Saturday, March 31, 2012

Meet Officer Michael Reichert: Professional liar, pride of the Collinsville PD

“Cops lie. Most of them lie a couple of times per shift, at least.”

This assessment was offered not by an embittered critic of the police, but by Norm Stamper, former Chief of the Seattle Police Department,in his 2005 memoir Breaking Rank (page 129, to be precise). Stamper supports the use of tactical dishonesty in dealing with certain kinds of violent suspects, but he has no tolerance for the casual mendacity that is ubiquitous in the profession of law enforcement.

Police consultant and former prosecutor Val Van Brocklin offers a similarly blunt perspective. “Police lie. It’s part of their job,” she wrote Val Van Brocklin in an essay entitled “Training Cops to Lie,” which was published in the November 16, 2009 edition of the online journal

Habitual lying cost Officer Michael Reichert of the Collinsville, Illinois Police Department his job nearly a decade ago. With the help of the police union, he was able to get it back -- at which point he resumed his career of officially sanctioned perjury. In January 2011, Reichert, who is now assigned to K-9 patrol, was one of four Collinsville officers given the “Chief’s Award of Merit” for performance “exceptional in nature or above and beyond normal performance.”

In April, Reichert was singled out again for his exceptional work by being named “Officer of the Month.” The department lauded Reichert for reflecting “the proactive and innovative philosophy of law enforcement prescribed to [sic] by the Collinsville Police Department. He has demonstrated this by his aggressive approach to drug trafficking in the area.”

“Officer Reichert had 166 total incidents with 6 arrests and 7 citations in 13 working days,” continued the department’s report. “In addition to this he had 3 self initiated significant incidents that is very worthy of praise [sic.]”

To someone who doesn’t belong to the coercive caste, a total of 6 arrests out of 166 “total incidents” isn’t an impressive ratio. The concept of a “self-initiated significant incident” seems downright ominous. This is the portrait of a government-licensed bully bent on manufacturing cases, rather than a peace officer devoted to protection of persons and property. A brief examination of Reichert’s past supplies that portrait with additional detail.

In 2006, Reichert was fired by the Collinsville PD “after a federal judge ruled he lied during a drug trial,” reported the April 19, 2009 edition of “They also cited a conviction on federal charges that he sold knockoff designer sunglasses." Irrespective of the merits of the federal case, Reichart was consciously defrauding consumers.

With the help of his union, Reichert appealed that ruling, and was he was reinstated in March 2009. However, about a month later the Collinsville Police and Fire Board suspended him without pay after “federal prosecutors … raised new concerns against Reichert again questioning his trustworthiness.”

Despite his track record as a proven perjurer and con artist, Reichert was re-hired by the Collinsville PD. He was promptly assigned to counter-narcotics duty once again – and he immediately resumed the same tactics that had resulted in his well-deserved but tragically temporary unemployment.

Officer Reichert’s routine is described at length in a November 2005 ruling by U.S. District Judge Michael J. Reagan in the case U.S. v. Zambrana. The defendant was one of two suspects arrested on narcotics charges by Reichert during a traffic stop in 2002. Zambrana filed a motion to suppress the results of a canine-assisted narcotics search, insisting that Reichert didn’t have probable cause to conduct the search.

Judge Reagan keyed on “Reichert’s lack of credibility as a witness,” describing him as a “polished performer” – a term not intended as a compliment.

“One reason this Court rejected Reichert’s testimony as not credible was because it was so rehearsed, coached and robotic as to be rote,” observed Judge Reagan. “It was a generic, almost default performance not dependent upon the facts of this case, but suitable for any case in which Reichert might testify to having found `reasonable suspicion. When questioning required him to temporarily stray from this rehearsed script, away from the security of his default testimony, he was caught off-guard.”

When required to deal with “objective verifiable facts” – events captured in audio or video recordings, for instance – Reichert was equivocal and self-contradictory. He was clear and emphatic, however, regarding matters that “were not objectively verifiable” – such as his “conclusions from reading body language `thrown off’ involuntarily from people `trafficking in narcotics.’” Judge Reagan astringently referred to this as Reichert’s conceit that he could behave as a “human polygraph” – an approach that “is wholly subjective and fraught with potential for guess, speculation, conjecture, and even deceit.”

“Reichert made clear that he understands what a Judge might find persuasive in making a reasonable suspicion determination,” Reagan continued, noting that “he teaches this principle in his classes.” That’s right: Reichert is not only a professional liar, he also tutors other police officers in his methods of mendacity.

At this point, it’s useful to remember Ms. Van Brocklin’s observation: “Cops lie. It’s part of their job.”

“By simply adding up `suspicious’ factors while ignoring non-suspicious or mitigating factors [in the Zambrana traffic stop], Reichert misused the `totality of circumstances’ principle as a sword to unjustly pierce Zambrana’s cloak of Fourth Amendment protection,” concluded Judge Reagan.

Reichert claimed that Zambrana came to his attention when he noticed the driver’s rental car – with out-of-state plates – “crossing the white divider line.” However, he also used the expression “hit” to describe this entirely trivial infraction. He claimed to have become suspicious when Zambrana “continued down the highway in a completely normal manner,” not bothering even to make eye contact with Reichert after the officer pulled alongside him in a police cruiser. This prompted him to pull Zambrana over.

Once the pretext stop was made, Reichert claimed that Zambrana and his passenger appeared “nervous” – which is an entirely understandable reaction to the presence of an armed stranger who considers himself entitled to kill you at his discretion. He then barraged them with what Judge Reagan called a series of “rolling no” questions. This is a tactic designed to elicit permission to search the vehicle. After inquiring about drugs, weapons, or cash, and getting negative responses, the officer will pose some variation of this question: “Hey, this will only take a minute – do you mind if I just take a look before letting you go?”

Regardless of Reichert’s perception “that Zambrana’s replies and lack of eye contact during this questioning were `suspicious,’ Reichert’s subsequent actions indicate that he knew that he still had no `reasonable suspicion’ to search Zambrana’s car,” notes Judge Reagan. “At that point, rather than simply informing Zambrana that he would be searching his car, Reichert requested Zambrana’s permission to conduct a search. Inexplicably (yet, not surprising to this Court, Reichert viewed Zambrana’s denial as `suspicious’ and advised Zambrana that he was detaining his car for a canine search.”

Narcotics were found, and both Zambrana and his passenger, a man named Babar Shah, were maneuvered into a plea bargain. Despite Reichert’s obvious and documented dishonesty, those convictions stuck.

Last December, Reichert followed exactly the same modus operandi in conducting a pretext stop – and illegal search – of a vehicle driven by Terrence Huff and John Seaton of Hamilton, Ohio. Huff and Seton had traveled to the St. Louis Science Center to attend a Star Trek exhibit. Their return trip, unfortunately, included a stretch along I-70 that was polluted by Officer Reichert, who was loitering in the median at taxpayer expense awaiting his next victim. The sight of two men in an SUV with out-of-state plates proved irresistible, so Reichert pulled out behind them and paced them for a few miles before pulling them over.

Once the pretext stop was made, Reichert – following exactly the same script described by Judge Reagan – claimed to have noticed an otherwise undetectable traffic infraction. He obtained Huff’s driver’s license and asked the passenger for ID. When he ran Huff’s license, he found a record of a previous arrest (without conviction).

“That mother****r,” sneered Reichert as he reviewed the information on his computer terminal. After calling for backup and resuming his pretense of professionalism, Reichert told Huff that he would let him off with a “warning” – and then began the “rolling no” routine.

“This highway, we have a major problem with people running guns and drugs and illegal stuff up and down the highway,” Reichert told Huff. “You guys don’t have anything like that in your car, do you?

“No,” replied Huff, adding, “I could show you the photos we took at the Star Trek convention. We’re not drug runners. It’s my birthday.”

“There wouldn’t be any marijuana in there right now?” Reichert persisted.

“No,” Huff responded.

“No cocaine in there?”


“Any heroin?”


“Any guns in there?”


“How about any large amounts of U.S. currency?” Reichert probed, thereby revealing the true purpose of the stop: He was trawling for assets subject to confiscation in the name of “asset forfeiture.” If Huff or his friend had been carrying cash, Reichert – assisted by the second officer who had materialized during the questioning – would have stolen it, and most likely the car, as well.

When Huff pointed out that all he was carrying was a credit card, Reichert moved to close the deal:

“Would you have any objection to us searching the car real quick to make sure that there’s nothing illegal inside the car?”

Reichert had neither probable cause nor “reasonable suspicion” to conduct a search. If Huff and objected, however, Reichert would have arrested him – and then stolen his car.

When Huff briefly hesitated, Reichert deployed yet another lie:

“Now, let me tell you something, OK? I’m not overly concerned about personal amounts or stuff like that. If you have a little bit … I’m not worried about that, OK?”

Remember that line; we’ll revisit it shortly.

“There are no drugs in the car, and I’d just like to go on my way, if I could,” Huff said in the forlorn hope that he would be set free.

“Well, I don’t have a problem with that,” Reichert lied once again. “I’m just a little apprehensive about how your buddy’s acting, he’s a little bit nervous.”

“I’ve got a canine in the car,” Reichert continued. “What I’m going to do is detain the car long enough to run the dog around it.” He made that announcement in a tone intended to convey the impression that this was a mere formality – if not an actual favor he was doing on Huff’s behalf.

“That’s fine,” Huff – an unarmed man confronting two armed and thoroughly amoral strangers – conceded.

“If the dog alerts, I will search your car,” Reichert admitted, now that Huff had been manipulated into consenting. “And anything illegal I find I will charge you with.”

“Anything” would include the “personal amounts of marijuana or cocaine” to which Reichert had referred so dismissively just seconds earlier.

When Huff pointed out that Reichert had lied about the reason for the traffic stop – a point he did not contest - -the uniformed liar abandoned the fa├žade of professionalism:

“I’m asking for your consent to search the car,” he told Huff. “If your answer is `no,’ I’m going to detain the car long enough to run the dog around it. I can get you a ride” – an invitation that, in context, has to be considered an ill-disguised threat to arrest Huff and his friend (vide the foregoing business about “personal amounts”).

“If I’m free to go, can I go?” Huff asked.

“Not in the car,” Reichert curtly replied.

In other words: Huff was under arrest. He was entirely at the mercy of a cynical, impenitent liar armed with a gun and clothed in impunity.

Reichert retrieved his dog, and – with the practiced guile of a veteran con artist – went through his charade, tapping and prompting the animal to “alert” as if the vehicle were containing contraband. Once at the front of Huff’s car – which concealed his actions from the dashcam – Reichert claimed that the dog had “indicated” that there was something in the vehicle.

He informed Huff that the dog – which “is trained to smell marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and meth” – had “started scratching” at the front of the car. “I am going to search your car,” he continued. That search was utterly futile. Reichert, who appears to be a mucosal personality composed of unctuous malicet, emitted one last lie to cover up his criminal misconduct.

“Inside your car, under your seat and under the back seat, there’s shake – marijuana shake,” lied Collinsville, Illinois’s April 2011 Officer of the Month. “A little bit all over the car. That’s probably what the dog’s alerting to.”

Of course, there was nothing of the sort to be found – in fact, Huff’s vehicle didn’t even have a back seat.

Despite the devoted obstruction of the Collinsville PD, Huff -- who owns a small, independent film production company called T-Minus Entertainment-- obtained the dashcam video of the episode. He used it to produce "Breakfast in Collinsville," a brief and thoroughly infuriating documentary of Reichert’s attempted carjacking and extortion:

“I am usually rather suspicious of authority, and this was something of a reality check,” Huff told Pro Libertate in a telephone interview. “It’s pretty clear that what Reichert is doing is generating revenue for his department. This kind of thing is happening all over the place – federal, state, county, or city, they’re all using asset forfeiture to collect revenue.”

Although he has been contacted by lawyers and civil liberties activists who want to help him mount legal action against Reichert and his department, Huff simply wants to use the video to “expose this abuse and get people to look at what’s happening in this country.”

Huff is too busy doing work for paying clients to invest the time, money, and frustration that a legal battle with Reichert and the police union would require. Unless the officer’s superiors can be shamed into firing him permanently – an unlikely outcome, given previous performance – Officer Michael “Third” Reichert will continue to prey on the innocent and perjure himself, and teach the relevant skills to other cops. After all, as his awards and commendations attest, Reichert is the pride of the Collinsville PD.

Original report here

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Friday, March 30, 2012

This week in innocence

After imprisoning a man 17 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Washington state finally sets him free . . . with $2,500 and a bus ticket.
Northrop was arrested for the rape and kidnapping of a housekeeper. “I instantly said, ‘No, you’ve got the wrong guy,’” Northrop recalls telling detectives. But detectives believed the victim’s testimony, although she was blindfolded for most of the attack. A jury agreed, sentencing Northrop, a father of three children under age 6, to 23 years in prison.

From behind bars, Northrop tried to prove police had the wrong guy. In 2000, he contacted the Innocence Project Northwest at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle.

For years, prosecutors denied the project’s requests to use more advanced DNA testing on the evidence in Northrop’s case. In 2005, a new state law gave judges the power to order additional testing. But it took five more years for Northrop’s testing to be completed and for a court to consider the results that conclusively showed another man’s DNA was on the victim.

In 2010, Northrop, still sitting in prison, got a letter with news he thought he might never get.

“I was jumping around the day room saying, ‘I’m out of here! I’m out of here!’” Northrop said.

But Washington state, like 23 other states, doesn’t compensate the wrongly imprisoned.
According to an Innocence Project study, Northrop is among the 40% of exonerated prisoners nationwide who received nothing from authorities for their time behind bars. The report calls for all states to pass laws providing the same compensation that the federal government offers for federal crimes: $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration with an additional $50,000 for each year spent on death row. Today, five states have the same standard.

Money would give Northrop a chance to “just get started over again and have a normal life again,” he said. He works full-time but lives in a small room in a friend’s house because he can’t afford his own apartment.

Even in the states that do offer compensation to the innocent, standards vary wildly. Some pay $50,000 per year. Two pay more (Texas and Vermont), but others less. Wisconsin pays $5,000 per year while Missouri pays $50 per day. New Hampshire sets an award cap of $20,000 while other states set a maximum of $500,000, $1 million or no limit.

But even in states on the high end of the compensation scale, the money is usually paid out in annual installments over 20 years, not a lump sum, and the payments stop coming once you die. Which perversely means that the innocent people who have been incarcerated the longest see less money once they’re exonerated.

Original report here

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

This does not look good

Australia: Police used psychological warfare on Lin killings accused, court hears. Typical of what knowall cops do to extract false confessions

Police investigating the 2009 Lin family killings engaged in a single-minded pursuit of their chief suspect, Robert Xie, subjecting him to psychological warfare and ignoring evidence suggesting an alternative theory, a Sydney court has heard.

The claims were made by the lawyer for Mr Xie, 47, during an application for bail in the NSW Supreme Court today.

Mr Xie was charged in May last year with five counts of murder for the killings, following one of the largest homicide investigations in NSW history.

In submissions made to the court today, Graham Turnbull, SC, said the police investigation "has the hallmark of a single-minded pursuit of the accused to the exclusion of all others", and that it ignored evidence that did not fit with their predetermined explanation.

Police claim that Mr Xie switched off the power in the Lin family's North Epping home before killing them, but DNA found on the power switch could not be identified as his.

There were also a significant number of hairs found at the crime scene but - other than those belonging to the victims - these could not be identified either.

"There was in fact no DNA from the applicant [Mr Xie] found on any items taken by police from the crime scene ... nor any of the victims' DNA found on any of his items or his property," Mr Turnbull said.

In a bid to counter Mr Turnbull's claims, the head of the police investigation into the killings, Detective Inspector Joe Maree, was called by the Crown prosecutor to give evidence.

He revealed that, a few weeks before his death, Mr Lin had seen an armed robbery outside the Epping RSL Club, and that police had investigated the possibility that the murder of Mr Lin and his family was an attempt to get rid of potential witnesses.

However, this explanation was disproved by the fact that two of the armed robbers were out of the country at the time of the killings, while the others were "under close police surveillance", the officer said.

Detective Inspector Maree said "all of the possible alternative explanations" had been investigated by police.

Mr Turnbull then claimed that police had subjected Mr Xie to "psychological warfare" including subjecting him to a torrid interview characterised by sardonic and sarcastic comments by the police, and a refusal to allow the suspect to have an interpreter.

"You rattled his cage because you needed more evidence didn't you?" Mr Turnbull said. The officer denied this, but conceded that, at the time of the interview, police had needed more evidence before laying charges.

Original report here

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

NY: Two cops finally forced to resign over 2006 shooting

Two New York Police Department detectives involved in the 2006 shooting death of an unarmed man after his bachelor party have been forced to resign.

Marc Cooper and Michael Oliver quit the NYPD on Monday. Their resignations resolved disciplinary charges stemming from the slaying of Sean Bell. They'll still get their pensions.

The police department fired a third detective, Gescard Isnora, on Friday after he lost his administrative case. A lieutenant is expected to resign on Tuesday.

The detectives shot and killed Bell and injured two friends following an altercation outside a Queens strip club where he had his bachelor party. Isnora claimed he opened fire first because he thought the men were trying to retrieve a gun.

All three detectives were acquitted of criminal charges at a non-jury trial in 2008.

Original report here

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Outrage as British police seek secrecy at inquest into man whose death sparked the London riots

"The United Soviet Kingdom"?

A full inquest into the police shooting of a man whose death sparked the London riots last summer may never take place after a police watchdog suggested evidence should be kept secret.

The family of Mark Duggan reacted with anger yesterday after a pre-inquest review into his death in Tottenham in August heard that sensitive material relating to police ‘decision making’ may not be disclosed – even to the coroner.

The move has alarmed campaigners, who warn of a ‘pandemic of secrecy’ coming at a time of controversial plans to extend private court hearings.

The Daily Mail has led the way in revealing growing unease at Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke’s proposals for an extension of ‘closed material procedures’, in which cases are held in secret.

North London Coroners’ Court was told the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) may have material about 29-year-old Duggan’s death ‘that it could not properly disclose to a coroner’.

Instead a judge could hold a special inquiry where the crucial details about why firearms officers shot the suspected gangster would be held behind closed doors.

Yesterday the Duggan family accused the IPCC of ‘delay tactics’.

If an inquest was blocked, there would still be a legal obligation to hold an alternative inquiry.

But the family fear that the case may echo that of Azelle Rodney who was shot dead by police in 2005, yet his family are still waiting for a public inquiry seven years later.

Duggan’s aunt Carole said: ‘We believe the IPCC are withholding information from us. ‘Maybe they think we will go away, come to terms with what has happened, but we are a grieving family and we will always grieve for Mark.’

Duggan was being followed in a covert operation when armed officers stopped the taxi he was travelling in and shot him dead on August 4 last year. The shooting sparked the riots that swept across Tottenham before engulfing many parts of the capital and spreading to other parts of the country.

Yesterday Coroner Andrew Walker said: ‘We anticipate that the IPCC may be in possession of material that would be relevant to the issue of police decision making but could not be disclosed even to the coroner. ‘That raises a likelihood and I want the family to understand that that may mean that an inquest cannot proceed.’

He added: ‘Underneath this we must not forget is a grieving family who need to understand what’s happened. The sooner we can identify whether the inquest is the means by which the state discharge their obligations the sooner an alternative if one is necessary can be put into place.’

Even if an inquest does take place it will now be pushed back to January next year to allow for a separate criminal trial to take place into the circumstances in which Duggan got the gun.

Yesterday the IPCC refused to explain why evidence could not be disclosed, but it is thought to relate to surveillance Scotland Yard had been carrying out.

Helen Shaw, co-director of Inquest, a charity providing support for bereaved people facing cases in a coroner’s court, said: ‘We share the coroner’s concern about undue delay.

The IPCC needs to move much more quickly – it shouldn’t have taken this long for them to tell the family and the coroner about their concerns about sensitive evidence.

‘While there are legal complexities surrounding sensitive material, it is absolutely vital a solution is found so that the family can get answers. Failure to do so will only lead to more distrust of the investigation process.’

Shami Chakrabarti, of civil liberties campaign group Liberty, said: ‘The least Mark Duggan’s family and Londoners deserve is a full and open hearing into how and why he was killed.

Given Government attempts to lock down our open civil courts, public confidence is hardly boosted by the IPCC falling victim to this new pandemic of secrecy.

Mark Ley-Morgan QC, representing the IPCC, said its report into the killing would be released to the parties by early autumn.

A further pre-inquest review has been scheduled for October, with a provisional date for a hearing set in January next year if the disclosure issue is resolved.

Original report here

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Australia: Incompetent computerization causes arrests of innocents

Twenty-one children wrongfully arrested because of a computer error have joined a class action against the NSW government.

The move comes after the government failed to deliver on a promise made last June to fix the problem with the Department of Justice computer system, which police use when making arrests. Solicitors involved in the class action said that since then at least 11 children had been wrongfully arrested because of out-of-date information on the system.

Vavaa Mawuli, a senior solicitor with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre who is co-ordinating the action, said young people continued to be wrongfully detained, despite the class action. The Department of Justice's computer system, known as JusticeLink, did not fully sync with the police computer database. This meant police did not immediately have access to changes in a person's court records after they had appeared before a magistrate and had their bail conditions varied or dropped.

A police source said it was frustrating for officers, who were acting in good faith on the information that was available to them.

Last June, Musa Konneh became the first young person to join the class action seeking compensation over his wrongful detention. Mr Konneh was arrested, strip-searched and spent a night in jail because the police computer database failed to recognise that all charges against him had been dismissed in the Children's Court four days earlier.

The Sun-Herald revealed 30 young people have complained to the solicitors involved in the class action about being wrongfully arrested because of the system error, which dates back to 2005. Of the 30, 21 have instructed them that they want to be part of the action. The law firm Maurice Blackburn, which is involved in the class action, said it believed the number involved could grow to as many as 200.

A young person involved in the class action was arrested at his Caringbah flat at 11.30pm on a Thursday in 2010 because he had not been home when police called at 8pm. But the then 17-year-old's bail conditions had been altered by a magistrate a month earlier, and his curfew had been extended to 9pm - a condition he had complied with. The teenager was taken to a juvenile justice centre, detained overnight and then taken and held in a cell at Parramatta Children's Court until the matter was thrown out by a magistrate.

Last June, the Minister for Police, Mike Gallacher, said the problem needed to be fixed urgently and that he did not believe it would be an issue in a year's time.

A spokeswoman for the minister yesterday said the government was seeking a response from the NSW Police Force and the Department of Justice. NSW Police said new safeguards had been put in place and it was working to fix the problem with the support of the government.

Last financial year, police were forced to pay more than $5 million to compensate people it had falsely imprisoned and assaulted. It was a $1 million increase on the previous year.

Original report here

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

IL: Chicago cops shoot dog, assault kid with Bible

Three federal complaints of excessive force accuse Chicago police officers of shooting a dog while its owner begged for its life, assaulting a child with a Bible, and running into a man with a squad car, breaking his leg.

In the dog story, Jerome Anderson sued three Chicago police officers and the City of Chicago.

Anderson says that his girlfriend called police for an escort home after she and Anderson had an argument.

"She did not state that plaintiff had gotten physical with her," according to the complaint.

But Anderson says police officers entered the house, handcuffed him and shot his dog, Rocco.

Anderson says the defendant officers handcuffed him with his hands behind his back. He asked what was going on and "the officers told him to shut up and not move."

"Plaintiff's dog then came down from upstairs and sat by plaintiff's side," the complaint states. "When the officers saw the dog, they put away their Tasers and got out their guns ...

"Defendant Officer [Jason] Landrum then walked up to plaintiff and his dog and put his gun to the dog's head. Plaintiff begged the officer to put down his gun and allow him to put his dog in another room. The dog stayed by plaintiff's side and made no move toward the officer.

"Landrum looked at the other officers and then shot the dog in the neck.

"Two white male officers, upon information and belief, defendants [Brian J] McEnerney and [Milton] then shoved plaintiff backwards, causing him to fall down the stairs and fracture his tibia.

"Officer Landrum then shot Rocco in the chest, and the dog then ran down the stairs to plaintiff, where Landrum shot the dog a third time, hitting it in the leg."

Anderson says the cops would not allow his girlfriend back into the house to take care of the dog, "who she could see lying on the floor bleeding through the open back door."

Anderson seeks damages for excessive force, false arrest, and unlawful seizure. He is represented by Kurt Feuer.

In the assault-with-a-Bible lawsuit, James Stagger, Jermaine Fareed, Tracy Cherry and Rebecca Gaines sued John and Jane Doe Chicago Police officers, claiming they were stopped and searched without justification.

"During this incident, both officers used excessive force on the plaintiffs ... and this excessive force included but was not necessarily limited to pointing a gun at the plaintiffs, slapping, hitting, pulling hair, and throwing a Bible at one of the boy's faces," according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs seek damages for excessive force, and battery, and are represented by Richard Dvorak.

In the third lawsuit, Raymond Franklin sued 14 Chicago police officers, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), and two of its agents.

Franklin claims that in March 2010, "unknown Chicago police officers, a man and a woman officer, driving in an unmarked squad car struck Raymond Franklin with their vehicle, causing him to fall, break his leg, and suffer other injuries."

To top it off, Franklin says, the police then arrested him and charged with battery to a police officer, a charge he denies.

When Franklin's parents complained to the IPRA, "the IPRA collected the wrong video from street cameras located at the intersection of 115th and Halsted in an attempt to prevent plaintiff from identifying and suing the unknown Chicago police officers and the City of Chicago," according to the complaint.

Franklin claims: "IPRA management and investigators have refused to conduct an in person line up of suspected unknown Chicago police officers for fear that plaintiff will correctly identify the unknown Chicago police officers."

Franklin seeks damages for excessive force, conspiracy, and false arrest. He is represented by Nicolas Albukerk.

Original report here

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

TX: Ex-inmate fights state over compensation law

Billy Frederick Allen spent more than 25 years in prison before an appeals court overturned his convictions in two murders. Three years after winning his freedom, Allen is fighting the state again -- this time for the $2 million he says he's owed for wrongful imprisonment.

Although the appeals court declared the evidence against Allen too weak for any reasonable juror to convict him, Texas officials say he has not proven his innocence. Therefore, they say, he isn't covered by a state law that generously compensates the wrongfully convicted for the years they spent behind bars.

Advocates say Allen's case raises new questions about what evidence is needed to qualify for compensation in Texas, where more inmates have been freed because of wrongful convictions than any other state.

DNA evidence has led to most of Texas' exonerations. But with DNA testing essentially standard in most cases and the number of DNA-based exonerations expected to dwindle, more former inmates like Allen -- whose case has no DNA evidence -- are likely to account for more compensation cases.

"The only difference is the good luck, if you want to call it that, that exonerees in DNA cases had versus Billy," said Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas, which works to free wrongfully convicted inmates. "It doesn't make them any more innocent than Billy Allen. It doesn't make Billy any less innocent than them."

Texas' compensation law is the most generous in the U.S., according to the national Innocence Project. Freed inmates who are declared innocent by a judge, prosecutors or a governor's pardon can collect $80,000 for every year of imprisonment, along with an annuity.

Allen, who was imprisoned for 26 years, would stand to collect almost $2.1 million.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest state court to review criminal cases, reversed Allen's murder convictions three years ago in two 1983 murders in the Dallas enclave of University Park. The court ruled that Allen's trial attorney made mistakes, including failing to contradict a police officer's claim that one victim, moments before he died, indicated Allen was his attacker.

The court ordered a new trial. Prosecutors decided to dismiss the charges, but said they still considered Allen a suspect and have kept the case open.

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs' office denied Allen's application for compensation because "ineffective assistance of counsel was the basis for the relief he received from the court; it was not on the basis of actual innocence," her spokesman said in a statement. Combs declined an interview request.

Allen was convicted in the fatal shootings of James Perry Sewell and Sewell's girlfriend, Raven Dannelle Lashbrook. Allen said he'd frequently visited Sewell because he wanted to sell Sewell scraps of gold as part of a legitimate business, and that he'd leaned against Sewell's car a few days before the couple's deaths, according to court filings.

The court documents said Sewell was found "gagged, handcuffed and covered with blood" near an apartment building, and that Allen's handprint was discovered on top of the car, where Lashbrook was found dead.

The police officer testified that when he asked Sewell who attacked him, he answered: "Billy Allen."

But a defense investigator after the trial found two paramedics who heard Sewell saying three names as he was dying, the Court of Criminal Appeals said. One said he heard Sewell say "Billy Wayne Allen," the name of another possible suspect. The other paramedic remembered hearing a middle name, but couldn't recall it.

That new evidence left the officer's testimony ineffective, and the remaining major piece of evidence -- the palm print on the car -- would not have been enough to convict him, the Court of Criminal Appeals determined. The court overturned Allen's conviction in 2009, and he walked out of prison on bond.

Now, the Texas Supreme Court is considering Allen's compensation claim. Both sides recently argued before the court, with Allen's attorneys saying he had proven himself innocent and was the same as any other ex-inmate who had been released from prison.

"Billy will establish that you don't have to have a DNA exoneration to be compensated," said his attorney, Kris Moore.

Assistant Solicitor General Philip Lionberger, representing the state, argued that Allen was freed through a claim that raised legitimate questions about his conviction but did not prove he was fully innocent. He said state law only requires payment to former inmates who win their freedom after presenting evidence proving their innocence based on a stricter standard than the one Allen met.

Lionberger said Allen's claim and others like his are "never going to be entitled to compensation."

Democratic state Sen. Rodney Ellis, who pushed for the state's compensation law and other criminal justice reforms, said Allen's case seemed caught in a "no person's land" -- the evidence was insufficient to convict him, yet it also appeared too weak to qualify him for compensation.

The state has paid 79 people about $48 million, according to the state comptroller's office. Most were freed through DNA testing or in connection to a drug detective in the Texas Panhandle town of Tulia later convicted of perjury.

Combs' office is currently challenging five compensation claims before the Texas Supreme Court. Another ex-inmate, Richard Sturgeon, had his conviction for a 1998 robbery overturned based on problems with his trial attorney and witnesses. He filed a claim similar to Allen's.

Cory Session, whose brother, Tim Cole, was exonerated of a rape conviction after he died and became the namesake of the compensation law, said he was prepared to push for legislative changes to help Allen.

"I'm totally against someone going to prison, spending years, and then their case getting out on appeal, and they say, 'We don't really want to say he's innocent, but no jury would find him guilty,'" Session said. "In the state of Texas, we can't play semantics with people's lives after they're incarcerated."

Original report here

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Parents of teen mugging victim slam British police as they trace attacker on Facebook... while officers still hadn't even started investigation after FIVE days

Should it need a media report to get them off their fat behinds?

The parents of a teenage mugging victim have slammed police for failing to apprehend her attacker - after they tracked her down on Facebook. Hannah Brinkman, 14, was left battered and bruised after being mugged for her mobile phone as she walked back home from an evening out with friends in Bristol.

Her horrified parents called police as soon as she returned home and officers arrived within ten minutes to take a statement.

The next day Hannah’s father Mark Brinkman, 49, knocked on doors near Broadbury Road, Bristol - the scene of the attack - and a witness gave him the name of Hannah’s alleged attacker. Mr Brinkman quickly tracked down the woman on Facebook and immediately reported the information to police when his daughter recognised her.

But five days later the family were told the case was still waiting to be allocated for investigation.

Mr Brinkman today slammed the police’s lack of response as ‘unacceptable’. He said: ‘The fact that an adult can do that to a child, she is then clearly identified and then nothing is done about it, defies belief. ‘I understand that the police have procedures and processes but it is unacceptable that this can happen and that there is no sense of urgency.’

He added that Hannah is devastated, is having difficulties sleeping and keeps reliving the event again and again.

‘It was a random attack, a violent robbery, by someone she has never seen before. Why aren’t the police doing anything?,’ Mr Brinkman said. ‘If it was one of their children who was 14 and was attacked by an adult then I am sure there wouldn’t have been this response.’

Hannah, who attends Merchant’s Academy in South Bristol, was walking home at 11.30pm on Friday night when she noticed a gang of people. A woman ran over and grabbed Hannah’s phone - but turned violent when the schoolgirl chased after her to get it back.

Mr Brinkman added: ‘The woman stopped and beat hell out of her, punching her repeatedly in the head. ‘Her mouth was badly smashed up inside, as she has a brace, and she was left with bruising to her head. ‘After she was attacked she gave up and the woman walked off and put the phone in her pocket.’

Hannah returned home and her parents called police. The following morning, her father knocked on the doors of houses around where the incident happened. He was given the name of Hannah’s suspected attacked and typed it into Facebook when he returned home - with his daughter recognising the woman straight away.

Mr Brinkman phoned police and gave them the name, believing that they would investigate it immediately. He was shocked when nothing was done five day later.

Martin Dunscombe, spokesman for Avon and Somerset police, admitted that there had been failings in communication with the family.
He said: ‘This was undoubtedly a frightening incident for the teenage victim and one which we are taking very seriously.

‘Within an hour of the incident being reported a police officer had attended the scene and spoken to the victim. In the next few hours he also seized clothing as evidence and reviewed local CCTV coverage. ‘It is important to us to keep victims informed on the progress of their crimes and clearly on this occasion we could have done better.

‘This incident has been allocated to a local response team who will continue the investigation and will be making contact with the family.’

Original report here

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

British Police sergeant and detention officer accused of 'assaulting man during questioning'

The trial has begun of two police staff accused of twisting a man's arms to make him answer questions - after he had been pepper sprayed and was complaining of chest pains.

A court was shown CCTV footage of David Healer, 40, screaming as Sergeant Stephen Harvey and civilian detention officer Michael Mount seize him by the arms. Harvey, 61, can be heard asking: 'Are you gonna talk?' as he holds Mr Healer, to which he replies: 'Yes, get off.' Mr Healer told the court: 'I was in absolute terror and agony.'

Defence barrister Steven Crossley told Teesside Magistrates' Court that Harvey had applied a 'pain stimulus' after Mr Healer slumped in the custody suite, apparently losing consciousness. Dan Cordey, for Mount, 50, says his client was simply holding Mr Healer’s arm and applying no force.

As the police officer holds Mr Healer’s left arm up behind his back, Mount can be seen grasping Mr Healer’s right arm from across a desk in Peterlee Police Station, County Durham. Again Mr Healers says: 'Yes, get off.'

After this, the video shows Harvey taking his place behind the desk and continuing to question Mr Healer.

When asked how he is feeling now, Mr Healer, who said he had suffered an angina attack while in the police van, tells the sergeant that he needs a doctor.

Mr Healer does not answer further questions, with his head and arms on the desk and Harvey says to him: 'I thought you were gonna answer my questions.'

The sergeant again takes his left arm, this time from across the desk, as Mount holds the other. Mr Healer again screams loudly as Harvey asks: 'What’s your problem?' When Mr Healer agrees to answer questions again Healer lets go and
continues to question him, while Mount also releases him.

Harvey's barrister accused Mr Healer of exaggerating the pain caused.

The officer is heard referring to putting Mr Healer in an 'arm lock' in the footage. He is also heard to say of Mr Healer: 'He makes a lot of noise. Anyone would think we were hurting him, I only had hold of his wrist.'

Mr Healer had been arrested for breach of his bail conditions.

He accepted a caution last April for assaulting one of the police officers who arrested him ahead of Harvey and Mount’s alleged assaults on March 5, 2011.

The court heard how a police officer gave Mr Healer his spray, which treats his angina, after his arrest, but Healer claims he could not use it properly because of the pepper spray and was not given any help.

Harvey, of Chester-le-Street, County Durham, and Mount, of Thornley, County Durham, both deny two counts of battery against Mr Healer.

Original report here

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My hell on earth: Briton facing extradition to Portugal over attack he was cleared of 17 years ago

A Briton yesterday spoke of his ‘hell on earth’ as he faces extradition to Portugal and retrial for an alleged attack he was cleared of 17 years ago.

In his first interview, Graham Mitchell said his life had been ‘turned upside down’ since he was rearrested under the controversial European Arrest Warrant earlier this month.

The 49-year-old photographer, from Canterbury, is hoping the Portuguese authorities – who accuse him of murder, despite the victim still being alive – have made an ‘administrative blunder’.

But the man he was accused of assaulting, German tourist Andre Jorling, is insisting Mr Mitchell is guilty and told the Daily Mail that he should be returned to Portugal to face a retrial.

Mr Mitchell and his friend, Warren Tozer, were in the Algarve in May 1994 when they were arrested by police after a serious assault on Mr Jorling, then 26, who was paralysed after being thrown off a 12ft-high sea wall. The two men spent 11 months in a Portuguese prison awaiting trial.

In March 1995, Mr Mitchell and Mr Tozer were cleared as police were said to have ignored a description the paralysed tourist had given of his assailants which bore little resemblance to the friends.

The former Scots Guardsman, who lives with his wife Laura and two children, has rebuilt his life and tried to forget the ‘hellish’ jail.

Mr Mitchell was held in Wandsworth Prison, in south London, before being released on bail.

Yesterday, Mr Mitchell said: ‘Our life’s been turned upside down and inside out. Nothing’s the same. Every waking moment is a constant worry. It’s hell on earth.’

Under the current system, British courts have few powers to test any evidence underpinning a request for extradition. It has led to a string of controversial cases, with dozens of MPs demanding the European Arrest Warrant should be reformed or scrapped.

However, Mr Jorling’s lawyer, Raymund Reineke, last night said the possible extradition was ‘the good news’ his client had been waiting for. At his office in Bremen, Germany, he added: ‘It was a totally unacceptable crime. We have been trying for this for years.’

Mr Mitchell is due to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court next Wednesday.

Original report here

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Just a slap on the wrist for callous British cop

A police officer who refused to help a pensioner when she collapsed – and subsequently died – from a heart attack has escaped serious punishment.

Off-duty PC Paul Raines ignored 62-year-old Christine Roche’s need for urgent assistance after he became involved in a road-rage row with her husband, Patrick.

Yesterday Mrs Roche’s son Matthew said he was disgusted the 45-year-old officer had been handed nothing more than a ‘slap on the wrist’.

The incident happened as the pensioners were driving home in foggy conditions and the wing mirror of their car clipped PC Raines’s Ford Focus. After challenging the couple, the officer grabbed Mr Roche, 72, leaving him ‘scared witless’.

As the pair argued, Mrs Roche suffered a heart attack behind the wheel of the couple’s car.

But rather than go to her aid, PC Raines, who would have received basic training in first aid, left without even calling an ambulance. He was initially arrested on suspicion of manslaughter.

Yet despite a criminal inquiry, inquest and an internal disciplinary hearing, PC Raines has been told he will not be punished or stripped of his job as a firearms licensing officer.

Instead, senior officers have ruled he was guilty of ‘discreditable conduct’, earning him only a final written warning.

Matthew Roche, 29, called the decision an ‘utter disgrace’. Mr Roche added: ‘This is not an appropriate consequence for his actions. ‘I have lost my mother and he has not even lost his job. ‘We were originally looking for a manslaughter charge and now to be told he will carry on working has left us inconsolable. ‘To think that this is the end of the road and he will just get to move on with his life with just a warning beggars belief.’

Mrs Roche, who worked on the switchboard at Great Ormond Street Hospital for more than 30 years, died at the wheel of her Peugeot 106 in November 2010. She was only yards from home in Hillingdon, West London, when her wing mirror clipped PC Raines’s car.

The officer left his children in the back seat to get out and remonstrate with the pensioners. One witness said: ‘He caused quite a scene and someone said we should call the police but he answered, “I am the police”.’ The officer then produced his warrant card before grabbing Mr Roche, who uses a walking stick, and pushing his hand behind his back.

As the heated exchange continued the men realised Mrs Roche had collapsed. Paramedics were unable to save the pensioner, who had undergone heart surgery the previous week.

An inquest found she died of natural causes. The couple’s son said the tragedy and lengthy legal proceedings caused his father’s health to decline.

And he said the family had little say at the disciplinary hearing – where PC Raines was represented by two lawyers – because they could not afford legal representation. ‘It has been a nightmare,’ he said. ‘We don’t have a big family and now it is just the two of us. My mother was our rock and she has been taken away. ‘We don’t feel that anyone has stepped forward and helped us. He had every advantage and we had every disadvantage.’

Deborah Glass, of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said although the officer did not cause Mrs Roche’s death he had ‘failed to perform his basic duty of care’.

Lorna Heger, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said there was insufficient evidence to show PC Raines’s actions caused Mrs Roche’s death.

The Met said the officer, who was based at Paddington, West London, was on restricted duties.

Original report here

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Australia: An unreasonable prosecution fails -- at a large cost to the taxpayer

THE prosecution of a member of the Hells Angels bikie gang over a fatal brawl at Sydney Airport has been criticised by a Supreme Court judge as "unreasonable" and not backed by the evidence.

The bikie, David Padovan, was acquitted by a jury in November of two charges of affray and one of riot over his alleged role in a fight at the arrival gate and another in the departure hall two years ago.

But Supreme Court Justice Robert Hulme, who presided over the trial, said it was "unreasonable for the crown to have instituted proceedings against him" because the case against him was "tenuous" and "weak".

Justice Hulme ruled Mr Padovan was entitled to apply to have his legal costs - believed to amount to about $500,000 - paid by the Attorney-General's Department.

It is the latest blow to the Office of the DPP after criticism of the prosecution in the case of Gordon Wood. The office declined to comment on the judgment.

Mr Padovan was one of seven Hells Angels who had come to the airport to meet their president Derek Wainohu after he was on a plane with five members of the rival Comanchero bikie gang.

But, Justice Hulme found, rather than being an aggressor, Mr Padovan had been a victim. "The Crown Prosecutor's submission that … Mr Padovan exercised a choice to involve himself in the fighting was, with respect, fanciful … The evidence simply did not support it."

Witnesses described that at the first fight, at the arrivals gate, Mr Padovan was punched and kicked by Comanchero members while he was on the ground. Moments later he helped Mr Wainohu, who was then being assaulted by others.

A few minutes later another fight broke out in the departure hall and the crown relied mainly on one witness who did not make a police statement until nine months later. He said several things which were clearly incorrect, and Justice Hulme found his evidence was "utterly unreliable".

Mr Padovan's solicitor Phil Stewart said the trial and committal proceedings had taken nine months of his client's life. He had also spent several weeks in custody before being granted bail. "Nine months of your life where you have to be in court to defend yourself is a big impost on a person who is patently not guilty from the start," Mr Stewart said.

Mr Padovan's defence had been funded by Legal Aid, but after the judge granted him a costs certificate, it is expected the government will reimburse the organisation for the costs to be borne by the Attorney-General's Department instead. In the three years to 2011, the government paid costs in 152 cases, paying more than $4.2 million in legal costs under such certificates.

Original report here

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

There are some astonishing figures coming out of Virginia:

In September 2004, Mark Warner, then Virginia’s governor, ordered a random audit of 31 old criminal cases after a vast trove of biological evidence was discovered lying around in old case files saved by state forensic serologists. The testing of those 31 samples led to the exonerations of two convicted rapists. Warner, embarrassed by the revelations, then ordered in late 2005 that every sample obtained between 1973 and 1988 be rechecked. It amounted to thousands of files . . .

At the time Virginia’s audit began, Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, which has used DNA testing to exonerate hundreds of prisoners across the country, noted in astonishment that “a random sample of convicted felons and we’re getting a 7 percent exoneration rate” in Virginia. But it appears that a 7 percent exoneration rate may be grossly understating the problem. UVA’s Garrett suspects that the error rate may actually be as high as 17 percent. As he discovered in his own research, Barbour’s conviction, based on the testimony of a single eyewitness, reflects the reality that of the first 250 people exonerated by DNA testing, a whopping 76 percent were misidentified by eyewitnesses.
Whatever the percentage of error on the part of Virginia’s criminal justice system, one thing is certain: Only a handful of the falsely convicted have received the exonerations they deserve.

Due to a widespread sense of shame and an eagerness to take responsibility for its mistakes, the state of Virginia is now opening up its DNA testing process, inviting outside labs to help with the testing project, as well as to independently verify the results from the state lab. The state is also inviting journalists and academics to scrutinize the project to look for errors and oversights.

Just kidding.

It was a project intended to take 18 months at a cost of $1.4 million dollars. Now in its seventh year, the cost of the project hovers at $5 million. Nobody has any idea exactly how the Virginia Department of Forensics has conducted its work. Indeed, no one knows much about the specifics of the crime lab’s work at all . . .

University of Virginia law school professor Brandon Garrett (who has contributed to Slate) is an expert on wrongful convictions and DNA exoneration. His landmark study, Convicting the Innocent, scrutinized the cases of the first 250 people to be exonerated nation-wide by DNA testing. To hear him tell it, Virginia’s statewide audit is a mystery wrapped in obfuscation. “This DNA testing program began two Governors ago,” he says, “but its operation has remained shrouded in secrecy. We do not know how the authorities chose to test the cases that they have tested. We do not know how long the authorities have known about the many dozens of cases where DNA has excluded the individuals. We do not know what local prosecutors plan to do about the cases where DNA may prove innocence.”

The state’s actions only get more sordid from there. State officials initially refused to make any attempt at all to let convicts know that their DNA was being tested. When compelled to do so by the state legislature, they’ve complied only in the most bare-bones sense of the word. They’re still refusing to release the information to the public. Instead, they’ve sent letters loaded with legalese to the last known addresses of the convicted. Some of these cases are decades old. They finally relented and have allowed pro bono attorneys to track down the convicts, but only under the stipulation that the attorney who does the tracking agree to not represent the convict in any subsequent legal action.

If you want to squeeze some dark humor out of this tragedy, look to the absurd justifications state officials are giving for their obstinacy. For example, here’s one official’s explanation why they initially balked at letting pro bono attorneys track down the exonerated:

”If you send a young, new attorney to a bad neighborhood, bad things could happen.”

And here’s why the state made no effort to send DNA results from the exonerated who have since died to their next of kin:

“That information is private and personal, and maybe that individual doesn’t want his family members to have a copy of the report. We have to protect the sensitivity and privacy of those individuals.”

So yes, state of Virginia may wrongly convict you, then send you to prison for decades for a crime you didn’t commit. But rest assured. Should DNA testing exonerate you after your death, the state will honor your privacy and “sensitivity” by refusing to notify your family that you were innocent all along.

Original report here

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

The doctor who broke up families: British psychiatrist who damned hundreds as 'unfit parents' faces GMC probe

A leading psychiatrist faces extraordinary claims he deliberately misdiagnosed parents with mental disorders – decisions which meant their children were taken away from them.

Dr George Hibbert faces being struck off over his conclusions that hundreds had ‘personality disorders’ after assessing them at his private family centre. He was paid hundreds of thousands of pounds by social services for the reports which tore children from their parents – many of them young mothers.

He is now being investigated over shocking suggestions he distorted the assessments to fit the view of social services. In one case, he is alleged to have wrongly diagnosed a ‘caring’ new mother – named only as Miss A – with bipolar disorder because her local authority wanted the baby adopted.

After being confronted with this allegation, Dr Hibbert offered to surrender his licence to practise as a doctor rather than face a General Medical Council inquiry. But his request has been rejected by the GMC which says there are still ‘unresolved concerns regarding his fitness to practise’. He will now face a full fitness to practise hearing.

Yesterday John Hemming MP, who has raised concerns about Dr Hibbert in Parliament, described the claims as shocking. The Lib Dem MP – alerted by a whistle-blower – said he had since spoken to ‘three or four’ other families who said the same had happened to them. He has written to Justice Secretary Ken Clarke demanding a full parliamentary inquiry.

Mr Hemming said: ‘He is someone about whom a number of people have complained. I am told that at least one person has refused to work for him because of what she saw as his unethical provision of reports to suit the demands of local authorities. ‘Much of the decision making in care proceedings rests on reports from experts such as Dr Hibbert,’ he told Parliament.

He added that supposedly independent experts such as Dr Hibbert, 59, were often little more than ‘the hired gun of the local authority’.

Earlier this week, a study for the Family Justice Council revealed how life-changing decisions about the care of children are routinely being made on the basis of flawed evidence. A fifth of ‘experts’ who advise the family courts are unqualified.

Dr Hibbert charged local authorities £6,000 a week for every family in his care and £210 an hour just to read documents such as medical records. By 2007 his company, Assessment in Care, was making a profit of around £460,000 a year from his lucrative arrangement with social services.

He is now worth more than £2.7million. Last night a black Porsche Turbo, thought to be worth around £120,000, and a grey Porsche 911 Carrera, worth around £80,000, were parked on the gravel driveway outside his £500,000 country cottage.

A former honorary lecturer at Oxford University, who has previously advised the government on care assessments, Dr Hibbert left the NHS to set up his private assessment centre in 2000. Since then, hundreds of parents in contact with social services – usually mothers and babies – have been referred to his centre to be assessed.

Concerns were first raised in 2007, when mother Miss A complained that Dr Hibbert had wrongly diagnosed her with a bipolar disorder. One consultant psychiatrist accused Dr Hibbert of having ‘no evidence’ for some of his claims and of deliberately ‘exaggerating’ and ‘misrepresenting’ aspects of the woman’s behaviour.

Her report is among a number of documents being examined by the GMC with regards to Dr Hibbert.

Miss A, who has seen her son just a few times since, said Dr Hibbert was ‘corrupt and evil.’ ‘Nothing will ever make up for what he has done to me and my child,’ Miss A said. ‘I want to make sure this man is exposed and that he can never do this to anybody else.’

In a letter sent to Miss A, a GMC investigations officer confirmed Dr Hibbert ‘has now applied for voluntary erasure from the medical register’. The letter continued: ‘He has no intention of returning to clinical practice in the future.’

However, the GMC officer concluded it was in the ‘public interest’ for his request to be denied ‘in view of the nature of the performance allegations and in the view of the conduct concerns.’

He has not been available for comment at his two-storey detached cottage in the small village of Blunsdon near Swindon. His assessment centre next to his home appeared to be closed.

A spokesman for Dr Hibbert at the Medical Protection Society, the indemnity organisation for doctors, said professional confidentiality meant Dr Hibbert was ‘unable to comment on allegations raised in relation to care of a patient’.

Paul Grant, of Bernard Chill & Axtell Solicitors, who represents Miss A, said: ‘Our client has instructed us to launch proceedings against Dr Hibbert and the local authority. ‘We believe this distressing case may be the tip of a very big iceberg.’

Original report here

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Doctor queries shaken baby symptoms

AN INTERNATIONAL expert in inflicted brain injury has challenged the use of specific injury patterns to diagnose shaken baby syndrome, calling for doctors to update their training as new evidence emerges.

Colin Smith, a senior lecturer in pathology at the University of Edinburgh, urged doctors to be more open-minded when assessing children with traumatic brain injuries.

His comments come as 145 incidents of a baby being shaken were reported to the NSW Department of Community Services in 2010-11, compared with 133 the year before - though many doctors believe the condition is under-diagnosed.

When three symptoms occurred together - blood between the brain and the skull, retinal rupture and brain swelling - doctors usually concluded the baby had been violently shaken, Dr Smith told the annual conference of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia last week.

But there was growing evidence other conditions, such as lack of blood flow to the brain from a seizure or breathing obstruction, could cause similar injury. "What was considered to be absolute fact and a guarantee of conviction is now much more circumspect," he said.

"Those injuries and their relationship with head injury have been challenged by scientific, peer-reviewed literature."

Doctors were trained to diagnose shaken baby syndrome until proven otherwise, he said, and may have difficulty accepting alternative explanations.

"They see the triad of injuries and don't question it," he said. "It is also very hard to differentiate between deliberate and accidental trauma.

Julie Fordham, an associate professor of forensic science at the University of Western Australia and a criminal lawyer, said wrongful convictions happened "frequently enough to be worried about".

"Some people do kill their babies," she said. "But you can't unjustly convict someone either, based on science that is in a constant state of flux."

Dr Terry Donald, a child protection and forensic paediatrician at the Women's and Children's Hospital in Adelaide, said that while experienced doctors were sometimes more circumspect about the cause of head injury in young children, it was "quite legitimate" for less experienced doctors to be concerned by those same injuries.

Original report here

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Parents cleared of killing son with methadone, eight years after death

THEY were found responsible for their son's death, had another child subsequently taken from them and were publicly shamed.

But Rochelle Dunlop and her husband John Schreckenberg did not give up there.

Yesterday, after a six-year fight to clear their names, a coroner found they did not give their six-month-old son a lethal dose of methadone.

"Rochelle knew she never gave her baby methadone and I knew in my heart she didn't do it either," Mr Schreckenberg said.

Ms Dunlop put her baby son to bed in her Beverly Hills home on the evening of May 27, 2003, and returned an hour later to find him face down and blue, wedged between a pillow and the right side of his bassinet.

Both parents had been on the methadone program for more than 10 years.

A toxicology test using a blood sample taken on the night showed methadone present and, in 2006, a coroner concluded Ms Dunlop deliberately gave her son the heroin substitute, which was recorded at a level beyond what could have been ingested through breast milk.

Following the inquest, Ms Dunlop was abused by members of the public and attempted to commit suicide.

Her sixth son was taken from her for five months when he was born in 2007 and her children have been subject to drug tests.

In 2010, using "what little money they have", according to their barrister Gaby Bashir, the pair gathered medical reports and literature on methadone levels in neonatal breastfeeding and lodged an appeal for an inquest, which began earlier this month.

A pharmacologist, a pathologist and a specialist in drugs of addiction questioned the veracity of the toxicology test, as it was not corroborated by a second test, used a sample less than the laboratory's reporting limit and had a margin for error that meant it could only be approximate.

New evidence showed the blood sample was taken post-mortem and not ante-mortem.

"All the experts agree that post-mortem there is a redistribution of methadone, which elevates its concentration in the blood of the deceased," Deputy State Coroner Sharon Freund said yesterday.

"I cannot be satisfied … that the admission [to hospital] was as a result of an exogenous dosing of methadone, that is ingestion of methadone by the baby other than by way of breast milk."

The coroner, in rejecting further suggestions he died from positional asphyxiation or SIDS, said there were too many variables. The boy's death will remain a mystery.

"[He] was clearly loved by both his parents who have sought, despite their less than ideal economic circumstances, to have the conclusions … made in the first inquest tested," Magistrate Freund said.

Outside the court, a teary Mr Schreckenberg said they could get their lives back.

"My condolences," Magistrate Freund said to the pair. "And may this be the end of the chapter."

Original report here

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Go to Trial: Crash the Justice System

AFTER years as a civil rights lawyer, I rarely find myself speechless. But some questions a woman I know posed during a phone conversation one recent evening gave me pause: “What would happen if we organized thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of people charged with crimes to refuse to play the game, to refuse to plea out? What if they all insisted on their Sixth Amendment right to trial? Couldn’t we bring the whole system to a halt just like that?”

The woman was Susan Burton, who knows a lot about being processed through the criminal justice system.

Her odyssey began when a Los Angeles police cruiser ran over and killed her 5-year-old son. Consumed with grief and without access to therapy or antidepressant medications, Susan became addicted to crack cocaine. She lived in an impoverished black community under siege in the “war on drugs,” and it was but a matter of time before she was arrested and offered the first of many plea deals that left her behind bars for a series of drug-related offenses. Every time she was released, she found herself trapped in an under-caste, subject to legal discrimination in employment and housing.

Fifteen years after her first arrest, Susan was finally admitted to a private drug treatment facility and given a job. After she was clean she dedicated her life to making sure no other woman would suffer what she had been through. Susan now runs five safe homes for formerly incarcerated women in Los Angeles. Her organization, A New Way of Life, supplies a lifeline for women released from prison. But it does much more: it is also helping to start a movement. With groups like All of Us or None, it is organizing formerly incarcerated people and encouraging them to demand restoration of their basic civil and human rights.

I was stunned by Susan’s question about plea bargains because she — of all people — knows the risks involved in forcing prosecutors to make cases against people who have been charged with crimes. Could she be serious about organizing people, on a large scale, to refuse to plea-bargain when charged with a crime? “Yes, I’m serious,” she flatly replied.

I launched, predictably, into a lecture about what prosecutors would do to people if they actually tried to stand up for their rights. The Bill of Rights guarantees the accused basic safeguards, including the right to be informed of charges against them, to an impartial, fair and speedy jury trial, to cross-examine witnesses and to the assistance of counsel.

But in this era of mass incarceration — when our nation’s prison population has quintupled in a few decades partly as a result of the war on drugs and the “get tough” movement — these rights are, for the overwhelming majority of people hauled into courtrooms across America, theoretical. More than 90 percent of criminal cases are never tried before a jury. Most people charged with crimes forfeit their constitutional rights and plead guilty.

“The truth is that government officials have deliberately engineered the system to assure that the jury trial system established by the Constitution is seldom used,” said Timothy Lynch, director of the criminal justice project at the libertarian Cato Institute. In other words: the system is rigged.

In the race to incarcerate, politicians champion stiff sentences for nearly all crimes, including harsh mandatory minimum sentences and three-strikes laws; the result is a dramatic power shift, from judges to prosecutors.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that threatening someone with life imprisonment for a minor crime in an effort to induce him to forfeit a jury trial did not violate his Sixth Amendment right to trial. Thirteen years later, in Harmelin v. Michigan, the court ruled that life imprisonment for a first-time drug offense did not violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

No wonder, then, that most people waive their rights. Take the case of Erma Faye Stewart, a single African-American mother of two who was arrested at age 30 in a drug sweep in Hearne, Tex., in 2000. In jail, with no one to care for her two young children, she began to panic. Though she maintained her innocence, her court-appointed lawyer told her to plead guilty, since the prosecutor offered probation. Ms. Stewart spent a month in jail, and then relented to a plea. She was sentenced to 10 years’ probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine. Then her real punishment began: upon her release, Ms. Stewart was saddled with a felony record; she was destitute, barred from food stamps and evicted from public housing. Once they were homeless, Ms. Stewart’s children were taken away and placed in foster care. In the end, she lost everything even though she took the deal.

On the phone, Susan said she knew exactly what was involved in asking people who have been charged with crimes to reject plea bargains, and press for trial. “Believe me, I know. I’m asking what we can do. Can we crash the system just by exercising our rights?”

The answer is yes. The system of mass incarceration depends almost entirely on the cooperation of those it seeks to control. If everyone charged with crimes suddenly exercised his constitutional rights, there would not be enough judges, lawyers or prison cells to deal with the ensuing tsunami of litigation. Not everyone would have to join for the revolt to have an impact; as the legal scholar Angela J. Davis noted, “if the number of people exercising their trial rights suddenly doubled or tripled in some jurisdictions, it would create chaos.”

Such chaos would force mass incarceration to the top of the agenda for politicians and policy makers, leaving them only two viable options: sharply scale back the number of criminal cases filed (for drug possession, for example) or amend the Constitution (or eviscerate it by judicial “emergency” fiat). Either action would create a crisis and the system would crash — it could no longer function as it had before. Mass protest would force a public conversation that, to date, we have been content to avoid.

In telling Susan that she was right, I found myself uneasy. “As a mother myself, I don’t think there’s anything I wouldn’t plead guilty to if a prosecutor told me that accepting a plea was the only way to get home to my children,” I said. “I truly can’t imagine risking life imprisonment, so how can I urge others to take that risk — even if it would send shock waves through a fundamentally immoral and unjust system?”

Susan, silent for a while, replied: “I’m not saying we should do it. I’m saying we ought to know that it’s an option. People should understand that simply exercising their rights would shake the foundations of our justice system which works only so long as we accept its terms. As you know, another brutal system of racial and social control once prevailed in this country, and it never would have ended if some people weren’t willing to risk their lives. It would be nice if reasoned argument would do, but as we’ve seen that’s just not the case. So maybe, just maybe, if we truly want to end this system, some of us will have to risk our lives.”

Original report here

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Scandal of 'unqualified' experts who advise Britain's family courts: Decisions about the care of thousands of children routinely flawed

Life-changing decisions about the care of thousands of children are routinely being made on flawed evidence from poorly qualified ‘experts’ in the family courts, a damning study reveals.

More than a fifth of these vital reports are being produced by people who are completely unqualified, the Channel 4 News investigation found.

In some cases, reports on parents or children are being given to courts by doctors who have not even seen the individuals concerned.

Until now, these ‘expert witnesses’ – often psychologists or psychiatrists – have largely escaped scrutiny due to the draconian secrecy surrounding the family courts.

But in a unique study for the Family Justice Council, Professor Jane Ireland – a forensic psychologist who has herself been an expert witness – examined over 100 expert witness reports used in family court cases.

Incredibly, she found that 20 per cent had been produced by people who were not qualified at all. A further fifth had been carried out by people who were writing reports in areas entirely beyond their knowledge and qualifications.

In addition, as many as 90 per cent of the reports had been produced by ‘expert’ witnesses who were no longer in current practice at all, but were simply working as ‘professional expert witnesses’. Often, these professional experts – who rake in thousands of pounds in fees from the chaotic family courts system – have not practised for years, leaving them out of touch with developments in their field.

They are often appointed to assess the suitability of a parent or parents to continue to look after their child in care proceedings brought by local councils. They can also be used in access cases following the separation of a child’s parents.

Thousands of children have their futures decided in the family courts every year and because of strict rules on what can be reported, often little is revealed about what happens once the court doors are closed.

In the past, parents have bitterly complained that they have not even been allowed to know the names of the paid expert witnesses who testified against them.

That has now changed but Professor Ireland, of the University of Central Lancashire, said 65 of the 100 reports she examined were ‘poorly’ or ‘very poorly’ carried out.

Some reports were found to ‘cite opinion without conducting a formal assessment’ or show a complete lack of understanding of the conditions discussed. One was even found to have ‘completed an assessment on the mother without actually seeing her’.

Professor Ireland said an ‘urgent review’ of expert witnesses in the family courts was needed. ‘I think we were very concerned and perturbed by some of the reports that we read,’ she told Channel 4 News.

‘Some of the most startling results were the sheer number of expert psychologists ..... who are reporting that their entire job is the production of assessment reports for courts.

‘I think the results from the research are enough to suggest that we do need an urgent review across the range of expert witnesses that the courts are employing.’

The Family Justice Council is an independent public body set up in 2004 and funded by the Ministry of Justice. It is charged with monitoring the family justice system and advising the Government and the courts on how the system can be improved.

One mother involved in family court proceedings told how a psychiatrist who had never seen her wrote a 14-page report on her and her family. The day after the psychiatrist signed off his report he was suspended by the General Medical Council for a separate offence. Despite this, his report was still used by the courts.

‘He’s never seen us, never spoken to us,’ she said, ‘and yet he’s ended up writing 14 pages, with recommendations, that he could not possibly have made if he had spoken to any of us or had he read through the court papers.’

She said her custody case dragged on for five years because of the competing testimonies of no fewer than eight expert witnesses. ‘The court system in England is barbaric,’ she said. ‘It does not allow parents to be given a voice, it doesn’t allow their children to be given a voice.

‘But what it does instead is it focuses on employing expert witnesses – at huge expense.’

Nigel Priestley, a family solicitor in Huddersfield, said: ‘If the statistics are that 20 per cent are unqualified, that is not just a mess, that is staggering.

Original report here

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Cop shoots to kill while dashboard camera turned off

What a coincidence!

Danroy Henry Jr., a college student from Easton killed by police in 2010 as he drove away from a bar disturbance, was traveling at less than 15 miles per hour when he was shot through the windshield, the lawyer for Henry’s family said Friday.

The speed, part of newly released evidence in the case, could emerge as a key factor in the family’s wrongful death suit against police in Pleasantville, N.Y.

There are conflicting accounts of what occurred after a homecoming game at Pace University, where Henry played football. The police officer who shot Henry, Aaron Hess, contends that Henry’s car struck him, throwing him onto the hood, and forcing him to shoot through the windshield in self-defense.

But the family’s suit contends that Henry was following police instructions to move his car out of a fire lane and driving "at a reasonable rate of speed" when Hess suddenly jumped in front of the vehicle, climbed onto the hood, and fired four shots.

A grand jury in New York last year failed to indict Hess in connection with shooting.

The Henrys’ lawyer, Michael Sussman, said the speed was determined from video footage that was among the large collection of evidence unsealed by a federal judge Thursday. "It’s literally hundreds and hundreds of items," Sussman said.

The evidence includes radio transmissions and statements of passengers in Henry’s vehicle and of police personnel directly involved in the incident, he said.

Sussman, who represents Henry’s family in a lawsuit against the Police Department and the officer who shot Henry, said the documents and footage would be posted on his website,, Monday.

Sussman said Henry’s family is pleased with the judge’s decision to release the documents. "They want every degree of transparency," he said. "They want this to be a pursuit of the truth."

The evidence also shows that the dashboard camera was turned off in at least one police cruiser during the video, said Sussman. There is no video that shows the shooting, he said.

Lawyers for Hess and the Pleasantville Police Department could not be reached for comment.

Sussman said video footage from the scene shows that Henry did not receive medical treatment for some time after the shooting, while officers attended quickly to Hess. Sussman said certain evidence shows that Henry was "not intoxicated or in any manner impaired." Autopsy results showed that Henry’s blood-alcohol level was above the legal driving limit.

Cellphone records show that Henry was in "constant communication" with family members who "testify to his lucidity," just before the shooting, he said, and there are photographs of Henry interacting with friends inside and outside the bar.

The evidence also includes testimony from a witness who saw Hess with his gun drawn, he said.

Sussman declined to say whether he believes the material will help his case, but said the public should have the opportunity to judge the evidence. "This case is going to be tried in federal court," he said. "But I think the public has the right to review the material and judge it."

Sussman said he hoped the case would go to trial within a year.

Original report here

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