Sunday, March 31, 2013

Former Chief Whip makes official complaint accusing police of 'dishonest and illicit' campaign to destroy him

It's clear that some London police did lie in their reports about the matter so it is amazing that they think a coverup could succeed

The Cabinet Minister forced to step down over the ‘plebgate’ affair has accused police of a sustained ‘dishonest and illicit’ campaign to destroy him.

Former Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell launched the attack after a press report suggested an official Scotland Yard inquiry has dismissed his claim that police lied about being insulted by him.

He accused Scotland Yard of leaking the information in an attempt to clear Downing Street police, who claimed he called them ‘f****** plebs.’

In a letter to Deborah Glass, deputy chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, he said: ‘I would like to lodge an official complaint to the IPCC.’ He added: ‘This was an enquiry into a dishonest and illicit attempt to blacken my name and destroy my career.

It would appear that this police enquiry continues precisely that process. I am deeply dismayed that the Metropolitan Police appear to have leaked part of their report prepared for the Crown Prosecution Service ...... and spun it to the advantage of the police officers involved.’

Mr Mitchell’s response came after press reports that Scotland Yard’s inquiry into the row found no conclusive evidence that Downing Street police lied or tried to frame him.

Mr Mitchell has apologised for using bad language when asked to take his bicycle via a side entrance at the Downing Street gates last September.

But he has always claimed that police fabricated claims that he called them ‘f****** plebs’. It led to his resignation as Chief Whip after it was leaked to the press.

But the row flared again last week when the Metropolitan Police sent the results of a three-month investigation into the affair to the CPS.

It is understood to conclude there is no proof of a conspiracy by the officers to smear or destroy Mr Mitchell’s career.

The saga took another turn when, hours after receiving the Met’s file, the CPS said it was unhappy with the quality and quantity of the evidence. Weeks after being forced to resign in disgrace, Mr Mitchell became convinced that he was the victim of a police conspiracy after new evidence appeared to cast doubt on the claims against him.

About 30 detectives have taken statements from all 800 officers in the diplomatic protection group as part of Operation Alice, the codename for Scotland Yard’s ‘plebgate’ investigation.

However, it is understood that Operation Alice has found no evidence to corroborate Sutton Coldfield MP Mr Mitchell’s allegation.

Former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis, a close ally of Mr Mitchell, said last night: ‘It is not for members of the Metropolitan Police to decide on their own case, and it is certainly not for them to attempt to spin themselves out of trouble.’

Former Tory leader Michael Howard said: ‘I am concerned about the leaked report.

‘It should not have put into the public domain. If leaked by the police – and there are indications that this is the case – it is utterly deplorable.’

Original report here

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

GA: Columbus man granted $400K after wrongful conviction

It came down to the wire for the second year in a row.. But, Thursday night, House Resolution 73 finally passed, promising Columbus native Lathan Word $400,000 for the almost 12 years of his life he spent in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

"I was thankful to God. I was thankful that it was over, it's been a long long journey," Word says.

Word was convicted of armed robbery in 1999, when he was just 17 years old. His conviction was overturned in 2011, after the man who testified against him admitted to authorities he had lied.

Local Representative Carolyn Hugley sponsored the bill. "It was simply the right thing to do. This was not partisan, it was about fairness and justice for someone who was treated wrongly by the State Justice System," Hugley says.

But she says the clock almost struck midnight on the bill when the Senate added a last minute amendment. The amendment states that if Word is convicted of a felony, the payments will stop. But that's not something Word says he is worried about.

"That's at the bottom of my list of things to do, I am going to the top of my list, so I am not worried about things that are at the bottom," Word says.

Hugley says the amendment was another road-block and isn't sure the bill had the full support of local Senator Josh McKoon. "On Friday we asked him if he was going to help us with it, and he had said he hadn't made up his mind at that juncture," Hugley says.

McKoon says his actions speak for themselves, "I argued in favor of it to the entire Senate and we passed it in the Senate."

But even if Governor Nathan Deal signs the bill, it could be months before Word receives a dime. Because the bill did not make it to the senate floor before last Friday, it was not worked into next year's budget.

Instead, it will be put into the mid-year budget in early 20-14. But that doesn't throw Word's plans off track. "My plans were there without any fiances, your finances don't make the plans, a man makes his plans," Word says.

Word says he wants to publish his story and implement it into the school system for 12th graders.

Original report here

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Australia: Wedding video leads to quashing of rape conviction

A NSW man who was jailed for allegedly raping and molesting his stepdaughter has had his conviction quashed after the discovery of a wedding video taken years later showing the woman patting his chest and grabbing him playfully.

The man, who cannot be named, was sentenced to a maximum of four and a half years' jail in February last year over a series of alleged assaults on his stepdaughter in the mid-1970s.

This followed his stepdaughter going to police in September 2008 and claiming that, when she was a child, the man would come into her bedroom two to three times a week and touch her genitals.

On one occasion, the woman claimed, her stepfather had raped her in the main bedroom of the family's suburban home.

These alleged incidents had been interspersed with occasional physical assaults, including strikes to the head that left the young girl with partial hearing loss and too scared to report the abuse, it was claimed.

But the man claimed that the alleged assaults had never occurred and that his stepdaughter was motivated by a bitter dispute within the family over her grandmother's will.

At a hearing before three judges in the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal last month, lawyers for the man produced a video from a wedding in January 1995.

This was at a time when, according to the woman, she and her stepfather had been estranged for many years. The video shows the woman smiling at her alleged abuser and toasting him with a glass of champagne.

Soon after, during a group photo, the woman is shown rubbing or patting the upper part of his back.

Finally, during a photo with the man, the woman places her right arm over his shoulder and her hand on his chest, before grabbing the skin on his neck in "an affectionate manner".

The woman said she had been told by the photographer to put her arm on her stepfather and had felt "very uncomfortable".

"... you can even see me jokingly trying to strangle him and I had to smile because it was my sister's wedding day."

But the judges found the video images showed that at the time of the wedding the woman harboured "no ill will or resentment toward the appellant".

"To the contrary they depict spontaneous gestures by her towards him," they said in a judgment handed down on Monday. "They are capable of warranting an adverse assessment of her credibility and the reliability of her account ..."

The judges found that, had it been available at the trial, the video would likely have raised in the jury's mind a reasonable doubt about the man's guilt.

They quashed the man's conviction and ordered a retrial.

Original report here

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

London police arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice after death of insane black

Two Metropolitan Police policemen and a retired officer have been arrested on suspicion of perverting the court of justice by investigators probing the death of a musician in police custody.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission made the arrests following an investigation launched following a damning inquest last August which ruled that 40-year-old Sean Rigg died after officers used unnecessary force to restrain him. The arrests are connected with evidence given at the inquest.

Mr Rigg's family had called for criminal charges to be brought against those responsible.

An IPCC spokesman today confirmed that an unnamed police Sergeant, 50, was arrested at work, a 29-year-old PC was arrested in South London and a retired PC, 48, was arrested by appointment at a London police station.

The spokesman added: 'All three are being questioned by IPCC investigators at a central London police station. 'IPCC investigators have carried out searches at their home addresses and the serving officers' workplaces. 'Mr Rigg's family have been told about today's developments through their solicitors.'

The inquest jury returned a scathing verdict about police actions, saying they contributed to the death of the musician while in custody at Brixton Police Station in south London.

The jury at Southwark Coroner's Court found that police used unsuitable and unnecessary force, with officers failing to uphold the detained man's basic rights as he collapsed after being pinned down for eight minutes.

Mr Rigg, who had paranoid schizophrenia, was living in a south London hostel in August 2008 as his mental health deteriorated.

He smashed up a gazebo at the hostel and made karate moves which staff saw as threatening. They called the police, who did not initially respond to several pleas for help.

Three hours after the first 999 call police responded, and three officers restrained Rigg.

The jury found that the Metropolitan Police made a catalogue of errors which 'more than minimally' contributed to his death.

Original report here

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Police spend FOUR WEEKS tracking down mother, 45, after she made Facebook joke about egging PM

To Debra Burt, it was no more than an innocent expression of her frustration at Government spending cuts. She vented her feelings about David Cameron on a friend’s Facebook page with the comment: ‘I’d like to egg him.’

But the mother-of-two was astonished when two detectives arrived on her doorstep to question her...and announced they had been trying to track her down for four weeks.

Last night Mrs Burt, 45, accused them of wasting time ‘snooping’ on the social media site.

She said police should ‘go out and fight real crooks’, adding: ‘I’m not a terrorist. I’m just a middle-aged woman who made a jokey remark.’

Mrs Burt, of Ramsgate, Kent, said she had intended her comment as a joke because of her exasperation over cuts which had left her struggling to find work.

But as police in Kent prepared for last week’s inauguration of the Archbishop of Canterbury – in front of invited guests including Mr Cameron – the quip appears to have set off alarm bells.

Two officers knocked on her door the day before the ceremony to assess whether she posed a ‘threat’ to the Prime Minister. They said they had spent four weeks looking for her, including scouring her Facebook page, visiting her old house and calling an out-of-date mobile number, Mrs Burt said.

She said: ‘My heart was pounding. I felt intimidated. It’s a waste of time. They should be out fighting real crime. I would like to chuck an egg at him but I’d never do it. I’m just unhappy I can’t find more work.’

Kent Police refused to comment on reports they had monitored Facebook ahead of Mr Cameron’s visit last Thursday.

A spokesman said: ‘As part of the security plan for the enthronement ceremony...Kent Police responded to information someone was going to throw an egg at the Prime Minister.

Kent Police visited the person concerned to discuss their concerns and were satisfied there was no threat.’

Police forces across Britain have faced criticism that they waste time investigating minor squabbles and jokes on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites.

Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer warned last month that too many such investigations would have a ‘chilling effect’ on freedom of speech.

Prosecutions for crimes involving social media sites have increased almost nine-fold in the last four years, for offences from harassment to grooming and abuse.

Mr Starmer said the ‘misguided’ tweet was meant as a joke but warned internet ‘trolls’ who carried out targeted malicious campaigns would still face prosecution.

Original report here

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Three cheers for the Scottish football fans fighting back

How Scottish football fans are resisting the state's violent clampdown on their speech and behaviour

Last Saturday, around 200 supporters of one of Glasgow’s two big football clubs, Celtic, attempted to march along Glasgow’s Gallowgate to Celtic Park before the game against Aberdeen, in protest against police harassment and victimisation. Within seconds, they were met by a massive force of Strathclyde Police, more than 200 officers dressed in yellow fluorescent jackets, with batons drawn. This force was supported by 30 police vans, scores of other vehicles, mounted police on horseback, dog units, a police helicopter and a camera surveillance team.

As police waded into the crowd, making 13 arrests, they knocked several young fans, and at least one elderly fan, to the ground. In one video clip, posted on YouTube, four burly officers can be seen forcing a young fan flat on his stomach with his face pushed into a puddle. As passing fans tried to film this brutal treatment, they were threatened with arrest for daring to film police action. Unfortunately for Strathclyde Police, videos of Saturday’s protest have nonetheless been posted on social-media sites, showing various incidents of ill-treatment.

The supporters targeted at the weekend are members of the Green Brigade (GB), a noisy, radical and pro-Irish republican section of the Celtic fanbase. Their refusal to stop singing pro-IRA songs, which some people find offensive, has earned them enemies in high places. They are despised by Scotland’s SNP government. GB had announced that it intended to march against police harassment and the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act 2012, which restricts what fans can sing, shout and do at games. But before they could set off, police moved in to stop them in a military-style operation. The latest examples of police brutality come on the back of lawyers claiming that many fans have been mistreated under the new football legislation.

Strathclyde Police regularly treat Celtic fans, and GB in particular, as scum. However, the police are not used to having to defend or account for their actions in the media. In this respect, their behaviour on Saturday backfired badly. One of Scotland’s leading legal figures, Brian McConnachie QC, publicly condemned the police, even talking of a ‘police state’. He also cast doubt on the police’s official version of events, pointing out that the huge numbers of officers who arrived on the scene armed with cameras, batons, a helicopter and dogs were clearly not, as the police had claimed, just spontaneously responding to reports of a large gathering.

McConnachie was right to challenge the police’s ludicrous version of events. This was a premeditated act of police intimidation. Responding to the police attack, a Labour member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), Neil Findlay, noted: ‘As predicted in parliament, the Offensive Behaviour at Football Bill is being used to criminalise working-class young men, with Old Firm [Celtic and Rangers] fans singled out.’ Another Labour MSP, Michael McMahon, ridiculed the police. He highlighted the irony of football fans marching against police harassment and then being met by the very victimisation and heavy-handed treatment that they were complaining of. MSP Hugh Henry accused the SNP justice minister, Kenny MacAskill, of introducing legislation that was being used to harass Celtic and Rangers fans on a daily basis.

For over a year now, I have documented incidents of police harassment of Celtic fans. One year on from the introduction of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, it is clear that those in power feel increasingly emboldened in their targeting and harassment of supporters. We have seen dawn raids and arrests of teenage fans, while other fans have been stopped at airports or questioned at their place of work. Social gatherings have been broken up or threatened, as the authorities have mounted all-out assaults on any resistance to the new law.

GB has borne the brunt of this intimidation because its members refuse to be told what they can and cannot sing. They are loathed by SNP politicians and police alike, precisely because they refuse to comply with the latest diktat on how fans should behave at a football match. Ironically, the very thing that makes GB seem dangerous to the authorities is the same thing that makes them attractive to growing numbers of fans: a sense of resistance and a refusal to be treated like naughty schoolchildren.

The emboldened and intolerant authorities are now being put on the backfoot. Alongside GB’s fightback, an umbrella group called Fans Against Criminalisation (FAC) is coordinating a series of public protests, the biggest of which will be a mass rally at George Square in Glasgow in early April. FAC says ‘the horrific scenes on Saturday represent a ratcheting up of the assault on the civil liberties (and bodies) of Celtic fans…’

People who care about freedom, and the basic right to attend a football match without being hassled by the police, should support the fightback by groups like GB and FAC. They are showing fans everywhere that it is possible to organise against authoritarian policing. They are a reminder that that we do not have to accept censorship of our songs or seek approval for the banners we wave. Over-the-top policing and petty restrictions on our behaviour are not natural; they are not just everyday things that we should accept as fate. They are things that we can, and should, overthrow.

Original report here

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Resistance is Dangerous; Submission is Frequently Fatal

Resisting arrest is not a crime. It is a common-law right, the exercise of which is treated as if it were a crime

The act of resistance was transmuted into a criminal offense chiefly through judicial activism, rather than legislation. Courts that seek to criminalize resistance have generally made the pragmatic argument that resistance is more dangerous than submission. We’ve long since reached the point where the reverse is often the case.

Until 1942, when the Interstate Commission on Crime published the Uniform Arrest Act, every state recognized and protected the right to resist. Under the still-controlling U.S. Supreme Court precedent, John Bad Elk vs. US, a citizen faced with the prospect of unlawful arrest – that is, an armed abduction – has a legally protected right to use any appropriate means, including lethal force, to defend himself.

The Bad Elk ruling came in 1900. Thirteen years later, the New Mexico State Supreme Court, in Territory v. Lynch, tried out a line of sophistry that would become part of the standard refrain in judicial rulings six decades later:

“The law … calls upon the citizen to exercise patience, if illegally arrested, because he knows he will be brought before a magistrate, and will, if improperly arrested, suffer only a temporary deprivation of his liberty.”

In other words: If a cop seeks to abduct you without legal justification, you should submit in the serene confidence that your deprivation of liberty will be temporary and trivial. I have referred to this as the "Rapist Doctrine," since rapists and police officers are the only assailants whose victims are encouraged to submit.

One hundred years after the New Mexico State Supreme Court published that ruling, the case of New Mexico resident Stephen Slevin demonstrates that this assurance is a cynical lie.

In 2005, Slevin – who was battling depression and driving a car lent to him by a friend -- was stopped for driving under the influence. He was put into a special cell reserved for people suspected of being suicidal. After three days, he was transferred to solitary confinement --- where he remained for two years.

Although some may regard the traffic stop to be considered justified, and the initial arrest to be defensible, what happened to Slevin offers a stark and compelling demonstration of what can happen to anyone who finds himself immured in one of the Regime’s penal facilities. What was done to him is indistinguishable from the kind of criminal abuse associated in the public mind with prison facilities in Cuba and North Korea. More importantly, it is entirely typical of what happens in jails and prisons here in the putative Land of the Free.

Prolonged solitary confinement is a form of torture. In Slevin’s case, isolation was compounded with aggressive neglect as he literally rotted in his cell.

Despite repeated pleas for medical attention, Slevin developed skin fungus and bedsores. Deprived of dental care, Slevin was eventually forced to extract a tooth by himself. His toenails grew so long that they curled under his feet, his hair and beard grew to be long and unkempt, and he lost fifty pounds.

As his body decayed, Slevin’s mind degenerated. Already depressed at the time of his imprisonment, Slevin fell prey to hallucinations.

“I have not slept in days,”Slevin wrote to a nurse a couple of weeks into his solitary confinement. “I’m in a deep depression.” He also mentioned a lack of appetite, and that he was being afflicted with “weird and bizarre” dreams.

“I’m afraid to close my eyes,” he wrote in a plaintive letter to the jail’s “nurse practitioner,” an official with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and no medical credentials or experience. The “nurse” responded by prescribing a dose of sedatives.

The habeas corpus guarantee requires that anyone arrested by the police be quickly brought before a judge and either formally charged or released. Slevin, who was sent to solitary after failing to post $40,000 in bail, was never given a judicial hearing. If it weren’t for the intervention of his sister, who became concerned after Slevin stopped replying to her letters, Slevin would have died in jail without ever being charged with a crime.

Once he was released, Slevin filed a lawsuit against Dona Ana County. After a five-year legal struggle, Slevin was awarded $22 million by a federal court– one million dollars for every month he had been unlawfully incarcerated.

The county, which refused to discipline anybody responsible for Slevin’s imprisonment and torture, and refuses to answer questions about the crime committed against that man, protested that the civil judgment was excessive, and eventually agreed to a $15.5 million tax-funded civil settlement. This may still seem like an extravagant amount until it’s understood that the 59-year-old victim suffers from terminal lung cancer.

“The law cannot restore an arm, an eye, or a life; it can and does restore freedom,” wrote Ralph D. Smith of the University of New Mexico School of Law in a 1967 law school journal essay. His point was that “self-help” by citizens confronted with the prospect of unlawful arrest is impermissible, because they are dealing with people – that is, police officers – who have legal sanction to kill them if they resist.

“Life and liberty, though equally precious, cannot be viewed on the same plane where self-help is concerned,” Smith continues. “Liberty can be secured by a resort to law, life cannot.” A good case can be made for the proposition that Slevin’s illegal incarceration was terminal. Furthermore, unjust deprivation of liberty for any length of time is a grave and ineffaceable injury.

“If one is unlawfully arrested today, his period of confinement is likely to be brief,” wrote Smith, offering a glib assurance of the kind that comes easily to those who are paid well to defend the indefensible. “In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries” – that is, the period in which British courts handed down rulings explicitly recognizing the common law right to resist arrest – “bail was usually unattainable. Today, it is freely granted for most offenses.

Requirements of a prompt hearing and arraignment before a magistrate also serve to protect today’s citizen from a lengthy unjustified detention.”

None of that was true in the case of Stephen Slevin, who suffered the theft of two years that were stolen from a life that was further abbreviated by the unpunished abuse of those who illegally imprisoned him.

During the less-enlightened times in which courts recognized that citizens had the right to avoid illegal arrest and detention, Smith continues, an improperly detained individual could be confined for months, and then “re-incarcerated until he had paid certain fees demanded by the jailer, the clerk of the assize, clerks of the peace, and the like.” What he describes is exactly the same arrangement that prevails today in a probation and parole system that encourages probation and parole officers to find excuses to “violate” their charges as often as possible in order to recycle them through the mechanism.

“Seventeenth and eighteenth century prison conditions might well induce resistance to arrest, if only to keep out of jail,” observes Smith. The same was true not only in the case of Stephen Slevin, but also that of California resident Daniel Chong, who was held, handcuffed, in isolation and darkness, for five days without being charged with a crime in April of last year.

Chong was deprived of food, water, and bathroom facilities. When he was finally released, Chong – who had begun to suffer from hallucinations -- asked his captors to kill him. He was hospitalized with severe dehydration and renal failure. The officials responsible for this crime have never been punished, nor have they so much as apologized to Chong.

The late Nick Christie likewise had every reason to put up resistance when he was taken into “protective” custody by Lee County, Florida sheriff’s deputies in 2009. Christie, a resident of Cleveland, had gone to visit a brother in Florida. His wife was concerned that the 62-year-old man, who had been diagnosed with psychological problems, had left his medications behind. She made the familiar and reliably fatal mistake of calling the police for “help.”

Christie, who was detained on a spurious “trespassing” change, was shackled for nearly two full days in a restraint chair. His captors hooded the victim and repeatedly attacked him with military-grade pepper spray. Christie begged for the jailers to remove the “spit mask” from his face, complaining that he couldn’t breathe. When medical personnel were finally permitted to see Christie, they were overwhelmed by the pepper spray. When they attempted to treat him, the corrosive chemical residue was so potent it ate through their latex medical gloves.

This innocent man, who suffered from respiratory and heart disease, was tortured to death. His death was ruled a homicide. The State Attorney’s office refused to indict the officials who kidnapped and fatally tortured Christie, insisting that there was no evidence of “criminal wrongdoing.” (That prosecutor, Assistant State Attorney Dean R. Plattner, had a long history of indifference regarding criminal violence by police officers.)

Writing more than four decades ago, as efforts to repudiate the right to resist arrest were gaining momentum, Arthur Smith insisted: “Because of the evolution in criminal procedures, jail conditions, and the increased danger from resistance, an individual is less likely to be provoked at what he considers an unlawful arrest in 1967 than he would have been in 1767.”

By 2013, it should be obvious to all honest and observant people that the only material difference between the medieval system Smith described and the one that confronts us now is the fact that British subjects had a legally recognized right to resist unlawful arrest.

Resistance may be dangerous, but submission is frequently fatal.

Original report here

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Wrongful conviction panel has GOP backers, too

It’s one thing for a Texas Democrat to file bills calling for a permanent commission to study and make recommendations on preventing wrongful criminal convictions. Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis has done that for six consecutive legislative sessions. San Antonio Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon has in the last four.

Across the aisle in conservative-leaning Texas, “tough on crime” has become a stock Republican talking point. Even so, it’s hard to imagine that includes “whether he did it or not.”

So what’s notable today is an increasingly bipartisan push to examine prosecutorial error or misconduct or slipshod defense work that led to 117 Texas exonerations — including a U.S.-high 47 by DNA testing — over a quarter century.

McClendon’s HB 166, like Ellis’ SB 89, would create such a commission on wrongful convictions. McClendon came close to passage in 2011, and now she has Republican joint authors from two of the state’s most conservative counties.

Myra Crownover is serving her sixth full term representing Denton County; she voted for a similar McClendon bill in the previous session. Freshman Jeff Leach, a lawyer himself, won his Collin County seat on a “tea-party-approved” platform but has shown a strong interest in prosecutorial misconduct from the start.

“One person convicted of a crime he or she didn’t commit is too many,” Leach said. “The goal in the courtroom should be to seek and find the truth, and any person who knowingly stands in the way of that goal ought to be held accountable.”

Leach’s words echo those of Wallace Jefferson, a Rick Perry appointee to the Texas Supreme Court and Republican re-elected to a full term as chief justice in 2008.

In his biennial address to the Legislature this month, the “State of the Judiciary,” Jefferson put his weight behind a commission to investigate wrongful convictions. Importantly, he noted that Texas has a “top-notch judicial system” — for those who can afford top-notch legal services. Too often, poorer Texans are stuck with an overwhelmed public defender system or left hoping in vain for competent pro bono assistance.

Jefferson’s timing could not have been better. Today is the 50th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Gideon vs. Wainwright, which was intended to guarantee the right to counsel in state courts for those too poor to afford it.

High-profile DNA exonerations cast a harsh light, but the problem of dubious justice is far broader, as we’ve seen in Dallas. Witness the uniformly poor or working-class defendants in the 2001 fake-drugs scandal and the current morass of dozens of pending and settled drug cases possibly tainted by police officers accused of lying about evidence.

Justice for all obviously remains a work in progress. For too long it has been a political argument between right and left, when it should be a moral distinction between right and wrong.

The price of defense

“For those who can afford legal services, we have a top-notch judicial system. Highly qualified lawyers help courts dispense justice fairly and efficiently. But that kind of representation is expensive. A larger swath of litigation exists in which the contestants lack wealth, insurance is absent, and public funding is not available.”

Original report here

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

NY: Man walks free after wrongful conviction 23 years ago

A man was released from prison on Thursday after he was wrongfully convicted of killing a Brooklyn rabbi more than 20 years ago.

David Ranta, 58, was finally freed after a year-long investigation determined that the case against him was flawed.

Ranta was convicted in 1991 of shooting Chaskel Werzberger, a Hasidic rabbi, and stealing his car after he unsuccessfully tried to rob a diamond courier in February 1990.

“The evidence no longer establishes the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Assistant District Attorney John O’Mara, the chief of the conviction integrity unit.

The investigation by the conviction integrity unit of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office found that a key witness, a teenager who said he saw Ranta near the murder site, had not told the truth.

The witness said he did not recognize Ranta but selected him from a lineup after a detective told him to “pick the guy with the big nose.”

Two other witnesses admitted that they made up a story for a favorable plea deal.

Ranta was originally sentenced to 37 years in prison and had lost his previous appeals.

Original report here

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Friday, March 22, 2013

'It was cleaner when the cannabis farm was there': Landlord's fury after police trash house while raiding tenants' £400k drugs operation

A landlord who rented out a family home only to discover it had been turned into a cannabis farm by the tenants today accused police of trashing the property when they raided the premises.

Gary Bond, 53, and his wife Rebecca claim the house was cleaner when the cannabis factory was still up.

The garage manager had let the property, in Kings Heath, Birmingham, to a couple believed to be Polish six weeks ago.

But after they failed to pay their rent, Mr Bond entered the house and discovered it was filled with 400 cannabis plants, each potentially worth £1,000.

West Midlands Police kept the property under surveillance overnight but the mystery tenants never returned.

To make matters worse, garage manager Gary and wife Rebecca, 42, from Solihull, were also unhappy with the state police left the property in after they dismantled the factory.

'I was told that the cannabis team would visit the house, hire a skip and sort it all out,' he said.

'But instead, they smashed light bulbs in the back garden, cut the cannabis plants off pot-high leaving the pots behind. 'Fertiliser, smashed plugs and extractor vents were spread around the house.'

The house belongs to Mr Bond's uncle Terrance, 75, and the money generated from the property's rent pays his nursing home fees.

Mr Bond fears he will struggle to pay his uncle's nursing fees now the property is not generating money

Mrs Bond added: 'It was cleaner when the cannabis farm was still up.

'The cannabis gardener was a tidy person as there was washing up done, toiletries in the bathroom and he even had a dustpan and brush.'

But Sgt O'Keeffe said: 'Cannabis farms need large amounts of fertiliser and irrigation whilst the heat and lighting tends to come from electricity bypassed from mains supply; they are routinely the dirtiest, most dangerous scenes police attend.

'It's almost impossible to dismantle a cannabis factory on this scale without creating some mess.'

Original report here

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Family says NJ overreacted to boy's gun photo

Having a lawyer listening in deflated the goons but it could have got nasty otherwise

The ruddy-cheeked, camouflage-clad boy in the photo smiles out from behind a pair of glasses, proudly holding a gun his father gave him as a present for his upcoming 11th birthday.

The weapon in the photo, posted by his dad on Facebook, resembles a military-style assault rifle but, his father says, is actually just a .22-caliber copy. And that, the family believes, is why child welfare case workers and police officers visited the home in Carneys Point last Friday and asked to see his guns.

New Jersey's Department of Children and Families declined to comment specifically on the case but says it often follows up on tips. The family and an attorney say father Shawn Moore's Second Amendment rights to bear arms were threatened in a state that already has some of the nation's strictest gun laws and is considering strengthening them after December's schoolhouse massacre in Connecticut.

In this case, the family believes someone called New Jersey's anonymous child abuse hotline.

Shawn Moore said he gave his son Josh the gun as a present to use on hunting trips. The elder Moore was at a friend's house when his wife called, saying state child welfare investigators, along with four local police officers, were at the house, asking to inspect the family's guns.

Moore said he called his lawyer Evan Nappen, who specializes in Second Amendment cases, and had him on speakerphone as he arrived at his house in Carneys Point, just across the Delaware River from Wilmington, Del.

"They said they wanted to see into my safe and see if my guns were registered," Moore said. "I said no; in New Jersey, your guns don't have to be registered with the state; it's voluntary. I knew once I opened that safe, there was no going back."

With the lawyer listening in on the phone, Moore said he asked the investigators and police officers whether they had a warrant to search his home. When they said no, he asked them to leave. One of the child welfare officials would not identify herself when Moore asked for her name, he said.

The agents and the police officers left, and nothing has happened since, he said.

"I don't like what happened," he said. "You're not even safe in your own house. If they can just show up at any time and make you open safes and go through your house, that's not freedom; it's like tyranny."

State child welfare spokeswoman Kristine Brown said that when it receives a report of suspected abuse or neglect, it assigns a caseworker to follow up. She said law enforcement officers are asked to accompany caseworkers only if the caseworkers feel their safety could be compromised.

"It's the caseworker's call," she said. "It is important to note the way an investigation begins is through the child abuse hotline. Someone has to call to let us know there is a concern."

Carneys Point Police Chief Robert DiGregorio did not answer a call late Tuesday to his office.

Original report here

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

NYPD quotas for arrests and stop-and-frisks.

Quotas are an abomination

An NYPD whistleblower testified Tuesday that he taped supervisors at a South Bronx stationhouse agreeing on quotas for arrests and stop-and-frisks.

“They called it productivity,” Adhyl Polanco testified in Manhattan Federal Court on the second day of a trial in a class-action lawsuit against the controversial stop-and-frisk tactic.

Polanco testified that supervisors at the 41st Precinct stationhouse in 2009 wanted “20 and 1” — 20 summonses a month and one arrest. He said the bosses also wanted five stop-and-frisks a month.

Officers who failed to meet quotas would lose overtime hours and have their shifts changed, he said.

“It was not negotiable,” he said. “It was either that or you’re going to become a Pizza Hut deliveryman.”

Polanco, who became a cop in 2005, was suspended with pay in 2009 but has since been reinstated.

Earlier Tuesday, a Bronx man wept on the witness stand as he recounted how he was stopped, searched and handcuffed by cops on his way to buy milk for his family.

Nicholas Peart, 24, who began caring for his three siblings after their mother died of cancer two years ago, said his 2011 run-in with the NYPD on E. 144th St. at 11 p.m. made him feel “degraded.”

Peart said one cop took his keys and entered his apartment building, while the other removed his sneakers, asking if he was carrying any marijuana. He had no drugs and no weapon.

“I felt criminalized,” said Peart, who is black. “I felt degraded .... I was going to the bodega. It was very upsetting.”

Peart is a member of the class action initially brought by four black New Yorkers that could affect how the city is policed.

City lawyers said the NYPD is targeting crime — not people who belong to minority groups.

The lawsuit, filed in 2008, seeks to have stop-and-frisks declared unconstitutional and requests that cops be required to fill out paperwork every time they stop and frisk a New Yorker.

It also asks that the court appoint a monitor to keep watch on how the police make stops.

The trial is expected to last more than a month and will draw testimony from cops, lawmakers and constitutional experts, in addition to 12 people of color, including one woman, who say they were wrongly treated.

Original report here

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Suburban Chicago officer charged in fatal crash

A judge set bail at $500,000 on Sunday for a suburban Chicago police officer accused of causing a traffic accident that killed two people in a wrong-way collision on Chicago's Lake Shore Drive.

During the hearing, prosecutors said Terrell Garrett's blood alcohol content after Friday's wreck was measured at 0.184, which is more than twice the legal limit of 0.08. The North Chicago police officer is charged with two counts each of reckless homicide and aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol.

Garrett, 35, was in serious condition at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center and didn't attend the hearing.

Witnesses said Garrett's car was driving at least 60 mph as it sped in the wrong direction on the scenic highway, where the speed limit is 45 mph, according to prosecutors. The collision totaled both vehicles and killed 25-year-old Joaquin Garcia and his friend Fabian Torres, 27.

Relatives of the men said they couldn't believe the judge granted bond for Garrett, who wasn't on duty at the time of the crash.

"I believe he should be in jail," Julian Garcia, Joaquin Garcia's uncle, told the Chicago-Sun Times.

Garcia's mother, Cecilia Garcia, told the newspaper that learning that the man suspected of causing a crash that killed her son was a police officer makes things "10 times worse" for her.

"He's supposed to be protecting us," she told the paper.

Joaquin Garcia was studying to be a surgical technician at Malcolm X College in Chicago and was set to graduate in May, according to family members. Torres was a first-year student at DePaul University.

"We were supposed to be going to my brother's graduation in a month," said his sister, who is also named Cecilia. "Now, we're planning his funeral."

Garrett, who has been relieved of his police powers, has been placed on administrative leave from his job in North Chicago.

Original report here

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Monday, March 18, 2013

The Thin Blue Line

There’s a lot we won’t ever know for sure about the death of 16-year-old Kimani Gray, shot to death by police on Monday, March 11 in the Brooklyn district of East Flatbush. Here’s what we do know: two plainclothes officers approached Gray after seeing him “suspiciously fixing his waistband.” The confrontation ended with the officers firing eleven bullets at the teen, hitting him with seven, including three in the back.

In between the waistband-fixing and the body hitting the ground, things get less clear. The officers claim that as they approached Gray, he pulled out a revolver and aimed it at them, thus their use of deadly force. At least one eyewitness, however, claims that Gray had nothing in his hands and did not appear armed; furthermore, when he was already on the ground, clutching the wound at his stomach, one officer told him to “Stay down or we’ll shoot you again.” Another witness claimed that Gray did have a gun, and was trying to make that known precisely so he wouldn’t be perceived as a threat. But let’s give the cops the thing they never seem to give suspects in these situations: the benefit of the doubt. Say Gray was pointing a gun at them. Are they justified in firing? Firing eleven rounds, including three after Gray’s back was already turned?

Remember, from Gray’s point of view, these men aren’t identifiable as policemen. That’s the whole point of plainclothes. All he sees is two random guys approaching him, intent on something. Even if he does draw, even if he does take aim, this is still a defensive posture. The police and various eyewitnesses naturally disagree as to whether any advance warning was given, but even if the officers did announce themselves before firing, Gray has no reason to believe them.

Bear in mind that this is the version in which the police come off best. This isn’t the telling in which two patrolmen shoot yet another unarmed black male, and plant a gun on him in order to cover up their malfeasance, and trust in the blue wall of silence to take care of the rest. No, in this rendering, a case could be made, however tenuous, for pumping seven bullets into a scared teenager. But even so, the incident — like several hundred more in the last few years alone — stands as an indictment of the policing tactics in Mayor Bloomberg’s city.

Recall that it was Bloomberg who strongly encouraged the use of “stop and frisk” techniques, which allow policemen operating under a “reasonable suspicion” to detain anyone on the sidewalk, and publicly pat them down for weapons. Even though more than 90% of these stops do not result in arrests — and far fewer still in convictions, often because they illegally seize small drug stashes (and, lately, arrest women carrying condoms as prostitutes) in the process — and even though by the city’s own stats these tactics are disproportionately used on blacks and Latinos, intensifying the distrust felt by many minorities for the police, Bloomberg insists this suspension of Fourth Amendment rights is crucial to protecting New Yorkers as they go about their daily business.

The question of who, exactly, will protect New Yorkers like Kimani Gray (or those within stray-bullet or ricochet range when police open fire), seems irrelevant to these calculations — if you are “fixing your waistband” in public, and especially if you’re young, black, or Latino, you simply don’t count in the same way as the hypothetical citizen Bloomberg has in mind. If you disagree, you are free to protest — as many in the community did in the nights after Gray’s death — but NYPD is also free to treat your protest as an incipient riot, and deploy troops accordingly. The last few nights, police in riot gear have used “kettling” tactics, extending netting across streets and maneuvering on horseback in order to constrict protestor movement, and eventually to envelop them completely. A minimum of 19 (and possibly upwards of 40 or 50) were arrested, many of them young black women. Hair was pulled, faces were pushed into concrete, pregnant woman were shoved to the ground.

When several journalists, who were streaming a live feed of the scene, tried to approach closer, they were met with police claiming another of Bloomberg’s suspensions of constitutional rights: the “frozen zone” that supposedly trumps the First Amendment protection of freedom of assembly. Like so many abrogations of our rights, this has its roots in counter-terrorism, being conceived as a justification for dispersing crowds around the WTC site on the ten-year anniversary of 9/11. It was deployed liberally against the Occupy crowds, since Zuccotti Park was conveniently located near Ground Zero; now it appears to be available as an on-site justification anywhere in the city. Here’s how it seemed to work last night: a journalist approaches the scene of an arrest, and a cop orders them to leave, because it’s a frozen zone — and that is the extent of the logic involved: “Because I said so.”

It’s the same logic that’s at work throughout Bloomberg’s fiefdom, extending all the way from Wall Street to the corner store (even if the ludicrous Big Gulp ban was at last overturned). The control he exercises makes him the envy and icon of every politico who aspires to power simply because he knows best — and, if you’ve been keeping track, you’ll know that’s pretty much every one of them.

The end result of such arbitrary, good-for-you power is what has been termed the “carceral state”: a polity based on imprisonment, whether or not that corresponds with actual prison bars. The days of community policing are long dead; the model now is adversarial policing. Kettling, stop and frisk, frozen zones: these are prison tactics, marks of a society bent on treating citizens as inmates. So far in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York, that has meant inconvenience and harassment for millions, and death for Kimani Gray and hundreds more.

Original report here

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

British family release harrowing CCTV of grandfather 'left to die' in the back of a police van after being pepper sprayed

A family has released video footage that shows a grandfather who was allegedly left to die in the back of a police van, while police officers waited nine minutes to revive him.

Lenny McCourt lost consciousness in the cramped cage after being arrested for being drunk and disorderly at his home in Seaham, County Durham on 11 September 2010.

The 44-year-old had been pepper sprayed twice during his arrest and was taken to Peterlee police station.

Relatives of Mr McCourt have made the 'heartbreaking decision' to release the CCTV footage after the Durham Police officers involved did not face action, despite failing to administer immediate CPR.

Mr McCourt's sister-in-law Tracey McCourt, 47, said: 'Lenny could be here today if one of the police officers had done their job and tried to help him. 'It's clear from the CCTV that it took them more than five minutes to take his cuffs off and nearly ten minutes before they try and give him CPR.

'They are trained in first aid but if they aren't going to use it, or even try and get help, what is the point? 'They have a duty to protect the public and they just stood there with their hands on their hips while Lenny lay dying.'

Last November, an inquest at Crook Coroner's Court ruled that Mr McCourt died of heart disease precipitated by the stress of the events of the day and excess alcohol. Coroner Andrew Tweddle ruled his death was by misadventure.

Tracey, who is married to Lenny's brother Gene, 49, said: 'We were all devastated, we still are.

'He was a gentle giant, who loved all of his family. He had five brothers who he adored. He didn't deserve to die alone in a police van.'

The family has released the footage as their own way of gaining justice after they felt let down by the police. 'People need to see this to show what is really happening when people are in custody,' Tracey, a factory worker, said.

'The way you see the custody sergeant who can't get to the phone quickly enough to phone for an ambulance explains that he wasn't alive.

'Lenny was pronounced dead at 5.42pm but the first family member didn't find out about it until 11.50pm - that's appalling. 'It's disgusting how we have been treated, the whole process is a disgrace.

'I'm a rational person but when you see the people who are there to protect us failing to do that, I struggle to accept it.

"The more people that know about this, the better. 'It's a very tough video to watch, but the police are in a position of power and they need to be brought to account.'

The Independent Police Complaints Commission detailed a catalogue of failures by police, including officers waiting about nine minutes before trying to resuscitate Mr McCourt.

PC Richard Clark, of Durham Police, was given a final written warning after a disciplinary panel found his actions on the day Mr McCourt died constituted gross misconduct. Special Constable Jeanette Horlock, resigned from the force.

A Durham police spokesman said the inquest found no officer had acted unlawfully.

The force's head of professional standards, Superintendent Darren Ellis said: 'Since this tragic event we have reviewed our policies and procedures regarding the safe transportation of people taken into custody.

'We have also looked at our policies and procedures for ensuring all relevant officers and staff continue to receive appropriate first aid and refresher training.'

Original report here

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

A middle-class black man raised by white parents, Ben had always respected the police. Until one night they stopped his car...

Growing up as a black person in a predominantly white society, I always regarded myself as having a balanced view of the world. I have experienced my share of prejudice, of course, but life has taught me that, on the whole, our nation is decent, tolerant and, above all, fair.

I was born in the UK and raised in Middlesex by adoptive white parents after my Bajan birth mother fell seriously ill. We were a middle-class family and I was educated largely privately, so I was sheltered to some extent from the casual racism which blights so many lives.

I own and run an international theatre school. When I speak to people on the phone, the vast majority assume I am white, which, though it pains me to admit it, probably makes my life easier.

But I have plenty of black friends and have worked with disadvantaged youngsters all my adult life. So when certain sections of the black community exchanged elaborate — and almost always anonymous — anecdotes about deeply ingrained police racism, I took it all with a pinch of salt.

I knew better than to mistake conspiracy theory for fact. Or so I thought, until my cosy illusion was shattered two weeks ago.

The Damascene moment came as I drove home to Kingston-upon-Thames after seeing A Chorus Line at a London theatre. Settling back into the driving seat of my £36,000 black Audi A5, I was happily humming a tune from the show when I noticed a flash of blue in my rear-view mirror.

I spotted an unmarked police car but continued my journey, assuming the flashing light was nothing to do with me, since I was driving at a perfectly legal 30mph.

When I realised the car was on my tail I pulled over, wondering if, perhaps, my brake light was out.

Five seconds later, a police constable was rapping on my window and shouting: 'Open it!'

No sooner had I done so than he barked: 'Is this your car, pal?' I nodded, but before I could speak he launched into a tirade.

'I don't think you heard me right, mate. I asked if this was your car? It's a very nice car for a bloke like you to be driving, isn't it? Now I'm going to repeat the question, to be absolutely clear, and think hard before you answer me: Is. This. Your. Car?'

Again I tried to answer, again I was cut off.

'Let me guess — it's yours but you can't prove it? Or maybe you've borrowed it from a friend? And you haven't got your driving licence. Am I right?'

Finally given the opportunity to reply, all I could do was stare into his eyes, gripped by self-righteous fury.

I took a deep breath and slowly, quietly, informed him that I did have my driving licence and perhaps he could let me know on what grounds he had stopped me.

His voice dripping with disdain, he told me to be quiet and hand over my licence. When I asked if I could see some form of identification — or at least get his name — he leaned in and jabbed his finger at me, hissing the words: 'Hand. It. Over.'

Which I did and, of course, everything was in order. In a heartbeat, his demeanour changed.

His anger was replaced by a distinctly panicked look. Now he was allowing me to speak freely, and my pronunciation was clearly giving him the jitters — I trained in the theatre and have retained the clear diction drilled into me by my teachers.

I asked again why he had stopped me, and he spluttered something about a spate of Audis being stolen in Twickenham.

Ignoring the fact our conversation was taking place six miles away in Roehampton, I pointed out that surely they would have the registration numbers of the stolen cars? Were they stopping every Audi within the Greater London area, or just the ones who drove safely within the speed limit?

The police officer stared at his shoes, apparently dumbstruck.

Once more I asked to see his warrant card, whereupon he turned on his heel, flashing some form of identification as he walked away, telling me: 'You can go about your business now.'

The ID he showed me could have been a Nectar card for all I could make out.

Ten seconds later he pulled off, tyres squealing. As he sped off — apparently the 30mph restriction does not apply to officers of the law — my first reaction was to laugh out loud.

But there wasn't the slightest hint of mirth in my laughter. It was born of bitter frustration, shock and an overwhelming sense of foolishness.

I was an idiot. What's more, I owe a huge apology to Britain's black community.

I always believed in the Boys in Blue; trusted them to look after our best interests because, well, that's what they do, isn't it?

My faith in them survived the Macpherson Report, with its allegations of institutional racism, and a disturbing documentary called The Secret Policeman, which exposed racism among recruits.

Call me naive, but I regarded these as mere speed bumps on the road to a better place — an opportunity to learn lessons and move forward.

On a personal level, I never had the slightest reason to doubt the police or their integrity. Whenever I came across them — especially after I received racist death threats two years ago — they were unfailingly polite, professional and respectful.

The only time I wavered in this view was when Stuart Lawrence, whose brother Stephen's racist murder prompted the Macpherson Report, spoke out about being stopped in his car by police up to 25 times, simply because of the colour of his skin.

That stopped me in my tracks, I must admit, but still I had nagging doubts. Could it really be true? It shames me to admit this but, hand on heart, I couldn't help wondering if there was more to the story, because this kind of racism had never happened to me.

Now, having been through my own chastening experience, I cannot recall a time when I have felt more foolish.

There is no doubt in my mind why that ignorant policeman pulled me over: I was a black man in a high-end car. People like me don't get to drive a new Audi A5 unless we are professional footballers, pop stars or up to no good.

I am no longer surprised that so many ethnic minorities distrust the police. I can see why they choose not to step forward when asked to, often preferring to settle disputes without recourse to the very people who belittle and, on some occasions, openly detest them.

Setting off on my short journey home from the West End, my mind flooded with contradictory thoughts. Chiefly, I thought, what an utter waste of police time. How many burglaries were being committed within a mile of us while he was indulging his prejudice?

What could I do about it? Surely they can't get away with treating people like that?

Then the reality struck me. They can and they do. This is precisely what Stuart Lawrence was talking about.

This is why the black community complains so bitterly about the lack of respect they experience on a daily basis from the police.

This officer had picked on me because of the colour of my skin, but he would never be held to account for his actions. He was gone, like a ghost in the night, and without knowing his identity there was nothing I could do about it.

Here I was in a leafy suburb, protected by relative wealth and privilege, which had clearly frightened him into a hasty retreat. There is no such luxury for the majority of black people, who have no option but to take the abuse and move on.

In the days since this happened, there has been a stark change in my world view.

I am no longer surprised that so many ethnic minorities distrust the police. I can see why they choose not to step forward when asked to, often preferring to settle disputes without recourse to the very people who belittle and, on some occasions, openly detest them.

This has been a huge wake-up call for me after years of blithely assuming the best — a reminder that while we have come a long way as a nation, we can never stop striving to improve.

I still maintain that the vast majority of police officers are decent, hard-working and fundamentally honest servants of the people.

Yet it only takes one rotten apple to spoil the barrel and, judging by the experiences of Stuart Lawrence and many more, this is clearly not a case of one rogue officer.

These are difficult times for our police forces. The officers themselves admit as much: two-thirds of bobbies in London's Metropolitan Police say the public no longer receives a good service.

Lord Stevens, who was the Met's commissioner from 2000 until 2005, speaks of a 'national crisis' in police morale.

Well, it cuts both ways. Just as they have lost confidence in themselves, I have lost confidence in them. And for that I am truly sorry.

Original report here

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Chicago goons at work again

Suit: Cops responding to robbery shoot store owner 11 times

An Austin store owner filed a lawsuit against the city this week claiming that Chicago Police officers mistakenly shot him nearly a dozen times after a robbery at his West Side store. The lawsuit seeks millions of dollars in damages.

Bassil Abdelal, owner of B&B Beauty Supply, 5155 W. Lake, claims two Chicago Police officers responding to an armed robbery at his store on March 14, 2012, mistook him for a robber and shot him 11 times after the robbers already had fled.

At the time, police said responding officers encountered the robbers during the crime and a shootout ensued.

Abdelal had closed his store and locked the front door when a man knocked on the door about 8:30 p.m. and said he wanted to make a purchase, according to a suit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Chicago. Abdelal unlocked the door and attempted to hand the apparent customer the merchandise without letting him inside, but the man ran away.

A short time later, three masked men, including the man who had knocked on the door earlier, stormed in through the unlocked door, the suit said. Two of the masked men had guns that they pointed at the heads of Abdelal and his father-in-law.

One of the men took Abdelal’s father-in-law to the back of the store and demanded he show him where the circuit breaker was so he could turn off the electronic surveillance, according to the suit.

The robbers demanded that Abdelal open the register and give them the cash, the suit said. Abdelal explained the register could not be opened because the power was cut. One of the men turned the electricity back on and Abdelal handed over the $160 in cash inside.

Abdelal told the upset robbers there was more money in a back washroom, but the robbers got scared after receiving a cellphone call that police were coming and ran away, the suit said. One of the robbers dropped his gun outside the store.

The suit claims Abdelal picked up the gun for protection and waited by the door until police arrived. He then threw down the gun, but police opened fire and shot him in the leg, according to the suit.

Abdelal was wounded, and he ran back inside screaming, “Don’t’ shoot I am the store owner,” the suit said. The officers shot Abdelal repeatedly and shot out the store windows and glass door, the lawsuit alleged.

Abdelal was shot 11 times, including in the hands, shoulder, legs and hips, according to the suit. The injuries required screws and metal rods to be placed in his legs.

The suit claims the officers never told Abdelal to put his hands up or lay on the ground. The officers then allegedly stopped Abdelal’s father-in-law from helping him.

While Abdelal was recovering at an area hospital, detectives visited him numerous times and even handcuffed him to his bed, the suit said.

Police said at the time that officers arrived at the store and found a robbery in progress, and the three suspects confronted them and pointed their weapons at the officers, who shot the men.

Police confirmed at the time that a person inside the store was wounded and two guns were recovered.

All three alleged robbers were charged shortly after the incident, authorities said.

Omar Young, 24, of the 300 block of North Lockwood, was charged with one count of armed robbery with a firearm; one count of aggravated assault of a police officer and a parole violation. Richie Cole, 20, was charged with one count of armed robbery with a firearm and a parole violation. Leevon Carter, 22, of the 100 block of North Lockwood, was charged with one count of armed robbery with a firearm, authorities said.

The 10-count suit claims the city followed its “code of silence” to protect and cover for two officers who shot the unarmed store owner. It further claims surveillance shows the robbers left the guns outside and none of the wounded was armed.

Abdelal claims, among other things, excessive force, false imprisonment, assault, battery and negligence. He is seeking more than $10 million for each count plus punitive damages determined at trial and attorneys fees.

Original report here

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Senate hears from victims of sexual assault in the military

Survivors of sexual assault in the military urge senators to take the final authority over cases out of the hands of high-ranking officers

Survivors of sexual assault in the military urged lawmakers to require independent review of claims, taking the final authority out of the hands of high-ranking officers who have in some cases reversed decisions by military juries. That, they testified in a Senate hearing Wednesday, is the best way to end widespread underreporting of sexual assaults in the military.

In the first Senate examination of sexual assault in the military in nearly a decade, the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on personnel weighed a range of potential solutions to a long-standing problem that permeates every branch of the military.

The controversy was amplified by a recent case in which an Air Force lieutenant general overturned a military jury's verdict and sentence for Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, who had been found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced to one year in prison.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) pressed officers from each branch of the military who were assembled at the hearing on whether they thought justice was served in that case. She asked them whether they thought the jury was mistaken. In her view, Gillibrand said, "justice was not done."

Rebekah Havrilla, a survivor of military sexual assault who has become an advocate of reform through the Service Women's Action Network, said the Wilkerson case was a high-profile instance of a common occurrence in the military.

Of the 2,439 formal reports submitted in 2011, only 240 proceeded to trial. Anonymous surveys of military personnel for the same year showed that 19,000 instances of sexual harassment or assault went unreported in 2011.

Havrilla testified she had endured sexual harassment and been raped while serving in the Army in Afghanistan. She hesitated to report the rape because she had seen previous accusations against her commanding officer go nowhere. Also, she added, "the unit climate was extremely sexist and hostile in nature toward women."

Havrilla and other survivors described an "old boys club" atmosphere among military officers that causes complaints to be suppressed.

Military officers testified about a number of efforts in recent years to improve training of investigators. The Air Force has implemented a pilot program to provide independent counsel for victims.

The officers raised concerns that the outside reviews suggested by reform advocates could threaten the leadership roles of commanding officers and could slow responses to the reports they do receive.

Original report here

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Too Big To Jail: Is Wells Fargo Guilty of Negligent Homicide?

As Robert Borosage wrote, “Too Big Too Fail” has become “Too Big To Jail.” According to attorney general, our big banks have gotten so big that bringing criminal charges against them for blatantly criminal acts “will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.” (Click here to tell Attorney General Eric Holder that no bank should be “Too Big To Jail,” and no bank should be above the law.) is ”Too Big To Jail” a license to kill? Does that mean big banks can get away with murder — or at least negligent homicide?

It sounds like Wells Fargo may have gotten away with murder or some lesser charge in the case of Larry Delassus, innocent victim of “death by typo” c/o Wells Fargo.

"On the morning of Dec. 19, 2012, in a Torrance courtroom, Larry Delassus‘ heart stopped as he watched his attorney argue his negligence and discrimination case against banking behemoth Wells Fargo."

His death came more than two years after Wells Fargo mistakenly mixed up his Hermosa Beachaddress with that of a neighbor in the same condo complex. The bank’s typo led Wells Fargo to demand that Delassus pay $13,361.90 ­— two years of late property taxes the bank said it had paid on his behalf in order to keep his Wells Fargo mortgage afloat.

But Delassus, a quiet man who suffered from the rare blood-clot disorder Budd-Chiari syndrome and was often hospitalized, didn’t owe a penny in taxes.

One of his neighbors, whose condo “parcel number” was two digits different from Delassus’, owed the back taxes.

In a series of painfully tragic events, Wells Fargo relied on its typographical error to double Delassus’ mortgage — from $1,237.69 to $2,429.13 — as its way of recouping the $13,361.90 in taxes Delassus didn’t owe. Delassus, a retiree living on a $1,655 check, couldn’t meet the mysteriously increased mortgage. He stopped paying, and soon was far behind on his mortgage.

Delassus and his attorney did not discover until May 2010 that a mis-entered number had dragged Delassus into this spiral. As court documents obtained by L.A. Weeklyshow, after admitting its error, Wells Fargo foreclosed on Delassus anyway and sold his condo.

Delassus had to move to a tiny apartment in an assisted-living home in Carson.

Friends say he didn’t die of heart disease that day in court, as the coroner found. He was, they believe, killed by a system so inhumane that it could not undo a devastating piece of red tape the system itself created.

According to the LA Weekly piece, Wells Fargo later acknowledged its error, but by then Delassus — a disabled veteran who suffered from Budd-Chiari syndrome —had stopped paying his mortgage after Wells Fargo doubled his payments, leading the bank to foreclose. (Strangely, there was an unexplained $2,861 discrepancy between the $13,361 Wells Fargo said it paid in property taxes on Delassus’ behalf, and the $10,500 the bank admitted in court documents was mistakenly charged to Delassus.) Not only that, but the bank refused to let Delassus resume his regular mortgage payments in the $1,237 installments he paid before the bank mistakenly jacked-up his payments.

Instead the bank demanded that he pay a sizable “reinstatement cost,” which is usually the past due amount plus fees. The bank never told Delassus how much his reinstatement cost would be. Instead, Wells Fargo demanded full payment on the condo, payment due within 24 hours. Delassus sued Wells Fargo for negligence and discrimination against a disabled person. To add insult to injury, in May 2011 the bank sold Delassus’ condo one day after he’d been released from the hospital after a bout of illness.

According to friends, Delassus still had enough faith in our system of justice to honestly believe that he would return to his home of 16 years. He was in court, listening to his attorney argue his case when he slumped over and died.

Here was a guy who received a notice out of nowhere from Wells Fargo, demanding that he repay the bank for property taxes he didn’t even owe. The bank then proceeded to double his mortgage payments even as Delassus was probably still trying to figure out what the hell happened.

It’s not surprising that Delassus stopped payment on his mortgage while he and his attorney tried to sort things out. It’s unlikely that the bank would have accepted a partial payment, and might have returned the check, charged him a late fee, and maybe even foreclosed on him anyway. Given the complexities of finance law, making the payments might have been interpreted as legally acknowledging the alleged debt.

Wells Fargo, even after admitting its error, foreclosed on Delassus for failing to make mortgage the payments he would have made had it not been for Wells Fargo’s initial error. The stress of it all might nearly have killed someone in excellent health.

None of this is surprising given Wells Fargo’s record:

Wells Fargo has foreclosed on homeowners who were trying to make good on they mortgage payments.

Wells Fargo sent a crew to foreclosed on a home that didn’t even have a mortgage, and dragged its feet about returning the homeowners (broken, damaged) belongings after the banks crew broke in and hauled everything away.

Wells Fargo forcibly evicted a cancer patient despite a court order posted on the front door, and then claimed it wasn’t to blame.

Wells Fargo offered homeowners deceptive mortgage modifications, and then foreclosed even when the homeowners made good on their “modified” mortgage payments.

Wells Fargo was slapped with a $1.3 million fine for mishandling a New Orleans man’s mortgage, and improperly charging him $24,000 in fees.

Wells Fargo paid $175 million to settle a lawsuit that the bank’s discriminatory lending practices caused more than 34,000 African-American and Hispanic homeowners in 36 states to pay higher loan rates solely because their race.

The coroner later reported heart disease was the cause of death. But I tend to agree with his friends, that Delassus was killed by a system not only “so inhumane that it could not undo a devastating piece of red tape the system itself created,” but so nearly sadistic that it continued punishing Delassus for an error of its own making.

Delassus isn’t the only homeowner on Wells Fargo’s body count. In fact, Delassus’ story brings to mind what happened to Norman Rousseau when Wells Fargo made a mistake with his mortgage.

The quick version of this terrible story is that Norman and Oriane Rousseau of Newbury Park, California were scammed into a predatory mortgage. But they made their payments anyway, always paying with a cashier’s check in person at the same branch. Then one day the bank misapplied their payment and said they still owed the money. This started a long, nasty process that led to the bank evicting the Rousseaus from their home.

Here’s the shocker: right at the start the Rousseaus came up with proof that the bank had received the payment and had cashed the check. But the bank continued to claim it had missed the payment, gave the Rousseaus the runaround, started applying fees, and used it as an excuse to foreclose on the house anyway.

The Rousseaus fought back, the bank dragged it out for so long and pulled so many tricks, getting its way every step of the process, until this last Sunday Norman Rousseau finally gave up and shot himself in despair – two days before the scheduled eviction, Tuesday, May 15. (The Rousseau’s lawyer just said he was able to win a 2-week delay.)

First-degree murder charges might be asking too much, but negligent homicide — defined as allowing others to die through criminal negligence.

What’s to be expected of a bank that engaged “robo-signing,” committed massive foreclosure fraud, and even laundered drug money for Mexican cartels?

Here’s the thing. If we can’t get a bank like Wells Fargo for committing massive foreclosure fraud, or laundering money for Mexican drug cartels, what can we get them for? Iran hangs bankers for far less. And Wells Fargo is just one part of Wall Street’s “Foreclosure Fraud Machine.” How is it that our government, our justice system can’t even bring charges against criminal enterprises masquerading as banks because doing so “will have a negative impact on the national economy? Talk to Larry Delassus, Norman Rousseau and the other homeowners above about “negative impacts.”

Well, as Digby noted, at least Delassus and Rosseau suffered at the hands of the private sector, rather than some “faceless, uncaring Government bureaucrats who make too much money.”

Obviously, this is just one many thousands of similar stories across the nation during the past few years. And it’s still happening. But I’m pretty sure that if we can just cut Social Security and Medicare and get millionaires to fork over the money they lose between their couch cushions it will all be good.

The truth is, Wells Fargo will get away with what it did to Larry Delassus, like it’s gotten away with everything above. At most, it will pay a few fines and settlements that amount to chump change compared to its record $4.94 billion in profits reported at the end of 2012.

If you or I, or any other person perpetrated even half of the crimes Wells Fargo committed as a “corporate person,” we wouldn’t have a hope of getting away with it. Banks, no matter how big they are, shouldn’t be able to get away with it either.

Original report here

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

London cop who called black men 'monkeys' is fired for gross misconduct

Cops are not entitled to express their opinions, apparently. It would be different if discriminatory behaviour had been alleged but it was not. Dismissal seems more like a paranoid reaction than a measured response. Mere words uttered in private are "gross misconduct"?

A police officer who said that a black man looked like a monkey has been sacked, Scotland Yard said today.

Metropolitan Police constable Kevin Hughes, who was based at Newham, was cleared of racially-aggravated offences in November, but has now been dismissed for gross misconduct, the force said.

Hughes and fellow constable David Hair were both cleared of using threatening words or behaviour to cause alarm and distress and of racially-aggravated harassment at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in November.

Hughes, of Brentwood, Essex, admitted saying a black man looked like a monkey, while Hair was said to have told a black woman colleague he thought she was going to 'rant' about overtime and not do any because she was 'going home to cook bananas'.

The two officers were alleged to have used abusive language about black men while they were on patrol. The court hearing was told they referred to each other at ‘Auntie’ and ‘Uncle’ in a sing song ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ accent. On other occasions Hughes said black people were like chimpanzees or Neanderthals.

In his defence Pc Hughes claimed he was merely discussing evolution.

Chief magistrate Howard Riddle said that while Pc Hughes’s language was 'unacceptable and offensive', it did not amount to a criminal offence. And he said that while the insulting nature of Hair’s comment seemed obvious to many, he did not think it was to him.

Hair was said to have been 'mortified' when Hughes suggested his comment could be taken as being racist.

Hughes was dismissed for gross misconduct in relation to authority, respect and courtesy and discreditable conduct after a hearing which ended yesterday.

Hair was given a final written warning.

In a statement today, Scotland Yard said the officers’ behaviour had been brought to the attention of senior management in March last year.

The matter was referred to the police watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which conducted an independent investigation, leading to the officers being charged.

Commander Allan Gibson, from the Directorate of Professional Standards, said: 'As soon as the actions of these officers were brought to the attention of the Directorate of Professional Standards the matter was voluntarily referred to the IPCC.

'The Commissioner has made it quite clear that racism is not acceptable within the Met, this is a view supported by the majority of officers and staff, which has been demonstrated by those who were prepared to challenge PC Hughes.

'The public have an absolute right to expect that officers serving with the MPS treat them and their colleagues with respect and courtesy and that they do not hold discriminatory opinions.

'Pc Hughes has now been dismissed from the Metropolitan Police Service.'

The force said that although the case against Hair was found proven, the panel has taken into account the opinion of a witness that he did not intend to cause offence, and issued him with a final written warning.

IPCC Commissioner Mike Franklin said: 'Pcs Hughes and Hair used offensive language and arguably many people will find their comments to be insulting and unacceptable.

'This situation is aggravated further by the fact the offensive remarks were made within a group of officers which suggests Hughes and Hair thought their comments were appropriate work place banter.

'Fortunately, their colleagues were not prepared to let the remarks go unchallenged and they had the courage to report the officers’ comments as well as providing evidence at the criminal trial.

'To stand-up and report your peers in this way should not be underestimated and we acknowledge and thank those officers who had the fortitude to challenge the offensive remarks.

'It is vital the Metropolitan Police Service takes seriously reports of officers using racially offensive language. It can indicate a potential wider problem and can undermine the efforts being made to deliver the professional service the public deserves.'

Original report here

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Monday, March 11, 2013

“For your own protection”

There is no situation that cannot be made instantly and immeasurably worse through police intervention. A splendid illustration of this principle is found in a recent ruling from the the Arkansas Court of Appeals.

According to the court, police were entitled to arrest, taze, and beat a teenager who had done nothing more sinister than speak to his mother on the street in front of their home. A police officer accosted the young man – who, as a juvenile, is identified only by the initials "R.R." – after he saw him approaching a woman who was walking a dog.

The officer, who belongs to a social cohort of people who are distinguished primarily by their timidity, claimed that he was "concerned for the woman’s safety." His fears should have been allayed when it was established that the woman was the teenager’s mother.

If the cop had been an actual peace officer, he would have tipped his hat and left. But he was a law enforcer – that is, someone through whose dark ministrations innocent people are transformed into "criminals" – and so he insisted on detaining and interrogating the entirely harmless youngster. To that end he sent for "backup," and a thugscrum soon coalesced around the puzzled and terrified teen.

As the Court of Appeals summarizes, R.R. was "tasered several times, removed from the backseat [of a police vehicle], thrown to the ground, tasered again, kicked, handcuffed, and arrested." All of this was done because the young man "moved around and wrestled around while the officers held him on the ground, making it difficult for the officers to put the cuffs on him."

Because he didn’t permit himself to be shackled like a slave in front of his own home because he had been seen speaking to his mother, the teenager committed the supposed crime of "refusing to submit to arrest."

The trial court in the case also acknowledged that the victim was "a fine young man, an excellent student, and active in sports, clubs and church activities." The judge reportedly expressed dismay that "an innocent situation … just completely got out of hand" – which is, once again, the familiar and entirely predictable outcome when members of the State’s enforcement caste materialize. Despite these superficial expressions of regret, the Judge sentenced the victim to serve one day in detention – thereby leaving him with a criminal record because he had been on the receiving end of a state-aggravated assault.

Like most communities in its section of the country, Pope County, Arkansas, where that incident occurred, is thickly populated with Evangelical Christians, whose numbers probably include most elected officials, prosecutors, judges, and police officers. At some point in Sunday School they probably read the 22nd chapter of the Book of Acts, which describes how the Apostle Paul, accused of disturbing the peace, was arrested by Roman occupation soldiers and taken to a local barracks to be questioned under scourging.

As the interrogator was preparing to whip the apostle, Paul pointed out to the centurion in charge that it was illegal to flog a Roman citizen unless he had been tried and convicted of a crime. This objection caused the interrogator to desist immediately, and prompted the officer in command to express the fear that he could face criminal charges because he had chained – that is, handcuffed – a Roman citizen.

Every day in this supposedly free country, police commit an act that was impermissible for their antecedents in imperial Rome: In the name of "officer safety," they handcuff American citizens who are not criminal suspects while conducting investigations. Police also routinely inflict summary punishment – using batons, Tasers, pepper spray, or other means – against those who resist being detained without cause. Within a few years police will have at their disposal handcuffs that can impart electrical shocks to detainees.

In an 1894 essay published by The Strand Magazine, Inspector Maurice Moser of Scotland Yard wrote that the earliest historical mention of handcuffs was in the fourth century B.C., "when soldiers of a conquering Greek army found among the baggage of the routed Carthaginians several chariots full of handcuffs, which had been held ready in confident anticipation of a multitude of prisoners."

"My personal experience of handcuffs is small, because I dislike them," wrote Inspector Moser of the restraints. He pointed out that in Belgium, which at the time was the seat of a substantial empire, "the use of handcuffs by police is entirely forbidden."

Like most police officers of his era, Moser was a relatively civilized man who found the act of shackling another human being to be barbarous and punitive. Handcuffing a human being certainly doesn’t enhance the safety of the person being restrained. Nor does it relieve police anxieties about the all-encompassing threat to that most sacred of considerations, "officer safety." Witness the large and ever-growing number of cases in which officers – almost always in the plural, of course – beat, taze, pepper-spray, and even shoot suspects who have already been handcuffed.

Original report here

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