Saturday, December 31, 2011

Inquiry sought for Texas prosecutor over wrongful conviction

Michael Morton, 57, is officially exonerated after serving 25 years in prison in connection with his wife's murder. His lawyers allege misconduct in the case.

Lawyers for a Texas man officially exonerated Monday after serving 25 years of a life sentence in connection with his wife's murder requested a special judicial inquiry into alleged misconduct by the lead prosecutor.

After Michael Morton, 57, was released in October, his lawyers continued investigating the lead prosecutor in the case, former Williamson County Dist. Atty. Ken Anderson, now a District Court judge. On Monday, they filed a report summing up their investigation and argued that Anderson acted improperly while prosecuting Morton for the fatal 1986 beating of his wife, Christine, at their home in the Austin suburb of Georgetown.

The 144-page report, accompanied by 60 pages of exhibits, faults Anderson for refusing "to take any personal responsibility" for Morton's wrongful conviction. "The problem in the Morton case is not that the system failed, but that Judge Anderson did not play by the rules," the report says.

At the hearing before District Judge Sid Harle in Georgetown, Morton's lawyers asked the judge to establish a "court of inquiry" to examine allegations that Anderson illegally suppressed evidence that could have undercut the prosecution's case by failing to provide documents requested by Morton's trial judge.

Harle said he would take the request under advisement and invited Anderson's lawyers to file a response.

After the hearing, Morton celebrated before a crowd of reporters. "Revenge is a natural instinct, but it's not my goal here," he said. "Just accountability."

Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project and one of Morton's lawyers, said the lawyers hope the case sets a precedent.

"We are really hoping there will be hearings and not just in Texas, but across the country to get a remedy to this problem," Scheck said, "to make sure this never happens to anybody else again."

Eric Nichols, an Austin attorney who represented Anderson at Monday's hearing, called the portrayal of his conduct "one-sided." He noted that Anderson had apologized to Morton publicly and recognized that, given the DNA analysis that was unavailable at the time of the trial, Morton's conviction was wrong. However, Nichols said, "Anderson stands firm in his belief that the prosecution and trial were handled ethically and appropriately." Last month, Anderson called a news conference to say he was sorry "for the system's failure," but denied any misconduct.

State law allows Harle to ask that a "court of inquiry" be convened if he determines there is probable cause that a state law has been broken. Normally, his request would go to the district's presiding judge, but that judge has already recused himself, meaning the request would probably go to the state Supreme Court.

Once a judge is selected to handle the inquiry, the local district or county attorney assists, examining witnesses and evidence.

If the inquiry finds Anderson committed serious misconduct, it could lead to disciplinary action by the state bar and possibly criminal prosecution.

After Morton's release, the State Bar of Texas began examining how prosecutors handled the case, a spokeswoman said, but no findings had been released Monday.

Original report here

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Friday, December 30, 2011

Helmig Struggles After Wrongful Conviction Release

A central Missouri man who was freed from prison last year after his conviction for killing his mother was overturned is struggling to adjust to his freedom.

Dale Helmig, 55, has been unable to find a job since his December 2010 release, The Kansas City Star ( reports. Helmig was serving a life sentence for the 1993 death of his mother, Norma, before a judge overturned the conviction as the result of a tainted trial. His freedom was further secured in April after Osage County prosecutor Amanda Grellner decided to not refile charges against him.

“I’m still in limbo,” Helmig said. “I can’t move forward and get on with my life until I find a job and get my own place.”

Helmig continues to live with his brother in Rocky Mount, near the Lake of the Ozarks north shore and a short drive from his adult son in Eldon and a 16-year-old daughter in Jefferson City. Rich Helmig has staunchly supported his brother since he was initially accused in the early 1990s of killing their mother, whose body was found tied to a concrete block along the Osage River during the 1993 Midwest floods. She was 55 when she died.

Sean O’Brien, the Kansas City attorney and law school professor who led the legal fight to exonerate Helmig, said his client would be in far worse shape without that kind of support. “If not for Rich he would be homeless,” O’Brien said.

The weak economy has also hindered Helmig’s attempts to find work as a maintenance man or janitor in the lake area or Jefferson City. He’s also convinced his prison stint has helped scare away potential employers.

Helmig doesn’t attempt to hide his 15-year detour through the Missouri prison system, said O’Brien, who teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Rather, he uses news clippings about his case to show that a northwest Missouri trial court judge found he was the victim of a “fundamental miscarriage of justice.” The state Court of Appeals upheld that ruling,

“His biggest handicap is he’s very honest,” the attorney said.

DeKalb County Senior Judge Warren McElwain ruled in 2010 that Helmig was “actually innocent of the crime.” The judge said a former special state prosecutor and the Osage sheriff misled the trial court and jurors, while the special prosecutor and Grellner’s predecessor as county prosecutor relied on false testimony by a state trooper who mischaracterized a statement from Helmig as a confession.

Helmig spends much of his idle time fishing with his brother. “Being in prison, no matter how you got there, is one mark against you,” Helmig said.

Original report here

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lying Australian police

POLICE involved in the deadly car chase of a teenager have been forced to admit they were speeding at almost 180km/h through suburban streets. Their admission came after hi-tech data proved their original statements were false.

In a Victorian first, investigators and international experts took GPS data from the officers' vehicle to prove they were going much faster than they told several inquiries - including an internal ESD inquiry, an OPI probe and a coronial hearing. Two officers could now be referred to the DPP, with the crash killing the young driver and leaving an innocent driver maimed.

Only after being presented with GPS evidence in the Coroner's Court case did the officers admit statements regarding the chase were wrong.

There are now calls for high-speed chases to be reviewed following the death of 19-year-old father of one Shane Bennett.

Mr Bennett's family said while he "absolutely" should have pulled over, he paid the "highest penalty for his stupid decision" and the "dangerous chase" contributed to his death in 2008.

The two officers leading the chase, Senior Constables Cameron Orr and Michael Bednarczyk, are awaiting Coroner Peter White's findings.

The Herald Sun can reveal Sen-Constable Orr was not licensed by Victoria Police to drive more than 150km/h, but admitted in court to reaching 177km/h before Mr Bennett crashed.

The chase began after a police car sighted Mr Bennett's unregistered car, sporting cardboard licence plates, in Frankston, the court heard. He was not wanted for any other reason.

The chase wove through the back streets of Seaford, with Mr Bennett running at least two red lights at more than 100km/h.

The officers were ordered to cease the chase about 15 seconds before Mr Bennett went through another red light - this time crashing into Diane McCready, leaving her with critical injuries. Mr Bennett died in hospital after suffering head and internal injuries.

Ms McCready and Mr Bennett's mother have called for a review of police chase protocols.

The officers originally said they pulled over after hearing command calls for them to stop, the court heard. But after being shown GPS data, they later admitted in court they were still "moving" 15 seconds after the abandon-chase call.

A witness originally complained to the OPI, claiming police were still chasing Mr Bennett when he hit Ms McCready, but that claim was not proved.

Under questioning from counsel assisting the coroner, Tony Burns, the officers denied they ignored important safety measures.

Original report here. (Via Australian police news)

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Siobhan Reynolds, RIP

She fought the insane bureaucracy that the DEA has become

I’m saddened to learn this morning that Siobhan Reynolds was killed over the weekend in a plane crash.

I met Reynolds several years ago when I attended a forum on Capitol Hill on the under-treatment of pain. Her story about her husband’s chronic pain was so heartbreaking it moved me to take an interest in the issue. I eventually commissioned and edited a paper on the DEA and pain treatment while I was working for Cato.

Reynolds was fierce and tireless. She ran her advocacy group the Pain Relief Network on a thin budget, and often used her own money to travel to towns and cities where she felt prosecutors were unfairly targeting a doctor. Then she would fight back. And sometimes she’d win. The DEA and the federal prosecutors she fought weren’t really accustomed to that. They were accustomed to holding self-promoting press conferences, where they’d hold up big bags of pills, thus winning glowing write-ups from clueless reporters. Reynolds put those bags of pills into context. She encouraged pain patients whose lives these doctors made better to speak up and speak out. And she educated journalists.

There aren’t very many people who can claim that they personally changed the public debate about an issue. Reynolds could. Before her crusade, no one was really talking about the under-treatment of pain. The media was still wrapped up in scare stories about “accidental addiction” to prescription painkillers and telling dramatic (and sometimes false) tales about patients whose lazy doctors got them hooked on Oxycontin. Reynolds toured the country to point out that, in fact, the real problem is that pain patients are suffering, particularly chronic pain patients. And because of the government’s harassment, there are increasingly fewer doctors willing to treat them. After Reynolds, the major newsweeklies, the New York Times, and a number of other national media outlets began asking if the DEA’s war on pain doctors had gone too far.

Reynolds’ passion stemmed from watching her ex-husband agonize, and later her belief that his death was due to his inability to get treatment. She feared her son would contract the same condition, and face the same obstacles. What infuriated her was that this was never a problem of not knowing what relieves chronic pain. This wasn’t about the need for more research. Her husband had found relief in high-dose opioid therapy. The problem was that in its ceaseless efforts to stop people from getting high, the government had blocked that relief, imprisoned the doctor who administered it, and thus condemned her husband to suffer. (Watch The Chilling Effect, the movie Reynolds produced about her ex-husband’s fight here.)

Reynolds was admirably persistent. I often thought she was often a bit too idealistic, or at least that she set her goals too high. She told me once that she wouldn’t consider her work done until the Supreme Court declared the Controlled Substances Act unconstitutional. That’s an admirable goal, if not a particularly practical one. She often frustrated efforts to build a coalition on the issue because she’d grown weary of medical organizations and academics who, while concerned about the issue, she thought were too cowardly to take a more aggressive stand.

But Reynolds did begin to win her battles. She deserves a good deal of the credit for getting Richard Paey out of prison. She got some sentences overturned, and hooked accused doctors up with attorneys who know the issue. Which let to some acquittals.

Of course, the government doesn’t like a rabble rouser. It’s especially wary of rabble rousers who start to accumulate some victories. And so as Reynolds’ advocacy began to move the ball and get real results, the government hit back. When Reynolds began a campaign on behalf of Kansas physician Stephen Schneider, who had been indicted for over-prescribing painkillers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway launched a blatantly vindictive attack on Reynolds’ right to free speech. Treadway opened a criminal investigation into Reynolds and her organization, attempting to paint Reynolds’ advocacy as obstruction of justice. Treadway then issued a sweeping subpoena for all email correspondence, phone records, and other documents that, had Reynolds complied, would have meant the end of her organization. Treadway wanted records of Reynolds’ private conversations with attorneys, doctors, and pain patients and their families. It was unconscionable. The government was demanding that she turn over all records of her conversations with suffering patients. (Some of whom undoubtedly sought out extra-legal ways to relieve their pain, since the government had made it impossible for them to find legal relief.)

So Reynolds fought the subpoena, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And she lost. Not only did she lose, but the government, with compliance from the federal courts, was able to keep the entire fight sealed. The briefs for the case are secret. The judges’ rulings are secret. Reynolds was barred from sharing her own briefs with the press. Perversely, Treadway had used the very grand jury secrecy intended to protect Reynolds as a gag to censor her. The case was a startling example not only of how far a prosecutor will go to tear down a critic, but of how much power they have to do so.

The sad thing is that it worked. The Pain Relief Network went under. Reynolds also lost a good deal of her own money. She was never charged with any crime. But that was never the point. It was a transparent and malicious effort to neutralize a pestering critic. And it was successful. (I wrote a piece for Slate on Treadway’s vendetta against Reynolds.) Despite all that, the last time I spoke with Reynolds she working on plans to start a new advocacy group for pain patients.

Reynolds was an unwearying, unwavering activist for personal freedom. She not only became a martyr for the rights of pain patients, but also for free expression and political dissent. And she died fighting.

Original report here

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Australia: Hopelessly corrupt Victoria Police face further brutality claims

People have to file civil claims in order to bring the goons to justice

FURTHER allegations of police brutality have emerged in the state's north-east, with civil claims filed over the alleged bashing of two women, including a disabled woman who was allegedly knocked to the ground and capsicum-sprayed, and a man who says police kicked him in the testicles.

The allegations are the latest in a series of police brutality cases that lawyers and community workers say is a problem in the region and which, they say, the Victoria Police watchdog, the Ethical Standards Department, fails to properly investigate.

The Age last week revealed details of an incident on May 2 in which two Mansfield officers, Senior Constable Paul Bell and former senior constable David Eric Farrell kicked, punched and hit with batons two men who had been caught doing burnouts outside the police station. They pleaded guilty to offences including intentionally causing injury after an Ethical Standards investigation uncovered a video of the incident, captured on the dashboard camera of a patrol car.

Mansfield officers Sergeant Cameron McPherson and Senior Constable Paul Storey also face allegations, accused of unlawfully entering a property in Merton, where the elderly mother of two alleged victims lives, on June 13, 2009. It is understood the officers were responding to a complaint by neighbours.

The officers allegedly came through the gate with batons drawn and tried to enter the house without authority, at which point an argument broke out and they are accused of assaulting the alleged victims with batons and capsicum spray.

Martyn Cooper, then 39, who was living at the address and was known to police, alleges he was kicked in the testicles and beaten. His sister, Catherine Louise Alexiadis, also known to police, alleges she was hit with a baton, capsicum-sprayed and suffered extensive injuries, including bruising to her breast, neck, head, legs and buttock and psychological trauma.

Susan Lesley, in her 50s, alleges she received injuries to her shoulder, hip, back and exacerbation of psychological trauma. She is partially wheelchair-bound and uses a walking frame. The three, and another man who was present, were charged with offences including assaulting police, resisting arrest and hindering police, but the charges were struck out in November 2010.

Mr Cooper's mother, 83, was inside the house at the time on oxygen, but said she was not involved in the altercation. The incident was reported to Ethical Standards, which did not find evidence of wrongdoing. But the claims will be tested in a civil court.

In a writ filed in the County Court at Wangaratta on December 13, the plaintiffs claim damages, interest and costs incurred.

A Victoria Police spokesman said an investigation had found the claims "completely unsubstantiated" and the result had been routinely reviewed by the Office of Police Integrity. He said neither Victoria Police nor the members had received any notification of civil action and Victoria Police was not aware of any writs being lodged in the County Court.

Senior counsel Dyson Hore-Lacy previously told The Age that in dozens of cases he had handled over many years involving serious claims of wrongful conduct against police, nearly all were substantiated by the civil courts or settled in the complainants' favour. But he could recall only one of these cases being substantiated by Ethical Standards, and that was when a police officer unexpectedly confessed.

Other parties, including one of the victims bashed on video on May 2, are understood to be considering civil action in relation to three alleged incidents of police brutality within the past two years.

Original report here. (Via Australian police news)

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Monday, December 26, 2011

‘The state ceased to exist’: Damning verdict on lazy British police during summer riots

Rioting spread across Britain during the summer because police ‘lost control of the streets’, a devastating report by MPs says today. The home affairs select committee accuses police of failing to appreciate the ‘magnitude’ of the task they faced.

The committee’s chairman, Keith Vaz, said that some parts of the country ‘the state effectively ceased to exist - sometimes for hours at a time.’ He adds: ‘This is an utterly unacceptable situation and should never occur again.’

Groups on the Left have attempted to find other explanations for the riots, which broke out in Tottenham, north London, on August 6, following the fatal shooting by police of Mark Duggan. They then spread to other parts of the capital and other English cities, including Birmingham, Liverpool, Nottingham, Manchester and Salford – leaving five people dead.

A joint report by the Guardian and London School of Economics claimed that deep-seated anger and frustration towards the police was a significant factor behind the riots, with officers’ incivility a major concern. Political, social and economic grievances contributed to the unrest, the report said.

But the MPs lay the blame squarely at the police’s door. In terms of motives, the MPs say there is no ‘clear element of protest or clear political objectives’.

They said the perception that police had lost control of the streets was the most important reason why the violence and looting spread. Mr Vaz said: ‘Individual police officers acted with great bravery, and we commend them for their actions.

‘However, in London and other areas, in contrast with the effectiveness of police responses in some towns and cities, there was a failure of police tactics. ‘This situation might have been avoided had police appreciated the magnitude of the task.’

The committee’s report found the operation to police the disorder in many towns and cities, and especially in London, was flawed. Forces were not quick enough in flooding the streets with officers, there was no system to give businesses in areas affected by the riots early and consistent advice on what to do.

The report says: ‘What ultimately worked in quelling the disorder was increasing the number of police officers on the street. ‘If numbers could have been increased more rapidly, it is possible that some of the disturbances could have been avoided.

‘We regret that this did not happen and, with the benefit of hindsight, we regard the operation to police the disorder in many towns and cities, and particularly in London, as flawed.’ In the future, a ‘strong police presence should also have a deterrent effect on those opportunists considering joining in the disorder’, the report said. It added: ‘The single most important reason why the disorder spread was the perception, relayed by television as well as new social media, that in some areas the police had lost control of the streets.’

The committee’s report said the specific causes behind the riots were still unknown. The MPs say: ‘It has been clear from the start that the death of Mark Duggan acted as a trigger. It is also clear that there was a great deal of ‘copycat’ activity. But the clarity ends there. ‘Even in Tottenham, it is not clear that the circumstances surrounding the death of Mark Duggan were the only influences at play. ‘In other locations, the link to the original trigger is even more tenuous and provides no explanation for what went on.

‘Unlike some events in the past, including the riots in the 1980s, there does not seem to be any clear narrative, nor a clear element of protest or clear political objectives.

‘There may also have been some engagement by gangs, but in general this seems to have been opportunistic rather than organised and, on this occasion, appears not to have been a significant cause of the rioting and looting.

‘Many people seem to have been drawn into criminal activity almost on the basis of joining in a big party and without any sense of the seriousness of the acts they were undertaking.’

The MPs call for the Government to speed up the process of reimbursing people for damages and to review whether the £15 victim’s surcharge should be increased for future riots.

Last week, Home Secretary Theresa May said most rioters were hardened criminals driven by a desire for ‘instant gratification’.

Original report here. (Via POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH)

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Australia: A very worrying police force

THE tacky, disturbing and totally unnecessary case of Bruce Rowe versus misplaced authority came to an end in the District Court on Monday. Well, it could have, although Constable Benjamin Arndt, who was found guilty of assaulting Rowe in 2006 in Brisbane's Queen Street Mall, could appeal to the Supreme Court or, conceivably, beyond.

The immovable Rowe, who turned 71 on Sunday, was a comparative stripling of 65 when he crossed paths with Arndt and a bunch of other police about 9 o'clock on the night of July 9, five-and-a-half years ago.

In an incident that was widely seen on TV (and is still out there on YouTube), Rowe was arrested, charged and convicted of obstructing police and failing to obey a police order after a disagreement that began in the public toilets and ended with him being held down by four officers and kneed by another.

It dragged through the Magistrates Court, the District Court and the Court of Appeal. The first court convicted Rowe, the second confirmed the conviction but the third overturned it.

The rematch came in the Magistrates Court in February when Rowe launched a private prosecution resulting in Arndt being found guilty of assaulting Rowe, fined $1000 and ordered to pay him $2250 court costs, although no conviction was recorded.

The established forces of investigation or law and order were conspicuous by their absence.

Then Arndt disputed the magistrate's findings but this week Judge Brian Devereaux tossed out the appeal. Watch this space.

The appeal largely revolved around claims that magistrate Linda Bradford-Morgan had relied on information extraneous to the case.

Arndt argued that the wrongful consideration of extraneous materials constituted a substantial miscarriage of the Magistrates Court trial, justice was not seen to be done and the trial was not conducted according to law.

Judge Devereaux was sympathetic to a point but decided it was open to the magistrate to convict Arndt on the original evidence without the distraction of the extraneous material.

He watched the distasteful video "many times" and declared: "It is unnecessary to say I reach precisely the same conclusions ... having due regard to the findings and conclusions of the magistrate but mindful of the errors I have found in her honour's reasoning, I have formed my own conclusion that the force used in the application of the four knee strikes was not authorised or justified or excused by law. "It was unlawful because it was not reasonably necessary and was unjustified in the circumstances."

How did it all come to this and why did it take so long to resolve?

Had Rowe been just another homeless, friendless and vulnerable man it might have been a simple issue resolved in court just after the morning drunks' parade.

In nine cases out of 10, that might have happened. However Rowe, although grieving and troubled, was also a stubborn and courageous man who refused to take a step backwards in the face of what he perceived as injustice.

He ultimately turned out to be more than capable of looking after himself and seeking justice. Perhaps, it is the other nine out of 10 cases we should be worried about.

At the time of Arndt's assault case, Police Union president Ian Leavers expressed concern that the conviction had "dire consequences for all police officers doing their job". "I am very, very concerned now that police officers across the state will be reluctant to do their job and the community will suffer," Leavers said.

It is a seductive sentiment for those who haven't the wit or the humility to ever imagine themselves in Rowe's shoes. However, it is ultimately even more harmful to the community to pretend that police cannot do their job without breaking the law.

And it is an affront to the thousands of police who do manage to do their difficult jobs without breaking the letter or the spirit of the law and apply the police motto of "With honour we serve" to all citizens, regardless of their station or their situation.

Equally worrying is that justice was delivered despite, not because of, the Police Ethical Standards Command and the Crime and Misconduct Commission, which found there was insufficient evidence to charge any of the police officers over the incident.

Subsequent court findings that Rowe was not only innocent but had been unlawfully roughed up must raise questions about the quality and diligence of both investigations.

Had it not been for the toughness and pigheadedness of Rowe, whose "age and slight frame" were noted by the magistrate, a serious wrong would have gone unpunished.

Had it not been for the video evidence, his might have been the feeble voice of an ordinary man who had fallen on hard times against that of police.

The inadequacies of the investigations into this event - and similar failings and inconsistencies in many others - are hardly likely to inspire confidence among the public or the police, who have an equal entitlement to justice.

The Roman poet Juvenal is credited with asking "Who will guard the guardians?" We are yet to adequately answer that, but surely it is not a 71-year-old man.

Original report here. (Via Australian police news)

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Otto Zehm, a mentally handicapped, 36-year-old unemployed janitor, was beaten to death in a Spokane convenience store in March 2006

Seattle, Spokane -- are there any good cops in WA?

"All I wanted was a Snickers bar," pleaded the battered and bloody man before he was gagged by his assailant.

On November 4, Karl Thompson, the man convicted of killing Zehm, was taken to jail. Several dozen members of Thompson’s gang were gathered outside the courtroom – most of them proudly wearing the colors – to “show their honor” by offering the murderer a public salute. Thompson – whose hands weren’t cuffed, in violation of long-established rules – smiled and returned the gesture. Zehm’s still-grieving mother and several other relatives stood just a few feet away.

The gang in question is the Spokane Police Department, which even now refuses to acknowledge that Thompson – who was a nominee to become Chief at the time he murdered Zehm – ever did anything wrong when he clubbed, tased, and suffocated a terrified, innocent man who did nothing to provoke the attack, and who put up no violent resistance to the assault.

Zehm had done custodial work at Fairchild Air Force Base and was well-known, and equally well-liked, by many people in his neighborhood, some of whom were aware that he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was in the daily habit of visiting a convenience store called Zip Trip to purchase junk food – usually Pepsi and a candy bar.

On March 18, 2006, Zehm retrieved some money at an ATM near Zip Trip. Something in his behavior struck two girls as odd, so they called the police. Although there was no reason to believe that Zehm had committed a crime, Thompson entered the store as if he were pursuing a dangerous fugitive. Security video documents that Thompson approached Zehm from behind, while retrieving his custom-made, over-sized ironwood nightstick.

Thompson introduced himself to Zehm by shouting at him to drop the two-liter bottle of Pepsi. According to the officer, the startled and puzzled man responded by quite reasonably asking, “Why?” Thompson interpreted that Zehm’s fleeting non-compliance as an immediate and intolerable threat to officer safety. So he rushed at the terrified man and began to beat him with his nightstick – clubbing him first in the legs, then on the shoulders, neck, and head. Blows to the head are defined as lethal strikes under the Spokane PD’s use-of-force policy, justifiable only when a suspect threatens the life of a police officer or bystanders.

As the security video demonstrates, Zehm never put up a fight. He retreated from Thompson, and then made a pitiable attempt to use his bottle of soda to deflect blows aimed at his face. Thompson escalated his assault by tasering him at least three times. Thompson was eventually joined by six other other police officers. Eventually, Thompson was actually sitting on Zehm, who was face-down on the floor.

The victim was hog-tied in a “four-point restraint,” meaning that his hands were shackled to his ankles. Department policy guidelines emphasize that suspects restrained in this fashion are never to be placed face-down, since this posture can result in “positional asphyxia.” Yet Zehm was left in that position for about seventeen minutes, and at one point an officer actually pulled his feet backwards – which increased the risk of suffocation by placing pressure on the victim’s diaphragm.

After emergency personnel arrived, they were instructed to dig the Taser barbs out of Zehm’s flesh. They were also asked to provide a “non-rebreathing” oxygen mask; this was placed over the victim’s face, supposedly to prevent him from assaulting the officers by spitting on them. This mask was not designed or intended to be used without being attached to an oxygen supply. Once the mask was placed on Zehm’s face, the traumatized and panicking man – who was already at severe risk of hypoxia – was forced to breathe through an easily obstructed opening roughly the size of a quarter.

Did Thompson and his cohorts deliberately set out to suffocate Zehm? Every step they took led inexorably to that outcome, and incompetence can only explain so much. That was the outcome, whether it was the result of deliberate malice or depraved indifference. Zehm stopped breathing about seventeen minutes after Thompson’s initial assault, and died in a nearby hospital about two days later. But the police department’s assault on Zehm continued while he struggled for life in the hospital, and didn’t end with his death.

On the day of the beating, Police Chief Jim Nicks told the media that Zehm had “lunged” at Thompson, thereby threatening his life. Other officers claimed that Zhem had a prior arrest for assaulting an officer. Both claims were conscious, deliberate lies.

About two weeks after Zehm’s death, Detective Terry Ferguson, who “investigated” the incident for the Spokane PD, filed a report claiming that none of the seven officers who assaulted Zehm committed a crime. Ferguson had little time to investigate what was done to Zehm, because she was too busy investigating the victim. The detective persuaded a judge to issue warrants to pry into every aspect of Zehm’s medical, employment, and personal history, on the pretext that the deceased was suspected of “assaulting a police officer.” This was actually an unsuccessful effort to exhume something – anything – that could be used to denigrate the victim.

After the pressure of a threatened lawsuit, Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker released the video recordings of the assault, which he and the police had diligently suppressed. The recordings contradicted every critical element of Thompson’s version of the event, beginning with the claim that Zehm had “lunged” at the officer.

With no criminal charges filed against Thompson, Zehm’s family announced its intention to sue the City of Spokane, and the Justice Department began a civil rights inquiry. In March 2009 – three years after the killing – Chief Anne Kirkpatrick (who had replaced Chief Nicks) issued a public statement offering her “unequivocal support” to Thompson. “Based on all the information and evidence I have reviewed, I have determined that Officer Karl Thompson acted consistent with the law,” Kirkpatrick insisted.

A few months later, Chief Kirkpatrick assigned Thompson – who was, recall, the subject of a federal civil rights investigation – to help train other Spokane police officers how to deal with “high-risk liability incidents,” which have been plentiful.

Spokane’s municipal government, which paid out $2.5 million to resolve police-related lawsuits between 1996 and 2007, has a policy of filing counter-suits accusing citizens of “conspiracy to misuse the judicial process.” This is made possible by a state statute intended to protect police against supposedly frivolous lawsuits. Given all of this it’s not surprising that Chief Kirkpatrick’s unqualified endorsement of Thompson’s actions was coupled with an unyielding official line blaming the victim for his own death. “Any injury or damage suffered by Mr. Zehm was caused solely by reason of his conduct and willful resistance,” proclaimed the City of Spokane’s official response to the family’s civil lawsuit.

Mr. Zehm’s “conduct” – which, according to Chief Kirkpatrick and Spokane’s municipal government, justified the use of lethal force -- consisted of doing exactly nothing. Then again, he was armed with a bottle of Pepsi, which apparently left the heroic Officer Thompson no choice but to stage a preemptive strike with his club and Taser. Perhaps if it had been Mt. Dew, the use of tactical nukes would have been appropriate.

“If all [the victim] wanted to do was surrender, he could have done so,” insisted Officer Terry Preuninger, the Spokane PD’s SWAT Team Leader and patrol tactics instructor, during the trial. “[Officer Thompson’s] assessment was accurate. He continued to use force. It did allow him to keep that man from hurting him or anyone else.”

Thompson began his attack within seconds of arriving at the store – before Zehm had a chance to “surrender.” Furthermore, the victim was backing away from the officer. According to Preuninger – who, as SWAT leader, approaches such situations with a militarized close-and-kill mindset – this didn’t matter: “Picture wrestlers or boxers. It’s definitely not an indication that they don’t want to hurt or assault you because they move back.”

“A police officer becomes an expert in evaluation of behavior or picking out little things that are different,” Preuninger asserted on the stand. Victor Boutros, chief prosecutor during the trial, treated that claim with laudable contempt, mocking this supposed preternatural gift of discernment as a “Spidey sense” that “can’t be impeached by citizen eye witnesses or video. Only [Thompson] could have seen those things.”

Furthermore, according to Preuninger, police have plenary authority to use lethal force even when their perceptions are in error: “A police officer can make a mistake. An officer could believe their [sic] life was in danger or they [sic] were in danger of being assaulted when in fact we could go back in hindsight and show that’s not true. But the force would be authorized.”

This is to say: From the perspective of the individual who trains the Spokane PD regarding the use of force, Karl Thompson was completely right – but he could have been entirely wrong, and he would still have had the authority to kill Otto Zehm.

Following Thompson’s guilty verdict, U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby asserted that “This is not an indictment of our entire police force.” Oh, yes it is.

Original report here

From Wikipedia:

On June 22, 2009, a federal Grand Jury handed down an indictment on Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson. Thompson is a veteran of the force and was the first of seven officers that responded to the Zip Trip. The 2 counts are: unreasonable use of force and making a false entry into a record being investigated by a federal agency. Both counts are felonies and could hold a 20 year maximum sentence if Thompson is convicted on both charges. The unreasonable use of force stems from the surveillance video that shows Thompson approaching Zehm from behind and striking him to the ground, followed by multiple blows with his baton and deploying his taser. Zehm was not acting combative at the time of the initial blow and only started fighting back after Thompson engaged Zehm with force. Federal prosecutors did confirm that the unreasonable use of force is only pertaining to a civil rights violation for Zehm's injury and not his death. It is unclear at this time if more indictments will be handed down for Zehm's death or for his improper restraint for being hog-tied on his stomach with a non-rebreather mask. Thompson has been put on immediate paid administrative leave pending the trial.

The Federal Trial against Thompson began on Wednesday, October 12 with jury selection. The trial was moved from Spokane to Yakima, Washington after defense attorneys raised concerns about the extent of local media coverage of the controversy. U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle also ruled to exclude Spokane County from the jury pool. While Van Sickle said he’s not persuaded that the publicity has created “actual” or “perceived” bias against Thompson, he decided to move the trial nonetheless.

On November 2, 2011 the jury found Officer Thompson guilty on both counts; excessive use of force and lying to investigators about the confrontation.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

More Seattle charmers

Both the report below and the one yesterday suggest that the Seattle cops have a serious attitude problem

He was nearly killed in a horrific roadside accident, and now a jogger is furious at the wise-cracking cops who mocked him as he clung to life.

Lying in a pool of his own blood after being hit by a truck, Seattle man Tim Nelson had blacked out when first responders arrived.

One officer was operating under the mantra of 'to serve and disrespect' as he remarked to a colleague: 'That's why you drive a car. 'Don't jog to work you dumb f***!'

Mr Nelson was left with a broken back, cracked ribs and fractured skull. But it wasn't until weeks later, as his lawyers tried to discover who was at fault in the accident, that they came across video footage of the police officers' disrespectful comments.

Minutes after arriving on the scene, Seattle's not-so-finest can be heard on tape mocking the critically-injured man in the following exchange:

Officer 1 'They say he flew up in the air and landed on his noggin.'

Officer 2 'Hey, that ain't my problem!'

Officer 1 'That's why you drive a car!'

Officer 2 'Yeah, don't try to jog to work, you dumb f***!'

Soon afterwards the officers are heard directing their ill-judged sense of humour at the driver of the truck, poking fun at his accent.

Officer 1 'I don't know. It uh, hit da truck! I don't know!'

Officer 2 'He goes, 'What happen now? I get ticket?'

With a major city viaduct closed, Mr Nelson was merely following the advice of the city when he decided to jog to work the day of the accident. He is now demanding an apology from the city or the officer in question.

The accident survivor said: 'We pay their salaries and I understand they have stressful jobs but this cop was not under any duress. 'He was joking and making remarks about the truck drivers' foreign accent'

The American Civil Liberties Union said police should be respectful to all the public. 'It should never be acceptable to make statements that denigrate members of the public whom they serve,' the group said in a statement.

Deputy police Chief Clark Kimerer told the KIRO 7 network that the officer's behaviour was 'unacceptable'. He said: 'We expect 100 percent professionalism from our officers. We also, with them, have to recognize that they are often in stressful situations and also that there is sometimes more than meets the eyes.'

The incident is the subject of an internal investigation.

Original report here

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Another video catches cop in routine lies

Seattle police were raked over the coals by a U.S. Justice Department which found a pattern of excessive force. In spite of that two officers pull this little routine.

According to the police officers two men came to a stop sign and failed to stop, so the police pulled them over. The police report claimed the men almost hit pedestrians crossing the road. But the video shows otherwise. The two Hispanic men stopped at the sign in a full stop and there were NO pedestrians.

Police not only pull the men over on these false charges but immediately begin manhandling them and shouting abusively at them. An attorney says it appears the cops were intentionally trying to bait the men into getting physical so they would have an excuse to rough them up.

Once again a video tape has shown that cops do lie about the people they pull over. They manufacture false accusations against innocent people and get off on being violent and aggressive.

This will continue until we take a zero tolerance policy with police. First, any penalty that applies to private citizens for violating the law ought to be doubled for police officers. They should be held to a higher standard if they are going to be the enforcers of the law.

Second, all damages should be paid by the officers and not by the taxpayers—even if this means they lose their homes and doughnut collection.

Finally, we have to abolish all laws that are being used by the police to harass individuals videotaping the officers. If we are going to have any law on the matter I would prefer one that says all individuals with cell phone cameras are required to capture all arrests and police incidents they witness and offer the recordings to prosecutors. Now, I wouldn't do that, but if there is only a choice between making such recordings illegal, and making them mandatory, we'd be better off with them being mandatory.

Original report here. (Video at link)

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

With unrestrained seizure powers, Philly code-enforcement agents go pillaging

Normally, when we cover stories of unjust seizure and forfeiture in the United States, the guilty agency or agent is a law enforcement agent associated with the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, the access of law enforcement to vast seizure and forfeiture powers has led other public agencies in non-law enforcement sectors to obtain seizure and forfeiture powers.

Of particular concern to me are the efforts by municipalities to endow municipal code enforcement task forces with broad powers (like the Cedar Falls (IA) municipal government or the Columbia (MO) Neighborhood Response Team).

Today’s story comes to us from Philadelphia, where a scandal is breaking involving officials with the Community Life Improvement Project (CLIP), an anti-blight campaign targeting ‘quality of life’ code violations through the city’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NIT).

And when I say “a scandal is breaking”, I mean CLIP officials are being charged with felony offenses including racketeering, perjury, theft, and gun running. Apparently this municipal government agency has become a haven for pirates, who enter private residences at will to loot and plunder. From Courthouse News:
Accusing CLIP crews of committing a city-funded “crime wave” of “break-ins and thefts,” a Grand Jury in 2009 found that the crews “didn’t simply pocket stray knickknacks. They drove trucks to the houses and took everything …

“In several cases, the property owners were forced out or locked out of their houses, even though the CLIP crew had no legal authority to enter the properties or displace the occupants,” the Grand Jury found.

CLIP was designed to allow officials to respond quickly to property-code violations, by giving owners 20 days to remediate a violation or face unilateral action by city workers, who could cut weeds, remove trash or otherwise clean a property, then bill the owner for the services.

But what may have begun as a well-intentioned anti-blight program quickly transformed into something far more nefarious.

According to the Grand Jury: “One 75-year-old woman was at home … with her husband and disabled daughter when one of the CLIP crew members climbed in through her kitchen window and an … inspector broke in through her basement door. After removing the family from the house, the crew ransacked their home, stealing over $25,000 in cash and almost all of the furniture.

The elderly woman walked two miles back to her house to see what was going on, but the supervisor would not ‘allow’ her stay. When she later asked the supervisor of the crew what had happened to all of the money and furniture from the house, he told her to get a lawyer. One of the crew members testified that the supervisor, Rick Sicinski, allowed them to take money from houses, saying it was ‘a fire hazard.’”

Using city-owned tools, cameras and vehicles, code-enforcement officials entered least six homes “over the course of several years” without consent and proceeded to “systematically” steal valuables, Tengood says.

“Once inside the homes, the conspirators systematically stole items of value from the premises. In the most egregious instances City trucks were actually driven to the target homes and their contents removed en masse: televisions; dining room furniture sets; floor safes; silver flatware settings; clothing; family heirlooms; and several large gun collections,” the complaint states, citing the Grand Jury report.

“The scheme was comprehensive in scope and specifically designed to intimidate, rob, and/or extort money and property from select residents of the northeast section of the City,” Tengood says.

And as if plundering the homes were not enough, the cooked-up violations “were served together with fraudulent or inflated bills for municipal services deemed necessary to remedy the violations,” according to Tengood’s complaint.

He claims the scheme was a cooperative effort among multiple city departments and “sub-departments,” including the Mayor’s Office of Community Services, the Solicitor’s Office, the Department of Licenses & Inspections and the Department of Streets.
Perpetrators ranged “from lower level inspectors, to program managers, and up through to the executive tier,” Tengood claims.

If only there were some Constitutional protection against this kind of general search power and the petty tyranny it engenders…

Original report here

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Judge upholds cop's conviction for assault

Why was no criminal conviction recorded against this scum? It is a sad day when citizens (such as Mr Rowe and Miss Eaves) have to launch private prosecutions to prove police misbehaviour. The police brass obviously believe there is a degree of assault by police that should be permitted. That is however an entirely extra-legal view.

The Commissioner himself is tainted by his inaction in these cases -- even more so since he used taxpayer funds to defend the erring officers and take their cases to appeal

One can only hope that there will now be disciplinary action against Arndt after the failure of his appeal confirms what garbage he is

A policeman who was found guilty of assaulting a homeless man in a Brisbane mall has had his appeal against the verdict dismissed.

Constable Benjamin Arndt was fined $1000 in February, with no conviction recorded, for assaulting 65-year-old Bruce Rowe in Brisbane's Queen St Mall in 2006.

He was one of four officers who restrained Mr Rowe after he failed to obey a cleaner's request to leave a public toilet in Brisbane's Queen St Mall where he was getting changed.

Security video of the incident, which attracted national media attention, formed the basis of Mr Rowe's assault complaint. He had originally been found guilty of obstructing police and disobeying a lawful direction, but the decision was overturned on a second appeal. Mr Rowe then launched a successful private prosecution for common assault against Const Arndt.

In documents lodged in the Brisbane District Court, Const Arndt argued the magistrate erred by considering the previous court cases between Mr Rowe and Const Arndt when making her decision in the latest case.

Const Arndt also alleged evidence was improperly led during the private prosecution and claimed the magistrate had failed to make sufficient rulings on a number of pertinent issues including the lawfulness of a "move on" direction given to Mr Rowe before the incident.

Judge Brian Devereaux dismissed these claims in Brisbane's Court of Appeal on Monday. He found the magistrate had erred by considering previous court cases but that the guilty verdict stood.

"Mindful of the errors I have found in her Honour's reasoning, I have formed my own conclusion that the force used in the application of the four knee strikes was not authorised or justified or excused by law," the judge said.

The Police Ethical Standards Command and Crime and Misconduct Commission had found there was insufficient evidence to charge any of the police officers over the incident.

Original report here. (Via Australian police news)

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Monday, December 19, 2011

The disturbing reason why a growing number of parents in Britain are being falsely accused of shaking their babies to death

Standing together in the dock of the world’s most famous criminal court stood two confused and sobbing parents, accused of the worst offence imaginable: beating and shaking their own baby to death.

According to prosecutors, four-month-old Jayden Wray was gripped and twisted so brutally that bones throughout his body shattered, while vicious blows to his head damaged his brain.

The injured baby was rushed to hospital where doctors said he could not survive. Three days later, paediatricians at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London switched off his life-support machine.

So certain were doctors and police that Jayden had been hurt by his parents that the couple were barred from their son’s bedside before he died. They were not allowed to attend his hospital christening and lost the chance to say their last goodbyes.

This horrific story unfolded over six weeks in a panelled courtroom of London’s Old Bailey. Yet today, Jayden’s father and mother — Rohan, 22, and 19-year-old Chana — are free. The case against them was thrown out ten days ago after 60 medical and forensic experts at their murder trial disagreed over what really killed their son.

Finally, the judge told the jury to find the couple not guilty because Jayden’s post-mortem revealed he had rickets, a serious childhood bone disease which had once been eradicated in this country nearly a century ago.

Rickets is linked to a lack of vitamin D, which the body synthesises from sunlight or absorbs from eating foods such as oily fish and eggs.

The disease causes the skulls of children to weaken and their bones to easily break — symptoms which closely mimic those of a deliberately shaken baby.

Hospital doctors in Jayden’s case, it transpired, had missed a vital clue when the baby got sick and then died: his mother, Chana, had so little vitamin D in her body that Jayden did not receive the vitamin while inside her womb or when she breastfed him.

After the case, the Wrays’ lawyer Jenny Wiltshire said: ‘These parents have been through hell. They can now grieve for the son they loved and cherished.’

Yet theirs is a case which has profound implications for all families. For it serves to highlight a growing medical problem — one which is not only leading to false allegations of abuse against innocent parents, but which is endangering the health of children right across Britain.

As Jenny Wiltshire said: ‘The real criminality here is that if the money spent on bringing this case had been used to tell all breastfeeding mothers to take vitamin D supplements, Jayden’s death wouldn’t have occurred. ‘Rickets, which is now back to epidemic proportions, would have been wiped out.’

Indeed, a growing number of experts believe that Britain is in the grip of a childhood rickets crisis on a scale not seen since Victorian times, when children working long hours in the factories and the mines were particularly vulnerable to the ailment.

The condition was largely eliminated after World War II, when the government provided free orange juice enriched with vitamin D and cod liver oil for every child in the country.

The difference today is that it is not only a disease of the poor. Those living in middle-class homes are just as likely to suffer from the condition — notorious for causing bowed legs and knock-knees — as those from the poorest inner-city estates.

Doctors say the alarming rise is often due to today’s children spending large periods of time indoors playing computer games and watching television.

At the same time, many parents worry about exposing their children to sunlight — due to the repeated warnings about skin cancer — and cover them in high-protection creams, which impede the body’s ability to produce vitamin D and, in turn, to grow strong bones.

But until now, few have pointed out one of the most worrying aspects of the crisis: babies with a vitamin D deficiency display remarkably similar symptoms to those who have been deliberately shaken by their parents or carers. This may have led to other controversial criminal trials of parents accused of harming their children when — like the Wrays — they were completely innocent.

Earlier this year, Nafisa and Mohammed Karolia, of Blackburn, Lancashire, were imprisoned for child cruelty despite their defence team arguing that vitamin D depletion led to their baby daughter’s injuries and subsequent death from broncho-pneumonia, aged seven months, in 2009.

The Karolias were accused of inflicting many terrible injuries on the child, including breaking her leg, her arm, and her rib. The police and prosecution lawyers said they had been caused by twisting, shaking and rotating the child’s limbs.

However, a very senior paediatric consultant who has examined evidence given at the trial has told the Mail: ‘It is very likely that there was an issue here with low levels of vitamin D in the mother and her daughter. But it appears that when it was mentioned in court, the prosecution nearly had a fit because they insisted this child had been shaken and abused.’

Now one coroner has become so alarmed by the rise of rickets that he has demanded the Government take action.

North London Coroner Andrew Walker sent a written notice to the Department of Health, under Rule 43 of the Coroner’s Rules, saying mothers must be warned of the dangers of not taking the vitamin D supplements.

The notice requires the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to respond within 56 days, detailing what action his department plans to take.

Mr Walker acted after presiding over the inquest into the death of three-month-old Milind Agarwal. The baby was taken to the doctor this summer with a suspected viral infection and was sent home with saline nasal drops. A later call to another doctor by his parents resulted in them being told to give him paracetamol.

When Milind became critically ill at 10pm one evening in July this year, his parents called an ambulance and he was taken to Northwick Park Hospital in North London. A few hours later, he died of septic inflammation of the heart and associated problems.

An eminent paediatric pathologist and a leading authority on signs of child abuse, Dr Irene Scheimberg, who conducted a post-mortem examination on baby Milind, told the inquest that vitamin D deficiency may have accelerated the baby’s illness because his immune system was weakened. She said afterwards: ‘In the 21st century, in a civilised country, this is outrageous. It is only the tip of the iceberg.’

The highly respected Dr Scheimberg, based at the Royal London Hospital, added: ‘I hope that the doctors treating sick children now open their eyes to this vitamin deficiency and the problems it causes. It is a really serious issue and a matter of justice for parents who are accused of abusing their children.’

The parents of Milind, who live in Wembley, London, agreed to talk to the Mail about what happened. They do not want their real first names used in this article to protect their family’s privacy. Both parents, whom we have called Gayen and Shrina, were born in India.

Research has shown that those with darker complexions process vitamin D from sunlight much more slowly than people with paler skin and are, therefore, prone to deficiency — and more likely to pass it on to their babies.

When I met the bereaved couple this week at their small flat, they were still raw with grief about their baby’s death. He was born in March, a wonderful first son. A slight muscle weakness in his heart, discovered soon after his birth, was corrected with a simple procedure, and in June, Milind was given a clean bill of health.

‘We are talking about him now because it is important for other families,’ says Gayen, a computer engineer, aged 34. ‘We had no idea that the legacy of Milind would be to help spread the word that vitamin D is essential for all mothers and their babies.’

Jayden had obvious signs of ricketts. It would have left the baby with weak bones, including a weak skull. They show me his picture, a bright-eyed and smiling child looking straight at the camera. Then they remember his last hours with tears in their eyes.

By tragic coincidence, Shrina, 29, had been told she had a vitamin D deficiency two years before Milind was born. She had a pain in her right knee and her local GP put her on vitamin D tablets. However, as she explains: ‘I had stopped taking them well before I became pregnant. No one, including the GP, the midwife or doctors at Northwick Park Hospital, ever told me to take the pills while I was pregnant or my new son would be in danger.’

Since Milind’s death, she has revisited her GP and had blood tests. They show that she has very low levels of the crucial vitamin. 'I am now taking pills all the time and trying to get out in the sunshine,’ she explains.

By coincidence, the child pathologist Dr Scheimberg, who unravelled the truth about Milind’s death, also helped clear the parents of Jayden Wray.

The prosecution insisted that Jayden’s injuries to his skull, knee, elbow, shoulder, hip, ankle and wrist could only have been caused by him being intentionally shaken and having his head hit against something hard.

However, a post-mortem examination by Dr Scheimberg discovered Jayden’s ‘obvious sign of rickets. It would have left the baby with weak bones, including a weak skull, and led to a series of fractures’. She is appalled at the way that these innocent parents have been treated. ‘Some people should be hanging their heads,’ she said.

‘These young parents were stopped from even saying goodbye to their child before he died, and then accused of murdering him.’

One can only hope that their cases will lead to a growing realisation among all parents — and some in the medical profession — about the return of a condition that can be prevented by a simple pill or exposure to sunshine.

Original report here

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tainted evidence: science in the dock

Comment from Australia

Television teaches us forensic science is always right but increasingly courts are begging to differ, writes Stuart Washington.

When a sledgehammer-wielding robber broke through the front doors of the Willoughby Hotel early one January morning in 2008, his balaclava-clad image was captured by a security camera.

Fewer than 30 minutes later the same robber, still bearing a sledgehammer and still wearing a balaclava, was photographed stealing just over $13,500 at the P.J. Gallagher's Irish Pub in Drummoyne.

Twenty-three months later, a Tempe man, Raymond George Morgan, was found guilty in the District Court of two counts of robbing more than $58,500 in the heists and sent to jail.

The security cameras helped convict Morgan of the crimes when an expert witness linked him to the scene of the crimes through a science used in court known as "body mapping".

Earlier this month Morgan won a retrial because the expert's evidence was rejected by the Court of Criminal Appeal. The court found the body mapping was "simplistic" and did not use one measurement.

In the appeal court's view, the "science" of body mapping used in the case of Morgan was wearing no clothes.

So much for all those toned and svelte CSI forensic investigators running around on television each week.

Morgan's robbery convictions have been overturned at a time when increasing concerns are raised about "junk science" appearing before the courts: unreliable expert evidence leading to contaminated criminal trials.

At its worst, such evidence could result in innocent people being sent to jail. At the very least, such evidence could tilt trials unfairly.

Disturbing examples of the fallibility of expert evidence have played out in two recent Supreme Court appeals involving Gordon Wood, found guilty of murdering his girlfriend Caroline Byrne, and Jeffrey Gilham, found guilty of murdering his parents.

Judgments are reserved in both cases, but the court has made no secret it has dim views on the credibility of expert evidence in both cases

An academic in Canada, Emma Cunliffe, has also raised serious questions about the robustness of expert evidence used to convict the Novocastrian Kathleen Folbigg of killing her four children.

The state of forensic science appears to be so parlous that further examples seem likely.

Gary Edmond, a University of NSW law academic who has researched expert evidence over the past four years, wrote in a paper in the Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences earlier this year: "A good deal of the opinion evidence produced by forensic science and medicine appears to be unreliable or of unknown reliability, and obtained in conditions that make few, if any, sustained attempts to minimise known risks and dangers."

In 2009, the peak body of US scientists, the National Academy of Sciences, released a report that found only DNA testing among the broad range of forensic sciences was sufficiently grounded in science to regularly and accurately identify a suspect. (And even then serious concerns remain about DNA evidence, including the ability to wrongly convict people on tainted or rigged samples).

The flip side is that almost every other field of forensic science - the science used by expert witnesses in court to establish guilt or innocence - does not have the same level of scientific rigour.

The pall cast by the report hangs over areas that have developed a TV-inspired mythos of infallibility: blood spatter examinations, bullet rifling and even fingerprinting.

"What we see on TV is a super science," says Richard Kemp, a University of NSW psychologist who is studying the way juries react to expert evidence. "And that is so at odds with the reality of what is occurring. You want scientists doing science, which on the whole is really dull. It doesn't make for good TV."

The arguments of Edmond and Kemp are familiar to those at the highest levels of the judiciary, with the chief judge at common law in the NSW Supreme Court, Justice Peter McClellan, talking about a future need for structural reforms to help courts deal with the way they assess expert evidence.

"I have written over many years about the issue of the capacity of courts under the conventional structure to decide between the views of scientists where there are issues of controversy," Justice McClellan says.

He says that as the complexity of science grows "courts will have to be alert to ensure that the science which is admitted in the courtroom is good science if not the best science available".

Kemp gave evidence in the case about Morgan, raising questions about the science that helped secure the conviction.

Evidence against Morgan was based on body mapping in which distorted and poor quality images on security cameras from both hotels were compared to images of Morgan's body, head and face shape.

The comparison, made by a University of Adelaide biological anthropologist and anatomist, Maciej Henneberg, was able to find "a high level of anatomical similarity".

Henneberg's comparisons were able to find similarities including a broad "orthognathic" nose, an elongated "dolichocephalic" head when seen from above and a "straight" posture.

The comparison was made remarkable by the fact the robber was dressed head-to-toe in black, including a close-fitting balaclava and a hoodie pulled over his face.

The appeal court sided with defence experts including Kemp about the deficiencies of Henneberg's comparisons and excluded his evidence.

The court found Henneberg's reliability was affected by his failed attempt to compare images with Pauline Hanson after nude photographs purporting to be of Hanson were published in 2009. Henneberg had told the media he was "99.2 per cent sure" the photographs were of Hanson. The photographs were later found to be not of Hanson.

The court also agreed Henneberg's methodology was "simplistic" and found it was concerning there was no research into the validity, reliability and error rate of body mapping.

Edmond is calling for such problems to be addressed by the introduction of a specific reliability test for expert evidence to be heard by the courts. At present there are lower conditions placed on expert evidence under the Evidence Act: it must involve specialised knowledge based on his or her training; and the opinion expressed must be wholly or substantially based on that knowledge.

Kemp expresses some incredulity that reliability is not specifically demanded by law. There are explicit requirements for reliability of evidence in the US, Canada and, shortly, Britain. "When I speak to fellow scientists, they can't believe that such a statute doesn't exist," he says.

The confronting message being pushed by Edmond is being heard within some of the most senior institutions in forensic science in Australia, with some reservations.

James Robertson, who joined the University of Canberra as forensics professor after a 21-year career with the Australian Federal Police, joined Edmond to organise a conference that aired perceived problems about expert evidence earlier this month.

But Robertson, and several other senior forensic experts spoken to by the Herald, denies there is a crisis of confidence in the expert evidence appearing before courts. Robertson says Australia, through accreditation systems and other safeguards, leads the world in terms of a consistent approach to the way forensic experts conduct their work.

Morgan's court appeal victory was bittersweet. He made no contest to two other charges of possessing almost $30,000 in proceeds of crime and remains in jail on those charges. And two bundles of money found in his possession were neatly bundled in the way the Willoughby Hotel bundled its notes.

On technical grounds about directions given by the trial judge, Morgan successfully appealed against a conviction of receiving an Audi stolen from Mosman on the night of the robberies and used as the getaway car.

But the court of appeal referred to evidence that Morgan had possession of the car keys and lock-picking implements. In total there was enough evidence without body mapping that would allow a jury to convict on the robbery charges, meaning he faces a retrial instead of an acquittal.

Edmond points out the justice system is built on a foundation that it is better for 10 guilty to go free than allow one innocent person to be jailed. And he warns junk science may erode that foundation. "We have a system that requires people to have a fair trial," Edmond says.

Original report here

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Scotland: Fingerprint evidence 'should be regarded as opinion not fact’

Evidence from fingerprints should be “recognised as opinion and not fact”, a public inquiry has recommended.

The investigation was ordered after a former police officer was accused of perjury when a fingerprint found at a murder scene was wrongly identified as hers.

Tom Nelson, the director of forensic services at the Scottish Police Services Authority (SPSA), publicly apologised to Shirley McKie and her family for the “errors that took place” and the “subsequent pain” it had caused them.

Mr Nelson said the inquiry’s report “challenges the infallibility of fingerprint evidence”, and added: “We accept that this will be a huge cultural change for fingerprint examiners across the world.’’

Miss McKie, a former detective constable with Strathclyde Police, was tried for perjury after insisting a fingerprint found in the home of murder victim Marion Ross in 1997 did not belong to her. She was later cleared of lying under oath and in February 2006 was given £750,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

In his report, Sir Anthony Campbell, the inquiry chairman, concluded that fingerprint evidence should be “recognised as opinion evidence and not fact”.

A former Northern Ireland appeal court judge, Sir Anthony said the fingerprint in question had been “misidentified as the fingerprint of Miss McKie”.

He also said a fingerprint found in the home of David Asbury, convicted then cleared of murdering Miss Ross, had also been misidentified as belonging to the dead woman.

But he put this down to “human error” and said there was “no conspiracy against Miss McKie”. Sir Anthony also recommended that special processes be developed for complex fingerprint marks, saying these should be examined by three experts who should reach their conclusions independently, making notes at each stage.

Fingerprint examiners perform “important, difficult and at times complex work”, Sir Anthony said, adding that his recommendations were “designed to assist them to these challenges’’.

Forensic experts Hugh Macpherson, Charles Stewart, Fiona McBride and Anthony McKenna had originally identified the mark found in Miss Ross’s home as being made by Miss McKie. They said they were “disappointed in some of the findings of the inquiry”.

The SPSA will draw up a plan to make the necessary improvements and in January will begin a new approach to dealing with complex fingerprint marks, in line with the inquiry recommendations. The SPSA has accepted the inquiry’s findings and recommendations in full.

Last night Miss McKie’s father, Iain, welcomed Mr Nelson’s apology. He said: “He apologised to Shirley and myself and our family for the mistakes that were made in the past. Its an extremely important apology because it’s the first time I have ever heard anyone say sorry.’’

Mr McKie added: “No father can stand by and see his daughter assaulted and abused, because that’s what the system did to Shirley.” Miss McKie, 49, was not present at the press conference when Sir Anthony presented his findings. But her father said she was left “speechless” when he told her the SPSA had apologised.

Original report here

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Italian court explains why it cleared Amanda Knox

The Italian appeals court that cleared Amanda Knox in the slaying of her British roommate has given the reasons for its ruling: the evidence that had been used by a lower court to convict the American and her Italian boyfriend of murder just didn't hold up.

Those shortcomings included no murder weapon, faulty DNA, an inaccurate time for the killing, and insufficient proof that Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were even at the location where the crime occurred. So said the Perugia appellate court in its long-awaited reasoning behind its October ruling that reversed the lower court's convictions.

British university student Meredith Kercher was found slain in a pool of blood on her bedroom floor in Perugia, Italy, on November 2, 2007.

Knox and Sollecito, who had just begun dating at the time of the murder, were arrested several days later, then convicted in what prosecutors' portrayed as a drug-fuelled sexual assault. They were sentenced to 26 years and 25 years, respectively, in proceedings that made headlines around the world.

On Thursday, the appellate cited among the other failed elements of the prosecutors' case DNA evidence, which was undermined during a re-examination in the appeals trial, and the failure to conclusively identify the murder weapon. The appellate court even contradicted the lower court's time of death, saying it happened at around 10.15pm and not after 11pm. The court said not only had the "building blocks" used to construct the case had failed, but that the material necessary to construct the case was missing.

The only elements of the prosecutors case that were proven, the appeals court said, were the charge of slander against Knox, who was convicted of falsely accusing a bar owner for Kercher's murder, and the fact that the Knox and Sollecito alibis did not match.

That the alibis were out of synch "is very different" from the prosecutors' claim of false alibis, the court said.

The proven elements combined, the court said, are not enough to support convictions against Knox and Sollecito.

After her conviction was thrown out, Knox, 24, returned immediately home to Seattle. She was credited with time served for the conviction of slander for accusing bar owner Diya "Patrick" Lumumba of carrying out the killing.

Prosecutors contended a kitchen knife found at Sollecito's house was the weapon because it matched wounds on Kercher's body and carried traces of Kercher's DNA on the blade and Knox's on the handle. However, the court-ordered review discredited the DNA evidence, saying there were glaring errors in evidence-collecting and that below-standard testing and possible contamination raised doubts over the DNA traces on the blade and on Kercher's bra clasp.

In addition, the defence cast doubt on the knife, questioning why Knox and Sollecito would return it to Sollecito's home if it had been used in the murder. They maintain the real weapon has yet to be found.

A third defendants in the case, Rudy Hermann Guede of the Ivory Coast, was convicted in a separate trial of sexually assaulting and stabbing Kercher. His 16-year prison sentence - reduced on appeal from an initial 30 years - was upheld by Italy's highest court in 2010.

Original report here

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Australian police arrest suspects who were angry at failed dog searches

They should cop it sweet when they have wrongly detained people. But instead of apologizing they arrest their victims. The failure rate of the sniffer dogs is so great that the whole project would be abandoned by any police force with respect for the innocent

AN INCREASING number of people searched for drugs but not found to be carrying them after being identified by police sniffer dogs are being charged or cautioned for angry outbursts against police.

The failure of a record 80 per cent of sniffer dog searches this year has also raised questions about the potential for legal challenges against police by people not found to be carrying drugs.

Official government figures provided in response to questions on notice show that in the nine months to September more than 300 people were charged for offences relating to their interaction with police while being searched for drugs.

All 307 people were among the 11,248 people found not to be carrying drugs after they were identified by sniffer dogs and searched by police. Last year 305 people were charged for similar offences; in 2009 it was 264, in 2008 it was 85 and in 2007 it was two.

The NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge, who requested the government figures, said there was no excuse for poor behaviour towards police, but questioned the value of intrusive body searches on people suspected of carrying drugs, where in the vast majority of cases no drugs were found.

The Police Minister, Mike Gallacher, said yesterday he supported the use of sniffer dogs, which had a highly acute sense of smell and could detect on people traces of drugs or explosives even after they had been discarded.

Original report here. (Via Australian police news)

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Australia: Year in jail before teen walked free

There were apparently at least four people present at the approximate time of death so police at no time had any basis for singling just one out for prosecution. Their informant could have been the guilty party

A TEENAGER suspected of murder was interviewed by police against his will and kept in a cell without a mattress or running water, an inquest has heard.

Jordan Danny Thompson, 17, spent a year in jail on remand accused of fatally stabbing a retired teacher who paid young Aboriginal men for sex. He was freed when the case against him collapsed at trial. No one else has been charged with the murder.

Counsel assisting the Coroner, Elisabeth Armitage, told the inquest yesterday the bungled murder case had prompted an internal police investigation. NT Police Commander Peter Bravos is set to give evidence into the botched investigation.

The inquest heard yesterday that Michael Condrick, 50, died of a "catastrophic haemorrhage" after being stabbed in the neck in his Katherine unit about midnight on June 21 last year. Clothing, an Xbox, iPad, phone and a backpack were stolen from the unit.

The inquest heard Mr Condrick's former students from nearby communities regularly visited his house to drink and smoke cannabis. "It appears he engaged in sexual relationships with some young men that came to his house," Ms Armitage said. None of those men were known to be under age.

Mr Thompson and Mr Condrick's lover, Samuel Wesan, 27, were in his unit on the night of the retired teacher's death. Ms Armitage told the inquest the men accused each other of murder, but the victim's blood was found on both of the men's clothing. Two days after Mr Condrick's death Mr Wesan told police Mr Thompson committed the murder and the teen was arrested.

Ms Armitage said during the investigation Mr Thompson was kept in custody for a significant period and housed in an inappropriate cell.

"There was no mattress and his water was turned off. That was initially to allow for forensic procedures but people forgot to turn it back on. Police received clear advice that he did not want to participate in interviews but interviews occurred." Some were not recorded.

Ms Armitage said it was unclear why Katherine police took charge of the murder investigation instead of the Major Crime unit. She said at the time the Major Crime unit's resources were focused on other cases.

The inquest also heard evidence from two people who discovered Mr Condrick's body. Mark Runyu and Leighton McCartney had gone to Mr Condrick's house to drink alcohol and smoke cannabis. Mr Runyu said he did not report the murder to police because he was "too scared".

Original report here

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

'Gay and stupid' British cameraman wins payout

The unending war on photography continues. No word of action against the rogue cop

Lawyers say a British teenager wrongly stopped by police from taking photographs at a public event in London has been compensated.

A solicitor said officers prevented Jules Mattsson - then 15 - from taking pictures at a military parade in Romford, east London, in June 2010. The Metropolitan Police said compensation had been paid and an apology issued.

Law firm Bindmans, which represented the youngster, said a police inspector had described photographing in public as "anti-social behaviour".

A spokesman for the company said: "He described the act of taking photographs as 'silly' and 'gay' and 'stupid'. When [Jules] continued to state the lawfulness of his behaviour, the inspector declared it was 'dangerous' as he was 'likely to be trampled on by soldiers' from the parade."

Solicitor Chez Cotton, head of the police misconduct department at Bindmans, said: "The police had no legal power to stop him photographing in a public place. The inspector attempted to justify his actions in shocking and absurd ways."

Mr Cotton added: "The treatment of the police towards our client, a 15-year-old, was shocking. The inspector's comments were designed to belittle. "Our client politely and reasonably maintained that the police were not entitled to interfere with his right to report.

"In response the inspector used serious anti-terrorism legislation, cynically telling Mr Mattsson 'I consider you a threat under the Terrorism Act young man. I've had enough'.

"The police have no legal power or moral responsibility to prevent or restrict what journalists record."

Original report here

More details of the absurd police behaviour here.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Four British cops who 'stole cash from street beggars' are suspended

A police force has launched an investigation into its own officers after claims that they took cash from street beggars. Four West Midlands Police officers were suspended and sent home on December 1 after suspicious colleagues raised concerns about their conduct.

The force's Professional Standards Unit was then called in to investigate claims that money was stolen from beggars, believed to be Eastern European, in the Bordesley Green area of Birmingham.

The allegations involve the mishandling of property taken from members of the public 'that could amount to theft'.

Deputy Chief Constable Dave Thompson voluntarily referred the matter to police watchdogs, the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It will now examine the matter to see whether it needs to be involved in the investigation. 'We are also working closely with communities to endeavour that any of their concerns are resolved as soon as possible,' he said.

A West Midlands Police spokeswoman would not comment on the beggar claims. She said: 'The allegations involve mishandling of property taken from members of the public that could amount to theft.

'The enquiry came to light when some members of the team highlighted concerning practices.' Street begging and rogue traders are known to operate in the area.

Some Eastern Europeans offer passing motorists car-washing services but because the work is illegal, the practice is classed as begging.

West Midlands Police launched a crackdown on rogue traders and aggressive begging in the city centre in the first week of August, following persistent complaints. During the city centre operation, 17 people were arrested and charged with begging-related offences. Officers involved in the crackdown later donated £120 to homeless charity the Big Issue.

The gesture was made after cops said legitimate sellers of the magazine had told officers that aggressive beggars were having a negative impact on the public's perception of homeless people.

Original report here

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