Thursday, September 30, 2010

GPS and the police state we inhabit: Living in Oceania

Voicing his discontent with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling in United States v. Pineda-Moreno, which declared the warrantless use of a GPS tracking device to be constitutional, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski warned, "We are taking a giant leap into the unknown, and the consequences for ourselves and our children may be dire and irreversible. Some day, soon, we may wake up and find we’re living in Oceania."

Indeed, we are already living in George Orwell’s totalitarian state known as Oceania, where the all-seeing government sees and tracks everything we do. By asserting that the police can constitutionally sneak onto a private driveway without a warrant and stick a GPS tag on your car so that they can remotely track you, the Ninth Circuit didn’t necessarily break any new ground. Rather, they merely confirmed what we have suspected all along: that the concept of private property is dead and along with it, the right against unreasonable searches and seizures once protected by the Fourth Amendment.

Having outstripped our ability as humans to control it, technology has become our Frankenstein’s monster. Delighted with technology’s conveniences, its ability to make our lives easier by doing an endless array of tasks faster and more efficiently, we have given it free rein in our lives, with little thought to the legal or moral ramifications of doing so. Thus, we have no one but ourselves to blame for the fact that technology now operates virtually autonomously according to its own invasive code, respecting no one’s intimate moments or privacy and impervious to the foibles of human beings and human relationships.

For example, consider how enthusiastically we welcomed Global Positioning System (GPS) devices into our lives. We’ve installed this satellite-based technology in everything from our phones to our cars to our pets. Yet by ensuring that we never get lost, never lose our loved ones and never lose our wireless signals, we are also making it possible for the government to never lose sight of us, as well.

GPS, originally known as Navstar, is funded and operated by none other than the U.S. Department of Defense. The U.S. military controls the satellites used by GPS devices and transmits signals to ground GPS receivers. The U.S. Air Force, by means of ground stations, sustains 24 operational GPS satellites at all times. These synchronized satellites emit signals at the same time. A GPS receiver located on earth collects the signals that travel at the speed of light. The receiver calculates the distance to the satellites by determining the time it takes for the emitted signal to reach the GPS receiver. Once a time is determined for at least four of the GPS satellites, the receiver can pinpoint your location in three dimensions, including latitude, longitude, and altitude.

While many Americans are literally lost without their GPS devices, it has also become a ubiquitous convenience for law enforcement agencies. For example, in 2009, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) introduced a prototype "smart" police car. This smart cruiser is the most advanced of its kind, equipped with license plate cameras, computers, a GPS projectile launcher, and even a heat detector in the front grill to differentiate between people and animals. The license plate reader can scan and download five to eight thousand license plates per shift. It saves the information it collects and can access the information instantaneously through the computer system installed in the car. If a stolen or wanted vehicle comes up in the scan, the license plate reader will automatically label the vehicle as a threat and a camera will take a colored picture of the vehicle and send the GPS coordinates of the vehicle to the police station.

In addition to the high-tech license plate readers and cameras, the smart car is equipped with GPS-enabled projectiles. The device is similar to a dart launcher and is near the front bumper of the vehicle. The projectile is three inches in diameter. When engaged, the device shoots the GPS projectile at the target vehicle. The law enforcement agent inside the car arms and fires the projectile. With the aid of a military grade laser, the law enforcement agent can aim with tremendous precision. Once attached to the target, the projectiles have the capability of tracking the target in real time for days. The LAPD is currently shopping for a manufacturer willing to mass produce these cars in order to make them available to law enforcement agencies across the country.

Frankly, given how attached Americans have become to their cell phones – and how easily trackable, as a result, it’s a wonder the government even bothers with any other technologies. Currently, cell phone service providers have the ability to pinpoint a phone’s location to an area as small as a city block. (It should come as no surprise that government agents have wasted little time in adding this technology to their bag of tricks, employing GPS on multiple occasions to track individuals without establishing probable cause or obtaining a search warrant.) Most corporate cell phone providers can also store vast amounts of data containing the location of the cell phone and its specific uses (such as the contents of text messages and websites visited), sometimes even in real time.

In an effort to handle the massive amount of requests from federal agents for access to the GPS data, several cell phone providers now offer automated services for obtaining internal cell phone data. Sprint Nextel, for example, has an entire website devoted to cell phone records that law enforcement officers can access. Called the Mobile Locator, the system allows law enforcement to access information, such as call history, without a search warrant, thus completely bypassing the protections afforded us by the Fourth Amendment. It also enables government agents to monitor an individual in real-time on a zoomable, online map.

A recent study by Indiana University reveals the extent to which government agents are making use of this resource. According to the study, over a period of 13 months, Sprint responded to eight million requests from law enforcement for GPS data. In addition to GPS data, Sprint also stores IP data and URL web history for a two-year period, which it also makes available to law enforcement upon request.

Intelligence and law enforcement agencies insist that a search warrant is not required to access the information because cell phone users, having disclosed their information to a third party, have no reasonable expectation of privacy anyhow. All the while, the American people remain clueless about the existence of these databases, the ease with which law enforcement agents can access them, and their overall loss of privacy.

The bottom line: there really is no place to hide in the American Oceania. As Judge Kozinski concludes:

"You can preserve your anonymity from prying eyes, even in public, by traveling at night, through heavy traffic, in crowds, by using a circuitous route, disguising your appearance, passing in and out of buildings and being careful not to be followed. But there’s no hiding from the all-seeing network of GPS satellites that hover overhead, which never sleep, never blink, never get confused and never lose attention. Nor is there respite from the dense network of cell towers that honeycomb the inhabited United States. Acting together these two technologies alone can provide law enforcement with a swift, efficient, silent, invisible and cheap way of tracking the movements of virtually anyone and everyone they choose. Most targets won’t know they need to disguise their movements or turn off their cell phones because they’ll have no reason to suspect that Big Brother is watching them."

Original report here

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Charges dismissed against Md. man who taped traffic stop

This was a much watched case, with several comments about it on this blog alone. The verdict should help curb some very arrogant behavior from Md. cops. They now have to run the risk of being legally recorded

A Harford County Circuit Court judge Monday dismissed wiretapping charges against Anthony Graber, a motorcyclist who was jailed briefly after he taped a Maryland state trooper who stopped him for speeding on I-95. Graber used a camera mounted on his helmet, then posted the video on YouTube.

In April, a few weeks after the traffic stop, Harford County state's attorney Joseph I. Cassilly charged Graber, a staff sergeant in the Maryland Air National Guard and a computer systems engineer, with violating the state's wiretapping law. That law dates back to the 1970s and was originally intended to protect citizens from government intrusions into their privacy. If convicted on all charges, Graber faced up to 16 years in prison.

Judge Emory A. Pitt Jr. had to decide whether police performing their duties have an expectation of privacy in public space. Pitt ruled that police can have no such expectation in their public, on-the-job communications.

Pitt wrote: "Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public. When we exercise that power in public fora, we should not expect our actions to be shielded from public observation. 'Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes' ("Who watches the watchmen?”)."

Graber was also charged with possessing a “device primarily useful for the purpose of the surreptitious interception of oral communications" -- referring to the video camera on his helmet. The judge disagreed with the prosecutor that the helmet cam was illegal, and concluded the state's argument would render illegal “almost every cell phone, Blackberry, and every similar device, not to mention dictation equipment and other types of recording devices."

Pitt's decision is the first ruling in Maryland to address the legality of citizens taping police in the course of their duties. Because it is a circuit court ruling, it is not binding on other judges. However, unless it is appealed, said Graber's attorney, David Rocah of the ACLU of Maryland, "it is likely to be the last word" on the matter and to be regarded as precedent by police.

No word yet on whether the state's attorney will try to appeal the decision. Graber still faces traffic charges stemming from the incident.

Original report here

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How to record the cops

A guide to the technology for keeping government accountable

This summer the issue of recording on-duty police officers has received a great deal of media attention. Camera-wielding citizens were arrested in Maryland, Illinois, and Massachusetts under interpretations of state wiretapping laws, while others were arrested in New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Florida, and elsewhere based on vaguer charges related to obstructing or interfering with a police officer.

So far Massachusetts is the only state to explicitly uphold a conviction for recording on-duty cops, and Illinois and Massachusetts are the only states where it is clearly illegal. The Illinois law has yet to be considered by the state's Supreme Court, while the Massachusetts law has yet to be upheld by a federal appeals court. Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler recently issued an opinion concluding that arrests for recording cops are based on a misreading of the state's wiretapping statute, but that opinion isn't binding on local prosecutors.

In the remaining 47 states, the law is clearer: It is generally legal to record the police, as long as you don't physically interfere with them. You may be unfairly harassed, questioned, or even arrested, but it's unlikely you will be charged, much less convicted. (These are general observations and should not be treated as legal advice.)

One reason this issue has heated up recently is that the democratization of technology has made it easier than ever for just about anyone to pull out a camera and quickly document an encounter with police. So what's the best way to record cops? Here is a quick rundown of the technology that's out there.

Cameras without wireless networking capabilities are the least attractive option. If they are destroyed or confiscated, you have probably lost the damning video you just recorded, including the video documenting how your camera was confiscated or destroyed. But provided you can hold on to your camera, digital video recorders today are inexpensive, small, and wonderfully practical. The best-known everyday, easy-to-use brand right now is probably the Flip Video line, which start at $149. Even the cheapest Flips fit in your pocket, power up in about three seconds, and feature one-button recording. They are also easy to use. They include a built-in USB port and instant formatting for sites such as LiveLeak and YouTube.

Kodak has a pocket video camera for $100, and Amazon list a couple dozen different flash-memory cameras for under $50. Still too expensive? For $20, this camera sold at USBGeek is shorter than a stick of gum and shoots 640×480 video at 30 frames per second. It has a memory slot to hold up to 32GB of memory and a two-hour battery life. Or try this keychain camera. It's tiny, has the advantage of not looking much like a camera, shoots 720x480 video at 30 frames per second, and sells for all of $12 (with free shipping) at

Last year's demonstrations in Iran and the 2009 police shooting of Oscar Grant on a subway platfom in Oakland, California were very public incidents, with dozens of cell phones taking photos and video as they happened. Authorities could not possibly have confiscated every phone camera (although in both cases they tried). But in other cases, police confiscate cameras, and when they are returned the potentially incriminating video or photos are gone. But technology is helping there too.

If you find your files or videos have been deleted once your camera has been returned, your best option is to look into recovery software, which in many cases can bring the deleted files back. Don't use the phone or camera until you've tried the software.

The better option, though, is to use a camera with networking capabilities. We're increasingly seeing spy movies-come-to-life cameras like this Bluetooth device from Looxcie, which you wear over your ear and lets you instantly email video, but the same technology is also standard now in most smart phones. The ability to store audio or video off site—to email it to friends (or yourself), or to upload it to social networking sites—is becoming more and more accessible. And it's a pretty powerful check on government, as shown by the Iran demonstrations, the Grant shooting, and the alleged police abuses shown in hundreds of videos uploaded to video sharing sites.

Qik and UStream, two services available for both the iPhone and Android phones, allow instant online video streaming and archiving. Once you stop recording, the video is instantly saved online. Both services also allow you to send out a mass email or notice to your Twitter followers when you have posted a new video from your phone. Not only will your video of police misconduct be preserved, but so will the video of the police officer illegally confiscating your phone (assuming you continue recording until that point).

Neither Qik nor UStream market themselves for this purpose, and it probably would not make good business sense for them to do so, given the risk of angering law enforcement agencies and attracting attention from regulators. But it's hard to overstate the power of streaming and off-site archiving. Prior to this technology, prosecutors and the courts nearly always deferred to the police narrative; now that narrative has to be consistent with independently recorded evidence. And as examples of police reports contradicted by video become increasingly common, a couple of things are likely to happen: Prosecutors and courts will be less inclined to uncritically accept police testimony, even in cases where there is no video, and bad cops will be deterred by the knowledge that their misconduct is apt to be recorded.

But there is still room for improvement. With both Qik and UStream, you can delete your uploaded videos from your phone, which means that if your phone is confiscated before you can turn it off (or if you keep your phone unlocked), whoever took it can get into your account and erase your evidence. One not terribly reliable way around this problem would be to encourage any of your friends or Twitter followers who happen to be online at the time to download your video the moment they get notice of it. But it would be far better if you had the option to make your videos deletable only once you've logged in from a computer. Another improvement would be the ability to "black out" the phone while it's taking video, so it isn't so obvious that you're recording.

UStream and Qik are not likely to add either function, since both are beneficial only for people who want to make surreptitious recordings. But how about an ACLU or NAACP app designed specifically for recording police? The NAACP's "All Alert" project encourages people to report incidents of police abuse through a toll-free phone number, text messages, or Twitter. But the process for registering a complaint is pretty cumbersome, and the program doesn't allow instant streaming and archiving.

Scott Morgan of Flex Your Rights, which educates people about their rights during police encounters, says his organization has been exploring the possibility of offering such a service. "I think it's a great idea," Morgan says. "We've talked to a couple developers about it. I think the problem for a small group like us is getting server space for videos and working out the networking issues." Globally, it would make great sense for an organization like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch to develop a similar easy-to-use application, allowing people all over the world to emulate the instant documentation we saw during the protests in Iran.

The dizzying advancements in personal technology during the last decade have slipped a powerful government accountability tool into our pockets. But it happened mostly by accident. The technology was intended for other uses, and it still needs some fine tuning to work better as a protection against abuses of state power. It's hard to think of a more worthy project for a civil liberties group.

Original report here. See the original for links

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Monday, September 27, 2010

TX: Dallas police charge three officers in alleged beating

Dallas police have filed criminal charges against three white officers accused of beating a black suspect in an incident caught on squad car dashboard cameras.

At a news conference Wednesday, Chief David Brown said he has fired one of the officers involved in the Sept. 5 beating of a 28-year-old man. Two others have been suspended and face an internal affairs investigation that could result in their firings.

Another three officers have been placed on desk duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

Two of the officers face misdemeanor assault and official oppression charges. All three each face a felony charge of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence.

Brown says one of the officers is suspected of moving the camera to conceal the beating.

Original report here

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

One police crook down -- maybe

A former New Orleans police detective who admitted he helped cover up deadly shootings of unarmed residents on a bridge after Hurricane Katrina has been sentenced to three years in prison.

Jeffrey Lehrmann, one of five former officers who have pleaded guilty in the Justice Department's probe of the Danziger Bridge shootings, was sentenced Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Lance Africk.

Africk refused a prosecution request to postpone Lehrman's sentencing until after six current or former officers are tried. Africk also went above the sentencing guidelines, which called for up to six months behind bars.

Lehrmann remains free on $25,000 bond until the trial is held.

Police killed two people and wounded four others on the bridge less than a week after the August 2005 storm.

Original report here

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Scalp hunting U.S. Federal prosecutors

The jurors who helped put Nino Lyons in jail for three years had every reason to think that he was a drug trafficker, and, until July, no reason to doubt that justice had been done.

For more than a week in 2001, the jurors listened to one witness after another, almost all of them prison inmates, describe how Lyons had sold them packages of cocaine. One said that Lyons, who ran clothing shops and nightclubs around Orlando, even tried to hire him to kill two drug suppliers.

But the federal prosecutors handling the case did not let the jury hear all the facts.

Instead, the prosecutors covered up evidence that could have discredited many of Lyons' accusers. They never revealed that a convict who claimed to have purchased hundreds of pounds of cocaine from Lyons struggled even to identify his photograph. And they hid the fact that prosecutors had promised to let others out of prison early in exchange for their cooperation.

Federal prosecutors are supposed to seek justice, not merely score convictions. But a USA TODAY investigation found that prosecutors repeatedly have violated that duty in courtrooms across the nation. The abuses have put innocent people in prison, set guilty people free and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees and sanctions.

Judges have warned for decades that misconduct by prosecutors threatens the Constitution's promise of a fair trial. Congress in 1997 enacted a law aimed at ending such abuses.

Yet USA TODAY documented 201 criminal cases in the years that followed in which judges determined that Justice Department prosecutors — the nation's most elite and powerful law enforcement officials — themselves violated laws or ethics rules.

In case after case during that time, judges blasted prosecutors for "flagrant" or "outrageous" misconduct. They caught some prosecutors hiding evidence, found others lying to judges and juries, and said others had broken plea bargains.

Such abuses, intentional or not, doubtless infect no more than a small fraction of the tens of thousands of criminal cases filed in the nation's federal courts each year. But the transgressions USA TODAY identified were so serious that, in each case, judges threw out charges, overturned convictions or rebuked prosecutors for misconduct. And each has the potential to tarnish the reputation of the prosecutors who do their jobs honorably.

In July, U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell did more than overturn Lyons' conviction: He declared that Lyons was innocent.

Neither the Justice Department nor the lead prosecutor in the Lyons case, Bruce Hinshelwood, would explain the events that cost Lyons his home, his businesses and nearly three years of freedom. The department investigated Hinshelwood but refused to say whether he was punished; records obtained by USA TODAY show that the agency regulating Florida lawyers ordered him to attend a one-day ethics workshop, scheduled for Friday.

Asked about Presnell's ruling exonerating Lyons, Hinshelwood said only, "It is of no concern to me."

The circumstances of Lyons' conviction did trouble Presnell, who oversaw his trial nine years ago. Presnell savaged the Justice Department in a written order for "a concerted campaign of prosecutorial abuse" by attorneys who, he wrote, covered up evidence and let felons lie to the jury.

Records from the Justice Department's internal ethics watchdogs show the agency has investigated a growing number of complaints by judges about misconduct they observed. In 2001, the department investigated 42 such complaints; last year, 61.

The department will not reveal how many of those prosecutors were punished because, it said, doing so would violate their privacy rights. USA TODAY, drawing on state bar records, identified only one federal prosecutor who was barred even temporarily from practicing law for misconduct during the past 12 years.

Even high-profile cases have been affected. Last year, a judge in Washington, D.C. — saying the department could not be trusted to investigate its own prosecutors — launched his own probe of the attorneys who handled the corruption trial of former Alaska senator Ted Stevens. After a jury found Stevens guilty, the department admitted that prosecutors had hidden evidence, then dropped the charges. (Stevens died in an August plane crash.)

Stevens' lawyers question how misconduct could have tainted such a closely watched case — and what that might mean for routine prosecutions. "It's a frightening thought and calls into question the generally accepted belief that our system of justice performs at a high level and yields just results," said Brendan Sullivan, Stevens' attorney.

Pattern of 'glaring misconduct'

Unlike local prosecutors, who often toil daily in crowded courts to untangle routine burglaries and homicides, Justice Department attorneys handle many of the nation's most complex and consequential crimes.

With help from legal experts and former prosecutors, USA TODAY spent six months examining federal prosecutors' work, reviewing legal databases, department records and tens of thousands of pages of court filings. Although the true extent of misconduct by prosecutors will likely never be known, the assessment is the most complete yet of the scope and impact of those violations.

USA TODAY found a pattern of "serious, glaring misconduct," said Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman, an expert on misconduct by prosecutors. "It's systemic now, and … the system is not able to control this type of behavior. There is no accountability."

He and Alexander Bunin, the chief federal public defender in Albany, N.Y., called the newspaper's findings "the tip of the iceberg" because many more cases are tainted by misconduct than are found. In many cases, misconduct is exposed only because of vigilant scrutiny by defense attorneys and judges.

However frequently it happens, the consequences go to the heart of the justice system's promise of fairness:

• Innocent people are punished. In Arizona, a woman spent eight years in prison for her conviction in a 2000 bank robbery because the prosecution never told her that another woman —who matched her description almost exactly — had been charged with robbing banks in the area. In Washington, D.C., a court in 2005 threw out murder charges against two men who had spent two decades in prison for a murder they didn't commit, in part because prosecutors hid evidence that two others could have committed the crime.

They were among 47 cases USA TODAY documented in which defendants were either exonerated or set free after the violations surfaced.

Among the consequences of misconduct, wrongful convictions are the most serious, said former U.S. attorney general Dick Thornburgh. He said, "No civilized society should countenance such conduct or systems that failed to prevent it."

Even people who never spent a day in jail faced ruinous consequences: lost careers, lost savings and lost reputations. Last year, a federal appeals court wiped out Illinois businessman Charles Farinella's 2007 conviction for changing "best when purchased by" dates on bottles of salad dressing he sold to discount stores. The judges ruled that what he had done wasn't illegal and blasted lead prosecutor Juliet Sorensen for violations that robbed Farinella of a fair trial. Exoneration came too late to salvage his business or to help the 20 or so employees he had laid off.

"It's the United States government against one person," Farinella said in his first public comment on the case. "They beat you down because they are so powerful. They have trillions of dollars behind them. Even someone who's innocent doesn't have much of a chance."

• Guilty people go free or face less punishment. In Puerto Rico, a federal court blocked prosecutors from seeking the death penalty for a fatal robbery because they failed to turn over evidence; the defendant was sentenced to life in prison instead. In California, a double agent accused of sharing defense secrets with China was sentenced to probation instead of prison because prosecutors refused to let her lawyer talk to her FBI handler, a key witness. Dozens of other defendants — including drug dealers and bank robbers — left prison early because their trials were tainted.

• Taxpayers foot the bill. The Justice Department has paid nearly $5.3 million to reimburse the legal bills of defendants who were wrongly accused. It has spent far more to repeat trials for people whose convictions were thrown out because of misconduct, a process that can take years, although the full price tag is impossible to tally.

In one California case, for example, it took prosecutors four years and three trials to convict a man of tax fraud. Then an appeals court set aside his conviction because it said a prosecutor "sat silently as his witness lied."

The violations happened in almost every part of the nation, though USA TODAY found the most cases in federal courts in San Diego; Massachusetts; Washington, D.C.; and Puerto Rico. That pattern means misconduct is "not an isolated problem," said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles....

'Real sloppy and lazy'

Before Bruce Hinshelwood became a federal prosecutor, he tried murder cases and those involving other high-profile crimes as a state attorney. He headed the Justice Department's Jacksonville office, and was briefly second-in-command of the middle district surrounding Tampa. Later, he tried drug cases in Orlando. In all that time, there is no indication Hinshelwood was faulted for misconduct. The Lyons case changed that.

Hinshelwood's former boss, Paul Perez, became U.S. attorney in Tampa in 2002, shortly after Lyons' trial ended. When the case against Lyons fell apart, it was his job to figure out why.

Perez said in an interview that he personally never doubted that Lyons was guilty. He said the problems came down to inattention: Hinshelwood was "an experienced but very lazy prosecutor," but didn't break the rules on purpose. He was, Perez said, "real sloppy and lazy."

Judge Presnell drew harsher conclusions. In a 2004 order, he said the Justice Department's failures in the case could be explained, "at best, by its agents' sloppy investigative work or, at worst, by their knowing failure to meet constitutional duties." He later faulted prosecutors not just for failing to turn over evidence but for "brazenly" defying court orders and presenting witnesses who were "allowed, if not encouraged, to lie under oath."

Records from the Florida Bar, which regulates the state's lawyers, show that the Justice Department investigated Hinshelwood's handling of the Lyons case, a fact the department refused to confirm for fear of invading his privacy. The department completed its report in 2007 and referred its findings to the bar in 2009, a step Justice Department policies say it takes when it finds misconduct.

Despite Presnell's rebuke and its own investigation, there is no evidence that the Justice Department ever punished Hinshelwood. He continued prosecuting cases until he retired in February 2008 to open his own law practice in Orlando.

The Florida Bar investigated Hinshelwood last year — seven years after Presnell accused him of misconduct by name in a court order — but concluded that too much time had passed to take action for what happened at the trial. It let Hinshelwood resolve the complaint by paying $1,111.80 in costs and attending Friday's ethics workshop.

"That's the extent of it?" Lyons said.

The bar opened a second investigation of Hinshelwood in July after Presnell declared Lyons innocent, an uncommon step that officials would not explain publicly.

To Lyons, nothing the bar can do would be strong enough. Hinshelwood "should suffer or go to jail," Lyons said. "The justice system not only didn't work initially in my case, it's still not working. Bruce Hinshelwood has his pension. He still works every single day. His life is not miserable. I'm not saying mine is, but it's nothing like it was before."

More here

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Friday, September 24, 2010

The system’s not rigged enough for cops and prosecutors

Rupert Myers, at The Guardian (“Tricks and cheats are the price of cutting legal aid,” September 5), recently did a bit of hand-wringing about the role of crowdsourced law (i.e. free legal advice websites) in providing those accused of traffic and child support offenses, among other things, with handy tips for beating the system.

“… [W]ith the capacity to share approaches to defence has come the temptation in forums to share advice which, if followed, would result in a miscarriage of justice. … Every case in which a defendant employs a sharp tactic to win a trial, or exploits a loophole discussed online, is one that costs the taxpayer.”

Why, gasps Myers, these things might “undermine the very legitimacy and effectiveness of the justice system!” Heaven forfend! Because it was, you know, so much more legitimate when it was easier for cops and prosecutors to railroad people into jail.

I don’t know how things are in the UK, but here in the US the very idea of someone whining that online sharing of “tricks and cheats” is unfair to the poor downtrodden cops and prosecutors is enough to make me puke.

The whole system is rigged so that about the only way a cop can get fired or prosecuted is when they’re actually recorded shooting an unarmed person in the back and planting a gun on them, or go around bragging and waving the feces-smeared broom handle they raped a prisoner with. Even when a cop’s caught on video using excessive force, they’ll most likely be put on paid suspension until the police commission finds “no evidence of wrongdoing” and that “all procedures were followed.”

What’s more, cops have their own form of “crowdsourced” lawyering up. Police forces, just as much as prisons, are “colleges of crime.” The lore of police work is full of helpful hints on manufacturing probable cause for invading the homes of people cops “know” are guilty despite the lack of any real evidence, perjuring themselves to obtain warrants, obtaining warrants based on coerced testimony from jailhouse snitches, training police dogs to “alert” on command, tricking or bullying people into giving confessions without a lawyer present in violation of the spirit of Miranda, and using every shred of power they possess under the letter — and punctuation marks — of the law to harrass people who fall afoul of them. Any time a cop finds another trick or cheat, another loophole for evading the spirit of a thousand years of common law due process rights and turning the Fourth Amendment into toilet paper, it will circulate among the Brotherhood faster than crib notes in a frat house.

If you publicize police misconduct, your troubles have only begun. Never mind what the law says — if you’re spotted recording a beating with your cell phone camera, you’ll probably be arrested for it. And if you post footage online of unruly cops (terrorizing people in a bar while off-duty, staggering around publicly urinating during Law Enforcement Day festivities, etc.), you can count on anonymous death threats from the Brotherhood.

As for prosecutors: In every single story I’ve ever seen where subsequent evidence exonerated a convict, the prosecutor in the case fought tooth and nail to prevent the case being reopened. Compared to the “injustice” of tarnishing the prosecutor’s conviction ratio in the face of an upcoming election, the prospect of an innocent person rotting away in hell is small potatoes.

There’s also the venerable prosecutorial practice of suppressing evidence during the original trial. Take Nancy Grace, the shrill harpy of law-n-order and “victims’ rights” whose philosophy is “They must be guilty, or they wouldn’t have been arrested.” (I wish she’d get whacked on the head with a shovel like Gracie Jane on Boston Legal.)

Nancy had one conviction declared a mistrial and another overturned on appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, the latter on grounds of “inappropriate and illegal conduct in the course of the trial.” Among other things she made an opening statement in which she promised the jury inflammatory evidence she obviously knew would be inadmissible, withheld evidence from the defense, and personally conducted an illegal search accompanied by a CNN camera crew.

The equally despicable Wendy Murphy, who like Grace parleyed her prosecutorial background and her personal hysteria and dishonesty into a career in cheap cable punditry, made endless TV appearances during the Duke lacrosse team case in which just about every assertion of fact she made proved to be a verifiable lie. I doubt this sociopath, who has absolutely no qualms about just making (stuff) up, was any more scrupulous as a prosecutor.

The game is already rigged in favor of cops and prosecutors. Whining about ordinary people using crowdsourced law to even things up strikes me as more than a little perverse.

Original report here

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

No law? No warrant? No problem

Sal Agro, a 67-year-old man from Lake Orion, Michigan, died of a heart attack on September 2. Although those responsible for Agro's untimely death will never admit as much, he was the victim of an act of state terrorism carried out a week earlier by the Oakland County Sheriff's Office

Agro, along with his son, helped operate a treatment center in nearby Ferndale called Clinical Relief that provided medical marijuana to physician-approved clients under a 2008 Michigan state law. Sal, who had recently undergone hip surgery, was authorized to grow and use marijuana himself. His wife was authorized both to use marijuana and provide it to others as a caregiver. They had invited local officials to inspect the Clinical Relief facility.

Last June, with at least eight applications pending to open facilities like Clinical Relief, the Ferndale City Council imposed a temporary moratorium on dispensing medical marijuana while it explored new ways to harass the facilities through zoning restrictions. This prompted an objection from Mayor Craig Covey, who pointed out that the medical marijuana clinics would already be covered by existing ordinances. Nor were they likely to be profitable, given the detailed and often self-contradictory regulations inflicted on them under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA), which voters approved by referendum in 2008.

On August 25, the Ferndale City Council lifted the moratorium. On the very next day, the local counter-narcotics Gestapo staged a paramilitary raid against several locations in Oakland County, arresting 15 people, confiscating cash and crops, illegally seizing medical records, and terrorizing unarmed, helpless people who suffer from cancer and other painful afflictions. Most importantly, of course, the raiders got a potent fix of their preferred narcotic -- the depraved thrill that comes from making powerless people submit to their whims.

It's hardly an exaggeration to characterize the Oakland County Narcotics Enforcement Team (NET) as the local "Gestapo." Agro used that term to describe the ski mask-clad marauders who laid waste to his home, ripping apart furniture, throwing potting soil into the carpets and -- of course -- helping themselves to whatever cash they could find.

A similar home invasion robbery was carried out at the Lake Orion home of Agro's daughter-in-law. "She's approximately five-foot, weighs about eighty-nine pounds, and the masked officers put a shotgun in her face and told her to freeze," a wearily disgusted Agro recalled to a local reporter.

After learning about the raid, Agro went back to his house, which was swarming with armed tax-feeders.

"I asked what was going on, and they said, `Your house is being searched,'" Agro related. "I said, `Do you have a search warrant?' They said, `Yes.' I said, `Can I see it?' They said, `When we get ready to show it to you.'" Despite the fact that the invaders had a note from a judge supposedly authorizing them to trash Agro's home, the raid was, as the victim pointed out, an act of "illegal search and seizure," since the money and property that were stolen had nothing to do with a criminal act.

The same lawless behavior was on display at another facility called Everyone’s CafĂ©, where police threw cancer patients to the ground and held them at gunpoint.

"What took place in Oakland is nothing short of armed robbery," protests Gersh Avery, a local medical marijuana activist. "Patients in those locations had nothing to do with the day-to-day operations, yet their medicine was forcibly taken from them." The NET, Avery concludes, "deliberately targeted sick innocent people."

The official sadism continued after the case was split into two groups of defendants. Judge Richard Kuhn of Michigan's 51st District Court in Waterford refused to waive a bond condition permitting the use of medical marijuana by defendants who had received medical authorization to do so. Astoundingly, 43rd District Judge Joe Longo, who is presiding over the case in Ferndale, permitted defendants with medical marijuana cards to continue using the palliative while out on bail. This, of course, begs the question of why those people are criminal defendants in the first place.

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard claims that the raid followed "undercover" investigations of Clinical Relief and Everyone's Cafe. William Joseph Teichman, co-owner of Everyone's Cafe, insists that "We check the identification of every patient we deal with, and those undercover cops had either proper ID and paperwork or forgeries so good we couldn't tell the difference."

In a post-raid press conference, Sheriff Bouchard -- grasping for a suitable soundbite -- described the local medical marijuana market as "something out of a bad Cheech and Chong Movie," without elaborating as to whether he considers "Up in Smoke" or "Nice Dreams" to be the gold standard of the stoner duo's cinematic output.

Bouchard himself essays a pretty decent impression of Sgt. Stedenko, the bullying, authoritarian narcotics officer who was a recurring nemesis in the comedy team's films.

Ryan Richmond, co-owner of Clinical Relief and one of the defendants in the Ferndale case, asserts that Bouchard "simply doesn't like the [Michigan state medical marijuana] law because it's too broad. If Bouchard has his way, we, you, have no rights even within the law."

Bouchard's critics are not limited to those he has arrested on marijuana-related charges.

"I personally don't understand why the county would use such a large amount of precious law enforcement resources on something like this," objects Ferndale Mayor Craig Covey. "This was obviously a political move by the sheriff to flex his muscles and send a message that he does not want medical marijuana clinics in Oakland County."

Covey also criticized "the use of SWAT teams with masked and armed officers ordering sick, elderly patients to the ground.... Now it's going to cost the taxpayers and the business owners hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees to sort through this mess."

Bouchard's admitted purpose in staging the raids was not to enforce the existing law, but rather to create a "test case" intended to change it, either in substance or in application. By strict definition, this was an exercise of violence against the helpless intended to bring about political change -- that is, an act of official terrorism.

Although Bouchard accuses medical marijuana advocates and providers of engaging in "organized crime," that description makes a much better fit when applied to the NET, which is a federally designated multi-agency task force. Thanks to an indulgence granted by the so-called Department of Justice, the NET has a license to steal in the name of "asset forfeiture."

According to the Madison Heights Police Department's 2009 Annual Report, last year the NET seized a little more than a ton of marijuana and pilfered nearly $2 million through asset forfeiture. The August 26 raids pulled down tens of thousands of dollars in cash, including money the late Sal Agro and his wife Barbara had put aside toward the purchase of a new car.

Original report here

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Elderly Man's Neck Broken During Confrontation With Florida Cop

You know how dangerous and physically violent those 84 year olds can be

An 84-year-old man is out of surgery Monday after he suffered a broken neck during a confrontation with an Orlando police officer over the weekend. Daniel Daley's family told WFTV Monday afternoon, that the doctors at Florida Hospital are optimistic about his recovery.

The incident began when a police officer was dispatched to The Caboose bar on North Orange Avenue south of Princeton Street (see map) around 11:00pm Saturday, after reports that Daniel Daley was arguing with a tow truck driver.

Witnesses said the World War II veteran touched Officer Travis Lamonte several times during the argument and, in response, the officer slammed him to the ground.

"All of a sudden, an officer did some kind of a defensive movement, hip-checked him and then pile-drived him to the pavement," eyewitness Tim Scott told WFTV. "I actually thought he was going to be dead. The way he, you could hear his head hit the pavement from across the street."

Daley's son, Greg, said his father was hospitalized in critical condition after the confrontation. "The severity of his injuries just seem as though an overwhelming amount of power to take him down like that," said Greg Daley, the man's son.

Orlando police said Daniel Daley was intoxicated when he grabbed the officer's neck and then threatened to punch him.

WFTV spoke with Orlando Police Department Sgt. Barbara Jones Monday, who said Daley had a .187 alcohol level, twice the legal limit for driving. "He grabbed the officer, pulled back his arm and said, 'I'm not going anywhere until I knock out this cop,' something to that effect." Jones said.

However, Scott said Daley only tapped Officer Lamonte. "It was just too excessive. I can't say excessive enough," Scott said.

Daniel Daley was charged with assault on an officer. Orlando police said they plan to prosecute and sent the information to the State Attorney's Office to decide.

"Everybody is focusing on the age. I am focusing on the action of the person. People, 84, can kill officers, too, can cold-cock my officer in the face, knock him out and now you've got an officer laying down on the ground with a gun, and everything is completely out of control," Jones said.

Officer Lamonte had been disciplined in the past for bad driving and a wrongful arrest in a misdemeanor case.

Original report here

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Australia: Deliberate police harassment of Muslim lawyer

Expensive for the Australian taxpayer

The high-profile Muslim lawyer Adam Houda has been arrested again while walking near his home in what he says is the most outrageous example yet of racial vilification, harassment and brutality by police.

The incident brings to five the number of times Mr Houda has been arrested or detained in the past decade, including a well-publicised occasion involving the former Bulldogs rugby league player Hazem El Masri.

None of the earlier incidents led to a conviction, instead they produced apologies and more than $150,000 in compensation from the NSW police.

At about 8pm on Thursday, Mr Houda was walking near his Yagoona home with his brother Bassam and friend Mohammed Hawa when they were asked for identification by two plainclothes police officers in an unmarked car.

When Mr Houda asked why, they said they were investigating a robbery and he fitted the suspect's description. "We were polite the whole time," Mr Houda said. "When it became too silly for words, I said 'Look, am I under arrest for anything?"'

When the more senior officer said no, Mr Houda said he began walking towards his home and was grabbed and handcuffed by the other officer, causing "excruciating pain" to his wrist. "It got to the point where I felt I was going to pass out," Mr Houda, 35, who suffers from a heart condition, said.

Mr Houda said five other police arrived and he was placed in the back of a paddy wagon, taken to Bankstown police station, locked in a cell without his medication and not allowed to call a lawyer or a support person.

The devout Lebanese Muslim, who has represented terrorism-accused clients such as Belal Khazaal and Izhar ul-Haque, has welts on his wrists and symptoms consistent with neuroplaxia in his left hand, his doctor, Jamal Rifi, said.

Mr Houda received $145,000 in compensation after he was wrongfully arrested at Burwood Local Court in 2000 and an apology after he and El Masri were surrounded by nine police in 2007 when they refused to provide identification outside a Regents Park cafe.

Thursday was the third time since 2007 that he has been detained while walking near his Yagoona home and he received a confidential payout after suing over the previous arrest, last year.

Mr Houda said he has audio recordings of Thursday's arrest and intends to sue the police and report it to the Police Commissioner, the Ombudsman and the Police Integrity Commission.

Dr Rifi, who is on a community policing advisory group to the Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, said his experience was similar to many others in Sydney's Lebanese Muslim community.

But the South West Metropolitan Region Commander, Assistant Commissioner Frank Mennilli, said Mr Houda did not comply with a lawful direction from police and would receive a summons "for not complying with a request to submit to a search and resist arrest".

"Police officers were conducting proactive patrols in the Yagoona area following a series of robberies involving knives," he said.

Original report here. More here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Monday, September 20, 2010

LAPD shooting stirs residents' anger

The Los Angeles Police Department struck again the day before Labor Day. A 37-year-old Guatemalan day laborer--who witnesses say was unarmed--was shot in the head and killed by an officer from the notorious Rampart Division, site of one of the worst police scandals in U.S. history.

But this time, the shooting resulted in an eruption of protest, with residents angrily confronting police for several nights and an ongoing vigil to demand justice in yet another case of deadly police violence.

The killing took place in the Westlake area of LA, which is sandwiched between the increasingly gentrified downtown and the predominantly immigrant MacArthur Park neighborhood. Manuel Jamines was shot and killed by LAPD officer Frank Hernandez after supposedly lunging at Hernandez with a switchblade.

According to official police story, Jamines had been threatening two women. One of the women flagged down three bicycle police officers, the cops say--after they drew their weapons, Jamines allegedly charged at them with the knife, and the officers responded by killing him on the spot.

But residents say the official version of the shooting is full of holes.

A cafeteria worker in the Los Angeles Unified School District has appeared publicly to contradict the police story. Asking to be called only Ana, for fear of police harassment, she said she was across the street and saw no weapon in Jamines' hands. She said Jamines seemed drunk and was having a hard time keeping his balance. Within a minute of the cops' shouted warnings at Jamines, Hernandez fired twice at point-blank range--Ana said Jamines' blood splattered to the other side of the street.

A day after Ana's statement, the Los Angeles Times reported that Hernandez had been involved in two previous officer-related shootings and is currently a defendant in a federal lawsuit alleging that he covered up one shooting by falsely claiming that the suspect possessed a gun.

Anyone who knows the history of the Rampart Division ought to be suspicious. In the 1990s, more than 70 cops from the division's CRASH anti-gang unit were implicated in unprovoked shootings and violence, routine planting of evidence to frame suspects, stealing from residents, bank robbery and dealing drugs.

On September 8, the Rampart Division held a community forum, where Police Chief Charles Beck read a statement from the LAPD's unnamed main witness, who said Jamines tried to attack her and a pregnant woman. He was met by an explosion of boos and heckling from the more than 300 people into a school auditorium for the forum.

LA City Council member Ed Reyes, flanked by a small army of city officials, tried to reassure the crowd that there would be a fair investigation into the shooting. But promises like that, as in the case of Oscar Grant III's murder by a transit officer in Oakland, always turn out to be hollow.

While the images in the media have focused the nights of altercations between police and residents on the streets, there is an ongoing campaign to hold the LAPD accountable for this shooting and call attention to its history of violence and abuse.

Original report here

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Man Wrongly Accused In Mall Shooting Sues Toronto Police

A man wrongly named as a suspect in a robbery and shooting this week is suing Toronto police and the shopping mall where the alleged crime took place.

Just before Fairview Mall was about to close at 9pm on Monday, two men allegedly stole a bottle of cologne from The Bay and shot at a security guard who confronted them outside the store. The pair fled into a housing complex across from the mall, at Don Mills Road and Sheppard Avenue East.

A mall security camera was used to identify 29-year-old Shaun Mobeen as a suspect. A second was used to clear him, proving he was somewhere else at the time the shots were fired.

“They put my name and my face out there,” he said. “My mom had to go to work. All her co-workers hearing about this [said], ‘You’re son’s on the news. He stole cologne and he shot the officer.’”

When Mobeen saw the grainy surveillance video, he was shocked police could think he and the suspect were the same person. “I turned and I laughed. I said, ‘Are you guys crazy?’ [Some] guys were like, ‘Yeah, it’s you. Yeah, it’s you.’ There were still a couple of officers who were like, ‘Turn this way and that way.’ But there were some good guys in there that had sense and they were like, ‘You know what? This is not the guy. Look at this guy’s size. Look at his face. Look at his beard. This is not the guy.’”

The lawsuit will cite negligence, libel and abuse of office. Mobeen’s lawyer says race is a factor as well. “You just don’t look at someone and say they fit a profile or they match a description and you go after them without a proper investigation,” said Selwyn Pieters. “So that may be another issue to be raised in this case – racial profiling.”

Pieters said why police had Mobeen’s mugshot is irrelevant, and the bigger issue is why police were so quick to name a suspect with so little information. That argument is being echoed at Queen’s Park as well.

“This case cries out for some reassessment of the process police have to go through before they publish, broadcast an image of a person who, in this case, ended up definitely not being the perpetrator,” said NDP Justice Critic, Peter Kormos.

Police say the misidentification was unfortunate, but that they followed protocol. Under the criminal code they had reasonable grounds to issue an arrest warrant for Mobeen.

“They reviewed the footage,” said Cst. Tony Vella. “It looked very much like him. They had the reasonable grounds to issue the warrant. But as soon as they realized he was not the man responsible, they released him immediately and they also removed his photo from the press release.”

Police are still looking for the two suspects in Monday night’s shooting.

Original report here

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Wrongfully deported American home after 3 month fight

U.S. birth certificate wasn't enough to persuade bullying border authorities

A Texas-born U.S. citizen who was detained, questioned and deported to Matamoros, Mexico, in the middle of the night has been allowed to re-enter the United States, ending a nearly three-month ordeal.

Luis Alberto Delgado, 19, was carrying his American birth certificate, Social Security card and Texas ID when he was pulled over in a routine traffic stop on June 17, according to Houston immigration lawyer Isaias Torres, who represented him in his legal battle for repatriation.

A South Texas sheriff’s deputy who apparently believed the documents were not authentic handed Delgado over to U.S. border agents. After eight hours of questioning, Torres said, Delgado felt pressured to sign a document agreeing to voluntary removal from the country and waiving his right to a lawyer. The Border Patrol then drove Delgado to Matamoros and left him, he said.

He was finally able to return home over the weekend, Torres said.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection service said it could not comment specifically on Delgado’s case. But in a statement it said, “When an individual requests and is granted a voluntary return, they sign a notice of rights where they are admitting to being in the U.S. illegally and give up their right to a hearing in Immigration Court.”

Delgado was born in Houston, but spent much of his childhood in Mexico with his mother after she divorced his father and returned to her native land. Delgado, who speaks remedial English, did not speak to for this story. But Spanish-language newspapers have quoted him as saying that he believes he was discriminated against because of his poor language skills.

According to Torres, Delgado and his brother, 21, were pulled over by the deputy in Elsa, Texas, about 150 miles north of the border, purportedly for a seatbelt violation. When they were turned over to the border agents, Delgado’s brother was released, apparently because he had additional documentation -- registration for Selective Service and a receipt for a U.S. Passport application, he said.

But Delgado was questioned from about 4 p.m. until around midnight, when he agreed to sign the waiver in the mistaken belief that he would be able to return to the border city of Brownsville to solve the misunderstanding, Torres said.

“They kept saying, ‘These are not your documents. You’re lying to us. You’re going to go prison for 20 years’,” Torres said. “They basically wore him down. He’s a 19-year-old kid.”

While staying with cousins in a town near the border, Delgado tried to plead his case. When he was unsuccessful, his brother located immigration lawyer Torres, who took the case pro bono.

His mother traveled 600 miles from her home in Michoacan, Mexico, to be interviewed in support of her son, according to the Houston Chronicle, which first reported Delgado’s story on Monday.

Torres said Delgado’s case is unusual because he had proper documentation with him.

“I’ve had residents who were deported because they didn’t have their green cards (on them), but not a U.S. citizen,” Torres said. “This was basically a language thing. They thought he was lying because he doesn’t speak English well.”

But he said he anticipates this kind of situation will become more common because many U.S.-born kids are now being raised in Mexico.

“A lot of these kids born here are getting raised over there because their parents have been deported or they left because of the economy or whatever,” said Torres.

Delgado is planning to file a tort claim for negligence on the part of the federal officials, Torres said, but in the meantime he’s looking for work.

He lost his construction job when he disappeared suddenly, Torres said, adding that several people have e-mailed him offering jobs to Delgado since his story appeared in the Chronicle.

Original report here

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Philly police beating stirs storm of protest

A video showing Philadelphia police officers beating a man for nearly two minutes has taken the internet by storm. The incident is so shocking that the video has received thousands of views and has also sparked an internal investigation by Philadelphia police.

The incident occurred in West Philadelphia and is two and a half minutes long. The officers are accused of attacking 29-year-old Askia Sabur outside a takeout restaurant in the area on Friday. What is also interesting is that most of the officers appearing in the video are African American, reminding us that the power of the state is not just a white and black thing.

Allegedly, officers asked Sabur and his cousin to clear the corner, but they refused, stating that they were waiting for their food. Lt. Frank Vanore, a police spokesman, claims that Sabur knocked one of the officers down; he alleges that this occurred before the YouTube video was recorded.

“It started with a police officer lying on the bottom of the pile,” Vanore said. “The video doesn’t show everything. Stuff happens before, and stuff happens after. Our Internal Affairs is trying to get the whole picture.”

While the police have their version of the facts, the video above shows almost none of that. Instead, it shows Sabur on the ground with officers beating him. Others are heard in the background telling the officers to stop and that they were going to kill him. That’s when the video shows one of the officers pulling his gun out on the crowd, telling them to back up.

Sabur was charged with two counts of aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment and resisting arrest. Police also said he would be charged with robbery for trying to take the gun and baton from one of the officers.

“Not every arrest ends with someone saying, ‘Thank you,’” Vanore said. “It’s a shame. This is one case where the male was not compliant.”

Sabur says he felt like the officers were trying to kill him. He also said that he broke his arm during the attack and had to get stitches to close off the back of his head. He also claims that when officers asked him for identification, he reached for his wallet, when they grabbed his arm and started to choke him.

Evan Hughes, the attorney for Sabur, says that the charges are ridiculous:

“If he tried to take an officer’s gun, if he had actually done that, they would have shot him,” Hughes said. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the police are backtracking, trying to justify what happened, and it’s not going to work,” Hughes said. “As this develops, the truth will come out.”

One problem for Sabur is that he has been convicted of a crime in the past. In 2002, he pleaded no contest to attempted burglary and was given five years of probation. In spite of his record, though, some of the eye witnesses are supporting him. Jamil Stroman, who saw the incident, referred to the event as a “modern-day Rodney King.”

One of the most disturbing things about the video is that while he’s being beaten, Askia continuously says, “I didn’t do nothing wrong.”

As others are pleading for him to cooperate with the officers to avoid yet another whip of the billy club, he appears adamant in his unwillingness to be arrested when he hasn’t broken any law. In fact, all of the charges Askia is facing are a result of the police confrontation. It’s not as if he was breaking the law when the officers arrived, he was simply standing on the corner.

I am not sure why standing on the corner is a crime or why an otherwise law-abiding citizen may now end up in prison when he was simply waiting for his food.

When it comes to the police beating of Askia Sabur, multiple theories are going to emerge. Of course, the police are going to have their story, which is going to be consistent with their loyalty to the blue line. Even if officers were doing something wrong, many of them will protect one another under the presumption that difficult decisions made in the line of duty are justified by their own need for safety. At the same time, not every YouTube video of an officer making an arrest implies that the officer is doing something wrong... the video does show that Sabur is clearly resisting arrest. All the while, one can argue that any man being arrested unjustly has a moral right to demand his immediate freedom. If the officers had no initial reason for approaching Sabur, they had no right to be taking him to jail.

More here

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

British police kill a guy who was asking for help and all they get is "advice"

Police were criticised today for dropping a man off at the side of a dual carriageway where he was later killed by a car. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said officers from the Northamptonshire and Warwickshire forces did not perform their duties satisfactorily in the run-up to Wayne Teasdale's death.

Mr Teasdale, 35, from Coventry, died after he was hit as he walked along the A45 near Dunchurch in Warwickshire in July 2008.

Three constables, a special constable and a member of police staff have been spoken to about their actions in the events leading up to his death, the IPCC said.

The commission's investigation found Mr Teasdale was trying to walk home drunk from Billing Aquadrome in Northampton on July 25. He called relatives at about 7am the following morning to say he was lost. A member of the public contacted police at 8.24am concerned about a man walking next to the A45 near the aquadrome. But officers sent to the area could not find the man, who the IPCC believes was Mr Teasdale.

About 45 minutes later the 35-year-old contacted Northamptonshire Police, saying he was lost and walking along a dual carriageway, telling the call handler he had been drinking and had also smoked some cannabis. A police car found him and he was checked by paramedics then officers took him to the boundary with Warwickshire where he was dropped off at a service station on the A45 at about 10.42am.

Between 10.48am and when Mr Teasdale was hit by a car, Warwickshire Police received a number of calls reporting a man walking alongside and in the carriageway of the A45. They tried to get a police vehicle to the area, the IPCC said, but at about 11.30am he was hit by a car and pronounced dead later that day.

Today the IPCC said the Northamptonshire officer should not have dropped Mr Teasdale off where he did and staff with Warwickshire Police had not appreciated the risk to him. A spokesman said: 'The IPCC investigation found that the Northamptonshire officer who responded to Mr Teasdale's call did not perform his duties to an acceptable standard. 'Having decided it was not safe for Mr Teasdale to walk along the A45 and to then give him a lift, the decision to drop him off in a position with similar dangers was not appropriate.

'It also found that a police officer and member of staff working in Warwickshire Police's control room failed to appreciate the risk posed to Mr Teasdale and therefore ensure the appropriate response was taken by the officers allocated to attend the incident.

'The Warwickshire Police officer and special constable, who were assigned by the control room to deal with the incident, were found to have responded below the acceptable standard. 'On their journey to attend to Mr Teasdale they stopped a driver who was using their mobile phone on a motorway, delaying their arrival.'

The IPCC said the three constables, the special constable and the member of police staff all received words of advice.

Superintendent Andy Tennet, head of professional standards at Northamptonshire Police, said: 'Our deepest sympathy goes out to Mr Teasdale's family. 'The IPCC have conducted a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr Teasdale's death and we fully accept their findings and their decision in respect of the officer involved. 'Lessons have been learnt from this unfortunate incident and, in agreement with the IPCC, the officer involved has been given words of advice.'

Original report here

Update: Note the comments below

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Real life police Crackers 'never solve cases and are on a par with fortune tellers'

Criminal profilers who try to get inside the minds of serial killers are worthless purveyors of bad science, a leading psychologist claims. Professor Craig Jackson likened them to ‘witch doctors’ and said their techniques were based on unproven, untested ideas.

The work of profilers has caught the public imagination through TV and film portrayals such as the Fitz character played by Robbie Coltrane in the 1990s series Cracker. But, though they are routinely used by police in major murder hunts, they have never led to the direct capture of a killer.

‘Behavioural profiling has never led to the direct apprehension of a serial killer or murderer, so it seems to have no real-world value,’ said Professor Jackson. ‘There have been no clinical trials to show that behavioural profiling works and there have been major miscarriages of justice. ‘It’s given too much credibility as a scientific discipline and I think this is a serious issue.’

Profiling involves building up a picture of a suspect from the offender’s methods, choice of victim, and clues at the crime scene. Britain’s best known profiler is Dr Paul Britton, who was involved in the Fred and Rose West killings, and the murders of James Bulger, schoolgirl Naomi Smith and Rachel Nickell.

Professor Jackson will voice his criticisms this week at the British Festival of Science, which opens today at Aston University in Birmingham. Behavioural profiling was adopted by the FBI in the U.S. in 1972 and had been ‘going non-stop ever since’, he said. Although it had provided good material for films and TV, there is no evidence it did any good.

‘This is an appeal to use better science in this field, otherwise it will go the same way as parapsychology and reading tea leaves or tarot cards,’ he said.

Typically criminal profilers portrayed themselves more as witch doctors than scientists, presenting themselves as people with unusual special gifts that were both a blessing and a burden, said Professor Jackson. ‘They bring themselves forward as if they are shamans cursed with the nightmares of dead people,’ he added. ‘It almost takes us back to primitivism. It isn’t a good advert for science.’

The profession is based on ‘spurious, loose science’ that started in the 1950s using small amounts of data and ‘biased samples’ – serial killers in prison. The professor came to his conclusions after studying U.S. profiling pioneer John E Douglas, who inspired the Jack Crawford character in Thomas Harris’s novel Silence of the Lambs.

Douglas was involved in the hunt for Dennis Rader who killed ten times in Kansas, between 1974 and 1991.

According to Professor Jackson and others, Rader’s profile contributed little to his capture. Professor Jackson’s paper will appear in the journal Amicas next month.

Original report here

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Witnesses 'choose faces they dislike at ID parades'

Witnesses may point the finger at a suspect in a line-up simply because they do not like the way they look, scientists said today.

Psychologists Dr Hartmut Blank and Dr Jim Sauer, of the University of Portsmouth, have been awarded £100,000 to examine what may influence people when picking out a possible perpetrator in an identification parade. Their initial research suggests that people are more likely to identify line-up members they dislike and less likely to identify someone they like.

They say that such decisions are automatic and spontaneous rather than thought out.

Dr Blank, a specialist in memory and the effect of social influences on how and what we remember, said: "It's natural that we don't enjoy creating trouble for someone we like by identifying them as a perpetrator. "The feeling of liking can definitely influence judgment. "The liking bias is a subtle effect though otherwise the justice system would have long been aware of it."

Dr Sauer said that this "liking bias" might be behind a growing number of documented cases in which mistaken identifications contributed to the convictions of people who were later proved innocent through DNA testing.

He said: "The legal system finds eyewitness identification evidence compelling but it has contributed to many wrongful convictions over the years. "Eyewitness error represents a significant cost to society and criminal justice system.

"The first cost is an innocent person is jailed, the second cost is once an individual has been identified, police investigations may narrow, so the perpetrator remains at large. "Most people think their memories are reliable but no-one is exempt from vulnerability to bias.

"Some people are more resistant than others; generally, those with better memories of an event are more resistant to biases and those with poorer memories of an event are more vulnerable.

"In a police line-up, the witness goes in thinking they have a job to do. "They assume the police have caught someone and that person is standing in the line-up. "They also assume the police have other information to back up their arrest or suspicions. They think their job is to pick the suspect.

"If the eyewitness has no clear memory of the perpetrator, they look for cues available in the identification situation, perhaps subconsciously they just don't like the look of someone in the line-up, so they point to them."

The researchers will conduct four experiments trying to identify the underlying causes and boundaries of liking bias in the hope that they can then find ways of limiting or eliminating the effect of such bias in real identification procedures.

Original report here

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Non news: Nobody shot my dogs

Dogs have a huge presence in the emotional life of many people but police commonly shoot them on the slightest pretext

The dogs and I are getting to know the logging roads near my new house. Logging roads are familiar territory, even though these specific roads aren’t, and we have an established routine with them. If a road is gated but open to walk-ins, we never enter if somebody else’s vehicle is parked near the gate. If a road is open to vehicles, I cruise it in the truck to see if anyone else is around before settling on a place to walk.

Don’t want to disturb any hunters or other dog walkers — and don’t want to disturb my own peace. My dogs raise alerts over strangers and have a habit of running at those they meet in the woods at full tilt, barking their heads off and mostly ignoring me when I demand they return.

Yes, I know I’m supposed to have perfect control over my critters, including perfect recall. But they’re not perfect — and neither am I. The backwoods life we’ve always led together just hasn’t involved that many encounters with strangers in the woods. Most of the time, we’re the only domesticated creatures out there. So accept our flaws, please.

This morning the new road was gated but with no vehicles, so in we went — and very quickly disturbed a bow hunter who was walking toward us on a side road talking on his cellphone. The dogs caterwauled and charged — though in a way that anybody who knows dogs would recognize as all bark and no bite. The hunter knew that and simply ignored them. They sniffed his legs then came back to me. I apologized profusely, and we each went our separate ways. I figured the hunter lived nearby and had walked in.

Little did I know that we were exploring an unusually complex complex of roads, and as we took a side ATV trail, we were soon to intersect with that very same hunter again further along. This time, the dogs kept their distance, but little Ava carried on like the fearsome creature she imagines herself to be. Then, keeping up her caterwaul, she followed him at a distance, embarrassingly ignoring my demands for her return. When it looked as if Nadja was going to do a “monkey-see/monkey-do” with Ava, the hunter stopped, turned around, leaned toward them and bellowed — at the top of his lungs, but with absolutely no hint of anger or malice — “OH YEAH???”

Ava and Nadja wheeled, quit yapping, and — like cannonballs — sped back to the safety of Mom.

I snapped the hunter a salute, called, “Thank you!” and after that presumably we both had peace.

The reason I relate this is the non-news: The hunter, well-armed, never made the smallest gesture of aggression toward the dogs and never for a moment appeared to think he was in danger. I hate to admit it, but dogs and I have startled bow hunters in the woods two or three times over the decades, and the hunters are invariably polite and forgiving.

Now … what if the hunter had been a cop? Off duty or on. Radley Balko writes about the huge and growing crime of puppycide. Which is, of course, never counted as a crime because it’s committed by police in the name of “officer safety.” Lost cops stopping to ask directions have murdered household pets who came dashing up to them with less ill-intent than my dogs displayed to that hunter. Cops have killed five-pound lapdogs, claiming they felt “threatened.” They’ve shot dogs that were tied up. Dogs that were running away from them. Dogs that were hiding under tables. They shoot dogs even more casually than they shoot innocent human beings.

I can’t write the stuff Balko does about dog murders because it upsets me too much.

But you do gotta wonder: If well-armed hunters, startled in the woods where they expected to be alone, don’t feel the need to kill my dogs — if the media isn’t filled with tales of dogs slaughtered by mail carriers, UPS drivers, and meter readers (in fact, a meter-reader came into my yard on Friday, with all three dogs present, and simply handed them all dog cookies from his pocket) — what the hell is it with cowardly, bullying, ill-trained — and always exonerated, of course — cops?

Original report here. See the original for links

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Criminals with badges

Jared Lunn, a 21-year-old volunteer firefighter from Brighton, Colorado, visited Denver's LoDo district to celebrate a friend's birthday. The evening was quite pleasant until Jared, who was carrying a pizza and minding his own business, was suddenly punched in the face and knocked flat by someone he had never met.

Shortly after the assailant scurried away the police arrived, and Jared's night took a pronounced turn for the worse.

Perhaps Jared was unaware of the axiom that it is never a good idea to ask the police for help.

Perhaps the fact that he is involved in a "public safety" role led Jared to assume that the police would treat him with courtesy and professionalism. In any case, Jared told Officer Eric Sellers that he had just been assaulted and that he wanted to press charges. Sellers told the victim to go home, and he wasn't impressed when Jared appealed to him as a fellow "public servant."

"Way to `protect and serve,'" muttered Jared in disgust as he walked away. A violent assault on a mere Mundane is a trivial matter – but this was a clear-cut case of "contempt of cop," and it could not go unpunished.

Sellers seized Jared and threw him to the ground. While screaming a steady stream of profanities at the terrified young man, Sellers beat him and applied a vicious choke hold. After Jared's body went limp, Sellers wrenched his hands behind his back and handcuffed him with such violence that the victim wouldn't have full use of his hands for a week.

This felonious assault took place in the presence of two other police officers who, in keeping with the oath-bound discipline of their brotherhood, refused to intervene.

"This guy [Sellers] does this all the time," one of the bully's comrades told Chris Fuchs, an eyewitness to the November 23, 2008 assault, after Jared was released. "We don't know how he gets away with it." The obvious reply would be: "He gets away with it because of the guilty collaboration of `good cops' like you."

Two months later, Sellers became annoyed with a young man named John Crespin, whose behavior struck the officer as "nosy." Sellers pulled up into the driveway of John's home and ordered the young man out of the car.

As John complied, his shoulder brushed lightly against Sellers's arm. Infuriated that a Mundane had defiled his sanctified personage through incidental contact, Sellers inflicted a dose of summary "street justice" as an act of ritual purification.

Just as he did to Jared Lunn, Sellers put John in a chokehold while spitting obscenities in his face. After handcuffing the victim, Sellers used his police baton to lift the young man a couple of feet from the ground, then dropped him face-first into the driveway. The representative of the Denver city government's punitive priesthood dragged the bloodied man off the pavement, draped him over the hood of his police car, and administered the laying on of hands.

"He started punching me in the sides while I was already handcuffed," Crespin later told the local NBC affiliate. "I told him to quit, quit, and he wouldn't quit. He did it one more time and he grabbed my face and said, `Who the f*** do you think you are?'"

After being beaten into a lumpy mess, John Crespin – despite the absence of a criminal history – was charged with "felony menacing." Terrified and worried about being separated from his newborn child, Crespin accepted a plea bargain agreement that resulted in probation.

Sellers was later found to have used "inappropriate force" against Jared Lunn. The same review found that the officer had compounded that offense through the "commission of a deceptive act" – that is, lying to internal affairs investigators. According to the Denver PD's existing disciplinary guidelines, this is cause for "presumptive termination." Yet Sellers continues to draw a paycheck as a member of the police force afflicting Denver.

In fact, Sellers – who, according to his colleagues, commits criminal assaults against innocent people "all the time" – complained in a court filing that the disciplinary action against him was "excessive," because it specified that another episode of that kind would result in immediate termination.

Denver's Citizen Oversight Board insists, correctly, that Sellers should have been fired already (and prosecuted as well). The Denver Police Protective Association – that is, local armed tax-feeder union – has Sellers's back, of course.

This isn't surprising, given that in September 2008 – just weeks before Sellers assaulted Jared Lunn – the Denver police union distributed t-shirts to its members depicting a baton-wielding riot cop rising ominously about the city's skyline.

"We get up early, to BEAT the crowds," gloated the inscription. Each member of the Denver PD received one of the commemorative t-shirts, which were created in anticipation of the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

Sellers apparently perceived that ill-advised pun as a directive and took it to what passes for his heart. Interestingly, Sellers owes his continued employment to a figure who played a critical role in the militarized security preparations for the 2008 convention: Ron Perea, who until recently was Manager of Safety for the City of Denver.

Perea was the Secret Service Special Agent in Charge during the 2008 Democratic National Convention. His previous experience included a stint as head of the Denver Field Office for the Secret Service, a position on the executive board of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force in Los Angeles, and five years on the Albuquerque Police Department.

It's difficult to imagine someone whose career offers a better core sample of contemporary law enforcement at all levels. So it's quite significant that Perea, as Safety Manager, defined his job in terms of protecting the career prospects of abusive police, rather than protecting the public. As Safety Manager, Perea had the final say regarding complaints of excessive force. His decisions reflected an obvious desire to placate the demands of the police union, rather than holding abusive cops accountable for their offenses.

Perea resigned his post on August 31, barely three months into his $152,000-a-year job, because of rising public disgust over his handling of several recent episodes of criminal violence by the Denver PD. In addition to the leniency he had displayed toward Sellers, Perea refused to discipline Officer Devin Sparks, who severely beat Michael DeHerrera on a LoDo street corner in April 2009.

DeHerrera's friend, Shawn Johnson, had been ejected from a local club after an altercation with a bouncer. When the police arrived, they "arrested" Johnson so violently that DeHerrera made a frantic phone call to his father, Pueblo County Sheriff's Deputy Anthony DeHerrera.

"They're beating up Shawn – what do I do?" a panicked DeHerrera asked his father. This apparently is what provoked Sparks to blind-side Herrera, slamming him to the sidewalk and repeatedly beating him with a leather-shrouded metal club called a "sap."

This much is captured by one of the Panopticon-style High Activity Location Observation (HALO) cameras scattered throughout that section of Denver. However, just as Sparks lays into Herrera, the camera – which was operated by a Denver PD officer in real time – suddenly pans up and away from the scene.

Detective John White, a spokesman for the Denver PD, insists that this wasn't an Orwellian "rectification" in real time, but rather a result of a camera following a pre-set program. Whether or not this is true, there is compelling evidence that Sparks and his partner, Corporal Randy Murr, took immediate action to cover up the crime. That evidence, interestingly, comes from an unimpeachable law enforcement source – Deputy Anthony DeHerrera, who overheard the officers via his son's still-active cell phone.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today. Now hosted on Wordpress. If you cannot access it, go to the MIRROR SITE, where posts appear as well as on the primary site. I have reposted the archives (past posts) for Wicked Thoughts HERE or HERE or here