his hair for DNA testing.

The police had two affidavits. One, signed by the girl’s father, charged that Chris had ‘wilfully, unlawfully and knowingly made available beer’ to the girl. The other, signed by the girl, claimed the sex was ‘not...forcible [but] without her consent’. In Mississippi, anyone can press criminal charges without needing the support of law enforcement officials. So even when the authorities thought Chris had no case to answer, he was still dragged through the courts, while the local newspaper named him and gave his address.

Jim Waide, a civil rights lawyer who agreed to represent Chris, said the local system ‘results in many miscarriages of justice, which greatly harm reputations’. After Chris spent the night in jail, his father Richard arrived from his home in Petts Wood, South London, to bail him out. The pair wept as they embraced outside the prison. ‘It was like being hit with a bullet when I heard the charges,’ said Richard, 54. ‘But I knew Chris would never do anything like this.’

Richard – a former newspaper production manager who became a minicab driver after being made redundant – began to amass statements from students who were at the party. ‘They said the girl was chasing my son and he had texts which proved he didn’t provide any alcohol.’

At a preliminary hearing, the prosecutor advised the judge to dismiss the charges because of a lack of evidence. But the girl had a second chance: if a grand jury, sitting in secret, believed her, Chris still would have to face trial. But 11 days ago, shortly before his 21st birthday, he learned he would not be indicted. Now Chris – once ranked No11 in English tennis – is determined to finish his four-year degree in journalism and continue life in America. ‘The opportunities are out there,’ he said. ‘I’d like to move to Florida to coach.’

His hands trembled, however, as he confided he has sought the help of a counsellor to try to deal with the fear and the strain. ‘One night four men knocked on my door, saying they wanted me. My ex-Marine flat mates told them they had to leave, but I get very paranoid, thinking that at any moment someone could bust in and blow my head off. ‘I worry there will always be a stain on my reputation and that life will never be normal again. I don’t know when I will date again. How can I ever trust anyone?’

Original report here

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

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Maybe shooting a politician’s dogs isn’t such a great idea

The excruciating, blood-soaked ordeal suffered last summer by Cheye Calvo, his wife, Trinity Tomsic, and Trinity's mother, Georgia Porter at the hands of out-of-control law-enforcement officers received the in-depth treatment it deserves this past Sunday in the Washington Post. If April Witt's story of an utterly pointless marijuana raid that resulted in the deaths of two dogs doesn't make your blood boil, you're either bloodless, or part of the problem of paramilitary law-enforcement. But will this be the case that finally convinces Americans the problem needs to be addressed before matters get even worse?

Without going into detail -- the Washington Post story does that, and you need to read it -- Calvo was targeted because Prince George's County police had intercepted a box of marijuana addressed to his home. Even though police knew that smugglers often pick addresses at random, intending to divert the shipment before it ever arrives, they used the marijuana -- which would have been a non-violent transgression even if it belonged to Calvo -- as a pretext for a violent raid. Calvo's dogs, Payton and Chase, were killed and his family terrorized before county police -- who never checked with their local counterparts -- conceded that they might have made an error.

Calvo's story isn't unique. People have been terrorized, injured and killed in similar raids across the country. Salvatore Culosi was killed during a SWAT raid over sports gambling, Ryan Frederick is about to discover his fate after fatally shooting a police officer in a panic as people who turned out to be police broke down his door while investigating charges that he was growing marijuana. Ninety-two-year-old Kathryn Johnston was murdered by uniformed raiders who planted drugs in her house after the fact to conceal their error. All too many cases like this were documented in Radley Balko's book, Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America. The Cato Institute maintains an interactive map of similar incidents on the Web.

But Cheye Calvo is the mayor of his town of Berwyn Heights, he's squeaky clean, an extremely able public speaker who is fighting mad over the incident, and the raid occurred almost within spitting distance of the nation's capital, within the orbit of major media. So Cheye Calvo is, for the moment, the poster child for reforming law-enforcement tactics. And reform is needed. Take, for example, this account of the initial moments of the raid from Witt's story.
It was past 7 p.m., but late sun still streamed through the large kitchen window as Georgia stood at the stove stirring her simmering tomato-artichoke sauce. Georgia turned, catching a glimpse of something out the window that sent a jolt of fear through her. Hooded, armed men, dressed in black, were fanning across the back yard. Still more men, crouching low, moved around the side of the house. Georgia's mind raced to make sense of the strange tableau. Was someone playing an elaborate practical joke?

One of the men spotted Georgia gaping out the window. He lifted his high-powered assault rifle and pointed it directly at her, she recalled. Georgia -- still clutching her wooden spoon -- threw both hands up in the air and screamed. "Cheye, I think it's SWAT!"

Cheye was sitting on the edge of his bed in his boxers. He was just about to put on his black dress socks, when he heard Georgia scream something that made absolutely no sense. He looked out a bedroom window to see armed, masked men running. He was still wondering if they were home invaders when he heard his front door shatter.

In the kitchen, Georgia spun to face the sound of the splintering door. Men in black burst through the front door and into the living room.

Georgia stood trembling in front of the kitchen stove. Payton, who had been stretched out in a corner of the living room farthest from the front door, his head resting near the threshold to the kitchen "turned toward the front door when I turned," Georgia recalled. "He didn't have time to do anything else." Almost instantly, men in black ran forward and shot Payton in the face, Georgia said. "They kept shooting," she recalled. "I didn't know how many times they shot Payton because there was so much gunfire."

"Down on the ground!" Georgia recalled someone screaming at her. She was too terrified to move.

Chase, always timid even when there was nothing to fear, did what he did best -- he ran. He ran away from the men in black, zipped past Georgia at the stove, Georgia recalled. The screaming, running men followed Chase, shooting as he tried escaping into the dining room, Georgia said. She watched in horror as men in black rushed the dining room from all directions. "I could hear Chase whimpering," Georgia said. Then she heard someone shoot at Chase again, she said.

Note that this raid took place during an investigation into the smuggling of 32 pounds of marijuana. There's no suspicion of crimes against people or property. There's no talk of the threats against police or the presence of weapons. Yet police stormed in like it was D-Day with guns blazing. Beloved animals died. People could have died, as they have elsewhere.

Is it that hard to knock on the door, which is still, in this country, supposed to be the default means of serving search warrants?

Apparently it is. In many places in the country, including Prince George's County, most drug warrants are served with a sound of splintering wood and a rush of armed and armored members of SWAT. Is it any surpise that the practice comes with a body count?

The natural reaction for many innocent people, when they are under attack, is to fight back. Kathryn Johnston opened fire, so did Ryan Frederick, so did Vang Khang, and so did Cory Maye. All too often, police point to these incidents of people resisting armed assault as further evidence that SWAT needs to be deployed for every interaction with the public.

But here's the unpleasant truth: People have the moral right to defend themselves against violent attack, even if their attackers are wearing uniforms. The level of force used in these raid is unjustifiable, and the potential for injury or death at the hands of the raiders is all too real. There is no moral obligation on anybody's part, no matter what the law says, to submit to brutal treatment. It would have been unwise for Cheye Calvo to shoot police officers as they stormed into his home, but he would have been perfectly justified in doing so.

And if his neighors, seeing his distress, had rallied to his support with shotguns in hand, they would have been in the right, too.

A badge is not, and cannot be, a license to abuse and kill. If the law says otherwise, than the law becomes illegitimate. Really. The natural right to protect yourself and your loved ones trumps any vote ever taken by a legislative body.

It doesn't need to come to this. People shouldn't have to rely on the gun in the nightstand as a deterrent against those who are supposed to be protectors.

One of the people who came to Calvo's assistance during and after the raid was Berwyn Heights Officer Amir Johnson. Troubled by what he saw, he parked himself in the middle, saying, "I wanted to personally witness what is going to happen to my mayor, so if they try to say this guy went for a gun -- and he didn't -- it's not going to happen on my watch."

Even the police know the situation is out of control, and the good ones are starting to keep at least an occasional watch on the stormtroopers.

But an Officer Johnson here and there won't keep peaceful people's doors on their hinges, or keep humans and animals from ending up in pools of their own blood. That will have to come from a change in policy and culture at the nation's police departments.

Police and politicians can do that on their own, or they can wait for the day when the neighbors of a future Cheye Calvo take matters into their own hands.

Original report here

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