Friday, December 31, 2010

Massachusetts Cop Was Killed by Career Criminal Out on Parole Despite Three Life Sentences

Massachusetts bleeding hearts at work. Every member of the parole board should be fired

The Massachusetts Parole Board is under scrutiny after a local police officer was killed by a career criminal who was released despite serving a term of three concurrent life sentences. Dominic Cinelli was serving time for shooting a security guard during an armed robbery to feed his heroin addiction when he told the board in November 2008 that he was a changed man, the Boston Globe reported.

Four months later the board unanimously voted to free Cinelli, but police say the 57-year-old returned to his ugly ways Sunday, fatally shooting Woburn police officer John Maguire, 60, while robbing a Kohl's department store. Cinelli also died in the shootout.

But critics say Cinelli isn't the only person to blame for Maguire's death. "I don't know how any member of the Parole Board justifies that," Laurie Myers, president of Community Voices, a Chelmsford-based nonprofit that advocates on behalf of crime victims, told the Globe. "He shouldn't have been out, and now there's another person dead."

Cinelli had a lengthy rap sheet filled with armed robberies, assaults and other offenses, had been serving three life sentences since 1976, and had chronic disciplinary problems while in prison including two escapes during which he committed crimes, the Globe reported.

Still, he won the board over by saying the deaths in the family, including his mother's, and drug counseling changed him, the paper reported.

"When you hear that somebody who had been serving three life sentences is released on parole and commits another violent crime that causes the death of a police officer, that causes us great concern," Mark K. Leahy, president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and the Northborough police chief told the Globe.

John Grossman, the state's undersecretary of public safety and security, told the Globe that Gov. Deval Patrick ordered the Parole Board to review the decision.

"We're doing a complete look at what happened, and whatever amount of time it takes to do it right, we're going to take," he said.

Original report here

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Prison for a non-crime?

Cars and pickups fill the parking lot and spill onto the street near the community center on a rainy December evening. Inside, a local band, Jam Sandwich, wraps up a set with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird,’’ while folks sip beer, watch football, and enjoy a barbecue buffet, complete with a roasted pig.

The atmosphere is upbeat. The occasion is somber. More than 100 residents of this rural town in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region have come to support a popular native son, Ward Bird.

Bird, however, a 49-year-old family farmer, is 20 miles away. He sits in the Carroll County House of Corrections, jailed since November for an offense he insists he did not commit. His case has galvanized the region, with widespread sentiment that the punishment does not fit the crime — if the crime even happened.

Three and a half years ago, in a profanity-laced tirade, Bird warned a stranger who said she was lost to get off his land, 60 mountainside acres that are off the grid and plastered with “No Trespassing,’’ “Keep Out,’’ and “Private Property’’ signs. After his arrest, Christine Harris, then of Salem, N.H., testified that Bird waved a gun at her. He said the Sig-Sauer .45-caliber handgun remained in his holster. There were no witnesses to the confrontation at the home Bird shares with his wife, Virginia, and their four children.

Bird was initially charged with felony reckless conduct. But after a mistrial in 2007, Carroll County District Attorney Robin Gordon added a charge of felony criminal threatening, a move Bird supporters say smacked of piling on. After a second three-day trial in 2008, Bird was acquitted of reckless conduct but convicted of the criminal threatening charge, which carries a mandatory term of three to six years. He was incarcerated in November after the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld his conviction.

The case has energized the Lakes Region around two values its people hold dear — gun rights and property rights — and educated them about a third, less familiar, issue: mandatory sentencing. For all the skepticism over whether Bird actually waved his gun, his supporters are outraged at the severity of his sentence.

As the case has dragged out, Bird has become a modern-day folk hero. “This is not about just one man. This is about all of us,’’ said Sonia Voegtlin, a machinist from Sandwich, N.H., who has never met Bird and had never protested before joining a pro-Bird rally at a Manchester mall last weekend.

“What does it say on our license plate? ‘Live free or die.’ We don’t make motorcyclists wear helmets. We don’t make adults wear seat belts. New Hampshire prides itself on individual freedom. This is not Maine. This is not Massachusetts. This is New Hampshire. This has struck a nerve in all of us. It’s so wrong,’’ she said.

Since Bird was incarcerated, his supporters have staged rallies every weekend, standing at crowded intersections along Route 25 with “Free Ward Bird’’ posters. Businesses along the road have posted signs of support (one reads: “Your wife called. She said to free Ward Bird’’) and sell T-shirts, buttons, and wristbands.

Those who know Bird talk of a man who was painstakingly careful with guns, notwithstanding a $480 fine in 2002 for target shooting in a residential area. They describe a lifelong resident who led a Boy Scout troop, ran Picnic Rock Farms in Meredith, worshiped at the local Congregational church, and helped refurbish historic buildings in town.

His daughter Emily helped launch a Facebook page that resulted in more than 1,500 messages of support from across the country and radio interviews as far away as Montana and Oregon. A website,, keeps supporters up to date on his case and apprised of events, such as last weekend’s. A caravan of more than 30 cars, sport utility vehicles, and pickup trucks left the Irving station in Moultonborough and rendezvoused near a Manchester mall filled with holiday shoppers. They held signs with slogans such as, “Good Man, Bad Law, Ugly Sentence.’’

From Bird’s point of view, though, his case is also a matter of principle. “The gun rights and property rights are important — this touches on that, to be sure,’’ Bird said in a phone interview. “But it’s about the truth. It’s about how someone can make a claim against you and the powers that be can take it at face value when she is a proven liar. This could happen to anybody, not just me. And people are awakening to that.’’

Bird’s supporters have a lot of questions about his case. They want to know why police didn’t charge Harris with trespassing when she refused to leave his property. They want to know why police believed her version when she had had her own run-ins with the law — including a 2002 felony conviction for writing a bad check and, after the incident at Bird’s home, a conviction on five counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty. (Harris, 57, who appealed the animal cruelty conviction and is scheduled to go to trial in January, has moved to South Carolina and could not be reached for comment.)

Gordon, the district attorney, refused to talk to the Globe about the case. But in a recent television interview she said Bird’s actions warranted the charges. “By him brandishing and waving a gun around at her, she was put in fear of imminent bodily harm,’’ she said.

Last month, facing her first serious election challenge since 1998, Gordon lost to Republican Thomas E. Dewhurst III. Moultonborough voted nearly 2 to 1 against her. “We got her out of there,’’ said Robert Holopainen, a Bird supporter who helps run the Irving service station. “That woman didn’t like two things: men and guns.’’

Bird chose not to testify in his defense, a decision he said he now regrets. His attorneys did not call a single defense witness, banking that the jury would not believe Harris.

No one but Bird and Harris know exactly what happened that March afternoon on Yukon Trail. But even the sentencing judge argued that the punishment does not fit the crime. “If I had sentencing discretion, an appropriate sentence would be 12 months in the Carroll County House of Corrections,’’ Judge Steven Houran said in court, “with immediate work release, and with the balance after six months to be served on home confinement, with electronic monitoring and then after that a period of two years’ probation.’’

The fallout from the Bird case is visible all over this town on the north shore of Lake Winnipesaukee, a popular summer tourist destination with roughly 5,000 year-round residents. Scott Kinmond, the police chief at the time of the incident, said he sympathizes with the Birds but regrets that the police department has been tarred by the case.

“They felt by arresting him that we thought Ward Bird was guilty,’’ Kinmond said. “The community is divided on this. I’ve known him for 20 years. He’s a good guy in the community. Our daughters worked together at Skelly’s [a local convenience store]. His kids feel they don’t have their dad because of the actions we took. But we did our job.’’

This all could have been avoided if Bird had taken a plea deal that would have reduced the initial charge to a misdemeanor and eliminated the possibility of incarceration. Presented with that option in the lobby of the courthouse, Bird’s wife said her husband pointed to a nearby American flag and said, “I am a citizen of the United States. I have rights. I am not pleading.’’

So Bird sits in jail, inundated with letters from his friends and supporters. He is allowed visitors for one hour, twice a week. One visit is reserved for Emily, a freshman at the University of New Hampshire. The other is for his wife and the couple’s three other children, ages 16, 13, and 10. “If I had taken that plea, none of this would be happening, and it is important to get the word out,’’ Bird said in the phone interview. “It was a tough decision to make, but I was offered the opportunity to lie, and I wouldn’t do it.’’

Bird’s lawyers have filed the necessary paperwork for a pardon hearing. On Dec. 17, the incoming speaker of New Hampshire’s House of Representatives presented Governor John Lynch with a letter — signed by 117 members of the House — requesting Bird’s release by Christmas. That didn’t happen.

The attorney general’s office, which investigates pardon requests, said it hopes to have its work done and presented to the governor and Executive Council by March. They will decide whether Bird’s case warrants a hearing.

Recent history is not in his favor. The attorney general’s office said it receives roughly 20 pardon requests a year. Since Lynch took office in 2005, only two pardon hearings have been granted. In the first, the pardon was denied. In the second, the request was tabled.

“Yes, it’s a flawed system,’’ Bird said. “But it’s the only one we have. We need to make changes, but there is no solid answer other than it’s what we have and we are all in this together.’’

Original report here

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

They all look the same: How eyewitness ID of blacks can cause problems

When Jennifer Thompson-Cannino learned that the man she had accused of raping her had been found innocent through DNA evidence, "my reaction was utter disbelief," she said.

Ms. Thompson-Cannino, who is white, had been a college student in North Carolina when she was attacked in 1984, and her African-American rapist had spent more than 20 minutes with her.

"I studied every single detail on his face," she said. "I was going to make sure he was going to be put in prison." Later, after looking at suspect photos and viewing a lineup, "I was confident I had picked the right guy, and he was going to jail, and if there was a death penalty, I would be there to pull the plug."

Based largely on her emphatic testimony, Ronald Cotton was convicted and spent 11 years in prison, until DNA showed that another convict named Bobby Poole had actually raped her.

As she tried to grapple with this new information, Ms. Thompson-Cannino thought that when police showed her a photo of Mr. Poole, "my mind would immediately say, 'Oh my God, I was wrong.' "

"But Bobby Poole's picture didn't have that impact on me at all. And when he didn't look familiar, I just thought I had failed everyone, and that I was a terrible human being."

But she wasn't a failure. She was just normal. Study after study has shown that all of us have difficulty recognizing individuals from other racial or ethnic groups, and that the phenomenon, known as the cross-race effect, is even worse for people in a majority population group.

White Americans have trouble recognizing black Americans. White French people have trouble recognizing Arab immigrants. Chinese people have trouble recognizing Japanese people.

The story of Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton, both 48, is remarkable because they have become close friends over the last 15 years. They make public appearances together to talk about the flaws with eyewitness testimony, and last year, they co-wrote a book, "Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption" (St. Martin's Press).

Over that period, Ms. Thompson-Cannino said she has learned how it was possible for her brain to make the mistakes that led her to identify the wrong man as her rapist.

She believes the cross-race effect was one of those mental errors. "Because of my public speaking, I'm now in contact with more races than most white women I know," she said in an interview this month, "but I don't think my ability to discriminate among black faces has gotten any better."

Mr. Cotton also thinks the cross-race effect helped put him behind bars. To him, he and Mr. Poole don't look anything alike. "But about 90 percent of white people think all black people look alike. It's sad but it's true," he said in an interview.

The story of these two unlikely friends has become fairly well known, but what people may not realize is how common these kinds of mistakes are. Of the first 239 people exonerated of their crimes through DNA evidence, 179 -- about three-quarters -- had been convicted based on inaccurate eyewitness identification, according to the Innocence Project in New York City.

And of those cases, about four out of 10 involved cross-race misidentifications.

The struggle to recognize other-race faces begins within the first year of life as part of the natural developmental process. Olivier Pascalis, an infant researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, has done studies showing that 3-month old infants can tell different monkey faces apart, but can no longer do so by the age of 9 months.

In another study, he showed that English and Chinese infants were equally good at 3 and 6 months in discriminating between faces of the opposite race, but "Chinese infants at 9 months of age were showing discrimination only for Chinese faces, and vice-versa."

He is not sure exactly why that happens, but it seems clear that we are designed to start focusing in on the most prevalent parts of our environment at a young age. The same thing happens with language, he noted. Infants are born with the ability to hear the sounds of any language around them, but soon begin to home in on their native tongue.

While most experts believe that the cross-race effect is a natural part of human development, that doesn't make it any less of a problem in the criminal justice system in America, says Christian Meissner, a program director in law and social sciences at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va.

American courts rely more heavily on eyewitness identifications to convict defendants than in several other nations, he said, and "we also know that whites are overrepresented as victims and witnesses and blacks are overrepresented as defendants" in criminal cases.

In an interview last month in Virginia, Dr. Meissner emphasized that racial prejudice is not the driving force in our struggle to recognize faces outside our own group. Yet the cross-race phenomenon "is often the start of a process that leads to wrongful conviction," he said.

"What happens is, a witness identifies a suspect. The suspect then becomes the culprit. The police stop gathering information on any other possible suspects. "Then, the officer goes to a forensic scientist and says, 'I have a suspect; I know it's my guy, but I need the evidence to go with it.'

"And finally, he has the suspect come in and he interrogates him in ways that too often lead to a false confession."

The chain of events often starts, though, because a white witness makes an honest mistake in identifying a black suspect from a photo array or a physical lineup.

More here

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Australian Federal police accused of torture

A Canberra law firm has lodged unprecedented claims of negligence, systemic abuse and police misconduct on behalf of eight clients sprayed with capsicum foam in separate incidents at Canberra city watch-house in 2006.

Their request for compensation for physical and psychological pain and suffering could cost the government and the former police officers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Each of the men alleges he was assaulted with capsicum foam by former watchhouse sergeant John Arthur Birch or his colleague, Joanne Theta Apostoloff, while detained at the city watch-house for being intoxicated.

The aggrieved men, who include an Aboriginal elder, builders and public servants, say they were tortured and subjected to cruel, inhumane and degrading conduct by the officers and, by extension, the Australian Federal Police and the Commonwealth.

Lawyer Mark Barrow, of Ken Cush & Associates, said a ruling in his clients' favour would be the first finding against the Commonwealth for torturing its citizens and breaching their entitlements under the ACT's Human Rights Act.

But in a document filed in the Supreme Court last week, lawyers for the Commonwealth say the case cannot proceed due to legislation stipulating personal injury claims must be made within three years of an event.

In their defence against one of the men, the lawyers deny their client tortured the man and say the Commonwealth was not liable for the conduct of the AFP or its members. Closed-circuit TV footage of some of the incidents has been filed with the Supreme Court.

In one recording, Birch tells detainee David Helmhout he is being videoed and to "shut up and listen" before spraying him with the foam. Three seconds later, Apostoloff reaches for the can, says "You going to listen now?" and sprays him again. Mr Helmhout, a 53-year-old indigenous man, said the action was unwarranted. "You wouldn't treat an animal in that way," he said. "It was torture. There was no respect. It was criminal."

Another man, 30-year-old builder Dale Reynders, said the officers' behaviour was routine. "They were so sure they would get away with it, they did it right in front of the camera," he said.

Allan Mitchell said he was helping a friend move house in October 2006 when police detained him, sprayed him twice with capsicum spray and repeatedly hit him in the head with the canister. Later, when Mr Mitchell was naked and handcuffed in the watchhouse, Birch allegedly sprayed him in the face.

The lawyer leading the class action said some people who watched footage of the incidents dubbed the city watchhouse "Canberra's Abu Ghraib", in reference to the Baghdad prison where US military personnel abused Iraqi prisoners.

"These eight cases are the tip of the iceberg, and given the findings of the 2007 joint review [of watchhouse operations] by the AFP and the Ombudsman, I expect there are [more] victims of the culture that was allowed to flourish … at the city watchhouse," Mr Barrow said.

Three former members of the AFP have already faced criminal charges over the misuse of the chemical agent and two have been found guilty. Birch, 55, who resigned from the force in 2007, was convicted that year of administering an injurious substance causing pain and discomfort to nine watch-house detainees between February and September 2006.

Birch, who lives in Wamboin in New South Wales, was sentenced on Supreme Court appeal to 500 hours of community service and given a 12-month suspended jail term after initially walking away from the ACT Magistrates Court with a three-month suspended sentence. Four of his victims are plaintiffs in the class action. He said he was defending the lawsuits.

Apostoloff, 31, was found guilty of misusing capsicum spray on a detainee but escaped a conviction for the June 2006 attack. She is no longer a member of the AFP and is believed to be living overseas.

Original report here. (Via Australian police news)

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Chicago again: Wrongful conviction case focuses a suborned witness

A Chicago police officer and the convicted felon he is alleged to have coerced and bribed into giving false testimony are the heart of Armando Serrano's bid for freedom, according to a Northwestern University Law School attorney and a journalism professor trying to win him a new trial.

That allegation has been obscured by the recent publicity surrounding the Northwestern University journalism students who have worked on Serrano's case. Serrano, 38, has spent nearly two decades in prison for murder.

Last month, Cook County prosecutors asked a judge to allow them to subpoena records compiled by students with the Medill Innocence Project, arguing that they are entitled to a full accounting of the work that led to the recantation of Francisco Vicente, the state's key witness at Serrano's 1994 trial.

They contend that what few documents they have received raise questions about whether project director David Protess' students or a private detective who works with them promised benefits to Vicente in exchange for recanting.

Protess said he believes the request for subpoenas is designed to divert attention from Vicente and the story he tells about former Chicago police Officer Reynaldo Guevara.

"He would do whatever was necessary to take people he believed were criminals off the street," Protess said. "It's clear that there was a pattern and practice by Area 5 police officers to recruit snitches to falsely testify against innocent men, and Ray Guevara was at the heart of it."

Serrano and two other men — Jose Montanez and Jorge Pacheco — were convicted in separate bench trials before Circuit Judge Michael Bolan of killing Rodrigo Vargas in 1993 as he left his Humboldt Park apartment for work.

Montanez is also seeking a new trial, largely based on the same evidence gathered by the Medill students, while Pacheco was acquitted after Bolan reversed his decision in that case.

In a trial with no eyewitnesses or confession from Serrano, the state relied heavily on the testimony of Vicente, who was himself facing lengthy prison sentences if convicted in a string of armed robberies. Vicente testified that he met with Serrano and the others after the slaying and they admitted they shot the man during a robbery. In return, he received special treatment from prosecutors, and was sentenced to just 9 years in prison.

Original report here

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

NY: A crooked prosecution exposed the hard way

Each morning for 5,546 days, Jabbar Collins knew exactly what he'd wear when he awoke: a dark-green shirt with matching dark-green pants.

The prison greenies of a convicted murderer, he says, were "overly starched in the beginning, but as time wore on, and after repeated washes, they were worn and dull, like so many other things on the inside."

For most of those 15 years, Mr. Collins, who maintained his innocence, knew the only way his wardrobe would change was if he did something that's indescribably rare. He'd have to lawyer himself out of jail.

There was no crusading journalist, no nonprofit group taking up his cause, just Inmate 95A2646, a high-school dropout from Brooklyn, alone in a computerless prison law library.

"'Needle in a haystack' doesn't communicate it exactly. Is it more like lightning striking your house?" says Adele Bernard, who runs the Post-Conviction Project at Pace Law School in New York, which investigates claims of wrongful conviction. "It's so unbelievably hard…that it's almost impossible to come up with something that captures that."

Mr. Collins pried documents from wary prosecutors, tracked down reluctant witnesses and persuaded them, at least once through trickery, to reveal what allegedly went on before and at the trial where he was convicted of the high-profile 1994 murder of Rabbi Abraham Pollack.

The improbable result of that decade-and-a-half struggle was evident on a recent morning in a Midtown Manhattan skyscraper. Mr. Collins sat in a small office he now shares, wearing one of the eight dark suits he owns, a white shirt with French cuffs, a blue-and-gray striped tie and a pair of expensive wingtips. "Every day is beautiful" now, he said, smiling. "I don't have a bad day anymore. I think that my worst bad day out of prison will be better than my greatest good day in prison."

On March 13, 1995, as Mr. Collins was led by officers through a side door of a Brooklyn courtroom to a holding cell, his mother let loose a wailing sound that he'd "never heard before or since." Her son had just been convicted of murder.

He was 22, a father of three and facing at least 34 2/3 years behind bars. Three witnesses had implicated him in the midday shooting of Mr. Pollack as the rabbi collected rent in a building at 126 Graham Avenue in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Mr. Collins said he was home getting a haircut at the time.

To that point in his life, Mr. Collins had been drifting. His father died when he was 12 and his mother worked two jobs while also studying nursing. Under-supervised, he skipped school often, smoked a lot of pot and fathered the first of his children when he was 15.

When he was 16, he was arrested for a robbery. He says he was just waiting outside the store where a robbery took place. Mr. Collins accepted a youthful-offender adjudication under which he got probation and the arrest could eventually be purged.

Mr. Collins later obtained a general-equivalency diploma and took some classes at Long Island University. He was trying to transfer to John Jay College of Criminal Justice when he was arrested for Mr. Pollack's murder.

During his trial, Mr. Collins recalls being mystified. "I felt like a child," he says, "everyone talking over my head." But hearing his mother wailing as he was taken away suddenly cleared his head. "You have a life of misery ahead of you," he remembers telling himself. "The only way you're going to get out is to become your own lawyer."

On returning to Rikers Island, the city jail complex, Mr. Collins headed to the law library. There and later at Green Haven prison north of the city, he spent most of his free time in law libraries, pouring himself into legal books: "Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure," "McKinney's Consolidated Laws of New York," "The Legal Research Manual."

A thick text for paralegals called "Case Analysis and Fundamentals of Legal Writing" became his bible. He devoted two months to mastering the intricacies of federal and state law on access to public records.

His first request for trial records under New York's Freedom of Information Law, in July 1995, was denied. He would go on to file six more requests, five more appeals and a lawsuit before a judge gave him some of the records over two years later.

Finally succeeding in a request, gaining 239 pages of documents and 94 audio tapes, emboldened him. "It kind of refilled the tanks," he says, "gave me the confidence to fight on."

Over time, Mr. Collins would file a dizzying number of records requests. If they were denied, he appealed. If he lost, he'd add his requests to those he prepared for other inmates.

"The mosaic of intelligence gathering," Mr. Collins calls this. "You collect one item at a time and you add to the picture piece by piece until you create what is a stunning mosaic of what really happened."

He picked away at his case for eight years, but by the fall of 2003 he had hit a wall. That's when he carried out a ruse to trick Adrian Diaz, who had testified to seeing Mr. Collins tuck a gun in his waistband after the murder, into talking to him.

"I became Kevin Beekman, district attorney's investigator, for about 25 minutes," Mr. Collins says. The fictitious Mr. Beekman said he needed to recreate documents lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack. When Mr. Diaz agreed to talk about his testimony, Mr. Collins routed the call through a phone in his mother's home so it could be recorded.

Mr. Diaz said that before the trial, he had gone to Puerto Rico, in violation of his probation for marijuana possession. He agreed to return and testify against Mr. Collins, he said, only after prosecutors promised they would make sure his probation wasn't revoked.

That account, which Mr. Diaz later attested to in a signed affidavit, wasn't provided by prosecutors to Mr. Collins's defense counsel, who could have used it to undermine the witness by showing he was given an incentive to testify.

In 2005 Mr. Collins wrote to another witness, Edwin Oliva, who had testified that before the murder, Mr. Collins said he was going to rob the rabbi. "I really need to know what happened between you and the District Attorney's Office," Mr. Collins wrote.

"I always knew I was going to hear from you sooner or later," Mr. Oliva wrote back. "And to tell you the truth, I am glad you wrote, now once and for all I can settle the record."

Mr. Oliva wrote that he had been arrested a few weeks after the Pollack murder for a robbery he pulled in the building. He said the police asked about the rabbi's killing and he told them all he knew was that Mr. Collins had been arrested.

Detectives threatened to charge Mr. Oliva as an accessory, he wrote, and then made up a statement implicating Mr. Collins. Mr. Oliva wrote that he was so strung out and sleepy from a month-long run of "smoking & sniffin' dope" that he signed the statement, adding he "didn't even know what...I was signing." But now, Mr. Oliva added, he wanted to help Mr. Collins, "because I know you got a rotten deal."

Mr. Oliva granted access to his records. They included a Legal Aid document that referenced, without elaborating, a "deal" being discussed between the judge, a prosecutor and Mr. Oliva's attorney. Mr. Oliva was allowed to plead to a lesser felony than he had been indicted for. He received a sentence of up to three years. The other charge could have kept him in prison longer.

At the trial, lead prosecutor Michael Vecchione stated that no key witnesses had received anything for testifying. "Oliva's motive is simple," the prosecutor said. "Just like all the rest of the witnesses, he saw something, he heard something, someone asked him about it, and he is telling what he saw and he is telling what he heard. Nothing else." Mr. Vecchione declined requests for comment.

Mr. Collins, though a skilled jailhouse lawyer who helped many other inmates, could take his own appeal only so far without help. In late 2005, after 10 years working alone, he contacted Joel Rudin, a civil-rights attorney known for winning what was then the largest wrongful-conviction settlement in New York, $5 million. "I was amazed" at Mr. Collins's file, Mr. Rudin says. "I've never seen anything like this. There was so much documentation."

As the lawyer began reworking the appeal, Mr. Collins gathered another piece of his mosaic. He obtained a tape of calls to 911 after the killing.

A witness had testified he called 911 and told of seeing Mr. Collins run past. But when Mr. Collins listened to the tape of 911 calls, none of the voices sounded like what he recalled this witness sounding like at the trial.

Mr. Collins obtained a tape of a prosecution interview with this witness, Angel Santos. He hired a voice expert to compare the interview tape with the tape of people calling 911. No matches.

Mr. Santos and the other two main witnesses, Messrs. Diaz and Oliva, couldn't be reached for comment. Michael Harrison, Mr. Collins's court-appointed trial lawyer, said he couldn't remember whether he ever received the 911 tape because it was so long ago.

In March 2006, Mr. Rudin asked a state judge to overturn Mr. Collins's murder conviction on the grounds of newly discovered information the defense should have been given.

Mr. Vecchione, the prosecutor, swore that claims authorities had either coerced witnesses or failed to turn over potentially exculpatory information "are, without exception, untrue."

Then the roof crashed down. Learning of Mr. Collins's impersonation of an investigator, state Justice Robert Holdman dismissed the appeal, declaring it to be "wholly without merit, conclusory, incredible, unsubstantiated, and, in significant part, to be predicated on a foundation of fraud." For good measure, he barred Mr. Collins from filing future requests for information.

"Just devastating," Mr. Collins says. "This had been my life's work for the last 10 years." He didn't have the luxury of wallowing. State law allows only 30 days to appeal such a ruling. As he wrote his appeal, he couldn't keep out his bitterness, and Mr. Rudin had to redo it. The state appeal failed.

In what amounted to their last shot, they filed a motion in federal court in Brooklyn seeking to overturn the conviction based on prosecutors' "knowing presentation, at trial, of false or misleading testimony" and withholding of evidence that might have been used to discredit the main witnesses.

This March, after two years of legal wrangling, federal Judge Dora Irizarry approved Mr. Rudin's request for additional material from prosecutors. Information Mr. Collins had spent more than a decade trying to get his hands on suddenly began pouring in.

One document concerned Mr. Oliva, the witness who wrote that under police pressure he signed a statement implicating Mr. Collins in the murder, even though he knew nothing about it. The document suggested that as the murder trial neared, Mr. Oliva had balked at cooperating. It said his work release for a robbery conviction was revoked "after he failed to cooperate with D.A.'s office regarding a homicide."

Other newly discovered information suggested Mr. Oliva had briefly recanted his statement implicating Mr. Collins. A prosecutor preparing to fight Mr. Collins's appeal learned this from a retired detective, who said that Mr. Oliva recanted, then changed his mind again and stuck to his statement after the detective and several prosecutors spoke with him at the Brooklyn D.A.'s office.

This prosecutor turned that information over to Judge Irizarry, acknowledging it should have been provided to Mr. Collins's murder-trial defense. (Mr. Vecchione had denied at Mr. Collins's state appeal that any witness ever recanted or "had to be threatened or forced to testify.")

Four days before a scheduled hearing in Judge Irizarry's federal court, the D.A.'s office offered to reduce the charge against Mr. Collins to manslaughter, allowing his immediate release. Mr. Collins rejected the offer.

Later the same day, prosecutors informed the court that they wouldn't fight Mr. Collins's effort to overturn his conviction, but said they planned to retry him. A retrial would move the case back to state court, a venue where prosecutors had known nothing but success against Mr. Collins.

Mr. Rudin, desperate to keep the case in federal court, persuaded Judge Irizarry to hold a rare hearing on whether the D.A. should be barred from retrying Mr. Collins because its misconduct had been so pervasive.

The hearing's first witness was Mr. Santos, the man who had testified about making a 911 call after the murder, but whose voice didn't seem to match any of the voices on the 911 tape.

Mr. Santos told the hearing that in the period when the murder occurred, he was using drugs "every day. Twenty-four hours."

He said that as the murder trial neared a year later, he told Mr. Vecchione he didn't want to testify, but Mr. Vecchione began "yelling at me and telling me he was going to hit me over the head with some coffee table."

He said he was threatened with prosecution, then locked up for a week as a material witness. When he agreed to testify, he said, he was taken from jail to a Holiday Inn, which he described as "paradise."

The federal hearing was due to resume a week later with testimony from Mr. Vecchione and other prosecutors. Instead, the D.A.'s office gave up. It said its decision was "based upon the weaknesses that now exist with the witnesses," but added that its "position, then and now, was that we believe in this defendant's guilt."

Judge Irizarry was not pleased. "It's really sad that the D.A.'s office persists in standing firm and saying they did nothing wrong here," she said. "It is, indeed, sad." Judge Irizarry declined to be interviewed; the judge who turned down Mr. Collins's state appeal didn't return a call seeking comment,

Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes stood firm. "Michael Vecchione is not guilty of any misconduct," Mr. Hynes said at the time. He, Mr. Vecchione—who is now chief of the rackets division—and a spokesman for the D.A.'s office all declined to comment, citing likely litigation by Mr. Collins.

Mr. Collins walked out of prison on June 9, to an emotional welcome from his family. He has had many Rip Van Winkle moments. Swipe cards have replaced tokens on the subway; coffee shops called Starbucks are everywhere; there are these devices called iPhones.

But some things haven't changed. Mr. Collins is back in a law library. His attorney, Mr. Rudin, has hired him as a paralegal.

Mr. Collins is first concentrating on his own case. He has filed "notices of claim" announcing an intention to sue the city and state for $60 million.

As a paralegal, he can't give legal advice to the many inmates who have written seeking it. He hopes one day to change that, by becoming an attorney.

Original report here

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Gagged: Convicted British killer who protested his innocence is freed from jail after 18 years... on condition he doesn't speak to the media

With a paper-thin rationale for the gagging. They just don't want him to publicize a wrongful conviction

Convicted wife murderer Eddie Gilfoyle has been released from prison after 18 years - on condition he does not talk about the case. The gagging order on 49-year-old Gilfoyle, who has always protested his innocence, was imposed by the Parole Board.

He was found guilty of murdering his pregnant wife, Paula, 33 in 1992. She was found hanged in the garage next to the couple's home in, Upton, Wirral. She had left a suicide note which police believed was faked by her husband.

Gilfoyle was sentenced to life imprisonment at Liverpool Crown Court with a minimum term of 17 years and was being held at Sudbury open prison, in Derbyshire, before his release earlier this week.

A statement released on his behalf through a campaign group suggested his legal team would be appealing the gagging condition, which is said to include his family, supporters and lawyers.

It said: 'We are not able to provide a response because the Parole Board has imposed a condition on Eddie's life licence that prohibits him contacting the media either directly or indirectly whether this is regarding his release or his appeal.

'This is a matter that we will be challenging through the courts but until that time, we cannot comment.'

Her family described their 'shock' at the decision to release him. Her older sister, Margaret Glover, of Leasowe, Wirral, said: 'As far as I'm concerned, he's 100 per cent guilty and he'll always be guilty. 'He's going to be able to join his family, but my sister won't ever be able to do that again with our family.'

A spokesman for the Parole Board said he could not comment on individual cases but a condition banning prisoners from talking to the media would be imposed to prevent further offending.

He added: 'It is sometimes the case that one of the licence conditions is that the prisoner being released doesn't get involved with the media. 'If that is the case, the only reason for that condition would be to prevent further offending. 'For instance, it might be the case that if a high-profile prisoner talks to the media after he has been released, there would be issues concerning the feelings of the victims. 'There might be concerns about the reaction of the general public to someone who has been released from a life sentence.'

According to reports today, Tory peer Lord Hunt of Wirral, who was Gilfoyle's former MP, was also included in the media ban, as he had asked the Board if Gilfoyle and his team could be allowed to speak freely.

Last year, Alison Halford the assistant chief constable of Merseyside Police at the time of the murder, said she believed he had been the victim of a 'huge miscarriage of justice'.

Mr Gilfoyle's first appeal was rejected in 1995, and again in 2000.


Mrs Gilfoyle was eight-and-a-half months pregnant when her body was found at the couple's home in June 1992.

When family and friends described how happy Mrs Gilfoyle had been prior to her death, police became suspicious and launched an investigation, focusing on her husband.

Detectives believed Gilfoyle fooled his wife, 32, into writing the note and somehow persuaded her to climb a ladder with a noose around her neck.

He was sentenced to life in prison in 1993 for her murder, but has continued to protest his innocence.

Last year new evidence was unearthed which showed police notes from the time suggested that Gilfoyle was at work when his wife died.

The Times newspaper claimed it obtained notes of interviews with the officers called to the house on the day that she died.

They stated the doctor who declared Mrs Gilfoyle dead told police that she had died six hours earlier – when her hospital porter husband was at work.

The notes were not shown to the jury nor mentioned during Gilfoyle's trial in 1993.
Merseyside Police have repeatedly denied that they existed.

Original report here

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Friday, December 24, 2010

The Mehserle Effect— Vallejo Shooting Tests Era of Police Accountability

In the Bay Area, the veneer of police impunity seems to be thinning even as high-profile cases of police shooting unarmed black men – in Oakland and nearby Vallejo -- continue to occur.

Aftershocks following the killing of Oscar Grant Jr. by ex-BART transit officer Johannes Mehserle have shaken up the landscape of police and community relations in the Bay Area. The age-old idea that, when it comes to black males, police could get away with anything is being challenged.

Mehserle’s trial and guilty verdict, though probably only partial justice (he’ll do about a year when it’s all said and done) may have opened a crack in the blue shield of silence that has protected police from ever being held accountable. Grant was killed in front of a 21st century audience. The scene of Grant being shot in the back by Mehserle is seared into the public memory, because it was virally-enhanced, and things have changed for the better – in the short term.

Weeks after Mehserle was sentenced to two years for involuntary manslaughter in the slaying of Grant he was denied bail.

It was a miracle that the Alameda County District Attorney even filed a case against Mehserle. And that is the difference between now and years past. Inside actors – officials sworn to uphold the law are questioning suspicious police-involved shootings more than ever before.

Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts made headlines recently when he asked for a federal investigation into two of his officers involved in the shooting death of an unarmed East Oakland barbershop owner. The same team of OPD killed an unarmed woman in 2008.

And, as if to underscore this budding new era of police accountability, officials in Oakland -- including the newly elected mayor Jean Quan -- participated in a meeting designed to address police brutality recently hosted by the NAACP.

Now, the case that could break the trend or add full moon energy to the movement for justice involves a 33-year-old black man, community activist, student and mentor who was gunned down in a lonely alley in Vallejo, Calif.

Guy Jarreau Jr. was shot and killed by a Vallejo Police Department officer Saturday, Dec. 10 in the early afternoon. He had lived in Vallejo eight years after coming from New Orleans.

According to eyewitnesses interviewed by New America Media, Jarreau had his hands up facing the officer who shot him twice.

“…I didn’t hear no warning, no nothing,” said Martin L'Esperance, a witness and friend of Jarreau “We were shooting a video on Sonoma walking back and forth with the cameras. Guy was with us. He was security for us, he was there watching us, directing us – telling us what we should do in the video. The cops just pulled up on us, told him (Mr. Jarreau) to stop – everyone was walking away, he (Mr. Jarreau) walked into the alley. The cop just came onto the sidewalk pointed into the alley and shot twice.

“After that they told us all to get on the ground…they handcuffed us all – we was like “Is he ok? Is Guy ok? And a cop said: ‘I don’t give a f—k if he lives or he dies.’ That’s what the cop said. Then he said ‘If you say something else we’ll shoot you too.’ …Guy didn’t have a gun,” said L'Esperance.

L'Esperance and other eyewitness accounts contrast with the Vallejo Police Department’s story. According to an official press release: “Officers arrived on scene at 3:01 p.m. and observed the suspect flee into a nearby alley. The officers confronted the man, who was now holding the firearm. In self defense, the officer fired on the suspect, striking him at least once. The suspect was taken via air ambulance to a Bay Area trauma center, where he was later pronounced dead.”

According to witnesses, Jarreau lay on the ground for close to 45 minutes before he received help.

Time will tell whether or not the Solano County District Attorney will look at this case with the scrutiny it deserves. If officials do act, Vallejo will join, Oakland, Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans in pursuing justice by holding police responsible for their actions. It is a moment of momentum for accountability that black communities across the country should welcome.

Original report here

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Surviving the late-night knock

The late-night knock was a fact of life in the Soviet empire -- something that could happen to any citizen for any reason or no reason. That knock could foreshadow a gruesome death or a life of misery in remote captivity and never seeing your loved ones again.

Late-night knocks do occur in our own country, but they usually are made for common criminals, who are given the full benefits of a legal system that presumes their innocence. The charges against them, and their whereabouts, are not cloaked in mystery.

Occasionally, however, a mistake is made and the wrong person is targeted, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Overzealous law enforcement officers may forget that innocent people naturally feel threatened by late-night visitors, especially those who demand entry without identifying themselves.

Dan Little of Illinois heard that late-night knock in September, on the door of the hotel room he was staying in at the Holiday Inn Express in Pembroke, N.C.

It seems that local law enforcement officers were searching for a female suspect that a hotel employee mistakenly had identified as the occupant of Little's room.

Little didn't know who the officers were or what they wanted, and the officers didn't know they had the wrong room. They broke open the door and Little pulled a gun in self-defense.

Remarkably, no one was hurt before the confusion was sorted out.

Little would seem to have a legitimate complaint against the officers who allegedly failed to identify themselves or confirm the location of the suspect being sought. Instead, he has filed suit in Madison County Circuit Court against the hotel, seeking compensatory damages between $50,000 and $75,000.

It's a mystery how Little, represented by Thomas G. Maag of Wood River, determined the value of that late-night knock, and why he targeted the hotel instead of the officers responsible.

Finally, why is something that happened in North Carolina being pursued in Madison county? How did a search for a criminal suspect become a possible search for a friendly venue?

Original report here

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lawyer: Detective dishonest in murder case

A lawyer says a former police detective instrumental in obtaining the rape-and-murder convictions of four ex-sailors in Virginia thinks they are not guilty. Attorney Donald Salzman filed a sworn statement in circuit court that former Norfolk police Detective Robert Glenn Ford made the comment to a confidential witness regarding his true beliefs about the sailors' innocence in the slaying of Michelle Moore-Bosko, a Navy wife, The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot reported Tuesday.

Private detectives for one of the Norfolk Four, as the ex-sailors are known, have investigated Ford, who was convicted in October in a federal extortion and false statement case, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

The four said they were not guilty and that Ford, who is awaiting sentencing, pressured them into confessing to murder.

Ford's lawyer, Lawrence Woodward, said his client has never told anyone he believed the Norfolk Four were innocent in Moore-Bosko's death. "The guilty pleas and verdicts are supported by evidence," Woodward said.

Salzman's statement that Ford believes the Norfolk Four are not guilty was part of a court filing for one of the four, Danial Williams. The statement also said private investigators discovered at least three anonymous witnesses with information about Ford's conduct during a number of serious criminal cases, including the sailors'.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine partially pardoned three of the four men and all of them have been released from prison. They are appealing to have the 1997 felony convictions removed from their records.

Another man, Omar Ballard, confessed to the crime alone and is serving a life prison sentence. His DNA was the only match to that found at the crime scene.

States attorneys asked the judge to disregard Salzman's statement, saying it "contains several layers of hearsay" and is unreliable, the newspaper reported.

Original report here

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Just Keeping You Safe": The Cheka Checks In

"What are you doing here?" Paul asked the armed stranger who had materialized outside his workplace. "Just keeping you safe," replied the interloper, who had invaded the property without invitation or explanation.

The visitor was clad in what Paul described as a SWAT-style dark blue jumpsuit, mirrored sunglasses, and a baseball cap. He had arrived in a white SUV equipped with running lights and displaying police markings advertising that it belonged to the Department of Homeland Security.

Paul (who asked that his last name not be used) was the only employee who saw something amiss as the Homeland Security officer busied himself peering into windows and doorways, taking pictures, and making notes on a clipboard.

Understandably annoyed by the functionary's unwarranted intrusion and patronizing reply to his question, Paul continued to demand an explanation. The visitor persisted in his Oracle at Delphi routine, offering cryptic, dismissive responses to Paul's questions.

Through sheer tenacity Paul managed to obtain a business card identifying the visitor as Mark Cerchione. His title is -- take a deep breath -- Inspector for Region 10 of the East Command for the Department of Homeland Security's National Protection and Programs Directorate, Federal Protective Service. This vital human cog in the State's apparatus of public order has an office located at 550 West Fort Street, Room 370 in Boise.

Roughly an hour after Paul's encounter with Mr. Cerchione, and about fifteen minutes after Paul related it to me, I contacted Mr. Cerchione on his cell phone.

"That's very interesting," Mr. Cerchione replied when I identified myself as a writer in Idaho who had been told that a Homeland Security official had paid a visit to an appliance repair company in Boise. "I'm not allowed to talk about specifics but I can refer you to the regional office in Seattle. This was just a normal, routine procedure -- nothing special."

"It hardly seems `routine' for the Department of Homeland Security to pay a visit to a workplace," I commented.

"Look, this was just a normal part of my day," insisted Cerchione. "Asking me about this is like asking a Boise City police officer why he looked in on a construction site."

"But you're not a Boise police officer -- you're a Fed," I pointed out, leaving aside the fact that a similar unannounced visit from a local cop could likewise be cause for concern. "That makes this newsworthy."

"Well, I can't comment about this, but I'd be happy to put you in touch with the office in Seattle," he repeated, promising to do so in exchange for my contact information.

From what I've been able to learn,* Mr. Cerchione is an Idaho native who served briefly in the Army as a military police officer before being employed by the Idaho Falls Police Department. He also worked as a security guard at the Idaho National Laboratory in Arco.

Cerchione's most recent position prior to signing on with the DHS appears to have been with Securitas, a private insurance company that in 1999 acquired the Pinkerton Agency (which rose to prominence as Abraham Lincoln's wartime secret service).

On the basis of our brief phone conversation, Mr. Cerchione strikes me as affable and quite professional -- exactly the kind of decent, competent person upon which every secret police bureaucracy relies.

Think of it for a second: What kind of government refers to its subdivisions as "Directorates"? That designation is as alien to the American political vocabulary as -- well, the expression "Homeland Security" itself. The term "Directorate" makes a much better fit for the components of the Soviet secret police, whether known as the Cheka, KGB, or FSB.

The subdivision of the American Cheka that employs Mr. Cerchione is the DHS's equivalent of the KGB's Ninth Chief Directorate, which supplied bodyguards for the CPSU's ruling elite and maintained security at significant government installations. In fact, the current version of that Directorate under the FSB (the re-named KGB) has exactly the same title as its American counterpart: Federalnaya Sluzhba Okhrany, which in English is generally rendered "Federal Protective Service."

The workplace visited by Mr. Cerchione is located next to the offices of the Natural Resource Conservation Service, an outpost serving various federal regulatory agencies. It's impossible to believe that Boise plays host to a Jihadist sleeper cell that covets an opportunity to attack the Natural Resources complex. It is marginally more believable that the bureaucracy stationed therein could provoke the hostility of some over-taxed, over-regulated productive citizen.

What this means, in any case, is that Mr. Cerchione -- who, remember, is employed by a Directorate tasked with protecting federal personnel and buildings -- wasn't there to keep Paul and his fellow members of the productive class "safe"; he was there to surveil them as potential threats to the safety of the tax-consuming class. And by his own account, this is part of his "normal," everyday routine in the service of the Homeland Security Cheka, which presides over a vast and metastasizing surveillance state.

"If you see something -- say something," commands Commissarina Napolitano from Wal-Mart telescreens across the Rodina. Citizen Concepts, one of the ever-expanding school of corporate remoras battening onto the Homeland Security leviathan, has introduced a so-called "Patriot App" for the iPhone that will simplify things for informants by permitting them to interface directly with the hive mind. (Among its corporate "goals," Citizen Concepts lists "decreasing variance in human behavior to mitigate risk and error" -- or, rendered into intelligible language, eliminating non-conformity as a threat to the public interest).

Did some vigilant citizen detect dangerous levels of non-conformity on the part of someone in Paul's workplace, and do his duty to the Collective by summoning the Federal Protective Service? We don't know, and those who do know refuse to let us in on this critical state secret. But this is exactly what happened to Boise resident Dwight Scarbrough four years ago.

Mr. Scarbrough, a scientist employed by the U.S. Forest Service, is a retired Navy veteran and outspoken peace activist. During the early years of the Iraq war, Scarbrough made himself commendably conspicuous by adorning his pickup truck with signs and stickers demanding an end to that atrocity and the prosecution of the criminals responsible for it.

By expressing sentiments of that kind as emphatically as possible, Scarbrough provoked criticism from some fellow employees. Complaints about Scarbrough's protest stickers led to an admonition from his supervisor that he bowdlerize one bumpersticker seen by some as borderline obscene (the strip contained the inventive neologism "BUSHIT"). Since he wasn't interested in giving needless offense, Scarbrough did as his supervisor recommended. But his gesture apparently didn't placate Scarbrough's co-worker, who remained aggrieved by the peace activist's unabashed displays of non-conformity.

On February 7, 2006, Scarbrough received a phone call at work from a man identifying himself as an officer with the Department of Homeland Security. The officer informed Scarbrough that he was in violation of the Code of Federal Regulations, and risked receiving a citation unless he met the officer in the parking lot of the federal building where he worked.

"I grabbed a friend to be a witness, and took along my tape recorder," Scarbrough recounted to Pro Libertate. "When we got down there, there were two officers, both of them large, armed young men. One of them made a point of separating my friend from me, as if the two of us -- guys in our 50s -- constituted some kind of threat. He kept my friend twenty feet away from me, holding his arms out as if performing some kind of crowd control out of fear that we would overpower them."

"Officer R.," the agent who had called Scarbrough, "was a very large guy. I'm a sizeable fellow myself, but he dwarfed me; he was probably close to 6'5" and had to weigh something on the far side of 300 pounds." The agents "were in uniform -- military-style blouses with shoulderboards, badges with Homeland Security insignia, and sidearms."

Since it seemed as if the two Chekists were primed for a confrontation, Scarbrough -- who recorded and transcribed the entire encounter -- made a point of sitting down at a table "so there was no way I could be a threat," he explained to me.

As the transcript documents, this gesture of de-escalation provoked immediate disapproval from Officer R., since it meant that he no longer had the initiative:

Officer R: Step back here, please.
Scarbrough: Let's have a seat.
Officer R: I'd like to talk to you.
Scarbrough: Let's have a seat.
Officer R: Sir, come over here please.
Scarbrough: I don't want to come over there. I want to sit down.

Apparently thinking it wasn't worthwhile to press the point, Officer R. told Scarbrough that he was in violation of a provision of the Code of Federal Regulations dealing with "posting or affixing signs, pamphlets, handbills, or flyers on federal property." Scarbrough had done nothing of the sort; the materials described by Officer R. were affixed to Scarbrough's privately owned vehicle, which was in the parking lot of the federal facility where he worked.

For a minute or two, Scarbrough -- who had already discussed matters of this kind in detail with his supervisor -- tried to reason with the obstinate, concrete-headed Chekist, to no avail.

"I've just given you an order and told you to remove those signs from the property," he growled.

Following several additional minutes of fruitless dispute, Scarbrough relented, moving his car into a privately owned parking lot next door. This act of armed bullying was also an exercise in content-based political censorship. No similar threats were ever made against any of the dozens of people -- including employees -- who parked in the same lot with bumper stickers expressing support for the Bush administration, the Iraq war, and opinions on other contentious political subjects.

Scarbrough took his story to the press, and his case to the ACLU. Public exposure of the incident caused the valiant defenders of the sacred Homeland to take refuge behind locked doors.

When a reporter for the independent Boise Weekly, which broke the story, tried to speak with someone at the Boise office of Homeland Security, "a woman emerged from a nearby cubicle and spoke to me through a tennis-ball-sized hole in the window. She would not confirm the name or identity of the officers, nor their badge numbers...."

The reporter for the Weekly contacted an official of the U.S. Marshals Service, who confirmed the essentials of Scarbrough's story -- and then "referred me to the Department of Homeland Security's media spokesman in Texas" for any further details about an incident that had occurred thousands of miles away. This makes a certain kind of sense, once one understands how matters of this kind are handled in a Soviet-style centralized bureaucracy.

After going public, Scarbrough resumed parking in his accustomed space. Eventually the matter was dropped entirely. In retrospect, Scarbrough told Pro Libertate, "I should have taken the citation and challenged it in court. The attorney at the ACLU told me that `this is the kind of stuff we live for,' but the matter was moot because no citation was ever issued."

Scarbrough points out that his experience with Homeland Security came at a time "when the department was young and it was flexing its muscles all over the place. There were several incidents at about the same time involving people who were arrested, cited, or harassed for peaceful acts of public dissent, most of them involving opposition to the war." (Those incidents, and many others like them, are documented in You Have No Rights, an infuriating and indispensable book by Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive magazine.)

Four years ago, Scarbrough's experience struck those who learned of it as an anomaly, a bizarre instance of overkill. Paul's encounter with his friendly neighborhood Chekist illustrates that invasive and intimidating federal surveillance has become -- to use Mr. Cerchione's expression -- a "normal, routine procedure" for those of us sentenced to live in the contemporary Homeland Security State.

Original report here

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Monday, December 20, 2010

A Criminal Defense Lawyer's Advice: You are Right to Remain Silent: Just Shut Up!


After 35 years of practicing law in the trenches of state and federal courts, I have narrowed my advice for all my clients down to one, simple, direct sentence: "Shut Up."

No kidding. Really. Just shut up. Living in Florida, I have come to love deep-sea fishing. Enter my law office, and on my walls, above my desk, staring and glaring at my clients, is a stuffed, six-foot steel blue Marlin. Below the fish is a plaque that reads: "Behold the beautiful, majestic Marlin. He would not be here if he had not opened his mouth."

When you are a 7-year-old kid growing up, and your mom catches you with your hand in the cookie jar, you inevitably and sheepishly try to come with an excuse. Mom pushes and prods you to confess, and you do. She then hugs and kisses you, and you make up as she tells you everything is going to be all right.

It does not work that way with a cop when he pulls you over. The police are not your parents. The sheepish lie you first tell him becomes a prior inconsistent statement that is going to be used in a court of law against you. The cop does not hug you, kiss you, and make up. He searches you, arrests you, and locks you up. So what you should do is just shut up.

Do not bargain with cops, negotiate with cops, or promise deals you cannot deliver on. The promises they make on the street are not binding in the courts where prosecutors charge you. Deal with the reality that if you are caught with drugs you are now the prisoner of a drug war. In war, you are only required as a prisoner to give your name, rank, and dog tag number. Do not give consent to search your car, your person, or invite cops back to your home. Do a Nancy Reagan: just say no.

As my friend William Panzer says, an Oakland, California based criminal defense attorney, also on the NORML Board of Directors, "If everyone kept their mouth shut, half the people in jail would not be there. The cop's job is to put you in a cage and anything you say beyond identifying yourself helps them put you there." His advice too: "Shut up."

My advice is that if you are carrying drugs, prepare yourself for jail. Don't carry lots of cash that will be forfeited to the State. Instead, keep dog bones in your car. This way, when police tell you they are going to keep you sitting in handcuffs by the side of the road- in the hot sun or cold wind- while they retrieve a canine to search your vehicle, you can offer the dog some treats when he arrives. In the meantime, shut the mouth up. This is not the time to bemoan your fate in front of the officer and reflect that you were only 'doing a favor for a friend.' The cop will not give you a bone. He will transcribe your confession.

I would be a liar if I told you that 'shut the mouth up' works in every single instance. If you are carrying a loose joint in a 'decrim' state and you own up to a cop, he may let you go with a reprimand. But let's face it; if you are carrying felony weight cannabis, a couple of beans, or some crystal, you are headed to jail. The US Constitution does not say your job is to make the police and prosecution's job easier by telling them how and where you got it. The US Constitution says your right is to remain silent. Use it; don't lose it. Just Shut Up.

You may think you are already guilty. Far from it; you are not. If the state cannot prove it, it is not a crime. It is their job to prove the case above and beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not your job to tell them all the contraband is yours so their job becomes a snap while they snap handcuffs on you. So just shut the mouth up.

Show police your driver's license, insurance card, and registration. Show them your McDonald's discount Big Mac card if you must. But do not be a dope and show them your dope. Abraham Lincoln once wrote that many men are foolish but that some "speak and remove all doubt." Be one of those that leave arresting officers with doubt. You might get rewards for confessing in a church. You do not in a courtroom or on the street to a cop. Just shut up.

The most recent and recurrent law enforcement technique being employed presently is the notorious 'knock and talk' on your front doorstep at your home. They are 'trick or treating' for an admission. Armed with anonymous and non-verifiable information that you are cultivating marijuana on your premises, cops 'drop by' for a chat, seeking your permission for a search.

They like to make it seem they are coming over for coffee, investigating a zoning violation, or looking for a lost cat. They are not. They are looking for you to let a cat out of the bag that you are growing at home. Think of it this way: if they had enough information to believe you were doing something illegal, they would not be there asking for permission. They would have already secured a warrant and smashed in your door.

In these situations, the officers have no valid basis to even be on your property, let alone a warrant to enter. You have no legal obligation to answer their questions. You most certainly do not have to invite them in. They tell you though they 'know' pot is there and it will go 'so much easier on you' if you cash in your stash. No, it won't. You will go to jail when you did not have to. You will have foolishly waived a right you never should have given up. So just shut up, and show them the door.

Far too many times, and for too many years, I have watched young men and women get arrested while feeling some sort of moral obligation to simultaneously say to cops: "You got me!" I think it goes back to mom and the cookie jar. But guess what? You are not Dorothy, and we are not in Kansas anymore. So just shut up, because what you do not say cannot be used against you in a court of law. What you do not say may prevent you from being there in the first place.

Original report here

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Wrongful arrest of Indian doctor by bungling Australian federal cops leads to compensation claim

A DOCTOR wrongly accused of terrorism hopes to gain "practical recognition" of the suffering he went through during his incarceration.

Indian-born Dr Mohamed Haneef has returned to Australia with his wife and three-year-daughter for compensation talks with the Commonwealth on Monday and Tuesday.

The compensation claim stems from his wrongful detention by Australian Federal Police in July 2007.

Dr Haneef was held in custody for 12 days before being charged with recklessly giving support to a terrorist organisation when his mobile phone SIM card was linked to a terrorist attack in the UK the same year.

The charges were later dropped as prosecutors admitted bungling the case and an independent inquiry cleared him of any wrongdoing.

Dr Haneef, who was working at the Gold Coast Hospital when he was arrested, is seeking damages including for lost earnings, the damage to his reputation and the emotional stress he endured.

Dr Haneef, who now practises in the United Arab Emirates, said his career had been vastly interrupted by the ordeal.

"This mediation process is all about some practical recognition of how this has affected my family, of me, my reputation internationally and my career," he said in a statement before appearing at a press conference in Brisbane this morning.

"The ordeal has been terrible for me and my family and my career, which I was really enjoying at the Gold Coast Hospital."

His lawyer, Maurice Blackburn partner Rod Hodgson, would not reveal the size of the compensation sought.

But he said it was "significant" and reflected the "terrible injustice" done to him, including his wrongful imprisonment, terrorism charge, damage to reputation internationally and economic loss from the interruption to his medical career.

"We're hopeful that the outcome of the mediation will draw a line under what has been a very regrettable incident for Australia's long held reputation as a great place for skilled people from overseas to live and work," he said in a statement.

The mediation will be chaired by former judge Tony Fitzgerald QC.

Original report here. (Via Australian police news)

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

No Justice for Derek Hale in murder by cop

The practice of police "accountability" generally consists of using money stolen at gunpoint to buy off victims and survivors of officially sanctioned criminal violence.

Few better examples can be found than the $975,000 settlement paid by the City of Wilmington, Delaware, to Elaine Hale, whose husband Derek was murdered by Wilmington Police on November 6, 2006.

The settlement brings to an end a federal lawsuit that was scheduled for trial next July -- more than four years after Derek, a Marine veteran who served two tours in Iraq, was shot three times at point-blank range after being tasered seven times within the space of about a minute. Unarmed and cooperative, Derek was not a criminal suspect and had done nothing to justify arrest, let alone summary execution.

Pay-offs of this kind are part of a ritual of self-exculpation in which the police and the local criminal clique they serve loudly proclaim their complete innocence, even as their cynical actions offer eloquent testimony of their guilt. William S. Montgomery, one of the palace eunuchs who serve Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker, performed his role perfectly.

"We were very confident in our case and know that our officers acted properly and professionally," lied Montgomery in announcing the settlement, which -- as he went on to say -- meant that the supposedly rock-solid case would be spared "the inherent risk of a jury trial." Fortunately, Montgomery pointed out, the risk of a trial was "eliminated for less than the cost of defense."

Through the miracle of socialized municipal risk management, nobody will face accountability for the extra-judicial killing of a 25-year-old husband and father of two stepchildren who had celebrated his first wedding anniversary just days before he was murdered.

Shortly after receiving a medical discharge from the Marine Corps, Derek joined an "outlaw motorcycle club" called the Pagans. In November 2006, Derek and some friends from the club made a run from Virginia to Wilmington as part of a Toys for Tots promotion. Derek didn't know that for more than a year before he joined the club the Pagans were the subject of a Delaware State Police investigation.

Derek was house-sitting for a friend on the day he was murdered. Sandra Lopez, the soon-to-be ex-wife of Derek's friend, arrived with an 11-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter early in the afternoon to remove some personal belongings. Derek -- wearing a hooded sweatshirt -- was sitting quietly on the front porch of the home when an unmarked police car and a blacked-out SUV arrived at around 4:00 PM and disgorged a thugscrum of 8-14 heavily armed police. According to eyewitnesses, the officers were dressed in black, and displayed no police insignia of any kind.

At the time, Lopez and her children were standing behind Derek on the small porch, which was at the top of a short stairway. The armed strangers ordered the woman and her kids to move away from Derek, who by this time had risen to his feet. One of the cops ordered Derek to remove his hands from his sweatshirt. No more than a second or two later, according to eyewitnesses, he was hit with the first of what would be seven Taser strikes.

The Taser blast knocked Derek sideways and sent him into convulsions. His right hand involuntarily shot out of its pocket, clenching spasmodically. Ordered to put his hands up, Derek struggled to comply, but found himself paralyzed. So he was struck with a second Taser blast that drove him to the side and induced him to vomit in a nearby flower bed. “Not in front of the kids,” Derek pleaded. “Get the kids out of here.”

The officers continued to order Derek to put up his hands; he was physically unable to comply. So they tased him again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

"That's not necessary!" exclaimed eyewitness Howard Mixon, a contractor who had been working nearby. "That's overkill! That's overkill!"

One of the bold and brave paladins of public order swaggered over to Mixon and threatened him: "I'll f*****g show you overkill!" snarled the barely literate tax-feeder. Meanwhile, Derek -- left to wallow in a puddle of his own vomit -- was trying to comply with the demands of his assailants.

“I'm trying to get my hands out,” Derek gasped, trying to make his tortured and traumatized body obey his will. Horrified, his friend Sandra screamed at the officers: “He is trying to get his hands out, he cannot get his hands out!”

Few things bring out the raw courage of a cop like the sight of an unarmed and defenseless "suspect." Acting with the serene confidence that his victim couldn't harm him, Lt. William Browne of the Wilmington Police Department -- who was close enough to seize and handcuff Derek, if this had been necessary -- shot him at point-blank range, sending three .40-caliber rounds into his chest.

In May 2007, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden -- yes, the glorious outpouring of Vice Presidential loins -- issued a report vindicating Browne's actions. The report began by claiming that "the purpose of the Tasering was to overcome Derek Hale's resistance to the arrest so he could be taken into custody without injury to himself or to the officers."

Leaving aside the fact that the Taser assault caused severe injury to Derek (as a coroner's report later confirmed), and also made it impossible for him to comply with police orders, every eyewitness to the murder who wasn't implicated in the crime insists that the victim never resisted arrest in any way. Furthermore, Thomas Neuberger, one of the attorneys who represented Derek's widow, pointed out that the Wilmington PD's departmental policy on Taser use does not authorize the use of that reliably lethal weapon on non-resisting suspects.

Biden's report also claimed that Derek's “menacing” behavior -- which consisted of vomiting into a flowerbed while begging the police to get the kids out of harm's way -- led the timid creature known as William Browne to believe that "he was in immediate danger" and that "the use of deadly force was immediately necessary to prevent serious injury or death" to him or to one of his partners in state-sanctioned crime.

No charges were filed against the individual who murdered Derek Hale. Shortly after Biden issued his report, Browne was promoted. This infuriating detail was merely filigree on the tapestry of mendacity woven by Delaware's "law enforcement community" to cover up the murder of Derek Hale.

In the years prior to the anti-Pagan crack-down by the Delaware State Police (DSP), the agency was besieged with lawsuits alleging civil rights violations, and subject to several ongoing corruption probes.

Attorney Thomas Neuberger told me three years ago that DSP Commander Thomas MacLeish (or "Colonel Tom," to use Neuberger's not-at-all affectionate nickname), who was appointed to his post in 2005, made improving the agency's public image his highest priority. A high-profile campaign against a big, bad biker gang was just the thing to repristinate the department's image.

The State Police operation eventually yielded a 160-count indictment, much of which was withheld from the public. After prosecutors had cluttered the air with lurid but vague allegations of "racketeering" and "gang activity," thirty-two Pagans were arrested on narcotics and weapons charges. The investigation came to a thoroughly anti-climatic end when a fewer than a half-dozen Pagans were charged with narcotics-related offenses. All of them were given deals that didn't involve prison time.

Like six-year-old Aiyana Jones, who was murdered by police last May in a Detroit SWAT raid staged for TV cameras, and 21-year-old Las Vegas resident Trevon Cole, who was murdered by police (while trying to dispose of a misdemeanor-sized amount of marijuana) in a hotel drug raid that was also the outgrowth of a "reality TV" program, Derek Hale was a casualty of a police PR campaign. He didn't become a "person of interest" until after he had been killed.

Immediately after the shooting, the DSP contacted the Virginia State Police and -- in a deliberate act of official perjury -- told them that the murdered Marine was a suspect in a narcotics investigation. Police from Delaware and Virginia barged into the Hale family's Manassas home, shoving aside a grieving wife and two devastated children in order to carry out a charade of a search in the service of an official fiction.

The architects of this cover-up weren't content to terrorize Hale's devastated widow and step-children; they also traduced the character of the murder victim.

On November 21, 2006, roughly three weeks after Derek's death, the DSP issued a breathtakingly dishonest press release alleging that the victim had "resisted arrest" and claiming that he "was at the center of a long term narcotics trafficking investigation which is still ongoing." Meanwhile, prosecutors frantically cobbled together the above-mentioned ominum gatherum indictment in the hope that somebody -- anybody -- connected to Derek would be charged with an actual crime.

Now, three years later, the people responsible for the murder and cover-up have taken care of the final detail by paying off the victim's family at taxpayer expense.

Derek grew up in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Shortly after he was murdered, a man who had known Derek in his childhood contacted me to express his outrage that a "responsible, respectful" young man of exceptional character could survive two tours of duty in Iraq, only to be slaughtered by a Death Squad here at home.

"There is no way in hell he would have threatened a police posse," Derek's friend told me. "When I saw his obit in the local paper I thought he must have been killed in Iraq or something -- but alas our own home-grown terrorists took the life of an innocent man."

Original report here

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Philadelphia police in the dock

More than two dozen people testified Tuesday during a City Council hearing about police conduct on a force that has seen 15 officers arrested since March 2009.

The witnesses in the six-hour hearing before Council's Committee on Public Safety included police officials such as Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and grieving parents Timothy and Pamela Goode, relatives of former Mayor W. Wilson Goode whose 24-year-old son was shot and killed two years ago by a police officer.

Pamela Goode testified that in March 2008, as her son Timothy Jerome "Tee" Goode ran from police in Germantown, Officer Anthony Avery shot him twice in the back, killing him.

Police at the time said that the shooting was in self-defense and that Timothy Jerome Goode had trained his gun on undercover narcotics officers.

Pamela Goode, a school district employee for 18 years, with her husband, a labor foreman at the Philadelphia Housing Authority, at her side, testified that their son "never gave us a day of trouble, not one," and that they had raised him to be a "respectful young man."

"Whatever it was," she said of her son's actions that night, "it didn't justify shooting him in the back. My heart will never be the same."

"I want to see Anthony Avery behind bars where he belongs," she continued, with Ramsey, who had testified earlier, sitting behind her. "If the shoe was on the other foot, I wouldn't be here right now. I'd be visiting my son in jail."

Council members Donna Reed Miller and Curtis Jones Jr. had called the hearing. Jones called the current climate between police and the community they serve an urgent matter.

Miller said the committee would review the notes from the hearing and determine next steps, which will include more public meetings.

According to city officials, there were 725 civilian complaints against police officers between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30. Last year, there were 697 complaints.

Every witness acknowledged that there are plenty of good officers on the city's 6,500-plus police force, who do hard and dangerous work. But several asked for more transparency in Internal Affairs investigations and their disposition, for an end to stop-and-frisk, and for more officers to be reprimanded, fired, and convicted in cases of misconduct.

Since March 2009, 15 officers have been arrested, including two on murder charges stemming from off-duty shootings. One officer was fired this year after admitting that he fabricated a story about being shot; the officer had shot himself. In September, three police officers were arrested on federal charges of robbing a drug dealer. And Kenneth Crockett, on the force 26 years, was charged with stealing $825 from a Northeast Philadelphia bar.

The department also has faced a string of tragedies, with five officers killed in the line of duty since 2008.

Ramsey noted that just last week, an officer was shot in the shoulder during a foot chase in North Philadelphia.

"This has been a very challenging time for the Philadelphia police," he said. "The vast majority of our officers do their jobs very well, but we're here today to discuss the few officers who unfortunately because of their actions discredit the department."

Ramsey said he was looking to implement thorough background checks on recruits, including interviewing family members, neighbors, and friends, and possibly polygraph tests. He has also asked the Civil Service Commission to raise the recruitment age from 19 to 21 and to require that recruits have at least three years of driving experience and an associate degree or 60 college credits, with a minimum grade-point average of 2.0. The goal, he said, is to obtain respectful, professional, high-quality officers.

Ramsey pointed to 38 people added to the Internal Affairs bureau to investigate complaints more quickly; a task force involving the bureau, the FBI, and the District Attorney's Office to look into police misconduct; increased community meetings; and enhanced officer training on "scenario-driven" ethics.

"It's putting officers in situations where they have to use their heads," Ramsey said. "They have to think, they have to take a deep breath and step back in order to de-escalate a situation. That probably is the most important thing we're doing right now."

Ramsey also said the department was making it easier to file complaints. There is now a hotline that goes straight to his office for people to anonymously report police misconduct. People can also file a complaint online at, and forms will be available at city agencies, such as libraries and recreation centers, he said.

Also testifying at the hearing were representatives from the Fraternal Order of Police, Police Advisory Commission, Town Watch, the ACLU, community organizations, clergy, and several people who said they had been cursed at, harassed, or beaten by police officers.

Abdus Sabur, gray-haired in a suit and bow tie, appeared on behalf of his son, 29-year-old Askia Sabur. At the start of the Labor Day weekend, Askia Sabur was arrested outside a Chinese takeout in West Philadelphia by baton-wielding police officers, an incident caught on videotape and posted on YouTube.

Sabur faced two counts of aggravated assault, resisting arrests, and related offenses. One case has been dismissed because one of the officers involved, Jimmy Leocal, had been repeatedly unable to testify because of an ongoing investigation by the District's Attorney's Office. The other officer, Donyule Williams, had been cleared of wrongdoing by the District Attorney's Office, and his case against Sabur is headed to trial.

Sabur, who received a broken arm and a gash to the back of the head during the arrest, has maintained that police had no cause to arrest him. He said that he was waiting for his food when Williams told him to clear the corner and that the officers used excessive force.

"If any one of you have sons," Abdus Sabur testified, his voice quaking as he turned toward Ramsey and officers with him, "and your sons are beaten down by those supposed to protect, tell me how you'd feel. You people beat my child down and think he's supposed to accept it. Something has to be done. We can't live like this."

Original report here

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