Friday, April 30, 2010

Australian police resisting improved standards for DNA testing

Given the many examples of incompetent or corrupt forensic science in the USA, this is quite unforgiveable. It could mean that a villain with a smart lawyer could escape justice if his lawyer can show that the DNA testing was not done under the highest standards.

SEVEN years ago, criminologist Mark Findlay reviewed the regulation of DNA and forensic evidence for the NSW government and recommended a major overhaul.

After handing over his 176-page report, Findlay waited for his recommendations to form the basis of what he hoped would be tighter regulation of this crucial part of the criminal justice system. He is still waiting.

"Nothing of substance has happened -- certainly nothing in terms of legislation," says Findlay, professor of law at Sydney University and deputy director of the Sydney Institute of Criminology.

Findlay has his suspicions about the reasons for that lack of action. If he is right, the fate of his report highlights the scale of the challenge confronting Graham Barr, the judge who is about to revisit this subject for the NSW government.

Barr, an acting judge of the NSW Supreme Court, was given responsibility this month for conducting a second review of the regulation of DNA and forensic science evidence. He will cover much the same ground as Findlay.

So what was it that caused that first report to be shelved?

Findlay believes there was a reluctance to impose more controls that could interfere with an area of science that was viewed as essential to achieving more criminal convictions. "There was a lot of pressure out there to keep the DNA ball rolling," he says.

"Any government that tried to strengthen the legislation -- either on the basis of rights or procedural fairness -- would not get much electoral mileage even though we established that there was a need for this."

After examining this subject in some detail, Findlay says he was particularly disturbed by one aspect of what he found.

"It became apparent that a lot of operational coppers were simply ignoring the legislation" and obtaining samples of DNA using methods that were sometimes improper, he says.

Police were then relying on judicial discretion to ensure DNA evidence that might have been obtained improperly was still admitted into evidence.

"If the defence challenges the way these samples were taken, judges fairly regularly will let it in because they believe its probative value outweighs any prejudice to the accused," Findlay says.

"So we have a situation where DNA has a disproportionate impact on the lives of people, coppers are to a measurable extent involved in taking samples without worrying too much about the legislation and their evidence is getting through."

Barr's review of the NSW Crimes (Forensic Procedures) Act may be broad enough to examine the extent of this practice.

But he will first need to come to terms with the fact that a NSW Police Force representative will be part of the taskforce that will be helping him undertake his review.

When it comes to DNA evidence, the influence of police is significant, not just in NSW, but across the nation.

Barr's review comes at a time when the regulation of this area is in a state of flux. The nation's police commissioners initiated research last week that will help them decide whether DNA testing of evidence in every state will shift to the much higher European standard.

As well as the cost of adopting a more thorough approach to DNA tests, the police commissioners are assembling information on the practical impact that such a change would have on policing and the justice system.

Some might consider it unusual that police, rather than forensic scientists, are responsible for making such a key decision on a matter that is essentially scientific.

Australia does have a National Institute of Forensic Science, but it is part of an organisation whose board consists of the nation's police commissioners.

Since 2008, Australia's NIFS has been part of the Australian and New Zealand Police Advisory Agency. ANZPAA's chairman is South Australian Police Commissioner Mal Hyde, who says police across the nation recognise the importance of using the latest advances in DNA testing and are committed to a national collaborative approach.

The influence of police on DNA evidence does not end there. Some of the most important DNA testing labs are controlled by police.

Police labs provide DNA evidence in Victoria, in the Northern Territory and for the Australian Federal Police. In NSW, DNA evidence is tested by the Division of Analytical Laboratories, part of the state Department of Health.

DAL is so busy it is understood to contract out some testing to another lab that, like itself, is nationally accredited. But NSW police have their own lab -- the Forensic Sciences Services Laboratory at Pemulwuy, in Sydney's west.

This police lab does very small amounts of DNA testing and focuses on providing police with broader forensic analysis.

When NSW Premier Kristina Keneally and Attorney-General John Hatzistergos launched the Barr review, they described the police lab as a $13 million state-of-the-art facility.

The Sydney media were even given an opportunity to photograph Keneally at the facility.

So should police in NSW be able to use this modern facility to move further into DNA testing?

When that issue was considered in the Findlay report, the answer was a firm "no".

That report, which was released before the police lab was established at Pemulwuy, proposed that responsibility for DNA testing should be given to an independent government agency that would have been called the "state institute of forensic science".

"This review opposes the suggestion that the bureaucratic and financial foundation for it should be within the Police Ministry," the report says.

"If the institute must have a ministerial connection, it cannot be with its principal client as this would entirely destroy any claim to at least operational independence."

One of the reasons Findlay's report favoured organisational independence was concern that scientists could be vulnerable to subtle pressure to adopt "a culture generated by a principal client or by the nature of the majority of the work unertaken".

"If an organisational buffer is in place which enables scientists to work independently of the interests of their principal clients, then the scientific independence of the laboratory will be fostered," Findlay's report says.

The report's call for independence pre-dated last year's recommendation by the American Academies of Science for the establishment of an independent institute of forensic science to oversee forensic standards in the US.

The chief scientist at the NSW police lab, Tony Raymond, says his facility has a complementary relationship with DAL.

Police still buy DNA testing services from DAL, but use their own lab for multi-disciplinary forensic analysis and high-end fingerprint analysis. "Pemulwuy's scientists also go into the field while DAL is very much focused on high-throughput DNA and toxicology," Raymond says.

"We don't do standard DNA, but are setting up a capability in niche areas that would be used very rarely. It is not designed as a high-throughput lab like DAL.

"They are complementary. It gives us, between them, a full forensic capability."

Original report here

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

British police killed man then covered it up

A Metropolitan Police riot squad officer killed the anti-fascist campaigner Blair Peach at a demonstration and fellow officers lied to cover it up, a report kept secret for 31 years revealed yesterday.

The report said that there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone over the killing but recommended that three officers be charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice or consipiracy to pervert the course of justice.

The Crown Prosecution Service said yesterday that it was unlikely that new scientific, witness or confession evidence would emerge to allow them to reconsider bringing a prosecution.

Mr Peach, a 33-year-old New Zealand-born teacher, died after he was hit over the head at a demonstration against the National Front in Southall, West London, during the 1979 general election campaign. It is thought that he was hit with a police radio or a cosh.

His family and partner have long campaigned for the report, written by Commander John Cass, to be released. Mr Peach’s partner, Celia Stubbs, 68, said: “I feel we have really been vindicated because we have always said that Blair had been killed by a policeman. I never thought we would get this.”

She questioned whether lessons had been learnt by the force after the death of Ian Tomlinson, who was shoved to the ground by a riot squad officer during G20 protests last year.

The report by Commander Cass, a senior officer in the Metropolitan Police at the time, referred to a particular police vehicle and said that it was “almost certain” that an officer from that vehicle struck the fatal blow.

He concluded that three officers, identified as E, H and F, had lied to cover up the truth. They were members of an elite riot squad known as the Special Patrol Group. “It is understandable that officers were confused, or made mistakes, but one would expect better recall of events by trained police officers. However, there are cases where the evidence shows that certain officers have clearly not told the truth.”

Commander Cass added: “I strongly recommend that proceedings be taken against Officer E, Officer H and Officer F for obstructing police in the execution of their duty, conspiring to do so, and attempting or conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.”

Sir Thomas Hetherington, the Director of Public Prosecutions at the time, decided that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone. No one was disciplined by the Metropolitan Police. All of the officers left the force after the investigation was concluded, the police said.

An inquest returned a verdict of misadventure. Fourteen witnesses reported seeing Mr Peach being hit by a police officer. Several officers were put on ID parades but none was picked out.

Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said yesterday: “I have to say it’s a matter of deep regret, and I have to say, really, that I’m sorry that over 31 years since Blair Peach’s death we’ve been unable to provide his family and friends with a definitive answer regarding the terrible circumstances that he met his death.

“I’ve personally written to Blair Peach’s brothers and his partner to express this to them. It might be 31 years ago but I also have to say that the material published today makes for some uncomfortable reading.”

Original report here

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Video footage altering law enforcement

It went viral on YouTube and aired on a nearly continuous loop for a week on cable news networks, but the March 3 confrontation between a University of Maryland student and the Prince George's County police force dramatizes an even bigger change: the revolution in law enforcement wrought by video recorders and cell-phone cameras.

It began with the 1991 videotaped beating of Rodney King that sparked citywide riots in Los Angeles, but the modern ubiquity of video recording devices — and the likelihood that bystanders and even the suspects may be taping an incident — has had a major effect on the theory and practice of law enforcement.

"There's not a police academy in the country that doesn't use the Rodney King video," said Wolcott, Conn., police Chief Neil O'Leary. "I will tell you that officer actions 30 years ago are very different than officer actions today."

In cases of suspected police brutality or misconduct, lawyer Christopher Griffiths said, "For years, you were dependent on the client's version [of events]. We're seeing with video that cameras don't lie."

Mr. Griffiths is representing John McKenna, the University of Maryland student caught on the gripping video shot by a bystander as he joined a raucous street celebration to mark Maryland's upset win over rival Duke University in basketball.

As the student walked near two police officers on horseback, three Prince George's County police officers in riot gear attacked and beat him with batons. It was not evident from the video what, if anything, Mr. McKenna might have done to provoke the confrontation.

Mr. McKenna suffered a concussion and a head wound that required stitches, and faced charges — later dropped — that he had assaulted two officers on horseback and received his injuries from the horses.

He plans to sue the county for the attack, and the video will be a cornerstone of his case. Mr. Griffiths said the existence of independent video in so many recent law enforcement cases has helped level the playing field in the courtroom over such charges.

"When this case plays itself out, I'm hopeful there will finally be changes in the police department," the lawyer said. "We hope there will be a criminal prosecution."

As in so many other recent cases, more video evidence of the incident may be forthcoming. After some delay, nearly 90 minutes of footage shot by a University of Maryland security camera was given to attorneys for Mr. McKenna. The footage had been missing from nearly 60 hours of school video originally turned over after Mr. Kenna's attorneys obtained a subpoena in the days after the attack.

In a second recent incident, a police task force in Harrisonburg, Va., said Wednesday that it will be reviewing official video and videos posted on the Internet as part of its review of a violence-marred student block party April 10 that resulted in 30 arrests. Police used pepper spray and tear gas to disperse revelers, some of whom threw bottles and rocks at officers.

A search of YouTube for the term "police brutality" produces more than 14,000 entries.

The Department of Justice investigates cases of purported police brutality, and spokesman Alejandro Miyar said the department considers all evidence available, including video, in all investigations.

"The FBI is investigating the incident that occurred after a University of Maryland basketball game. The Civil Rights Division will review the FBI's findings to determine if there was a violation of federal civil rights laws," he said in an e-mail.

Mark Newbold, lead attorney for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in North Carolina, said that while having video evidence of police actions can be useful in post-incident investigations, videos do not always provide the complete context of an event.

"You still have to look at what the officer perceives," he said.

Mr. Newbold said in police brutality cases in which video evidence is involved, it is important for a jury to understand that videos display only one perspective of an event and that different angles and lighting could better explain or justify the actions taken by officers on the scene.

He cited an example in which one video made it appear that officers had shot a man in the back, when a video taken from another angle showed that the man had turned slightly toward the officers with a weapon.

Difficult split-second decisions "have to be taken from the framework of what the officer is confronted with," Mr. Newbold said.

Chief O'Leary, of the Wolcott, Conn., police and many other law enforcement professionals say the explosion of video recordings of public events can work to the benefit of police officers. Many times independent video helps to exonerate the police, showing their reactions were reasonable.

When he was chief of police in nearby Waterbury, Conn., Chief O'Leary recalled, two off-duty officers were involved in a disturbance outside of a bar, in which they were later accused of beating civilians. The cameras from a state building's security camera across the street recorded the event, but in this case the video exonerated the officers as it showed that they had not used excessive force.

Chief O'Leary said the increased presence of video is better for both the police and the public. Officers are held to a higher level of conduct in treatment of civilians and are compelled to be more conscious of their behavior, but they also can be protected against unfair charges of brutality or overreaction.

Although Chief O'Leary agreed that police behavior sometimes can appear brutal to civilians even though officers might be using standard and appropriate procedures, he did not condone the actions of the Prince George's County officers based on the video evidence he saw.

"That student was brutalized," he said. "There's no justification for that at all."

Original report here

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bungling British police again

Locking up a man on suspicion only, ruining his life

An Algerian-born pilot is likely to receive compensation of up to £2 million after having been wrongly accused of training the 9/11 terrorists. Lotfi Raissi was told yesterday by Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, that he was eligible for a payout.

Mr Raissi has been fighting for compensation for six years after his arrest ten days after the terror attacks in September 2001. He was held in custody for almost five months before a judge found that there was no evidence to link him to any form of terrorism.

Mr Raissi, 36, now living in Chiswick, West London, said: “My life was destroyed. My career was destroyed ... It was a struggle, struggle, struggle for the last nine years.”

He said that he expected an apology from the Ministry of Justice. “It is not a question about the compensation, it’s a matter of principle. I was fighting for justice and what I want at the end of it is an apology.”

He is expected to claim compensation that takes into account the loss of his career as an airline pilot, his wrongful imprisonment and damage to his health. Mr Raissi said he had been blacklisted from all airline jobs and had not worked for the last nine years.

Jules Carey, his solicitor, said: “The allegations of terrorism were utterly ruinous to him, both personally and professionally.”

Original report here

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Find me the man, and I’ll find the crime

All of the serious charges against Gregory Girard have been dropped, yet he remains behind bars and denied bail until the people responsible for putting him there can devise a suitable "crime" to justify his imprisonment.

This task shouldn't tax the malicious creativity of the Salem County Prosecutor, given that Girard, a resident of Manchester-by-the-sea, Massachusetts, is a middle-aged male gun owner and unreconstructed "right-wing extremist." As Josef Stalin's secret police chief Lavrenti Beria put it: Find me the man, and I'll find the crime.

In early February, police learned of Girard's unremarkable gun collection -- invariably described as an "arsenal" or "cache" by the statist stenographers who call themselves local journalists -- when his wife, a psychiatrist, told them that she was afraid to return to their home following an argument.

On the following day the police were contacted by the ATF, which relayed a report from someone described as a "friend" of Girard's wife who supposedly saw hand grenades in the condo.

At the time, Girard held a Class A firearms license and had dutifully registered all of his weapons. A "license," of course, is a document that redefines an innate right as a government-granted privilege, and its purpose -- as Girard would learn -- is to simplify the process of revoking that "privilege" at the whim of a government functionary. Glenn McKiel, Chief of the Manchester-by-the-sea Police Department, revoked Girard's license and called in the Cape Ann Response Team (CART) -- the Homeland Security State's local paramilitary affiliate -- for a joint assault on Girard's home.

Would you trust your life to these guys? Well, Gregory Girard didn't think it was a good idea, either. Below, right, we find an example of the Massachusetts State Police Tactical Team conferring the blessings of order on an unarmed, outnumbered, helpless protester.

Among the specific concerns related to the police by Girard's wife was his supposedly alarming view that martial law is imminent.

Since it is unacceptable for people to believe that government agents will carry out paramilitary raids to confiscate firearms, a paramilitary force was sent to Girard’s home to confiscate his firearms.

Stormtroopers from CART, the ATF, and the state police surrounded the condo, evacuated two units, and then called Girard to invite him outside. Seeing his home surrounded by a ring of heavily armed, black-clad bucketheads clearly possessing malign intent, Girard understandably declined the invitation. After the police barged into his home, Girard put up no resistance, beyond insisting that his "hand grenades" were innocuous and perfectly legal smoke grenades.

The first media accounts of the incident were a bulimic recital of pre-chewed soundbites fed to the press by the police.

Girard’s collection of “approximately twenty” firearms — in fact, he owned 11 rifles and two handguns, all legally purchased and duly registered — suddenly became an “an alarming, nearly military-grade stockpile.” In similar fashion, Girard's food storage, flashlights, batteries, and camping gear were also described as "military-style items."

I suspect that the only reason Girard's home wasn't similarly transformed into an "armed compound" is the fact that it was a multi-family condominium.

In addition to the firearms, Girard’s arms cache reportedly included “four police batons” he had “illegally” acquired.

That’s right: Civilian disarmament is not limited to “gun control,” but includes “club control,” as well.

In the hands of the armed servants of the tax-feeding class, tear gas, pepper spray, and batons are considered “less-than-lethal” weaponry. But such items become dangerous implements of violent disorder when they fall into the hands of mere Mundanes. Accordingly, Girard was charged with four counts of possessing “an infernal device” and four counts of possessing a “dangerous weapon.”

Girard also reportedly converted his third story into an “illegal indoor firing range,” complete with what was described as an “illegal ballistic plate” (apparently possession of metal plates of a certain thickness is now impermissible without explicit government permission).

“We feel our community is safer having this kind of weaponry off the street,” intoned a police spokesman as he performed the familiar post-raid gun-grabber liturgy.

As it happens the “weaponry” in question was never on the “street” to begin with -- and its mere possession by Girard wasn't a crime even in a positivist sense.

No charges were ever filed relating to Girard's "arsenal" of firearms. The charges of owning "infernal machines" -- five "explosive" hand grenades -- have been dismissed because, as he had patiently tried to explain to the armed marauders who abducted him, the objects in question were perfectly non-explosive gas grenades. The charge of "carrying dangerous weapons" was also vacated, since Girard was never accused of carrying a knife or baton outside his home, and no state or local ordinance forbids private ownership of knives or clubs.

The only remaining charges -- discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a dwelling, and two counts of illegal possession of silencers -- are made of the same alloy of dishonesty and prosecutorial desperation.

Rebecca Whitehill, Girard's attorney, has pointed out that while firing a weapon inside one's own home might be unwise, it is not a criminal offense under state law. She also insists that the objects described as "silencers" are in fact flash suppressors, private ownership of which is not prohibited by state law.

Even if he is found "guilty" on the remaining charges, Girard wouldn't face prison time. Yet Judge Richard Mori of the Salem District Court refuses to grant bail.

Prosecutor Michelle DeCourcey, the Beria disciple heading the case against Girard, insists (as paraphrased by the Salem News) that "the facts of the case have not changed, only the charges." What this means, assuming that it means anything, must be that the prosecution is following the Stalinist formula of finding a "crime" to fit the facts. And Judge Mori is willing to facilitate this fraud by keeping Girard behind bars, because Mori "still"considers Girard "to be a danger to the community."

Like assistant DA DeCourcey, Judge Mori is employing Soviet legal concepts to justify undisguised violations of Girard's individual rights. Specifically, they are treating him as what the Soviet penal code called a "socially dangerous" person -- a designation used to justify summary punishment of political dissidents and others deemed enemies of the state, whether or not they were charged with an actual criminal offense.

More than a decade ago, the state government of Connecticut enacted a “law” permitting state agents to confiscate firearms from people suspected of “dangerous” tendencies — a variation on the Soviet idea of pre-emptive punishment of “socially dangerous persons.”

Almost exactly a month after Girard was kidnapped and his gun collection was stolen by the local police, David Pyles of Medford, Oregon endured a similar assault. Shortly before dawn on March 8, a mob of heavily armed police -- two SWAT teams, officers from two local police departments, sheriff's deputies from two counties, and troopers from the Oregon State Police -- ringed Pyles' home and demanded his surrender.

Pyles had recently made a wise and timely investment by purchasing two handguns and an AK-47 rifle. Shortly before Pyles bought the guns -- something he had long planned to do, but hadn't been financially feasible until he received a tax refund -- he had been put on administrative leave by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

This convergence of events led police to categorize Pyles -- without evidence of criminal intent or derangement -- as a "disgruntled employee" planning retaliation of some kind against his ODOT supervisor. Thus they demanded that he submit to a mental health evaluation -- an ominous echo of the Soviet regime's habit of forcing dissidents to undergo psychiatric confinement. They also seized his firearms for "safekeeping."

"They woke me up with a phone call at about 5:50 in the morning," Pyles told Reason magazine. "I looked out the window and saw the SWAT team pointing their guns at my house. The officer on the phone told me to turn myself in. I told them I would, on three conditions: I would not be handcuffed. I would not be taken off my property. And I would not be forced to get a mental health evaluation. He agreed."

The negotiator, being a police officer, did what comes naturally to people in that profession. He lied. "The second I stepped outside, they jumped me," continues Pyles. "Then they handcuffed me, took me off my property, and took me to get a mental health evaluation."

Within a few hours Pyles had been discharged from the hospital. He never saw the inside of a jail cell. The local police -- most likely in reaction to a nation-wide spasm of outrage triggered by their Orwellian persecution of an innocent gun owner -- returned the firearms, albeit not before lying to him again by claiming that he would have to undergo a second "background check."

All of this, according to Sgt. Jeff Proulx of the Oregon State Police, was a successful exercise in "proactive" police work. Stalin and Beria would undoubtedly agree.

Original report here

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

BART fires 2nd officer in station shooting death

SAN FRANCISCO— A second Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer involved in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man last year on an Oakland train station platform was fired Thursday.

Officer Tony Pirone's last day of employment was Thursday, interim BART police chief Dash Butler said in a statement.

Pirone and former Officer Marysol Domenici were the first BART officers to respond to a report of a fight moments before Oscar Grant was fatally shot by then-Officer Johannes Mehserle on an Oakland train station platform on New Year's Day 2009.

Pirone, 38, has been described by witnesses as being the most aggressive officer on the platform prior to the shooting. Domenici, 29, was fired March 25. She is appealing her termination.

The shooting was video-recorded by bystanders and shown across the Internet. It has sparked protests, including some that have turned violent. Demonstrators turned out at BART stations in downtown San Francisco on April 8 to demand Pirone's firing.

Mehserle, 28, who is white, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Grant, 22, who was black. Mehserle's attorney has said his client meant to use his stun gun instead of his handgun.

Pirone testified at a preliminary hearing last year that moments before the shooting he pulled out his Taser gun as he approached the men, who he said matched a description he was given of people fighting on the train. He then ordered some of Grant's friends to sit against a wall and then pulled Grant and another friend off the train.

According to Pirone, Grant asked him why he was messing with him. Pirone said he told Grant: "It would be a lot easier if you stopped playing games."

Video shown during last year's hearing shows Pirone yelling a black racial epithet at Grant. Pirone testified that he didn't recall saying that and if he did, it was in response to Grant saying the same thing.

Pirone then hit Grant. Rapoport has said Grant provoked the blow by trying to knee Pirone at least twice.

Moments later, Mehserle shot Grant, who was lying facedown.

Mehserle eventually resigned. He is scheduled to appear in court May 7 for a pretrial hearing in Los Angeles. A trial has been scheduled for mid-June, and Pirone will likely be a pivotal witness in the case.

Pirone's firing comes several months after a law firm hired to do a probe into the shooting recommended that Pirone and Domenici be terminated.

John Burris, the attorney for Grant's family, said Thursday that it was about time Pirone was fired. Pirone's initial actions contributed to Grant's killing, he said.

"He was the original instigator of this entire event," Burris said. "This sends a clear message that misconduct will not be tolerated or accepted. His overaggressive behavior led to Oscar Grant's death."

Pirone's lawyer, Bill Rapoport, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on Thursday.

Original report here

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Canadian seeks $13M for ‘wrongful’ conviction

A $13 million malicious prosecution and negligence lawsuit filed by Robert Baltovich takes aim at a sacred cow — a respected former prosecutor who is now a judge — as well as Toronto police and two former defence lawyers.

Baltovich, 44, who was acquitted two years ago this week of murdering his girlfriend, Elizabeth Bain, alleges two Crown attorneys — John McMahon and Paul Amenta — intentionally failed to disclose key evidence and misused their office, and that Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General is now “vicariously liable” for their conduct.

McMahon is now an Ontario Superior Court judge.

Brendan Crawley, a ministry spokesman, said the civil court process “is open to anyone who chooses to use it — as Mr. Baltovich has chosen to do with respect to this matter.”

But Crawley signalled on Friday that a settlement isn’t likely and the ministry intends to fight the lawsuit. Earlier this year, Attorney General Chris Bentley rejected a request for compensation for Baltovich, who spent seven years in prison for the murder, before the Ontario Court of Appeal quashed his conviction and ordered a new trial in 2004.

Louis Sokolov, a Toronto civil lawyer with expertise in representing the wrongly convicted in claims against government, said Baltovich has a tough battle ahead of him because malicious prosecution claims — always notoriously hard to win — have become more difficult thanks to a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision.

Potential plaintiffs must now have “actual evidence” of malice, Sokolov said.

Baltovich is also suing his two trial lawyers, William Gatward and Michael Engel, for breach of contract, alleging they failed to ask for notes made by investigating officers and failed to follow up on invitations from police to go through investigative files.

At Baltovich’s 1992 trial, they also refused to concede Bain had been murdered. Her body has never been found.

A statement of claim filed on Wednesday by Baltovich’s civil lawyer, Harvey Strosberg, also alleges Toronto police became fixated on Baltovich and failed to follow up on the most natural suspect in the case, Scarborough rapist Paul Bernardo.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

At Queen’s Park, NDP MPP Peter Kormos (Welland) castigated Premier Dalton McGuinty for not compensating Baltovich and warned Ontario taxpayers will end up forking over more money than if the Liberals had just settled the case.

“Mr. Baltovich was the victim of serious injustice,” Kormos told the Star’s Robert Benzie.

Original report here

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Home invasion; cop or not?

Police raids have got to stop. Letting a few druggies go is not sufficient justification for the danger to the innocent

Just after 10 p.m. on Monday night, April 19th, Little Rock homeowner Rachel Woods went to her door in response to a knock. When she asked who was there, a voice said, “Little Rock Police”. She called her husband on her cell phone, who then advised she should disable the house alarm and let them in. When she attempted to disable the alarm, the door was kicked in and three men with “Police” on their shirts forced their way in. The official police report gives this description:

She described the first suspect as a black male, 20-30 dressed in all black with a T-Shirt that had "POLICE" in big letters on the front, med-dark skin, with a goatee. She advised the other subjects were wearing pull over masks dressed in all black with "POLICE" on the front of their shirts.

Mrs. Woods was demanded of money and then she was shot in the upper leg. The burglar alarm, which had been loudly going off from the time the door had been kicked in, finally frightened the men away.

What are an Arkansas homeowner’s options in a situation such as this? The number of home-invasion robberies seems to be picking up in the state, possibly due to the poor economy. Many citizens are arming themselves before answering the door, preparing themselves for anything. But what do you do when someone identifies themselves as police, then crashes your door before you can open it, as happened Monday night?

Complicating matters even more, a similar incident took place in North Little Rock in January, 2008. This time, however, the intruders were the North Little Rock SWAT team. The North Little Rock Police had a legal warrant, but had the wrong house number. In this incident, the homeowner had simply picked up a gun beside his bed when he heard windows breaking and the door being kicked in. He was then shot several times, .223 caliber bullets narrowly missing his heart and almost severing his leg.

A second after he sat up, Ingle said, the room “kind of filled up with light,” and he could see the officers outside the window, in their black helmets and body armor. “I could see that they weren't robbers, so I threw the gun down,” Ingle said. “A second later, I heard one of the police officers say, ‘He's got a f***ing gun'… I could hear him turning in the leaves, and as soon as he turned, he turned around and started shooting.” He knew he had been shot, Ingle said, and his first instinct was to try to get off the bed — away from the window, at least, where the two officers were now pouring fire into the room. As Ingle tried, he got tangled up in the blankets and his ruined leg folded under him, the shattered bone grating inside. He fell to the floor in agony. As he fell, the officers outside the window kept shooting, hitting him four more times — arm, calf, hip and chest.

After spending over a week in intensive care, he was then arrested and charged with aggravated assault, among other charges. He was later convicted of the crime of picking up his gun to protect himself against what he thought was a home invasion robbery and is now looking at serving an 18 year prison sentence.

Your options for self-defense in these situations are few and should be well thought out before acting on them. Your life or freedom could hang in the balance; depending on who really is at the door.

Original report here

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Editorial from the Philadelphia Inquirer: Admit mistakes

Another injustice has been dumped on the Camden defendants whose convictions were thrown out amid a police corruption probe.

The Camden County Prosecutor's Office has overturned drug convictions and other charges in at least 185 cases. But many of the suspects - including some who spent time behind bars for those crimes - have yet to receive notice that their convictions were overturned.

The cases were dismissed in the wake of a widening federal investigation into a rogue operation run by several police officers who allegedly routinely stole drugs and money from suspects, made false arrests, and lied to cover up their illicit actions.

That mockery of the criminal justice system has been made worse by the failure to advise defendants that charges against them have been dropped. Some only learned about the police scandal after being contacted by Inquirer reporters.

No one had told Dayna Hinton, who spent more than five months in jail for buying a $10 bag of crack, that her 2007 conviction was tossed out last month.

Without being told, defendants who may have been falsely arrested are unlikely to know that they have the option to file suit for wrongful conviction and imprisonment. Knowing their charges have been dismissed could also clear up related legal issues and outstanding fines, which could help put their lives back on track.

Prosecutors contend ethics rules bar them from directly contacting defendants whose cases were vacated. But that doesn't excuse them from working more closely with defense lawyers - most of them overburdened public defenders - to make sure that every defendant is properly notified as quickly as possible.

That's not to say every defendant is innocent. But when the legal system fails as it did in Camden, the way to correction must begin with an admission of error.

Original report here

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The new Slave Masters

Welcome to the new, more egalitarian America: we are all n*ggers now

Wendy McElroy has a piece about the horrifying case of a badged criminal killing two sisters by crashing into the car carrying them with his police car at high speed. The officer, who was driving 126 mph without sirens at the time of the crash, had been sending emails and talking on the telephone seconds before the crash. Despite the clear evidence of criminality, the family could not be certain of a conviction, and opted to accept a plea bargain by the officer. While convicted of a felony, the officer will not have to spend a day in jail. Instead of the lengthy prison sentence which would await any of us, the criminal in this case received 10 years of probation.

Anti-police protest banner While many people who have not concerned themselves with the police will be surprised to hear it, the simple fact is the police are a special class of person in the United States. Not since the era of slavery and the subsequent Jim Crow era have we seen second-class citizenry displayed so unashamedly. And do not think that the comparison between police and slaveholders and oppressors of the past is overstating the case. It is not overstating the case in the slightest. The family of the victims in this case had concerns over whether or not the officer would be convicted at all. The evidence in this case is even stronger than in many of the shameful murders of blacks in the past, yet being able to secure a conviction against the new massahs was a dubious matter.

Police, for all practical matters, have rights far beyond those which ordinary citizens enjoy. Police may request identification from people, detain people, beat people, and even kill innocents, with little or no fear of the negative repercussions which any of us would expect were we to do any of those things. My father described similar experiences in Birmingham in the 1950s. Welcome to the new, more egalitarian America: we are all niggers now. Just as in the past, convictions were difficult to obtain against people who were clearly guilty of assault and murder, so today is it difficult to obtain such convictions. Just as in the past, blacks had nearly no ability to exercise self-defense without severe negative repercussions, so today do people of all races have nearly no ability to defend themselves against thuggery from the elite class.

In light of the new reality, why don’t we reinvigorate some proud American traditions? Police departments already cooperate in apprehending fugitives, so the fugitive slave laws won’t fill the bill. We still have them, as anyone who has been pursued for tax evasion or any number of other phony crimes could tell you. What then? Well, how about just establishing a new 3/5th rule for those of us not in the oppressor class? It would not only be an appropriate reflection of America as it is, but it would also be a constant reminder to us field hands and house slaves of who really runs things around here.

Original report here

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

SF crime lab at center of growing scandal

Only employees of unimpeachable integrity should be used in crime labs. And that integrity should be regularly tested. ANY conviction should see them let go immediately

The tape recorder started rolling as two police investigators sat in their car in a hospital parking lot with Deborah Madden on Feb. 26. "You're causing a huge nightmare for the city," said one officer.

Now the 60-year-old technician and the obscure police crime lab where she worked for 29 years stand at the center of a scandal that has led to the dismissal of hundreds of criminal cases and jeopardized thousands more. Police have accused Madden of skimming cocaine evidence from the lab, but she hasn't been criminally charged in the case.

Forensics experts say Madden is not the first crime lab worker suspected of stealing drugs or other illegality, and San Francisco's lab joins several other cities in suffering a loss of credibility.

A Houston man was awarded $5 million last year after spending 17 years in prison on rape charges overturned because of a discredited criminal lab. Detroit shut down its crime lab in 2008 after outside auditors uncovered serious errors in the way evidence was handled.

"It's real hard to build a good reputation and it's very easy to destroy it," said Ralph Keaton, executive director of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. "And it takes even longer to rebuild it."

The fallout from San Francisco's lab scandal is still unfolding and experts say it could take years to clean up, especially if authorities fail to establish which criminal cases were compromised. "I don't think we have a full grasp on the magnitude of this yet," said Jim Norris, former head of the lab. "A lot of this runs on trust that the lab results have been correct, but now people don't think they are. So the whole system has grinded to a halt."

Madden's attorney, Paul DeMeester, said last week that her February talk with police was honest and forthright, and she "talked about all of the wrongdoing she had committed at the lab, which is very minimal."

In the taped interview, investigators pleaded with Madden to confess to skimming significant amounts of cocaine from drugs seized during arrests. A confession, they said, would take pressure off co-workers who also were being questioned and would help begin to repair the damage. "And it will take years for the people in that lab and the San Francisco Police Department to come back from that, even if it's one person," Inspector Peter Walsh told Madden on the tape. "If it's a mistake, you just need to tell us it's a mistake."

"I didn't do it," she said, admitting only to snorting small amounts of cocaine spilled on her work station.

An internal review turned up significant shortages of drug evidence in several cases she handled. But Madden said she was not surprised by that because weight discrepancies occurred frequently at the lab.

San Francisco's 13,500-square foot crime lab, on a former U.S. Shipyard in the rough Hunter's Point section of the city, is five miles from headquarters. "A converted warehouse in the middle of nowhere on a toxic dump site," said Fred Tulleners, a former California Department of Justice crime lab manager. "The forensic scientists in San Francisco have been working in abysmal conditions."

The drug unit employed Madden, two other criminalists and a supervisor. Madden's co-workers said they got along with the San Mateo woman, but that she displayed increasingly bizarre behavior in the last months of 2009 culminating with a stint in an alcohol rehabilitation clinic.

Madden, who lives alone with two dogs and a cat, appeared beset with personal problems. A jury convicted her in 2008 of domestic violence and vandalism in neighboring San Mateo County for opening a gash on her longtime partner's forehead with a thrown telephone, records show. Madden called the incident during their breakup an "unfortunate accident," enrolled in an alcohol treatment program and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Police now concede they had a legal requirement to disclose the conviction to defense lawyers handling drug cases Madden analyzed. And the omission is expected to play a role in attempts by some prisoners to have their convictions overturned.

By late last year, Madden's behavior and job performance were attracting attention outside the lab, according to records. San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Sharon Woo sent a Nov. 19 e-mail to Chief Assistant District Attorney Russ Giuntini complaining of Madden's behavior. Woo said Madden appeared to be purposely sabotaging cases by calling in sick on days she was to testify in court. The e-mail and the transcript of the tape were among 1,000 pages of documents in the case made public by prosecutors following a judges order.

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, who is vying for the Democratic nomination for state attorney general, said she was unaware of any serious problems at the lab until just recently.

The police department was tipped off to problems at the lab on Dec. 16 when Madden's sister notified Madden's direct supervisor that she had found a vial of cocaine on her sister's dresser.

The supervisor, Lois Woodworth, told police Madden had begun to act erratically in September 2009. Woodworth said Madden was arriving late to work and staying alone after hours, but not claiming overtime. Woodworth also confronted Madden with evidence that she had rummaged through a colleague's evidence locker without permission.

Police did not question Madden until Feb. 26. Then Police Chief George Gascon shuttered the lab on March 9, and testing was farmed out.

Assistant Police Chief Jeff Godown, who this month took over the lab's supervision, said the lab has suffered from mismanagement, as recent audits also have found. "It's just going to take some time" to repair the damage, he said.

Madden was arrested March 3 after investigators found one-tenth of a gram of cocaine and a gun at her house. Madden has pleaded not guilty to a felony cocaine possession charge in San Mateo County Superior Court.

"One person went sideways and now that's tarnishing everybody's work," said Tulleners, the forensic science director at the University of California-Davis. "Ideally, the next best step would be for the state take over that lab. But I doubt that will happen, not in this current budget crisis."

Original report here

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Monday, April 19, 2010

CA: Trigger-happy BART cops again. BART police bosses withdraw Tasers, will retrain officers

The BART Police Department stripped its officers of Tasers on Thursday, days after a sergeant fired the electric darts of his stun gun at a 13-year-old boy fleeing from police in Richmond on his bicycle, sources told The Chronicle.

BART officials, who said officers would be retrained to use the devices, attributed the decision to the Richmond incident as well as a recent federal court ruling that narrowed the circumstances under which police can use Tasers.

The officials said they could not comment on the Richmond case, citing privacy laws that apply to internal investigations. Interim Police Chief Dash Butler said only that the incident accelerated plans that were already in progress to retrain officers and update policies on the proper use of Tasers, which BART police began using in December 2008.

Sources familiar with the matter, however, told The Chronicle that a veteran sergeant in a moving patrol car fired his Taser several days ago at the 13-year-old boy, who was fleeing from an altercation at BART's Richmond Station on a bicycle.

The darts missed the boy, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. They said the sergeant, who has taught defensive tactics at BART, remained at work but had been removed from street duty.

Butler said the suspension of the Taser program would allow the department to do training that integrates rulings by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that have already prompted changes at agencies around the Bay Area.

The most pivotal ruling came in December, when the court said a man could sue a Coronado (San Diego County) police officer who had stunned him with a Taser to gain compliance after pulling him over for failing to wear a seat belt. The man was "yelling gibberish and hitting his thighs," the court said, but did not pose an immediate threat to the officer.

"We were planning on doing this a few weeks down the road," Butler said of pulling Tasers off the streets, "and (the Richmond incident) accelerated it."

New rules

Butler said BART's Taser policy has always barred officers from using the devices to stop fleeing suspects, and will continue to do so. He said the new policy forbids using a Taser on a minor "unless there's some exigent circumstances."

"Let's say," he said, "you had a 17-year-old who was 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds and was pounding on an officer and the officer couldn't escape. The officer could use a Taser."

Butler said BART's new policy will also forbid officers from pulling and firing Tasers with their strong hand - their gun hand. When officers resume carrying Tasers, he said, right-handed officers will have to keep the devices on their left hip and deploy them with their left hand.

"The real common sense of it," Butler said, "is you don't want to put that device anywhere near the handgun. Potentially, you could have confusion. We don't want that possibility. Just put them on the weak side."

Tasers in Grant case

BART's Taser program has been under scrutiny since a former officer, Johannes Mehserle, shot and killed unarmed train rider Oscar Grant on Jan. 1, 2009, at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland....

John Burris, an attorney representing Grant's family, said Thursday that if an officer fired at a fleeing teenager on a bike, "that's outrageous. I can't imagine there's a justification for that use of force. You create undue danger that the person may fall off the bicycle, and either hit someone else or be killed."

Burris called the temporary suspension of the Taser program "a very positive step" for BART. Burris said, "It's important that this retraining take place before someone else is seriously injured or killed."

Original report here

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Negligent British police throw a man in jail -- when a Google search would have shown he was innocent

Neither thinking nor listening is what British police do

An armed police squad arrested a painter and decorator and imprisoned him for nearly a fortnight after he was mistaken for a brutal war criminal.

They stormed the home of Mile Bosnic and told him he was wanted on charges of orchestrating killing, stripping and torturing victims and wholesale looting during the Balkan War. One officer told him: ‘We’ve known about you for years.’

But in a bizarre mix-up over identity, Mr Bosnic’s only offence was to have the same name as another man wanted for mass murder.

Police insisted an official extradition request from the Croatian embassy had named him as the brutal enforcer of the Republic of Serbian Krajina in the early Nineties.

Mr Bosnic, 54, who lives with his wife Rose, 48, and children Bianca, 29, and Slobodan, 28, in Gloucester, was hauled before an extradition court in London. He would have been sent back to Eastern Europe to face trial for the alleged crimes if his lawyer had not argued there had been a mistake and he should be remanded in custody. He was then held in Wandsworth Prison, South London, for 12 days before authorities released him. Officers were convinced they had the right man.

Both men were called Mile Bosnic, although they were born three years and 250 miles apart in the former Yugoslavia.

In a farcical display of incompetent officialdom, Mr Bosnic’s identity card photo and fingerprints were wrongly attached to his Serb namesake’s records by Croatian investigators.

Mr Bosnic had fled Croatia with his family in 1999 after masked militia threatened them in their home. They sought political asylum in Britain because as Orthodox Christians they were victims of a hate campaign by both Serbs and Croatian Catholics.

Speaking in broken English, through his daughter Bianca, Mr Bosnic said: ‘What happened was beyond belief. I believed Britain was our refuge. All my family work. We don’t seek benefits we live quietly and peacefully.

‘Yet because of some unknown official in Croatia, I am dragged from my home, forced to watch my wife and children crying as I stand accused of dreadful crimes and then get locked in prison. ‘No one even told me where I was being held. No one spoke to me in jail because my English is not good. All I want is to clear my name.

‘People walk past our home pointing at us as though we are monsters. I just thank God for our wonderful neighbours and friends who have always known the truth.’

Mr Bosnic first heard four years ago that a man with the same name was wanted for war crimes when his wife, who works in a car parts factory, discovered the name on a Croatian government wanted list as she surfed the internet. Friends advised her to hire a lawyer in Zagreb who specialised in proving identity. But after forwarding a £500 fee, she never heard from him again.

In October 2008, Croatian judge Ivan Perkovic issued an arrest warrant that named Mr Bosnic, gave his correct birthday as December 26, 1955, in Vukovar and his father’s name as Milivoj Bosnic.

But the warrant was based on the mixed-up documentation. It meant Scotland Yard’s extradition department received a photo and fingerprints that precisely matched the man they arrested in Gloucester on March 25.

Mr Bosnic appeared before Westminster Magistrates’ Court the following day. He faced five charges – breaking the Geneva Convention, committing torture, murdering unidentified persons, unlawful imprisonment of Croats and theft from unknown persons. The prosecutor sought immediate deportation but Mr Bosnic’s lawyer, Julian Atlee, successfully argued for a remand, allowing the family to prove his innocence.

Mrs Bosnic, Bianca and Slobodan launched a campaign using contacts in Croatia to build their case. Backed by a Serb pressure group called Veritas which seeks to prosecute Croats suspected of war crimes, they traced documents showing that Mr Bosnic was doing national service with the Yugoslav army at the time he was supposed to be oppressing Krajina.

They also pointed out he had been a shoe factory worker in Croatia for 19 years and that, given the wealth he had allegedly plundered, a three-bed terrace on a busy Gloucester road was an unlikely hideaway.

But the most convincing evidence emerged from a simple Google search. It revealed that the real suspect attended the funeral of his boss – former Krajina Democratic Party president Milan Babic – in Belgrade in 2006.

Mr Bosnic was released from Wandsworth Prison on April 6 with no explanation. A Home Office spokesman said: ‘We were acting on an extradition request which turned out not to be accurate. 'We wouldn’t normally issue an apology in these cases but Mr Bosnic may be able to claim compensation.’

Original report here

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dutch jail nurse on suspicion only

Patients die on nurses all the time. Want to bet that the Dutch have a shortage of nurses after this?

A DUTCH nurse jailed for life for killing seven patients and attempting to murder three others was acquitted yesterday as prosecutors apologised for keeping her behind bars for over six years.

"In all 10 cases, the court found there was no evidence that a crime had been committed," spokeswoman Mia Roessingh for the appeals court in Arnhem, in the eastern Netherlands, said.

Lucia de Berk, 48, was arrested after the death of a baby in her care at a hospital in the Hague in 2001, court documents said. Further investigations at the time suggested that as many as seven children in her care died from "medically unexplained" causes in 2000 and 2001.

She was found guilty in March 2003 of four murders and three attempted murders and sentenced to life imprisonment. An appeals court the following year added three more murders to the conviction list, including that of an elderly woman, and upheld the life sentence.

It found at the time there was evidence that she poisoned two of her victims and said that while there was no evidence of wrongdoing in the other cases, the deaths could only be explained by a criminal act on her part.

After further expert evidence came to light suggesting that all the deaths could in fact be explained by natural causes, the Supreme Court in 2008 referred the case back to the appeals court for review and ordered de Berk to be freed, pending the outcome.

De Berk always maintained her innocence. "This judgment means that Lucia de Berk has spent 6.5 years in jail as an innocent person," the prosecution service said in a statement, adding that a senior official apologized to the nurse in her lawyers' presence.

"It is important that Lucia de Berk is financially compensated as soon as possible," it said.

Original report here

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Charming British police goons again

Trigger-happy police repeatedly fired 50,000-volt stun gun into a man having an epileptic seizure. It's lucky they didn't kill him. They were just cowardly. Two big brave cops could undoubtedly have physically restrained him but they didn't want any risk of being knocked in any way. Simply waiting until he wound down would probably have been the best strategy but that might have kept them away from their coffee or some such

Police officers fired a 50,000-volt stun gun charge into a man who had collapsed with a major epileptic seizure, the policing complaints watchdog said yesterday.

The man, 40, who has accused police of being negligent and using excessive force, claims that he was Tasered five times despite police being told about his medical condition.

He spent more than two weeks in hospital after the incident, which is being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

Sophie Khan, the man’s solicitor, said her client had been in a gym when the seizure occurred. “The officers were made aware by the ambulance staff and the gym staff that he was suffering from an epileptic seizure but they continued to Taser him in the stomach and forcibly restrain him in a manner that has caused him long-term nerve damage to his wrists and back,” she said.

A leading epilepsy charity said that the incident should prompt a review of police training. “We are disturbed that the police used a Taser on a person who was clearly in, or recovering from, a medical emergency,” said Monica Cooper of Epilepsy Action.

“A Taser should not be used on a person who is having, or has recently had, a seizure. “During a seizure, and for a period of time afterwards, the person may not be fully aware of their surroundings or what is happening, and they may be confused. “Police should be trained to recognise that seizure activity can be mistaken for violent or inappropriate behaviour.”

The man suffered the epileptic seizure last November during a training session at the gym, in Whalley Range, Manchester.

An ambulance was called but, the IPCC said, the man’s physical reactions were so extreme — including biting and punching — that paramedics struggled to treat him. They called for police assistance.

An IPCC spokesman said: “During the ensuing incident one officer discharged a Taser at least once into the man. The man was also restrained. “The whole incident from the man’s collapse to his transfer to hospital lasted approximately one hour.”

The victim lodged an official complaint last month with the Manchester force, which referred the case to the IPCC. Naseem Malik, an IPCC commissioner, said: “This man suffered an epileptic seizure and it is clear that paramedics were struggling to treat him due to the violence of that seizure.

“Our investigation will be thorough and examine the appropriateness of the actions taken by the officers who attended to assist the paramedics.”

Greater Manchester police have used Tasers infrequently compared with other forces, firing the stun guns 32 times between April 2004 and June 2009.

Superintendent Mike Freeman, of Greater Manchester Police’s professional standards branch, said: “Officers were called to this incident because the man was suffering a seizure and posing an immediate threat to the safety of himself and others and had assaulted a number of paramedics. “As an IPPC investigation is under way it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.”

Original report here

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Police riot in Maryland

Police in riot gear bash innocent sports fan and allegedly lie about it

THE FBI is investigating a shocking case of police brutality in which three cops wearing riot gear bashed a young, unarmed sports fan unconscious then allegedly lied about it.

The savage assault, caught on video, has been compared with the 1991 beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles. It left the victim, John McKenna, 21, needing eight stitches for a deep, bloody head wound.

Three agencies are investigating the assault and allegations the police, from a notoriously violent Maryland force, concocted criminal charges against the victim to cover for their own misconduct.

Video screened around the US yesterday shows student McKenna skipping down the street, celebrating his university's basketball match victory before he is confronted by a line of police on horseback. The footage, captured by another student, shows McKenna stopping within a metre of a horse.

Two riot police swoop and pin him to a wall, pounding him with their batons. A third riot officer joins in the minute-long beating, during which McKenna does nothing to physically provoke or resist the police.

The police allegedly then told him to keep quiet about his injuries because it would force them to fill out more paperwork. McKenna's lawyer, Chris Griffiths, said the official arrest report written by the officers alleged McKenna had "struck those officers and their horses, causing minor injuries". The report went further, claiming McKenna had incited the crowd of revellers and that the horses had caused his injuries.

But the video contradicts those statements and now, two days after prosecutors dropped charges against McKenna, the FBI is on the case.

McKenna's family said in a statement: "Some of these characters ought to go to jail, some ought to be booted off the force, and the remainder should be properly trained to discover that force is not always necessary, and brutality is always wrong."

Prince George County prosecutors are investigating whether they can press criminal charges against the police involved. The county's internal affairs unit is also investigating. Police Chief Roberto Hylton said he was "outraged and disappointed" by the incident. "There's a sense of urgency about this," he said.

Until last year, the Prince George County police department had been the subject of five years' federal oversight due to concerns about excessive force.

The FBI is probing possible breaches of federal civil rights laws.

Original report here. Video at link

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Madison man, who has served more than six years in prison, is ordered released

This is from late last year but I missed it at the time. Very poor eyewitness ID; Good alibis ignored; rigged ID parade; DNA finally settles it

A Madison man who served more than six years in prison for a sexual assault he said he didn't commit was ordered released Friday after a Dane County Circuit judge overturned his conviction.

Judge Patrick Fiedler cited new DNA evidence and newly developed scientific research on faulty eyewitness identification in throwing out his own judgment of conviction in the 2002 case against Forest Shomberg.

Shomberg's attorney, Byron Lichstein of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, praised the decision. "I think the judge followed the law and found significant new information that came up since the trial," he said.

Shomberg's longtime girlfriend, April Anello, cried as Fiedler announced his decision. "I honestly didn't think they'd be able to pull it off," said Anello, who was with Shomberg the night of the attack. "This has been going on so long - six and a half years."

Shomberg, 45, was convicted in Dane County Circuit Court for the March 9, 2002, attack on a UW-Madison freshman. The woman was grabbed from behind and forced into a dark alley near State and Frances streets. The attacker groped her through her pantyhose.

The perpetrator fled when security guard Alan Ferguson arrived after hearing the victim's screams. Both told police that it was dark and they got just a single fleeting glimpse of the man's face. But Ferguson later testified that he got a second look at the attacker, something he failed to report to the police or in his detailed handwritten account compiled right after the incident.

Based on descriptions by Ferguson and the victim, Madison Police developed a sketch of the man. After the composite was published, two people who knew Shomberg reported that he resembled the sketch. Shomberg then was picked out of a six-man lineup by both Ferguson and the victim, who reported that Shomberg "definitely was the closest" because the other five in the lineup were either too big or too old.

Shomberg sought to counter the prosecution by providing three people - including Anello - who testified they were with Shomberg 30 blocks away at the time of the attack, which occurred about 3 a.m. But Fiedler, who heard the case without a jury at Shomberg's request, discounted that alibi.

Suspect's DNA not found

Friday's decision was the culmination of a series of failed appeals that stretched up to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. After his conviction, Shomberg argued, unsuccessfully, that Fiedler should have allowed him to present expert testimony about the unreliability of eyewitness identification.

This time around, Shomberg was armed with powerful new evidence not available in 2002: Post-conviction testing that revealed none of his DNA on the victim's panythose. The testing was the result of "touch DNA" technology that can detect DNA left behind by a person's touch. The victim reported the attacker had violently groped her for about two minutes.

While unknown male DNA was found on four locations on the pantyhose, Shomberg's was not. "If Shomberg was the perpetrator, one would have expected to discover his DNA there, and thus the absence of his DNA is significant evidence that he was not the perpetrator," Lichstein argued.

Dane County Assistant District Attorney Robert Kaiser countered that "the evidence that the defendant claims has to have been there is fragile and could've fallen off."

But Lichstein said there was "no reason to think the perpetrator left DNA, it fell off, and somehow other DNA didn't fall off."

Eyewitness testimony disputed

During the two-day hearing, Lichstein presented an expert in eyewitness testimony, Otto MacLin, associate professor of psychology at the University of Northern Iowa. MacLin testified that many factors can lead witnesses to misidentify a perpetrator.

One of those is working with police to develop a sketch. MacLin said that process can "contaminate" witnesses' recollections by causing them to recall the composite they helped to draw up rather than the face they actually saw. He added research has shown that such drawings, when compared to known perpetrators, are "not very accurate."

MacLin described problems with simultaneous lineups, such as the one used in the Shomberg case, where witnesses may choose the person who most closely matches their memory - whether the perpetrator is among the group or not.

To gauge the validity of the lineup, MacLin asked 54 students with no knowledge of the case and armed only with the description offered by the two witnesses to choose one of the six men based on that description. The students overwhelmingly chose Shomberg, meaning the so-called "fillers" in the lineup weren't close enough matches to the suspect description to make it a fair lineup, Lichstein argued.

Lineups, sketches discouraged

Since the Shomberg case, Wisconsin has developed model procedures for police sketches and conducting lineups. The state Department of Justice now recommends that sketches be used "cautiously, if at all," and that police use sequential, rather than simultaneous, lineups and photo arrays. The procedures are aimed at avoiding faulty eyewitness testimony, the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States.

Fiedler said he was unaware of the problems with sketches and said he'd never heard of touch DNA until the Innocence Project filed its motion for a new trial in July. "That new evidence would probably change the result" of the trial, he said.

Shomberg was serving a 12-year prison term at Columbia Correctional Institution for second-degree sexual assault, false imprisonment and bail jumping. His sentence was increased because he was convicted as a habitual criminal, with previous convictions for theft, burglary, criminal damage to property, car theft, hit and run and illegal possession of a firearm.

Kaiser said the district attorney's office would decide next week whether to retry Shomberg or drop the charges. [They later dropped it]

Original report here

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nearly 2 decades later, man wants case for freedom heard

Did a scared teenage boy confess to a double murder he did not commit 17 years ago? Daniel Villegas has been locked away in a Texas prison since being convicted of capital murder in the shooting of teenagers Armando "Mando" Lazo and Bobby England.

Police and prosecutors said Villegas, 16 at the time of the killings, was a member of a street gang that shot at four teens, fatally striking two on April 10, 1993. Villegas, now 33, maintains that he is innocent, the victim of a detective who elicited a false confession during an unrelenting interrogation.

El Paso building contractor John Mimbela Sr. and other supporters of Villegas are seeking a new hearing following a two-year inquiry by a private investigator and a lawyer hired by Mimbela. Villegas' supporters point out that the confession he gave detectives differed from what witnesses said.

Teens supposedly with Villegas at the time of the shooting also gave statements to detectives implicating him, but they testified in court that they had lied. The two teens who survived the shooting are now grown men. Last year, they signed affidavits saying Villegas' confession did not match what happened.

Late last year, lawyer Charles Louis Roberts filed a writ saying Villegas had ineffective counsel during his retrial in 1995, leading to his conviction and life sentence. His first trial in 1994 with lawyer Jaime Olivas ended in a hung jury and a mistrial. The jury voted 11-1 for conviction.

Villegas' lawyer in the retrial, John D. Gates, failed to call 18 witnesses from the first trial who would have offered evidence of an alibi for Villegas. Gates stated in an affidavit he had a different strategy, and he felt the witnesses would have been hurtful.

The chances the state will take a look at the writ are smaller than slim, but Villegas' supporters have hope. "We are asking and begging to just review the information. Review it, read it," said Mimbela, a family friend of Villegas. "All we are asking for is a fair hearing."

About two and a half years ago, Mimbela found Villegas' family crying when he visited their home because Villegas' legal appeals were exhausted. He was skeptical when Villegas' parents told him their son was innocent. "I said 'Let me look at the documents,' " Mimbela said. "The more I looked at it, I thought, man, this is crazy."

Mimbela said witness statements did not match. Physical evidence was nonexistent. The only real proof was a confession from a teenager who claimed he was coerced.

Mimbela said he was told there's only a 5 percent chance that the state will even look at the new documents. "My philosophy is that we are here to help each other," he said. "And here is somebody who was dealt an injustice. And his family can't afford to have a good lawyer. I feel for the kid, I certainly do, because I feel for his innocence." Mimbela is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer.

In letters Villegas wrote from prison provided to the El Paso Times, he described being at the brink of losing hope in a hellish existence, praying for a sign from God. Then his cause was taken up by Mimbela.

"Do you realize how discouraging it is to know you are innocent of a crime, yet have no one believe you cause of a coerced confession?" Villegas wrote in a letter. "The very first thing they say is 'If you didn't do it, why did you confess to it? I wouldn't ever confess to nothing I didn't do.'

"At which you're lost for words. Cause no matter how you try to explain it to them, they do not believe that the police would ever coerce you into a statement. I mean in their mind it's unAmerican. What happened to me and others is suppose to happen in some Third World or a Communist country, not in the good ole land of liberty."

District Attorney Jaime Esparza was the prosecutor in both trials. He said jurors decided for themselves about the veracity of the statements made to police. "How the confession was obtained was fully examined," Esparza said. "This is not a new complaint that the confession was obtained through coercion. Obviously, the jury believed it wasn't, as well as the judge."

Esparza said he was aware of the writ and his office has cooperated. But, he said, the right decision was made in prosecuting Villegas. "It is my belief that he received a fair trial. The evidence we presented to the jury was proper and the jury's verdict was correct," Esparza said.

Private investigator Freddie Bonilla said a review of testimony, evidence and re-interviews of witnesses exposed a flawed homicide investigation. "There is no doubt in my mind that the kid didn't do it," said Bonilla, a retired El Paso police homicide detective and a former captain of detectives in the Sheriff's Office with more than 40 years experience.

More here

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Monday, April 12, 2010

FL: Woman murdered by deputies feared return of burglar

A Pompano Beach woman killed by deputies in a drug raid kept a pistol by her bed because she feared the man charged with burglarizing her home two months earlier. "I am sleeping with a gun next to my pillow every night," Brenda Van Zwieten said during a court hearing less than 24 hours before Broward Sheriff's Office SWAT team members burst into her home early Saturday morning and shot her when she pointed a .357-caliber revolver at them.

Van Zwieten, 52, was testifying in the case of Cory Frost, who was charged with breaking into her home at 301 SW 18th Court on Dec. 31 and stealing a small safe containing her dead son's jewelry. The hearing was called by Assistant State Attorney Kathleen Mager, who sought to revoke Frost's bond because he had threatened Van Zwieten online.

Van Zwieten said she had suffered a "semi-stroke," was hospitalized, and contracted pneumonia and bronchitis after son Zachary, 17, died in a car crash last October. Another of her four sons, Brian, died in 2007 from a drug overdose, family members said.

On New Year's Eve, Van Zwieten testified, a friend brought her chicken broth and left the door unlocked. Frost, she testified, then burst into her home, knocked her down and stole the jewelry. Frost has been charged with burglary, theft and battery. He was released on $5,500 bond.

After the burglary, Van Zwieten testified, Frost threatened her online via her Facebook page and walked by her house. "I don't feel safe," she said. "I have a heart condition."

At subsequent hearings after the weekend shooting, Frost denied threatening Van Zwieten and said he was out of town from early March until the Monday after the Saturday morning shooting.

However Sheriff's Office Detective Brett Forsberg testified Van Zwieten forwarded to him three e-mailed threats she received from Frost. One of them read in part, "Bitch, don't lie in court," Forsberg said.

Circuit Judge Carlos Rodriguez then found Frost in contempt of court for lying on the witness stand and sentenced him to a year in jail. The burglary case against him is pending.

Sheriff's officials said Van Zwieten's house was raided hours after two drug defendants said they bought oxycodone and marijuana directly from her. Deputies said they loudly announced themselves before bursting into the house. [Believe that and you'd believe anything. They like to have surprise on their side] Van Zwieten's boyfriend, Gary Nunnemacher, surrendered along with a pit bull.

Original report here

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

The NoVa police blackout

Law enforcement agencies in Northern Virginia say you have no right to know what they're doing

Last November along the roadside of Richmond Highway, a major thoroughfare in Fairfax County, Virginia, a police officer shot and killed David Masters, an unarmed motorist, as he sat in the driver's seat of his car. Masters, who was bipolar, was wanted for allegedly stealing some flowers from a planter. He had been given a ticket the day before for running a red light and then evading the police officer, though in a slow and not particularly dangerous manner.

In January of this year, Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond Morrogh announced through a press release that he would not be filing any charges against the officer who shot Masters. The shooting, Morrogh found, was justified due to a "furtive gesture" by Masters that suggested he had a weapon. The only eyewitness to the furtive gesture was the police officer who pulled the trigger.

There exists dash-cam video of Masters' shooting. There are also police interviews of other witnesses, and the police report itself. But the public and the press are as unlikely to see any of those as they are to learn the officer’s name. That's because the Fairfax County Police Department—along with the neighboring municipal police departments of Arlington and Alexandria—are among the most secretive, least transparent law enforcement agencies in the country. And local political leaders don't seem particularly concerned about it.

Fairfax County hasn't charged a police officer for an on-duty shooting in 70 years. Perhaps that's because no officer there has ever merited charges through a use of force. But it could also be because local cops and prosecutors have too cozy a relationship. The point is, we don't know. Fairfax police have cut off inquiry and second-guessing by simply denying public access to any relevant information.

Michael Pope, a reporter who covers Northern Virginia for the Connection Newspapers chain and for the Washington, D.C., NPR affiliate WAMU, filed a series of open records requests with the Faifax Police Department related to the Masters shooting. All were denied. Last month, Pope asked Fairfax County Police Public Information Officer Mary Ann Jennings why her department won't at least release the incident report on Master's death, given concerns raised about the shooting. "Let us hear that concern," Jennings shot back. "We are not hearing it from anybody except the media, except individual reporters."

That's an astounding answer. "Except the media?" That's exactly who you would expect to file most open records requests. When asked why her department won't even release even the name of the officer who shot Masters, Jennings got more obtuse. "What does the name of an officer give the public in terms of information and disclosure?" Jennings asked in reply, presumably rhetorically. "I'd be curious to know why they want the name of an officer."

Well for starters, because he's a government employee, paid and entrusted by taxpayers with the rather serious power to arrest, detain, coerce, and kill. And he recently used the most serious of those powers on an unarmed man. Releasing the officer's name would allow reporters to see if the officer has been involved in other shootings. Perhaps there have been prior disciplinary measures or citizen complaints against him. It would allow the media to be sure the Fairfax County Police Department has done an adequate job training him in the use of lethal force.

Of course Jennings knows that journalists—or anyone else for that matter—can't access any of that other information, either. The default position of the Fairfax County police department, Pope says, is to decline all requests for information. And not just from the media. When a member of the county's SWAT team shot and killed 38-year-old optometrist Sal Culosi, Jr. in 2006, it took nearly a year plus legal action to get the agency to release its investigation of the shooting even to Culosi's family. Culosi, who had been suspected of wagering on football games with friends, was also unarmed when he was killed.

In a state with comparatively favorable open records laws (the professional journalism association Investigative Reporters and Editors ranks Virginia the fifth most transparent in the country), the police departments in Fairfax, Arlington, and Alexandria have managed get away with interpreting that law in a way that allows them to remain almost completely opaque.

"Part of my daily routine when I worked in Florida was to drive to the police station and get a copy of the previous day's incident reports," Pope told me in a phone interview. "I was just dumbfounded when I started working in Virginia. They rejected all of them." The police agencies even rejected requests for incident reports about arrests for which the same department had put out a press release.

Pope wrote a remarkable article last month for Northern Virginia's Connections Newspapers detailing the police blackout, quoting a number of local public officials whose definition of oversight is apparently no more than "how tall people view the world."

"I don’t think we have to justify it," Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook told Pope of his department's refusal to release information. "A lot of things can be said about transparency, that doesn’t make it effective."

Invoking a phrase traditionally used to refer to government censorship (apparently without irony), Fairfax’s Jennings told Pope that releasing police reports to the press would have a "chilling effect" on victims and witnesses coming forward to report crimes, though as Pope noted in another piece for WAMU, that doesn't appear to be the case in nearly every other police department in the country. When Pope asked Jennings what evidence she has to support her theory, she replied, "I don’t know if there’s evidence or not. All I have is what our investigators and what our commanders and the police administration believe."

Don't look to elected officials to correct any of this, either. "I am in the corner of trusting our police department," Arlington County Board member Barbara Favola told Pope. "If they push back I am not going to override them, and I don’t think I could get three votes on the board to override them either."

And then there's Alexandria Commonwealth Attorney Randolph Sengel, who fired off an indignant letter to the editor in response to Pope's article. Calling Pope's well-reported piece a "rant" that was "thinly disguised as a news story," Sengel wrote that "Law enforcement investigations and prosecutions are not carried out for the primary purpose of providing fodder for his paper." Mocking the media's role as a watchdog for government officials, Sengel added, "The sacred 'right of the public to know' is still (barely) governed by standards of reasonableness and civility," as if those two adjectives were incompatible with a journalist inquiring about the details of a govenrment agent's fatal shooting of an unarmed man. Sengel's concluding graph is worth excerpting at length to give a better feel for a certain type of official contempt for disclosure:

More here

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