Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Blowing the whistle on the federal Leviathan

The huge humpback whale whose friendliness precipitated a surreal seven-year — so far — federal hunt for criminality surely did not feel put upon. Nevertheless, our unhinged government, with an obsession like that of Melville’s Ahab, has crippled Nancy Black’s scientific career, cost her more than $100,000 in legal fees — so far — and might sentence her to 20 years in prison. This Kafkaesque burlesque of law enforcement began when someone whistled.

Black, 50, a marine biologist who also captains a whale-watching ship, was with some watchers in Monterey Bay in 2005 when a member of her crew whistled at the humpback that had approached her boat, hoping to entice the whale to linger. Back on land, another of her employees called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to ask if the whistling constituted “harassment” of a marine mammal, which is an “environmental crime.” NOAA requested a video of the episode, which Black sent after editing it slightly to highlight the whistling. NOAA found no harassment — but got her indicted for editing the tape, calling this a “material false statement” to federal investigators, which is a felony under the 1863 False Claims Act, intended to punish suppliers defrauding the government during the Civil War.

A year after this bizarre charge — that she lied about the interaction with the humpback that produced no charges — more than a dozen federal agents, led by one from NOAA, raided her home. They removed her scientific photos, business files and computers. Call this a fishing expedition.

She has also been charged with the crime of feeding killer whales when she and two aides were in a dinghy observing them feeding on strips of blubber torn from their prey — a gray whale.

To facilitate photographing the killers’ feeding habits, she cut a hole in one of the floating slabs of blubber and, through the hole, attached a rope to stabilize the slab while a camera on a pole recorded the whales’ underwater eating.

So she is charged with “feeding” killer whales that were already feeding on a gray whale they had killed. She could more plausibly be accused of interfering with the feeding.

Never mind. This pursuit of Black seems to have become a matter of institutional momentum, an agent-driven case. Perhaps NOAA, or the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, has its version of Victor Hugo’s obsessed Inspector Javert.

In any event, some of the federal government’s crime-busters seem to know little about whales — hence the “whistle-as-harassment” nonsense.

Six years ago, NOAA agents, who evidently consider the First Amendment a dispensable nuisance, told Black’s scientific colleagues not to talk to her and to inform them if they were contacted by her or her lawyers. Since then she has not spoken with one of her best friends.

To finance her defense she has cashed out her life’s savings, which otherwise might have purchased a bigger boat. The government probably has spent millions. It delivered an administrative subpoena to her accountant, although no charge against her has anything to do with finances.

In 1980, federal statutes specified 3,000 criminal offenses; by 2007, 4,450. They continue to multiply. Often, as in Black’s case, they are untethered from the common-law tradition of mens rea, which holds that a crime must involve a criminal intent — a guilty mind. Legions of government lawyers inundate targets like Black with discovery demands, producing financial burdens that compel the innocent to surrender in order to survive.

The protracted and pointless tormenting of Black illustrates the thesis of Harvey Silverglate’s invaluable 2009 book, “Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent.” Silverglate, a civil liberties lawyer in Boston, chillingly demonstrates how the mad proliferation of federal criminal laws — which often are too vague to give fair notice of what behavior is proscribed or prescribed — means that “our normal daily activities expose us to potential prosecution at the whim of a government official.” Such laws, which enable government zealots to accuse almost anyone of committing three felonies in a day, do not just enable government misconduct, they incite prosecutors to intimidate decent people who never had culpable intentions. And to inflict punishments without crimes.

By showing that Kafka was a realist, Black’s misfortune may improve the nation: The more Americans learn about their government’s abuse of criminal law for capricious bullying, the more likely they are to recoil in a libertarian direction and put Leviathan on a short leash.

Original report here

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Monday, July 30, 2012

LaMonte Armstrong's Long Road To Freedom After Wrongful Conviction

Crooked prosecutors hid crucial evidence

LaMonte Armstrong is putting his life back together, piece by piece. But his freedom -- all three days of it -- hasn't been easy. "I'm confused, lost and little bit fearful of the unknown," Armstrong said in a phone interview. "I wasn't ready to get out of prison last Friday."

Nearly 17 years ago, a Greensboro, N.C., jury convicted Armstrong of murdering his mother's best friend, a beloved college professor named Ernestine Compton, by stabbing her and strangling her with an electrical cord. A judge sentenced him to life in prison. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty. Armstrong vowed to fight to clear his name.

He won that fight on Friday afternoon, when Superior Court Judge Joe Turner threw out his conviction. Two hours later, he was released from the county jail. He is 62 years old.

At the hearing, Turner said freeing Armstrong was likely the "closest to knowing I'm doing justice, in my career, I will ever experience."

The words bowled Armstrong over. "He made me almost drop my head to my feet," he said.

Armstrong's case is a textbook example of police and prosecutorial misconduct, according to a lengthy brief filed by his attorneys, with Duke Law School's Wrongful Convictions Clinic. Crucial evidence was deliberately withheld from his defense -- evidence so clearly exculpatory it is hard to understand why the case was ever brought to trial, according to Theresa Newman, a Duke Law School professor and the clinic's executive director.

"It was a gross miscarriage of justice," Newman said. "Nobody should be convicted this way."

The brief states that a neighbor of the murdered woman told police that she saw a strange man, not Armstrong, in the area after the killing, wearing bloody Army fatigues. The man muttered that "the woman thought she was somebody," according to an investigator's notes. Those notes were never shared with Armstrong's defense.

Police said they now believe another man, Christopher Caviness, was the real killer. Under pressure from Armstrong's attorneys, Greensboro investigators re-tested evidence from the case and matched a palm print from the murder scene with Caviness, who was identified as a suspect by police early in the case. A year after Compton was killed, Caviness went to prison for murdering his father. He died last year in a car crash.

"We are truly saddened that an apparently innocent man has been convicted," Greensboro police Capt. Mike Richey, head of the department's investigative division, told the Greensboro News-Record.

In the end, Armstrong nearly faced the death penalty based on the testimony of four prison inmates, all of whom received favors from prosecutors for implicating Armstrong.

The key witness, Charles Blackwell, a police informant, changed his story about the murder repeatedly before the trial, even writing letters to Armstrong and a local civil rights group declaring that Armstrong was innocent.

Prosecutors put him on the stand anyway, where he declared that he watched Armstrong murder Compton.

Prosecutors did not share with Armstrong's lawyers testimony from multiple witnesses who told police they had seen the murder victim alive several days after Blackwell said he had seen Armstrong commit the crime.

The three other witnesses were prison inmates who received favorable treatment in exchange for bolstering Blackwell's testimony. Two said Armstrong had confessed the murder to them. At his 1995 trial, Armstrong called the testimony lies. The jury "agonized" over the lack of physical evidence and credibility problems with the witnesses, jurors told the local newspaper.

But after two days of deliberation, the panel voted to convict.

Armstrong said he believes that Randy Carroll, the assistant district attorney who tried the case, deliberately withheld evidence he knew would have led the jury to acquit. But years ago, he decided he could not let his anger consume him.

"A little over 12 years ago, I realized how sick this guy was," he said of Carroll, who left the district attorney's office and now works in private practice as a defense attorney.

"I try not to hate," Armstrong said. "You accept what has happened, but you don't have to like it."

Carroll did not respond to a request for comment.

In order for Armstrong to be compensated by the state for the years he lost behind bars, the North Carolina governor will need to authorize a pardon, a difficult prospect. For now, he is living in a halfway house in Chapel Hill, N.C., and has an upcoming interview for a job as a drug counselor.

He's also looking forward to visiting Duke's Wrongful Convictions Clinic and meeting with the attorneys who helped on his case. Many of them began working on his case as law students. "I'm impressed with those kids," Armstrong said.

Original report here

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Anaheim Riots Spotlight Need for Broad Police Reform
The city's law enforcement culture values aggressiveness over community policing

While sitting in a restaurant in Philadelphia’s Chinatown last week during my first visit here in more than a decade, I watched TV news reports of normally placid Anaheim, California engulfed in riots that exploded after that city’s police officers shot to death two young men over the weekend. It was shocking. The photos of riot-clad police tussling with and firing bean-bag rifles at protesters brought back bad memories of growing up in the Philly area in the 1960s and 1970s.

These days, Philadelphia is a surprisingly calm place, but back then, when tough-guy Mayor (and previously police commissioner) Frank Rizzo ruled the roost, there were frequent confrontations. The worst incident actually came after Rizzo left office when city cops in 1985 dropped a bomb on a row-house occupied by a black liberation group and killed 11 people, including five children. Those were dark times, but it seems as Philly has learned some lessons that have evaded California police forces.

While Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait is, thankfully, no Frank Rizzo, he tried his hand at tough-guy rhetoric at a press conference: “Vandalism, arson and other forms of violent protest will simply not be tolerated in our city. We don’t expect last night’s situation to be repeated but if it should be, the police response will be the same: swift and appropriate.”

Of course, we are all against violence, vandalism, and arson. Indeed, the mother of one of the victims poignantly called for calm. But it's ridiculous to argue that the police response was appropriate. Tait—who at least called for an FBI investigation of the police shootings that triggered the incident—has failed to live up to the promises he made when he took over as the city’s mayor. Tait promised to foster a culture of “kindness” in the city.

It’s no secret that Anaheim’s police culture echoes the old Los Angeles Police Department culture that values aggressiveness over community policing, and the city administration has shown no willingness to confront it. City police have shot six people so far this year, five of them fatally. But all shootings are not the same. Sunday’s shooting involved a man who was a known gang member who reportedly fired back at officers. But it was Saturday’s shooting of an unarmed man named Manuel Diaz that ultimately brought people to the streets.

Diaz, 25, reportedly ran from police, possibly from plainclothes officers. He was unarmed and, according to a lawsuit filed by family members and by witnesses quoted in the media, a policeman shot him near his buttocks and then another officer shot him in the head. Police reportedly left him on the ground dying without calling an ambulance. It’s not hard to understand the outrage, and then it’s even easier to see how angry people got after police responded as if they were occupying the Gaza Strip.

After police officers beat to death an unarmed homeless man in Fullerton last July, hundreds of people took to the streets in protest and there were no incidents. Officials there just left the protesters alone. In Anaheim, the police—bolstered by reinforcements by nearby agencies—cordoned off the streets, stood in riot gear, and even fired painful beanbags at the crowd, including at assembled journalists. Police blocked entry to the City Council meeting and such policies helped turn an angry protest into a riot.

I covered one police shooting in Anaheim in 2008 after a 20-year-old newlywed stepped outside his house with a wooden rod after hearing a ruckus nearby. Police had been chasing a robbery suspect, and when the young man came out of his house they shot him to death. Even Police Chief John Welter, still the Anaheim chief, said the man “was innocent of anything that the officer thought was going on in that neighborhood,” yet nothing apparently has changed since then.

While Anaheim has a deeper need to re-evaluate its policing policies than other cities, the police use-of-force problem is endemic throughout the country and especially California, where union priorities—i.e., what's best for officers, not the citizenry—have dominated policy decisions for decades.

Recent news reports show a significant increase in police-involved shootings in many areas of California. Police shootings account for one out of every 10 shooting deaths in Los Angeles County, according to a Los Angeles Times report. Videotapes of the encounters often show that the official version of the story is at odds with what really happened. No wonder police agencies spend so much time confiscating video cameras of bystanders, something that should bring a chill to every freedom-loving American of the left or right.

The state Supreme Court’s Copley Press v. San Diego decision in 2006 shrouds allegations of police misconduct in secrecy. The public can have access to complaints raised against doctors, lawyers and others, but in California the misbehavior of public employees who have the legal right to use deadly force are off limits to scrutiny. Because of an exemption in the public-records act, police agencies need not release most details of their reports of officer-involved shootings.

Furthermore, the Peace Officers Procedural Bill of Rights (POBOR) gives accused officers such strong protections that officers can rarely be disciplined or fired. The code of silence is alive and well in police agencies, which are allowed to operate in virtual secrecy. Most citizen-review panels are toothless. We should never condone violent protests, but it’s not hard to understand the frustration in central Anaheim. What if it were your child or your neighbor's child?

It’s time for a real discussion about how police should deal with the community and under what conditions they should use deadly force. It’s time to bring California in line with other states and open records to public oversight. If Mayor Tait is serious about creating a safer and kinder city, he will need to insist on this debate regardless of the expected pushback from the police unions and stop trying to channel Frank Rizzo.

Original report here

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

The idiotic British Crown Prosecution Service again

They ignore real crimes and go after trivialities

The country’s most senior judge has overturned a man’s conviction for joking about blowing up an airport on Twitter. In an important High Court ruling the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, said that the message posted online by Paul Chambers could not be considered “menacing”.

He pointed out that no one who saw the tweet thought it was a genuine bomb threat, and it was not sent to airport staff.

The joke about “blowing the airport sky high” was made in frustration at flights being cancelled because of the snow, and was only spotted five days later by an off-duty security manager.

“We have concluded that, on an objective assessment, the decision of the Crown Court that this ‘tweet’ constituted or included a message of a menacing character was not open to it. On this basis, the appeal against conviction must be allowed,” said the Lord Chief Justice, sitting with Mr Justice Owen and Mr Justice Griffith Williams.

After the judges overturned Mr Chambers’s conviction for sending “a message of a menacing character” contrary to the 2003 Communications Act, the Crown Prosecution Service said it would not take the case any further.

A CPS spokesman said: “We accept the court’s reasoning and consider this to be the end of the matter.”

Louise Mensch, the Conservative MP and member of the Culture Select Committee, wrote on Twitter after the hearing on Friday morning: “CPS owe my constituent @pauljchambers and the country a huge apology for a shameful prosecution that should never have been brought.

“Two years of a man's life, stress and massive public costs wasted over an obvious joke. It is for Parliament to investigate actions here.

“Whether it is the Justice or Home Affairs Select Cttee, the CPS and this decision should be investigated on Parlt return.”

Mr Chambers added: “I am relieved, vindicated - it is ridiculous it ever got this far. "I want to thank everyone who has helped, including everyone on Twitter."

Then 26 and a “well-educated” man of “previous good character”, he had been due to fly to Belfast in January 2010 to see a woman he had met through Twitter, the popular social networking service that allows users to post public messages of up to 140 characters.

But the week before, poor weather led to the closure of the airport from which he was due to fly and in response he tweeted: “Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your s--- together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!”

The message was seen by his 600-odd followers but would also have been visible to anyone who searched Twitter for any of the words used.

Five days later, a security manager was looking for tweets about his airport when he spotted Mr Chambers’s message. He thought it was a “non-credible” threat because it included the user’s real name but he passed it to police regardless.

South Yorkshire police arrested Mr Chambers on suspicion of involvement in a bomb hoax a week after he posted the tweet, and although officers concluded it was just a “foolish comment” for “only his close friends to see”, the CPS charged him.

He was fined £385 and ordered to pay £600 costs at Doncaster Magistrates' Court in May 2010 and later that year a Crown Court judge dismissed his appeal on the grounds that the message was “clearly menacing”.

What became known as the “Twitter joke trial” garnered a huge amount of public interest, and support from celebrities such as Stephen Fry, as users of the service feared it meant anyone risked prosecution for comments taken the wrong way.

It was claimed that even John Betjeman would be in trouble for writing: “Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough.”

But the High Court ruling will be taken as a sign that tweets must be seen as containing a genuine threat if they are to be considered menacing and so in breach of the law.

The judges said: “We should perhaps add that for those who have the inclination to use “Twitter” for the purpose, Shakespeare can be quoted unbowdlerised, and with Edgar, at the end of King Lear, they are free to speak not what they ought to say, but what they feel.”

Original report here

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Hallelujah! A crooked prosecutor fined in Australia

It just doesn't happen in all American jurisdictions that I am aware of

The prosecutor involved in the wrongful conviction of Andrew Mallard has been fined $10,000 for his handling of the case.

The State Administrative Tribunal made a finding of unsatisfactory conduct against Ken Bates for his prosecution of Mr Mallard for the murder of Mosman Park jeweller, Pamela Lawrence. Mr Mallard spent 12 years in jail because of the wrongful conviction.

The tribunal found Mr Bates' handling of the crown case fell short of the standard of professional conduct expected of legal practitioners.

The tribunal hearing was prompted by an investigation of the case by the state's corruption watchdog which made adverse findings against the former crown prosecutor.

A Corruption and Crime Commission report in 2008 criticised Mr Bates' handling of the case and a year later he was asked to step down from the DPP. He received a $270,000 payout and avoided any public service disciplinary action.

Mr Bates says he accepts the findings but declined to comment further when contacted by the ABC.

The tribunal says the fine is the maximum available under the legislation at the time the conduct occurred.

Original report here

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Teen assault victim spared from charges over tweet

A Kentucky teenager frustrated by light punishment for two boys who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting her was spared from having to face a contempt charge for naming them on Twitter in violation of a court order.

The case of Savannah Dietrich, 17, quickly gathered supporters nationwide who were upset that the victim of an assault could be punished for speaking out against her attackers.

The girl turned to Twitter after she said she was frustrated with what she felt was a lenient plea deal. The judge had ordered no one to speak about the case, which was in juvenile court.

On Monday, attorneys for the boys dropped their motion to charge her with contempt. David Mejia, an attorney for one of the boys, said the decision to withdraw the motion had nothing to do with public sentiment and online attention to the case.

He said the purpose of the motion had been to enforce the law that protects juveniles and their actions from disclosure. "The horse is out of the barn," he said. "Nothing is bringing it back."

The Associated Press does not generally identify victims of sexual assault, but Dietrich and her parents wanted her story to be made public. She gave her account to The Courier-Journal newspaper in a story published on Saturday.

She has not responded to the AP for comment and her lawyer, Emily Farrar-Crockett of the public defender's juvenile division, did not immediately return telephone calls.

Jeff Dion, deputy executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, said victims who feel cheated by the justice system sometimes file civil lawsuits in an effort to get information in the public, but social media has turned that on its head. "It's all about giving victims a voice," Dion said.

In one day, an online petition on Change.org had garnered 62,000 signatures in support of Dietrich's action.

"When I read it, I was appalled and outraged and thought, 'Somebody has to do something about this. Who is going to do something about this?'" said Elizabeth Beier, 22, of Cockeysville, Md., who started the petition even though she doesn't know Deitrich. "Everyone wants this girl to have peace and time to recover and not another trauma like jail time."

Beier said the two women have not spoken, but she congratulated her. "I think what she did was very brave by coming forward ... and I think a lot of people who may have been victims or survivors of assault and didn't get the justice they deserve probably see themselves in her," she said.

Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said the motion to withdraw the contempt of court charge was "a huge victory not only for Ms. Dietrich, but for women all over the country."

Deitrich told The Courier-Journal that after the sexual assault, the boys posted photos of the attack on the internet.

"These boys shared the picture of her being raped with their friends and she can't share their names with her Twitter community? That's just crazy," O'Neill said.

The Courier-Journal reported that the boys were charged with first-degree sexual abuse, a felony, and misdemeanor voyeurism, according to information in a court motion the newspaper filed asking Judge Dee McDonald to allow the paper to see motions filed by attorneys for Dietrich.

The teens pleaded guilty to those charges in late June, though Dietrich and her family told the newspaper they were unaware of the plea bargain and recommended sentence until just before it was announced in court. The attack occurred in August 2011.

Dion said the Kentucky law on gag orders in juvenile cases presupposes that information revealed came from reading the court record. In Dietrich's case, he noted, she was the victim, and she had independent knowledge of the crime.

"And I think a restriction or gag order on a victim creates some First Amendment issues," Dion said. He added that prosecuting a victim "sends a terrible message."

"We created victims' rights out of a recognition that we need victims to come forward in order for our justice system to work," he said. "Really, what do they get for that?"

Chris Klein, an attorney for one of the boys, said publicising their names may create problems for them in the future.

"There's always that possibility and in any type of scenario like this you run that risk," he said. "Now whether both these boys can overcome those hurdles, it's too early to determine that."

Klein said it's possible, but unlikely, that prosecutors would make the same contempt charge against Dietrich. Both sides will still be bound by the confidentiality of the juvenile court proceedings.

"I think her behaviour will dictate whether it's the end of it or not," Klein said. "If all the parties abide by the confidentiality of juvenile court, then I think that's the end of it."

Bill Patteson, a spokesman for the Jefferson County Attorney's office, said he could not comment because of the confidentiality on juvenile cases.

Original report here

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

New Hampshire passes jury nullification law

Cato’s Tim Lynch runs down the history of jury nullification, then argues that while the new New Hampshire law isn’t perfect, it is a good start.
This is definitely a step forward for advocates of jury trial. Allowing counsel to speak directly to the jury about this subject is something that is not allowed in all the courthouses outside of New Hampshire–so, again, this is good. I am concerned, however, that this language does not go far enough. We don’t know how much pressure trial judges will exert on defense counsel. As noted above, if the attorney’s argument is “too strenuous,” the judge may reprimand the attorney in some way or deliver his own strenuous instruction about how the jurors must ultimately accept the law as described by the court, not the defense. I’m also afraid what the jurors hear will too often depend on the particular judge and, then, what that judge wants to do in a particular case.

It’s great that there was enough support in the legislature to move on this bill and for the governor to sign it. However, some of that support, I fear, may be because of a wink and nod that “nothing is really going to change–so go ahead and support the measure.” I hope I’m wrong about that. Continued vigilance will be necessary in New Hampshire.

The reform that I favor is a law that would require . . . [an] instruction to be delivered by the trial court–upon the request of the defense.

Here’s the language Lynch would use, which is one that was once used in some state courts:
It is presumed that juries are the best judges of fact. Accordingly, you are the sole judges of true facts in the case.

I think it requires no explanation, however, that judges are presumed to be the best judges of the law. Accordingly, you must accept my instructions as being correct statements of the legal principles that generally apply in a case of the type you have heard.

The order in which the instructions are given is no indication of their relative importance. You should not single out certain instructions and disregard others but should construe each one in the light of and in harmony with the others.

These principles are intended to help you in reaching a fair result in this case. You should give them due respect. Moreover, justice will ordinarily be done by applying them as a whole to the facts which you find have seen proven. You should do just that if, by doing so, you can do justice in this case.

Even so, it is difficult to draft legal statements that are so exact that they are right for all conceivable circumstances. Accordingly, you are entitled to act upon your conscientious feeling about what is a fair result in this case, and acquit the defendant if you believe that justice requires such a result.

Exercise your judgment without passion or prejudice, but with honesty and understanding. Give respectful regard to my statements of the law for what help they may be in arriving at a conscientious determination of justice in this case. That is your highest duty as a public body and as officers of this court.

While researching my book, I’ve been reading up on the early criminal justice system in America. I knew nullification was common practice in the early courts, but I’ve been surprised to learn that not only was it common, it was expected. That is, for much of America’s early history, it was just assumed that juries would nullify bad laws—or unjust application of good laws—and that assumption was built into the way the courts operated. Acquittal rates were also much higher than they are today. Surprisingly, this is true even of slaves tried for crimes in southern courts. (Whether a slave accused of a crime was lucky enough to get a day in court is another matter.)

Of course, the country is much different now. But it has changed in ways that make the doctrine of jury nullification more important. We have a much more complicated, vague, and confusing criminal code now. A huge percentage the felonies prosecuted today are for consensual crimes. Conspiracy, racketeering, and money laundering laws enable prosecutors to take multiple bites from the same apple, from multiple angles. That improves the odds of winning a conviction on something. And that of course gives them another tool—the power to pile on charges in order to force a plea agreement. Which means that in 90+ percent of the felony convictions in America today, the government never needs to bother proving its case.

Jury nullification more important than its ever been. And the power is still there. There’s little a judge can do about a jury that returns an acquittal based on their assessment of the justness of the law, rather than the facts of the case before them. But as regular readers of this site are well aware by now, prosecutors and judges screen any prospective juror who has even heard of the term.

Even if states don’t want to pass a law as proactive as New Hampshire’s, a law forbidding questioning prospective jurors about nullification—or at least forbidding their removal because they know of or support the idea—would be a good start.

It’s good that lawmakers are at least thinking about this issue, though. I hope we see more laws like the one New Hampshire.

Original report here

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Are police entitled to shoot you in the back when you run from them?

I don't think so nor do many others, it seems

Shocking video has emerged which depicts police officers firing rubber bullets into a rioting crowd which includes women and children.

The footage also shows a police dog rushing in to the fray and nearly knocking over a mother who was pushing her baby in a stroller.

The violent scenes came in the wake of an incident where a 24-year-old man was shot dead after running away from police, two of whom have now been suspended.

As officers were investigating what happened at the scene in Anaheim, California on Saturday, an angry group of people began yelling and throwing bottles at them, according to Sergeant Bob Dunn.

After police detained several people, the crowd apparently advanced on the officers, who responded by firing tear gas and beanbag rounds at them.

Video captured by a bystander and broadcast by KCAL-TV showed a chaotic scene in which officers fired beanbag rounds as some people ducked to the ground and others scattered screaming.

A man is seen yelling at an officer even as a weapon is pointed at him, while two adults huddled to shield a boy and girl.

Meanwhile, a police dog ran into several people sitting on the grass, including a woman and a child in a stroller, before biting a man in the arm. The woman with the child was Susan Lopez, who tearfully told KCAL: 'They just released the dog, and I had my baby in my stroller.' Mr Dunn said the dog was 'deployed accidentally' after somehow escaping from a patrol car.

On Sunday, demonstrators stormed the headquarters of Anaheim Police as officers prepared to hold a news conference about the unrest.

Protestors chanted 'no justice, no peace' and 'cops, pigs, murderers' as officers stood by and watched, according to the Orange County Register.

The shooting that kicked off the violence involved Manuel Diaz, 24, who was shot in front of an apartment complex around 4pm on Saturday following a foot chase and died in hospital three hours later.

The man's niece, 16-year-old Daisy Gonzalez, said her uncle probaly ran away from officers when they approached him because of his past experience with law enforcement. 'He [doesn't] like cops,' Gonzalez told the Register after lighting a candle for her uncle. 'He never liked them because all they do is harass and arrest anyone.'

She cursed at officers who were nearby and a police helicopter that hovered overhead.

Throughout the night, police in multiple marked and unmarked squad cars attempted to control an unruly crowd gathered near the shooting scene.

Some in the crowd moved a dumpster into an intersection and set its trash on fire on at least three separate occasions, while officers kept responding to move it out of the way of traffic.

Mr Dunn said gang detectives are involved in the investigation.

Crystal Ventura, a 17-year-old who witnessed the shooting, told the Register that Diaz had his back to the officer. She said the man was shot in the buttocks area.

The man then went down on his knees, Miss Ventura said, adding that he was struck by another bullet in the head. She said another officer handcuffed the man, who by then was on the ground and not moving.

'They searched his pockets, and there was a hole in his head, and I saw blood on his face,' Miss Ventura told the newspaper.

Mr Dunn said the man shot by police was one of three men who ran away from officers who approached them in an alley. The other two suspects have not been captured.

At a news conference on Sunday, the local police chief confirmed that five people had been arrested for their part in the protest, while two of the officers involved in the original shooting had been suspended.

Original report here

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Monday, July 23, 2012

The British police state

The police work in a world of 'clear-up rates'. So why aren't they bothered about this one... 1,433 deaths, no convictions

A middle-aged man ambles along, hands in pockets, his back to a row of policemen. One of them strikes him very hard with a baton from behind. He falls. He is helped up and that’s the last we see of him alive. The man is Ian Tomlinson who would die not long after.

He does not look like a demonstrator because he is not. He was simply walking near the Bank of England while the G20 protest was taking place. Whether he died of internal bleeding caused by this assault is debateable; the fact he was assaulted is not.

We have heard about how he was not well and had drunk too much but until now we had not heard much about the policeman – Simon Harwood – who struck him. We, and the jurors who last week found Harwood innocent of manslaughter, now know that before his suspension there had been at least ten complaints about his use of excessive violence. That such a man was re-employed by various forces is surprising; the fact he was found not guilty, I am afraid, is not.

The charity Inquest, which works with bereaved families, tells us there have been 1,433 deaths following police ‘contact’ since 1990. ‘Contact’ includes deaths in custody, road traffic incidents, pursuits and shootings. Not a single police officer has been found guilty of manslaughter. Not one.

Harwood is as not guilty as the person who shot Mark Duggan and the person who shot Jean Charles de Menezes, for clearly a police badge means you can act with impunity. Your colleagues will see or record none of your actions, your bosses see no reason for you not to be re-deployed. As juries won’t convict you, I guess knowing you are never to be held to account for your actions may make you a little baton-happy.

This is a dire situation. The trust needed for effective policing is bludgeoned to a pulp. Of course decent policemen exist. Many of those interviewed after the riots were devastated at the display of visceral hatred towards them. One officer described the sharpening of sticks into weapons to throw as ‘primeval’.

But policing ‘communities’ sickened by another ‘accident’ in custody, another man killed while being ‘restrained’ or ‘obstructive’, is made tougher by denials of wrong-doing.

Respect, culpability, understanding the consequences of your actions – the lectures handed out to the rest of us – have to be exemplified by the police. They are not. Sure, Harwood may be ‘rogue’. But who blows the police whistle? Who will say the tactics used to police protests will inevitably result in incidents like this?

Kettling is not new, though the word is. Even at anti-apartheid demos, I remember being trapped in Trafalgar Square. Exits blocked off, horses brought in.

Having fought the miners, by the early Nineties the police started to bring in metal barricades, to cage peaceful protesters. The pretext is always ‘hardcore anarchists’ who are often little more than two blokes and a dog from Sheffield.

We ended up with police in riot gear splitting open the heads of teenagers protesting about university fees. At least it got talked about, however. The massive demonstration against the war in Iraq was polite (not one arrest) and politely ignored by New Labour.

Since then, I have seen the police causing much violence. We all have. Mobiles and cameras are everywhere. We have seen Harwood’s unprovoked assault in slow motion. I cannot say he killed Tomlinson but I cannot say he is not guilty. This doesn’t just look bad. It is bad.

The police are yet another institution who cannot regulate themselves. And it backfires when we see cities in flames. The police themselves warn of more riots. Fundamentally, the police have to be seen neither as above the law nor able to get away with murder.

This is about more than one man’s death; it’s about the failure of the whole force to be called to account. But we can see you. And justice has not been seen to be done.

Original report here

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Kentucky girl faces jail for outing sexual offenders

A Kentucky teenager is facing contempt of court charges for tweeting the names of the two teens who pled guilty to sexually assaulting her, in a case that inspires questions about the uses of social media in the legal system.

Seventeen-year-old Savanna Dietrich tweeted the names of the boys in response to the frustration she felt over her attackers plea bargain.

Now, Dietrich could face an $US500 ($A481) fine and up to 180 days in jail for the act if she is found guilty of being in contempt of the court. Her contempt hearing is scheduled for July 30.

According to Dietrich, the sexual assault occurred when she passed out at a party last year. Her attackers then molested her, and they also allegedly videotaped the incident and shared it with their friends online.

After Dietrich visited police with her parents, the juvenile defendants were charged with first-degree sexual abuse and misdemeanor voyeurism, reports the Louisville Courier Journal.

But Dietrich says she was extremely unhappy with the "slap on the wrist" plea bargain her attackers were given. Enraged, she took to her Twitter account determined to publicly expose the boys for their act.

"They said I can't talk about it or I'll be locked up," one of her tweets read. "So I'm waiting for them to read this and lock me up. ____ justice.

"Protect rapist is more important than getting justice for the victim in Louisville."

She reiterated in a Courier Journal interview that she was fully prepared to pay the price for her actions.

"I'm at the point, that if I have to go to jail for my rights, I will do it," Dietrich told the Louisville paper.

"If they really feel it's necessary to throw me in jail for talking about what happened to me ... as opposed to throwing these boys in jail for what they did to me, then I don't understand justice."

Original report here

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Deputy Dilemma: Wrongful police shooting deserves serious review

Imagine it’s 1:30 a.m. and you’re in your apartment. You hear a knock on the door. If you own a weapon, you would probably grab it, just in case.

For 26-year-old Andrew Lee Scott of Lake County, Fla., that decision would lead to his death.

On Sunday, Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies were pursuing an attempted murder suspect when they mistakenly knocked on Scott’s apartment door. Scott answered the door with his gun drawn at the deputies, who then shot and killed him.

Unfortunately, Scott was not the suspect deputies were chasing. Deputies knocked on Scott’s door because the suspect’s motorcycle was parked across from his front door.

Scott likely approached his front door with a gun because the deputies did not identify themselves, according to Lake County Officials, for safety reasons.

This was a tragedy that could have easily been avoided. When the deputies chased a suspect into the complex, they should have known that they could be knocking on anyone’s door. It seems like knocking on a random door unannounced is less safe than yelling, “Police!”

Lt. John Herrell told WESH Orlando, “The bottom line is, you point a gun at a deputy sheriff or police officer, you’re going to get shot.”

While that might be the case under normal circumstances, this should not be used as an excuse to justify the deputies’ actions. Scott was likely startled by the unannounced knock, and it’s not a crime to be cautious in your own home (or at least it shouldn’t be one).

Scott was not suspected of any crime and police did not have probable cause to enter his apartment unannounced. Central Florida News 13’s coverage of the story makes Scott appear more worthy of his untimely demise — its story leads with “A Lake County man with a criminal history is dead after a confrontation with deputies.”

While it’s true that Scott had a criminal history and that drugs were found in Scott’s apartment, those facts have little to do with his death.

The deputies who killed Scott are currently on administrative leave, and if the events transpired as stated, the deputies should be fired and charged with his death.

While police are there to enforce the law, their badges do not make them above the law. If police wrongly kill someone, they should face the same consequences as anyone else.

Original report here

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Freed, the 'thug in police uniform': What jury weren't told about the British cop cleared of G20 killing

Background checks on police recruits to Scotland Yard? Zero, apparently

A riot squad officer was denounced as a `thug in uniform' yesterday as he was cleared of killing an innocent bystander. Ian Tomlinson died after PC Simon Harwood lashed him with a baton and shoved him to the ground.

The 45-year-old officer had an appalling record of complaints against him for violence in the years before the incident. Yet such `prejudicial' details were kept from the jury, who cleared him of manslaughter in a verdict described as a `joke'.family of Ian Tomlinson who died during the London G20 protests has vowed to seek 'justice' in the civil courts after the PC accused of his manslaughter was cleared today.

Last night the dead man's family vowed to sue as it was revealed that staggering vetting lapses allowed the PC to be on the front line at the G20 protest in April 2009.

Mr Tomlinson, 47, a father of nine and an alcoholic, was accidentally caught up in the protest as he walked home drunk from work as a newspaper seller in the City of London.

After the incident with Harwood, caught on film, he staggered away from police lines before collapsing and dying of massive internal bleeding.

The officer was cleared by a majority verdict at Southwark Crown Court, just 14 months after an inquest jury said Mr Tomlinson had been unlawfully killed.

Neither of those juries were told about the shameful career of the PC who managed to avoid no fewer than ten complaints by simply moving between two forces.

The allegations include a road-rage attack; racially abusing and punching a 14-year-old girl repeatedly in the back of the neck and threatening to burn down her father's home; punching, throttling, kneeing or threatening suspects in heavy-handed arrests; and unlawfully accessing the police national computer database.

Yet PC Harwood, who admitted he was liable to go into `red mist mode', kept his job after retiring from the Met on medical grounds on the eve of a disciplinary hearing.

He rejoined the same force on its civilian staff three days later and subsequently moved on to Surrey Police, before returning to serve with the Met in 2004. The revelations raise serious questions about the practice of officers going off sick and changing forces to sidestep disciplinary proceedings.

Yesterday the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said it was simply `staggering' that he had been able to remain a police officer and called for an overhaul of Scotland Yard's vetting procedures.

Mr Tomlinson's widow Julia and nine children sobbed as the jury delivered their verdict after almost 19 hours of deliberation. His stepson Paul King said: `It's a joke. In April 2009, along with everyone else, we saw the shocking video of Ian being violently assaulted by PC Harwood, just minutes before he died.

`After the unlawful killing verdict at the inquest last year we expected to hear a guilty verdict. This really hurts. But it's not the end. We are not giving up on justice for Ian. `There has to be one more formal and final answer to the question of who killed Ian Tomlinson and that we will now pursue in the civil courts.'

The family have already launched a civil suit in the High Court, although their solicitor indicated that all they wanted was an apology from the Metropolitan Police for allowing Harwood to remain in uniform and an admission that he killed Mr Tomlinson.

Yesterday the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said it was simply `staggering' that he had been able to remain a police officer and called for an overhaul of Scotland Yard's vetting procedures.

Yesterday London Assembly member Jenny Jones said: `The family have got to feel that they have been cheated by this verdict. `It's hard to see how it is fair. Quite honestly, looking at his record, he comes across as a thug in uniform. `It's time that the Commissioner looked at procedures for re-entry and took more care in examining potential officer's records.'

PC Harwood will now face a disciplinary hearing in public, scheduled to last for four weeks, after which he is expected to be sacked for misconduct.

The case began when previously unseen footage of Mr Tomlinson being shoved to the ground was released to a newspaper.

In May last year an inquest concluded that he was unlawfully killed after jurors decided he died of abdominal haemorrhage due to blunt force trauma to the abdomen, in association with alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver.

The fiercely disputed cause of Ian Tomlinson's death lay at the heart of the trial.

The 47-year-old alcoholic, who had spent almost a decade living on the street, had a history of serious health problems.

An initial post-mortem by pathologist Dr Freddy Patel concluded his death was caused by a heart attack, despite the discovery of around three litres of `fluid blood' in the abdominal cavity.

The pathologist, currently suspended from practice by the General Medical Council, said he took a small sample of bloody fluids found within Mr Tomlinson's stomach cavity but poured the remaining three litres down a sink.

The smaller sample was itself later mislaid and presumed destroyed. But two further post- mortems concluded Mr Tomlinson died as a result of internal bleeding brought on by injuries suffered in the assault.

Dr Nat Cary, a Home Office-registered pathologist who carried out a second post-mortem, said he believed Dr Patel's conclusions were wrong, and Mr Tomlinson's heart failed because of internal bleeding, caused by `the impact to the ground immediately following a shove, immediately following a baton strike'.

He said Mr Tomlinson's cirrhosis of the liver, caused by years of alcoholism, meant he was `very sensitive to any blood loss'.

The ruling paved the way for a criminal trial in which prosecutor Mark Dennis QC said of PC Harwood: `It was a rush of blood to the head. It was unnecessary aggression more akin to thuggish behaviour than proper reasonable policing.

`The display of force has all the hallmarks of a gratuitous act of aggression by a lone officer whose blood was up having lost the self-control to be expected of a police officer in such circumstances and who was going to stand no truck from anyone who appeared to him to be a protester and to be getting in his way.'

But the officer, part of the Met's elite public order unit, the Territorial Support Group, said he believed Mr Tomlinson, who was drunk at the time, was being deliberately obstructive and that his use of force was reasonable.

Earlier that day, Harwood had abandoned his post as a riot squad van driver to tackle a yob scrawling `All cops are bastards' on a police van.

After the graffiti artist managed to get away, in the space of 20 minutes Harwood pulled a cameraman to the floor, pushed a demonstrator and attacked Mr Tomlinson.

He told the jury he was `absolutely terrified' and trying to protect himself and other officers.

Yesterday the father of two wept silently in the dock as he was cleared. His wife Helen, a GP surgery manager, burst into tears and threw her arms around him as they left court together without comment.

Met Deputy Assistant Commissioner Maxine de Brunner admitted that the force had got it wrong when it re-employed him and said it was reviewing its vetting procedures.

The dossier of complaints against PC Simon Harwood that the jury never saw takes up no fewer than five ring-binder files. It shows how he managed to sidestep a series of disciplinary hearings to end up on the G20 front line.

Harwood, 45, started his career at the Metropolitan Police in 1995 and quickly established a reputation for aggression.

On April 7, 2000 he was accused of a road rage assault after a minor collision with a motorist while off duty. Harwood was said to have run at the other driver, slamming him back over the car door in front of horrified witnesses. He then announced that he was a police officer and arrested the driver for common assault.

Another officer noticed Harwood had doctored his notes to justify the arrest, saying the motorist had refused to give his details.

Chief Inspector Les Jones concluded that his behaviour had `fallen well below that expected by a police officer' and Harwood was charged with misconduct for unlawful arrest, abuse of authority and discreditable behaviour. Scotland Yard paid out compensation to the victim, who complained of unnecessary force.

But on August 22, 2001 - three weeks after he was charged - a note was placed in Harwood's file saying he was to be medically retired owing to a shoulder injury sustained in an off-duty motorbike accident in 1998.He left with a full pension on September 14, 2001, and the case was closed days before disciplinary proceedings would have begun.

Three days later he was apparently well enough to rejoin the same force as a civilian computer worker in Croydon.

The list of complaints against PC Harwood stretches back 12 years. His superiors there say they were not informed of the unresolved disciplinary issue and neither were Surrey Police when he transferred there in April 2003.

It was not long before he was accused of violence again, this time by a fellow officer. In January 2004, while carrying out an arrest at a flat, PC Harwood was accused of grabbing the suspect by the throat and pushing him into a wooden table so hard that it broke.

More here

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

FBI to review thousands of old cases for contaminated evidence

Months after the Washington Post revealed that lab technicians at the FBI possibly exaggerated evidence, resulting in at least three wrongful convictions, the Department of Justice has announced it will review thousands of old cases.

The review, the largest in U.S. history, will focus on work by FBI Laboratory hair and fiber examiners since at least 1985, the Post reported.

In April, the Post wrote about two men who were convicted largely because of contaminated FBI hair analysis. A review of the evidence has since resulted in the release of both men.

A reporter at the Post had been working on a story about Donald Gates, a D.C. man released after DNA evidence proved his innocence, when he learned about Frederic Whitehurst, an FBI lab chemist who blew the whistle on the FBI Laboratory in the mid-1990s. Whitehurst said he watched colleagues contaminate evidence and, in court, overstate the significance of their matches. “There was a lackadaisical attitude,” Whitehurst said.

When Whitehurst, a chemist with a doctoral degree from Duke, arrived at the FBI crime lab in 1986, the first thing he noticed was that the place was, as he called it, a pigsty. The equipment was outdated and there was a film of black soot coating the counters – a dust from the vents that the agents called “black rain.”

It surprised him, too, he said, that outsiders were allowed to tour the lab, which he said should have been a controlled environment.

When he raised these issues, a coworker told him, “Before you embarrass the FBI in a court of law, you’ll perjure yourself. We all do it.”

After the first World Trade Center bombing, Whitehurst testified that supervisors pressured him to concoct misleading scientific reports. When he refused to testify that a urea nitrate bomb had been the source of the explosion, the FBI found another lab technician to testify.

Over the years, Whitehurst said, he brought in almost-new equipment that had been turned over by the National Institutes of Health. He implemented protocols, because there hadn’t been any when he arrived.

But other problems arose, Whitehurst told msnbc.com. He learned that an agent had, for the previous nine years, rewritten his scientific reports to support the prosecution. When he complained, he said he was told the agent hadn’t done anything wrong.

“You get patted on the head if you’re the guy who saves the case,” Whitehurst said, explaining why agents would provide misleading information. “They get promoted; they’re the guys everyone crowds around. It’s a very tight family. A scientist who asks a question and doesn’t go along, he gets isolated.”

Corrupt lab technicians remained employed even after Whitehurst started speaking out about the lab, said David Colapinto, general counsel for the National Whistleblowers Center.

In 1995, Whitehurst told Larry King on CNN, “I dislike being called a whistleblower, I’m a law enforcement officer and if I see violations of the law abuses of authority corruption. I’m required to report those.”

As an agent, Whitehurst wrote 237 letters to the Inspector General, complaining about the lab. The longest was 640 pages.

“The pressure was so crazy that every so often, I’d just break down and cry,” he said.

The Justice Department ultimately did review thousands of cases in response to Whitehurst's reports, Colapinto said, but he said the task force assigned to investigate operated in secret and the findings were not published. Rather, Colapinto said, prosecutors who had originally tried those old cases decided whether the new evidence should be disclosed to the defense.

Dissatisfied with the Justice Department’s review, Whitehurst requested the task force's findings through the Freedom of Information Act. Over several years, he received tens of thousands of pages.

Some changes were made, however. The FBI moved its lab from the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover building in Washington, D.C. to a separate building in Quantico, Va.

The National Academy of Sciences recently pushed for further independence, however. The organization, made up of elite scientists from around the U.S., recommended the creation of an independent federal agency to review evidence. That agency, ideally, should not be connected to the academic community, the scientists said.

Whitehurst, now a forensic consultant and a criminal defense lawyer in North Carolina, and the National Whistleblowers Center worked with the Post for a year on the expose that came out in April. That story apparently pushed the Justice Department to conduct another, more transparent review of old evidence.

The Justice Department says that this time, the review will include outsiders such as the Innocence Project, according to The Associated Press. The Innocence Project, which focuses on exonerating the wrongfully convicted, would watch over the government’s review.

Original report here

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Drunken British cop is fired after he abused Pakistani takeaway manager at railway station

A police officer embroiled in the Scotland Yard bigotry crisis has been sacked despite being cleared of racism on appeal. Philip Juhasz, 31, was thrown out of the force for drunkenly abusing a Pakistani employee at a railway station kiosk as he tried to obtain cheap food.

He was originally convicted of a racially aggravated public order offence after the clash at King’s Cross Station, in Central London.

A judge cleared him of racism when his legal team appealed several weeks later but his conviction for abusing the man remained.

Senior officers said Juhasz was dismissed after a misconduct hearing for ‘breaching standards of professional behaviour’.

The case was one of 10 referred to the police watchdog as a storm of controversy battered the Met over widespread allegations of racism.

It began when PC Alex Macfarlane was secretly recorded calling a black teenager a ‘n*****’ as he sat handcuffed in the back of a police van.

Prosecutors reversed their decision not to prosecute Macfarlane after the exchange was made public and he will go on trial in October.

In May a sergeant was suspended after a colleague complained that he had made a racist comment. He became the 28th officer or staff member known to be under investigation for racism since the crisis began.

Juhasz was arrested by British Transport Police officers after abusing Umer Nazir, 23, the manager of Delice de France, on September 22 last year.

Mr Nazir said Juhasz was off-duty and drunk and abused him when he refused to give him food that was about to be thrown away.

The worker accused him of saying ‘do you know who I am? I’m a police officer’ and ‘go back to your f***ing country.’

Commander Peter Spindler, of the Directorate of Professional Standards, said Juhasz was sacked after being accused of gross misconduct for failing to show respect and courtesy. He said: ‘The dismissal of this officer demonstrates that the Met will not tolerate drunken and abusive behaviour. ‘Anyone found acting in such a way will be dealt with swiftly and robustly.

‘This sends out a clear message to staff and the public that our officers and staff are expected to maintain high standards of behaviour both on and off duty.’

Original report here

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

NH: Voluntaryist jailed, faces 21 years for “wiretapping”

Recording a cop is “wiretapping”

"If you're reading this then I'm currently jailed" Ademo Freeman told the Libertarian News Examiner today in an email. Ademo was sentenced to 60 days in jail for writing on a public building with chalk.

While in jail Ademo will also be brought to trial on charges of "wiretapping," an accusation frequently leveled by police officers across the country against anyone who video or audio records them while performing their public duties in public places.

The chalking charges stem from an incident that took place in Manchester, New Hampshire over a year ago.

In June 2011 a group of Voluntaryists held a "police accountability rally" to protest the city of Manchester's failure to hold police officers accountable for "the dubious killing" of a resident and for "savagely" beating another.

The protest consisted of writing messages on the sidewalk and the exterior walls of the Manchester police department building using what Ademo describes as "children's chalk."

Eight demonstrators, including Ademo, were arrested and charged with "graffiti and criminal mischief." Ademo was sentenced to ten months stayed and 60 days in jail.

The alleged "wiretapping" charges stemmed from a phone call Ademo made to the Manchester police department asking them for comment on an incident in which a student video-recorded a police officer slamming another student's head onto a lunchroom table before arresting him.

As explained in a Libertarian News Examiner article, "Voluntaryist goes public with wiretapping charges:"
"Before posting the video, however, Ademo did what journalists have done since the invention of the telephone and called the Manchester school and police department so he could include their comments in the story. As a video journalist, Ademo had his call video- and sound-recorded to guarantee accuracy."

Authorities ruled that the officer's head-slamming was "justified" while Ademo's recording was illegal "wiretapping."

Conviction on the wiretapping charge could result in 21 years in jail.

Longtime readers of this site are familiar with Ademo as one of numerous Voluntaryist activists in New Hampshire who actively confront authorities over illegitimate laws on the libertarian principle that if there is no victim there can be no crime.

Ademo was featured in an article, "America, meet the voluntaryists of Keene," that introduced the rest of the country to these New Hampshire activists.

Original report here

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Useless British police again

Shopkeeper’s fury after being made to hold for 30 minutes by the police while trying to report sighting of rape suspect

A frustrated shop worker gave up trying to report seeing an escaped rape suspect to police after calling three times and being put on hold for 31 minutes.

Police have launched an internal investigation after Karl Tomlinson, 39, was unable to get through to an officer to report seeing the half-naked fugitive in the street behind his store in Plymouth, Devon.

Mr Tomlinson contacted the police after returning home and spotting an appeal for information online about a man who had escaped from custody at Charles Cross police station, in Plymouth, and believed the man he saw was the fugitive.

But he was passed from pillar to post as he tried, in vain, to report what he had seen. He first phoned 999 - as the police appeal requested - at around 6.25pm but was told by the operator to re-dial 101, the police’s non-emergency number.

When he called the number at around 6.30pm the operator said they would put him through to another department. He was then put on hold for more than six minutes before he hung up.

A short while later, at around 7.20pm, he decided to call 101 again and he stressed that he was calling about a man who had absconded. This time he was put on hold for 31 minutes - and played classical music down the phone line - before hanging up again.

In the end he passed on his information anonymously to the charity Crimestoppers.

Mr Tomlinson was convinced his information could have helped police trace the fugitive’s movements and eventually catch him.

The escaped man, who Mr Tomlinson had spotted outside the shop bare chested and holding flip-flops in his hand at 10am on Saturday - was eventually found in Plymouth at 10.30pm that day. He had been on the run for 13 hours.

Mr Tomlinson said: 'After waiting so long on the phone I was in two minds as to whether to drive to the police station and tell them. 'But the feeling was that if they can’t be bothered to pick up the phone then why bother?'

Mr Tomlinson complained that he was not given a chance to explain why he was calling when he dialled 999. He said: “They told me to ring 101 instead, so straight away I rang that number.

'The girl said she would put me through to the right department [but] after being put on hold for several minutes I gave up.

'I went to have some dinner then came back and tried again. 'They put me through to the same department [and] that time I was put on hold for 30 minutes. 'Eventually, I tried Crimestoppers.'

Mr Tomlinson recalled the moment when the man appeared at the back of his shop. He said: 'One of my colleagues said ‘You all right there mate, do you need any help?' He said ‘I’m just going in for a look’ then went into the back of our store and started to walk through it.

'I caught up with him and said; ‘Excuse me, this isn’t a walk through. If you want to go to the front of the shop then go around on the street. 'He just looked at me and ran.'

Mr Tomlinson said the man struggled with a door before fleeing across the road still clutching his flip-flops.

'We were saying afterwards, either he was high or he’d been caught by the husband of some woman. 'We even joked he was on the run from the police.'

Superintendent Chris Eastwood, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said Information received from the public 'is always treated with the utmost seriousness and confidence.'

He blamed the delay in dealing with Mr Tomlinson's query to a high level of calls being received from people affected by flooding.

'When a member of the public calls 101 we should always be in a position to assess and appropriately deal with the information being given to us,' he said.

'On Saturday the Devon and Cornwall force was faced with a very high level of calls due to flooding across the area and demand for service was high.

'However, community intelligence is a vital tool in fighting crime and is critical in aiding operational policing. 'The circumstances around this incident are currently being fully investigated and we will be speaking to all parties involved to gather the facts of what has happened.'

A man has appeared in court charged with absconding from police. He did not enter a plea. The case was sent to Plymouth Crown Court and he was remanded into custody to appear before a judge on July 23.

Original report here

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

A peculiar idea of proof

United States District Judge Clay D. Land has ordered the forfeiture of $21,175 seized from two ex-convicts by Deputy Drew Crane, of the Harris County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Office.

Neither of the men were convicted, arrested, or charged-in this case. No drugs or drug paraphernalia were reported on the men from whom the currency was seized. The claimant of the currency, Terrance Durr, has a 1996 felony drug conviction and, at least, a subsequent parole violation. Durr also has documented gainful employment-including an 8 year work history as a draft technician with Adam’s Beverage, an Anheuser Busch distributor.

The government presented no specific cognizable evidence of any drug transaction (or intended drug transaction) linking the currency to any specific illicit behavior. Durr presented evidence of why he had a substantial amount of cash on his person. The court found Durr’s evidence, and reasoning, unpersuasive.

Judge Land concluded:

At trial, the Government proved that the Defendant Property is United States currency that constitutes proceeds traceable to an exchange for a controlled substance in violation of the Controlled Substances Act. Accordingly, the Defendant Property is forfeitable pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6) and is hereby forfeited to the United States.

Which is an interesting definition of proved.

Judge Land cited seven points in ruling for the government:

The totality of the facts in this case demonstrates a substantial connection and relation between the Defendant Property and illegal drug activity. The factors leading to this conclusion include the following: (1) the odor of marijuana that Deputy Crane detected when he approached the vehicle during the stop; (2) Durr’s initial denial of currency being in the vehicle and his inconsistent behavior regarding the currency; (3) Lett and Durr were traveling in a thirdparty’s vehicle with a single vehicle key; (4) the amount of currency Durr was transporting and the manner in which it was bundled, bagged, and hidden under the passenger seat; (5) the odor of narcotics detected by the K-9 on both the currency and the vehicle; (6) Durr’s drug-related criminal history, coupled with Lett’s prior drug conviction; and (7) Durr’s inability to provide a legitimate source for the currency or plausible purpose for transporting it.

What the ruling appears to boil down to is

  1. Durr is an ex-con;
  2. Durr had a fairly large amount of currency;
  3. The police wanted his currency;
  4. The police found his currency;
  5. Police recorded a positive K9 alert on his currency and on his companion’s vehicle;
  6. The officer said that the vehicle smelled of alcohol and marijuana;
  7. Durr cannot prove that his money was not intended, or derived from, something to do with drugs to the satisfaction of the court;
  8. Thus, the government has “proved” that Durr’s cash constitutes proceeds traceable to an exchange for a controlled substance; and
  9. Because of prevailing practices, the police are allowed to give his currency to the federal government and the federal government will give back up to 80% of the proceeds of the forfeiture to participating police department(s)-thus cleansing the money of his rights and any taint of suspicion that he may have criminally used, or intended to use, the money.

This is utter non-sense.

Durr may have intended to use the money for narcotics. Or perhaps he was going to do something else. We do not know. Nobody else knows either-except maybe Terrance Durr.

Durr presented evidence that he intended to travel to Atlanta, GA to negotiate with a bank on the imminent foreclosure of a dilapidated rental property that he owned. Prosecutors easily poked holes in the sensibility of his plan. However, they failed to offer evidence that the money was drug related-unless we are to assume that the means, a criminal record, and unreliable evidence meet the burden. That would add a lot of forfeiture victims.

There are infinite possibilities as to how he got the money and to what he intended to do with it-whether they be licit or illicit. But reasonable jurisprudence ought to tether forfeiture to a showing of substantial connection between specific articulated criminal acts and proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Of course, Judge Land is not responsible for legislative mischief or higher courts sustaining unreasonable violations of process. Still, Judge Land should be constrained by a reasonable reading in accord with our Constitution and precedent. The government’s brief suggests an unpublished opinion for guidance, United States v. $183,791.00 in United States Currency, No. 09-15239, 2010 WL 3096146 at *2, 391 Fed. Appx. 791, 794 (11th Cir. Aug. 9, 2010):

We look at the “totality of the circumstances” when determining whether the government has satisfied this standard. See United States v. $121,100.00 in U.S. Currency, 999 F.2d 1503, 1507 (11th Cir. 1993). The government may use circumstantial evidence as well as evidence gathered after it filed the civil forfeiture complaint to meet its burden. United States v. $291,828.00 in U.S. Currency, 536 F.3d 1234, 1237 (11th Cir. 2008). However, the government is not required to produce evidence connecting the money to a particular narcotics transaction. United States v. $242,484.00, 389 F.3d 1149, 1160 (11th Cir. 2004) (en banc). It need only show that the money was “related to some illegal drug transaction.” Id. We evaluate the evidence presented with “‘a common sense view to the realities of normal life.’” Id. at 1160 (quoting United States v. Carrell, 252 F.3d 1193, 1201 (11th Cir. 2001)).

That is, the government must show that the currency was related to some illegal drug transaction-not a particular transaction-and circumstantial arguments will be viewed in the totality of circumstances. Knowing participation in a money laundering scheme with a drug cartel would-for instance-satisfy a circumstantial argument. In U.S. v. $183,791.00, connection to drug transactions was shown by an extensive investigation that strongly indicated that the claimant was substantially, and knowingly, involved in laundering money for a Nigerian heroin trafficking organization.

Here, the complaint is bereft of any transaction.

To the extent that there is any equivalent of a criminal organization, we have an ex-con travelling with another ex-con after a supposed night at a strip club. Strippers aside, that describes a lot of people. Sixty-five million Americans are estimated to have a criminal record-and in excess of 25 million Americans are estimated to have a drug charge on their record. That is about 20% and 8% of the current United States population-and those numbers are fairly conservative. Certain populations are at far greater risk for this capricious forfeiture of property rights. African Americans have much higher incidents of arrests, charges, and incarcerations-as well as severity of punishment-despite similar (or lower) drug usage rates:

Among men, blacks (28.5%) are about six times more likely than whites (4.4%) to be admitted to prison during their life. Among women, 3.6% of blacks and 0.5% of whites will enter prison at least once. (U.S. Department of Justice) Based on current rates of incarceration, an estimated 7.9% of black males compared to 0.7% of white males will enter State or Federal prison by the time they are age 20 and 21.4% of black males versus 1.4% of white males will be incarcerated by age 30. (U.S. Department of Justice) Some have noted that more black men are in prison in America than are in college. (The Black and White of Justice, Freedom Magazine, Volume 128)

Statistics on black crime are, on the surface, very bleak. There are, however, some very important factors that help to influence the numbers. Consider those and a strong case for a much different view unfolds. Since 62% of persons admitted to Federal prison and 31.1% of those admitted to State prison for the first time were sentenced because of drug offenses, let us first take a look at the racial disparity in the war on drugs:

The National Institute of Drug Abuse estimated that while 12 percent of drug users are black, they make up nearly 50 percent of all drug possession arrests in the U.S. (The Black and White of Justice, Freedom Magazine, Volume 128)

According to the National Drug Strategy Network, although African Americans make up less than one-third of the population in Georgia, the black arrest rate for drugs is five times greater than the white arrest rate. In addition, since 1990, African Americans have accounted for more than 75% of persons incarcerated for drug offenses in Georgia and make up 97.7% of the people in that state who are given life sentences for drug offenses. In six California counties independently surveyed in 1995, 100% of those individuals sent to trial on drug charges were minorities, while the drug-using population in those same counties was more than 60% white. (The Black and White of Justice, Freedom Magazine, Volume 128) By R Jeneen Jones, The Truth About Black Crime, January 16 2000.

The remaining circumstantial arguments against Durr are of dubious value.

Self-serving testimony adds little, if any, probative value.

Harris County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Drew Crane may indeed have smelled marijuana and alcohol. But how much is his uncorroborated testimony worth if he and his department have a financial stake in perfecting the forfeiture? The Sheriff’s department stands to gain a vast majority of this cash as well as any other asset forfeitures that they snag-which adds up quick.

While federally adopted forfeitures often bring tighter restrictions on allowable expenditures, it is not clear that it matters in Georgia. Sheriffs in Georgia enjoy broad discretion on how to spend forfeiture dollars. Even if the federal equitable sharing guidelines are obeyed (and they still allow the use of forfeiture dollars to pay overtime salaries-for which Deputy Crane would presumably be eligible), there is no reason to think that the money run through federal custody is not merely freeing state forfeiture dollars to be used at the sheriff’s broad discretion. And, we know little about how the department spends forfeiture fund dollars. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office, like many police departments in Georgia, has not filed public asset forfeiture expenditure reports as directed by Georgia law. In effect, forfeiture dollars are private slush funds. Sure, the department might be following every professional, ethical and legal obligation (except refusing to file publicly accessible reporting) but we don’t know that. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office would hardly be the first to organization to violate guidelines when they are done in secret.

Rubber bands, bags, and hiding currency are indicative of a large amount of cash not indicia of criminality.

A recurring feature of bulk cash forfeiture complaints is how cash is hidden and how it is bundled. According to many of these complaints, the use a bag to hold the currency and the use of rubber bands is indicative of drug dealing. Let’s back up a second. Assume a person has legitimate recognized interest in his cash and he is trying to transport the cash. To avoid the drug dealer profile must he have the cash in open air-visible to all? Must the cash be either professionally bundled by a bank or freely scattered? Only drug dealers use bags to transport things?

The rubber band hypothesis is absurd. It has been dealt with by the courts before:

The argument that the money is likely linked to drug distribution because it is bound by a rubber band needs to be carefully examined. If one is carrying a large sum of cash currency, for whatever reason, using a rubber band to keep it in order is simple and effective.

I do not doubt that drug couriers and dealers use rubber bands to bundle their ill-gotten gains. However, drug dealers also presumably use belts to hold up their trousers; under the government’s analysis, if Espinola was wearing a belt at the time of the seizure, it would suggest his involvement with illegal activity. Although many courts appear to disagree, I find that the government’s “rubber band” hypothesis doesn’t stretch quite that far. United States v. One Lot of U.S. Currency Totalling $14,665, 33 F. Supp.2d 47 (D. Mass.1998).

Equally strange is the idea that only drug dealers use bags to carry things. Individuals have a cognizable interest in transporting property in objects that make the property easier to transport and more secure. By the government’s logic, wallets are also indicia of criminality. Using a bag is indicative of having not put the money in a bank. It tells us little else. If the currency owner freely displays thousands of dollars, he is obviously enhancing thr risk of being robbed.

The use of a single-key argument seems bizarre. Driving another’s car with a single key may be indicative of auto-theft. As that was not an issue in this case, it is difficult to see what inference Judge Land is drawing between the use of a single key and any relevant illegal behavior.

Another absurd argument is that there is any probative value to a claimant’s initial lack of disclosure about the currency. Law enforcement can employ civil asset forfeiture to seize currency. For the currency owner, there is little difference between the police taking the cash and someone without a badge. If the police find a large amount of currency-whether one is forthright or not-they are probably going to seize it. Initially disclosure might help in court later but the currency risks the permanent seizure of their money. At a minimum, they face substantial legal fees and lengthy litigation before the currency will be returned.

Original report here

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

IN: "Showtime Syndrome" in Evansville: Online Trash Talk about Cops Triggers SWAT Raid

“The community absolutely has to have law and order. If that’s removed, all kinds of chaos and violence will result,” insisted Evansville, Indiana Police Captain Andy Chandler in an interview with Pro Libertate.

For example: Absent the heroic intervention of the State’s oath-bound servants, an innocent senior citizens and her teenage granddaughter might be terrorized in their home by men armed with assault weapons and flash-bang grenades.

Actually, the armed marauders who attacked the Evansville home of Ira and Louise Milan on June 21 were oath-bound servants of the State. The assault was conducted by the local SWAT team, in the company of an impossibly sycophantic local television reporter named David Shepherd, who had been brought along to chronicle the daring raid.

The purpose of the operation was not to protect the “community” from criminal violence, but to arrest and punish an unidentified individual who had posted what were described as “specific threats” against the police in an online forum.

The assailants employed a “knock and announce” procedure in which the incantation “Police search warrant” was shouted three times before the front door was broken down with a siege engine and two flash-bang grenades were hurled into the home.

None of this was necessary, but it certainly looked bitchin' on camera.

“The front door was open,” a shaken and most likely disgusted Ira Milan commented later to the Evansville Courier-Press. “It’s not like anyone was in there hiding. To bring a SWAT team seems a little excessive.”

Acting as the voice of the Evansville PD, television correspondent Shepherd explained that the armored assault team took “extra precautions because of the severity of the threats.”

It’s impossible to make an objective assessment of the nature and credibility of those threats, since Vanderburgh Superior Court Judge David Kiely sealed both the initial warrant and a second one issued after the SWAT team had wrecked the Milan family’s home. This was done in defiance of the Indiana State open records act, which requires that the results of a search warrant be made public.

Press accounts claim that “specific threats” were made against police officers and their families by an anonymous poster to the topix.com on-line forum. One of the posts declared: “Cops beware! I’m proud of my country but I hate police of any kind. I have explosives … Made in America. Evansville will feel my pain.” Another claimed that the home addresses of Evansville police officers had been leaked to the public.

“It said `EPD leak: Officers’ addresses given out,’ or something along those lines,” explained department spokesman Sgt. Jason Cullum. Although one post reportedly mentioned the Evansville Police Chief, no other officers were named, and no addresses were listed. Although Cullum asserted that a SWAT raid was necessary because “the threats were specific enough, and the potential for danger was there,” his casual description suggests that the investigation wasn’t particularly rigorous – especially in light of the fact that the assault on the Milan home took place roughly a day after the messages were posted.

The Milans were questioned, some computers and cell phones were seized, but no arrests were made. Shepherd concluded his report by intoning that the continuing investigation “hits close to home for many of these brave officers.”

Those “brave officers,” of course, had just conducted a military raid against a harmless elderly couple and their teenage granddaughter in reaction to nasty things said about the police by a blogger who had apparently piggybacked on the home’s Wi-Fi signal.

“This is the first SWAT entry we’ve done that involved in serving a warrant addressing a threat against a public security officer,” Captain Chandler – a well-spoken, candid, and personable 24-year veteran who until recently commanded the SWAT team – told Pro Libertate.

Asked if the department would react with the same zeal in addressing similar online “threats” against a private citizen, Chandler replied: “Absolutely we would use a SWAT team to deal with this kind of threat against anybody. We have taken action to deal with threats and harassment of this kind.”

“Our population is about 120,000, and the larger urban area is about a quarter of a million,” Chandler observes. “People would be astounded by the number of reports we get of intimidation and threats arising out of domestic violence situations or other conflicts.”

According to Chandler, the Evansville SWAT team does an average of five call-outs a month. At the risk of making what could be construed as a disastrous policy recommendation, I’m constrained to ask: If a SWAT call-out is justified for every “credible” threat of aggravated violence, shouldn’t the team be deployed every day in defense of the besieged citizens of Evansville?

By Chandler’s account, the investigation that led to SWAT operatives beating down the open door of an elderly couple’s home was a model of urgent efficiency prompted by an exigent threat to Evansville’s intrepid defenders.

“We got notified by informants on the street about postings on a website that threatened officers,” he recalls. (Those “street” informants were people who read the internet posts and called the department.) “We get a lot of criticism, some of it profane, which is just an exercise of free speech. But then the comments crossed the line by actually starting to call out the police chief, with the poster claiming that he had access to weapons that would penetrate our tactical vests – all officers on our force are required to wear the vests – and that he and his `boys’ were coming for officers and their families.”

“We obtained a number of subpoenas associated with that address,” Chandler continues. After conducting “surveillance and intelligence collection” on the suspect and the neighborhood, the department “found that there had been over a dozen shootings in the area since the beginning of the summer, some of them gang-related.”

All of this information was used to conduct an assessment using a “Threat Matrix.”

“We have a document – a checklist – that we review. We fill in the blanks, and every answer has a score associated with it. Is the suspect a known offender? Was it a violent offense? Did he resist arrest? Is there drug trafficking in the area? The scores are tallied up and the threat is placed in an appropriate range of responses.”

A “Threat Assessment Score” is then compiled, and the appropriate response is chosen from three options. The higher the “Matrix” score, the more militarized the response.

A total of 1-16 points means that the supposed threat is considered “SWAT optional”; 17-24 points means that the SWAT commander should be consulted; if the score is 25 points or higher, SWAT deployment is “mandatory.”

The standardized “Threat Matrix” form lists a number of individual criteria dictating “mandatory” SWAT deployment; for instance, if the subject is believed to possess an automatic, semi-auto, or bolt/lever action rifle, or explosives. In the fashion of a Scrabble game, the use of home “fortifications” – such as burglar bars – is awarded “double point value.” The same is true if the subject has a military or police background, or a record that includes “resisting arrest” or “assault on a police officer” (which are weighted more heavily than crimes of violence against Mundanes, such as homicide, armed robbery, and assault).

The purpose of the “Threat Matrix” is to assess the danger to officer safety – not the potential threat a subject poses to the public at large. As Chandler puts it, “Every SWAT raid involves an element of risk, and we chose the method that would ensure the safety of the officers serving that warrant.”

A less self-congratulatory assessment might be that the department chose a SWAT team as a way of “sending a message” – a conclusion amply justified by the involvement of an “embedded” reporter and camera crew. This wasn’t a case of a police department isolating and neutralizing an identifiable threat; it was another example of the notorious -- and frequently lethal -- “Showtime Syndrome" at work.

Given the indecent eagerness of police departments to acquire military-grade drone technology, future "Threat Matrix" assessments could well result in drone strikes, rather than SWAT raids.

According to a local TV news account, the Evansville PD maintains that the invasion of the Milan home “was well worth it to keep everyone safe.” But even if we were to describe juvenile online comments as a “threat,” it’s nonsense on stilts to claim that “everyone” in Evansville was endangered by them.

According to Sgt. Jason Cullum, the police embody the “community,” and they can be paralyzed with fear by an anonymous, solitary internet Troll. “We’re not going to let these type [sic] of people take over and have us scared in our own homes,” he told the local Fox affiliate. From this perspective, the SWAT team’s home invasion was not a grotesque act of overkill reasonably described as an act of state terrorism, but a pre-emptive strike against forces that threatened the existence of law and order itself.

One element that played a tacit but unmistakable role in the decision to deploy the SWAT team was the recent enactment of Indiana Senate Bill 1, which recognized the innate right of citizens to use lethal force to repel “unlawful entry into their homes by law enforcement officers or persons pretending to be law enforcement officers.” That measure, which was signed into law just weeks ago, was denounced by police unions as a measure announcing “open season on law enforcement.”

It’s quite likely that the purpose of the June 21 attack on the Milan home was intended as a show of force – a demonstration that the police were willing to deploy overwhelming force to assert their continued dominance. This would certainly comport with the paramilitary mindset described by Gabe Suarez, who spent 12 years as a police officer in Santa Monica: “When I was on [the] SWAT [team] our view [was] that `We will always win....even if we have to burn down your entire house by bombing it....we will win’.”

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today. Now hosted on Wordpress. If you cannot access it, go to the MIRROR SITE, where posts appear as well as on the primary site. I have reposted the archives (past posts) for Wicked Thoughts HERE or HERE or here