Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Turning the Camera on the Police

What's good for the police apparently isn't good for the people -- or so the law enforcement community would have us believe when it comes to surveillance.

That's a concise summary of a new trend reported by National Public Radio last week -- the trend whereby law enforcement officials have been trying to prevent civilians from using cellphone cameras in public places as a means of deterring police brutality.

Oddly, the effort -- which employs both forcible arrests of videographers and legal proceedings against them -- comes at a time when the American Civil Liberties Union reports that "an increasing number of American cities and towns are investing millions of taxpayer dollars in surveillance camera systems."

Then again, maybe it's not odd that the two trends are happening simultaneously. Maybe they go hand in hand. Perhaps as more police officers use cameras to monitor every move we make, they are discovering the true power of video to independently document events. And as they see that power, they don't want it turned against them.

But wait -- why not?

Though you'd expect that uncomfortable question to evoke dissembling, Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Jim Pasco was quite straightforward about it.

Police officers, he told NPR, "need to move quickly, in split seconds, without giving a lot of thought to what the adverse consequences for them might be." He added that law enforcement authorities believe "that anything that's going to have a chilling effect on an officer moving -- an apprehension that he's being videotaped and may be made to look bad -- could cost him or some citizen their life."

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Obviously, nobody wants to stop officers from doing their much-needed job (well, nobody other than budget-cutting politicians who are slashing police forces). In fact, organizations such as the NAACP have urged citizens to videotape police precisely to make sure police are doing ALL of their job -- including protecting individuals' civil liberties.

This is not some academic or theoretical concern, and video recording is not a needless exercise in Bill of Rights zealotry. The assault on civil liberties in America is a very real problem and monitoring police is absolutely required in light of recent data.

As USA Today reported under the headline "Police brutality cases on rise since 9/11," situations "in which police, prison guards and other law enforcement authorities have used excessive force or other tactics to violate victims' civil rights increased 25 percent" between 2001 and 2007. Last year alone, more than 1,500 officers were involved in excessive force complaints, according to the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project.

Considering this, Pasco has it exactly wrong. We should want more officers feeling "apprehension" about breaking civil liberties laws, we should hope more of them "give a lot of thought to what the adverse consequences" will be if they trample someone's rights and we should crave an immediate "chilling effect" on such violations.

That's what the practice of cellphone recording is supposed to do -- not mimic the national security state's Big Brother culture, but prevent that security state from trampling our freedoms.

Law enforcement officials, of course, don't like the cellphone cameras because they don't want any check on police power. So they've resorted to fearmongering allegations about lost lives. But the only police officers who are threatened by cellphone cameras are those who want to break civil liberties laws with impunity. The rest have nothing to worry about and everything to gain from a practice that simply asks them to remember the all-too-forgotten part of their "protect and serve" motto -- the part about protecting the public's civil rights.

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

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Changing Face of the Police and the Death of the Fourth Amendment

by John W. Whitehead
"Now, one of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one’s house. A man’s house is his castle; and while he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle. This writ, if it should be declared legal, would totally annihilate this privilege. Customhouse officers may enter our houses when they please; we are commanded to permit their entry. Their menial servants may enter, may break locks, bars, and everything in their way; and whether they break through malice or revenge, no man, no court can inquire. Bare suspicion without oath is sufficient." ~ James Otis

In early America, citizens were considered equals with law enforcement officials. Authorities were rarely permitted to enter one’s home without permission or in a deceitful manner. And it was not uncommon for police officers to be held personally liable for trespass when they wrongfully invaded a citizen’s home. Unlike today, early Americans could resist arrest when a police officer tried to restrain them without proper justification or a warrant – which the police had to allow citizens to read before arresting them. (Daring to dispute a warrant with a police official today who is armed with high-tech military weapons and tasers would be nothing short of suicidal.) This clear demand for a right to privacy was not a byproduct of simpler times. Much like today, early Americans dealt with problems such as petty thievery, murder and attacks by foreign enemies. Rather, the demand for privacy stemmed from a harbored suspicion of law enforcement officials and the unbridled discretion they could abuse.

The Fourth Amendment, which assures that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated," was included in the Bill of Rights in response to the oppressive way British soldiers treated American colonists through their use of "Writs of Assistance." These were court orders that authorized British agents to conduct general searches of premises for contraband. The exact nature of the materials being sought did not have to be detailed, nor did their locations. The powerful new court orders enabled government officials to inspect not only shops and warehouses, but also private homes. These searches resulted in the violation of many of the colonists’ rights and the destruction of much of the colonists’ personal property. It quickly became apparent to many colonists that their homes were no longer their castles.

Revolutionary patriot James Otis was Advocate-General when the legality of these warrants came under question by the colonists. Called upon to defend that legality, he promptly resigned his office. After living through an age of oppressive policies under the British empire, those of the founding generation, such as Otis, wanted to ensure that Americans would never have to face intrusive government measures again.

Fast forward 250 years and we seem to be right back where we started, living in an era of oppressive government policies and a militarized police whose unauthorized, forceful intrusions into our homes and our lives have been increasingly condoned by the courts. In fact, although the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures go far beyond an actual police search of your home, as I detail in my commentary, "Renewing the Patriot Act: Who Will Protect Us from Our Government?" the passage of the USA Patriot Act opened the door to other kinds of invasions, especially unwarranted electronic intrusions into your most personal and private transactions, including phone, mail, computer and medical records. When added to this list of abuses, two recent court decisions – one from the U.S. Supreme Court and the other from the Indiana Supreme Court – both handed down in the same week, sound the death knell for our Fourth Amendment rights.

In an 8-1 ruling in Kentucky v. King, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively decimated the Fourth Amendment by giving police more leeway to break into homes or apartments without a warrant when in search of illegal drugs which they suspect might be destroyed if notice were given. In this particular case, police officers in pursuit of a suspect they had seen engage in a drug deal in a parking lot followed him into an apartment complex. Once there, the police followed the smell of burning marijuana to an apartment where, after knocking and announcing themselves, they promptly kicked the door in – allegedly on the pretext that evidence of drugs might be destroyed. Despite the fact that it turned out to be the wrong suspect, the wrong apartment and a violation of every tenet that stands between us and a police state, the Court sanctioned the warrantless raid, saying that police had acted lawfully and that was all that mattered. Yet as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the lone voice of dissent among the justices, remarked, "How ‘secure’ do our homes remain if police, armed with no warrant, can pound on doors at will and ... forcibly enter?"

In the second case, the Indiana Supreme Court actually stepped beyond the constitutional parameters of the case before them to broadly rule in Barnes v. State that people don’t have the right to resist police officers who enter their homes illegally. The court rationalized their 3-2 ruling legitimizing any unlawful police entry into a home as a "public policy" decision. On its face, the case itself is relatively straightforward:

An Indiana woman called 911 during an argument with her husband. When the police arrived, the man blocked and then shoved an officer who tried to enter his home without a warrant. Despite the fact that the wife told police her husband hadn’t hit her, the man was shocked with a stun gun and arrested. Insisting that it would be safer for all concerned to let police proceed even with an illegal action and sort it out later in court with a civil lawsuit, the court held that residents can’t resist police who enter their home – whatever the reason. The problem, of course, is that anything short of complete and utter acquiescence and compliance constitutes resistance. Thus, even the supposedly protected act of free speech – a simple "Wait, this is my home. What’s this about?" – constitutes resistance.

Many are understandably up in arms about these decisions, but the courts are not really introducing anything new into our lives – they are merely reflecting and reinforcing the reality of the age in which we live, and that is one in which the citizen is subordinate to government and what the "state" – be it the police, the schools or local or federal agents – says goes.

While the courts have been guilty of reinforcing this paradigm of abject compliance to the state, it is also being taught in the schools, through zero tolerance policies that punish all offenses equally and result in young people being expelled for childish behavior. School districts are increasingly teaming with law enforcement to create what some are calling the "schoolhouse to jailhouse track" by imposing a "double dose" of punishment: suspension or expulsion from school, accompanied by an arrest by the police and a trip to juvenile court. In this way, having failed to learn much in the way of civic education and/or the Bill of Rights while in school, young people are being browbeaten into believing that they have no true rights and government authorities have total power and can violate constitutional rights whenever they see fit.

Indeed, the average citizen really is helpless in the face of police equipped with an array of weapons, including tasers, etc. The increasing militarization of the police, the use of sophisticated weaponry against Americans and the government’s increasing tendency to employ military personnel domestically have taken a toll on more than just our freedoms. They have seeped into our subconscious awareness of life as we know it and colored our very understanding of freedom, justice and democracy.

The role of law enforcement, especially local police officers, has drastically changed from when I was a child in the 1950s. The friendly local sheriff in The Andy Griffith Show has been shelved for the federal gun-toting terrorist killers in popular television shows and movies. Some might insist that the new face of law enforcement is warranted as a sign of the times in which we live. Whereas we once feared nuclear attack by Communist Russia, we now fear each other and the predators that lurk in our midst – serial killers, drug pushers, home-grown and imported terrorists, sexual perverts who prey on small children, the list goes on. One thing is undeniable: armed police officers have become a force to be reckoned with. And it’s not just local law enforcement. As the federalization of law enforcement continues to grow, more and more federal agents are armed. In fact, federal agencies employ more than 100,000 full-time personnel authorized to make arrests and carry firearms.

Yet federal agencies such as the FBI are only a small portion of the armed federal personnel. It seems as if almost everyone – from postal agents, the Internal Revenue Service, the National Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency to agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers – is now carrying deadly weapons. For instance, in Virginia, game wardens have been renamed "conservation police officers" in an effort to clarify their role as sworn law enforcement officers who are armed and able to make arrests.

At all levels (federal, local and state), through the use of fusion centers, information sharing with the national intelligence agencies, and monetary grants for weapons and training, the government and the police have joined forces. In the process, the police have become a "standing" or permanent army, one composed of full-time professional soldiers who do not disband, which is exactly what the Founders feared. Those who drafted the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights had an enormous distrust of permanent armies. They knew that despotic governments have used standing armies to control the people and impose tyranny. James Madison, in a speech before the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1789, proclaimed: "A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home." As predicted, these very same "instruments of tyranny" are now often being used to wage war against the American people. Thus, it would seem that we have become the enemy.

In appearance, weapons and attitude, local law enforcement agencies are increasingly being transformed into civilian branches of the military. One clear distinction between local police and military forces used to be the kinds of weapons at their disposal. With the advent of modern police weaponry, that is no longer the case. Americans would do well to remember that modern police weaponry was introduced with a government guarantee of safety for the citizens. Police tasers, stun guns and rubber bullets were brought into use by police departments across America supposedly because these "non-lethal" weapons would be safe. But the "non-lethal" label seems to have caused police to feel justified in using these dangerous instruments much more often and with less restraint – even against women and children, and with some even causing death.

Tasers, stun guns and rubber bullets might very well seem relatively harmless in comparison to the arsenal of weapons now available to local law enforcement, especially paramilitary units like Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT, teams. Standard SWAT team weaponry includes battering rams, ballistic shields, "flashbang" grenades, smoke grenades, pepper spray and tear gas. Many squads are also ferried to raid sites by military-issue armored personnel carriers. Some units even have helicopters, while others boast grenade launchers, tanks (with and without gun turrets), rappelling equipment and bayonets.

Then came the "no-knock" raids. At first, no-knock raids were generally employed only in situations where innocent lives were determined to be at imminent risk. That changed in the early 1980s, when a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of these paramilitary units in routine police work resulted in a militarization of American civilian law enforcement. The government’s so-called "war on drugs" also spurred a significant rise in the use of SWAT teams for raids. In some jurisdictions, drug warrants are only served by SWAT teams or similar paramilitary units and oftentimes are executed with forced, unannounced entry into the home. Approximately 40,000 "no-knock raids are carried out each year, usually conducted by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers prepared for war. But as one retired police officer warns: "One tends to throw caution to the wind when wearing ‘commando-chic’ regalia, a bulletproof vest with the word ‘POLICE’ emblazoned on both sides, and when one is armed with high tech weaponry."

American society has changed. And with that change, the way the government views us, the way we view one another and the way we view and are viewed by law enforcement have undergone dramatic transformations. We have succeeded in forfeiting one of the principles that has been a hallmark of American democracy – the idea that every person is innocent until proven guilty. This is such a simple concept, yet it undergirds some of our Constitution’s greatest protections, such as the right to an attorney and a fair hearing, protection from unreasonable searches and seizures and the right to privacy, among others.

We have also witnessed a sea change in the way law enforcement views its role, from one that considered itself a servant to the people to one that sees itself as the long arm of an increasingly authoritarian government. Where law enforcement officials once looked to us as their employers, we now too often look to them as our wardens and jailers, as something to fear – a notion they encourage. This mindset has been displayed at SWAT team conventions held across the country. As one former police chief said about a convention he attended: "Officers at the conference were wearing these very disturbing shirts. On the front, there were pictures of SWAT officers dressed in dark uniforms, wearing helmets, and holding submachine guns. Below was written: ‘We don’t do drive-by shootings.’ On the back, there was a picture of a demolished house. Below was written: ‘We stop.’" SWAT magazine also abounds in ads featuring soldiers in full military garb and features articles such as "Polite, Professional, and Prepared to Kill."

Thus, where once there was a decided difference between the police and the military and their uses domestically, that line continues to be not only blurred but, when crossed, is actually sanctioned by the courts. But the fact remains that the American police force is not a branch of the military, nor is it a private security force for the reigning political faction. It is an aggregation of the countless local units that exist for a sole purpose: to serve and protect the citizens of each and every American community.

The increasing militarization of the police did not occur suddenly, in a single precinct. Nor can it be traced back to a single leader or event. Rather, the pattern is so subtle that most American citizens have hardly been aware of it. Little by little, police authority has expanded, one weapon after another has been added to the police arsenal, and one exception after another has been made to the standards that have historically restrained police authority. Yet when analyzed as a whole, this trend toward militarization is undeniable, and when left unchecked, it amounts to nothing less than the end of American liberty.

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

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Death squad damage control in Tucson

People seeking to defend the manifestly indefensible often sabotage themselves by disclosing critical details that undermine their argument. Mike Storie, the police union lawyer representing the SWAT operators who murdered Jose Guerena in his home on May 5, did this during his May 19 press conference in an attempt to assign all of the blame for Jose’s death on the victim and his terrorized wife.

As reported by the Arizona Star, Storie insisted that if the Guerena family had permitted the armed intruders into their home, those inside “probably … wouldn’t have been arrested." This is because the "warrant was not directed at any particular person, and Guerena’s home was not mentioned, but it was targeting whoever might be inside the residence...."

That is to say that this was not a legitimate search warrant, under the requirements imposed by the Fourth Amendment (and expressly incorporated in Arizona law through the state constitution). The instrument used as supposed justification for the armed assault was akin to the "writs of assistance" used by British soldiers during the years leading up to the American colonial rebellion.

As Judge Andrew Napolitano summarizes, writs of assistance were "self-written search warrants" that "enabled [British] soldiers and government agents to enter any private building or dwelling and search for whatever they had authorized themselves to search for." In this way, occupation forces could invade any home or business they chose, confiscate any item they suspected might be contraband, and haul away in irons anybody who attracted their malevolent attention.

The only material difference I can identify between that tyrannical practice and SWAT raids of the kind that resulted in the murder of Jose Guerena is the fact that British Redcoats were considerably more restrained in their behavior.

Writs of assistance were conspicuous among the grievances that led the colonial Patriots to rebel against the British government, and they were the direct inspiration for the Fourth Amendment, a provision that as of May 16 is de jure dead letter in the American Imperium.

On that date, two rulings were announced -- one by the Indiana State Supreme Court, the other by the U.S. Supreme Court -- that formally vitiated constitutional impediments to warrantless intrusions by police.

Those rulings simply formalized the state of affairs that has long existed in the United States; after all, owing the fraudulent, murderous enterprise called the "war on drugs," the Fourth Amendment has had no tangible relationship to public policy for decades. Nonetheless, that Amendment remains on the books as part of the "supreme law" -- which means that the raid on the Guerena home was, in a literal, legally binding sense, a home invasion robbery.

Michael Storie is a living illustration of the fact that there is no "mob lawyer" more drenched in disrepute than a barrister who prostitutes himself in the service of a police union.

"Who's being evasive? I'm not being evasive! Why are you being evasive?"

Storie is lead criminal attorney for the Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs (AZCOPS). Through no fault of his own, Storie somewhat resembles Nathan Thurm, a fictional corporate attorney played by Canadian comic genius Martin Short.

In his performance at the May 19 news conference, Storie did a pretty creditable impression of Thurm, capturing the same odd combination of oleaginous dishonesty and prickly passive aggression that Short brought to his character, who was paid extravagantly well to protect the powerful and corrupt.

While he has been employed by AZCOPS, no member of that union "has ever been convicted of crimes relating to on-duty conduct," boast the organization. This isn't strictly correct: Storie represented former DARE officer Ramon Fernando Borbon, who was convicted of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman and a 16-year-old girl while he was on-duty.

In the Borbon case, Storie employed a two-pronged defense strategy: He tried to depict the adult victim as a consenting party, and the child as a gold-digging opportunist. In other words: They were asking for it, and now they're just interested in money. He's using a variation on that approach in defending the SWAT team members who murdered Jose Guerena: It was all the victim's fault, and his family is now simply "trying to make money" through a lawsuit.

The SWAT operators "had no choice but to shoot" after engineering a completely illegal raid, Thurm -- er, Storie insisted. After all, Guerena was armed with an AR-15, and several officers "did report that they saw a muzzle flash from the shooter" -- which means that their lives were in danger.

Well, actually, they didn't see a muzzle flash, since -- as the Sheriff's Office has admitted -- Guerena never removed the safety from his rifle. Ah, but he could have, you see, and since the omniscient heroes on the SWAT team "know that [the] walls [of the Guerena home] are stucco ... if this man starts shooting his rounds, every neighbor in the vicinity is in danger, including possible innocent residents that are in the residence itself."

So we're told that waiting even a few seconds before opening fire was too risky; the only safe choice was for the SWAT team to unleash a 71-round barrage, since, as everyone knows, high-velocity rounds fired by sanctified personages in police uniforms possess a magical property that prevents them from endangering innocent people.

That magical property, incidentally, is "qualified immunity" -- and it protects the only "innocent" people that police unions care about: Police officers who injure or kill Mundanes.

Within seconds of violating the Guerena home, the invaders had perforated Jose’s body with at least 60 gunshots. While Jose bled to death, his killers refused to allow paramedics to treat him. During that period the SWAT team actually inserted a remote-controlled robot -- another pricey toy provided by the Pentagon's LESO program -- to clear the house. While Jose was dying on the floor, the SWAT team found "everything they [thought] they’re going to find in there," Storie insisted.

What, exactly, were they looking for, and what did they find? After scraping away the layers of dissimulation applied by Storie, we arrive at this answer: They were looking for nothing in particular, and that's exactly what they found.

They found no narcotics, no stash of suspected narcotics proceeds, no documentary or physical evidence of a crime of any kind. Neither Jose nor Vanessa has a criminal record.

Yet Storie, who appears congenitally incapable of decent shame, has left the air clotted with insinuation: He reports that handguns, rifles, body armor, and “part of a police uniform” were found in the Guerena household, along with a picture of Jesus Malverde, described as a "patron saint" of narcotics traffickers. In other words, in terms of actual criminal evidence, they found nothing.

Guerena, recall, is a former Marine who served two combat tours in Iraq, so the presence of body armor – as well as a small gun collection – would hardly be inexplicable. It's quite likely that his gun collection was smaller than those of many other Arizona residents who never served in the military.

Furthermore, what, exactly, constitutes “part” of a police uniform? Might it be military-issue clothing in Guerena’s possession – the kind of combat couture affected by jock-riding poseurs of the kind who gravitate toward SWAT teams? Again, Storie hasn’t supplied the details, apparently in the hope that public perceptions will be governed by headlines, rather than details.

Like everything else Storie said at the press conference, he extracted the detail about Jesus Malverde from the same bodily orifice he employs to dispose of used food. Malverde is not a Narcotrafficante, nor is he their proprietary saint. He is a semi-mythical Robin Hood figure venerated by ethnic Mexicans throughout the Southwest.

By bringing up this inconsequential detail, Storie was trafficking in something that smells an awful lot like race-baiting. That comment could be a dog whistle directed at the segment of Arizona's population that considers Joe Arpaio a champion of law and order, rather than a viscous, opportunistic thug: Rather than seeing Jose Guerena as an honorably discharged Marine and (of infinitely greater importance) loving young husband and father, at least some Arizonans now have an excuse to suspect that he's an agent of the Reconquista plot.

The original story put out by the Pima County Sheriff's Office was that the raid in which Guerena was murdered was part of a large operation investigating a marijuana trafficking conspiracy. As outrage coalesced over Guerena’s death, the official line was revised: Now we are told that Jose and his family were somehow “connected” to an alleged home invasion robbery ring, as were three other homes targeted in the same May 5 SWAT rampage.

Apart from the fact that Jose himself was murdered in a home invasion conducted under the color of supposed State authority, there is another connection to a previous crime of that kind: Two of their relatives were murdered a year ago in a home invasion of the non-government-approved variety.

That fact might well have colored Vanessa’s perceptions of what was happening with a government-licensed home invasion crew materialized outside her home, began to vandalize the house, and threatened her life and that of her baby. It’s also quite possible that the murder of a relative, coupled with combat experience in Iraq, played a large role in Jose’s perceptions and actions on that horrible morning.

The search warrant has been sealed, and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department refuses to release details. Other than upbraiding local reporters who have abandoned stenography in favor of legitimate adversarial journalism, Clarence Dupnik, the Epsilon-grade personage in charge of Pima County’s Sheriff’s Office,has petulantly complained that the press has been “irresponsible” in “questioning the legality” of a military operation that resulted in the entirely avoidable violent death of a young father who was defending his wife and child against a feral pack of armed strangers.

Like practically everybody else in the same racket, Sheriff Dupnik considers himself to be at war with the population his department ostensibly protects and serves. That's the only rational explanation for the fact that he is treating the details of this incident as if they were classified secrets in a combat zone, rather than facts he is obliged to provide to the public that employs him.

While grousing that "it is unacceptable and irresponsible to couch ... questions with implications of secrecy and cover-up," Dupnik's office maintains that there is a "very real threat to innocent lives if ... details [about the killing] are released prematurely." Those "innocent" lives, we are entitled to suspect, are undercover police operatives -- informants and, what's much the same thing, provocateurs -- who helped precipitate the crime on May 5.

Storie peddled a similar line in his May 19 press conference, insisting that although Guerena was not individually targeted by a search or arrest warrant, detectives had concluded that someone at his residence had been keeping police investigators under "counter-surveillance."

"Now, what I mean by this is, at some point detectives, as is usually the case, were driving by this house to get some intelligence," Storie said. "At one point, when detectives were driving past this house once, the resident of this house, suspected to be Guereno [sic], jumped in his car and followed this detective. They then got a report from MVD" -- that's the Motor Vehicles Division, not the Soviet Ministry for State Security, despite the institutional kinship of those entities -- "that there was a hit on this license plate driven by this detective by someone. So, Guereno [sic!] or someone very similar to him, who followed this detective, searched the identity of this driver, who was the owner of his vehicle. This is known as counter-surveillance measures done by people who are in this type of business. OK?"

It is a credit to his composure, if not his character, that Storie could ladle out this is a greasy porridge of self-serving supposition and speculation with a straight face. How could "someone" -- just anyone, really -- get instant access to the information at the Motor Vehicles Division? Who was that "someone," incidentally? Who were the "detectives" who had been staking out Guerena's home, and stalking his family? For that matter, was it a detective, or more than one -- seeing that Storie can't seem to get that detail nailed down? What evidence, apart from inchoate suspicions, justified the initial surveillance of that home? For that matter, was the subject of surveillance Jose Guerena, or someone whose surname is "Guereno"?

During the same press conference Storie admitted that the SWAT team "had no specific information about what particular kids were in this house, or if there were any" before laying siege to a home containing a young mother and her four-year-old son -- and a husband trying to get some sleep after pulling a long graveyard shift at a local mine. In other words, they knew nothing of any value about the home they attacked -- yet Storie, Dupnik, and the murderers themselves all insist that the violent death of Jose Guerena was an entirely appropriate outcome, and that only irresponsible people would suspect otherwise.

UPDATE, May 26

The entire incident lasted less than a minute. The sirens sounded for less than ten seconds. The announcement was practically inaudible. And that much-discussed "portion of a police uniform" was a Border Patrol cap of the kind that can be purchased via Amazon:

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

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Seventy-One Shots: The Death of Jose Guereña

Jose Guereña survived two tours in Iraq, but he couldn't survive his own government.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik infamously railed in January of this year that Arizona is a “Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

One must wonder if the “prejudice and bigotry” he considers endemic to Arizona is to blame for the death of U.S. Marine veteran Jose Guereña, killed when Dupnik’s deputies gunned him down in his home. They fired 71 shots. They hit him 60 times. And then, as if this wasn’t enough, Dupnik’s deputies blocked paramedics for an hour and 14 minutes from approaching the scene, denying Guereña treatment until he was assuredly dead.

Dupnik’s SWAT team initially claimed that Guereña fired at them while they were serving a warrant — as he slept. They claimed that his bullets hit the bulletproof shield that the entry team hid behind, and that the barrage of bullets they fired back was in self-defense.

Only, Guereña never fired his weapon. Awoken by his wife with screams that men with guns were invading his home and threatening his family, Jose Guereña armed himself with a AR-15 rifle and crouched in the hallway. The SWAT team unloaded upon Guereña on sight. He apparently recognized the home invaders as police. He took 60 rounds, but never — as the Pima County Sheriff’s Department was forced to admit — took off his weapon’s safety as he was being killed.

Prejudice and bigotry?

It was, you’ll recall, a claim Dupnik made in the wake of Jared Loughner’s bloodly rampage at a “Congress in your Corner” event at a Safeway supermarket in Tucson, where six were killed and 14 others were injured — including, gravely, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Dupnik was attempting to blame the conservative Tea Party movement for the shooting when he made the comment. And even after it was revealed that Loughner’s few known political views had been described as “quite liberal,” and were in fact muddled at best, he refused to retract his slur.

So when Dupnik’s teams attempted a complicated four-house raid of minority families looking for drugs, perhaps bigotry and prejudice really was in play.

Perhaps Dupnik’s officers assumed every Hispanic accused of being a drug dealer really was one, and perhaps they assumed that the tenant of a home protecting his loved ones must be a bloodthirsty cartel member waiting in ambush. Is that why they gunned down a tired, hard-working father sleeping off a night shift at the local copper mine? A Marine veteran of Iraq that had the discipline not to fire — a discipline that a trigger-happy SWAT team which has now killed three men in less than a year cannot itself exercise?

Not only has the Pima Sheriff’s Department tried to justify firing 71 shots at one man in a small hallway, hitting him (thankfully, just him) 60 times in a home where his wife and child were present. They’ve attempted to justify their refusal to let a team of paramedics treat Guereña, who was still miraculously alive after being sprayed mercilessly with bullets. It takes a competent SWAT team just a handful of minutes to “clear” a residential home during a raid. Dupnik’s SWAT team refused to declare the scene “clear” for an agonizing one hour and 14 minutes, and not until Jose Guereña had already died.

A cynic might be tempted to suggest Dupnik’s SWAT team was waiting for the only witness to their assault to die. Considering how the Sheriff’s Department has acted since they stormed the home, a rational person might be tempted to agree.

Not content to blame the victim for his own death, they attempted to insinuate he was a drug dealer, even though they were forced to admit under direct questioning that no drugs were found in his home, and that a clumsy cop falling down may have triggered the bloodbath.

Vanessa Guereña claims that neither she nor her husband heard the officers announce themselves as police. As anyone who has ever seen an episode of any popular police reality show knows, no entry team waits 15 seconds after announcing themselves to batter down a door and rush the inhabitants — as Pima County Lt. Michael O’Connor claims his SWAT team did. Identical scenes of immediate entry upon announcement (or after breaching), without giving those inside a chance to react, is a standard tactic captured again and again.

Why Lt. Michael O’Connor decided to tell a mistruth about a well-known, heavily documented, and highly standardized technique isn’t immediately clear. Perhaps it is because of the inevitable wrongful death lawsuit to be filed against the Pima County Sheriff’s Department on behalf of Vanessa Guereña and her two children. Or perhaps it is because of the possible DOJ civil rights investigation. Perhaps Dupnik’s employees simply are unable to act any more professionally after a raid than they do during one.

No-knock warrants are typically used to surprise the target of raids and keep them from disposing of evidence, with possible violence from the offender cited as justification for the military-style use of heavy armor and machine guns.

Jose Guereña’s death was entirely preventable. Over-armed, over-amped law enforcement is causing far more harm to the public than other tactics and techniques possibly could.

The over-militarization of law enforcement agencies and over-use of SWAT teams is an idea that needs to be revisited in a sane society. Too many good people have been traumatized, and too many killed, under the flimsiest of circumstances.

After surviving two tours of duty in Iraq, only to lose his life in an encounter with Clarence Dupnik’s keystone cops, Jose Guereña was buried with full military honors.

Original report here

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Friday, May 27, 2011

British thug cop finally to face trial

With his past he should not have been in the police that day

A Scotland Yard police officer will be charged with manslaughter over the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests, Britain's top prosecutor ruled today. The Director of Public Prosecutions said there were grounds for PC Simon Harwood to face a trial after reviewing an inquest jury's unlawful killing verdict. PC Harwood will appear before City of Westminster Magistrates' Court on June 20, Keir Starmer QC said.

Mr Tomlinson, a homeless 47-year-old newspaper seller, collapsed and died on the fringes of the demonstrations in central London on April 1 2009. The death became an international controversy after New York businessman Christopher La Jaunie handed footage he had taken of a police confrontation to the Guardian newspaper.

Speaking after the decision was announced, stepson Paul King said relatives were 'really happy'. He said: 'We are a big step closer to where we want to be.'

Mr Starmer said 'matters have moved on in two ways' since his previous decision not to pursue criminal charges against the officer. New medical evidence at the inquest and the opinions of experts during the hearing helped change his mind.

The DPP made the announcement after speaking to Mr Tomlinson's relatives at the Crown Prosecution Service's headquarters in central London. In a statement, he said: 'The difficulties that would now confront any prosecution have changed in nature and scale from last year when a decision was taken not to prosecute, although it is clear that real difficulties remain.

'Taking the evidence as it now stands, we have concluded that, even with those remaining difficulties, there is now sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of successfully prosecuting PC Simon Harwood for the manslaughter of Mr Tomlinson. 'That being the case, it is clearly in the public interest that criminal proceedings be brought. 'Accordingly, a summons charging PC Harwood with the manslaughter of Mr Tomlinson has been obtained from the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court.'

Despite welcoming the announcement, Mr King, flanked by Mr Tomlinson's widow Julia, said the decision to prosecute should have been made earlier. Speaking on the steps of the CPS headquarters, he said: 'We should have been here two years ago but we are here now and we are more than happy.'

The DPP launched a 'thorough' review of his decision not to prosecute the officer after the unlawful killing verdict was returned by a jury earlier this month.

CCTV images, police helicopter footage and hand-held video recordings show Mr Tomlinson cutting a lonely figure as he staggered away from a police cordon after being hit with a baton.

Footage shows Mr Tomlinson gesturing to police and appearing angry after being sent tumbling to the ground.

Widow Julia said the death devastated her family, adding: 'I remember feeling he was the best thing that ever happened to me.'

Original report here

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

New DNA tests may clear Chicago 4 in woman's murder

Evidence links case to convicted killer, lawyers say

New DNA evidence implicates a convicted killer in a rape and murder that sent four teenagers to prison for lengthy sentences in the 1990s.

The four were convicted of the murder and rape of Nina Glover, 30, largely on the basis of confessions they made to police and prosecutors, even though primitive DNA testing at the time excluded them as the source of semen evidence. But new testing links Johnny Douglas to Glover's rape and murder, according to court papers filed this week in Cook County Circuit Court.

Before his own violent death, Douglas was charged with the murders of two other women after Glover's homicide; he was convicted of one and acquitted of the other. And Chicago police and Cook County prosecutors suspected him in other murders as well and questioned him in several sexual assaults, though he was never charged in those, according to attorneys.

The developments in the case bear striking similarities to another wending its way through Cook County's criminal justice system. Five teenagers were convicted of the 1991 rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl in Dixmoor after several of them confessed. But recent DNA testing has connected a convicted rapist to the crime.

The state's attorney's office declined to discuss the DNA match to Douglas, but the office has been skeptical of the new DNA evidence in both the Glover and Dixmoor murders.

The Tribune wrote in March about the quest by Terrill Swift, one of the four convicted in Glover's murder, to prove his innocence by seeking new DNA testing even after he had served 15 years for the homicide and been released from prison. Co-defendant Michael Saunders, who remains in prison, joined in the effort.

In a court filing Monday, their lawyers revealed that the new DNA testing connected Douglas to Glover's murder and rape in 1994, not their clients.

Douglas had pleaded guilty to the 1997 murder of one woman, Gytonne Marsh, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In 2002, a jury acquitted Douglas of the murder of Elaine Martin, even though DNA linked him to the crime. Martin's body had been discovered near a church altar in 1995.

Douglas himself was shot to death in 2008 at age 46. His accused killer claimed self-defense and was acquitted at trial.

In their request for DNA testing last year, attorneys for Swift and Saunders had theorized that Glover's murder was the work of one of a number of serial killers who targeted women — mostly prostitutes and drug users — on the South Side in the 1980s and 1990s. Like many of those victims, Glover was beaten and strangled and her body dumped in a trash bin.

Two attorneys who worked on cases connected to Douglas both said Chicago police and Cook County prosecutors suspected Douglas in other murders as well and questioned him in several sex assaults. But he was never charged in those.

Lisa Brean, an assistant Cook County public defender who defended the man who fatally shot Douglas, said police told her that Douglas was suspected of being a serial killer and that police reports detailed the murders and rapes he was suspected of committing.

"One of the detectives said, 'Your client ought to get a medal because this guy's killed more women than we know,'" recalled Brean, who won the acquittal earlier this year. "They thought he was one of the worst."

Amy Thompson, an assistant public defender who won Douglas' acquittal in 2002, said she heard similar allegations. "I know they considered him a suspect in a lot of the cases that had to do with the prostitutes at that time," she said.

While declining to get into specifics, a spokeswoman for State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said the office "has just recently received new information" in Glover's murder case — an apparent reference to the DNA match to Douglas.

"We are beginning the process of reviewing this information as this case moves forward," said Sally Daly, the spokeswoman.

Prosecutors initially opposed the new round of DNA testing, as well as entering the results in a national law enforcement databank to check for matches. Alvarez dropped the opposition after inquiries from the Tribune, but the office downplayed the importance of any DNA match, saying in court papers it would be a "red herring."

In the Dixmoor case, prosecutors said in court recently that the DNA match to a convicted rapist was not new evidence. At trial, all five defendants were excluded by the primitive DNA testing available at the time, though there was no connection to another possible suspect as there is now. That man is in Cook County Jail on unrelated drug charges.

Joshua Tepfer, a lawyer at Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth who is representing Swift, said the DNA link to Douglas is crucial. Police and prosecutors would have investigated Douglas if they had known of the link early on, he said.

Tepfer and lawyers for Swift's co-defendants Monday filed a motion seeking to throw out their convictions.

"We believe this is entirely exonerating and this man who has been tied to so many other cases is the one who alone committed this crime," Tepfer said. "The DNA doesn't lie in this case. … He's a man who was preying on women."

In addition, Tepfer said, no physical evidence tied the teenagers to Glover's murder, just the confessions. And those, he said, were marked by inconsistencies.

Although Swift had been working since his release from prison last year, he recently violated parole after he allegedly went to a fast-food restaurant and two stores instead of going straight home from work, according to parole documents. He was returned to prison.

Lt. Tom Keane, the commander of the Chicago police cold-case squad, said that even with the new DNA evidence, Douglas' death made reaching a conclusion in Glover's murder difficult because Douglas might have claimed he had consensual sex with Glover. Douglas, according to Thompson, made that claim in the Martin murder and was acquitted despite DNA evidence.

"The DNA in and of itself does not clear the case," said Keane, though he acknowledged that the crimes linked to Douglas were of the era and bore "a ton of similarities" to the serial killings on the South Side. "If this guy's dead and so he can't tell you, 'Yeah, I killed her,' it doesn't mean on its own John Douglas killed Nina Glover. You need more than just DNA."

But Peter Neufeld, an attorney with the Innocence Project in New York who represents Saunders, said the DNA from Douglas, particularly considering his criminal history, is more powerful than the confessions of Swift, Saunders and the other youths. None of them mentioned Douglas, who was considerably older than the teens, he said.

"To make the argument that it was consensual, you have to suggest that (Douglas) has the bad luck that right after he has consensual sex with a prostitute, she dies and that it's happened more than once," Neufeld said.

Original report here

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

George Davis IS innocent: He punches the air with joy after winning appeal against his conviction for 1974 robbery

He became a national cause célèbre who inspired some of Britain’s most famous graffiti, including the slogan ‘George Davis is Innocent OK’.

And yesterday, more than three decades later, the 70-year-old’s battle to clear his name finally reached an end as his conviction over a 1974 payroll heist was quashed.

Davis, who was in a packed Court of Appeal for the announcement, said: ‘It should not have taken 36 long years for me to be able to stand here like this.’

He was originally sentenced to 20 years in March 1975 over an armed robbery at the London Electricity Board in Ilford, Essex. It ended in a shoot-out, during which one officer was wounded.

Davis, a former dock worker, was said to have been seen abandoning the gang’s getaway car. But he insisted he was driving a minicab in Central London at the time.

Supporters began daubing graffiti wherever they could. The Who singer Roger Daltrey wore a T-shirt proclaiming his innocence.

Campaigners also vandalised the pitch at Headingley cricket ground in Leeds in 1975, causing a Test match between England and Australia to be abandoned.

In 1976, after serving less than two years from the date of his arrest, Davis was freed under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, sanctioned by the Queen. He had not been ‘found innocent’ – but it was deemed that conviction on the evidence presented was unsafe.

Key to his fresh appeal was new material about Davis’s identification by two policemen.

Lord Justice Hughes said: ‘We do not know whether Davis was guilty or not, but his conviction cannot be said to be safe.’ The judge added: 'As we have made clear, the fact that he was an active and known criminal does not affect this question, nor does it make it any the less important that his conviction should not be upheld unless it is clear that it is safe.'

He said: 'I have made it clear that I have no intention of seeking compensation for my wrongful conviction. 'I have pursued this appeal for all these years because I wanted all those people who worked for, and helped, the campaign in the 1970s to know that their support was justified.'

At his trial, the prosecution relied on identifications of Davis, at identification parades, by two officers who were at the robbery scene and three other officers from a different location, Woodford Avenue.

Lord Justice Hughes said 'new material affecting the identifications of the two policemen at the scene of the robbery is of considerable significance'.

He added: 'We bear in mind that both behaved with exemplary courage and that the attack under which they personally came will have made it very difficult for them to have made dispassionate observations.

Davis was originally sentenced in March 1975 to 20 years for robbery and wounding with intent to resist arrest. The same year the Court of Appeal rejected a conviction appeal bid but reduced his sentence to 17 years. Davis's sentence was remitted by Royal Prerogative and he was released from prison in 1976.

Lord Justice Hughes said the court was 'acutely conscious' of the fact that the jury also had identifications of Davis by the three other officers and by a witness called Mrs Bone, 'and that the other defendants were not so identified'.

He added: 'It is, therefore, possible that the jury discounted in any event the scene of the robbery identifications and relied on the Woodford Avenue ones; this might be the explanation for the decision to convict Davis and not the other defendants.

'The question of safety is for this court. It is not ... answered simply by asking whether the fresh information now available might have affected the jury's deliberations.

'We take the view, however, that it is simply impossible for this court, at the remove of over 30 years, to weigh the evidence as it would be necessary to do to resolve that the conviction is soundly based.'

When the then Home Secretary Roy Jenkins remitted the balance of Davis's sentence in May 1976 he did so, said the judge, on the basis that he was 'satisfied that the identification evidence has been seriously weakened', but that he did not 'have the evidence of innocence to justify recommending a free pardon'.

Lord Justice Hughes said the Court of Appeal was in 'a similar state of ignorance whether or not the defendant committed this robbery and we are unable positively to exonerate him'.

Original report here

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How Does He Get His Reputation Back?

On January 12, 2010, a 12-year-old sixth-grader did an unremarkable thing that almost destroyed a good man and his family. She lied about being touched “inappropriately.”

Under a reasonable legal system, the transparent lie of an angry child would have caused little damage, but the current legal system does not resemble anything reasonable. Among the preposterous maxims it now embraces are “women don’t lie about rape” and “children don’t lie about molestation.”

Justice requires the active recognition of lies. That is to say, a just legal system must recognize that the average person occasionally lies and some people do so pathologically. People lie from fear or for revenge; they lie for profit or other advantage, such as child custody; they lie from a sense of entitlement, loyalty, or a need to assert power. Sometimes they lie from a stubborn need to stand by an initial statement that was a “mistake.” When few to no penalties are imposed for lying, it becomes more frequent.

At every turn, the tradition of Western jurisprudence acknowledges the human proclivity to lie; justice itself is deeply rooted in this acknowledgment. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and the burden of proof is placed on the accuser, not the defendant. The right to face an accuser means he or she must stare a defendant in the eyes while repeating an accusation; the anonymity that encourages false reports is stripped away. Trial by jury means 12 representative people must agree on the facts and the veracity of an accuser before guilt is adjudicated. In criminal cases, the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” is applied in order to preclude other possible explanations for the crime charged, such as a desire for revenge by an accuser, before a defendant is judged guilty. The need for hard evidence and a presumption of innocence become all the more important in cases that devolve to “he said, she said.”

In short, preventing a lie from passing as truth is an intrinsic aspect of true justice, around which many due-process protections have been sculpted. If this were not the case, if an accuser never lies, then why would we even go to the trouble of a trial? Why not imprison the accused the instant an accusation is uttered?

Again, a key reason is because all people are potential liars, including women and children. This statement is no more cynical than the statement that all people are potentially honest is idealistic.

Specifics of the sixth-grader’s lie

By all accounts except his accuser’s, Sean Lanigan was a respected and well-liked soccer coach at Centre Ridge Elementary School in Fairfax, Virginia. Kathy Young, a 6th-grade teacher at the same school, stated, “His heart was really with the kids. He’d pick kids up and twirl them. But what I really liked about Sean, as much as he liked playing with them, he’d always say, ‘Your schoolwork comes first.’” A Washington Post article went on to explain, “When Young’s future son-in-law died in a fire, Lanigan arranged a fundraiser. In 2002, when the school needed a new playground, he and another teacher helped raise tens of thousands of dollars to get one built.”

In December 2009, Lanigan headed the school’s safety patrols when a parent reported to him that a 12-year-old girl who patrolled the school bus was abusing other children. Lanigan warned the girl that she would be yanked from patrol duty if she did not treat others decently. According to witnesses and a subsequent trial transcript, the girl said at the time, “Mr. Lanigan’s a jerk. I’m going to make him pay.”

Lanigan issued a second warning to the girl in January 2010, upon which the girl and a friend began claiming that the coach had grabbed her the day before; he then allegedly carried her into the main equipment room, briefly touching her breasts and buttocks in the process. Once in the equipment room, she claimed he pushed her down on a tumbling mat, lay on top of her and (depending on the version presented) thrust himself against her. The “friend” allegedly stood in the open doorway and witnessed the event.

School employees pointed out that a tumbling mat could not even fit in the tiny equipment room. Other children in the gym denied seeing anything inappropriate. Both the accusing girl and her friend later recanted the most damning allegations of Lanigan’s pinning the girl and simulating sex; indeed, the accuser posted on Facebook that it had all been “a joke.” A fellow student told authorities that the accuser said “she was trying to get him fired because she didn’t like him” and, then admitted to lying about the incident.

Lanigan had a spotless record after years of teaching children. Nevertheless, without even interviewing the accusing child, the police arrested Lanigan based largely upon a police officer watching from another room as a social worker performed the interview. Social workers who conduct such questioning often call themselves “validators” because their role is validate the child’s voice. Dr. Richard A. Gardner, a Columbia University professor of child psychiatry, has stated, “They, of course, hold that ‘children never lie about sexual abuse,’ and they accept as valid every statement a child makes that might verify sex abuse.” Gardner openly dismisses the objectivity of such social workers and the claim that “children do not lie.”

A judge sent the case to a grand jury for indictment, and the county prosecutor refused to dismiss even after both the accuser and her friend recanted most of the story.

Lanigan faced up to 40 years in jail if convicted of the worst charges of pinning the girl and simulating sex; after those charges dropped away, he faced up to 20 years. Pending trial, he was suspended from teaching and could not work elsewhere as a coach because he was not permitted to associate with children other than his own three. Every week he met with a probation officer who specialized in monitoring sexual offenders. Eventually he spent $125,000 in legal fees.

For all of this, Sean Lanigan is a lucky man ... for two reasons.

First, his family stood by him; people who knew Lanigan stood up for his innocence, with neighbors bringing by meals every day in support of the distressed family.

Second, in an unusually short trial, he was utterly exonerated. The Washington Post reported:

When his attorney, Peter D. Greenspun, discussed the devastation to Lanigan in his closing argument, West [a juror] broke down in tears and the trial was briefly recessed. West and other jurors said the 12-year-old accuser “had no idea of the consequences” of accusing Lanigan of molesting her. “This poor man. That’s why I cried.”

Going past the simplistic problem

Why did a hideous ordeal befall a good man? The simplistic answer: a girl lied. I am not satisfied with that answer. And, so, despite strong feelings on the subject, I will back away from condemning the 12-year-old girl. The main blame lies elsewhere. Dr. Gardner argues, “[T]here’s a network of school workers, mental health professionals, and law enforcement officials that actually encourages charges of child abuse — whether they’re reasonable or not.” Without the institutions that now comprise a “child abuse industry,” the lies of a vindictive girl could not have harmed Lanigan. With this industry, there is a network of well-paid people whose purpose is not to investigate but to validate accusations. Indeed, under the Mondale Act — a child abuse protection Act sponsored by Senator Mondale and passed in 1973 — an ‘evaluator’ who does not report an accusation of abuse to the police is subject to imprisonment if the child is further abused. The incentives to always believe the child are huge.

Libertarian commentator William L. Anderson explains,

One cannot understand what is happening ... without understanding the Mondale Act. This is a law that not only encourages aggressive prosecution for alleged child abuse, but has a big payout as well, and that is where the Law of Unintended Consequences comes into play because the Mondale Act provides a number of incentives for the authorities to act unjustly — and be paid big bucks for it.”

The Mondale Act merits a book of analysis. The point of this article, however, is limited. The point is: justice requires the recognition that people lie: men lie, women lie, children lie. And people in authority do so as well, especially when they given incentives and no punishment.

What of Lanigan now?

Immediately after his acquittal, Lanigan was reinstated as a coach by Virginia’s public soccer leagues. Nevertheless, the school district continued an internal reprimand process. Lanigan was transferred from Centre Ridge school in Fairfax to one in another city. Because of the commute, he was no longer able to fill as active a parenting role; his wife quit her job to assume care of the family.

The police had stonewalled the case and will not permit anyone who was officially involved to be interviewed; the district attorney refuses comment. And the school district seems eager to be rid of the situation by firing him.

The Washington Post reports, “[I]n December, as Lanigan pushed to have his legal fees reimbursed, the district presented him with two pages of specially tailored ‘guidelines and expectations.’” The guidelines included: “Do not touch FCPS students as a means of greeting, playing with, showing approval of, or otherwise interacting with them.... Avoid placing yourself in close physical proximity to any student...” According to a friend of Lanigan’s, “They are so fixated on him being guilty that they’re pushing to put the set of expectations in his file, so he could inadvertently trip on one of them and cause them to dismiss him. They can’t see that everyone knows him as an honest and decent man.”

Clearly, the school district fears a lawsuit. In March, it offered to reimburse $60,000 of the $125,000 Lanigan spent on legal fees, but only if he dropped the possibility of future legal claims. In April, it ‘de-staffed’ him from a new school, leaving him with a need to apply to some other school within the district.

What are the odds of his being hired?

Original report here

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Australian police liars walk free

Corrupt police behaviour, even if it is to arrest and convict a criminal, can never be justified, a Sydney judge has ruled -- but he still gave them zero penalty. At least they are out of the police force, I guess

SENTENCING two former police officers for fabricating evidence, a judge has described the case as an example of "noble cause corruption".

It was a tragedy that people with an unblemished past who had contributed to society for years as police would no longer be able to do so, Judge Paul Lakatos told the District Court in Sydney on Friday.

Michael Cox, Sharon Lucas and two other officers visited a house in Nixon Crescent, Wagga Wagga, early on October 27, 2008, to investigate a robbery during the night in which a car and a flat-screen television were stolen. Later, police found three cars in a local reserve. The stolen vehicle was on fire, another was driven from the scene and the third was found to contain mobile phones and wallets.

One of the phones contained a photograph of the stolen television. One wallet belonged to Matthew Prowse, of Nixon Crescent. When the police arrived at his house, no one was home but the stolen TV could be seen through a window.

The police decided not to obtain a search warrant but to enter illegally. Cox proposed using a key found in Prowse's wallet to gain entry and then later they could say the front door had been open when they arrived, and they had gone in because they heard noises and feared a robbery was in progress. The others agreed.

Cox radioed the police station to say this was what they were doing, and after the search, he recorded the false story in his police notebook. It was signed by all the officers.

A fourth officer, Peter Fletcher, told a colleague he was reluctant to put his name on a fact sheet containing the fabricated account. Nevertheless, Prowse was charged and all four police wrote false statements in support. But another officer, Andrew Brookes, told a colleague what had really happened.

This led to an internal inquiry, during which the phones of the four officers were tapped. They were heard exchanging comments about their "scrumdown" - police collusion to give the same evidence - such as: "We're airtight, mate. We're airtight."

The four were charged and pleaded guilty. Fletcher and Brookes received suspended sentences of 18 months each from Judge Stephen Norrish last year.

Judge Lakatos said that while the agreement to fabricate a story had been spontaneous, "I doubt that the notion of improper conduct arose then and there spontaneously".

He said the action raised questions about whether such conduct had occurred or at least been discussed by the officers before and "whether there is a culture that justifies illegal practices when those involved [i.e. the suspects] are believed to be guilty".

Quoting from the report of the royal commission into police corruption in the 1990s, he noted so-called noble corruption, to convict suspected criminals, could lead to corruption for financial gain.

However, there was no suggestion this had happened at Wagga Wagga. The illegal search had not even contributed to the conviction of Prowse for the robbery.

Judge Lakatos said he would have taken a more severe view of the offences had he not been constrained by the need for parity with the sentences handed down by Judge Norrish. Cox was sentenced to two years and Lucas to 18 months, both sentences suspended.

Original report here. (Via Australian police news)

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Australia: State Government settles out of court with woman sexually assaulted in watch-house by two police officers

Scum Buxton above

THE victim of a watch-house sexual assault by two disgraced former Maroochydoore police officers has won a damages payout from the State Government on the eve of a Supreme Court lawsuit hearing. Cindy Felsman, 32, sued the state after she was assaulted by rogue officers Peter Anthony Buxton and Zane Anthony Slingsby in the Maroochdyoore watch-house in 2005.

In 2007, Buxton was sentenced to six years' jail after pleading guilty to 24 charges of sexually assaulting women prisoners. Slingsby was sentenced to four years jail' on 10 charges, suspended after serving two years, for his role in abusing female inmates.

Ms Felsman's damages claim was to be heard in the Brisbane Supreme Court in a two-day hearing starting on Monday. However, the state today agreed to a confidential out-of-court settlement.

Ms Felsman said she was happy with the outcome and could now move on with her life. "I am also relieved I did not have to relive the details of my ordeal in open court," she said.

Ms Felsman's lawyer, Greg Smith of Smiths Lawyers, said the settlement would allow his client and her family to rebuild their lives after suffering years of trauma. "It was an appalling matter involving police in positions of power taking advantage of Cindy and other women who, while incarcerated, should never have been subjected to such atrocities," he said.

"The settlement also acknowledges the responsibility governments must take over those under their charge, especially when they are employed in positions of trust relating to public welfare and law enforcement."

Original report here. (Via Australian police news)

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ind. ruling on illegal police entry sparks protest

An Indiana Supreme Court ruling that people don't have the right to resist police officers who enter their homes illegally has sparked outrage among some residents and lawmakers, with plans under way for a large Statehouse protest, a flurry of threats made against police and judges and calls for the state to reinforce homeowners' rights.

The court's 3-2 ruling last week brought Indiana law in line with most other states', but critics contend that it infringes on their constitutional rights and contradicts centuries of common law precedent regarding homeowners' rights and the limits of police power.

"We're by and large outraged by it. It pretty much wipes out the Fourth Amendment," Greg Fettig, a co-founder of the Hoosier Patriots tea party group, said Wednesday. "Police can come into your house and do whatever they want now."

Police are investigating several threatening emails and phone calls directed at the state Supreme Court because of the ruling, court spokeswoman Kathryn Dolan said. She declined to say how many threats the court received, but said most of them were aimed at police officers,

"This opinion sparked more debate than other opinions we've handed down," Dolan said.

By Thursday, more than 1,000 people had signed on to attend a May 25 Statehouse rally against the ruling that was promoted on a Facebook page. Another Facebook page dedicated to overturning the ruling had more than 400 followers. A YouTube video criticizing the ruling was also posted.

State Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, said he would work on legislation to strengthen Indiana's self-defense law and clarify that Hoosiers have a right to resist unlawful entry, even by police.

"Our forefathers fought for a right to live freely without fear of unwarranted intrusion by an oppressive government," Young said in a news release. "Certainly times have changed since then, but this right is among the most basic we have and should not be tampered with in any way."

Erin Berger, the attorney who represents the man who was convicted of misdemeanor resisting law enforcement for shoving an officer, said she will petition the state Supreme Court for a rehearing. She said lawyers from throughout the country have offered to help her, and that an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was possible.

"I think that the public is concerned that we have now lost a lot of our Fourth Amendment rights to feel secure in our homes. And I think that's probably the root of most of the concern that we're seeing," Berger said.

The ruling dealt with narrow circumstances in which an Evansville man blocked and then shoved a police officer who tried to enter his home without a warrant after his wife called 911 during an argument with her husband. The man was shocked with a stun gun and arrested. His wife told officers he hadn't hit her.

The two dissenting justices said the resulting decision was too broad and contradicted the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure.

"In my view the majority sweeps with far too broad a brush by essentially telling Indiana citizens that government agents may now enter their homes illegally — that is, without the necessity of a warrant, consent or exigent circumstances," wrote Justice Robert Rucker.

The court held that residents can't resist police who enter their home for whatever reason, and a civil lawsuit is their only alternative. The state Supreme Court said it would be safer for all concerned to let police proceed even with an illegal action and sort it out later in court.

"In these situations, we find it unwise to allow a homeowner to adjudge the legality of police conduct in the heat of the moment," wrote Justice Steven David, who was appointed in September by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Fettig said some tea partiers were questioning the wisdom of David's appointment after last week's ruling, and some conservative bloggers hinted the furor might dim Daniels' chances with social conservatives as he considers a run for the White House.

Daniels said Wednesday he hadn't yet read the whole ruling, but added, "I think it's a little more reassuring when you read the court's reasoning, but I don't have a view beyond that."

Ivan Bodensteiner, a professor at the Valparaiso University School of Law, said that the decision brings Indiana law in line with that of about 40 other states that don't recognize the common-law right to resist illegal police entry. Although he acknowledged the ruling was broad, Bodensteiner said it really didn't conflict with the Constitution.

"It's not a license for police to enter homes in violation of the Fourth Amendment," he said.

Bodensteiner said the decision doesn't really give police the power to enter anyone's home illegally — it simply states that if they do, the resident must turn to the courts for relief.

"That's why we have a judicial system, is to resolve disputes in a more civilized fashion," Bodensteiner said.

Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police President Bill Owensby said the furor over the ruling was "much ado about nothing" because police would continue to operate as they had in the past, obtaining warrants and knocking on doors.

"There's an assumption ... that officers are just going to go out there and willy-nilly kick in doors. That isn't the case," he said.

But Young, the state senator, said protection rather than legalities are a resident's primary concern when someone illegally enters their home, police or not.

"When someone enters your home illegally at 3 A.M., your first thought is not what court will have jurisdiction, but, rather, what do I need to do to protect my family," said Young.

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

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Ballad of Alvaro Luna Hernandez

The police hatred of Alvaro in West Texas, especially in Alpine, is fierce, both personal and political, and decades old. Alvaro has always refused to submit to police authority and abuse; sort of like a rebellious slave in the spirit of Fredrick Douglas, but more like a modern-day Gregorio Cortez. When he was 17 he smashed up some police squad cars as well as the personal vehicle of a racist Sheriff following a police confrontation, a stunt which landed him three years in prison. Years later, in 1976 following an escape from county jail—at which he was awaiting transfer to state prison for the wrongful murder conviction—and subsequent shootout with law enforcement, Alvaro was taken to a windowless "conference room" in the jail where he was beaten within an inch of his life by several on-duty police officers. The cops took turns beating and stomping their handcuffed captive, causing him to lose consciousness, his face, eyes, and lips swollen and bloodied beyond recognition, his scalp ripped open with blood pouring from his head onto the cold concrete floor. Once the police were finished, they dragged a bloodied and unconscious Alvaro across the jail and threw him in a cell, leaving him for dead. The near fatal beating meted out to Alvaro resulted in federal criminal civil rights indictments of Pecos County Chief Deputy Sheriff Mike Hill and Deputy Sheriff Bill Mabe, culminating in misdemeanor convictions and probation for the officers. For his part, Alvaro was awarded substantial monetary compensation for damages following a civil suit. The convictions of the officers, however mild, ultimately destroyed their careers as policemen, thus earning Alvaro a special animosity in local law enforcement circles for daring to fight back against police on their own terms, both in the streets and in the courts.

The Alpine police and the Brewster County Sheriff's office were, of course, all white and patrolled the Chicano barrio south of the tracks daily and nightly with a brutality usually reserved only for the town's "meskins."

"People were scared of them," Alvaro writes in a letter from his prison cell, recalling how as a young boy he would go looking for his father or grandfather in the local bars, the Sheriff would often barge in, gun on his hip, to intimidate, arrest, and humiliate Chicano men and elders simply as a means of letting them know "who was boss."

Just months after getting released from the custody of the TYC, something happened that would change Alvaro's life forever. It was June 12, 1968. Alvaro was hanging out with his best friend, Ervay Ramos. The two buddies were cruising around Alpine in Ervay's brother's car when red police lights started flashing in the rear view mirror. Ervay was, like Alvaro, 16 years old, but didn't have a valid driver's license. He sped off and the police car gave chase. Fishtailing through a back alley with the wail of the siren growing louder in the distance, Ervay quickly stopped and told Alvaro to jump out of the car. He drove off and struck a nearby fence next to the football practice fields and landed in a ditch. With the cop car getting closer, Ramos jumped out of the car and ran down the alleyway hoping to escape. Alvaro was just feet away and saw with his own eyes what transpired next.

"The police car, driven by Bud Powers, a well-known cop with a reputation in the barrio for being racist and brutal, pulled up and stopped [behind] the Ramos car," Alvaro vividly recalls. "[Powers] stepped outside, pulled his revolver and shot the fleeing Ramos in the back with his .357 magnum pistol killing him instantly."

The murder of Ervay Ramos was one of a number of similar killings of Chicano youth by police in the Southwest at the time. Officer Bud Powers received a proverbial slap on the wrist—five years' probation—and never served a day in jail. The killing of Ervay Ramos was cited by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in their 1970 report to the President entitled "Mexican Americans and the Administration of Justice in the Southwest" as one of several examples of what the Commission referred to as a pattern of "serious police brutality" and "widespread discrimination" suffered by Mexican-Americans at the hands of law enforcement officers and the U.S. judicial system in the Southwest United States.

So when Alvaro moved back to Alpine in 1995 with political struggle and courtroom justice for his slain childhood friend on his mind, he was met with considerable police opposition. He was working as a freelance paralegal for attorneys throughout the state when Alpine community members began approaching him for help regarding police brutality and other injustices in town. They had seen Alvaro on television when he was in Houston, working against the death penalty and police oppression. They knew about his impressive record of civil rights activism and how he had litigated a number of successful federal and state civil rights lawsuits against Texas police, judges, and prison officials. Moreover, citizens sought out Alvaro for help because, in addition to being a prominent public critic of racial and social inequalities in Alpine, it was well known—both by the general public, as well as by law enforcement—that he was working on re-opening the 1968 Ervay Ramos murder case with the intention of bringing his killer, policeman Bud Powers, into federal court on murder charges.

The response of the Alpine police to all of this was to organize and carry out a sophisticated campaign, in the spirit of the F.B.I.'s "counter intelligence program" (COINTELPRO) of the 1960s and '70s, of surveillance, harassment, and repression against Alvaro. They hired a local heroin addict, Mary Valencia, to work as a police informant, ransacking his legal files and personal belongings while working as a maid at the motel he was staying at. Police followed him around, subjecting him to unjustified searches and harassment.

Worse yet, the police convinced the father-in-law of an Alpine Police Sergeant—a man who was known around Alpine as a local town drunk—to falsely accuse Alvaro of armed robbery—a ridiculous frame-up charge which Alvaro ultimately ended up getting dismissed in court while acting as his own attorney. In the meantime, however, Alvaro bonded out of jail by selling his car to the bail bondsman, but just weeks later the bondsman "withdrew" from the bond, unbeknownst to Alvaro at the time.

On July 18, 1996 Sheriff Jack McDaniel showed up on Alvaro's doorstep looking to re-arrest him. Brewster County's new sheriff was far from an anonymous cop just "doing his job." McDaniel had been cited in a victorious civil rights lawsuit filed by Alvaro against then-Sheriff Jim Skinner a few years back. Moreover, it was no secret around town that Alvaro was investigating Sheriff McDaniel for corruption and embezzlement of funds from the county treasury—funds that Alvaro alleged were being used at McDaniel's private ranch in West Alpine. Coupled with his work on re-opening the Ramos case and his long history of resistance to local police power, Alvaro argues that the prerogative of the cops was clear: "The police all knew what I was up to and they were determined to stop me at all costs."

When questioned on the legality of the arrest—for which no warrant was presented—an enraged McDaniel pulled his gun on Alvaro. Fearing quite literally for his life, Alvaro disarmed the Sheriff in self-defense before he could shoot, told McDaniel to leave, and then fled the scene. Nobody was injured. For three days Alvaro was able to evade law enforcement in the rugged countryside of Brewster County during the course of what was one of the most massive manhunts in recent West Texas history. Following a shootout with police at his mother's house, Alvaro was captured and charged with two counts of aggravated assault; one for allegedly pointing the gun at Sheriff McDaniel after disarming him, and another count for allegedly shooting an officer, Curtis Hines, in the hand during the shootout.

At the trial, witnesses testified that Alvaro never pointed the gun at McDaniel. McDaniel accused Alvaro of pointing the gun at his chest—threatening him with a deadly weapon—but Alvaro swears this is a lie. In a live interview on local television on July 18th following the confrontation at Alvaro's house, McDaniel told viewers that Alvaro had only disarmed him and neither threatened nor shot him.

"Days later," Alvaro explains, "when the Sheriff met with the District Attorney he changed his story to say that I had not only disarmed him but had pointed the gun at him—the difference between a minor misdemeanor and a first degree felony offense." The videotape was ultimately kept out of court proceedings; Alvaro's lawyer Tony Chavez is rumored to have potentially struck a backdoor deal with the prosecution. At the time, Chavez was under investigation himself for drug trafficking and was facing many years in prison under a plethora of forthcoming RICO charges. In fact, just months after Alvaro's trial, Chavez immediately took a plea bargain and was sent to federal prison for 30 months and disbarred from the practice of law.

Throughout the trial numerous witnesses, including former law enforcement officers, also testified to the intense, longstanding police hatred of Alvaro. Alvaro was found not guilty on the second count of shooting Officer Hines in the hand (it was determined that Hines was hit by a ricocheting police bullet). Despite considerable public protest, however, the nearly-all-white jury found Alvaro guilty of "aggravated assault" for allegedly pointing the gun at McDaniel's chest—an accusation which Alvaro vociferously and consistently denies to this day.

Alvaro Luna Hernandez was sentenced to 50 years in state prison in the summer of 1997. He will not be officially "eligible" for parole until 2021.

Though his appeals have all been exhausted, options still remain within the legal system to bring about Alvaro's release. The KOSA TV videotape interview with McDaniel may still exist, and a full review of federal, state, and local files pertaining to Alvaro, and his ex-lawyer Chavez, is likely to shed light on Alvaro's conviction and political imprisonment. Obtaining the pro bono assistance of one or more bright legal minds to help pursue other existing, and very promising, legal avenues to reenter the courts continues to be a top priority and a potential source of hope.

There is one thing, however, that remains clear and undisputed: absent a substantial popular mobilization and grassroots campaign pushing for his freedom, Alvaro faces a virtual life sentence of incarceration in the brutal control units of Texas' state prisons. Yet in the meantime, although buried deep beneath the razor-wire fences, uncounted tons of cold steel, and the rows of soul-destroying concrete cages of Hughes Unit Prison, Alvaro Luna Hernandez remains among America's most fearless political prisoners, incessantly struggling for freedom, locked up but never defeated.

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

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Missouri: Murder Conviction Reversed for Man in Birthday Party Shooting

Police pull a fast one

A St. Louis man convicted of second-degree murder after a children's birthday party turned into a crime scene received a reprieve today -- the Missouri Supreme Court struck down his conviction, sending the case back to the trial court for a re-do.

In a four to three decision, the state's highest court found that the St. Louis City Circuit Court judge supervising the trial of Anthony Brown wrongly allowed prosecutors "an end run around the law of evidence."

And it all has to do with the size of the gun. According to the court's newly released opinion on the case, Brown had claimed he was acting in self defense -- that the man he shot at the party had a gun in the pocket of his sweatpants and had reached for it before Brown fired.

Attempting to demolish that argument, prosecutors brandished a .38 revolver in their closing arguments, showing that it couldn't have fit into the pocket in question. Only problem? The gun hadn't been admitted into evidence. There had been no testimony, in fact, that a .38 was even make of gun allegedly carried by the victim.

But when Brown's lawyers objected, Judge Thomas J. Frawley overruled them. Tellingly, later, when the jury asked to see the gun, Judge Frawley said no -- it "was not received in evidence."

As the Supreme Court justices conclude in their opinion, released today,
The problem in this case is that the State did not show that the size and shape of the victim's gun was similar to the size and shape of the .38 revolver shown to the jury. The State could show only that the victim's gun was "shiny looking" and had a light or pearl handle. This vague, cosmetic description of the victim's gun is insufficient to establish the size and shape of the gun. Without evidence of the size and shape of the victim's gun, there is no way to determine whether the .38 revolver used by the State fairly represented the victim's gun and the impossibility of the victim carrying and drawing the gun in the manner described by the witnesses.

Consequently, the State's closing argument demonstration was necessarily speculative and carried with it the distinct possibility of misleading the jury. The State would not have been able to admit the .38 revolver evidence as evidence at trial. Therefore, the State should not have been able to bypass normal evidentiary limitations by first showing the revolver to the jury in closing argument to rebut Brown's self-defense argument.

As the justices conclude, the error was "not harmless."

"It is apparent that the jury attached significance to the State's demonstration because, during deliberations, the jury asked to see once again the .38 revolver, as well as the sweatpants worn by the victim," they write.

And, as any OJ watcher could tell ya, if it doesn't fit, well, umm, you must convict.

We're happy to see justice done in this case, because it seems clear the prosecutors were permitted to pull a fast one here. (Not that we blame the prosecutors for trying, but really -- what was the judge thinking in letting them getting away with it?)

But we do have to ponder at least one important question raised by this case. Namely, since when do sweatpants have pockets? [Mine do]

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