Monday, January 31, 2011

Giving Back Lives

On Jan. 11, after a decade of debate and the revelation that 13 prisoners had been wrongly condemned, Illinois voted to end the death penalty. The same day, in response to a powerful investigative series reported in The Raleigh News & Observer, North Carolina fired the State Board of Investigation [S.B.I.] agent and serologist Duane Deaver, who was responsible for the biased and slipshod blood reports that sentenced innocent men to prison and to death.

The catalyst for the newspaper’s investigation was the case of Greg Taylor, released from prison at the end of 2010 after 17 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit. The prosecution said that the victim’s blood had been found on Taylor’s sport utility vehicle; but according to evidence that Deaver withheld, the blood was absent. Attorney General Roy Cooper commissioned an independent audit of the serology unit for the years 1987 to 2003. In August the audit called into question the work on 229 criminal cases, including seven death penalty convictions. The S.B.I. had consistently withheld evidence that might have helped defendants. These recent findings came too late for three men who had been executed during the past 10 years. Even if the condemned men had been guilty, the withheld evidence might have influenced the jury to lessen punishment.

Moved to action by Mr. Taylor’s release, a team of five reporters studied over 15,000 pages of documents concerning the crime lab protocol and practices and interviewed lawyers, ballistics experts, lab experts, state officials and victims of the S.B.I.’s mistakes. Then they published over 60 articles, including four in-depth stories.

In 1991, for example, Floyd Brown, 46, was arrested on the charge of beating a retired schoolteacher to death. According to the prosecution, Mr. Brown dictated a detailed six-page confession. But because Mr. Brown cannot recite the alphabet or tell time and has the mental ability of a 7-year-old and could not understand the charges against him, he was locked away in a mental hospital for 14 years. Then, in 2007, the judge freed Mr. Brown, ruling that the alleged confession failed to convince.

In 2007 Kirk Turner said he killed his wife, Jennifer, with a pocket knife in self-defense after she attacked him with a 7-foot spear. Prosecutors claimed Mr. Turner killed his wife, wiped the blood-stained knife on his shirt, then stabbed himself in the leg with the spear to fake her attack. Outside experts concluded, however, that the blood stains on the shirt were not made by a knife but most likely by throwing the shirt on the floor. DNA tests revealed that the blood was only Kirk Turner’s, from his leg wound.

The News & Observer investigation revealed more than a dozen times in which S.B.I. agents bent the rules to give prosecutors the answers they sought. When a 10-year-old boy was accidentally shot in a street fight between gangs, the accused youth claimed he had returned fire from another boy. The S.B.I. bullet analyst testified that the two bullets found came from the accused’s gun. But a former F.B.I. crime lab analyst said the bullets looked “starkly different.” Today the boy is still in prison serving a 23-year sentence.

We draw three conclusions. First, science analysts in criminal cases must be highly trained and taught to see their roles as serving the truth, not the prosecution. Second, the possibility for error is much too high to allow these tests to determine whether a defendant lives or dies. Third, watchdog newspapers are indispensable for a just society.

In the first judicial response to the audit and the press’s revelations, on Dec. 30, 2010, a Durham County superior court judge tossed out the conviction of Derrick Allen, 32, after he had spent 12 years in prison for the sexual abuse and killing of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter. According to the S.B.I. report, blood had been found on the child’s underwear. Allen had been induced to plead guilty in a deal to escape the death penalty; but, once incarcerated, he fought his conviction, professing innocence. The S.B.I. report of blood had been false.

Upon his release, Mr. Allen pulled his wool cap over his head and walked out into the streets alone. Later he sent a text message to his lawyer: “Thank you for giving me back my life.”

Original report here

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Leading Pain Patient Organization Silenced by Drug Warriors

Using secrecy and threats, of course

Executive Branch Federal Courts News Brief Under-treatment of Pain
The Pain Relief Network (PRN) is no longer a burr under the saddle of DEA agents eager to second guess doctors or federal prosecutors out to make a name for themselves by prosecuting doctors for their medical decisions. PRN founder and leader Siobhan Reynolds announced December 29 that the group would no longer be an activist organization because "pressure from the US Department of Justice has made it impossible for us to function." The organization's web site continues as an educational and community forum.

Reynolds was referring to an open-ended grand jury investigation directed at PRN by Wichita US Attorney Tanya Treadway, who had been irked by the group's fervent defense of pain medicine Dr. Stephen Schneider and his wife Linda, who were convicted of drug trafficking offenses for prescribing high doses of opioid pain relievers to patients at their Kansas pain clinic.

Treadway first attempted to impose a gag order on Reynolds and PRN to prevent them from publicly discussing the case and the broader issues of pain control and the tensions between it the DEA's effort to prevent the "improper" prescribing of opioid pain medications. That effort was thrown out by the trial judge.

Treadway then came back with a grand jury investigation seeking evidence of obstruction of justice for PRN's advocacy, and issued subpoenas demanding all PRN records having anything to do with the case, including Reynolds' phone and email records. Reynolds refused to comply and sought relief in the courts, but the organization was hit by $200 daily fines for each day it failed to turn over the records.

Reynolds and PRN lost in US district court and at the 10th US Circuit of Appeals, which, most unusually, sealed its opinion. The government-imposed secrecy surrounding the case has been criticized by groups including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which questioned why the court would "order the complete sealing of a record in which the facts are already publicly known and the traditional grounds for secrecy carry no force."

In a post on (linked above), Jacob Sullum noted that an amicus brief filed by the Reason Foundation (publisher of Reason) and the Institute for Justice, based entirely on publicly-available information, was itself sealed by the court.

Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court last month refused to hear her appeal. (For more detailed coverage on these courthouse antics, see the PRN archive page here.) Broke and unable to obtain redress from the courts, PRN has called it a day.

That is too bad. Reynolds and PRN were tireless activists on behalf of pain patients dating back to her ex-husband's search for relief from a debilitating condition. That search led them to Dr. Billy Hurwitz, a leading high-dose opioid pain reliever prescriber. But Hurwitz was himself prosecuted and convicted by the feds for his prescribing, kicking Reynolds and PRN into high gear.

PRN also worked other cases of doctors persecuted by the DEA and federal prosecutors over their opioid prescribing practices. Reynolds and PRN also played a key role in agitating around Richard Paey, the Florida pain patient sentenced to 25 years as a drug dealer for obtaining pain meds from multiple pharmacies. Paey was later pardoned by Gov. Charlie Crist, thanks in good part to PRN's efforts.

PRN may be done as an activist organization, but the community of patients Reynolds organized is not going away. Reynold's announcement indicated that they are looking at a possible new legal action in the Western District of Washington, but not under PRN's auspices.

Original report here

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

MI: Police fear “war on cops”

They've done a lot to provoke such a war. Acting like a gorilla does not win respect

A spate of shooting attacks on law enforcement officers has authorities concerned about a war on cops. In just 24 hours, at least 11 officers were shot. The shootings included Sunday attacks at traffic stops in Indiana and Oregon, a Detroit police station shooting that wounded four officers, and a shootout at a Port Orchard, Wash., Wal-Mart that injured two deputies. On Monday morning, two officers were shot dead and a U.S. Marshal was wounded by a gunman in St. Petersburg, Fla. On Thursday, two Miami-Dade, Fla., detectives were killed by a murder suspect they were trying to arrest.

"It's not a fluke," said Richard Roberts, spokesman for the International Union of Police Associations. "There's a perception among officers in the field that there’s a war on cops going on."

With the Florida deaths, the nation is on track in 2011 to match the 162 police officers killed in the line of duty in 2010, said Steve Groeninger, spokesman for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that tracks police casualties. In January this year there have been 14 deaths, the same number as in January 2010, the fund posted on its web site.

The 2010 toll ended a two-year drop in fatalities and spiked 43 percent over the 117 killed in 2009, Groeninger said. Law enforcement advocates worry that cuts in police budgets could exacerbate the danger.

"We don't have any data, but there seems to be a type of criminal out there looking to thwart authority," he said. He cited the example of Jared Loughner, accused of killing six and wounding 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, on Jan. 8 in Tucson, Ariz. "People with this mentality feel the need to eliminate those in position of authority," he said.

Roberts said the recent shootings are reminders that officers must constantly stay on alert. "The bad guys are not afraid of cops," Roberts said. "They’re rarely rational. You get that combination, when you ID yourself as a cop, it does not scare them away; it makes it more dangerous for you."

Noting the Oregon and Indiana shootings occurred during so-called "routine traffic stops," Roberts said, "The word routine should be eliminated from the job. There's no such thing. There is only 'known risk' and 'unknown risk' " he said.

Roberts, a former North Beach, Md., police officer, and Groeninger both voiced worries over police budget cuts. Reducing police response times and cutting back on in-service training can endanger not just citizens but cops on patrol, they said. "It's not a good situation out there," Groeninger said...

More here

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Friday, January 28, 2011

FL: Student arrested for “cop watching”

It's called "Cop Watching," where people tape police officers as they make stops and arrests. Tommy Frane says it's not that people who do the taping are against police officers, but they want to hold them accountable, like they do all public officials.

But when Frane and his friend, William Kilgore, did it Saturday night, Kilgore landed in jail. Frane says it is something you hear about in fascist countries and China, where people can't look at their public servants or hold them accountable.

The trouble began when Kilgore taped Tarpon Springs police officers arresting someone who had a controlled substance in his car. The two say an officer walked up and said the tape was evidence. Kilgore says he was told he two options: either surrender the tape or go to jail.

When Kilgore, who has taped officers making drug busts in Tampa, said he wasn't comfortable turning the tape over without a warrant, he says the officer got agitated. Kilgore says the officer kept saying turn it over and he kept saying he wasn't going to and the officer then put on the cuffs.

Not only did the Tarpon Springs Police Department take the camera without a warrant and arrest Kilgore, but also when his friend, Tommy Frane, started taping the arrest with his cell phone, they confiscated that as well.

Gregg Thomas, who is one of the foremost First Amendment attorneys in the country, says it seems like a clear violation of civil rights. Thomas, who has won a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, says there is no real lawful reason for the officer to seize someone's camera or even threaten them with arrest.

Meanwhile, Kilgore wants to know why the Tarpon Springs police are so scared of his filming. He says it raises a lot of other questions.

Among those questions is whether or not taxpayers will have to pay for any penalty if a civil rights suit is filed against the department and city.

Original report here

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Australia: Abused wife's payout cut because she was used to violence (!)

Shouldn't it have been the other way around?

DOMESTIC violence experts fear a court ruling that slashed a battered woman's compensation payment because she was "conditioned" to domestic violence by her husband will deter other victims from taking legal action.

Diane Mangan, chief executive of the 24-hour helpline DV Connect, said the decision to reduce the payout because of the woman's predisposition to mental stress from previous domestic violence only served to "diminish" her traumatic experience. "It's almost like saying the years that you have suffered at the hands of your husband don't count," she said.

The District Court in Brisbane was told that in 2006, the woman, 30, and her children were confronted by her husband, 36, who was wielding a knife.

A hostage situation developed and when police arrived, the couple's children were handed out of a window. The husband then pushed his wife into a bedroom door, injuring her shoulder.

After later pleading guilty to deprivation of liberty and common assault charges, he was jailed for two years to be suspended after eight months.

His wife applied for criminal compensation and in a recent judgment was awarded $20,250.

Judge Richard Jones said unfortunately for the woman, the incident was one of a long history of domestic violence and that she had been "conditioned" to the violence by her husband. He noted that the offences before him had pushed the woman over the edge.

Judge Jones said because of the woman's predisposition to post traumatic stress disorder, it was contended by lawyers that the percentage of the maximum compensation for mental anguish should be reduced from 34 to 20 per cent. He said 20 per cent was justified.

It was the latest case where judges expressed concern that their hands were tied when awarding criminal compensation payments to long-term domestic violence victims.

Ms Mangan said many victims were so emotionally damaged they could not face court. Such a ruling would only further deter them from relying on the legal system, she said.

UQ law school Associate Professor Heather Douglas said the laws were designed to handle compensation claims for a range of individualised crimes and operated on a case-by-case basis to avoid "double dipping".

But that caused "frustration" in domestic violence cases, she said, because previous acts of violence were largely uncontested in courts and most victims had not already received compensation.

She said a "radical systematic change" was needed to develop separate rules that allowed judges to consider historical domestic violence that had not already come before the courts.

Original report here

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

LAPD officer found to have used excessive force in slaying

Federal jury rejects former officer Joseph Cruz's account of the March 2008 shooting that killed Mohammad Usman Chaudhry, a 21-year-old autistic man

A federal jury Monday found that a former Los Angeles police officer used excessive force in a fatal 2008 shooting.

The unanimous verdict in U.S. District Court against Joseph Cruz and the city of Los Angeles was essentially a rejection of Cruz's account of the shooting. Since March 25, 2008, when Mohammad Usman Chaudhry was killed on a Hollywood street in the pre-dawn darkness, Cruz has insisted that Chaudhry tried to attack him with a knife and that he fired his gun in self-defense.

On Tuesday the jury will begin hearing arguments in the damages phase of the trial to decide what monetary award, if any, Chaudhry's family deserves.

The jury announced its decision after several hours of deliberations. It found that Cruz acted in "a reckless, oppressive or malicious manner" during the shooting.

Chaudhry was a 21-year-old autistic man who sometimes wandered away from his parents' home and spent nights on L.A. streets. Cruz and his partner came across Chaudhry early one morning as the man was lying in some bushes beside an apartment building. Cruz told investigators that Chaudhry was acting calmly and gave no indication that he suffered from a mental illness.

According to Cruz, Chaudhry suddenly pulled a knife from his sweatshirt and charged Cruz at a moment when his partner was out of sight. Cruz fired four shots, hitting Chaudhry three times.

Evidence presented at the trial showed that only one person's DNA profile was found on the knife, but the DNA did not belong to Chaudhry. Cruz has refused to submit a DNA sample.

At the time of the shooting, Cruz was under investigation for an incident in which a teenage girl escaped from his custody. Police officials later concluded that Cruz had made false statements to investigators during the inquiry and fired him for dishonesty. When Cruz filed a lawsuit to be reinstated, lawyers from the Los Angeles city attorney's office filed court records stating that Cruz had no credibility.

In the Chaudhry case, however, both the LAPD and the city attorney's office helped defend Cruz and vouched to the jury that his account of the shooting should be believed.

Original report here

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fewer Snouts in the Trough, Less Crime in the Streets

"What happens when you lay off nearly half of the police in one of the most dangerous cities in America?" begins a recent account of personnel cutbacks by the municipal government of Camden, New Jersey.

My guess would be this: The crime rate -- as experienced by the affected public, rather than measured by the local government -- will go down, and the public appetite will be whetted for further personnel cuts. This is because the Camden Police Department -- which has laid off 167 of its 360 officers -- has long been a major source of crime, rather than a deterrent to the same.

New Jersey is one of the wealthiest states in the soyuz, but it is also afflicted with a large and immensely powerful population of unionized tax feeders.

On January 19, a New Jersey Superior Court Judge refused to grant an injunction sought by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) to reinstate the 167 officers who were laid off by Camden. On the same day, the union rejected a proposed compromise that would have reinstated 100 officers to the force. The deal would involve three days a month of unpaid furloughs for patrol officers for six months, followed by one unpaid monthly furlough day for the following year.

This arrangement would amount to a modest pay cut, but it shattered against the FOP's impregnable sense of privilege. As commentator George Berkin pointed out, the union had erroneously assumed that it could "get a court to trump economics" -- or, at least, that it could browbeat Camden City Hall into devising some way to extract wealth from the productive on its behalf. The police unions have become accustomed to getting whatever they want. For example: In New Jersey, it's become standard practice for police to use their tax-funded health plans to pay for illegal steroid treatments.

Camden County is among the state's poorest subdivisions, with an official (which is to say, understated) unemployment rate of 16.3 percent, a per capita income of about $23,300, and a median annual household income of roughly $48,000. Its municipal government confronts a $26.5 million budget shortfall.

The average Camden police officer receives $144,000 in salary and benefits, most of it paid for by taxpayers elsewhere in the state. Since 2003, Camden has been under the fiscal supervision of Trenton, which provides more than 80 percent of the city's operating budget. Over the past seven years the state government has lavished nearly a quarter of a billion dollars on Camden in the name of "economic revitalization" and "transitional" funding.

Five year before Trenton assumed responsibility for Camden's finances, the state took control of the Camden Police Department following the resignation of Police Chief William Hill. This left the department "without a person clearly in charge" in the midst of a wide-ranging corruption probe.

At the time of Chief Hill's resignation, a federal grand jury was investigating allegations that a clique of corrupt Camden police officers had operated a shakedown racket targeting local cocaine dealers, thereby helping the market prosper in exchange for a cut of the proceeds. One of the first results of that inquiry was an increased attrition rate for the Camden PD as about one-ninth of its force of about 460 officers suddenly retired, claimed their pensions, and -- perhaps most importantly -- sealed their personnel files.

Camden County Prosecutor Lee Solomon negotiated an agreement with the president of the local police union, Detective Dan Morris, permitting the investigation to have access to personnel records of officers -- both active and retired -- who served on the force from 1997 on. "The prosecutor has assured the FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] the confidentiality of these files will not be compromised," Morris announced in 2000.

Morris had access to those files as well, and there's reason to believe that he gleaned critical intelligence from them -- which he used to create his own little protection racket, which he operated for several years before retiring on disability last January at the age of 46.

Last September, Morris pleaded guilty to multiple charges outlined in a multi-count federal indictment. As commander of a five-officer Special Operations unit, Morris committed numerous criminal offenses, including illegal searches and seizures of property, theft, extortion, perjury, and various kinds of assault.

The federal indictment against Morris's subordinates describes their Special Operations unit as a criminal conspiracy that planted evidence to justify false arrests, routinely lied about the quantity of narcotics seized in raids in order to "expose the arrestees to greater penalties," regularly bartered drugs for sundry favors, and made a habit of stealing money and drugs. Public exposure of the crimes committed by Morris and his little street gang led to the dismissal of 185 drug cases, and the release of dozens of people who had been wrongfully imprisoned.

In April 2007, Benjamin Daye -- who was 20 at the time --was stopped and assaulted by Morris and his goon squad. An illegal search of Daye's car failed to turn up any contraband and the terrified young man couldn't provide any information on local dealers -- so the police planted drugs in the car and arrested Daye, who served nearly three years in prison before the case was dropped.

Joel Barnes, who spent nearly a year and a half behind bars, had a very similar experience. Two officers with the Special Operations unit, Robert Bayard and Antonio Figueroa, invaded Barnes's home, demanding to know "where the s**t is at." When Barnes truthfully replied that there were no illegal drugs on the premises, one of them pulled a small bag of cocaine from his own pockets and told Barnes, "Tell us where the s**t [is] at and we'll make this disappear." When Barnes repeated that he didn't have any drugs, the officers charged him with unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute in a "school zone" -- a charge that could have led to a 20-year prison sentence.

"I felt helpless and didn't know what to do," Barnes recalls. "I knew I hadn't done anything wrong, but I also knew that the officers had all of the power and I had none."

Morris and his Special Operations squad are generally referred to as a "rogue" unit, implying that their criminal conduct was anomalous. Given the pervasive corruption of the Camden PD, the term "rogue" would more properly be applied to Rolan Carter. In 2008, Carter was fired from the force for "insubordination" as a result of an incident in which he attempted to arrest a man wanted on four outstanding warrants.

Carter pulled the man over for using a cell phone while driving. As he ran a background check two plainclothes officers materialized and insisted that the driver was a police informant and should be released immediately. While Carter discussed the matter with the plainclothes cops, a police sergeant arrived and ordered him to let the driver go. Still unconvinced that this was the "proper procedure," Carter called his own command sergeant, who instructed him to do as the other officers demanded.

Six weeks later, Carter -- who had received multiple commendations for valor -- was charged with insubordination and cashiered from the force. But his problems had actually begun more than a year earlier.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, in January 2007, Carter was transferred from a patrol squad "when he raised concerns about one supervisor, Sgt. Dan Morris." After Carter was removed from the squad, he was replaced by Officer Jason Stetser, who is now facing multiple criminal charges for his actions as part of Morris's "rogue" Special Operations squad.

Carter didn't lose his job because of personnel cut-backs; he was fired because he displayed symptoms of personal integrity. And his lawsuit against the Camden PD is one of at least ten filed by former officers describing "a department rife with cronyism" in which "commanders create a hostile and discriminatory atmosphere and seek retaliation against those perceived as defiant," observes the Inquirer.

In addition to the lawsuits filed by former Camden police officers, the city is dealing with up to thirty active or potential lawsuits by victims of the Morris-led criminal syndicate -- with dozens more likely to come. It is possible that Camden's municipal government will soon suffer the same fate that befell the one in charge of Maywood, California.

Buried beneath a deluge of civil rights lawsuits and settlement costs incurred by police misconduct, Maywood lost its liability insurance coverage and had to contract with a neighboring town for basic municipal services. As it happens, that neighboring town was Bell, California -- which, it was discovered, had an even more extravagantly corrupt municipal government. I suspect that entertaining little revelations of this kind -- in California, New Jersey, and all points in between -- will abound as the economic collapse accelerates.

The Camden PD, following the example of law enforcement agencies in cash-strapped California cities such as Oakland and Sacramento, has announced that it will be rationing its services by refusing to deal with "minor" matters, such as non-injury vehicle accidents and petty theft. This announcement is intended to inspire public fear. It may have exactly the opposite effect.

Helene Pierson, executive director of Heart of Camden, a neighborhood development corporation, recalls that when her group was created several years ago it intended to be a "partner" with the police force. She and others "bought into the [idea] that police are stretched really thin, that they try really hard, that they need extra help." Much of what she has seen -- including dozens of cases in which people were falsely imprisoned in the service of a criminal racket run by the cops -- has disabused Pierson of such notions.

In Camden -- and, for that matter, everywhere else -- the government police force has been a catalyst for crime, rather than a deterrent to it. There's every reason to believe that fewer snouts in the trough would mean less crime on the streets.

Original report here

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Libertarian rights activist charged with jury tampering

"On January 11, 2011," veteran libertarian rights activist Julian Heicklen announced to his Tyranny Fighters email list, "I was notified by summons that I have been criminally charged with jury tampering."

Many might be distressed by such news, but not Heicklen. "The moment of truth has arrived," Heicklen said. "The dance begins."
Heicklen explained his position in an exclusive email interview with the Libertarian News Examiner on Saturday.

"In essence, I want to discuss the jury's right to nullify the law IN FRONT OF A JURY." (The emphasis is Heicklen's). "My position is that neither jury nullification is or that I am on trial. My position is that the judiciary is on trial. Jury nullification needs no defense. It is the law of the land."

The summons, while short on particulars, appears to be charging him with telling potential jurors the truth about jury nullification whenever he distributes Fully Informed Jury Association literature in front of courthouses, as he has done for the past 18 months at 27 federal and county courthouses in 20 different states.

However, Heicklen told the Libertarian News Examiner that the summons gave no reason for the charges. "The offense is briefly described as 'Jury Tampering,'" Heicklen said. "There is no mention of FIJA materials, a US Courthouse, or prospective jurors. The indictment papers are not included."

Heicklen's announcement that he plans to represent himself as counsel pro se elicited a barrage of email responses from his supporters at Tyranny Fighters, which is not a formal organization but a loose association of independent freedom activists.

A person with "experience challenging grand jury procedures" has offered his services. Another has offered help as a legal researcher. Still another volunteered to assist with "briefs or memorandums in support of your position."

Iloilo Jones, Executive Director of the Fully Informed Jury Association told the Libertarian News Examiner on Friday, "FIJA hopes to be participating in this case to the extent Julian would like help from our organization."

Other supporters, however, have adamantly disagreed with Heicklen's intention to represent himself, insisting, "You cannot beat a rigged deck. That's why you hire attorneys" and calling it "a losing proposition."

That discussion continues to rage as Heicklen prepares for his day in court "on January 24, 2011 at 10:00 am in courtroom #15B."

Original report here

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

NY: DEA issues apology for “wrong-door”‘ raid

The day after a Rockland family said they were terrorized by heavily armed police who burst into their home looking for someone who didn't live there, the federal agency that organized the drug raid apologized for the incident.

John P. Gilbride, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, issued a statement Friday clearing Spring Valley resident David McKay and his family of anything to do with the series of drug raids that took place early Thursday in Westchester and Rockland counties. "We sincerely regret that while attempting to execute an arrest warrant for a member of this drug trafficking organization, the innocent McKay family was inadvertently affected by this enforcement operation," Gilbride said.

McKay had demanded an apology from police Thursday, but did not wish to comment on the matter Friday evening. He said that he was at a doctor's office with his daughter and was more interested in tending to his family. McKay did say, however, that he had no knowledge of the apology statement issued by Gilbride and had not been contacted by any representatives from the DEA.

The raids broke up what police said was a ring that transported marijuana from the West Coast and resulted in the arrest of 26 people. One of the suspects lives at 46 Sharon Drive in Spring Valley. McKay lives with his wife, their 13-year-old daughter, brother-in-law and two dogs at 36 Sharon Drive.

At 5:30 a.m. Thursday, the family said police officers — their weapons drawn — barged into the house and pointed guns at the family. McKay said he recognized some of the officers as Spring Valley police. Spring Valley officials referred questions to the DEA.

The officers were screaming for someone named Michael, McKay said. When he tried to explain that no one named Michael lived at the house, McKay said the police pulled him outside his home in his underwear in the freezing cold. McKay said officers yanked his eighth-grade daughter out of her bed at gunpoint. The girl later vomited, fainted and had an asthma attack.

The McKay family has owned their home since 1998 and David McKay, who works for the Rockland sewer department , is listed in property records as the owner. Both he and his wife voluntarily submitted to extensive background checks in order to become certified foster parents.

"Though we take many precautions to prevent this type of incident from happening, drug investigations are very complex and involve many fluid factors," Gilbride said. "DEA will continue to pursue these criminal organizations to protect the public from the scourge of drug trafficking."

Botched police raids at the wrong address are on the rise nationwide as law enforcement agencies become more aggressive in their pursuit of drug suspects, said a policy expert who has studied the phenomenon.

"The 30-year-long war on drugs uses war rhetoric, outfits police in war gear and gives them military weapons and instills in police officers a war mentality," said Radley Balko, who wrote a report, "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America" in 2006 when he was an analyst at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. "Now the police have an increasing willingness to take the metaphor literally."

His study found that reports of so-called "wrong-door" raids in which police — often heavily armed — enter the wrong home have increased dramatically over the past 20 years.

Similar incidents have occurred in other places in the Lower Hudson Valley.

Ivamae Green of Mount Vernon sued the city a year ago after she said police officers mistakenly raided her home and performed invasive body searches. The status of the case is unclear.

Yonkers settled a lawsuit with a building superintendent whose apartment was the scene of a police raid in 2007. Two police officers fired 15 shotgun rounds and killed three pit bulls in the small apartment where the 49-year-old man and his children were sleeping. Details of the settlement were unclear.

Another Yonkers family this week was awarded a $20,000 settlement from the city after a woman sued, claiming that police burst into her apartment in 2007 with weapons drawn in search of drugs.

Original report here

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

San Jose bounty hunter, wrongly shot by LAPD cops, wins $1.65 million settlement

A San Jose bounty hunter who was gunned down without provocation by a Los Angeles police officer while trying to take a fugitive into custody has been awarded $1.165 million by a federal jury.

The officer said he shot bail agent E.A. Gilbert twice in self-defense at a housing project after dark on Nov. 30, 2005, after Gilbert pointed a .45-caliber gun at him and his partner. Both said they mistook Gilbert and another bounty hunter as robbers as they were subduing a bail jumper.

But the jury last week found that Officer Daniel Pearce used excessive force and believed Gilbert's contention that his gun was never aimed at the officers. Jurors based their decision on eyewitness accounts as well as physical evidence, including the trajectory of the bullets.

More than the money, the outcome represents vindication for the 53-year-old bail agent, who couldn't get an attorney to take his case for years after the LAPD found that the shooting was justified. Gilbert was shot in the arm and torso, creating wounds that required removal of a 12-inch section of his intestines.

The incident occurred even though Gilbert had warned a patrolman and the housing project security ahead of time that he and his partner were hunting for a bail jumper.

"I like to think of myself as one of the good guys," Gilbert said Thursday. "As a bail agent, I'm an officer of the court. So, if the police made a mistake -- by shooting first and asking questions later in a gang-infested neighborhood -- OK, just admit it. "What was really disturbing was the people whose salaries we pay constructed lies," he said.

Gilbert said he approached 30 attorneys about taking his case, with no success. Deciding to represent himself, the bail agent drove down to Los Angeles and met with the city attorney's office, which offered him $5,000 to settle the case. But it wasn't until he went to a local church in 2008 and struck up a conversation with someone there that things started looking up.

The parishioner told him about De-bug, an ethnic media outlet and collective that runs a free legal clinic every Sunday. The group is known for picketing San Jose City Council meetings to protest use of force and arrest practices by police in immigrant communities.

The group referred Gilbert to Southern California lawyer Dale Galipo, who took the case. Galipo was in trial Thursday and couldn't be reached for comment.

De-bug coordinator Raj Jayadev said the verdict is a victory against police misconduct -- and of the human spirit. "I saw (Gilbert) come every Sunday lugging his case in boxes, just wanting some basic support, even if it was just a community that would believe in him," Jayadev said. "Every time he shared his story -- the shooting, the painful recovery and the struggle to find an attorney -- you could see how much it took out of him. He persevered despite every pressure for him to stop. He is a true inspiration to our community."

Gilbert, who has a grown daughter and is an avid horseman, spent much of his childhood living in East San Jose and attended Silver Creek High School.

His next step is to write a book, he said. As for the money, Gilbert has no grand plans. A former recruiter for high-tech companies who lost his job in the bust, he said he doesn't have much put away for his old age. "I'm going to save it for retirement," he said. "I'm definitely behind the eight ball on that."

For now, he's still a bail agent who appears in court and handles the legal paperwork. But he said his days of taking down the bad guys are over. "I no longer do 'recovery' " he said. "It's too dangerous, because of the jumpers -- and the police."

Original report here

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Friday, January 21, 2011

After five years, family of a Virginia optometrist killed by a SWAT team finally gets some closure‏

Last week The Washington Post reported that Sal Culosi's parents have reached a $2 million settlement with Fairfax County, Virginia, police Detective Deval Bullock, who shot and killed the 38-year-old optometrist during a January 2006 SWAT raid on his home. The unusual settlement reflects the outrageous facts of this case, in which an unarmed man suspected of nothing more than betting on sports was recklessly gunned down during an unnecessarily violent operation.

The SWAT team came to Culosi's house because another Fairfax County detective, David Baucum, overheard him and some friends wagering on a college football game at a bar. "To Sal, betting a few bills on the Redskins was a stress reliever, done among friends," a friend of Culosi's told me shortly after his death. "None of us single, successful professionals ever thought that betting 50 bucks or so on the Virginia/Virginia Tech football game was a crime worthy of investigation."

Baucum apparently did. After overhearing the wagering, Baucum befriended Culosi. During the next several months he talked Culosi into raising the stakes of what Culosi thought were friendly wagers. Eventually Culosi and Baucum bet more than $2,000 in a single day, enough under Virginia law for police to charge Culosi with running a gambling operation. That's when they brought in the SWAT team.

On the night of January 24, 2006, Baucum called Culosi and arranged a time to drop by to collect his winnings. When Culosi, barefoot and clad in a T-shirt and jeans, stepped out of his house to meet the man he thought was a friend, the SWAT team moved in. Moments later, Bullock, who had had been on duty since 4 a.m. and hadn't slept in 17 hours, killed him. Culosi's last words: "Dude, what are you doing?"

Culosi's parents, Sal and Anita Culosi, later learned that police stopped a nurse at Fairfax Hospital, where Culosi's body was taken after the raid, from notifying them that their son, one of three children, had been shot. (The optometrist's father is also named Salvatore, shortened to Sal, although the son was named after an uncle on his mother's side—ironically, a police officer who was killed in the line of duty.) The Culosis did not hear about the raid until five hours after their son had been shot and killed, preventing the devout Catholic family from administering last rites.

In the months that followed, Baucum continued his investigation, badgering Culosi's grieving friends and relatives after pulling their names and numbers from the cell phone he was carrying and a computer taken from his home the night he was killed. Steve Gulley, Culosi's brother-in-law, told The Washington Post the following April that Baucum called him and menacingly asked, "How much are you into Sal for?" Scott Lunceford, a lifelong friend of Culosi's, told the Post Baucum called him and accused him of being a gambler. The calls, Gulley told the paper, smacked of intimidation aimed at discouraging a lawsuit.

Police departments in Northern Virginia are notoriously stingy with information, and the Culosis grew increasingly frustrated with Fairfax County Police Chief David Rohrer. The public did not even learn Bullock's name until The Washington Post's Tom Jackman reported it based on a tip from a confidential source. (The Fairfax County Police Department still has not released the name of the police officer who shot unarmed motorist David Masters in November 2009.)

It took more than a year for the police department to issue its report (PDF) on Culosi's death. The report, prepared by Chief Rohrer's staff, claimed Bullock accidentally fired his gun—resulting in a direct hit that pierced Culosi's heart—after the door to Bullock's SUV recoiled and struck him in the arm as he was getting out of the vehicle. The report did at least acknowledge that Bullock inappropriately had his finger on the trigger of his weapon. It also conceded that in hindsight sending a SWAT team after an unarmed man accused of a nonviolent crime probably was a mistake, although it did not fault the department for doing so.

The Culosis were dubious. They believed Bullock mistook the cell phone their son was holding the night he was shot for a gun. They hired their own investigators, who determined, based on the department's own measurements of the crime scene, that when Bullock pulled the trigger he was away from his vehicle and much closer to Culosi than he had claimed. Using the recorded locations of shell casings, police vehicles, and Culosi's body, they produced computer animations (see below) showing that the incident could not have happened in the manner described by Chief Rohrer's report.

Bullock was suspended for three weeks without pay, a paltry punishment given that he killed an unarmed man. Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Horan announced in March 2006 that he would not be filing criminal charges against Bullock. That was not surprising. Horan, who retired in 2008, had never brought criminal charges against a police officer in his 40 years on the job. Horan described the shooting as an accident.

Yet the same month that Bullock killed Culosi, a 19-year-old man in neighboring Prince William County was charged with involuntary manslaughter after a gun he was showing to a friend accidentally discharged and killed the friend. And just a week before Horan cleared Bullock, a youth in Chesapeake, Virginia, was convicted on the same charge for accidentally firing a gun from the backseat of a car, killing the driver.

Bullock's colleagues on the police force nevertheless criticized what they called an excessively harsh punishment. Officer Marshall Thielen, president of the Fairfax County police officers union, told The Washington Post the punishment "may be politically motivated because of all the media attention." Union attorney Edward J. Nuttall told the paper that the suspension was "way off the charts" and that an oral or written reprimand would have been more appropriate.

Shortly after the release of Rohrer's report, Sal and Anita Culosi filed a federal lawsuit against Bullock, Rohrer, and Fairfax County, charging that Bullock had violated Culosi's civil rights and that Rohrer and Fairfax County were negligent in training and had implemented bad policies that resulted in Culosi's death.

The courts eventually removed Rohrer and Fairfax County from the lawsuit—a tough blow because the Culosis told me one of their main goals was to change the way Fairfax County uses its SWAT team. They could not comprehend why an optometrist with no criminal record who was accused of gambling on football games would merit a SWAT team.

According to Rohrer's report, 46 percent of all search warrants in the county are served with SWAT teams. (A department spokesperson said shortly after the shooting that SWAT teams were used to serve all of the county’s warrants.) The removal of Rohrer and Fairfax County from the suit left only Bullock, although all of his legal fees and any judgment against him would be paid by Fairfax County and therefore by taxpayers.

The same year Fairfax County taxpayers paid for the five-month-long investigation into Sal Culosi’s casual wagering, Virginia's government spent $20 million promoting the state lottery. In March 2006, two months after its ridiculous gambling investigation resulted in the death of an unarmed man, the Fairfax County Police Department issued a press release (no longer available on the department's website) warning residents not to participate in office betting pools tied to the NCAA men's basketball tournament. The title: "Illegal Gambling Not Worth the Risk."

In a heartbreaking entry on a website she set up for her son, Anita Culosi addressed him directly last week:

I'll beg your forgiveness Son…because I am not able…to go the distance. They call it…settlement. I call it something else…and because of that…my heart…is not settled…and my hope for justice…and my promise to you…have both been compromised...I believe in my heart that we would have won in court but I was told to consider the risk of that not happening...Our family has already been through almost 5 years of pain, frustration, disappointments, and stress...and there was the opinion that even if we won the county would appeal and that would mean a few more years and resources fighting what could still be a losing battle.

Anita Culosi's grief and disappointment are certainly understandable, but governments don't offer $2 million settlements every day. The offer came just as the trial was set to begin and just days after U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema ruled that the Culosis could show the computer animations produced by their investigators to the jury.

While a jury verdict against Bullock might have given the Culosis the satisfaction of having fellow Fairfax County residents acknowledge the outrage done to their son, a $2 million settlement amounts to an admission of guilt, no matter how county officials try to spin it, because winning a lawsuit against a police officer is extremely difficult.

Shortly after Sal Culosi's death, his family started a blog in his memory called "Justice for Sal." After five years of battling stubborn public officials, an obfuscatory police bureaucracy, and a legal system designed to make it as difficult as possible to hold the government accountable, Sal and Anita Culosi should finally allow themselves to exhale. As much as anyone can in a case like this, they have found the justice they've been seeking.

Original report here

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

What Happened?

The land of the free no more

Watch old movies – you know, from the ’80s – and you’ll get a few snapshots in passing about how free we used to be, only 25 years ago – even though in those days we weren’t “fighting” for it in foreign lands and being over-run with Rules, Procedures and such like back in the “Homeland.”

Watch Rocky, for instance – and behold Stallone riding his motorcycle without a helmet. Unthinkable today. What would such a message tell the children, after all?

Or TV shows from that dreamlike era, for example Miami Vice. There’s a clip of someone going to the airport – and buying a ticket, in cash, with no ID – while smoking. Watch some more as he strolls right up to the gate without being scanned or given a hernia exam or even having to take off his shoes.

TJ Hooker carried a six-shooter (along with his rug) not a high-capacity military piece, the standard sidearm of every traffic cop today. TJ was tough, but even he didn’t Tazer middle aged women over seatbelt violations or draw his gun on people for “speeding.” Once upon a time, ordinary citizens were largely immune from being physically assaulted by cops. You could even talk back. Honest Injun.

Even the military was (relatively) benign in those Long Gone days. Often, it was portrayed in a humorous light. In shows like The A-Team and Magnum, PI, army people were was not the “The Troops” and they weren’t venerated – even deified – as some sort of Praetorian Guard, like today. If anything, the military’s tendency to dogmatism and rigidity – and to lusty, gratuitous violence – was openly derided.

Needless to say, we’ve come a long way in 25 years. Today, riding a motorcycle without a hemet is not merely illegal in most parts of the country (even though you can legally ride while wearing shorts and a T-shirt) it is the sort of thing that prompts that pod people look of keening outrage when someone even suggests that maybe it ought to be up to the rider – not “the law.”

Today, well, we all know about airports. The experience is not unlike the processing a just-caught felony suspect goes through down at the station. Only now we’re all suspected felons until proven otherwise – and even when we’re pathetically obviously not (as in the case, for instance, of the crippled old person forced to get out of their wheelchair at the bark of a TSA capo).

TJ Hooker is retired to doing interviews on cable. His successors are much less Officer Friendly. They wear body armor and carry Tazers as well as high-capacity military-grade semi-auto handguns.

Buzz cuts make rugs unnecessary. You never see their eyes, either – as all wear mirrored Tough Guy sunglasses, which operate on the same psychological principle as Darth Vader’s expressionless helmet.

But nevermind. They’re heroes and protecting us from all manner of evildoers – unless we video them doing the evil – in which case expect a wood shampoo, electro-therapy and a trip to the hoosegow for some more on top of that.

Original report here

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Britain: Naomi Campbell case ruling could end huge 'win' fees for lawyers

The vast ‘success fees’ claimed by lawyers in some celebrity privacy cases break human rights laws, European judges have ruled. Those working for supermodel Naomi Campbell should not have been able to demand £365,000 in bonuses when she won a landmark privacy case against a British newspaper, they said.

In contrast to the legal fees, Miss Campbell was awarded compensation of just £3,500.

The judgment at the European Court of Human Rights means that ‘no-win no-fee’ rules brought in by Labour in the 1990s will have to be rewritten to cut the amounts charged. Success fees unfairly discourage newspapers, broadcasters and individuals from writing and speaking freely, the Strasbourg judges said yesterday.

They are now considering ordering the Government to pay the Daily Mirror hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation. This would mean that taxpayers will carry the burden and Miss Campbell’s lawyers will keep their unfair fees.

The 40-year-old took the newspaper to court after it said in 2001 that, despite public denials she used drugs, she was having treatment for addiction. There were pictures taken secretly of her going to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.

Yesterday the European judges upheld a decision by the British House of Lords in 2004 that the paper breached her privacy.

Lawyers in no-win no-fee cases can, if they win the case, charge the losing side success fees that amount to 100 per cent of the costs they run up. In the Campbell case, solicitors and barristers claimed success fees from the newspaper of 95 per cent and 100 per cent of their costs.

The European judges said this ‘chilled’ free speech because newspapers faced with such costs would give in rather that fight in court. The system also meant there was nothing to stop celebrities running up unconstrained costs and lawyers could cherry-pick the most lucrative cases.

The decision was welcomed by leading lawyers yesterday. Senior barrister and media law expert Gavin Millar QC said: ‘This is a ground-breaking ruling. It is a shame that the Mirror had to go to a European court to get justice. It brings shame on us.’

A spokesman for the Daily Mirror’s owners MGN said: ‘This has been a long hard fight ... but we have been proved right.’

Original report here

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Whistleblowing model fired for revealing £300,000 'theft' from jail charity

A prison counsellor was unfairly dismissed by a charity after blowing the whistle on the alleged theft of over £300,000 of public funds, a tribunal has ruled. Oxford University graduate Robina Husain-Naviatti, 38, was awarded £47,580 in compensation and the Charity Commission is now set to probe her claims of embezzlement. She was deputy director of Forensic Therapies, a central London-based charity providing counselling services in British jails.

Miss Husain-Naviatti, who is also a model, visited inmates at jails including London’s Holloway, Pentonville and Wandsworth prisons.

In 2008, Miss Husain-Naviatti alerted trustees that a £535,000 Cabinet Office grant had only been recorded as £240,000 in a business plan. The charity’s director Steve Morris had allegedly previously falsified cheques, the tribunal heard. She also alleged that the Cabinet Office and another charity had each unwittingly funded her £35,000 salary - with one of the sums siphoned off. And she claimed that Mr Morris’ entire salary was also being paid several times over by different funding bodies.

But after blowing the whistle on a string of alleged financial discrepancies, Miss Husain-Naviatti was suspended and then axed in a sham redundancy.

A panel at Watford Employment Tribunal found that she was unfairly dismissed. It awarded her £48,580 for lost earnings and injury to feelings and recommended that the Charity Commission mount a full investigation of her claims.

Miss Husain-Naviatti, a law graduate of Jesus College, Oxford, lives in Westminster, central London and now works as a photographic artist and model.

Speaking after the judgment, Miss Husain Naviatti said: ‘I was victimised, harassed and ultimately lost my livelihood for daring to raise serious concerns about the potential misuse of public funds with no benefit to myself. ‘I was only ever concerned about the truth. ‘I suffered immense stress and trauma through the process culminating in the loss of my job.

‘The circumstances, in which my dismissal happened, together with the events preceding it, have had a profound effect on my state of emotional and physical health. I have suffered severe depression.

‘I feel that this judgment goes some way to achieving justice and I hope that the Charity Commission takes heed of the tribunal’s comments about investigating this further.’

Her solicitor Shah Qureshi, of law firm Bindmans, said: ‘This judgment sends a signal to charities that they are in a position of trust and must act with propriety at all times. ‘Whistleblowers who dare to raise their heads above the parapet are a vital check against complacency and cover-ups and the law recognises they need protection.

‘My client suffered horrendously for raising her concerns in good faith. ‘Clearly, there are serious questions about what has happened to the balance of funding and why the charity quoted different figures in a variety of documents.

‘It is incumbent upon the Charity Commission, as recommended by the tribunal, to ensure that a full and thorough investigation is carried out.’

Trained psychotherapist and mediator Miss Husain-Naviatti joined the charity as a volunteer counsellor in November 2005. After promotion, her £35,000-a-year role as deputy director was to manage the organisation’s services at Holloway and Brixton prisons.

Her boss Steve Morris announced in June 2007 that £535,000 had been awarded by the Cabinet Office over three years to develop a pilot service aimed at those with borderline personality disorder at Holloway. But in internal documents the following year, the grant was stated to be £375,000 and a year later £240,000.

When she confronted Mr Morris, he allegedly said he could not remember how much the Cabinet Office had pledged. She did not believe him as it was the biggest funding amount the charity had ever received and he had spoken about it regularly. She claimed at the tribunal: ‘It is my reasonable belief that funds were being misapplied and fraud was taking place.

‘I found Steve’s forgetfulness implausible. I was aware that Steve had offended before. He received a ‘caution’ for falsifying cheques some years previously.’

Miss Husain-Naviatti also raised concerns that the Cabinet Office and charity the Southall Trust were each paying salary, thinking she was working full-time on projects for them. She said: ‘This suggested that my salary may have been duplicated and a whole salary’s worth siphoned off or otherwise misapplied.’

But when Miss Husain-Naviatti raised her concerns of possible embezzlement with two of the charity’s trustees, Michael Linsell and David Moffat, they were ‘hostile’. She said: ‘I was prevented from discussing my concerns in depth. Mick feigned total ignorance as to what I was talking about.’

After raising a formal grievance, Miss Husain-Naviatti was suspended in December 2008.

She alerted the Charity Commission to the possible fraud in April 2009 and was dismissed two months later in a sham redundancy.

The tribunal found that the real reason for her suspension and dismissal was the allegations of financial impropriety.

The Charity Commission’s review panel has also recommended an investigation.

But Miss Husain-Naviatti faces a fight to get her compensation award after the charity’s trustees put it into liquidation shortly before the case began.

Original report here

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Florida: Resistance to change in eyewitness ID procedures

State prosecutors strongly argued their case Monday before the Florida Innocence Commission, the body charged with recommending changes to end the rash of wrongful convictions. To that end, they presented another national expert contravening earlier testimony commissioners heard on eyewitness identification, far and away the leading cause of wrongful conviction.

As various prosecutors looked on, including Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe, psychologist Roy Malpass of the University of Texas-El Paso acknowledged that there is a major problem with eyewitness misidentification. But he told commissioners he recommended not legislating or fixing firm policies for law enforcement on handling eyewitnesses. "If it's chipped in stone in legislation, it will be harder to change," Malpass said.

Yet, a local legislator sitting on the commission, said he will begin this week to draft a bill. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said it will include double-blind administration of police photo lineups and cautionary instructions to eyewitnesses who view them.

Double-blind administration is when neither the officer showing a lineup nor the person viewing it knows who the suspect is, eliminating the chance the officer will influence an eyewitness' selection.

It was the second full day of testimony before the Innocence Commission on eyewitness identification, one of various causes of wrongful convictions the body must mull during its term. Commissioners will hear more on eyewitness identification at their next meeting in March, devoting more time to the topic than was planned. "This is government," Negron said.

A recent investigation by The Palm Beach Post, praised by Negron, revealed a widespread dearth of policies and procedures across 32 law enforcement agencies in the paper's circulation area.

On Monday, a sheriff on the commission proposed a basic policy be drawn up for commission members. But Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Cameron withdrew his request after other members cited it as premature.

Commission Chairman Belvin Perry, the chief judge of Orlando, closed the meeting with perhaps an omen of what's to come: "No one likes change. While models are good, we also have to realize some will not change unless they are forced to change."

Original report here

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

British teacher pursues seven-year battle to return to classroom after being acquitted of sexual assault

A teacher falsely accused of groping school girls is to launch a final bid to clear his name after a seven-year battle in which the allegations on his police record have prevented him from getting another job.

Robert King, 45, was acquitted of sexually assaulting four girls following a criminal trial but was subsequently fired from his job and lost an appeal in which he claimed unfair dismissal. He has since been unable to teach as the allegations appear on enhanced Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks, casting a permanent veil of suspicion.

The experience has left him battling depression and has cost him £154,000, including his home.

Due to his lack of financial resources, Mr King will represent himself when he appears before the Employment Appeal Tribunal in London on Monday in a bid to win the right to lodge an appeal against Sheffield City Council’s decision to uphold his dismissal.

He said: “When I was acquitted of the charges, I left the court with my head held high. “But these malicious allegations have stopped me from doing a job I love. “I can’t afford to give up on it now. I’ve lost everything already and I’ve nothing more to lose. “These matters are critically important for teaching as a whole, not just myself.”

The science teacher was suspended from Handsworth Grange Community Sports College in Sheffield, where he had worked for two years, in May 2004 after four girls alleged that he had touched them inappropriately.

Mr King, who gave up a 15-year career with the Postal Service to retrain as a teacher, claimed he was the victim of a “witch hunt” by friends of a boy whom he had been instrumental in excluding.

He appeared at Sheffield Crown Court in October 2005 and was acquitted of four counts of sexual assault and two charges of sexual activity with a child. Despite the jury’s verdict, school governors formally dismissed him in May 2006.

Among the reasons given for his dismissal were that he played snooker and bowls in the school's catchment area while suspended and used "industrial language" in the classroom, including the phrase "shut the book up", when trying to attract pupils' attention. One student reported him for using the word "rubber" instead of eraser in class, which she claimed had a sexual connotation.

A year later, Mr King lost his unfair dismissal case at an employment tribunal when Sheffield City Council successfully argued that there had been a "breakdown in trust and confidence" as well as citing other matters.

The false sexual allegations remain on the council's "dismissal register" as well as on Mr King’s CRB certificate, ensuring that he has since failed to get work with local teaching agencies. He has also been forced to give up the 2,000 hours a year voluntary work he did with the Red Cross and local Army and Air Cadets.

Diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety, he has not worked since and has only recently felt capable of pursuing the matter.

If his appeal is allowed, Mr King will argue that a conflict of law prevented the employment tribunal from allowing him to return to work as it was awaiting the result of a government safeguarding inquiry, which could have barred him from working with children.

The Children’s Safeguarding Operations Unit confirmed in 2008 that the Secretary of State, then Ed Balls, had decided not to take any action preventing him from working with children under Section 142 of the Education Act, widely known as List 99.

Mr King said: "The tribunal decision was both perverse and statutorily unfair as they did not have the ability to return me to work.” He will also challenge Sheffield City Council's decision to put him on the "dismissal register" and South Yorkshire Police's disclosure of the allegations on his CRB certificate.

Original report here

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Man wrongfully convicted of San Francisco double-murder freed after 18 years in prison

Crooked prosecutor paid for perjury

A man wrongfully convicted of a San Francisco double-murder is now free after spending 18 years in prison.

A judge ruled last month that the prosecution's now-dead key witness against Caramad Conley lied on the stand.

The 40-year-old Conley walked out of the San Francisco County Jail a little after 4 p.m. Wednesday and told the San Francisco Chronicle he was taking life one day at a time.

Prosecutors told Superior Court Judge Cynthia Ming-Mei Lee on Tuesday that key witnesses are dead or unavailable and they will not retry Conley for the killings of Roshawn Johnson and Charles Hughes.

Original report here


Miller found that police investigators knew that the prosecution's star witness, Clifford Polk, lied on the stand about whether he was being paid, but they did nothing to intervene.

Citing "voluminous evidence" that Polk was lying when he claimed he was not in witness protection and therefore not receiving benefits, Miller went further, finding that the lead investigator in the case, Earl Sanders - who later became police chief - knew about the perjury. "I find that Sanders knew the testimony was false and did not correct it."

Sanders could not be reached for comment, and the prosecutor in the case, former San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Al Giannini, did not return calls about the ruling.

Previous Sanders case

Conley is not the first defendant to have been wrongly convicted in a case involving Sanders.

His case bears strong similarities to court findings that led to the release of Antoine Goff and John Tennison in another botched murder case that resulted in a record civil settlement last year of $7.5 million for the defendants, who were both freed in 2003 after spending more than 10 years in prison.

In that case, the courts found that prosecutors and police had information that another person might have committed the crime but did not disclose it during the trial.

In the latest case, San Francisco prosecutors said they will review the findings and decide whether to appeal the ruling in favor of the defendant. They declined further comment.

Both cases involved the same investigators, the late Napoleon Hendrix and Sanders, who retired in 2003.

The cases also both involved allegations that courts found had merited overturning murder verdicts because investigators had withheld exculpatory evidence defense attorneys were constitutionally entitled to.

In the Conley case, prosecutors claimed he shot and killed two people - Roshawn Johnson and Charles Hughes - in a gang-related drive-by on April 8, 1989. They based their case largely on the testimony of a key witness, Polk, who was a police informant. Johnson and Hughes were gunned down on Third Street in a shooting that left 11 others injured.

Polk recounted in the 1994 trial that the defendant confessed to him. Polk admitted on the stand that he was a prior police informant who was previously under witness protection because of his testimony in another case. But, when asked on the stand if he was currently under witness protection, he denied it.

However, while researching San Francisco records in the Tennison-Goff murder conviction challenge, Tennison's attorneys stumbled onto the previously undisclosed witness protection payment records involving Polk in the Conley case.

Other key documents were found under piles of debris in unmarked boxes at a police warehouse in Hunters Point, said Daniel Purcell, one of Conley's lawyers.

It turned out, Purcell said, that Sanders started paying Polk - an unemployed transient with a history of drug dealing - just three months before the Conley trial in September 1994. Purcell said Polk was getting weekly payments - and Sanders ultimately acknowledged those payments in testimony during a court-ordered deposition earlier this year in the case.

Sanders said he told the San Francisco prosecutor, Giannini, about the payments. Giannini testified, however, that he was never told of the payments.

In any event, Judge Miller found that the payments should have been disclosed to the defense.

Purcell said his client's constitutional rights were clearly violated. "This was an easy case - it's a case where the police and prosecutors paid the essential prosecution witness thousands of dollars over a period of months and let him lie about it on the stand."

Purcell said that prosecutors tried to argue that the witness was right when he testified he was not under witness protection because he was not part of an officially sanctioned state program. He was, however, being protected or paid as part of San Francisco's own program. "It didn't really pass the laugh test and the judge didn't give it any credit," he said.

Original report here

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Innocent Japanese man gets $1m for 17 years in jail

A Japanese man who spent 17 years in jail after being wrongly convicted of a child's murder has been awarded more than $1 million in compensation.

Toshikazu Sugaya was sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping and murdering a four-year-old girl. But a court has now freed him after ruling his DNA did not match that found at the scene.

The former bus driver has been awarded $1.1 million in compensation or $150 for every day he spent in prison.

While accepting the payout, Mr Sugaya said he was still waiting for an apology from the detectives and prosecutors who put him behind bars.

Original report here

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Australia: Canberra cops accused of torture

A Canberra law firm has lodged unprecedented claims of negligence, systemic abuse and police misconduct on behalf of eight clients sprayed with capsicum foam in separate incidents at Canberra city watch-house in 2006.

Their request for compensation for physical and psychological pain and suffering could cost the government and the former police officers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Each of the men alleges he was assaulted with capsicum foam by former watchhouse sergeant John Arthur Birch or his colleague, Joanne Theta Apostoloff, while detained at the city watch-house for being intoxicated.

The aggrieved men, who include an Aboriginal elder, builders and public servants, say they were tortured and subjected to cruel, inhumane and degrading conduct by the officers and, by extension, the Australian Federal Police and the Commonwealth.

Lawyer Mark Barrow, of Ken Cush & Associates, said a ruling in his clients' favour would be the first finding against the Commonwealth for torturing its citizens and breaching their entitlements under the ACT's Human Rights Act.

But in a document filed in the Supreme Court last week, lawyers for the Commonwealth say the case cannot proceed due to legislation stipulating personal injury claims must be made within three years of an event.

In their defence against one of the men, the lawyers deny their client tortured the man and say the Commonwealth was not liable for the conduct of the AFP or its members. Closed-circuit TV footage of some of the incidents has been filed with the Supreme Court.

In one recording, Birch tells detainee David Helmhout he is being videoed and to "shut up and listen" before spraying him with the foam. Three seconds later, Apostoloff reaches for the can, says "You going to listen now?" and sprays him again. Mr Helmhout, a 53-year-old indigenous man, said the action was unwarranted. "You wouldn't treat an animal in that way," he said. "It was torture. There was no respect. It was criminal."

Another man, 30-year-old builder Dale Reynders, said the officers' behaviour was routine. "They were so sure they would get away with it, they did it right in front of the camera," he said.

Allan Mitchell said he was helping a friend move house in October 2006 when police detained him, sprayed him twice with capsicum spray and repeatedly hit him in the head with the canister. Later, when Mr Mitchell was naked and handcuffed in the watchhouse, Birch allegedly sprayed him in the face.

The lawyer leading the class action said some people who watched footage of the incidents dubbed the city watchhouse "Canberra's Abu Ghraib", in reference to the Baghdad prison where US military personnel abused Iraqi prisoners.

"These eight cases are the tip of the iceberg, and given the findings of the 2007 joint review [of watchhouse operations] by the AFP and the Ombudsman, I expect there are [more] victims of the culture that was allowed to flourish … at the city watchhouse," Mr Barrow said.

Three former members of the AFP have already faced criminal charges over the misuse of the chemical agent and two have been found guilty. Birch, 55, who resigned from the force in 2007, was convicted that year of administering an injurious substance causing pain and discomfort to nine watch-house detainees between February and September 2006.

Birch, who lives in Wamboin in New South Wales, was sentenced on Supreme Court appeal to 500 hours of community service and given a 12-month suspended jail term after initially walking away from the ACT Magistrates Court with a three-month suspended sentence. Four of his victims are plaintiffs in the class action. He said he was defending the lawsuits.

Apostoloff, 31, was found guilty of misusing capsicum spray on a detainee but escaped a conviction for the June 2006 attack. She is no longer a member of the AFP and is believed to be living overseas.

Original report here. (Via Australian police news)

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reduce wrongful convictions: Florida's new innocence panel must start to change the rules

Amazingly bad procedures still going on

When Linda Zavatkay identified her neighbor as the man who robbed and stabbed her in her Port Salerno home, she did so only after investigators pressed her to choose a suspect. She had been checking out the lineup for a while, and wasn't sure that she saw her attacker's face.

"It should have stopped right there," state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said of the witness identification procedure. "But because of the detective, she continued to look and felt pressured to ID someone." That someone was Todd Patrick Neely. Despite evidence that he was having dinner at a restaurant 12 miles away at the time of the 1986 crime, a judge convicted Mr. Neely of attempted murder and burglary based on Ms. Zavatkay's eyewitness identification and sentenced him to 15 years.

Six months later, an appeals court ordered a new trial for Mr. Neely after ruling that prosecutors improperly withheld information about another suspect. Prosecutors then dropped the charges.

Mr. Neely's case attracted national attention. Yet more than two decades later, most area police and sheriff's departments have not changed the procedures they use to obtain eyewitness identifications. Sen. Negron, who represented Mr. Neely and sits on Florida's Innocence Commission, wants to change that.

When the commission meets today in Jacksonville, Sen. Negron plans to suggest that it review the recommendations issued by the U.S. Justice Department 11 years ago designed to make eyewitness evidence more accurate. As reported by The Post's Susan Spencer-Wendel, the majority of law-enforcement agencies in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast have failed to adopt those recommendations in their written policies and procedures. It's time they do so.

The Florida Supreme Court established the Innocence Commission last summer to study of the causes of wrongful conviction and measures to prevent such convictions. A national expert on eyewitness misidentification told commissioners in November that more than 30 percent of all eyewitness IDs are wrong, resulting in a huge number of innocent people behind bars. Gary Wells of Iowa State University said 12 people have been exonerated by DNA evidence in Florida, but an estimated 200 innocent people probably are still being held.

Sen. Negron will push for a pair of Justice Department recommendations that he believes are most important - "cautionary instruction" and double-blind administration of photo lineups. "Those are the two," he said, "that I think are the most promising to reduce wrongful convictions."

Cautionary instruction involves telling an eyewitness that the suspect may or may not be in the lineup, and that the investigation will continue whether the witness chooses someone or not. Double-blind administration means the person showing an eyewitness a lineup has no idea who the suspect is, which keeps him or her from influencing the eyewitness' choice. Although double-blind administration was not included in the Justice Department's 1999 guide, it was mentioned as a "direction for future exploration and field testing." That future is now.

According to a survey by The Post, only three of 32 area law-enforcement agencies have specific eyewitness ID policies and include key elements recommended by the Justice Department: the Indian River County Sheriff's Office, and the Jupiter and Palm Beach Gardens police departments.

Although the Innocence Commission's final report is not due until 2012, Sen. Negron said members can agree to make certain recommendations sooner. If so, he will file a bill for the legislative session. If law-enforcement agencies will not adopt better procedures, the Legislature must act. Given the number of innocent people already exonerated, it's already been too long.

Original report here

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

WA: Inquest into police shooting of woodcarver will answer some questions, but leave tough decisions for others

A court inquest will provide the first public airing of a Seattle police officer's fatal shooting of a First Nations woodcarver. But the jury's findings will be only an initial step toward deciding whether the officer should be criminally charged or fired.

A day after a Seattle police officer fatally shot John T. Williams, Police Chief John Diaz said he had "a lot more questions than answers."

More than four months later, the public search for answers will start Monday morning with the opening of a court inquest into a shooting that has drawn sharp community criticism and has been found to be unjustified in a preliminary Police Department review.

The eight inquest jurors won't be asked to weigh whether Officer Ian Birk is guilty or innocent of wrongdoing in the Aug. 30 shooting. But the fact-finding hearing could help shed light on one of the most controversial Seattle police shootings in years, and may determine whether Birk could face criminal charges or the loss of his job.

No inquest in King County has ever led to the filing of criminal charges against a police officer involved in a fatal shooting, which is not surprising since inquest juries generally have found that officers acted properly.

Even if jurors determine Birk acted improperly, it doesn't mean he would be likely to face murder or manslaughter charges, as some have urged. State law makes it extremely difficult to bring criminal charges against a police officer who uses deadly force.

For Diaz and the Police Department, the inquest comes amid growing criticism that officers used excessive force in several recent incidents, particularly in dealings with minorities. The shooting of Williams — a member of Canada's First Nations people — and other incidents prompted a call from community groups for the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the department's practices.

Birk's career and future will remain clouded for some time as he undergoes scrutiny by the inquest jury, prosecutors and the Police Department.

But the most immediate question confronting Birk is whether to take the witness stand in the inquest or invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

His testimony could be used against him in a criminal prosecution and civil suit. Federal prosecutors also could seize on his words.

The inquest will be the first step in a cumbersome process that "can be painfully frustrating to all the parties involved," said Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess, chair of the council's public-safety committee. "But it's really crucial, especially in cases involving deadly force, that there be a level of transparency and accountability so everyone can see what happened."

Tragic encounter

Birk, 27, had been on the department for about two years when he stopped his patrol car at Boren Avenue and Howell Street after watching Williams cross the street holding a knife with a 3-inch blade and a piece of wood. Williams, 50, a woodcarver, was a well-known chronic inebriate who'd had regular encounters with Seattle police.

Birk got out of his car and followed Williams onto a sidewalk. Birk shouted at Williams to get his attention and ordered him three times to drop the knife. Birk fired five shots when Williams didn't respond, hitting him four times. It took about four seconds from the time Birk issued the first command to drop the knife to the first gunshot, video and audio from Birk's patrol car showed.

Police said shortly afterward that Williams had advanced on Birk with a knife. But the tone changed at a news conference the next day, when Diaz said he had questions and department commanders backed off the assertion Williams had advanced on the officer.

Some witnesses told police they didn't see Williams act in a threatening manner. Williams' family said he was hard of hearing and may not have heard the officer's commands.

An autopsy showed Williams was shot in the right side of his body, indicating he was not facing Birk. When police recovered the folding knife, they found it in the closed position.

In an October preliminary ruling Diaz and the Police Department's Firearms Review Board found that the shooting was not justified, according to sources familiar with the confidential proceeding. They will make a final ruling after the inquest.

Birk was stripped of his gun and badge after the tentative finding, and has been on paid leave since the shooting.

What prompted the finding hasn't been disclosed, and the inquest jury will not be told about it.

An attorney for the Williams family, Tim Ford, has said Williams likely closed the knife in an attempt to comply with Birk.

"He didn't have a chance to put the knife down. He was shot," Ford said at a pre-inquest hearing.

Birk's attorney, Ted Buck, says Birk faced an imminent threat and acted properly.

Difficult to prosecute

The inquest jury will answer questions related to the facts. The questions won't be decided until the testimony is concluded, likely by the end of the week. But jurors are expected to be asked whether Birk believed he was in mortal danger and whether Williams posed a threat during their encounter.

The jury's answers, which don't have to be unanimous, could provide some indication of whether the jury believes the shooting was justified.

When prosecutors study the answers, they most likely will consider whether to charge Birk with second-degree murder, first-degree reckless manslaughter or second-degree negligent manslaughter.

A second-degree murder charge would require prosecutors to show beyond a reasonable doubt that Birk intended to unlawfully kill Williams, or that Birk intentionally and unlawfully assaulted Williams, causing his death. Either would be difficult to prove.

Manslaughter requires less proof. Prosecutors must show only that reckless or negligent conduct caused a death, although they still must do so beyond a reasonable doubt.

State law shields police officers from criminal prosecution when they claim they used deadly force in self-defense, unless it can be shown they acted with malice and a lack of good faith.

In essence, if a police officer believes he was justified in using deadly force, prosecutors must overcome a steep hurdle to obtain a conviction.

"It's pretty hard to overcome," said Joan Cavagnaro, chief criminal deputy in the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.

Cavagnaro's office prosecuted Everett police Officer Troy Meade last year on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges after he shot a man to death during a confrontation outside a restaurant. In what was believed to be the first trial of its kind in the state, Meade was acquitted after he testified he feared for his life.

In any case involving self-defense, jurors must put themselves in the shoes of the defendant in deciding what is reasonable.

"On top of that, if the defendant is a police officer, you have this additional hurdle of showing the officer acted with malice," Cavagnaro said. Malice is defined as "evil intent," she said. "If you're having to prove an evil intent," Cavagnaro said, "that's about as high as it gets."

State lawmakers enacted the malice and good-faith language in the mid-1980s, when they put limits on when police may use deadly force. At the same, legislators adopted a higher standard for criminally prosecuting officers than ordinary citizens, apparently in recognition of the demands put on police.

"I think it's appropriately high," said Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe, citing the tough, split-second decisions police officers are required to make.

Officers are allowed to make a mistake or even panic without being held criminally liable, Roe said in an e-mail and interview.

But, he added, an officer should face conviction if there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted out of anger and wasn't scared for his safety or others.

Federal rules

Federal prosecutors are likely to wait until local law-enforcement officials finish their work before deciding whether to formally look at the matter. If they get involved, they would determine whether Birk should be charged with violating Williams' civil rights.

To obtain a conviction, they would face the major challenge of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Birk used excessive force and willfully violated the law.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said the question of excessive force by police must be judged by what is reasonable rather than perfect hindsight, noting officers often are forced to make split-second judgments in "tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving" circumstances.

Officer's job on the line

Whatever prosecutors decide, the Police Department will take its own steps.

The Firearms Review Board will reconvene after the inquest, and the department's Office of Professional Accountability could recommend disciplinary action to Diaz. The chief has the final say.

If Birk is fired or receives other discipline, he could appeal outside the department to a civil-service board or an arbitrator and possibly to the courts. The Seattle Police Officers' Guild might oppose any discipline.

Diaz's decision will be made against a larger backdrop of previous incidents last year, where officers were accused of using excessive force or offensive language.

In one incident, an officer threatened to beat the "Mexican piss" out of a prone Latino man. In another, now under criminal investigation, an officer repeatedly kicked a suspect in a convenience store. Both incidents were captured on video and widely aired on television and the Internet.

In December, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and 34 community and civil-rights organizations asked the Justice Department to investigate whether the Police Department has engaged in a pattern of violating the civil rights of suspects, particularly minorities.

Original report here

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