Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Canadian goons at work

Stacy Bonds wants nothing more than to move on with her life. After she was illegally arrested and brutally mistreated by police in 2008, Bonds became withdrawn, depressed and disconsolate.

"I've dealt with this by a lot of self isolation," she told QMI Agency. "My family and my friends all have noticed I haven't been the same," she said. "I'm actually a quiet person anyhow, but they noticed a greater difference, you know, I'm much more quiet and even now, still, just trying to find the words is not easy."

Thursday a judge released part of a surveillance video showing police kneeing Bonds twice before a female officer strip searches her with the assistance of three male officers. When Bonds kicks one of the officers - an action she describes as "self-defense" - she is tackled to the ground and a police sergeant cuts her shirt and bra off.

The officers later left her in a cold cell for three hours half naked after she soiled herself.

Bonds was charged with assaulting a peace officer but a judge stayed the charges in October calling the case against her a "travesty."

Even though she'd like to see heads roll, Bonds maintains a positive outlook. "Depression is up and down, but really it could have been worse," she said shortly after the charge against her was stayed. "What else can I do, sit in the corner and cry everyday?

"Whenever the chips are down, one thing you can think of is 'you know what, it could always be worse. Count your blessings, you're here. Look at the good, focus on the good, not the bad."

Despite everything she's been through - the mistreatment and the ensuing spotlight - Bonds said she wouldn't do anything differently if police were to stop her on the street again for what she said was no reason.

"I'm not used to all this, especially all the attention," she said before the video's release. "But that's who I am, so I probably would."

While she mulls over whether to launch a civil suit against police, she remains focused on the future. "Just move forward and hopefully something positive comes out of it. (I hope) these officers get reprimanded and people know and are more cautious and don't let it happen again."

Original report here

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Monday, November 29, 2010

NYC cop thought he was a law unto himself

A veteran detective assigned to the mayor’s security team was charged on Friday with attempted murder, accused of shooting a man while off duty and then failing to report it, prosecutors said.

The detective, Leopold McLean, 46, was arraigned in Queens Criminal Court. Prosecutors said that he shot Lepaul Gammons, 39, as Mr. Gammons ran away from him in the early hours of Nov. 15.

The two men got into a dispute at the home in South Jamaica of a woman who knew them both, according to the criminal complaint. Mr. Gammons had been barred from the home by an order of protection, because of domestic violence between him and the woman, but it expired that night, prosecutors said.

Mr. McLean challenged Mr. Gammons’s presence, pulled out a gun and pointed it at him, the complaint said, and Mr. Gammons ran away. As Mr. Gammons ran down 119th Road, he was shot once in the buttocks, according to the complaint. He was not believed to have been armed.

James M. Liander, an assistant district attorney, said in court that Mr. McLean and the woman reported a robbery that night — but not the shooting.

Gilbert Parris, a lawyer for Mr. McLean, said he would be exonerated. “My client is a 17-year veteran with an exemplary record,” he said.

Mr. McLean was a member of the mayor’s advance team, which scouts locations before the mayor’s arrival. The police department suspended Mr. McLean without pay pending the outcome of the case. His gun and badge were taken from him, said Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman.

Additional charges against Mr. McLean include assault, criminal use of a firearm and reckless endangerment. He was released on $10,000 bail, Mr. Parris said.

Original report here

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Railroaded pilot seeks $45 million from Australian Government for wrongful conviction over alleged child sex offences

The incompetent and crooked Australian Federal Police again. This has long been a notorious case. The fact that the original conviction was comprehensively thrown out should mean he will get his money

An Australian pilot who spent almost 1000 days in prison after being wrongfully convicted of child sex offences will this week launch a $45 million lawsuit against the Australian government. The statement of claim by Fred Martens against the Commonwealth alleges Australian Federal Police withheld and removed evidence which they knew cleared him of the allegations.

Mr Martens' legal team expects to lodge the document in the Queensland Supreme Court in Cairns on Monday or Tuesday.

Mr Martens was jailed in 2006 for the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl in Port Moresby. Queensland's Court of Appeal quashed the conviction in 2009 after Mr Martens' family was able to obtain flight records which proved Mr Martens was not in Port Moresby at the time of the offence.

The statement of claim alleges AFP officers deliberately concealed the existence of the aviation records at Mr Martens' court hearings, despite them being readily available from PNG authorities.

It alleges the AFP was more concerned with successfully prosecuting Mr Martens than investigating the facts of the case. "The defendants failed to investigate the matter to find the truth but instead endeavoured to amass evidence to bolster a case against the plaintiff regardless of its truth or falsity," the document alleges.

Mr Martens said because his passport had been confiscated and his funds frozen while he was awaiting trial in Australia, he was not able to fly to PNG to prepare his own defence. He said a magistrate had ordered the AFP to investigate any leads raised by his legal team but the statement of claim alleges officers failed to do so.

"Had the defendants carried out competent and honest investigations the results of such investigations would have demonstrated that not only did the plaintiff not commit any offence against (the alleged victim) but that he could not have done so as alleged."

Mr Martens is claiming $45 million in losses, including for the death of his infant daughter Stephanie who died in PNG of malaria because he was unable to provide funds to care for her. The statement of claim also alleges that a number of Mr Martens' PNG businesses, which included the nation's Royal Flying Doctor Service, were lost or collapsed because he was not there to run them.

It also states he lost several large properties because he was not there to secure them. Mr Martens said the properties had since been taken over by settlers and removing them would result in violent confrontations.

The Australian government will have 28 days to respond to the statement of claim.

Original report here. (Via Australian police news)

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

British chief constable faces gross misconduct hearing after 'rigging recruitment campaign to favour relatives'

They say that fish rot from the head down

A chief constable is to become the most senior cop in 35 years to face a disciplinary hearing over allegations he rigged the force's recruitment process to favour family members. North Yorkshire's top cop Grahame Maxwell faces a gross misconduct hearing after he allegedly unfairly helped relatives during a student officer recruitment drive.

It is claimed he called a family member after the applicant hotline crashed - while thousands of frustrated hopefuls failed to get through.

His deputy Adam Briggs also faces a lesser misconduct charge arising from the same incident after it emerged relatives of the senior officers were called back despite their calls never being officially processed.

Ch Con Maxwell is the first UK constable in 35 years to face such a hearing - and he could be dismissed if the allegations are proven.

Two staff members at the force have been sacked and a police constable has been given a final written warning for their involvement in the exercise, which was investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

North Yorkshire received about 350,000 calls during the week-long recruitment drive to find 60 new cops, but application forms were only made available to the first 1,000 suitable candidates. The force later announced that they could not afford to take on any of the applicants regardless.

Ch Con Maxwell is not the first head of North Yorkshire Police to attract controversy. His predecessor Della Cannings also found herself in hot water after it emerged £28,400 of taxpayers' money had been spent on an en-suite shower for her office. She also caused a storm after half a million pounds was spent on a fleet of Land Rover Discoveries and Volvo V-70s for senior officers.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission said in a statement: 'The IPCC has concluded its independent investigation into allegations against North Yorkshire Police's Chief Constable, Grahame Maxwell, and his deputy, Adam Briggs, in relation to a recruitment exercise conducted by the force.

'The findings from the investigation have been shared with North Yorkshire Police Authority's Police Professional Standards Sub-Committee, which has responded by recommending that the Chief Constable should attend a hearing for gross misconduct and the Deputy Chief Constable should attend a misconduct meeting. 'The IPCC has agreed with those recommendations. Arrangements for the future hearing and meeting are ongoing.

'The IPCC has also concluded its management of an investigation by North Yorkshire Police's Professional Standards Department into allegations against two members of police staff and a police constable in relation to the same recruitment exercise. 'The two members of police staff faced a disciplinary hearing for gross misconduct over allegations they had used their position to circumvent the recruitment process for their own gain. Both were dismissed from the force.

'The police constable faced a misconduct meeting in relation to an allegation that he assisted police staff under his line management to circumvent the recruitment process. He was issued with a final written warning.

'The IPCC will not be in a position to publish its findings from the investigations until all misconduct matters are concluded.'

Original report here

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Rapist British cop who attacked 30 women during five-year reign is finally behind bars

Sloppy investigations let him off time and time again

A rapist policeman who attacked up to 30 women during a five-year reign of terror was finally behind bars last night. PC Stephen Mitchell, 42, assaulted drug addicts in the cells and interview rooms of a city-centre police station, knowing that if they complained they were unlikely to be believed.

One of them, a 19-year-old drug addict when he first struck, estimated she had been abused 100 times as he kept track of her using the police computer.

Yet his colleagues ignored a series of warnings about his behaviour – some of them from his own wife. They were unaware that he had already stood trial for sex offences before he was recruited to the force.

He was eventually sacked in 2007 for having ‘consensual’ sex with one of his victims, only to be reinstated on appeal eight months later.

And when he was finally stopped, a senior detective with Northumbria Police offered him ‘a get out of jail free card’ if he agreed to resign. He refused, opting to take his chances in court.

Mitchell – a tall, muscular former soldier – was found guilty of two rapes, three indecent assaults and six charges of misconduct in a public office, involving a total of seven women.

He was cleared of three further rape charges, two indecent assaults and counts of misconduct involving another nine women. But police suspect he attacked at least a further 14.

Mitchell showed no emotion yesterday as the jury of six men and six women found him guilty at the end of a five-week trial at Newcastle Crown Court. Mr Justice Wilkie adjourned sentencing until January 11 but warned him he was considering an indeterminate jail term.

Brought up in a Glasgow tower block, Mitchell joined the 1st Battalion Queen’s Own Highlanders in 1990 and a year later allegedly attempted to rape two male soldiers and sexually assault a third. Military police questioned him but the case went no further after he claimed that it was nothing more than ‘horseplay’.

In 1994 he quit the Army and moved to the North East to be with his girlfriend, Julie Arnold, a penfriend whom he married a year later.

In 1997, following a complaint from one of the alleged victims in the Army sex case, he stood trial in Edinburgh only for it to collapse when two witnesses refused to give evidence.

Even so, the allegations alone should have been enough to end his police career before it had begun – but thanks to an extraordinary oversight, details were not recorded on the police intelligence database.

If they had been, it is almost certain there would have been enough doubt about his character to stop his recruitment by the Northumbria force.

The following year he started work at Pilgrim Street police station in central Newcastle. ‘One day, I received a phone call from a female police officer,’ said his ex-wife Julie Vacher, 45, who has since remarried. ‘She told me he had made advances towards her and he had been accused of approaching a 17-year-old girl with a mental age of 12. I challenged him but he would just keep telling me, “Don’t be stupid. You’re the only one for me”.’ She finally left him in 2005 and began divorce proceedings before telling his superiors about his past.

In response, Mitchell – whose father was murdered in 2001 – hacked into the police national computer to carry out checks on his ex-wife and her new partner.

He was disciplined and fined three days’ wages but not sacked until 2007 when he admitted having ‘consensual’ sex with one of his victims. Eight months later on appeal he was reinstated to the rank of PC and returned to front-line duties. Officers continued to investigate him and Mitchell, who also ran a massage business called Helping Hands, was suspended in March 2009 and eventually charged in January with attacking 16 women.

Detectives believed there were another 14 victims whose evidence was not strong enough to bring to court.

His ex-wife is among those demanding to know why he was not stopped earlier. ‘How the hell did he join the force in the first place and, worse still, how did they let him rejoin in 2008?’ asked Mrs Vacher. ‘If they had done their job properly six years ago, when I warned them, they could have saved all these women so much suffering.’

Original report here

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

WI: Liberty on Tour’s Mueller arrested

Adam Mueller was arrested on an outstanding warrant in Jackson WI yesterday and his Liberty On Tour partner Pete Eyre caught it all on video.

The warrant apparently stemmed from an earlier incident in which another police officer, whose "integrity as an officer has been called into question," had ticketed Mueller for an offense which neither the officer nor any witness had actually seen.

The Liberty On Tour friends were working out at a gym when Eyre noticed a uniformed officer approaching and grabbed his camera-equipped cell phone.

A plainclothes officer who repeatedly ignored requests to ID himself - he was later identified as Mike Bloedel – attempted to intimidate Eyre with arrest and threats to "take the camera as evidence." Eyre, however, held his ground and repeatedly confronted both Bloedel and another, uniformed, officer about their actions.

After being handcuffed Mueller went limp, not wanting to acquiesce in his own arrest.

While the original bench warrant carried the option of a $139 fine or six days in jail, "going limp" translates into the hazy catchall charges of "resisting" and "interfering," even though Mueller never resisted nor interfered in any normal definition of those words (as the video clearly shows), but he now faces a $300 fine and a court appearance.

Later that evening, after sitting in the county jail and "refusing to cooperate" Mueller decided to opt for a bailout. Mueller's brother Matt who came up with the money and Eyre "went to the Washington County Jail and paid the ransom."

Original report here

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Forensic scientists are 'improperly' swaying juries warns senior British judge

One of the country’s most senior judges yesterday launched a scathing attack on forensic scientists and their methods. Trial juries can be ‘improperly influenced’ when confident and convincing experts give evidence that damns a suspect, Lord Justice Leveson said.

He cast doubt on the reliability of DNA evidence and even the use by the courts of fingerprints – a method of identifying criminals that has been relied on by detectives and lawyers for a century.

The judge called for a system of accreditation to make sure that forensic experts are properly qualified, warning that at present ‘anyone could set themselves up as a forensic science expert and produce evidence that, at best, is unhelpful and, at worst, positively misleading’.

Lord Justice Leveson delivered his criticisms to a gathering of forensic experts at a time of growing controversy over the way science is used in court to sway juries.

The popularity of the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation TV show has been linked to a drop in the number of guilty verdicts delivered by juries. Showbiz glamour is also said to be a reason why last year 285 forensic science courses were on offer to students in British universities. Some of these, critics say, fail to teach ‘the most rudimentary science skills’.

Lord Justice Leveson also spoke at length of the notorious cases of Angela Cannings and Sally Clark, both of whom were wrongly jailed for murdering their children. In both cases, the mothers were convicted on the evidence of paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow.

The judge said that in the Cannings case the expert evidence should not have been relied on. And in the case of Sally Clark, he said ‘the statistical evidence given by Professor Meadow was plainly not within the area of his expertise’ and should have been challenged.

Solicitor Mrs Clark died in 2007 of acute alcohol poisoning, four years after she had been released from jail.

Lord Justice Leveson added: ‘There exists a real difficulty that just because an expert’s evidence is presented as scientific it may be taken to be reliable.’

Original report here

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

WA: Detectives had video of Seattle officer kicking suspect, didn't show superiors

Which makes then guilty of a coverup

Seattle police detectives had surveillance video of an officer kicking a black teenage suspect several times after a narcotics bust last month, but they failed to notify top police officials.

Now, the Seattle Police Department is facing accusations of brutality for the fourth time in less than a year. The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for the Justice Department to conduct a civil rights investigation into Seattle police practices.

The incident happened Oct. 18 in downtown Seattle. Undercover officers and bicycle police were taking part in the buy-bust operation when things took at turn for the worse. Two officers ended up at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Police say a 17-year-old suspect fled the scene and ended up in a convenience store near Second Avenue and Pine Street, where the surveillance video was taken. A 10-year veteran officer, working undercover and wearing black clothing and a bandana, is seen running in and kicking the teen in the groin. The officer kicks the teen again and again before another officer pulls him away from the suspect.

KING 5 has learned detectives had the video for weeks and had watched it. But, Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer says he didn't know about the video until Wednesday. The detective in question is now at home on administrative leave while internal affairs investigates his actions.

Reactions are pouring out from the community.

"It's pretty disturbing and disgusting and I'm outraged by it," said Urban League President James Kelly.

"Videos like this should be forwarded up the chain of command," said Mayor Mike McGinn.

The teenage suspect, who has a criminal record, is one of five people charged with attempted robbery. He pleaded not guilty.

Kimerer says officers need to be aware that video surveillance is everywhere. "I think we have to grow up and recognize we are in a video age and nothing an officer does goes unnoticed," said Kimerer.

The internal investigation will take approximately ten days, and it's possible the officer could face criminal charges. Police will also investigate why detectives failed to turn the tape over to their bosses.

The tape and other video and materials were turned over to the King County Prosecutor's Office and were reviewed by them as potential evidence in the case against the suspect.

This comes after three other high-profile incidents involving Seattle police this year:

In April, a video showed Seattle police officers shouting a racial slur and stepping on a Latino man who was already on the ground. The officer apologized. King county prosecutors decided it wasn't a hate crime. The Seattle city attorney's office is still reviewing the case for other charges.

In June, an officer stopped two teenage girls for jaywalking. One of the teens shoved the officer, who responded by punching her. The teenager later admitted to provoking the officer and pled guilty to fourth degree assault. The officer was exonerated.

In August, police officer Ian Birk shot and killed woodcarver John Williams in Seattle. The officer says he repeatedly told Williams to drop a knife used for woodcarving, but Williams was partially deaf and may not have heard him. A preliminary police investigation determined the shooting was not justified and the officer's badge and gun were taken away. An inquest into shooting is still to come.

"It's horrifying," said Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw. "What is going on here? Why have been seeing over the last year things that are really aimed at our communities of color? And this is not acceptable to any of us."

In a statement, ACLU Executive Director Kathleen Taylor says "These repeated incidents over the last 18 months, which have continued unchecked and without forceful intervention by the Seattle police department the mayor or Seattle's other elected officials, leads the ALCU to call on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate."

Bagshaw, who is vice-chair of the Seattle public safety committee, says while the ACLU has a point, she would like to give Seattle police Chief John Diaz time to respond. "We need to make changes here. I would rather see changes made now, working together in contrast with the Justice Department coming in and telling us what to do," she said.

Original report here

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Pa.: Gun rights violation costs city

The taxpayers of Allentown just got stuck with an unnecessary $23,500 tab. That may not be much in a city that treats tax money like the water flowing over the Hamilton Street Dam (proposed new budget: $88.5 million), but it might have been avoided if people paid to enforce the law could be persuaded to obey it themselves.

On Oct. 6, 2008, Jerry Corliss, a law-abiding citizen who then lived in Allentown, was carrying a Glock handgun in a holster when he visited the Home Depot store just off Lehigh Street. It appears that somebody there became hysterical over the idea that anyone not in government might exercise his or her right to bear arms.

Soon, according to court documents, Dale Stokes, an Allentown police officer, stormed into the store, detained Corliss for doing absolutely nothing illegal, searched him without a warrant and seized his pistol.

Corliss was not charged and the weapon was returned, but those actions clashed with both the Bill of Rights and the Pennsylvania Constitution, which will cost the city, or its insurance carrier, $23,500 to settle a federal lawsuit brought by Corliss, who now lives in Lebanon.

City officials do not seem eager to publicize the case and I learned about its resolution last month only when Corliss called me — because, he said, somebody told him I support the Bill of Rights, as if that's something unusual these days.

Even if people can distort the meaning of the Bill of Rights to justify gun control, there is no mistaking the "Declaration of Rights" at the start of the Pennsylvania Constitution. "The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the state shall not be questioned," it says.

Corliss has a license to carry a concealed gun, but on this occasion he had it in a holster in plain view. That is called "open carry," and nobody gets hot and bothered if police officers do it — even though it is only in the world's most depraved tyrannies that government authorities are the only people with unquestioned rights.

(Mexico has rigid gun control and only authorities are legally armed. It has a firearm homicide rate of 9.88 per 100,000 people, compared to 7.07 in the United States, where cities with tough gun controls wind up with shoot-em-ups rivaling those in Ciudad Juarez. In Switzerland, virtually every family is armed and the rate is 0.58. Thugs think twice about trying to murder folks in Switzerland.)

Following his Home Depot rousting, Corliss retained Robert Magee, an Allentown lawyer. "Although the plaintiff was not doing anything improper, illegal or even suspicious," Magee wrote in the complaint, "[Stokes] nonetheless accosted the plaintiff and thereafter illegally harassed, detained and/or arrested him."

Fast-forward to Oct. 15, when Allentown officials decided to wave a white flag and fork over the $23,500 without the need to explain themselves in open court. "It involved him openly carrying the firearm inside the store," Magee told me. "When you are open carrying, you do not need a permit." He said all police officers are supposed to have training to that effect.

That, I offered, means all cops know it is none of their business if somebody is exercising the right to bear arms. "None of the cop's business," Magee confirmed.

He's not the only lawyer who confirmed it. Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin said essentially the same thing. "The permit permits you to carry a concealed weapon," Martin said. "You don't need a permit to carry a gun openly."

I also called Allentown Police Chief Roger MacLean and city solicitor Jerry Snyder to get their take on all of this, but they did not get back to me.

I realize there are people who don't care about rights. They just want a paternalistic society where authorities take care of everything, and they are horrified by the thought of individuals being self-reliant, especially when it comes to self-defense. I think they should spend some time in Juarez to see if that changes their minds.

So I applaud Magee for his role in this case. Magee, however, has not always been happy with the way I have bashed some lawyers. Among other things, I've said Pennsylvania's lack of tort reform is not designed to protect victims of wrongdoing; it's designed to let lawyers file blizzards of lawsuits, justified or not, so they can take the lion's share of awards or settlements.

"About once a week," he said in a 2005 letter to the editor attacking tort reform, "Morning Call columnist Paul Carpenter goes off on a rant about lawyers." I am duty-bound to report that in the $23,500 Corliss settlement, Corliss got $2,500 and Magee's law firm got the rest.

Original report here

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Judge lets British police thug off

Despite video evidence of brutality

A woman dragged across a police station floor before being thrown into a cell by a sergeant – who has now been cleared of assaulting her – says she believes he should never be put in charge of prisoners again.

Pamela Somerville said Sergeant Mark Andrews’ acquittal on appeal last week appeared to show there was ‘one rule for the police and another for members of the public’.

But she hoped the high-profile coverage of her ordeal would prevent similar cases happening elsewhere.

In a case highlighted by The Mail on Sunday, Sgt Andrews was captured on CCTV footage from the police station dragging Ms Somerville, 59, across the floor before throwing her in a cell.

Andrews, 37, who joined Wiltshire Police eight years ago after serving in the Army, was sentenced to six months in prison in September after being found guilty of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. He was cleared on appeal last week but now faces an internal disciplinary inquiry.

‘The public has a right to have every confidence in the police and I would rather leave it to them to make their own mind up about whether justice has been served,’ said Ms Somerville.

‘It’s very sad and very disappointing because I have been living a nightmare for two-and-a-half years since this happened. I just want to get on with my life. I only hope to God that Andrews is never again put in charge of a custody suite.’

The case was brought after a fellow officer, PC Rachel Webb, reported the incident to senior officers and gave evidence against Sgt Andrews. Sgt Andrews, who is married with two young children and has remained suspended from duty on full pay, spent six days in prison before being released on bail pending his appeal.

During his trial, CCTV footage was shown of the 6ft 3in policeman dragging 5ft 2in Ms Somerville, who weighs 8st, across a custody suite, throwing her head-first into a cell and leaving her unconscious and bleeding heavily from an eye gash.

But on Thursday at Oxford Crown Court, after conceding that Sgt Andrews ‘could have done things better’, appeal judge Mr Justice Bean quashed the conviction saying he was satisfied that Sgt Andrews had not deliberately meant to harm Ms Somerville.

He said her injuries ‘were probably caused by her falling to the floor after letting go of the door frame’. Sgt Andrews told the appeal that Ms Somerville was the most unpredictable prisoner he had ever come across and had been abusive. He added: ‘I don’t think I did anything wrong.’

Ms Somerville, a privately educated former market researcher, was orig­inally detained in July 2008 for failing to provide a sample for a breath test after being found asleep in her car. She denied any wrongdoing and the charges were later dropped due to insufficient evidence.

Last night Ms Somerville, who is now partially blind in her left eye and is awaiting cataract surgery, said: ‘The CCTV footage of what happens speaks for me as well as the fact there is to be an inquiry. ‘I had no idea there were CCTV cameras in police cells until I was shown the footage of what happened to me. But now the public know that too, which must be a good thing.’

Wiltshire’s Assistant Chief Constable Patrick Geenty, who had branded Sgt Andrews a disgrace to the force after his conviction, said: ‘The force has decided that it is appropriate for an independent force to hold an internal conduct hearing in early December. ‘This will examine the conduct of Sgt Andrews in respect of his dealings with Pamela Somerville throughout this incident.

'The result of that hearing will be made public and Sgt Andrews will remain suspended from duty until the hearing. He will continue to receive full pay for as long as he remains a member of the force.’

Original report here

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Aggressive British cop gives woman fatal heart attack

A police firearms officer has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter after a woman died following a road-rage row outside her home. Christine Roche, 64, had a heart attack at the wheel after being accosted by an off-duty police officer, who lost his temper after she clipped the wing mirror of his car.

The 34-year-old officer is said to have flipped after the minor accident, which happened in thick fog in a suburban street in Hillingdon, West London. The PC got out of his car, leaving his children in the back seat, to remonstrate with Mrs Roche’s 71-year-old husband Patrick, who was sitting in the passenger seat.

Sources said the constable ranted at the pensioner before reaching inside the car to grab the keys from the ignition and storming off. Mrs Roche, who is said to have a pre-existing heart condition and was recovering from a heart operation last week, later collapsed at the wheel. She was treated by paramedics on the pavement but was pronounced dead at the scene at around 4.30pm on Tuesday.

The PC, a licensing officer for the Met’s elite firearms unit C019, was arrested the following day at work on suspicion of manslaughter.

Yesterday the victim’s family would only say that they ‘needed some space’ in order to come to terms with her death. The mother of two had lived in the area for more than a decade with her husband and son Matthew, 28.

Witnesses said she had been driving erratically when the accident happened on a road close to a school, described by locals as a ‘rat-run’ for traffic.

A source said: ‘She was driving erratically and she clipped his wing mirror. ‘He got out of the car and started having a go at her and her husband. ‘Then he reached into their car and took the key out of the ignition. He caused quite a scene and someone said we should call the police but he answered, “I am the police”.’

One local, who owns a shop nearby, said: ‘The couple clipped the policeman’s wing mirror or something like that – just a small prang. ‘He was ranting and raving and then apparently the woman had a heart attack. ‘I suppose she got stressed or something. It is a tragedy. ‘It is so sad. I feel sorry for them all, including the policeman. It’s not what you expect when you clip someone’s wing mirror.’

The policeman is understood to live locally and be married with children. Last night one local said: ‘He is a friend of mine. He lives nearby. He is a quiet family man. ‘I haven’t spoken to him since the incident but he is a very nice man.’

The unnamed PC, who is responsible for approving firearms certificates but is not an operational police marksman, was interviewed at a South London police station and released on bail until mid-December. The officer has now been suspended from duty pending an investigation by the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards. The Independent Police Complaints Commission has also been informed.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: ‘At approximately 4.30pm on Tuesday, November 16, an altercation occurred in Hillingdon, after which a 64-year-old woman was pronounced dead at the scene. ‘A serving Metropolitan Police officer has been arrested in connection with the inquiry.

‘The 34-year-old, who works in central operations, was arrested on Wednesday, November 17, at his place of work on suspicion of manslaughter, and was taken to a South London police station. He has now been bailed to return in mid-December pending further inquiries.’

Original report here

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Cops bust seven men playing chess in upper Manhattan park

Is there anything as thuggish and brainless as an American cop? One policeman or a park ranger politely moving them on would surely have been enough

A squad of police officers in bulletproof vests swooped into an upper Manhattan park in New York and charged seven men with the "crime" of playing chess in an area off-limits to adults unaccompanied by kids - even though no youngsters were there, the New York Post said.

"Is chess really something that should be considered a threat to the neighbourhood?" Inwood resident and mum Joanne Johnson wrote Mayor Bloomberg, the City Council and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly after the raid.

"This incident is an embarrassment to the officers from the 34th Precinct who felt that it was necessary to use their badge and authority to issue such a random summons." All seven suspects were issued with desk-appearance tickets, the site said.

The chess tables where they were ticketed for "failure to comply with signs" are in a fenced-in area where posted notices read: "Adults allowed in playground areas only when accompanied by a child under the age of 12."

Police said the rule protects kids from paedophiles or others who might want to harm them, the site said.

A police source added, "It’s the broken windows theory ... small things can turn into bigger things. Some citizens may see it as police harassment, but God forbid something happens to a child, people would be complaining, Why didn’t the police enforce these rules? That’s what they would be griping about."

Original report here

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wrongful Imprisonment compensation taxable?

As a tax lawyer, I believe exonerated prisoners who receive damages for wrongful imprisonment should not have to pay tax on their awards. See Tax On Wrongful Imprisonment Needs Reform. Perhaps for that reason, people have been gleefully emailing me the IRS’s latest: IRS Chief Counsel Advice 201045023. Everyone seems to be reading it by the headline the tax press is (inappropriately) giving it, proclaiming “wrongful conviction recoveries are now tax free!”

Since I’ve long argued for this view, I hate to be a killjoy. Unfortunately, that’s not what it says—not by a long shot. In fact, this IRS ruling says only that a victim of wrongful imprisonment who “suffered physical injuries and physical sickness while incarcerated” can exclude his recovery from taxes and can structure it just like other physical injury victims. We already knew that.

After all, the debate over these recoveries has focused (probably incorrectly) on the factual question whether the wrongfully jailed person experienced physical injuries or physical sickness while unlawfully incarcerated. If so, the damages are tax free, just like more garden variety personal physical injury recoveries. If not . . . well, we don’t like to talk about that one.

Admittedly, there are usually significant levels of physical injuries and sickness, especially in long term wrongful imprisonment cases. For that reason, as a practical matter, we tend to use the hook for tax free treatment we know appeals to the IRS. But is this appropriate under the circumstances?

Put another way, is that really why the victim is getting most of the money? Usually no. It may be difficult or even impossible to separate out all of the multiple levels of horror, all the losses that can never be made up. But in many cases, the loss of physical freedom and civil rights is at the root of the need for reparations. A payment for a loss of freedom should be tax free in its own right.

I commend the IRS for saying what it did say in IRS Chief Counsel Advice 201045023. But that isn’t the issue. The IRS issued a series of rulings in the 1950s and 1960s, involving prisoners of war, civilian internees and holocaust survivors. Sensibly, the IRS ruled their compensation was tax free irrespective of whether they suffered physical injuries. Then the IRS “obsoleted” these rulings in 2007, suggesting the landscape has changed.

The IRS has still not addressed whether being unlawfully locked up is itself tax free. This is a worry, since the Tax Court (affirmed by the Sixth Circuit) dangerously held in Stadnyk that persons who step forward saying they didn’t experience physical injuries or physical sickness will have a taxable recovery. Stadnyk was a very short term incarceration case, but it may portend continuing adherence to the IRS canard that “there must also be physical injury.”

It is wrong as a matter of tax policy and as a matter of social justice to tax these recoveries. It is also wrong to leave this area of the tax law to develop piecemeal so some people are paying tax. The continuing myopic focus on the accompanying injuries or sickness will foment tax disputes about these issues.

It’s time for the IRS to say it clearly and unequivocally. That’s a headline I’ll underscore.

Original report here

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Australian police force finally has to admit fault

But they spent a lot of taxpayers' money trying to avoid doing so. It tells you a lot about their dishonest mentality. Note also their policy of not prosecuting Muslims. They are a parody of a police force

VICTORIA Police spent almost $300,000 of taxpayers' money on a failed attempt to beat an officer's complaint that he was called a "f---ing wog" by a superior.

Former senior sergeant Mario Benedetti, who last month won a bravery award for running into a burning house to save a sleeping couple, secretly taped the insults in 2008.

He said he would not have taken the matter further had he not been called a "wog" during a meeting with fellow officers. Mr Benedetti said even after he decided to take action, it could have been ended with an apology, averting the expensive 12-month legal stoush. "It's absurd that they spent that sort of money," he said.

Documents obtained by the Herald Sun under Freedom of Information show how police command continued to write big cheques before giving up and settling with Mr Benedetti, who quit the force earlier this year.

At the height of its spending, Victoria Police coughed up $85,000 in one month to defend four members against Mr Benedetti's claims there was a "sustained and systematic campaign to subject me to detriment on the basis of race, impairment, industrial activity and employment activity". Last November, police command told the Herald Sun it rejected Mr Benedetti's complaint and the allegations would be defended.

It was not the first time Mr Benedetti - the former officer-in-charge at Moonee Ponds police station - had stood up to top brass. In November 2008, he spoke out in anger after charges he laid against members of an out-of-control mob were quietly dropped, without consultation. He said at the time he suspected the charges might have been dumped because the youths set to face court were of north African descent. He said he was later investigated for speaking out.

Mr Benedetti was last month awarded the Royal Humane Society's highest honour for risking his life while off duty at a fire in Preston.

Police Association secretary Sen-Sgt Greg Davies said it was a shame the matter was allowed to drag on to such an expensive conclusion. "If you're going to settle something, it's good sense to do so before the matter runs out of control," he said.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman said the force "recognises that litigation is expensive and can take time" and did everything it could to avoid that process. [Really???]

Original report here. (Via Australian police news)

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Reversing a death sentence. Ill. man tells story of escape from death row

He survived two execution dates but lost one third of his life. He sat on death row for 12 years. He then spent five and a half years on life without parole-all for a murder he did not commit.

Randy Steidl, a member of Witness to Innocence and the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, spoke in the Abbott Auditorium Tuesday night about his experience spanning a 15-year period in which he lost every appeal he had.

"It was basically an exercise in futility…it wasn't until I finally got to federal court in 2002 that I got any release after almost 16 years of a wrongful conviction," Steidl said.

In 1986, Steidl was accused of murdering newlyweds Karen and Dyke Rhoads in Paris, Ill.

During the July 4 weekend, the couple was murdered by being stabbed roughly 50 times and their house was set on fire. Three days after the murder, five police officers took Steidl and his co-defendant, Herb Whitlock, out of a bar in handcuffs. Steidl and Whitlock cooperated and were released.

"Seven months later we were arrested and charged with double murder on testimony of the town drunk and some mentally ill woman," Steidl said.

The witnesses were Darral Herrington and Debbie Reinbolt. There was no forensic evidence tying the men to the crime, according to Steidl, and it was revealed that both witnesses were paid-one of them $25,000-to testify.

"We weren't released because of the system," Steidl said. "We were released in spite of it."

According to Steidl, Illinois is second to Florida for the number of people exonerated from receiving the death penalty. Illinois has exonerated 20 individuals. Florida has exonerated 23.

"I want to give people the perspective that you can release an innocent man from prison," Steidl. "You cannot release an innocent man from his grave."

Steidl's experience took a toll on his family, as well as the victim's family. "I saw the pain and the anguish on their face [of the victim's family]," Steidl said, "and that just continues to open a wound."

When Steidl was released in 2004, he was released into the world of computers and cell phones, all of which he had to adjust to. "After all of those years, it was like being Rip Van Winkle waking up after 20 years walking into a whole new world," Steidl said.

Steidl was allowed three visits per month where he saw his family. Steidl said it was great seeing his family walk in the door, but it was hard for them. "[That is] something no family should have to go through; no children should have to go through," Steidl said.

Steidl was convicted when he was 35 years old and got out at 54. "My kids weren't kids anymore," Steidl said. "They were adults."

Steidl said he saw 12 men executed while he sat on death row and they "didn't go out kicking and screaming" because death was a relief. "They were being released," Steidl said. "Five minutes on that gurney after decades on death row-they were being released."

Senior criminal justice and political science major Robert Levi Carwile of Olney attended Steidl's speech because he is in the class that put the event on, Political Science 472 and a human rights class.

"It's a very moving story," Carwile said. "Obviously, the man had a lot taken from him his entire life. It's sad that this is not the only isolated incident in the state of Illinois or across the country."

Original report here

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Eight Myths of Justice

Innocent Americans are routinely convicted and incarcerated. The new book False Justice explains how

In the 2006 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Kansas v. March, Justice David Souter and Justice Antonin Scalia conducted a public debate within their opposing written opinions. Discussing the fates of death row prisoners, Souter opined that in such high stakes cases, innocent men and women are too often found guilty. The “unusually high incidence of false conviction” is probably caused by “the combined difficulty of investigating without help from the victim, intense pressure to get convictions in homicide cases, and the corresponding incentive for the guilty to free the innocent,” Souter wrote.

Scalia countered that wrongful convictions are rare in capital cases because they “are given especially close scrutiny at every level, which is why in most cases many years elapse before the sentence is executed.”

For 40 years, I have researched, written about and obsessed over wrongful convictions. Souter’s thinking—heavily reliant on the research of Samuel Gross, a University of Michigan law professor who has demonstrated that wrongful convictions are more prevalent than most law enforcement insiders understand—is spot-on. Scalia’s is misguided, informed by a judicial culture more interested in speedy convictions than thorough investigations.

The law enforcement personage who recognizes the problem of false convictions is a rare and refreshing breed—and often comes from unlikely corners of the political ring. Republican politician Jim Petro, experienced an epiphany during his term as Ohio attorney general that surprised him, his wife Nancy and many of his supporters. The epiphany? Petro realized that a significant number of prisoners who say they are innocent are indeed innocent. He realized that wrongful convictions occur in multiple Ohio county courthouses and in federal courts. He realized that the number of wrongful convictions can be minimized, and that police, prosecutors, judges and defense attorneys can perform their jobs better. His newfound cause was well suited to his law-and-order way of thinking—when wrongful convictions occur, the actual perpetrators (murderers, rapists, burglars, etc.) go unpunished, and often murder or rape or burglarize again.

In my years of research, I have heard only a few prosecutors acknowledge the breadth and depth of the problem. In his new book False Justice: Eight Myths That Convict the Innocent (January, Kaplan), Petro outdoes them all.

Most of the cases that raised red flags for Petro, and now benefit from his lawyering, are Ohio cases. Petro was especially gripped by the cases of Clarence Elkins, Michael Green and Roger Dean Gillispie, convicted felons whose exonerations in Ohio are completed or pending.

Petro and his wife, a business consultant, rely heavily on the Elkins, Green and Gillispie case studies in hope of dispelling eight “myths” about the criminal justice system:

•Everyone in prison claims innocence. Most inmates make no such claim because guilt is obvious. Lots of prisoners complain about police cutting corners or prosecutors offering overly harsh plea bargain terms, but rarely do they deny their crime completely.

•The American criminal justice system almost never convicts an innocent person. Nobody can know the census of innocent inmates. But hundreds of documented cases exist, and Petro, among others, suggests the number reaches into the tens of thousands.

•Only the guilty confess. False confessions show up in at least one quarter of documented wrongful convictions.

•Wrongful conviction is the result of innocent human error. Numerous cases have yielded evidence that police and prosecutors had reason to doubt the validity of the arrest, but made the arrest anyway.

•An eyewitness is the best testimony. Sometimes that is true, but numerous well-designed research studies suggest the odds of accurate eyewitness identification are no better than 50-50.

•Conviction errors get corrected on appeal. Appellate judges tend to side with the prosecution because finality is an overwhelming value within the court system.

•It dishonors the victim to question a conviction. In fact, many victims and their loved ones want the actual perpetrators to serve prison time.

•If the justice system has problems, the pros will fix them. In researching the more than 2,300 criminal justice jurisdictions across the United States, I have found that the pros almost never initiate the repairs. Instead, those repairs begin with innocence project advocates, journalists through their public investigations, law professors, and the rare state legislators and public officials willing to buck against the criminal justice establishment.

Any well-informed primer on wrongful convictions is welcome. Even better is a primer by somebody like Petro, who has the credentials to move reform proposals to center stage. 

Original report here

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Doing time

The title of the film Conviction is perfectly ambiguous, focusing on both the guilty verdict of the defendant in a murder case and on the unshakable belief of his sister that he is innocent. The movie is based on the true story of Betty Anne Waters, who spent 18 years earning a GED, a BA, and finally a law degree in order to get her brother released from prison, and who now serves as an attorney for the Innocence Project. Along the way she lost her marriage and fulltime custody of her children; her brother Kenny lost his relationship with his daughter, who was a toddler when he was arrested. As presented in the film, the case involved dirty politics, suborned witnesses, and the rush to remove criminal types from the community, even if they are not actually guilty. And it demonstrated the indefatigable love of a sister and a brother.

The film opens with a walk through the bloody murder scene, reminding the audience that a brutal crime has been committed, and a victim is dead. It's appropriate to remember the victim in any crime story. But convicting the wrong man is also a crime of violence, a crime often overlooked in the rush to convince voters that the district attorney's office is doing its job to keep criminals off the streets.

After the murder, Kenny (Sam Rockwell) is immediately brought in for questioning, because he has a record as a barroom brawler and petty thief. Kenny takes the arrest with the wisecracking aplomb of a man who is constantly hauled downtown every time a crime has been committed. Betty Anne (Hilary Swank) arrives at the jail with the same longsuffering resignation of a sister who has done it all before. He is released, and all is forgotten — until two years later, when he is arrested for the murder and eventually convicted, with a sentence of life without parole.

The film uses flashbacks to show the kind of life Kenny and Betty Anne had as children. Their mother has nine children by seven men, and is often absent. As they grow up, they are in and out of foster homes and in and out of trouble, mostly trespassing and vandalism. Kenny in particular is seen as a wisecracking hothead, the kind of guy who has a biting sense of humor and makes everyone laugh, even when they're exasperated. Because of their difficult background, the two siblings are unusually close.

When Kenny is convicted, Betty Anne vows to get him out by earning a law degree. She doesn't even have a high school diploma, and she is often at the bottom of her class. Her husband leaves her, and eventually so do her sons, who choose to move in with their father because their mother is so focused on her brother. In many respects, when Kenny goes to prison, so do Betty Anne, her family, and Kenny's daughter.

During her legal studies, Betty Anne comes across a brand new line of evidence: DNA testing. She contacts Barry Scheck, founder of the Innocence Project, and the search is on to gain access to evidence that has been locked away for 18 years and possibly destroyed. As the movie tells it, far from serving the cause of justice, police officers and prosecutors involved in the case do everything they can to stonewall the new investigation and prevent the truth from coming out. Barry Scheck (Peter Gallagher) drily explains, "People don't like to admit when they've made a mistake."

One must recognize that this film is a dramatization, not an analytical report; one must allow for dramatic license in its telling of this particular story and its representation of the characters. Betty Anne Waters has said about the film, "The movie is so true to life. Not every scene happened, but every emotion happened." But the family of Katharina Brow, the woman Kenny Waters was accused of killing, have hired Gloria Allred to represent them in a suit for not presenting Brow in a better light.

The film emphasizes a number of problems that actually exist in the criminal justice system, especially as it is applied to poor people. Too often, police and prosecutors justify a swift arrest and conviction with the "unshakable belief" that "if he isn't guilty of this, he's guilty of something." In the film, Kenny can't afford the $25,000 to hire a private attorney, so he uses a public defender, whose case load is too heavy to give any real attention to his clients. The prosecutor takes one look at Kenny's juvenile record and believes it is in the public's best interest to get him behind bars. This is not untypical of the system. In addition, like many small-time criminals accused of hefty violent crimes, the Kenny whom we see in the film is at the mercy of police officers and prosecuting attorneys who have the power to coerce testimonies from petty thugs and frightened acquaintances willing to lie to protect their own freedom. Juliette Lewis gives an astounding performance as the pathetic, broken-toothed former girlfriend who testifies against Kenny after investigators threaten her with losing custody of her child.

A person who has been wrongly accused and convicted faces a double dilemma: the agony of knowing he did not commit the crime, and the knowledge that he will probably never earn parole. A person who is truly guilty can serve the minimum time, go before the parole board, express contrition and regret for the crime, and get out. A person who is not guilty must either lie and pretend to be sorry for the crime, or maintain his innocence and never get out, because parole boards never grant parole to convicts who do not acknowledge their remorse. Catch-22. If the inmate does decide to lie, that confession can be used against him if he ever earns the chance for a retrial. Consequently, convicts who have been wrongly accused of murder almost never get out.

The emergence of groups such as the Innocence Project, however, is changing the system. Kenny Waters was convicted because he had the same type of blood as the perpetrator, Type O. But O is the most common of blood types. It was easy to convict defendants on the strength of matching blood types, but DNA evidence is much more precise and individualized. Since DNA testing became admissible as evidence, 254 prisoners have been exonerated and released from prison. I personally know three people who spent two decades of their lives or more in prison for crimes they did not commit. If it weren't for the Innocence Project, they would still be behind bars.

But in many ways, they are still imprisoned. They have each lost 20 years of technology, job training, and social experience. Their children have grown up without them. Many such people have earned large financial settlements from the state, but no one can give back the time they lost. People like Betty Anne Waters and Barry Scheck are true heroes who understand the meaning of the word conviction.

Original report here

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

TX: DNA shows wrong man executed

His death was no loss and well-deserved but how many others have been similarly railroaded?

A Texas man was condemned to death and executed in 2000 on the basis of hair that did not belong to him, according to the results of a DNA test released on Thursday.

A test by Mitotyping Technologies published by the Texas Observer magazine - which fought a three-year legal battle to gain access to the evidence - showed that Claude Howard Jones was "excluded as the contributor of this questioned hair".

Jones - who had a long criminal record - had insisted that he was waiting in the car when his accomplice killed Allen Hilzendager during a liquor store robbery.

He was convicted of the 1989 murder and denied several appeals, largely on the basis of that single strand of hair that police found at the scene. Forensic science was limited at the time to examining the hair under a microscope, where it appeared to belong to Jones.

The DNA test posted on the magazine's website found that the hair most likely belonged instead to the victim. Analysing hair under a microscope was later abandoned after it was deemed inconclusive and obsolete with the development of DNA testing. Jones requested a DNA test and a stay of execution until it could be performed, but he was denied by then-governor George W. Bush.

Documents obtained by the Texas Observer and the Innocence Project showed that "attorneys in the governor's office failed to inform Bush that DNA evidence might exonerate Jones", the Observer wrote. Bush, embroiled in the 2000 presidential election recount at the time of the execution, was a proponent of DNA testing in death penalty cases and had previously halted another execution so key evidence could be tested.

"Because the DNA testing doesn't implicate another shooter, the results don't prove Jones's innocence," the Observer wrote. "But the hair was the only piece of evidence that placed Jones at the crime scene. So while the results don't exonerate him, they raise serious doubts about his guilt."

A Texas judge is considering whether another man executed on the basis of out-dated forensic evidence was indeed innocent. Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 for setting a 1991 fire that killed his three daughters. Experts have testified that the evidence used to prove the fire was arson was flawed.

Original report here

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Four police SWAT officers shot during drug raid in San Antonio

I must confess that I am rather pleased by this news. It's about time one of these goon squads got a taste of their own violent medicine. Maybe they will eventually figure that using SWAT teams to chase after drugs is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Violence begets violence

FOUR San Antonio police SWAT officers were shot today during a drug raid.

The officers were met by a hail of assault rifle fire when they attempted to enter a Southeast Side residence around 2.30pm local time, the San Antonio Express-News said.

They returned fire but did not hit any of the people inside - among them a woman and a small child.

The target of the raid eventually surrendered and now faces multiple counts of aggravated assault as well as attempted capital murder.

One of the wounded officers was initially listed in critical condition and underwent surgery late in the day, said Brooke Army Medical Centre spokesman Dewey Mitchell.

Another officer was listed in serious but stable condition, while the other two sustained lesser injuries and were taken to University Hospital.

It was not immediately clear if any narcotics were recovered at the scene, police said.

Original report here

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Federal marshal's description of fatal shooting conflicts with video footage

Matthew Itkowitz, an off-duty deputy U.S. marshal, was being beaten and threatened with a gun in an alley off Melrose Avenue when, in fear for his life, he managed to draw his own weapon and fatally shoot his attacker. At least, that's the story Itkowitz told Los Angeles police.

What really happened that night in the Fairfax district is less clear-cut. Witnesses' accounts of what happened before the shooting vary. But footage from a surveillance camera, which has never been made public, calls into question the deputy marshal's claim of self-defense. A copy of the tape was reviewed by The Times.

The footage of the March 5, 2008, encounter, coupled with other evidence from the scene, raises a disturbing possibility: that a drunk cop fatally shot a man in the back to settle a score.

Whether prosecutors see it that way is another matter.

After knocking back shots of tequila at a Mexican restaurant a few blocks from their apartment, Itkowitz and his wife, Alexandra, began to argue as they walked home. The couple, both in their 30s, were having problems in their marriage and were discussing a separation.

Itkowitz became angry, his wife would later tell police. She said her husband pushed her and took a baseball cap from her head and swatted her. She was crying as she followed him down an alley they used as a shortcut home.

One witness told police she heard Itkowitz tell his wife: "You're out. You're gone. We're done."

Still crying, his wife responded, "You're drunk."

Itkowitz turned and walked quickly back toward her. Frightened, she ran to a group of people standing near the rear entrance to a tattoo parlor and asked for help. One of them was Ryan Gonzalez, the manager of the shop, who was closing up for the night.

Gonzalez, 26, had a long rap sheet and had done time in prison, including a 21/2-year sentence for possessing a firearm as a felon. That night, he had been drinking and marijuana was detected in his system, according to an autopsy report.

At 5 feet 6 and 160 pounds, Gonzalez may not have looked formidable. But he had a chiseled body and quick hands, and those who knew him say he was not one to back down.

"He was cool with people. He was not an instigator," his stepfather, Ray Smithen, said in an interview with The Times. "But if you antagonized him, that's a different story."

Itkowitz described Gonzalez as combative. He told detectives that Gonzalez pulled a gun from his pocket and said: "You know who I am, homey. I'll … kill you."

Itkowitz said he tried to calm the situation, telling Gonzalez: "Whoa, dude … everything's cool."

Caroline Cardenas and Alicia Simmons, witnesses with no connection to either man, described the encounter differently.

Although police said Cardenas initially told them it seemed as though Gonzalez was the aggressor, she later testified that she heard Itkowitz swearing at Gonzalez, telling him, "This isn't your business, mind your own business."

Gonzales, she said, told Itkowitz: "Calm down and go home."

Simmons told police she saw Itkowitz "backing Gonzalez up against a wall" and "Gonzalez … holding his hands palms out and saying 'Hold up, hold up.' "

However the confrontation began, there is no doubt it came to blows.

Itkowitz told police that Gonzalez punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground. He said he then told Gonzalez that he was a law enforcement officer, pulled out his wallet and showed his driver's license. Gonzalez snatched it from his hand.

Itkowitz said he was "trying to focus on that gun" when — without warning — Gonzalez hit him in the face again, knocking him to the ground a second time.

Itkowitz said he shuffled backward, trying to create some distance, and told Gonzalez, "It's cool, it's cool."

Then, "in a split second," as Gonzalez turned his head, Itkowitz lifted up his shirt, drew his weapon and fired. "I popped up … and I just started firing," he told police.

Images from a surveillance camera mounted on a wall behind Mao's Chinese restaurant show Gonzalez twice knocking Itkowitz to the ground. But they do not show that any shots were fired during the fight or immediately afterward.

Rather, the footage shows the two men walking together down the alley after the fight in the direction of Itkowitz's apartment. At one point, Gonzalez pulls out an object that prosecutors later said could "be reasonably inferred to be a handgun" and points it at Itkowitz's head.

Gonzalez then places it back in his waistband and motions for Itkowitz to leave. He turns around and heads toward the tattoo parlor.

As Gonzalez walks away, Itkowitz can be seen removing a gun from the waist of his pants and holding it behind his right leg.

Still walking toward the tattoo parlor, Gonzalez turns back toward Itkowitz and again motions for him to leave. When he doesn't, Gonzalez walks several steps back in Itkowitz's direction.

He's about 10 to 12 feet away when Itkowitz raises his gun and fires.

After the shots, Gonzalez runs east toward the tattoo parlor. Apparently wounded, he stumbles and falls, as Itkowitz gives chase.

Gonzalez gets back up, runs a little farther, then falls again. Itkowitz catches up.

He fires at least two more times, based on shell casings recovered at the scene. The video footage does not conclusively show Gonzalez's position when the final shots are fired. But the trajectory of one of the bullets suggests that he was either falling or on the ground, officials determined.

Three of the five shots that hit Gonzalez, including the fatal bullet, struck him in the back, according to coroner's officials.

When patrol officers from Los Angeles Police Department's Hollywood Division arrived, they found Alexandra Itkowitz hiding under a car. She had heard her husband calling her name, she told the officers. But she didn't come out because "she thought that Itkowitz was going to shoot her next."

The LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division, which specializes in complex or potentially high-profile crimes, was assigned to the case. The results of its investigation were submitted to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office two months after the shooting.

Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley's office then conducted a "substantial independent investigation" of its own, which included calling several witnesses before a grand jury.

In their report, prosecutors wrote that Matthew Itkowitz's description of the shooting was "patently inconsistent" with the video footage. They also noted that the footage shows him reentering the alley after the shooting and picking up at least two unknown items from the ground before police arrived.

Prosecutors said Alexandra Itkowitz's sworn testimony in the case was "significantly inconsistent" with what she had earlier told detectives. The nature of the changes "strongly suggests that she has been influenced to support the statement [her husband] made to the police."

Nevertheless, prosecutors concluded in July that "there is insufficient evidence to prove that Itkowitz did not act in self-defense."

The district attorney's 10-page report does not explain why detectives apparently did not interview Matthew Itkowitz on the night of the shooting. Nor does the report say whether police performed a blood-alcohol-level test on Itkowitz, who had admitted having "four or five shots" of Patron tequila that evening and, according to his wife, had seven.

Also missing are details regarding the gun that Gonzalez allegedly pointed at Itkowitz. The report says it can be reasonably inferred to be a handgun based on the surveillance footage. But there is no mention of whether a gun was found.

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for Cooley, told The Times that a gun was recovered by police in the alley near the area where Gonzalez was first shot. But she declined to elaborate. She said the district attorney's investigative materials have been subpoenaed by the Department of Justice and that prosecutors in her office could not discuss the case.

Gibbons referred inquiries to Scott Caron, a private attorney retained to represent the district attorney's office in its dealing with the Justice Department. Caron referred questions to the office of Los Angeles County Counsel Andrea Ordin. Asked which lawyer in the 250-attorney office was handling the matter, Caron said he was not authorized to say.

Attorney Michael J. Grobaty, who has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Gonzalez's family, said in an interview with The Times that the lead prosecutor on the case, Sergio Gonzalez, told him that one reason it took so long to decide whether to file charges was that the matter had been controversial within his office and that Cooley himself needed to make the decision. [Gibbons said Cooley was briefed on the shooting, but was not personally involved in deciding whether to bring charges.]

Itkowitz, who still works as a deputy U.S. marshal in Los Angeles, declined to talk to a reporter about the shooting. He filed for divorce in April. Alexandra Itkowitz, now living east of San Diego, sat down for what turned out to be a brief interview earlier last month.

"I've tried to forget what happened that night," she said in an interview with The Times. "I don't know how to explain this. I'm afraid I might say something that…"

Her voice trailed off as her father walked into the living room and asked what was going on. The father, who is retired from a federal law enforcement agency, advised her to stop talking.

"You don't have to do this," he said. "You need to call Matt. You need to see what Matt's lawyer says."

Gonzalez's mother and stepfather told The Times they remain convinced he died sticking up for someone in trouble. "He was always out for the underdog," said Alice Smithen.

Ray Smithen said Gonzalez humiliated Itkowitz in front of his wife — and that's what got him shot. "He was drunk and he was mad and he wanted to get even," Smithen said.

Original report here

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Watchdog Blogger arrested for filming in public

The abuse of power and use of intimidation tactics to prevent video recording in public places goes on.

Ron Clark, one of two La Crosse Watchdog Bloggers, was arrested, cited, and released on October 26 for merely displaying his videocam and because of "his attitude," according to the La Crosse Tribune, quoting the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse campus police chief, which suggests that possession of "attitude" is illegal in La Crosse.

The incident happened at a local political debate at UW-L that some politically influential people have attempted to declare off limits to anyone with a camera except those whom they approve, such as officially sanctioned local media like WXOW Channel 19, a co-sponsor of the event.

Clark hadn't even been filming the debate but was attempting to record the interaction between police and fellow Watchdog Mike, whose last name has been held by request.

As almost always happens between law enforcement officers and a citizen with a camera, to the point where it's become a stale statist cliché, Clark reports that he was physically assaulted and abused during his arrest.

Mike contacted the Libertarian News Examiner with a recent, and apparently typical, run-in with the rights deniers.

Last week Mike attended a debate between two local candidates and found himself being harassed by members of the League of Women Voters, campus professors and a candidate's campaign worker because he was openly filming the debate participants.

They confronted him, argued with him, demanded that he stop recording, stood in front of him to block his view, and even called him an expletive.

Mike's response was simple in its logic, that he was merely attempting to exercise his first amendment right of Freedom of the Press. It's not as though he was trespassing on other people's property, Mike insists. "Keep in mind that UW-La Crosse is a public University, funded by your tax dollars," he wrote on his blog.

The video posted here was uploaded to the pair's La Crosse Watchdog Blog last night and shows Congressman Ron Kind becoming irritated with the bloggers and then attempting to grab their camera.

More videos, an arrest report, and a Ron Clark interview are posted at La Crosse Watchdog Blog.

Original report here. See the original for links and video

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

OH: Thuggish use of stun guns by Franklin County sheriff's office

The Franklin County sheriff's office has used stun guns in an "excessive, cruel and inhumane" fashion that deprives prisoners of their constitutional rights, the U.S. Department of Justice says.

The Justice Department asked this week to join a civil lawsuit by individuals who say they were shocked in a "callous and sadistic manner" by deputy sheriffs assigned to the jail. Their case was filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus in July.

The Ohio Legal Rights Service, an independent state agency that supports the rights of the disabled, filed the lawsuit on behalf of a number of prisoners. It asked the Justice Department to review the lawsuit; the department's motion was filed Wednesday.

The defendants in the case include Sheriff Jim Karnes, Chief Deputy Steve Martin and a number of sheriff's deputies and commanders.

Kerstin Sjoberg-Witt, legal director of the Legal Rights Service, said she welcomes the Justice Department's involvement and hopes to work with the sheriff's office to reach a resolution.

The agency reviewed 180 times Tasers were used on prisoners between January 2008 and May 2010, virtually all of which were ruled appropriate by the sheriff's office. The lawsuit contends that deputies used stun guns on individuals who posed "no threat of violence or harm to themselves or others" and that the practice had become standard operating procedure.

The agency cited examples including:

• A 24-year-old woman who was stunned four times after she objected to being forcibly strip-searched with male officers present. She had been arrested for driving without a license.

• A woman who told guards she was pregnant. She was stunned after being unable to remove a tongue ring because her hands were slippery. Officers refused her requests for a paper towel until after using a Taser on her.

The sheriff's office argues in court documents that deputies' stun-gun use "did not constitute excessive force."

Its policy permits stun guns to be used for self-defense, to protect an inmate or staff member, to disarm someone or to control a combative inmate. The policy says Tasers should not be used on inmates in handcuffs, leg irons or restraint chairs or who are known to be pregnant.

Karnes and Prosecutor Ron O'Brien both declined to comment on the case because there is an ongoing lawsuit. The Justice Department also would not comment on the case.

Sgt. Jim Gilbert, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter, said the union supports the deputies named in the lawsuit. "We support the use of Tasers when dealing with combative inmates who potentially could harm themselves as well as the deputies or other staff members," Gilbert said. "The deputies acted in accordance to their training and with the equipment provided to them by the sheriff's office."

He said the sheriff's office reviewed each case and found that the stun-gun use was appropriate. He said videotapes would have been made of each incident. "Our deputies know that their actions constantly are being recorded," he said.

Tom Hemmert, community affairs officer for the Legal Rights Service, said the videos have been entered as evidence and cannot be publicly released.

Gilbert said FOP attorneys are reviewing the lawsuit to determine whether the union should become involved.

Representatives from all the parties involved in the lawsuit are scheduled to meet Tuesday for a court-ordered mediation to determine how the case will proceed. According to the Justice Department motion, the Legal Rights Service asked the department's civil-rights division to review the lawsuit in July.

Original report here

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Monday, November 08, 2010

Maryland man challenges denial of gun purchase

Daniel Hubert Ross is still paying for killing his wife four decades ago. This is not a plea for sympathy. A jury found him guilty of first-degree murder and a judge sentenced him to spend the rest of his life behind bars in a North Carolina prison. There is no doubt that Ross shot his wife.

But Ross argued that he hadn't been allowed to adequately explain his claim of self-defense, and he appealed his 1969 conviction. The case bounced through state courts, then federal courts, and finally landed in the highest court of all, the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justices ruled in his favor in 1984. Prosecutors decided not to retry the case and dismissed the charges. Ross was set free after 14 years of incarceration, and a judge later expunged his record. Daniel Hubert Ross is no longer a convicted felon.

But records have a way of lingering, and Ross, who now lives in Maryland and works for the federal government, discovered that in January when he tried to buy a hunting rifle at a pawnshop in North Carolina.

The clerk took his name, disappeared for a few moments and returned with bad news. A criminal background check listed his murder conviction, and the clerk couldn't accept his $300 or give him a gun. Felons are barred from owning firearms.

The clerk inadvertently dredged up a part of Ross' past he thought he had buried, both legally and mentally, forever. After the pawnshop check, his old conviction surfaced again when he said he was denied access to a White House tour. And his employers at the Environmental Protection Agency, where he helps approve grants, began asking questions.

Last week, Ross, acting as his own lawyer, sued the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, demanding that his record reflect the Supreme Court's decision and that he be allowed to buy the hunting rifle.

Ross says in his suit that the government has "created and continues to create roadblocks to basic necessities making it extremely easy for law enforcement, employers and others to discriminate" against him "in employment, education, professional licensing and loans to rebuild his life, support his family and become a productive member of the community."

Ross, who lives in Prince George's County, had worked as a security guard and owned a handgun in Virginia. He said police are improperly using his arrest record to impugn his integrity. He's seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting the government from labeling him "an irresponsible and dangerous felon."

I'm usually leery of writing about lawsuits filed by people without attorneys. Anyone can file anything in court, accusing anybody of anything, but at least when a lawyer draws up the papers, it usually demonstrates that someone with a legal background believes the argument has some merit.

But I was intrigued by Ross' claim. There is no doubt that he shot and killed in wife during an argument, though he said he was unable to adequately prove his claim of self-defense, that his wife stabbed him in the back of the neck and he "turned around shooting."

The Supreme Court's case revolved around whether North Carolina law at the time unfairly placed the burden of proving self-defense on defendants and whether the judge should have instructed the jury that they could consider Ross' claims.

Justice William J. Brennan wrote the opinion, ruling unconstitutional the state's law shifting "to the defendant the burden of disproving an essential element of a crime." The chief justice at the time, William H. Rehnquist, dissented, scoffing that the "decision will make less sense to laymen than it does to lawyers."

The real question, of course, is whether Ross' past should prevent him from buying a gun. Common sense would seem to say that since he's no longer a convicted felon, and since he's had a clean record since he was released nearly a quarter-century ago, he should enjoy all the rights bestowed on all citizens.

Did North Carolina and federal authorities simply fail to update Ross' criminal record to indicate he won on appeal? Should the cops have erased the record altogether? Or does the conviction still matter when you want to buy a gun, even if the conviction was overturned? And why can't North Carolina authorities simply look up the court record and correct their own record? No one would answer those questions.

Federal authorities kept referring me to Justice Department lawyers who would not comment on the question generally, saying it was hypothetical, and then declined to comment on the specifics of Ross' case, saying the details were not public.

Either way, the feds say it's up to the state of North Carolina to fix Ross' record if it needs fixing, and then they will go from there. And authorities in that state refused to comment on the case. That might give you a good indication of why Ross is taking this to court.

Ross' official denial is in the form of a letter from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which conducted a "Firearm Denial Appeal Review." That letter informed Ross that the information he gave them - including the Supreme Court decision and the judge's ruling to expunge his record - was "insufficient to authorize your eligibility to purchase or redeem a firearm."

An FBI spokesman in Washington, Bill Carter, declined to comment on Ross or his lawsuit but said his investigators rely on information provided by local authorities. "We can only go by what the state has in its records system," he told me.

He sent me to Steve Fischer, a spokesman for the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division located in West Virginia, a repository for criminal background files. He too said that "the system is only as good as the information" it has.

That brings us to North Carolina, and another dead end. Noelle Talley, the spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Justice, which oversees that state's Bureau of Investigation, which sent Ross' criminal background information to the feds, said the law prohibits her from releasing information about criminal records. "However, any individual has the right to review his own criminal history record and challenge it if needed," Talley said in an e-mail.

Ross told me he hasn't requested that information from North Carolina and said the federal authorities should have his up-to-date information regardless of what the locals have on file. "It's a game," he said, "and I'm not going to play it."

Trying to resolve this through North Carolina officials might give Ross a better chance at correcting his record. It might be as simple as convincing the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation of the judge's order to expunge his conviction.

But maybe the issue is more complicated. Maybe Ross has found another quirky case worthy of judicial input. And maybe he gets another chance to seek help from the U.S. Supreme Court. It's been a while, but someone there might still remember him.

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