Saturday, June 30, 2012

No accountability for the police murder of Stanley Gibson

Stanley Gibson, a disabled Gulf War veteran, was murdered in a Las Vegas parking lot last December 12. He was shot seven times in the back of the head, without provocation, by a stranger wielding an AR-15 rifle. The killer, 34-year-old Jesus Arevalo, remains at large and is easy to find: He’s an officer with the Las Vegas Metro Police.

Gibson was unarmed. He was not a criminal suspect and posed no threat to anybody. His killing was a clear and unmistakable case of criminal homicide. Yet Arevalo has not been charged with a crime. He is on an extended vacation called “administrative leave,” during which he continues to collect his taxpayer-funded salary and benefits.

Meanwhile, Gibson’s widow, Rhonda, has been left all but penniless. Her husband was a fully disabled combat veteran of the first Gulf War who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and cancer – the latter affliction most likely a result of prolonged exposure to depleted uranium. Over the past several years, Gibson’s disability benefits were consistently reduced and cut off entirely shortly before he was murdered by Arevalo.

The day before he was shot, Gibson – whose anti-anxiety medication had been cut off two weeks earlier by the Veterans Administration -- suffered a breakdown. According to Rhonda, “He didn’t know where he was and didn’t know what he was doing.”

The police were called after Stanley wound up in the front yard screaming at cars and “causing a scene.” Claiming that Stanley had taken a “fighting stance,” the officers arrested him for “resisting arrest” and booked him at the Las Vegas Detention Center. Although they informed Rhonda that Stanley would be placed on a 72-hour psychiatric hold, he was released within eight hours.

The following morning, Gibson called 911 twice to ask for medical help. He eventually drove to a nearby hospital, but left without receiving treatment. At about 9:30 that evening he called Rhonda to tell her he was parked outside their apartment complex – but he was nowhere to be seen.
Stanley had actually pulled into the parking lot of a condominium next door. She wouldn't learn about what happened to her husband until seeing a news report of the shooting -- and recognizing his white Cadillac.

Eyewitnesses recalled that Gibson drove slowly through the lot as if he was lost and confused. At the time, Arevalo and three other officers were at the condo responding to a call from a resident regarding a suspected break-in. Although they had no reason to consider Gibson as a suspect, they surrounded the vehicle and penned it in between several squad cars. Disoriented and frightened, Gibson gunned his engine and spun his wheels—but there was nowhere he could go.

For about a half hour, the officers tried to get Gibson to leave the car. During that period they should have been able to run his license plate and identify the driver. They should have recognized that they were dealing with a sick and confused man, and contacted a crisis intervention team. They should have gotten in touch with his wife, who lived less than a block away. They should have simply waited for Gibson to calm down.

The officers did none of those things. Instead, they chose to escalate the encounter by devising a plan to force him from his car: One officer would shoot out a window with a beanbag round, and another would incapacitate him with pepper spray. After the window was shattered, Officer Jesus Arevalo modified the plan by shooting Gibson seven times in the back of head with his AR-15 rifle.

Arevalo, who has a lengthy history of citizen complaints and official reprimands, was given the customary 72 hours to work out his story with the help of a police union attorney. He was then placed on paid vacation. Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie, who supervises the Metro Police, initially claimed that the shooting was justified because Gibson supposedly threatened the officers by using his car as a “battering ram” – a claim that disintegrated after the emergence of a private video documenting that Gibson’s car was stationary when Arevalo murdered him.

Original report here

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Friday, June 29, 2012

MN: Man on life support after cop punches him for “talking loud”

Sgt. David Clifford, a member of the Minneapolis SWAT team, turned himself in to authorities on Sunday after a father of four who he reportedly “sucker punched” for talking too loud spent Father’s Day in intensive care.

Mike Archambault told KMSP-TV that his longtime friend, Brian Vander Lee, was at a restaurant in Andover on Saturday when a stranger at another table asked him to be quiet.

“He did a Superman punch,” Archambault recalled. “Brian went back, feet up in the air, and the guy landed on top of him and his head bounced off the concrete.”

Archambault said the suspect fled the scene and Vander Lee was taken to a nearby hospital where doctors performed emergency surgery for bleeding on his brain.

Witnesses identified the assailant as Sgt. David Clifford but police did not find the officer at his home. Commander Paul Sommer said that Clifford finally turned himself in at about 1:30 p.m. on Sunday after retaining a lawyer. He is expected to be charged with third-degree assault.

“I think he realized now, I don’t think he realized how serious it was last night,” Archambault explained. “And now that word got out — that Brian is in the condition he’s in — that he better do what’s right.”

An online biography indicated that Clifford had served with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division as team leader of Personal Security Detachments in Kosovo and Iraq.

After two brain surgeries, Vander Lee was still on life support Sunday. Doctors are hopeful that he will recover.

Original report here

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

WV: Sheriff indicted on federal rights charges

A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted a West Virginia sheriff on charges stemming from an alleged beating in 2010.

U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld announced in a news release Tuesday that Jefferson County Sheriff Robert Shirley is charged with one count of deprivation of rights under the color of law for allegedly assaulting and kicking a person on Dec. 27, 2010, in Berkeley County. Prosecutors said Shirley is also charged with falsifying records during a federal investigation of the incident.

If convicted on both counts, the 60-year-old Shirley faces up to 30 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Shirley's attorney, Kevin Mills, said the case stems from the apprehension of a dangerous bank robbery suspect — now in prison — and that his client "will be entering pleas of not guilty to both counts."

The indictment comes a week after Mark Daniel Haines, a Harpers Ferry man serving a prison sentence for bank robbery, sued Shirley and 14 unidentified law enforcement officers whom he says beat him severely after a failed heist and vehicle chase through Jefferson and Berkeley counties in December 2010.

In the civil suit, Haines, currently an inmate at Maryland's Allegheny County Detention Center, says Shirley repeatedly kicked Haines in the head and stomped on his face while other officers threw him to the ground and against a cruiser, punched him and shocked him with stun guns.

Shirley's attorneys said in a statement last week that the sheriff denies the inmate's allegations. And on Tuesday, Mills criticized federal prosecutors.

"We're a little bit surprised the civil rights division from Washington, D.C., has gotten involved in this case and is making decisions about how law enforcement officers, including Sheriff Shirley, would conduct themselves when chasing a violent, serial bank robber who has fled the scene of a robbery," Mills said.

A message left with the West Virginia State Police was not immediately returned. Representatives at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and the FBI in West Virginia said no one was available to comment.

Original report here

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Officer indicted in woman's death

A Virginia police officer who fatally shot an Alton native several times in her head and upper body as she sat in her Jeep and drove away from him is facing four special grand jury indictments.

Officer Daniel W. Harmon-Wright, also known as Daniel W. Sullivan, of the Culpeper (Va.) Police Department, was indicted on one count of murder; malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle; malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle resulting in a death; and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony in the Feb. 9 shooting of Patricia Ann (Barger) Cook, 54.

"I'm ecstatic something has happened," said Cook's cousin, Carol Hailer of Alton. "There is more to the story than we know, and we are going to find out what it is."

Cook's widower, Gary Cook, declined to comment Monday on the advice of his attorneys, who filed a $5.35 million wrongful death lawsuit in his behalf against the officer last month.

From information garnered through its investigation, the same grand jury also indicted the officer's mother, Bethany Sullivan, 55, with three felony counts of forging a public record and three counts of uttering a forged public record in 2008 and 2010 - attempting to use the altered documents as though they were true.

The documents were her son's police entrance exam and performance evaluation. Sullivan worked as an administrative assistant to the Culpeper police chief from September 2002 until resigning in July 2010. She was released on $30,000 bond.

Her son, 32 and from Gainesville, Va., was hired at the police department Aug. 30, 2006. He is suspended without pay, and the department is conducting an internal investigation to determine whether there will be any disciplinary actions.

In the nearly four months since Cook died, family members have expressed frustration about not knowing what happened or why, with concerns that the incident could be covered up. It was nearly two months after the shooting, on April 2, when a court-appointed special prosecutor filed paperwork seeking impaneling of a special investigative grand jury.

Throughout May, the jury heard from more than 45 witnesses and received more than 100 exhibits, among "reams" of other information, the special prosecutor said. The Virginia State Police conducted its own investigation.

Hailer said the indictments give the family hope. "I feel like at least we will know what happened and they can't sweep everything away," she said. "We were afraid it would all be sealed and we would not know anything. He (Harmon-Wright) needs his day in court, as we do."

After the special grand jury issued the indictments, Harmon-Wright turned himself into authorities. He is being held without bond until a hearing scheduled for Friday, for both himself and his mother. Harmon-Wright spent five years in the U.S. Marines infantry, including during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

When the indictments came down last week, Harmon-Wright's attorney claimed his client shot Cook in self-defense, as he feared for his life. Shortly after the shooting, he claimed his arm had been caught in the driver's-side window of Cook's Jeep Wrangler, dragging him as she drove away in a parochial school parking lot.

However, his attorney told the Culpeper Star Exponent last week that he would not have characterized what happened as a dragging. Instead, the officer's hand was "pinned" in the manually operated window and he was "carried along by the suspect's vehicle" as he rode 50 yards on the running board.

The morning of Feb. 9, someone at the parochial school had called police about a suspicious person on the lot, reportedly peering into the school annex windows. Harmon-Wright responded to the call, and an argument ensued with Cook.

Defense lawyer Daniel L. Hawes described the resulting situation as an "alternating brake and accelerate cycle designed to cause him (Harmon-Wright) harm" while yelling at Cook to stop. Hawes said his client had put his hand on the door handle, but the door was locked, then he removed it to pull out his gun and shoot at the driver's-side window. Cook was shot five or six times.

Cook's Jeep traveled out of the parking lot and crashed into a utility pole nearly two blocks away. She was dead at the scene.

What also is unclear is why Cook, a 1976 graduate of Alton High School and a retired cosmetologist, was at the parking lot of a parochial school with which she had no known connection. A homemaker, she was an active volunteer at Culpeper United Methodist Church, in its children's ministry, office and cooking dinners in its kitchen. She also was a talented seamstress, a member of the church's quilters' group and was good at crafts and crocheting, Hailer said.

Mourners remembered Cook for her "wit, creativity and kindness" at a service.

Relatives also say it was unlike Cook to drive off from a police officer unless she feared for her safety, and she never was in trouble with the law. They also do not know of any previous connection between Cook and Harmon-Wright.

Original report here

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Australian man did NOT kill his parents

Final verdict after 19 years. Selective use of evidence by prosecution. Incorrect forensic science. Vengeful relative

IT WAS an extraordinary end to an extraordinary saga. Nineteen years after Helen and Stephen Gilham were stabbed to death in their southern Sydney home, their son Jeffrey was finally acquitted of the crimes by the highest court in NSW.

In a judgment that was scathing of the prosecution case and has brought renewed calls for change to the way forensic scientific evidence is used in trials, the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal formally overturned the 2008 conviction of Mr Gilham and the two life sentences he had been given for the 1993 murders.

The 42-year-old father of three clutched the hand of his wife Robecca as the 2-1 majority decision was read, embracing her when the result finally became clear.

"This has been a horrendous experience for us. I'm glad today that I have been acquitted of the charges," Mr Gilham said. "I am very happy to be going home a free man and that's just all I want to do, is go home."

The judgment goes a considerable way to upholding Mr Gilham's 19-year insistence that it was not he, but his brother Christopher who was responsible for the murder of Helen and Stephen Gilham in the early hours of August 28, 1993.

Jeffrey Gilham admitted to killing Christopher, but said he did so in a fit of rage after discovering that his older sibling had killed their parents and was in the process of setting them on fire.

Police initially accepted Mr Gilham's story, allowing him to plead guilty to manslaughter for killing his 25-year-old brother. But there were others who did not accept it, most notably Tony Gilham, who was convinced that his nephew was guilty and began campaigning for him to be brought to trial. Police eventually reopened the investigation and in 2000 a coroner recommended that Mr Gilham be charged with the murder of his parents.

Eight years later, after one trial in which the jury failed to reach a verdict, Mr Gilham was convicted over the murder of his parents and given two consecutive life sentences.

But Mr Gilham appealed against the convictions to the state's highest court and presented new expert scientific evidence that cast doubt over a key part of the prosecution case.

An American toxicologist, David Penney, told the court that - contrary to the Crown case - Stephen, Helen and Christopher Gilham must have been alive when the fire was lit as they had significant amounts of carbon monoxide in their bloodstream.

This undermined the Crown's argument - based on testimony from its own expert - that Christopher had a "negative" level of CO in his bloodstream and thus must have been dead before the fire was lit.

It also brought into question the timing and sequence of events presented to the jury by the Crown Prosecutor, Margaret Cunneen, SC. The evidence proved crucial to the appeal panel's decision yesterday.

"[Dr Penney's] conclusions contradict two central elements of the Crown case as presented at trial," the judges said. "It is inevitable … that a miscarriage of justice has occurred."

The judges also upheld Mr Gilham's claim that the prosecution misled the jury by leading evidence about apparent "similarity" between the clustered stab wounds on the three deceased.

The appeal heard that this conclusion was not supported by forensic science, with clusters of stab wounds commonplace in many homicides, including those that involved more than one victim and more than one killer.

The judges noted that Ms Cunneen had elected not to call a Victorian forensic expert, Stephen Cordner, who had given evidence in pre-trial hearings that such conclusions could not be drawn, calling, instead, a forensic expert with a more favourable view.

"[The] evidence of a pattern in the stab wounds suffered by each of the deceased was wrongly admitted as expert evidence and, for that reason, is not available to be used by the Crown at any retrial, further weakening the Crown case," Justice Fullerton said.

Though Mr Gilham's support group hailed the decision as "justice finally done", not everyone agreed. Leaving the court, Tony Gilham, Jeffrey's uncle, said: "It's not over yet Jeffrey - I'll fix you." He said the court's decision was "a miscarriage of justice" and he would ask the DPP to consider an appeal to the High Court. He said his nephew was a "family killer".

Nevertheless the decision stands and it is unlikely to be appealed.

Coming just four months after Gordon Wood was acquitted over the murder of his girlfriend Caroline Byrne, it has also raised further questions about the way alleged offenders are tried in NSW.

In particular, it raises questions about the use of forensic scientific evidence to prove a person's guilt or innocence, and the ability of juries to understand this evidence and its fallibility.

"I think it highlights how potentially damaging, unreliable and speculative experts can be," Professor Gary Edmond, a legal expert in forensic science from the University of NSW, said of the decision last night.

"It is hopefully part of a a slow move, following the decisions in Wood, towards requiring trial judges to be more attentive to the opinions that experts express. It also seems to suggest that some of the trial safeguards, like cautionary ruling to juries, might not be as affective as juries believe."

Original report here

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Ninth Circuit to DEA: Putting a Gun to an 11-Year-Old's Head Is Not OK

Why do so many U.S. Law Enforcement Agents have to act like Hitler's SS?

At 7 a.m. on January 20, 2007, DEA agents battered down the door to Thomas and Rosalie Avina’s mobile home in Seeley, California, in search of suspected drug trafficker Louis Alvarez. Thomas Avina met the agents in his living room and told them they were making a mistake. Shouting “Don’t you fucking move,” the agents forced Thomas Avina to the floor at gunpoint, and handcuffed him and his wife, who had been lying on a couch in the living room. As the officers made their way to the back of the house, where the Avina’s 11-year-old and 14-year-old daughters were sleeping, Rosalie Avina screamed, “Don’t hurt my babies. Don’t hurt my babies.”

The agents entered the 14-year-old girl’s room first, shouting “Get down on the fucking ground.” The girl, who was lying on her bed, rolled onto the floor, where the agents handcuffed her. Next they went to the 11-year-old’s room. The girl was sleeping. Agents woke her up by shouting “Get down on the fucking ground.” The girl’s eyes shot open, but she was, according to her own testimony, “frozen in fear.” So the agents dragged her onto the floor. While one agent handcuffed her, another held a gun to her head.

Moments later the two daughters were carried into the living room and placed next to their parents on the floor while DEA agents ransacked their home. After 30 minutes, the agents removed the children’s handcuffs. After two hours, the agents realized they had the wrong house—the product of a sloppy license plate transcription—and left.

In 2008, the Avinas—mom, dad, and both daughters—filed a federal suit against the DEA for excessive use of force, assault, and battery in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. That court ruled in favor of the DEA, and the Avinas appealed. Last week, the family got justice.

While the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals defended the agents' rough treatment of Thomas and Rosalie, it also declared that yanking the Avina children of their beds and putting guns to their heads did, in fact, constitute the “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

"A jury could find that the agents pointed their guns at the head of an eleven-year-old girl, 'like they were going to shoot [her],' while she lay on the floor in handcuffs, and that it was excessive for them to do so," reads the Ninth Circuit's decision, which was filed June 12. "Similarly, a jury could find that the agents’ decision to force the two girls to lie face down on the floor with their hands cuffed behind their backs was unreasonable."

More from the decision:

"Under our case law, an issue of material fact exists as to whether the actions of the agents were excessive in light of the ages of B.S.A. (age eleven) and B.F.A. (age fourteen) and the limited threat they posed. See Tekle, 511 F.3d 839 (holding that officers were not entitled to summary judgment on excessive force claim where officers pointed guns at an eleven-year-old boy’s head during the arrest of the boy’s father); Motley v. Parks, 432 F.3d 1072, 1089 (9th Cir. 2005) (en banc) (holding that officer’s act of pointing a gun at an infant during the search of a gang member’s house was objectively unreasonable); see also McDonald ex rel. McDonald v. Haskins, 966 F.2d 292, 294-95 (7th Cir. 1992) (holding that officer’s act of pointing his gun at a nine-year-old’s head during the search of home was excessive use of force). Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the United States on B.F.A.’s and B.S.A.’s claims for assault and battery."

In a footnote, the court wrote:

"Although there is evidence that the agents released the girls from their handcuffs once they realized how young they were, there is also evidence that the agents knew, prior to entering the girls’ bedrooms, that the girls were children. Rosalie testified that, as the agents were heading towards the girls’ rooms, she screamed at the agents several times, “Don’t hurt my babies.” Moreover, one of the agents testified at his deposition that, when he first saw one of the girls (presumably the older of the two girls), she appeared to be “12 [or] 13 years old.”

The ruling concludes:

"Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Avinas, a rational trier of fact could find that agents engaged in “extreme or outrageous” conduct when the agents: (1) pointed their guns at the head of eleven-year-old B.S.A. “like they were going to shoot [her]” while B.S.A. was lying on the floor in handcuffs; (2) forced eleven-year-old B.S.A. and fourteen-year-old B.F.A. to lie face down on the floor with their hands cuffed behind their backs; (3) left B.S.A. and B.F.A. in handcuffs for half an hour; and (4) yelled at eleven-year-old B.S.A. and fourteen-year-old B.F.A. to “[g]et down on the f[uck]ing ground.” See Tekle, 511 F.3d at 856 (holding that officers were not entitled to summary judgment on claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress where officers pointed guns at eleven-year old’s head during the arrest of the eleven-year-old’s father); see also id. at 859 (Fisher, J., concurring). Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the United States on B.F.A.’s and B.S.A.’s claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress."

As a side note: While this raid was conducted under President George W. Bush, the deputy administrator of the DEA at that time was Michele Leonhart. She is now the administrator of the DEA, thanks to an appointment by President Barack Obama. Furthermore, the Obama Administration could have declined to defend the DEA in this case. Instead, Obama's Justice Department has decided to make the case that federal agents should be allowed to hold guns to the heads of children.

Original report here

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

NM: Couple sues Albuquerque police thugs over gun-pointing

If they watched for 40 minutes first, it must have been crystal clear to them that their suspect did not match the description of the offender

An Albuquerque man and his wife have sued police and the chief of the department, alleging that officers violated their civil rights when they ordered them out of their home at gunpoint and put them in handcuffs.

Brendan Rogillio and his wife, Renee Diamond, claimed police ordered them out of their home at gunpoint in August 2010 after following a tip about a robbery in which a man stole cash and a digital scale from a store. The Albuquerque Journal reported ( ) that a woman who had gotten the license plate number from a truck involved in the robbery gave it to police, who used it to find Rogillio's address.

The couple was not involved in the robbery, and Rogillio didn't match the description of the Hispanic robbery suspect; Rogillio is fair-skinned and has strawberry blond hair.

Even so, police began surveillance on his home within a half-hour of the robbery and watched as Rogillio arrived home from an errand, chatted with a neighbor and went inside. Diamond got home 40 minutes later.

Police didn't obtain a search warrant but used a loudspeaker to order the couple out of the house with their hands in the air. Rogillio, a mechanical engineer at Sandia National Laboratories, came out and was immediately handcuffed and questioned.

Diamond, an attorney, was showering when police ordered the couple out of the house, so she came out in a towel. She was handcuffed with her hands behind her back, and a female detective helped cover her when her towel kept slipping off, the lawsuit said. Diamond asked to be put into a police car so she wasn't exposed.

An officer then brought a witness to the home, who said Rogillio was not the man who committed the robbery.

The couple eventually was released, though the lawsuit claimed that police continued to point guns toward their home and followed Diamond inside.

Police deny wrongdoing, and their actions were upheld as reasonable by the Police Oversight Commission.

"Why order them out of their home?" the couple's attorney, Shannon Kennedy, said. "Why wait until he's home and make his wife emerge at gunpoint? At any point, they could have just walked up and said, 'Did you witness anything?' Instead they use it as an opportunity to play SWAT with an innocent couple."

The couple's lawsuit alleged that the department's administration has adopted a de facto policy allowing officers to use overwhelming force, such as pointing assault weapons at citizens, while maintaining that the intrusion is minimal.

The lawsuit names individual officers and leadership, including Chief Ray Schultz.

Supervisors at the Police Oversight Commission said that an "investigative detention," such as in this case, does not require probable cause.

The city acknowledged in a court filing that officers did not attempt to get an arrest warrant or a search warrant. But it says that no warrant was required.

And although Rogillio may not match the description given by one witness as Hispanic, the city said that at least one witness gave a different description.

The city acknowledges some of the facts but denies claims of unlawful entry, warrantless arrest, excessive force and overall improper training.

"They did not have any personal involvement or knowledge of any areas of constitutional violations as alleged ... and therefore have no liability," the city's court filing said.

Original report here

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Protecting and Serving Whom?

Today, I had the joy of observing an officer of the Newton Police force take a bad situation and make it worse. The incident showed much that is wrong in the relationship between the common citizen and the government that is there to protect him or her. An elderly person had fallen and a police officer detained her, kept her on a brick side-walk so that EMT’s from an unwanted ambulance could check her out, an operation that blocked traffic and slowed it to a crawl on a major thoroughfare.

It was mid afternoon on a side-walk adjoining a very heavily travelled intersection in a very busy commercial section of town. Two weeks ago, the town of Newton stationed police to direct traffic, congesting traffic even more, ironically enough.

I was walking down the side-walk, when I noticed someone sprawled on the bricks about 100 yards away, with two women crouching over this person, their postures showing concern. Across the street from me, a police officer was stationed at the cross-walk to direct traffic. He was staring at the group but otherwise taking no action.

The person having remained sprawled on the side-walk, I trotted over to her. For this article, I will call her Betty. Betty was an elderly woman. She was bleeding from cuts on her hand. She apologized and explained that she had Parkinson’s disease, and had lost her balance while on her way to a physical therapy appointment. She said she was fine, but needed a moment before she was prepared to try standing. One of the women standing over her was a staff member at the physical therapy clinic, and she suggested that once the fallen woman was ready she would help her up and walk her to the clinic.

At this point the police officer arrived. He asked what was going on. He asked the woman if she had had anything to drink. She explained that she had Parkinson’s and that she had just finished a two-hour drive from a vacation spot and that as a result she thought her balance had been unusually affected. The officer asked her where she was going. She said she had a physical therapy appointment and gestured toward the clinic door not 20 feet away. He asked if she wanted an ambulance. She said no, that she would go to the clinic and have them check her out.

At this point the police officer ‘detained’ her. “I’ve already called the ambulance, and it is my policy that whenever someone gets hurt on city property the EMT’s check them out.” The woman protested that she didn’t want this, that she wanted to go inside. “It’s my policy, when they get here, you can refuse treatment and be on your way” the officer repeated firmly.

At this point, the woman thought she was being detained. However, she wasn’t legally detained. She could have gotten up and walked away, and the police officer would have no legal cause to stop her. However, she thought she was being detained. She slumped down on the bricks defeated, asking if this was necessary. I asked Betty if her husband was parking the car. She said no, that her husband would be back in an hour to pick her up. She emphatically said she didn’t want her husband finding out that she had fallen.

A senior person at the clinic came out. We’ll call her Mary. She kneeled down beside Betty and asked her how she was doing. Betty held up a bloody finger and said, “I want to go inside to get a bandaid.” Mary said, “Sure.” The police officer interrupted, “The EMT’s are on the way. Since she fell on city property she has to be checked out by the EMT’s”.

Mary then offered the first bit of medical assistance to Betty since her fall, “I’ll run inside and get a first aid kit.” At this point the officer patted a pouch and said I have band-aids here. He made no motion to help Betty though, but instead busied himself with a radio call. At this point I asked Mary and Betty if they thought they might need my help, and they thanked me and said no, they didn’t so I walked away. Out of my office window, I watched as a fire truck blocked one lane, an ambulance blocked one lane going the other way, and the EMT’s and firefighters shuttling across the street completely blocked the road, snarling traffic for a good half mile either way.

So what was wrong with this picture?

The police illegally detained Betty

The police officer deliberately gave Betty the impression that she was being detained. She was not. He couldn’t detain her because he had no probable cause to think she might have committed a crime. It is not against the law to have a neurological disorder in public. Nor is it against the law for a person to fall accidentally on a public sidewalk.

The police hindered Betty in her quest for the treatment she desired.

Betty wanted to go into the clinic rather than lie in the hot sun on an uneven brick sidewalk. She didn’t want EMT’s fussing over her. She wanted her friends at the clinic. Had the police not detained her, she could have gotten the treatment she desired much sooner.

The police made the episode unnecessarily expensive to the tax-payers.

When a fire truck responds to an emergency, when EMT’s are dispatched to an accident, it costs the tax-payers money. Once Betty announced her intention to refuse medical treatment, the officer should have cancelled the call.

In fact, the police officer should not have called an ambulance until he had spoken to Betty. What if she had merely lied down because she had a cramp and was trying to loosen it with a stretching exercise?

Nobody stood up for Betty.

I didn’t ask the police officer, “Officer, are you detaining her or is she free to leave.” I freely admit that this was because I didn’t want to get on the officer’s bad side. My primary source of income is as a contractor billing hourly, and if he detained me for disorderly conduct, I would have trouble paying my bills. Even worse, I could lose my contract.

I could see in Mary’s eyes that she thought the police officer was making Betty’s life more difficult. But she didn’t speak up either. Obviously, I don’t know what her reasons for staying quiet were. But, from the glance we exchanged, I don’t think it was because she agreed with the police officer’s actions.


This incident was quite ordinary. An old woman lost her balance on an uneven side-walk and cut her hand. Had the police not been around, no doubt the passers-by would have asked her if she wanted an ambulance and when she said no, would have helped her into the clinic where they would have bandaged her up. The hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of commerce travelling down that major road would have journeyed without impediment.

The police hindered those trying to help her, increased the expense to the tax-payers and coldly tricked her into sitting on an uncomfortable surface in the sun to await unwanted and expensive “help”.

And nobody had the wherewithal to protest to their faces.

Original report here

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Seattle police thuggery breeds antagonism

Time for Seattle to accept DOJ's medicine for a wounded police force

By Sharon Pian Chan

Twice last month, Seattle police officers were met with hostile crowds when they showed up at crime scenes. A crowd assaulted an officer after a shooting in South Seattle, preventing medics from reaching the victim, who died. In Capitol Hill at Cal Anderson Park, the crowd rejected police officers after someone was cut with a knife.

We've hit a new low in this city's public safety.

Police have not connected the antagonism to accusations of excessive force in the department — a finding in the U.S. Justice Department's investigation. But Doug Honig of the ACLU Washington is certain the two are related.

"Oh, you better believe it," Honig said. "The issue has become very high-profile and a real spotlight has been shined on this issue."

That high-profile finding and recent disturbing events can't be too far from people's minds when officers arrive on any scene.

They include:

* Video of a Native American crossing the street, a police officer following him with a gun, then a passer-by jumping when loud shots echoed down the block, captured by dashboard camera.

* Blurry video of a police officer threatening to "beat the (expletive) Mexican piss" out of a Latino robbery suspect.

These images burn in our memory like an Instagram feed gone bad.

They echo the dark video of Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King. This year marks the 20th anniversary of riots in that city, set off when a jury exonerated the white and Latino officers who brutalized the African-American man.

The Justice Department reported in December that some Seattle police officers routinely used excessive force. The report also found strong, though inconclusive, evidence of racial bias. It called on the department to reform and to install an outside monitor.

The city presented its own reform plan, initially rejected the idea of an outside monitor and said the Justice Department's reforms would cost $41 million. Or something like that. It seems the Police Department came up with that estimate before talking to city budget analysts.

Since, Mayor Mike McGinn has suggested he might be willing to accept a monitor. It's promising that this week McGinn met with the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., and that negotiations continue.

This is an open sore on our city. The longer city officials continue to argue with the federal demand for reforms, the more it festers. The more the city delays on installing an outside monitor, the more the work of the whole department is tarnished by the transgressions of a few officers.

These negotiations need to conclude quickly.

Otherwise, it feels like the city just wants to pour salt on the wound. Last week, a city attorney court filing said the term "Mexican piss" had "no appreciable discriminatory effect."

City lawyers argued that using the remark was intended to control the suspect. Peter Holmes, the city's attorney, says he's making the argument in federal court because it's his responsibility to defend the city's general fund from paying damages to the man, who has sued the city.

"It doesn't mean that we don't take the (Justice Department's) report seriously and that we aren't negotiating hard to arrive at a plan and get us the best Seattle Police Department," Holmes said.

He objected to the remark, on a personal level. "I find it personally offensive," he said. But "I have to safeguard the city treasury." The city stands to pay up to $5 million if the court rules against the city, he said.

The detective, Shandy Cobane, has apologized and accepted a demotion. He owned up to the impact of his remarks and submitting to discipline. Thank you.

It's time for the city to submit to its discipline.

Original report

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Corrupt juvenile justice institution in Tehama county, California

Note: On Wednesday May 2, 2012 I (Barry R. Clausen) a reporter for, the Sacramento Valley Mirror and other publications took a large out of court settlement from Chico, California resident, Melissa Lynn Jones, a former member of the Tehama County, California Mental Health Department. The suit arose as a result of Jones’s attempt to murder me during a March 31, 2009 interview.

The scheduled interview was regarding Jones and her friend, Alicia Allen, a Tehama County Juvenile Probation Officer and their sexual activities with underage juveniles. These juveniles were Hispanic and all were connected to the unsafe mental and physically abusive conditions at the County’s Juvenile Hall. The following, even though lengthy, it is a condensed autobiographical version of the attempt on my life and the county’s corruption and subsequent cover-up by county officials regarding child abuse and allegations of pedophilia connected to the Juvenile Justice Center.

It was 3:00 p/m on March 31, 2009 in Red Bluff, California at the end of an unsuccessful news interview for Tim Crews, publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror. I was in the process of opening the driver’s door of my truck to leave the site of the interview when from behind me I recognized the sound of a slide coming home on a semi-automatic pistol. I quickly turned to see the barrel of a .45 caliber gun about one foot from my head and Jones the obliviously mentally deranged slim tall blond woman screaming in an ear-piercing screech. “I’m going to kill you. I’m going to blow your fu**ing head off!” Even though it had been decades since my military and law enforcement training, I quickly jerked my head to the left, brought up my right hand and grabbed the gun along with the hand holding the weapon. The fight was on for possession of the gun.

After I successfully gained control of the Glock .45 from the wacked out female holding it I removed the clip and pulled the slide back anticipating a shell would exit the chamber. But in doing so I saw no shell, so I made the assumption there was not a bullet in the chamber. This was later discovered to be incorrect because she had made an error in loading the gun. Instead of allowing the slide to travel forward at its own speed she had apparently held the slide causing it to proceed slowly thus, not allowing the shell to lock onto the slide.

At that moment Jones, who at the time was a Tehama County Mental Health Nurse, began attempting to hit my face with her fists. As I backed up, she continued to advance towards me so I swung the gun at her thinking I would hit her arm or wrists and the pain of the metal against the bones of her arm would stop the attack. Instead of hitting her wrist, the gun, twice bounced off the side of her head. That didn’t deter her; she ran to the open tailgate of her SUV and grabbed the baseball size rocks she had just inside the tailgate and began throwing them at me. Two thoughts went through my mind as I dodged the rocks; should I pistol whip her or run? I decided that getting away from her was the best option as I did not want to give her an opportunity to say, “He attacked me first.”

At the beginning of our short conversation, Jones was not willing to answer my questions especially when I asked her about her sexual contact with 16 & 17 year old Hispanic boys. Before that question, I had asked her about the meeting she had earlier that day with Dan Emry who was at the time head of the Tehama County Probation Department. She responded with, “He hates you as much as I do!” She then started saying stupid things like, “I want to know the names of who you talked to,” and “I’m going to sue you.” While she was saying these things she kept laughing and stating in a loud voice, “I can do anything I want and you can’t do anything to stop me!”

As she was throwing rocks, I was on the phone with the 911 operator. I explained that this woman was throwing rocks at me and the operator said, “She’s throwing rocks at you?” I responded with, “Yea but I already got the gun away from her.” The operator said, “She had a gun and you now have it in your possession?” “Yea, send help,” I said. The operator responded with, “The cars are on their way as soon as you tell us where you are.”

I had walked to the opposite side of the church parking lot where she had asked me to meet her for the interview in case she had something else in mind. From this location I could see the street sign and the sign for the North Valley Baptist Church on David Avenue.

After the short fight for the gun, her fists attempting to hit me in the face and dodging rocks I felt out of breath and my call to 911 must have made me sound like an idiot. I have often watched and listened to 911 callers on TV and thought they sounded goofy. I now realize what they go through. In the three minute conversation with the 911 operator I became one of those idiots.

Minutes later two police cars from the Red Bluff Police Department arrived. One vehicle drove to where I was standing with the weapon raised in my right hand. The officer in the vehicle approached me while the other vehicle drove directly to where Jones was. Almost immediately more Red Bluff Police Department officers and Tehama County Sheriff’s Department deputies came from all directions.

When the vehicles from the Red Bluff Police Department arrived; their on-site investigation and interviews were done in a very professional manner which resulted in the arrest of Jones. Police determined that the weapon she used in the failed attempt on my life was a newly purchased Glock .45 caliber pistol. It was explained to me sometime later when talking to Dave Baker of the Tehama County Prosecutor’s office that she had told him that her brother was a former Navy Seal and he was teaching her how to use the gun. Obviously, the “former Seal” did not have time to teach her much, as she made numerous mistakes during the time she was in the process of trying to shoot me in the head.

In speculation there are several scenarios that could have happened. One of those was that the stones that she had in her vehicle could have been used to show that she killed me in self-defense. She would shoot me, throw a few rocks around, hit herself in the head and then say she shot me in self-defense.

As a former Probation Department employee I had reported several cases of abuse of incarcerated juveniles and nothing had been done. It had become evident during the last several years that Tehama County officials were not going to investigate the abuse of the juveniles that I had reported within the County Juvenile Justice Center so I decided to investigate the charges myself.
Jones and Allen were part of my personal investigation and when I had documentation and interviews to verify that there was actually enough evidence to confront Jones and Allen my immediate thoughts were to send Jones a request for an interview. I had been to the Mental Health Department two days prior to the attempt on my life and requested the receptionist contact Jones and to tell her I was in the lobby and I wanted to speak to her. The receptionist tried to contact her but she was told Jones was not available to talk with me at that time.

On March 28, 2009 I had met with Allen just previous to the Jones interview at Allen’s home in Red Bluff. It was not a scheduled interview but she did take time to talk with me. Allen had been on administrative leave for over one year as a result of an internal investigation related to the inappropriate sexual contact with underage Hispanic males. During the short talk we had at her front door she admitted to what she labeled as an “indiscretion” and said, “I made a mistake once, I dated someone I shouldn’t have. If there is a punishment I’ll deal with it.” She went on to say, “I’m going back to work with my head held high. If I quit, it will be on my terms, not the county’s.” (Following the attempt on my life Jones, Allen and Dan Emry, Chief of the Tehama County Probation Department, immediately resigned their positions and then Allen moved to Medford, Oregon).

Within the Tehama County Juvenile Justice Center there have been several cases of hostility and stress related problems. One of the most notable cases of creating a hostile working environment was an incident between two juvenile hall staff members, Ms. Sarah Olson and Ms. Alicia Allen when Allen was a “Juvenile Hall Counselor.” The problem with Ms. Allen had arisen numerous times before and had apparently been covered-up by management in each case. The following provides an example of Allen’s hostile attitude and in spite of that, unbelievably she received a promotion and became a “Juvenile Probation Officer.”

An official “Special Incident Report” dated 9-22-04 from the Tehama County Juvenile Justice Center regarding a physical confrontation between the two staff members states, “Allen came from behind the desk and ran into Olson’s shoulder with her shoulder very aggressively while passing and stated, excuse me c**t. Allen then grabbed Olson by the arm and pulled her fist back as if she was going to hit Olson and stated, I will hurt you, you f**king bitch.”

Because I had already interviewed the juveniles Allen had been involved with, I was genuinely surprised that she freely admitted to the inappropriate sex she had with a minor boy. She also made it clear she believed she could not be charged as a result of the statute of limitations running out. In other words, she thought she was running free of any charges.

During our short conversation I brought up the issue of her friend Melisa Jones and the inappropriate sex she was also having with juveniles. Her comment to me was, “If you want that information contact Jones and see what she has to say.”

My written request to interview Jones was sent to her the morning of March 30, 2009 which was just two days following my interview with her friend Allen. “I have conducted many interviews in relation to the county’s investigation into to the allegations against you and Allen. I would like to spend a few minutes with you to hear what you have to say about those allegations.

“I am doing a story on the issue and it is only fair that I hear your side of what transpired. I often think about something you said to me about Mossman. You came into the Pod I was working and stated, “If Mossman hurts one more kid I’m going to report him.” These words do not correspond with what I am hearing about your actions. Please give me a couple of minutes. It’s your choice as to what you want to say.

“On March 18, 2009 I was in contact with a member of the U.S. Department of Justice in Sacramento about the allegations. That contact was met with a request for me to give copies of my interviews to federal authorities for a possible federal investigation into “Child Abuse/Civil Rights Violations.”

“I have also met with members of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and they are currently looking into possible civil rights violations.”

If you choose not to talk to me please let me know who your attorney is and how to contact him/her. There is a way to put an end to these allegations and the unfortunate mess it has created.

On March 31, 2009 I received a call from Counselor Jones in response to the written request I had sent her asking for an interview pertaining to a news story and an exposé I was working on pertaining to the abuse of children within the Tehama County Juvenile Hall.

During that short phone conversation she agreed to meet me for that nearly fatal interview at 2:00 p/m that same afternoon. I was unable to locate Jones at the place she had originally instructed me to go so I went back to the Mental Health Department and had the receptionist call her on her cell phone. She was evasive as to where I should go so I waited at the Mental Health office for her return. When she returned I suggested that we go to a local Mexican restaurant where we could get a coke or coffee. She said “No, if you want an interview go to the place I told you to go earlier.” I suggested to her that I would follow her as it was not clear where I had been instructed to meet her.

Then after two years of waiting for her case to go to trial she was finally convicted in one of the Tehama County Courts. For the attempt on my life she received a monstrous 45 days in the County jail!

The incident with the gun made local news. On Redding’s ABC TV Channel 7 News, there was a story about the attack with the weapon. The Sacrament Valley Mirror was the first to run the story followed by the Chico News & Review. In nearby Redding the Record Searchlight posted the story on their website and on the front page of the paper was an in-depth story of the attack. However, the local Red Bluff Daily News did not see any interest in the attempted murder as they apparently believed there was no story. Other than reporting on the fraudulent investigations the paper has never asked me for a copy of the documented physical and sexual abuse nor have they ever interviewed me. They have failed as a paper to report to the community the truth about what was transpiring right under their nose.

According to newspapers that did find the story newsworthy, reporters found that both women were engaging in sexual intercourse, oral sex, alcohol, and drugs with several male wards.

More here

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Digital devices and miscarriages of justice

We carry our lives on digital devices. For most of us, the information they contain is perfectly innocent. But digital forensics as it’s practiced today can make innocent information look incriminating. That means we may be putting innocent people in jail and letting criminals off.

While other forensic science disciplines have come under harsh scrutiny lately, the problems with digital forensics have not received enough attention.

A 2009 study by the National Academy of Sciences sounded the alarm on faulty forensics. The report said most methods of analysis have not been “rigorously shown to have the capacity to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source.” The report challenged the reliability of ballistics (“toolmark and firearms identification”), bite mark comparisons, blood spatter analysis, handwriting analysis and even fingerprint examination. The report said little about digital forensics, however, because it is still an “emerging” discipline.

It’s time for a critical look.

There is solid science behind much of digital forensics. We know, for example, that computer hard drives must be copied without altering the contents of the disk. Best practices in digital forensics also are solid. But digital forensic analysts don’t always follow best practice.

Consider some of the following examples, which we have witnessed in Connecticut and nearby jurisdictions.

A police officer “expert” found images from “unallocated space,” the part of a hard drive the computer isn’t using, which may contain deleted files. The officer asserted in an examination report that images retrieved from unallocated space were downloaded by the defendant and deleted.

But such an assertion is not supported by fact. Data can get into unallocated space on a hard drive in a number of ways. In this case, the only appearance of the data was in unallocated space. There was no basis for the examiner to assert that the images had ever been “files” that were subsequently “deleted.”

Here’s another example: A computer’s operating system creates hundreds of copies of the same images, which are called “restore points.” A police officer “expert” recently recovered restore points on a defendant’s hard drive that contained the same two child-porn pictures. The officer duplicated the pictures so many times that he recommended charging the defendant with possession of more than 600 images, nearly all of them the same.

Another police officer “expert” violated a court order when he searched for privileged attorney-client documents on a defendant’s computer, and then handed them over to the prosecutor.

Examination reports often include conclusions from examiners that items were “intentionally downloaded” by the defendant. But it is impossible to arrive at such a conclusion without being present when the defendant actually downloaded the material, or without a videotape of the event.

Poor training is a big part of the problem. Thousands of police officers have been trained to perform digital forensics under federal grant programs. But these police officer examiners are not required to possess any special training or education beyond a minimum level. The 40 hours or so of training they receive in the forensic software they use is typically the extent of their computer science background prior to their first case assignment.

Despite the minimal training of many digital forensics examiners, their findings are often unquestioningly accepted as fact.

Digital evidence can be compelling and it is often unambiguous. In too many cases, however, digital forensics experts make assertions about a defendant’s actions that are not supported by fact. Such errors create the risk of false conviction of the innocent and a free pass for the guilty.

We need higher standards and more professionalism in digital forensics. And we need to give digital forensics the sort of close scrutiny that all the other forensic science disciplines have been getting in recent years.

Original report here

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When babies can be casualties of the drug war

Commonly used baby soaps and shampoos, including products from Johnson & Johnson, Aveeno and CVS, can trigger a positive result on newborns' marijuana screening tests, according to a recent study. A minute amount of the cleansing products in a urine sample — just 0.1 milliliters or less — was found to cause a positive result.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, began studying the issue after an unusually high number of newborns in their nursery began testing positive for marijuana exposure. Newborn screening for marijuana at hospitals, particularly among babies of women who are considered at high risk of drug use, is not uncommon: at U.N.C. Chapel Hill, 10% to 40% of newborns are tested.

Positive results can precipitate an investigation by child welfare authorities. "We really did this to help protect families from being falsely accused," study co-author Dr. Carl Seashore, a pediatrician in the U.N.C. Chapel Hill newborn nursery, told My Health News Daily.

Soaps that were specifically associated with false-positive marijuana test results include Johnson & Johnson’s Bedtime Bath, CVS Night-Time Baby Bath, Aveeno Baby Soothing Relief Creamy Wash and Aveeno Baby Wash & Shampoo.

Other products, such as Johnson’s Head-to-Toe Baby Wash, CVS Baby Wash, Baby Magic and even standard hospital gel hand soap, also indicated the presence of marijuana metabolites when tested, but not at sufficient levels to qualify as a positive result according to the hospital lab's standards.

The problem is almost certainly not limited to these products, however. Researchers also tested ingredients used widely in soaps and shampoos, including polyquaternium-11 and cocamidopropyl betaine, which both elicited positive marijuana test results. So far, there is no explanation as to why the chemicals interfere with the test's function, but importantly, they aren't intoxicating; they don't cause symptoms of marijuana exposure in children. The researchers think minute amounts of the substances were simply washing off the babies' skin into their urine samples and confounding the screens.

While more sophisticated and expensive testing can easily distinguish between true and false positive results, most hospitals don't use such tests because of the time and costs involved. And positive tests found at the hospital aren't typically sent to outside labs for confirmation, which makes false positive results — and possible investigations afterward — all the more troubling.

Indeed, why hospitals test infants for marijuana exposure in the first place is not entirely clear. Twelve U.S. states designate prenatal exposure to any illegal drug as child abuse; however, there is no scientific evidence that connects marijuana-smoking by a parent with abuse.

The question is not whether it's acceptable for expectant mothers to use illegal drugs. No child-health expert would characterize recreational drug use during pregnancy as a good idea. But it's not at all clear that the benefits, if any, of newborn marijuana screening — particularly given how selectively the tests are administered — justify the potential harm it can cause to families.

“If the issue is that the mother broke the law and therefore the child should be removed, we might want to consider going after mothers who exceed the speed limit while driving," says Carl Hart, an associate professor of psychology at Columbia University and author of a leading text on drug effects. "Of course, this is ridiculous.” (Full disclosure: Hart and I are currently collaborating on a book project.)

To remove children from their home at birth because of a positive marijuana test is immediately and inexorably harmful, says Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. "Even when the test is accurate, there is no evidence that smoking pot endangers children," he says, adding, "There is overwhelming evidence that needless foster care endangers children.”

Wexler explains that the odds of abuse and neglect are higher in foster care than they would be at home for the babies. “These infants are being taken from homes where there is no evidence of abuse, and placed in a situation where the odds of abuse are at least 1 in 4,” he says. "The odds of this kind of separation doing emotional damage are nearly 100%. Children risk enormous emotional trauma when they are torn from their mothers during a crucial period for infant-parent bonding.”

One study of infants who were exposed to cocaine in the womb found that their physical growth and development increased when they remained with their biological mothers, compared with being removed from the home because of maternal drug use. “For the foster children, being taken from their mothers was more toxic than the cocaine,” Wexler says.

The effects of prenatal drug exposure can vary widely. Maternal cocaine use during pregnancy has been linked with subtle developmental problems in children. But despite the popularized notion of permanently disabled "crack babies," the research shows that the harms of cocaine use in pregnancy are on par with those associated with smoking cigarettes. Both can increase the risk of preterm birth and stillbirth. Neither is as dangerous as alcohol, which can cause irreversible intellectual disability.

The evidence on marijuana is inconclusive: Some studies link marijuana use in pregnancy with reduced fetal growth and behavioral problems, but other research has found no effect. Again, the science shows no damage that approaches the harm linked with alcohol or cigarettes.

Although marijuana exposure has not been associated definitively with child harm, testing for it and placing children in foster care unnecessarily has been. Worse, the risks of custody loss are not applied equally to all women.

Determining whether a mother is considered at high risk for drug use — and warrants newborn testing — is ostensibly based on objective factors like whether she failed to obtain prenatal care or has acknowledged being a drug user. But in reality, characteristics like race often dictate which women are singled out for testing: a 2007 study found that babies born to black mothers were 50% more likely to be tested than white infants, even though rates of drug use and odds of positive results didn't vary by race.

If you now consider the additional risks of false-positive results due to bath soaps, it’s hard to make the case for continued newborn marijuana testing — especially if the ultimate goal is to help children thrive.

Original report here

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

British cop kills innocent bystander in a fit of rage

Not mentioned below is that the cop already had "form" for aggressive behavior

A riot squad officer ‘whose blood was up’ after he was humiliated by a protester killed a defenceless bystander during the G20 demonstrations, a court heard yesterday.

PC Simon Harwood, 45, is accused of lashing out at Ian Tomlinson, 47, in a ‘gratuitous act of aggression’ after he ‘lost self-control’.

Harwood hit Mr Tomlinson with a ‘forceful baton strike followed by a powerful push to the back which sent him flying to the ground’, a jury was told.

Mr Tomlinson, a newspaper vendor, had been walking home from work but had been prevented from taking his usual route due to the protests in the City of London in April 2009.

At the time, Harwood was said to be bristling with aggression after a protester had scrawled ‘all cops are bastards’ on a police carrier.

Prosecutor Mark Dennis QC compared Harwood to a thug during the opening of the trial at Southwark Crown Court.

He said: ‘It was a rush of blood to the head. It was unnecessary aggression more akin to thuggish behaviour than proper reasonable policing. ‘There had been no need to use any force upon Tomlinson, let alone a forceful baton strike followed by a powerful push to the back that sent [him] flying to the ground.

‘The display of force has all the hallmarks, we submit, 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.'

Mr Tomlinson was not posing a threat to anyone and was ‘ambling along’, oblivious to the protests and ‘simply minding his own business’ when Harwood set upon him, Mr Dennis said.

The court heard that Mr Tomlinson was stood with his hands in his pockets and his back to the police lines when Harwood is said to have suddenly struck his thigh with a baton and violently pushed him to the ground.

Mr Tomlinson was sent crashing to the pavement, causing catastrophic internal bleeding.

Mr Dennis said: ‘Having struck Tomlinson and sent him flying to the ground, the defendant simply turned away and ignored him.’

The riot squad officer, who is part of Scotland Yard’s Territorial Support Group, failed to alert anyone or make a note of the incident.

Tomlinson was helped to his feet by two bystanders, but he collapsed and died minutes later after staggering only 70 yards away from police lines. The alleged assault might never have come to light but for an American tourist who captured it on film.

An initial post-mortem examination suggested Mr Tomlinson had died of a heart attack, despite his ‘unusual’ leg injuries. But after the tourist’s video footage was released, two subsequent examinations found abdominal bleeding caused by trauma to be the cause of death.

Mr Dennis said: ‘Tomlinson was not posing any threat to the defendant or any other officers. ‘He was displaying no aggression towards anyone nor even making provocative comments towards anyone.’

Harwood denies manslaughter, claiming that his actions were ‘necessary, proportionate and reasonable’ in the circumstances.

Original report

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Monday, June 18, 2012

I will always remember Bobby Herrera, the man whom I wrongfully sentenced to prison

It was a serious case. The victim had been shot at a graduation party in San Jose. Two people identified Herrera, a 17-year-old mechanic with no criminal record, as the shooter. Herrera's attorney told him if he went to trial, he would risk 25 years in prison. On the attorney's advice, Herrera pleaded no contest and accepted a shorter prison sentence. As the presiding judge, I approved the plea bargain and sentenced him to five years.

I subsequently learned that Herrera's attorney was suspended from the practice of law when he represented Herrera. With the support of the district attorney, I returned Herrera to my court, appointed the public defender to represent him and released him from custody. By then he had served 11 months in prison. His new attorney found evidence of his innocence. The charges were dismissed.

Herrera's case is one of 873 individual exonerations profiled in the National Registry of Exonerations, a joint project unveiled in May by the University of Michigan Law School and Northwestern University School of Law. A report also documents more than 1,100 "group" exonerations from cases such as the Ramparts and the Riders scandals in Los Angeles and Oakland, in which corrupt police officers systematically framed innocent people for drug and gun crimes. More than 2,000 individuals have been proven wrongfully convicted in the United States since 1989.

This is the tip of the iceberg. The Registry lists 10 individual exonerations from Santa Clara County and none from neighboring Alameda County. It is not that wrongful convictions are more likely in Santa Clara County. Rather, it is home to the Northern California Innocence Project and the Mercury News, which undertook a sweeping investigation of wrongful convictions. Santa Clara County's justice system, including the district attorney's innovative Conviction Integrity Unit, is more prone to look for and correct errors.

In a perverse way, Bobby Herrera was lucky. He was wrongfully convicted in the right county. Had it been Alameda County, he is unlikely to have been cleared.

Nationwide, on average, one person is exonerated every week. But only 37 percent of exonerations are due to DNA. In murder and assault cases, the leading cause of false convictions is perjury or false accusations, frequently deliberate lies by those who might otherwise be accused. In Herrera's case, gang members pressured a key witness to falsely identify him.

In sexual assault and robbery cases, mistaken eyewitness identifications cause 80 percent of false convictions. African-Americans and Latinos are most likely to be wrongfully convicted, usually because of unreliable cross-racial identifications. Across all types of cases, misconduct by police or prosecutors is found in 42 percent of exonerations.

Nearly four years ago, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice investigated wrongful convictions in California and recommended reforms to address each of these causes. Only one has been adopted.

One of the most disturbing findings was the risk of executing innocent people in California. The Registry's documentation of hundreds of exonerations in California -- and the troubling absence of exonerations in several major counties--prove the point.

To ensure that no innocent person is executed, this November, voters should pass the SAFE California Act, replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. Then California must adopt the rest of the Commission's recommendations that include reform of eyewitness procedures and recording of interrogations.

We now have more than 2,000 reasons to fix the system, and counting.

Original report

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Innocent man's life destroyed by prudish Brits

Last Thursday, just after midday, Daniel Pytlarz walked out of Southwark Crown Court an innocent but scarred man.

For five weeks, the masseur had stood in the dock listening to a litany of allegations so similar the trial was likened to the film Groundhog Day. On and on they came, 18 women in total, who claimed he had touched them inappropriately during treatments at his salon in St John’s Wood, North London.

The sheer scale of the numbers involved suggested that this was, if not a fait accompli, then at least an open and shut case. According to the prosecution Mr Pytlarz was a sexual predator who abused women under the guise of massage. And, really, how could 18 women be wrong?

The jury found him unanimously not guilty on every count.

Yet even an innocent verdict cannot simply make everything right again. Mr Pytlarz, 35, who has treated Nancy Dell’Olio and Sir Paul McCartney’s daughter, Mary, has had his reputation torn apart and his business very nearly destroyed.

He was denied bail and has spent the last nine months in Wandsworth prison in conditions he describes as ‘medieval’.

He remained powerless and bewildered as the police sent letters to every client he had ever treated and the number of woman claiming sexual assault mounted by the day.

His wife, Urszula Nowozeniuk, 32, was left to keep their salon afloat while defending the man who had suddenly become ‘a monster’ in the eyes of her clients and the wider world.

Although he is now free – celebrating his first night with champagne, melon and parma ham – Mr Pytlarz is terrified that the police will come knocking at his door with further allegations.

Dressed in a tailored, pin-striped suit, he has a gentle manner and is still clearly dumbfounded by all that has happened since the first allegation two-and-a-half years ago.

Speaking quietly with a strong accent – he came to Britain from Poland in 2002 – Mr Pytlarz says: ‘I am a professional, I always did everything to protect people’s dignity. When I massage I really focus, feel the vibes, the energy. And physically I’m thumbs, elbows, forearms. It is not like the massages the spas provide with a little hand waving around.

‘It’s sensual, by which I mean some people may be getting quite excited and not realise what is happening. I think they have the wrong idea as to what real massage is. A real massage is a very powerful thing.

‘I was innocent. When I was arrested I was devastated. ‘I thought, what is going on? And when I was standing in court I felt shamed...I didn’t do anything – but it felt like no one was listening to me.

‘Then, when I was in prison, I knew I had done nothing wrong. So can you imagine what it was like, closed in this room 6ft long, 5ft wide. I didn’t see green at all for nine months. It was like hell.’

So how did this disturbing, strange, case come about?

Mr Pytlarz was born in Radom, a town 60 miles from Warsaw, to Janina and Joseph, a test pilot. A devout Roman Catholic, he originally wanted to become a priest but instead studied at the Academy of Physical Education in Warsaw, graduating top of his year.

He became a sports teacher and then worked at the Marriott Hotel in Warsaw as a personal trainer and masseur. While he was there he met the Polish couture designer, Arkadiusz Weremczuk– whose clients have included Lady Gaga, Graham Norton and Pink.

Mr Pytlarz says: ‘One of my clients took me to one of his shows. At the end, I shook his hand. I’ve got quite strong healing powers, and he said, “You have a strong energy field”.

‘He asked me to work with him and to look after his partner, Michael Gearin-Tosh, who had leukaemia. I looked after him for the last year and a half of his life. I was with him right to the end.’

The masseur went on to work at the Harbour Club in Chelsea and also had a number of private clients, saving every penny to put towards his own salon.

In 2008, the day financial crisis hit, he achieved his aim, opening the Violet Clinic Body and Skincare in St John’s Wood. Ursuzla, who he’d met in Poland in 2004, offered the beauty therapies while he provided the massages including deep tissue, sports, Thai and shiatsu.

They relied on passing trade and word of mouth and were delighted when Paul McCartney’s daughter Mary popped in one day. Impressed, she decided to book a massage for her father. A couple of days before the treatment, in December 2009, one of Mr McCartney’s employees visited the salon. While she was there, Mr Pytlarz offered her a free massage as the employee of a potentially important client.

According to the masseur, he gave her a head and shoulder massage. According to the employee, it was a full body massage in which his hands had brushed into the genital area.

She told Mary McCartney, who promptly cancelled her father’s appointment. The police turned up at the salon the following day and accused him of sexual assault and assault by penetration.

Mr Pytlarz says: ‘They arrived at the salon in the afternoon, a man and a woman. They said, “We need to talk to you about an assault that took place on these premises.”

‘They cuffed me, put me in the car and drove me to Paddington. They put me in the cell for 10 hours. I was in shock, I kept thinking, why? It was well after midnight when they let me go. I walked all the way home, in shock. We’d been very kind to her, she’d chatted to Urszula afterwards. I couldn’t understand it.’

His defence would later claim in court that the now ex-employee had made up the allegation as she didn’t want Mr McCartney to know she’d had a free massage. They also pointed out that Mr Pytlarz would hardly do anything to jeopardise his appointment with the pop star.

Certainly, it’s clear he is passionate about is job. Explaining his techniques, he grows animated and intense, saying: ‘In my massage I use the knowledge I got at university of physiology and anatomy and also from my travels, from Thailand and Tibet. I take the best from each technique.

‘When I start a massage, I don’t put my hands on the body, I try to feel the energy between two people. Sometimes I can feel disturbances in the body, I will feel heat or my hands will tingle. It’s not just massage, it’s more than that. I’m a teacher, a life coach. It’s important to talk to the clients, I need to understand them, make them feel at ease. I always ask if there are any areas they do not want touched, not just the groin.

‘There might be areas that are sensitive or where they’re ticklish. Some women prefer to leave their bra on. I never ask women to remove all their underwear unless they are happy with it. Certain treatments involve lots of strokes. ‘I clean my hands 30, 40 times a day, it’s like a disorder.’

After the initial allegation, Mr Pytlarz heard nothing from the police. He says: ‘They left me in limbo. In the end I went to the police station and they said the charges had been dropped. I was very upset but I didn’t lose confidence in my work. I felt disappointment and anger but I didn’t feel vulnerable...not then.’

That came with the second allegation of sexual assault in April 2011. A 41-year-old mother-of-two alleged that the masseur had brushed his groin area against her hands, giving the impression he offered a ‘fuller service’ if she wanted it. She also said he touched her intimately as he moved higher and higher up her thighs.

Mr Pytlarz says: ‘They turned up again, same as before. I later learnt the woman had come forward three weeks after the treatment when she had spoken to her sister. I don’t think what she thought was real, it was built up in her mind.

‘This time I was devastated. When I worked out which woman it was I thought, “She had a great treatment.” That was when I felt vulnerable. I thought, “How can I perform good treatments in the future and make sure this doesn’t happen again?” I said to the police, “How can I protect myself” – but the officer just dismissed me.

‘I realised I was in danger. I said, right, no new female clients, no more women I don’t know.’

This time the masseur was charged with sexual assault, but was bailed.

Worse was to come. In September of that year, a 17-year-old girl accused him of groping her and pulling her legs apart during a massage. The police charged him with sexual assault and assault by penetration and kept him in the cells at Paddington station for four days.

Mr Pytlarz says: ‘There was no basin, nowhere to wash my teeth. Those were the worst days of my life. I’ve never been so humiliated, so alone. I prayed, I read the bible. Sometimes at night, it was like psychological torture. It’s a busy station, you could hear people fighting, the keys clinking.’

At Southwark Crown Court, it was revealed the girl suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder and had a history of self-harm and depression. Her allegations were dismissed. But at the time of the claim, Mr Pytlarz was refused bail and transferred to Wandsworth prison, where he would spend the next nine months, missing his first wedding anniversary.

He says: ‘It was like Hard Times there. It was so old. There was not even a radiator, in winter it was so cold. It was like I was in the camps. It was so bad many people complained to their lawyers and now they are having to redo it as it is not fit to live in.

‘In my cell, there were two beds, a toilet, a hand basin, a television in the corner which brainwashes you.’

To his great credit, Mr Pytlarz refused to stagnate or sink into depression. He used plastic water bottles for weight lifting and read novels by Tolstoy and Polish authors. He also taught his cellmates the art of massage.

Meanwhile, the rumour mill was beginning to do its work. A fourth woman, in her fifties, came forward after a neighbour had told her about the masseur’s arrest. She claimed he had touched her inappropriately during a massage in March 2009, despite the fact she then returned to the salon for a treatment with Urszula and allowed her husband to visit Mr Pytlarz.

The police investigation was also gathering pace. After the third allegation six police arrived and removed all their records. They then sent a letter to every client Mr Pytlarz and Urszula had ever treated – saying they were investigating a number of alleged assaults at the clinic and asking them to get in touch if they had any information. While Mr Pytlarz was in prison another 14 women came forward, all claiming their massages had been inappropriate.

Urszula says: ‘I said to my clients, “You’ve been treated by Daniel, tell me, I’m going to have children with this man, do I have a Jekyll and Hyde here? Am I blinded by love?” I asked them the question and they said no because it never happened to us.’

Interestingly, all 14 women had visited the salon after they placed an advert on the internet site Wahanda – which specialises in discount vouchers for spa and beauty treatments. Instead of the usual £100 fee, they paid only £26.

Urszula says: ‘Some of these people didn’t even know what they were coming for. They would arrive with a folder with all their vouchers for different treatments all over London.

‘What also struck me is that we have so many nationalities in Britain. Name a country, they’re here but you look at the list of these women and there are two Americans and the rest are English.

‘Sometimes a massage can make you excited. It is pleasurable. Maybe these women have a different feeling having massages to what they are used to. Some of our regulars who have travelled all over the world say this is the best massage ever.

‘I think maybe these women don’t understand. I wasn’t surprised the women were saying similar things because some people will have those feelings. That is how a proper massage is supposed to go.’

Her husband added: ‘The massage is not slow strokes, gentle, it is firm. Some areas get invigorated as the blood flow increases in the glands areas, the neck, under arms and groin. There can be a vibration, the flesh it is moving. The world sensual appeared by mistake in my police statement. When you use your elbow I said it can be sensual. I meant it can cause a sensation. I never said tantric massages either as they said I did. I said lymphatic drainage massages.’

Thanks to Urszula’s grit, they still have the salon...just. Business dropped by approximately 75 per cent and she had to apply for housing benefit while her husband was in prison. All their savings have gone. They have talked to their lawyer – Beverley Hamblin of Achillea & Co – about taking action against the police.

Urszula added: ‘I have a lot of respect for money, we work hard, we have never borrowed. How much has this case cost? And what for?’

Daniel will continue to work but will no longer treat woman. ‘No,’ he says. ‘The women say they were vulnerable but actually I was the vulnerable one. I think maybe massage in this country is quite basic in many places.

‘Then, on the other side, you have those phone boxes with all those girls offering massage and it is not performed as a professional treatment that can heal – but is seen as quite seedy.

‘I believe in the law still as I was innocent and I was found not guilty. But I do feel angry, I cannot help it. And disappointed. I only ever tried to do the best for my clients.’

Original report

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

NYPD Officer Charged in Shooting Death of Unarmed Ramarley Graham

Graham was shot in his bathroom after police pursued him into his home.

Followup to this report. My impression is that Graham was seen as "just another no-account black kid"

An NYPD officer has been charged with manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in his Bronx home, prosecutors announced.

Officer Richard Haste, 31, was arraigned Wednesday for the February shooting death of Ramarley Graham. He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

His lawyer, Stuart London, said before the arraignment that his client was pleading not guilty.

Graham was shot to death in the bathroom of his home on East 229th Street after police chased him inside.

Security video showed Graham entering his home, and police running after him. Police at the time said officers witnessed a drug deal and pursued Graham, believing he had a gun.

They went in and found him in the second-floor bathroom, and ended up shooting him in the chest. He died shortly afterward. Police said later that Graham was not found with a gun.

The indictment accuses Haste of acting "recklessly."

Darnett Richards, a spokeswoman for the Graham family, said earlier this week that the young man's relatives were encouraged by news of the indictment but consider it a long road.

"We're happy and still, the fight isn't over, it's just started," Richards said.

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association said in a statement earlier this week that it believed the officer would be exonerated.

"We look forward to a complete review of the facts in this case which will demonstrate that this police officer believed that he was pursuing an armed felon who bolted rather than be caught with an illegal gun," PBA President Patrick Lynch said.

Original report

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Scores in N.C. are legally 'innocent,' yet still imprisoned

Terrell McCullum did not commit a federal crime by carrying a shotgun and a rifle out of his ex-girlfriend's house. But he is serving a federal prison sentence for it. And the fact that everyone — including the U.S.Justice Department— agrees that he is legally innocent might not be enough to set him free.

A USA TODAY investigation, based on court records and interviews with government officials and attorneys, found more than 60 men who went to prison for violating federal gun possession laws, even though courts have since determined that it was not a federal crime for them to have a gun. Many of them don't even know they're innocent.

The legal issues underlying their situation are complicated, and are unique to North Carolina. But the bottom line is that each of them went to prison for breaking a law that makes it a federal crime for convicted felons to possess a gun. The problem is that none of them had criminal records serious enough to make them felons under federal law.

Still, the Justice Department has not attempted to identify the men, has made no effort to notify them, and, in a few cases in which the men have come forward on their own, has argued in court that they should not be released.

Justice Department officials said it is not their job to notify prisoners that they might be incarcerated for something that they now concede is not a crime. And although they have agreed in court filings that the men are innocent, they said they must still comply with federal laws that put strict limits on when and how people can challenge their convictions in court.

"We can't be outcome driven," said Anne Tompkins, the U.S. attorney in Charlotte. "We've got to make sure we follow the law, and people should want us to do that." She said her office is "looking diligently for ways, within the confines of the law, to recommend relief for defendants who are legally innocent."

These cases are largely unknown outside the courthouses here, but they have raised difficult questions about what, if anything, the government owes to innocent people locked in prisons.

"It's been tough," said Ripley Rand, the U.S. attorney in Greensboro, N.C. "We've spent a lot of time talking about issues of fundamental fairness, and what is justice."

It's also unusual. Wrongful conviction cases are seldom open-and-shut — usually they depend on DNA or other new evidence that undermines the government's case, but does not always prove someone is innocent. Yet in the North Carolina gun cases, it turns out, there simply were no federal crimes.

Using state and federal court records, USA TODAY identified 23 other men who had been sent to federal prison for having a firearm despite criminal records too minor to make that a federal crime. Nine of them remain in prison, serving sentences of up to 10 years; others are still serving federal probation. The newspaper's review was limited to only a small fraction of cases from one of the three federal court districts in North Carolina.

Federal public defenders have so far identified at least 39 others in additional court districts, and are certain to find more. And prosecutors have already agreed to drop dozens of cases in which prisoners' convictions were not yet final.

Some of the prisoners USA TODAY contacted — and their lawyers — were stunned to find out that they were imprisoned for something that turned out not to be a federal crime. And their lawyers said they were troubled by the idea that innocence alone might not get them out.

"If someone is innocent, I would think that would change the government's reaction, and it's sad that it hasn't," said Debra Graves, an assistant federal public defender in Raleigh. "I have trouble figuring out how you rationalize this. These are innocent people. That has to matter at some point."

Much more

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