Thursday, January 30, 2014


Justice for Kelly Thomas

Many people were surprised when some of the officers involved in the beating death of Kelly Thomas were actually put on trial. It was a departure from the normal procedure of the pretense of an internal investigation that the public cannot find out anything about. The trial is public. Yes, it was only three of the six officers, but still it was far more than people were expecting.

Yet the surprise turned into cynicism when Officer Manuel Ramos, Corporal Jay Cicinelli, and Officer Joseph Wolfe were found not guilty. It seems that even going to an official court trial is not enough when an officer is a criminal. Protests erupted as a result of the verdicts. Protests took place at the police station and at the site of the beating. Police responded by ordering the dispersal of the protestors after some of the people at the protest claiming to be protestors turned violent.

These protests are well intentioned, but unfortunately are unlikely to achieve any practical result. They are demanding that the criminal officers be placed in prison, which is very unlikely without violating double jeopardy or violating habeas corpus. This does not mean that protests cannot achieve a positive result. These protests need to be directed in a new direction, though to achieve that result.

When a dangerous sex offender is released from prison, the community that receives the criminal often erupts with protest at the site of the offender’s residence. Flyers are printed up and distributed all over the surrounding neighborhood announcing that a sex offender is moving in. These flyers include the name, address, and picture of the offender so that the offender can be easily identified.

If protests were to take place at the homes of the officers, then and only then would the criminal officers actually feel some pressure for the crimes they committed. These protests would alert neighborhoods that they are living next to dangerous and violent criminals. And the officers would know that their neighbors know they are violent and dangerous. Flyers posted on street lamps, a common practice, will lead to neighborhood shunning.

This leads to neighborhood shunning, especially if these flyers made it to the stores the officers shop at. Neighborhood shunning is the desired goal since there won’t be any official punishment. Officer Ramos feels so entitled that he’s actually trying to get his old job back. Protests in front of his house, flyers in his neighborhood and at his favorite stores, children signing rhymes about how there is a bad person living at his house, all of those will put pressure on him to realize that no matter how innocent he thinks he is others do not think a badge absolves bad behavior.

Original report here




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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Would you trust the system if it were your kid?

Clarence Aaron described his time in federal prison serving life without parole for a first-time nonviolent drug conviction as "a walking death sentence on my head." Before President Obama commuted his sentence last month, Aaron faced a longer sentence than some fellow inmates with multiple felonies - even murder.

Aaron was hardly the only nonviolent offender sentenced to life without parole. Last year the ACLU reported that more than 2,000 federal inmates were serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses.

How can a nonviolent first-time offender be sentenced to life without parole?

-- Their biggest mistake, after their crimes, was not pleading guilty. "Prosecutors give drug defendants a so-called choice - in the most egregious cases, the choice can be to plead guilty to 10 years, or risk life without parole by going to trial," Human Rights Watch adviser Jamie Fellner wrote. She has a term for it: "the trial penalty," which can deliver longer time than drug dealing itself.

-- When a case goes to trial, the prosecutor gets to pick the sentence by choosing the amount of drugs for which a defendant is charged. A federal judge had to sentence Aaron to life because he was convicted of conspiracy to traffic 23 kilograms of crack and powder cocaine. The crazy part is, prosecutors got to 23 kilograms by charging Aaron for a 9-kilogram deal that did happen and a 15-kilogram deal that did not.

-- The career dealers knew how to game the system. Their sentences were reduced because they testified against Aaron.

The National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys is fighting back against the bad press on federal mandatory minimums. The system, prosecutors argue, protects the public from the old days when a defendant's sentence depended on which judge heard the case. Now the guilty know that some prison time is unavoidable.

Georgetown University Law Center Professor Bill Otis, a former federal prosecutor, reminds me that every system, every country, has its sentencing anomalies. The federal system at least has four checks - plea bargains, a "safety valve" that allows judges to reduce the punishment for some low-level defendants, defendants' ability to reduce their penalty by testifying against others, and the presidential pardon power that commuted Aaron's life sentence.

I should add that Otis doesn't see drug dealing as nonviolent, not when an addict could die of an overdose.

I would expect to agree with everything Otis said. No system is perfect. Plea bargains benefit both law enforcement and defendants. The federal "safety valve" gives judges some discretion. Guilty parties can reduce their sentences by cooperating with authorities. If all else fails, there is the presidential pardon.


The minimum sentence for a nonviolent offense should not be life without parole, basically the same as the maximum sentence.

Federal prosecutors want the public to trust them even when they do nothing to curb their own excesses. No reasonable person would assert that there is a public interest in putting young, low-level, nonviolent offenders, with or without prior convictions, behind bars until they die.

If the Department of Justice had demonstrated any kind of commitment to fixing its excesses, the public could trust prosecutors. Instead, the prosecutorial-industrial complex has circled the wagons and actually defends these medieval punishments.

Florida's Stephanie George was one of the other seven recipients of a presidential commutation last month. Like Aaron, who told me he was guilty of "a big crime," George made some huge mistakes. In 1996, authorities searched her house and found $14,000 and 500 grams of her boyfriend's cocaine stash in her attic in 1996. Because George had two prior felonies - for selling $40 and $120 worth of crack, which were counted as separate felonies - this 26-year-old woman was sentenced to life without parole.

When the Washington Post praised Obama for showing mercy toward a mother serving "a life sentence for stashing her boyfriend's drugs," the federal prosecutor's association took offense. President Robert Gay Guthrie chided the editorial board for not recognizing that George's "prior convictions caused her to be considered a 'career criminal' with a criminal history at the highest level under the federal sentencing guidelines. Federal law, as mandated by Congress, caused her drug distribution conviction, her third, to trigger a life sentence."

That's why Congress should change the law.

Who judges the judges?

Georgetown University Law Center Professor Bill Otis, a former federal prosecutor, argues that "judicial discretion" means "whatever the judge wants."

When judges depart from norms, they can make some bad decisions.

He cites the Montana judge who in August sentenced a 47-year-old teacher to 30 days for the 2007 rape of a 14-year-old girl because the victim appeared "older than her chronological age." (The victim killed herself in 2010.)

Then there's the Brooklyn federal court judge who sentenced a convicted child-pornography distributor to 30 months in defiance of the five-year federal mandatory minimum. (An appeals court later ruled against the judge.)

Original report here




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Monday, January 27, 2014


License to kill

No one knows how many times police shoot and kill Americans every year. Most estimates put the number at a few hundred a year, but we don’t know the details, including how many of these killed people presented a real threat to anyone. The U.S. government does not do body counts, as it admitted during the Iraq war. And the same appears to be true in domestic policing, where law enforcement has become comparably brutal to the armed forces overseas, including in what has become standard operating procedure in the hundred SWAT raids performed every day across this country, the vast majority of which are launched to serve warrants to people accused of non-violent offenses.

Three news stories in the first couple weeks of this new year remind us of the unsettling culture encouraged in modern policing. It is a culture that values officer safety, however dubious the threats against it, above the rights of everyday Americans, a culture that holds police above the law.

On Sunday, January 5, a North Carolina family called the police for help with their schizophrenic teenaged son, Keith Vidal, who was threatening the mother. As with many calls to the police, this proved to be a terrible mistake for those seeking help. Two officers showed up and managed to help subdue the ninety-pound eighteen-year-old. Then a third officer arrived, and within a couple minutes, the boy’s life was over. The last law enforcer on the scene said, "I don’t have time for this," according to the boy’s stepfather. Keith was held down, tased, and then shot. The officer "reached right up, shot this kid point-blank, with all intent to kill," the stepfather said. "Keith was not threatening anybody, Keith did not want any part of it. He was having a bad day. . . . He was flat out murdered, there was no need for deadly force. No reason."

Yesterday, January 13, a jury acquitted two officers who beat a homeless schizophrenic man to death. On July 5, 2011, Fullerton, California, officers, responding to a tip about car vandalization, came upon a confused man, Kelly Thomas, and attempted to search him. According to the officers, he resisted a search. According to witnesses and video evidence, Thomas apologized and tried to comply. An officer put on latex gloves, and, according to the prosecutor, an unprovoked beating began. They hit him with batons and tased him five times. They called paramedics, one of whom says the police asked that an officer’s minor injury be treated first. Thomas was a bloodied pulp. Here’s how he looked, lying in a coma, before he died from his multiple wounds, if you can stomach the image. The prosecutor closed his argument with Thomas’s last words:

"Dad help me."

"God help me."

"Help me. Help me. Help me."

Unless these officers face justice in federal court, their acquittal sends the message that police are above the law that the rest of us must follow. Of course, police and the public hear this message time and again, over and over. And although I am speculating, I strongly suspect this cultural problem serves as background to another news story from yesterday.

In Wesley Chapel, Florida, a man sat in a movie theater texting his daughter. An older man complained about his disruption, and the two argued. The older man left the theater and came back, the arguing continued, until finally he shot the offending texter dead. Such a frightening public shooting in a movie theater would typically fuel calls for more gun control, to keep weapons out of the hands of everyone but police. Conservatives often respond that trusted citizens should carry weapons to defend the public. But the shooter here was a trusted citizen—a retired police officer, the type of person almost no one thinks should be categorically disarmed.

We don’t know the shooter’s psychology, but a lot of criminological literature has indicated that police officers tend to have more in common with the criminals they arrest than many people assume. Studies indicate, for example, that 40% of police families experience domestic violence—a rate two to four times as high as we see in the general population.

The institutional and cultural realities surrounding modern policing compound the problem. Even if police were less prone to criminality than the general population, they have many incentives to commit violence, to trample rights, to shoot first and ask questions never, to flat-out lie in courtrooms to protect their own. And they face very little accountability for what they do. These realities infect almost every department, to varying degrees, across the nation, and cannot help but instill a widespread attitude in police that they are at war with large segments of the populace and do not need to follow the same rules the rest of us do.

The Florida shooter will likely face comeuppance for murdering a man over an argument in a movie theater. But we can say this with much more confidence because he was retired. If he were a police officer on duty, things could very well be different. He could say the man was refusing arrest—a convenient excuse for police brutality. He could say he was afraid for his life. The police union and many of his colleagues would come to his defense. This is not so far-fetched. After all, in April 2011, Florida police tased a man to death, claiming he was being disorderly outside a movie theater.

It is the nature of the state that acts that would be considered criminal if conducted by private individuals are legal if done by the government. Government is a monopoly on legal violence, after all. In today’s America, this reality is no clearer than with the burgeoning police state, whose agents routinely commit violent acts that would condemn most of us to a cell for decades.

There are plenty of reforms that could move us toward a more civilized future—personal accountability for wrongdoing, ending the drug war, slashing government spending on military weapons. But the biggest shift needs to be cultural. We need to talk about these horrors, every day, and make them a permanent national political issue. No politician should be allowed to be elected to any office at any level without answering questions on the rising American police state. If this trend isn’t stopped, most other issues will eventually become obviously trivial in comparison.

Original report here




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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Where’s the body count from shootings by police?

Barack Obama has made curtailing Americans’ right to own firearms one of his highest priorities. Earlier this year, he appealed to "all the Americans who are counting on us to keep them safe from harm." He also declared, "If there is even one life we can save, we’ve got an obligation to try." But some perils are not worth registering on Obama’s scorecard.

While the president’s strident warnings about privately owned guns evoked a hallelujah media chorus, his administration is scorning a mandate to track how many Americans are shot and killed each year by government agents. The same 1994 law that temporarily banned the sale of assault weapons also required the federal government to compile data on police shootings nationwide. However, neither the Justice Department nor most local police departments have bothered to tally such occurrences.

Instead, the Justice Department relied on the National Crime Survey of citizens to gauge the police use of force. But as Prof. James Fyfe, one of the nation’s foremost experts on police shootings, observed in 2001, that survey relies on "questions about how often the respondents have been subjected to police use of force. Since dead people can’t participate in such a survey, this work tells us nothing about how often police kill."

Many police shootings involve self-defense against violent criminals or protection of people against dangerous culprits in the act of wreaking havoc. However, killings by police are not a negligible proportion of the nation’s firearms death toll. Shootings by police accounted for almost 10 percent of the homicides in Los Angeles County in 2010, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Jim Fisher, a former FBI agent and criminal law professor, compiled a database of police shootings and estimated that in the United States in 2011 police shot more than 1,100 people, killing 607. Fisher relied on the Internet to track the casualties, and the actual toll may be significantly higher. (Many police departments are secretive about their shootings and succeed in withholding either numbers or key details from the public.) Fisher’s numbers do not include cases of off-duty police who shoot acquaintances, such as the recent case of the married veteran D.C. policeman convicted of murdering his girlfriend and leaving their 11-month-old baby to die in an overheated SUV to avoid paying child support.

According to the FBI, 323 people were killed nationwide by rifles in 2011 — less than 4 percent of the total deaths by firearms. The official statistics are not broken down by the type of rifle, so it is impossible to know how many of the victims were slain with the type of weapons that Sen. Dianne Feinstein and presumably Obama classify as assault weapons. Nationwide, 10 percent of the killings with rifles were committed by law enforcement officers, according to the FBI. Ironically, the raw numbers of killings by police are tossed into the firearm-fatality totals that some politicians invoke to drum up support for confiscating privately owned guns.

Not only do government agencies fail to track official violence against Americans; they also sometimes preemptively exonerate all such attacks. A 2001 Justice Department report, "Policing and Homicide, 1976–1998," labeled everyone in the nation who perished as a result of a police shooting as "felons justifiably killed by police." There were hundreds, if not thousands, of people shot unjustifiably by the police in those decades, but their innocence vanished in the flicker of a federal label. The Justice Department was so embarrassed by the report’s "lack of distinction between justifiable police shootings and murders, that it did not send out its usual promotional material announcing the report," according to the New York Times.

The odds of an honest, thorough investigation of a police killing are the same as the odds that a politician’s campaign speech will be strictly assessed for perjury. At the state and local level the deck is often stacked to vindicate all police shootings. Police unions have strong- armed legislation that guarantees their members sweeping procedural advantages in any post-shooting investigation.

For instance, Maryland police are protected by a Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights that prohibits questioning a police officer for 10 days after any incident in which he or she used deadly force. "A lawyer or a police union official is always summoned to the scene of a shooting to make sure no one speaks to the officer who pulled the trigger," the Washington Post noted in an exposé of the Prince George’s County, Maryland, police. "Between 1990 and 2001 Prince George’s police shot 122 people…. Almost half of those shot were unarmed, and many had committed no crime."

Forty-seven people were killed by the P.G. police in that time. Among the shootings the P.G. police department ruled as justified: "An unarmed construction worker was shot in the back after he was detained in a fast-food restaurant. An unarmed suspect died in a fusillade of 66 bullets as he tried to flee in a car from police. A homeless man was shot when police mistook his portable radio for a gun. And an unarmed man was killed after he pulled off the road to relieve himself."

The situation in Clark County, Nevada, which had one of the highest rates of police-committed homicides in the nation, is equally perverse. An excellent Las Vegas Review-Journal series in late 2011 noted, "In 142 fatal police shootings in the Las Vegas Valley over a little more than the past 20 years, no coroner’s jury has returned a ruling adverse to police." But that nonconviction rate actually convicts the entire system. "The deck is stacked in favor of police well before the case gets to the [coroner’s] jurors. That’s because the ‘neutral arbiter of the facts’ is the deputy district attorney who already believes that no crime has been committed. In a comparison of inquest transcripts, evidence files, and police reports dating to 1990, the Review-Journal found that prosecutors commonly act more like defense attorneys, shaping inquest presentations to cast officers in the most positive light."

Another problem is that, as Nevada lawyer Brent Bryson observed, "Frequently in fatal shootings, you just have officers’ testimony and no other witnesses. And most people just don’t want to believe that a police officer would behave wrongly."

Investigations of shootings by police in Las Vegas were stymied in 2010 and 2011 because "police unions balked at inquest reforms, first by advising members not to testify at the hearings and then helping officers file a lawsuit challenging the new system’s constitutionality," according to the Review-Journal. Las Vegas is so deferential to police that, in cases "where an officer shoots but only wounds or misses entirely … the district attorney looks at the case only if the shooting subject is being prosecuted," the Review-Journal noted.

Federal agents who kill Americans enjoy similar legal privileges. The Justice Department’s view of the untouchability of federal lawmen is clear from its action in the Idaho trial of FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi. Horiuchi gained renown in 1992 after he shot and killed 42-year-old Vicki Weaver as she stood in the door of her cabin holding her 10-month-old baby. Horiuchi had shot her husband in the back moments earlier, though Randy Weaver posed no threat to federal agents at the time. The FBI initially labeled its Ruby Ridge operation a big success and indicated Vicki Weaver was a fair target; later the agency claimed that her killing was accidental.

Boundary County, Idaho, prosecutor Denise Woodbury filed manslaughter charges against Horiuchi in 1997. FBI Director Louis Freeh was outraged that a local court would attempt to hold an FBI agent legally responsible for the killing. He declared that Horiuchi had an "exemplary record" and was "an outstanding agent and continues to have my total support and confidence." Freeh added, "The FBI is doing everything within its power to ensure [Horiuchi] is defended to the full extent and that his rights as a federal law-enforcement officer are fully protected." Justice Department lawyers persuaded a judge to move Horiuchi’s case from a state court to a federal court, where federal agencies have far more procedural advantages. Although a confidential Justice Department report concluded that Horiuchi acted unconstitutionally, Justice Department lawyers argued vigorously that he was exempt from any state or local prosecution because he was carrying out federal orders at the time he gunned Vicki Weaver down.

Federal judge Edward Lodge found in 1998 that the state of Idaho could not prosecute Horiuchi for the killing, in a ruling focusing on Horiuchi’s "subjective beliefs": As long as Horiuchi supposedly did not believe he was violating anyone’s rights or acting wrongfully, then he could not be tried.

The judge blamed Vicki Weaver for her own death, ruling that "it would be objectively reasonable for Mr. Horiuchi to believe that one would not expect a mother to place herself and her baby behind an open door outside the cabin after a shot had been fired and her husband had called out that he had been hit." Thus, if an FBI agent wrongfully shoots one family member, the government somehow becomes entitled to slay the rest of the family unless they run and hide.

The greater the automatic presumption that government shootings are justified, the more arbitrary power police will have over Americans. And this growing sense of legal inferiority to officialdom will naturally make gun owners ever more attached to their own firearms. According to Obama and other anti-gun politicians, this is simply evidence of paranoia — and another reason to take away people’s guns before they do harm.

The federal government has no credibility condemning vast numbers of private gun owners as long as it refuses to compile the casualty count from government agents. Washington has deluged state and local law-enforcement agencies with billions of dollars in aid in recent years but will not even ask the recipients for honest body counts. No amount of political tub-thumping can change the fact that Americans are far more likely to be killed by police than by assault weapons.

Original report here




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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Australia: Former student tells of his ongoing trauma after porn-loving teacher's betrayal

A FORMER student who had his school internet account hacked by a teacher to download violent pornography has revealed the trauma of being betrayed by a person of trust.

Disclosing his identity for the first time, Craig Maria, 25, condemns the state education system for a series of failures that left him wrongly accused of viewing hundreds of degrading images at Naracoorte High School almost a decade ago.

The Mount Gambier-based man has told of the devastating impact it has left on his family, which has also had to cope with the death of two of his brothers.

Having turned his life around after suffering depression, he is now waging a one-man war against the State Government, and particularly the Education Department, for the "unforgivable" breach of trust that caused him to drop out of school before completing Year 10.

"It has been traumatic and full on - it is like a 'David and Goliath' struggle and that is a good analogy," he told The Advertiser in an exclusive interview.

"I was 'killed' as a student and I was not given the opportunity to complete my education.

"It was a low point of my life but I want to show others that you can fight if you have the knowledge of truth. This is about closure and seeking answers to why I was never believed. I want people to know what it is like being in a system. The pain was unbearable at times."

His decision to go public comes after The Advertiser disclosed the IT teacher had escaped the sack but will never teach again.

An official investigation by Education Department chief executive Tony Harrison found that "on the balance of probabilities" the claims were "substantiated".

Last week, Mr Maria met with Jay Weatherill at the Premier's Adelaide office, together with Mr Harrison, as he sought answers to his trauma.

At the meeting, Mr Weatherill told the student that he was "committed" to his case.

He told him that he would also speak to Mr Harrison "regarding possible policy changes" as well as what information could be provided the student regarding the investigation.

Today, Mr Maria reveals how the school's then computing teacher, a father, became a mentor at Naracroote High School but used his trust to hack into his internet account and then thwart the subsequent investigation.

Throughout 2004, the teacher, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was investigated for abusing Mr Maria's logon to view dozens of explicit sites including some which were found to feature "rape" scenes.

Mr Maria, who has declined offers of up to $25,000 to tell his story, was identified as the suspect after the questionable material was flagged by an internet log.

Much of his anger is directed at the school's hierarchy, which accused him of accessing the pornography, "bullied" him into admitting wrongdoing and suggested he was a "liar and manipulator".

A senior staff member, who is now the subject of two formal investigations, dismissed his denials while, according to Mr Maria, evidence that he was not even at school at the time of the downloading was ignored for weeks.

He said he was frequently pulled out of class and became the victim of a whispering campaign.

"Never was I believed - not for a second. I had done nothing wrong but no one cared. It felt like being torn apart. My friends were turned away ... it was a terrible time," the property manager said.

The relentless questioning by the school prompted his parents to even start questioning his denials.

He said he was constantly placed in detention and suspended on at least four occasions before school officials realised they had accused the wrong person.

The school principal, who is now retired, later wrote to him to apologise and offered just $5 for his internet account "to cover any costs incurred".

But the damage was done and Mr Maria dropped out of school, disillusioned with life.

He left Naracoorte and moved to the lower South East where he was employed in a range of jobs. He has slowly rebuilt his life, has a stable job in real estate and enjoys the support of family, friends and a new girlfriend.

In an attempt to seek closure, he sought answers from the Education Department in late 2011. Weeks later an offer of financial settlement was made after officials were told of media interest. In February 2012 he was awarded $30,000 in "hush money" after signing a confidentiality clause and an agreement to not contact police.

Former department chief Keith Bartley wrote to him to "unreservedly apologise for our failure to meet your best interests" and admitted officials had "let you down".

At the same time his older brother, 26, died from complications associated with diabetes. Just over a year later another brother, 27, died after a nine-month battle against leukaemia.

"My temperament had become volatile and angry towards family. But when you see someone dying from something that they can't control it gives you the strength to fight against an injustice - it gives you perspective," he said.

In September last year he was struck by the similarities his case had with the Debelle Inquiry into school sex abuse cases and decided to seek some fresh answers from the Government.

His letters to ministers were not answered so he decided to go to the media. The ensuing scandal prompted a formal investigation and the teacher to be suspended on full pay.

He questions how the teacher, now aged in his 40s, was able to continue teaching at two Adelaide schools and criticises the departmental investigation which did not involve formally interviewing the teacher.

"It is not about the teacher - he did what he did and he was punished although he should have been sacked. It is about how people in a position of power can belittle an innocent student," he said.

"Everyone in Naracoorte knows and I have been blown away by the level of support. My parents, particularly my poor mother, have been through a lot but they understand.

"I have the confidence to stand up for myself but the reason why I am fighting this battle is because I would never forgive myself if this was to happen to another student and I never did anything about it."

The teacher, who has previously said the matter was dealt with at the time, will not face criminal charges. He will not face charges after police concluded there was "insufficient evidence".

Mr Weatherill said tonight: "He is an intelligent young man who suffered an enormous amount.

"To his credit, he is thinking about how to improve the system so this doesn't happen to other people. We are working through a number of suggestions he has raised."

Mr Harrison said a "comprehensive review" had been completed.

"As expressed on multiple occasions, the department acknowledges the impact this issue has had on the student and his family," he said.

"Since the student raised the matter, there has been significant support provided to him and regular meetings, telephone calls and other communication to work through the issues he has raised.

"A comprehensive review was also undertaken and the outcomes of the review were provided to the student."

He added: "The Minister and Premier have both met personally with him and a number of ideas he has raised in relation to future student support are currently being considered.

"The student will be informed as matters progress."

Original report here




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Friday, January 24, 2014

Top British detective to keep job despite being guilty of gross misconduct

A senior detective who was found guilty of gross misconduct over his handling of a high-profile double murder case is to keep his job.

Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher was suspended from the Wiltshire Force more than a year ago following complaints about his investigation into the disappearance of 22-year-old Sian O’Callaghan from a Swindon nightclub in March 2011.

The highly experienced officer ignored procedures and subjected his suspect to questioning without the presence of a lawyer, outside the confines of a police station.

DS Fulcher faced a police disciplinary hearing accused of three allegations of gross misconduct over alleged breaches of force policy and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and had been criticised in an independent report into his handling of the murders of Miss O'Callaghan and another young woman, Becky Godden-Edwards, several years before.

The formal conduct hearing before an independent panel began on Monday and had been expected to last up to five days.

Last year the force said it had made the decision to proceed with a disciplinary hearing after reviewing a report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) into the running of Operation Mayan.

The police watchdog report found Mr Fulcher breached the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Pace) and ignored orders from his own force during the inquiry into murder suspect Christopher Halliwell.

The IPCC report recommended that Wiltshire Police should consider a charge of gross misconduct against Mr Fulcher.

A joint statement released by DS Fulcher's legal team and the Police Superintendents' Association of England and Wales said: "Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher acknowledges and accepts the findings of the panel and is grateful for the thorough consideration given to the facts of his case.

"Steve Fulcher wishes to express his thanks to those who have supported him throughout this very sad case.

"At all times Steve Fulcher has been motivated by a desire to serve the public and do the best that he can for the victims, their families and for Wiltshire Police.

"He is grateful for the support he has received from many people and, in particular, humbled by the support he has received from Becky's mother, Karen Edwards, and Sian's partner Kevin Reape, when they have suffered such tragic loss.

"Steve Fulcher is a dedicated police officer and is fully committed to the Wiltshire Police.

"He wishes to return to work as soon as possible to continue serving the public and to move forward from this upsetting and stressful episode in his life and that of his family."

DS Fulcher’s unorthodox approach resulted in local taxi driver, Christopher Halliwell, admitting to the murder of Miss O’Callaghan.

But then in an unexpected twist the 49-year-old also confessed to having killed another girl Miss Godden-Edwards.

There was enough forensic evidence linking to Halliwell to Miss O’Callaghan to secure a conviction and he was jailed for life for her murder in October 2011.

But despite having shown officers where he had dumped her body the charges relating to Miss Godden-Edwards were thrown out on the grounds that DS Fulcher had failed to follow the correct arrest procedures.

The decision, which effectively robbed Miss Godden-Edwards’ family of justice, caused outrage at the time and has led to calls for PACE to be overhauled to prevent similar situations occurring in the future.

Original report here




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Thursday, January 23, 2014

British TV actress who was bitten by a police dog after a terrifying burglary ordeal has received an apology from Scotland Yard

A Bafta-winning actress yesterday spoke for the first time of how she was savaged by a police dog as she hid under a bed while intruders ransacked her home.

Juliet Aubrey, 47, thought her ordeal was over after she managed to dial 999 and heard officers shouting ‘armed police’.

But her relief turned to horror when the unaccompanied Alsatian ran into the room and dragged her across the floor.

‘He sank his teeth into my leg through my skin, muscles and down to the bone,’ she said. ‘His jaw was locked right down. It was pain like I had never known. I was thinking at the time to not let it get my throat or I would be dead.’

The dog bit her three times on the arm and leg in an attack lasting up to 40 seconds that left her ‘drenched in blood’.

Miss Aubrey, who won a Bafta for her role as Dorothea in a BBC production of Middlemarch, and starred in The White Queen, required months of treatment for her injuries, including the wound that cut to the bone.

She was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was left with permanent scars.

The actress spoke after a Scotland Yard inquiry found the dog’s handler should face disciplinary action.

She said as she fought the animal she turned around to see three police officers ‘just staring at me’. ‘I was screaming, "get it off me, get it off me". 'I was looking into their eyes. They were frozen. They did not say a word, they just stared.’

Miss Aubrey was alone at the £800,000 south London home she shares with her husband and children on March 13, 2012 when she heard intruders inside, with one shouting: ‘Get the gun, get the gun!’

She ran upstairs and hid under her daughter’s bed. ‘I thought I was going to die,’ she said. As she heard the intruders on the floor below she rang 999 on her mobile phone and stayed on the line for 15 minutes.

After 30 minutes, she heard the police entering her house, shouting ‘firearms, police’, and footsteps coming up the stairs.

But then the Alsatian came in and spotted her before grabbing her in its jaws. Eventually its handler came in and called off the dog.

The police inquiry found he had not been ‘diligent’ when the animal went out of his sight.

The force has apologised to Miss Aubrey and the dog has been retired from duty after suffering injuries in an unrelated incident.

An 18-month investigation found the force had ‘let her down’ and officers gave conflicting accounts of what happened. The handler, who said he was not told anyone was hiding in the house, faces a disciplinary hearing.

The intruders were never caught.

A Met spokesman said: ‘The Met has offered a formal and sincere apology. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this time’

Original report here




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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Family's fury at 'inhuman' CPS after girl who lost her brother in war is cleared of killing her sister in crash

A woman was cleared of blame yesterday over her sister’s tragic death in a car crash as the Crown Prosecution Service was criticised for heartlessly pursuing the case.

Rosie-Ann Stone, 21, was overtaking a lorry when she collided with her elder sibling Jennie’s car, which was carrying out the same manoeuvre – sending it crashing into a tree.

Months earlier, the women had lost their brother Gregg, a 20-year-old soldier who was shot dead while serving in Afghanistan.

Their father Robert Stone, 56, arrived at the scene of the accident and cried: ‘Not again, no, not another child.’

Prosecutors insisted on charging Rosie-Ann with causing death by careless driving, despite the family’s suffering and doubt as to who was to blame.

The decision enraged the family and was even questioned by the judge at the five-day trial, which cost an estimated £100,000.

Speaking before the hearing, at which jurors took less than three hours to clear Rosie-Ann, Mr Stone said: ‘We begged the Crown Prosecution Service not to bring this charge, but they seem to have their own agenda.

'We wondered if they are human. I know Jennie is up there now and she would not have wanted Rosie-Ann to be prosecuted.’

There were emotional scenes at Hull Crown Court as the jury foreman delivered the verdict. The defendant and her parents wept as other family members shouted ‘yes’.

Moments later, Rosie-Ann was released from the dock and embraced her three brothers, before being led away without commenting.

Mr Stone said: ‘As the verdict came in my heart was pumping. I thought it was going to burst.’

Judge Simon Jack distanced himself from the controversial decision to take the matter to court by telling the jury: ‘Before the start of the case I expressed concern with the Crown Prosecution Service that it was not in the public interest to have a trial.

‘The CPS was consistently saying that it was. It was their decision not mine.’

Rosie-Ann was charged because she failed to look over her shoulder before pulling out to overtake a slow-moving lorry last February.

She said she had checked in her mirror and indicated before the accident on the A165 near Bridlington, East Yorkshire.

The court heard she had spent the day with Jennie, 28 – the mother of a 10-year-old boy – and did not realise she was in her Peugeot three cars back in the same queue.

Jennie tried to overtake the line of vehicles at the same time – driving at up to 70mph, according to one witness – and colliding with her younger sister in the process.

Rosie-Ann, a manager at a bookmaker’s, told the court of the moment she realised her sister’s blue car was next to hers. ‘I saw blue to the right and I saw Jennie driving. I saw her blonde hair. I twigged almost instantly.

‘Jennie did not turn and look at me. Not at all. Jennie’s car was moving faster than mine. The two cars struck. Jennie’s car instantly shot across the road. I thought the truck was going to hit her. I saw Jennie’s car go on to the grass and strike the tree.’

Rosie-Ann stopped her car and screamed: ‘Jennie, Jennie what have you done it for? I didn’t see you! What have you done it for?’

She said: ‘I wanted to get to Jennie. I saw her in the car. I was screaming. I tried to go near her. I wanted to be with Jennie. Nobody was with her, she was on her own.’

The defendant said her sister, a student, was a ‘fast driver’ and she had witnessed a previous accident when Jennie was at fault.

Rosie-Ann told police: ‘In my opinion she was a very quick driver and did take a lot of risks. I never felt comfortable with it. I refused to let her drive my car.’

Their mother Angie Stone, 56, confirmed that Jennie drove ‘fast and erratically’ while Rosie-Ann was a ‘safe and careful driver.’

After the case Paul Genney, a senior barrister based in Hull, said: ‘I think the decision to prosecute was indefensible. ‘What could you possibly do to her on top of what she has had to suffer? To kill your own sister – there is nothing worse in the world.

‘What is the point of spending five days of public money on a prosecution at taxpayers’ expense?’

Jonathan Sharp, the senior CPS advocate in the region, said all the evidence was ‘carefully considered’ and it was ‘a very difficult decision’ to prosecute.

Original report here




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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"Being anxious and afraid does not justify attempting to execute a man on his way to go surfing."

Except apparently it does, at least if you work in law enforcement. The quote is from the lawyer for David Perdue, one of three people police in Southern California mistakenly fired upon during last Ferbuary’s manhunt for cop killer (and former cop) Christopher Dorner.

This week, the office of Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced that it won’t be filing charges against Brian McGee, the Torrance officer who rammed Perdue’s truck, then opened fire on him. The DA found that McGee made a "reasonable mistake," even though Perdue is white and Dorner was black, and Perdue’s truck wasn’t the same color as that reported to have been driven by Dorner.

Part of the reason why McGee’s actions were deemed reasonable is that just blocks away, seven LAPD cops had just fired 100 bullets at a truck driven by Margie Carranza and her mother, Emma Hernandez, thinking they were Dorner. The two women were delivering newspapers. McGee apparently believed Perdue was Dorner, fleeing from that shooting. The seven LAPD cops shot up not only the women’s truck, they also sent bullets flying all over the neighborhood, hitting "cars, trees, roofs and garage doors." They too have been cleared of any wrongdoing. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck described that incident as "a tragic misinterpretation" by police officers dealing with "incredible tension."

It’s certainly understandable how police on heightened alert for a suspected cop killer might be a bit nervier than usual. That doesn’t excuse unleashing swarms of bullets at innocent people. To contrast, consider a drug suspect who wakes up to a midnight drug raid. Maybe the police have made a mistake, and this particular suspect is innocent, in which case he’d have no reason to suspect the home invaders might be cops. Maybe the suspect is actually a drug dealer, but mistakes the raiding cops for a rival dealer. The latter is of course less sympathetic.

But in both cases, the suspects have every reason to be anxious and afraid. And in both cases, it would be understandable why they might want to defend themselves. In both cases, the decision to do so would be an honest mistake. Both of these scenarios have happened, numerous times. And in both scenarios, the suspects are almost always charged with one or more felonies, whether or not police subsequently find any significant quantity of drugs. If they kill a cop during the raid, they’re going to be charged with murder.

Or consider a hypothetical that’s a bit more on-point: When the D.C. snipers were still at large several years ago, the police and press told the public to be on the lookout for a white van. Let’s say you get off work, and return to your home in Virginia. You’re a concealed carry permit holder. You pull into your driveway and notice a white van parked out front. There’s a white man sitting in the driver’s seat. (Remember, the prevailing theory at the time was that the sniper was a white loner.) Your family is in the house. You ask the man to identify himself. You can’t see, but he’s a repair man. He’s filling out paperwork, so he doesn’t see you. He has his radio turned up, so he doesn’t hear you. You open fire.

You too had good reason to be anxious and afraid. You too were relying on bad information, and made a mistake about the identity of the driver. Do you think you’d get the same consideration the DA’s office has shown to the cops in Torrance and Los Angeles?

Of course, police are authorized to use lethal force. The rest of us aren’t, unless we believe ourselves or others to be in imminent danger of grave bodily harm. (That’s a generalization; the specific legal standard varies by state.) But the police also have the benefit of training. To borrow from my former Cato Institute colleague Tim Lynch, there’s a good argument that they should be held to a higher standard. And there’s a good argument that they should be held to the same standard. It’s hard to think of a convincing argument that they should be held to a lower one.

A mindset that kicks in among police officers when a cop gets killed, particularly if the killer remains at large. Doors come down. Suspects get beaten, sometimes severely. Sometimes, it’s the wrong suspect. As Perdue’s attorney Christopher Driscoll put it in an interview, ""When an officer is injured, or goes down, or is threatened, the team mentality really steps up. You have that concern that individual citizens’ rights are going to get trampled when the officers are attempting to get justice for their brothers." It’s a mindset that’s endorsed in the popular culture. We’ve all seen TV cop dramas where, when a fellow cop is shot or killed, his colleagues get in a couple of extra kicks when arresting a suspect. There’s a little more physicality in the interrogation room.

Again, this sentiment is perfectly human, and it’s entirely understandable. But it’s also dangerous, and it can’t be encouraged. The lesson from the DA’s decisions in Los Angeles—as well as the failure to administer any significant professional punishment—is that when a cop goes down, we suspend the Bill of Rights until the killer is apprehended. Perhaps if David Perdue, Margie Carranza, or Emma Hernandez had been killed in one of these incidents, the DA may have acted differently. Certainly there would be more public pressure for an indictment. But it shouldn’t need to come to that.

Original report here




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Monday, January 20, 2014

Victim of Dog-Authorized Anal Assault Receives $1.6 Million Settlement

The Associated Press reports that the city of Deming, New Mexico, where David Eckert was pulled over for a rolling stop last January, and nearby Hidalgo County have agreed to settle a civil rights lawsuit he filed after cops from those two jurisdictions forced him to undergo a humiliating exploration of his digestive tract.

The city and county will pay Eckert $1.6 million, which amounts to $200,000 for each of the increasingly intrusive searches performed on Eckert at Gila Regional Medical Center in Silver City: two X-rays, two digital probes of his anus, three enemas, and a colonoscopy, none of which discovered the slightest trace of the drugs that police claim to have thought he was hiding inside himself.

Eckert, whose case was first noted here by Brian Doherty, also sued various Deming and Hidalgo County police officers; the hospital, which billed him more than $6,000 for these indignities; and two physicians, Robert Wilcox and Okay Odocha, who executed the elaborate assault under the cover of medicine.

"It was medically unethical and unconstitutional," Shannon Kennedy, Eckert's attorney, told A.P. "He feels relieved that this part is over and believes this litigation might make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else." Eckert added:

I feel that I got some justice as I think the settlement shows they were wrong to do what they did to me. I truly hope that no one will be treated like this ever again. I felt very helpless and alone on that night.

Although this measure of justice is welcome, it is too bad we may never get a definitive ruling on the legality of Eckert's dehumanizing ordeal, which was inflicted based on a search warrant that police obtained by claiming a drug-detecting dog "alerted" to the driver's seat of Eckert's pickup truck.

They also said he seemed nervous and was standing with his legs together, which suggested to them that he was concealing contraband up his butt. That last detail received a lot of attention, but it seems clear that the warrant would not have been issued without the alleged dog alert. The Supreme Court has said such evidence by itself provides probable cause for a search unless the suspect can show the dog is unreliable—an opportunity that does not arise until long after the search is carried out.

Original report here



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Sunday, January 19, 2014


More Omaha police fired in ‘caught on tape’ case

Background here. In an unlawful outburst of photography phobia, cops raided a house to seize and wipe a tape of their actions -- but a neighbor was taping too -- unknown to the cops

Just days after a federal lawsuit accused Omaha police of excessive force in a widely publicized "caught on tape" tape case, two more officers have been fired bringing the total to six.

The latest firings came Wednesday and Thursday, according to a statement from Omaha police.

"As I have previously stated, we did not carry ourselves in a manner representative of the Omaha Police Department in this incident," said Police Chief Todd Schmaderer.

Last March 21 a routine parking problem near 33rd and Seward in North Omaha escalated into a must-see six minute recording.

The video—shot by a member of the public— shows a police officer throwing a man to the ground and hitting him several times, while a dozen other officers storm a home across the street.

According to ACLU Nebraska which filed the suit Monday, 32 police descended on 33rd and Seward and violated the rights of brothers Juaquez and Demetrius Johnson, their mother Sharon and two other family members.

"A parking ticket turned into officers storming my house and me being thrown to the ground and put into a chokehold," said Octavius Johnson.

"Pulling over twenty officers away from other parts of the city should sound an alarm for taxpayers," says Amy Miller of the ACLU.

But citing a national accreditation award issued to OPD in November, Schmaderer sees lessons learned. "I am confident in saying the Omaha Police Department is a better department in the aftermath of this incident," said the chief.

The first four firings came within a few weeks of the incident. One of those four has appealed his firing, a ruling is pending. The last two officers are awaiting a pre-termination hearing.

Original report here




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Saturday, January 18, 2014

British cops caught on camera making tea and eating biscuits in suspect's office while he was locked in a cell


These CCTV pictures show police officers allegedly helping themselves to biscuits and coffee in the office of a suspect as he waited in a police cell fearing for his future.

David Sharma, 47, a father-of-two who lives in Canterbury, Kent, has vowed to take legal action against the police for what he describes as a ‘breach of his human rights’.

He was arrested on suspicion of voyeurism, questioned and put in a cell for nine hours after the allegation - but later released without charge and told he faced no further action.

One woman complained Mr Sharma allegedly had hidden cameras in the women’s toilets at the Howfield Manor Hotel in Chartham Hatch, Kent, where he is a director.

He said: ‘Six officers went into my office and said "give us the evidence, it would be best for you".

‘They took the CCTV equipment and searched my house and took my phones and laptop. Then I was arrested and taken away to a police station.

‘While I was sitting in a freezing cold cell after they took my coat and shoes, they were lounging around in my office for four hours eating biscuits and drinking coffee.

‘I think it breached the Human Rights Act and I have taken it up with my lawyer. I thought in this country we were innocent until proven guilty. I think I’ll look into moving to a different country.’

Mr Sharma was arrested on September 9 last year and bailed that evening. On December 3 he was told he would not face any further action and was released from bail without charge.

It was then he found the CCTV footage from the day of his arrest - filmed on the camera in his hotel office.

He added: ‘When I saw the footage I was in complete shock that many of them spent all that time sitting around. It must have cost the taxpayer thousands.

‘They were drinking my coffee and eating my biscuits. At least my coffee, which they drank was a good quality, whereas the tea they served me at the police station was awful.’

In talks: The CCTV pictures show at least six uniformed officers, either standing or sitting

In talks: The CCTV pictures show at least six uniformed officers, either standing or sitting

The CCTV pictures show at least six uniformed officers, either standing or sitting, drinking coffee and chatting. At one point they can be seen studying some CCTV footage on a screen.

Mr Sharma, who lives with his wife Catherine, 47, and two daughters Katie, 12, and Olivia, eight, said the ordeal had made his life a ‘complete misery’.

He said: ‘I didn’t sleep for two-and-a-half months. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Every time I heard a car pull up I would think "is that the police again?"

‘I’ve lost business and I’m worried about people talking behind my back. A wedding reception and a Christmas party due to take place at the hotel have already cancelled.’

A Kent Police spokesman said they could not comment on the matter as there was potential legal action pending from Mr Sharma.

Original report here




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Friday, January 17, 2014

Chief Constable faces health and safety charge over fatal shooting

This is a farce. The guy who was shot didn't have a chance. He was the victim of police hysteria. Background here

Sir Peter Fahy, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police (GMP), has been charged in connection with the shooting of an unarmed man by one of his officers.

Sir Peter is to be charged under health and safety laws over the fatal shooting of father of two, Anthony Grainger, during a planned operation in Cheshire in March 2012.

Prosecutors announced that Sir Peter was to be charged over allegations that he had failed to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

However the officer, who discharged the fatal shot, will face no action.

Mr Grainger, 36, from Bolton, was shot in the chest by a GMP marksman, during an investigation into an alleged armed robbery.

However it later transpired that Mr Grainger was unarmed and there were no weapons in the vehicle.

It has been reported that prior to his shooting he had been suspected of stealing a memory stick containing the names of police informants.

He was investigated in connection with the allegation but was subsequently released without charged.

When he was shot he was travelling in a car that had been stolen and had false registration plates.

Sir Peter has been charged because as Chief Constable he holds the post of "corporation sole" under Health and Safety laws meaning he is a representative of GMP, but does not share criminal responsibility.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided the marksman who killed Mr Grainger should not face charges for murder or manslaughter because a jury would be likely to accept that he believed his actions were necessary.

The force could not be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter because it did not hold any duty of responsibility towards Mr Grainger.

"In the circumstances of this case, our assessment of the evidence is that a jury would accept that the officer did believe his actions were necessary and that the level of force used in response to the threat as he perceived it to be was proportionate," it said.

The force could face an unlimited fine if the prosecution is successful.

Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said: "After careful consideration we have decided that the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Sir Peter Fahy, should be prosecuted as a corporation sole for failing to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

"In addition to every employer's responsibility towards their employees, the law also imposes a duty to ensure that work is carried out in a way that ensures, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons outside of their employment are not exposed to risk.

"The chief officers of police forces are treated as employers for this purpose. It is alleged that there were serious deficiencies in the preparation for this operation that unnecessarily exposed individuals to risk."

But Mr Grainger’s family reacted with anger over the failure to prosecute anyone directly over the death.

His cousin Wesley Ahmed said the family would now consider whether to bring a private prosecution.

GMP’s Deputy Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said: "Since Mr Grainger's death 22 months ago, Greater Manchester Police has cooperated fully with the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the Crown Prosecution Service and HM Coroner.

"Our sympathies remain with Mr Grainger's family and we deeply regret the loss that they have suffered.

"Mr Grainger's family, and the officers involved, have had to wait a long time for this decision to be reached and we share the frustrations over those delays.

"However, we understand that it was vitally important that the investigation was carried out thoroughly to establish all the facts.

"Now that a charging decision has been made regarding the force itself, it is equally important that these legal processes are allowed to take their course unimpeded in order to seek a resolution for both the family of Mr Grainger and the force."

Original report here




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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ohio Judge Rules That Police Can't Search You For Being "Overly Polite"

An Ohio judge ruled last week that a state highway patrolman was overstepping legal bounds when he searched the vehicle of a driver who had been too polite to him.

The incident began when Patrolman Jared Haslar, who had been patrolling a speed trap, pulled over Joshua Fontaine for driving 45 mph in a 35 speed zone. According to the court ruling, Ohio v. Fontaine:

Patrolman Haslar approached Fontaine’s vehicle, advised him of the reason for the stop, and then requested his driver’s license, proof of insurance, and registration, which Fontaine immediately provided. Patrolman Haslar further stated that, during this exchange, he became suspicious of criminal activity. Specifically, Patrolman Haslar testified as follows: "While speaking to Mr. Fontaine I felt that his body language and his behavior was a little bit unusual. He was extremely — like almost overly polite, and he was breathing heavily at times while I was talking to him."

Based on "reasonable suspicion" that Fontaine was up to no good, Haslan brought the man back to his patrol car where he patted him down for weapons and wrote up a traffic ticket. At this point, a new officer, Patrolman Feierabend, arrived with a drug-sniffing dog. The canine reportedly sniffed a positive so the officers searched the vehicle sans warrant, uncovering a loaded .40 caliber handgun and a bag of marijuana.

The trial court rejected the prosecution's charge though and ruled to suppress the firearm and marijuana from the evidence, arguing that excessive politeness does not constitute probable cause to search a vehicle.

The state filed a motion to appeal, which Judge Mary J. Boyle also rejected. The three-judge appellate panel considered only the question of whether the initial search of Fontaine's car violated the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches. The court found that as soon as Patrolman Haslar finished writing the warning, he could not justify the search for drugs without some evidence that criminal activity was afoot, reports the Newspaper, a political journal on driving.

"We agree with the trial court that 'overly polite' and 'heavy breathing' are not sufficient indicators that give rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity," Judge Boyle concluded. "These factors considered collectively simply do not support such a finding. Since Patrolman Haslar did not have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to warrant the canine sniff, the prolonged detention to do so violated Fontaine's constitutional Fourth Amendment rights."

Original report here




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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Shock verdict: Cops found NOT guilty of murder in brutal death of Kelly Thomas

The Orange County, Calif. police officers responsible for the death of homeless schizophrenic Kelly Thomas were found not guilty in their murder trial Monday.

Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli–former officers with the Fullerton, Calif. police department–were charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, respectively. The jury deliberated for less than a full day before finding them not guilty, Los Angeles Times reported.

Given the acquittals, prosecutors have decided not to pursue charges against a third officer involved in Thomas’s death.

The brutal incident took place on the night of July 5, 2011. Police were called to the scene to deal with Thomas, who was accused by a local by a local restaurant worker of attempting to break into cars. According to video footage from a surveillance camera, Ramos threatened to beat up Thomas, and eventually attacked with a police baton. Cicinelli soon joined in. He attempted to subdue Thomas with a taser, but eventually hit him in the head with the butt of his gun. Video footage shows the cops piling on Thomas, who can be heard repeatedly crying out for help.

Thomas’s last words before passing out were, "Dad, they are killing me." He was taken to a hospital but never regained consciousness, and died five days later.

Doctors concluded that Thomas died of injuries sustained during the beating.

Why then the acquittals? Defense attorneys argued that Thomas could have died from heart disease brought on by his history of illicit drug abuse. They also argued that the officers used routine procedures to restrain a particularly large and threatening individual.

But many civil libertarians are outraged that Ramos and Cicinelli will not serve in time in prison for Thomas’s death.

Kelly’s father, Ron Thomas, was furious at the ruling.

"What was he doing but begging for his life that he deserved to get beat in the face with a deadly weapon?" asked Thomas in a statement to local news. "They never said, ‘Kelly, have you had enough?’ He would have certainly said ‘yes’ because he was begging for his life."

Original report here




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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Petty Law Enforcement vs. the Poor

How the state's desire to manage our movement harms the poor

The New York Times recently noted a new trend in Los Angeles: strict enforcement of jaywalking laws downtown, including the little-known regulation that makes it a crime to enter a crosswalk after the red crosswalk light is flashing—even if that red light, as it often does in L.A., is counting down the seconds until the light changes.

A normal person might assume the city was giving you useful information to make an intelligent judgment as to whether you can make it across the street safely before the light changes. In effect, though, the countdown light is just entrapment to commit an expensive—$197—infraction.

The New York Times story focused on bourgeois downtown residents and shoppers. (New York itself is a city that manages to thrive despite pretty much never enforcing its own jaywalking laws.) The story didn’t mention that an earlier wave of jaywalking enforcement in Los Angeles began back in 2006, under the aegis of the "Safe Cities Initiative."

L.A. police had already been issuing over a thousand tickets per month for jaywalking in the name of homeless management. A 2007 study from UCLA law professor emeritus Gary Blasi, "Policing Our Way Out of Homelessness? The First Year of the Safer Cities Initiative on Skid Row," found such jaywalking or other petty citations given at rates 48 to 69 times those in the rest of the city. It noted that "of the 1,000 people per month who receive citations and are unable to pay the fines, most will face subsequent arrest and jail, even though the original offense may have been littering or a pedestrian signal."

Some of those ticketed were in wheelchairs or otherwise disabled, or pushing a cart full of all their possessions in front of them as they tried to struggle across the street, says Pete White of Los Angeles Community Action Network, a poverty activist group. Blasi found the timing of skid row lights to be the absolute minimum imaginable for anyone to get across a street.

As damaging as the fines themselves can be, says White, his group also hates strict pedestrian law enforcement because it’s "an excuse for search, harassment, and intimidation of the poor" in a situation where a population of thirteen to fifteen thousand people downtown were receiving nearly that many citations a year.

Lawyer Carol Sobel, who helps represent many downtown L.A. residents who receive such citations, says you can often beat the rap if you go to court (usually because officers don’t show up, or your lawyer can prove they gave a citations that wasn’t legally warranted). But if you cannot beat the rap or pay the fine, that simple ticket for stepping off a curb can lead to an arrest warrant—which many activists think was in part the point of the city's crackdown to begin with, a component in a general plan of clearing the homeless out of downtown L.A.

Contemplating how something as simple as a ticket for a couple hundred bucks could effectively ruin a life reminded me of the last time I was in traffic court, for driving a car in California with an expired license plate. I heard brief versions of the stories that brought dozens of my fellow citizens before the judge, some facing imprisonment, most just facing fines of more than a thousand dollars (that could lead to imprisonment if not paid).

Every single story that brought them there—overwhelmingly minorities and, my guess based on their demeanor and stories, working class—began with a "small fine" for some traffic-related infraction that, not dispatched with prompt bourgeois responsibility, ballooned to larger fines and/or arrest warrants.

Do the crime, pay the fine, many might think. Why wouldn’t they? Maybe the fine represented too large a part of their disposable income to be dealt with in time, or maybe they just aren’t that skilled at remembering to take care of expensive problems promptly.

Imposing "small fines" for our (often objectively harmless in and of itself) behavior as we move through the world or through traffic is one of the most significant ways Americans interact with the state. Even if the fines don’t balloon to bigger fines and eventual arrest warrants, such interactions open up Americans to violations of dignity (like being publicly jacked up and handcuffed), privacy (you are supposed to identify yourself and give the cops a chance to look into your background), and possibly liberty.

That’s if the traffic stop degenerates into a search, and it’s easy for cops to make that so. The Supreme Court decided in the 1996 case Whren v. U.S. that no matter what a cops’ real motive for pulling you over was, even if he’s really just scrabbling for an excuse to get a closer look at you or your car, if you in fact committed a moving violation, that’s totally cool.

As David A. Harris pointed out in a 1997 article in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology called "’Driving While Black’ and All Other Traffic Offense: the Supreme Court and Pretextual Traffic Stops," a driver is pretty much always committing a moving violation, since they can include actions as vague and open to interpretation as not giving "full time and attention to the operation of the vehicle."

This means that "any citizen [is] fair game for a stop, almost anytime, anywhere, virtually at the whim of police. Given how important an activity driving has become," Harris wrote, "Whren changes the Fourth Amendment’s rule that police must have a reason to forcibly interfere in our business." As Harris goes on to note, and as many studies have indicated, that is going to have a disproportionate effect on minorities which, given American socioeconomics, can mean a disproportionate effect on the poor.

As will the state’s demands that we pay them off in various ways for permission to drive, a core element of modern working life for many. Tom Nordlie, a former assistant public defender in Florida in the 1990s (and, disclosure, an old college buddy), remembers nearly a third of misdemeanor cases he represented involved people driving with licenses suspended (DWLS). A first offense could net two months in jail and a $500 fine—even though the crime did not necessarily cause any harm to anyone.

"In the world of misdemeanor crimes, many offenses come about because people are impulsive, drug-addicted, cruel or avaricious," Nordlie says. "Most DWLS cases don't happen for any of those reasons. DWLS cases come about because people are poor. Or, at the very least, because they don't manage their money well…DWLS is more strongly linked to economics than any other misdemeanor offense." It frequently occurred because of unpaid tickets, or lack of insurance.

"I had many clients tell me, ‘I had to keep working to have a chance to raise the money I needed to fix this situation, and in order to work, I had to drive.’ Bam. It's a DWLS charge waiting to happen."

Nordlie knows "there are situations where someone needs to stop driving, due to demonstrated incompetence or disregard for other peoples' safety, But in my experience, those situations represent only a small fraction of DWLS cases."

UCLA’s Donald Shoup, wizard of parking (whose controversial policy proposal is to hugely raise the price of parking) has written on the idea of graduated parking fines, in recognition of the fact that, in his survey of Los Angeles one year, 8 percent of ticketed cars generated 29 percent of tickets.

Shoup isn’t moved by the idea that parking or other violations might disproportionately harm the poor. Lots of people just think "I got a ticket and I’m aggrieved so I’ll say they hurt the poor more," Shoup says. "It’s like pushing poor people in front of themselves like human shields." Nevertheless, the graduated fine idea could be used to give a break to the working poor or destitute and could also be applied to moving violations to keep people from losing jobs or ending up in jail over what are ultimately no, or pretty low, harm crimes.

For those who fear traffic mayhem absent strict enforcement of moving violation fines, a study by Shoup, published in a 1973 issue of Journal of Transport Economics and Policy, is tantalizing. He found that in a controlled experiment in Los Angeles in 1968, having motorcycle traffic cops merely observe from a visible place and take no action produced only a one percent rise in injury accidents over a control period. Switching the cop to a policy of approaching violators but merely warning them led to a 13 percent decrease in injury accidents. Perhaps rugged fine-based enforcement isn’t necessary for a civilized and safe roadway.

Macro data on the specific effect of parking and traffic fines and laws on the poor don’t seem to exist. Blasi, the UCLA law professor who studied the effects of jaywalking enforcement in L.A., says "it’s almost impossible to get any kind of data on pure citations, it’s not part of national crime reporting."

Gathering data or dreaming up policy fixes for to stop the pettiest end of state law enforcement from ruining the lives of the poor isn’t a high priority for academics or even most activists, Blasi says. "Except those representing people on the street, like L.A. Community Action Network, I don’t think anyone pays any attention... [to] policing that seems minor," he explains. "It’s minor to someone like you or me, but to other folks not at all minor."



Original report here




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Monday, January 13, 2014


2450 days in Australian prisons for a murder he didn't commit

Douglas Jensen wrongly spent almost seven years in jail for murdering his father, and he's still fighting for justice. Here is his story, as told to Susan Chenery.

On February 2, 2000, 72-year-old Marius Jensen was found dead from a single shotgun wound in the kitchen of his farm house in Tarrington, south-west Victoria, where he lived with his son, Douglas. His other son, Colin, now 53, had recently moved out after falling out with his father and Marius taking out an intervention order against him.

Given Marius, a beekeeper, was depressed, behaving erratically, facing financial ruin because his beehives had been infected and grieving for his wife, his son believed it was suicide.

Nevertheless Douglas Jensen, now 47, was arrested and charged with his murder four years after the death. After conducting his own appeal he was acquitted almost seven years later. Jensen was a country boy who had lived with his father all his life and had never touched alcohol.


When I first realised my father was dead there was a feeling of disbelief and loss. I found him in the kitchen of our house.

The true reality embedded itself at the Hamilton police station in the early hours of February 3, 2000, when Homicide Detective Constable Leigh Smyth told me: ‘‘We believe he may have been murdered.’’

The police did not accuse me of murdering my father, they asked me if I had killed him. This is my father we are talking about, the very person who gave me life and helped raise me.

On the evening of February 2, Detective Sergeant Lindsay Pickering, of the Hamilton police, asked me in a raised voice if I had killed my father. Pickering’s question was humiliating, insulting and struck at the very core of my existence. I told Pickering what I thought of the question and stated, ‘‘No, I did not kill my father’’.

Sympathy is not something that I have ever experienced while dealing with the police.

The realisation of my suspect status came after being arrested on February 19 for suspicion of murder and released after a ‘‘no comment under advice’’ interview.


On February 26, the Homicide Squad seized items on the properties. In August 2001, it fitted listening and tracking devices to Jensen and his brother Colin’s house and vehicle. Finding the devices, the brothers led the police on wild car chases in acts of defiance.


On May 7, 2004 [four years after his father died], I was arrested and charged with murdering my father. The committal started on January 31, 2005, and ran until February 3.

The magistrate committed me to stand trial on a case composed of circumstantial evidence, a fingerprint on a yellow envelope discovered in August 2001, no DNA, no witnesses and no evidence of gunshot residue on my hands.

The first trial started in Warrnambool on May 8, 2006. At one point I gave evidence and a test [on a pot-bellied stove that had been burning on the night of the death] that had been conducted by an acting inspector of the homicide squad was thrown out.

At the very last moment a female police sergeant from Warrnambool urgently requested entry to the court with some news that would abort the trial. Someone had printed stickers saying that I was guilty and they were found plastered up around Warrnambool.

The next trial was set down for February 2007.


A 2009 appeal court eventually rejected Jensen’s argument that he had not been fit to stand trial. The appeal court also ruled out his other arguments that a combination of errors on the part of the trial judge, the prosecution and the defence had denied him a fair trial.


The judge gave his instructions to the jury and within a few hours they returned a guilty verdict. I was sentenced on June 13 to 20 years’ prison with a non-parole period of 16 years, giving a release date of Monday, April 28, 2020.

Going to prison is an insult to any form of dignity or humanity that you are in possession of or have maintained throughout your life. Strip searches are purely humiliating and insulting. The realisation of the lack of freedom comes when they turn the key in that door and you know that you can’t get out.

I first entered the Melbourne Assessment Prison (MAP) on May 12. I would be living with another male in a two-person cell. To say that prison is daunting is a pathetic understatement. I was a ‘‘new chum’’ – someone who has never been in prison before.

I came from a rural background and had hardly ever seen a tattoo. In the first two days I saw enough tattoos to carpet a three-bedroom house.

I spoke to some people and within a few days I had been stripped of nearly everything I had by parasites who wear the clothes of humans.

I decided that the word ‘‘No’’ would be used a lot more to stop being stripped of goods.

On June 16, I was moved to Port Philip Prison in Laverton. I didn’t even make it through the reception area before someone decided that I should be kept in a cell with human faeces smeared on one wall and a block of concrete in the corner to sleep on.

Unless you have experienced custody you cannot understand the physiological or psychological impact that it has upon you. Management decided that due to my medical condition of being unable to tolerate loud noise I was to be placed in a unit called ‘‘Borrowdale’’.

I entered this unit on June 30 and was placed in a cell with a young man who had been charged with burning a man to death on the banks of the Murray River at Mildura.

I was as green as cucumber and had no idea of how things functioned. Borrowdale functioned on legal drugs and illegal drugs.


Other prisoners asked Jensen to save the Seraquil and Imovane he had been prescribed by hiding them under his tongue during inspections.


This went on for about a week then I missed one night. I was invited to a cell next morning and three people punched shit out of me for not saving the pills. I was covered in cuts and bruises from the beating.

In the 2 years I spent in Borrowdale there were two attempted suicides, two rapes and two consensual male relationships between other inmates. One fellow was getting night-time visits from two female officers who were subsequently sacked. I was forced to accept the possibility of becoming infected with HIV and hepatitis.

I was moved back to Port Philip Prison on July 4 after my second trial to begin the remaining years of my sentence and placed in a two-out cell with a transgender man. There I was in a male prison sitting in a cell with a man who has a set of breasts.

On August 2, I was moved to Barwon Prison near Geelong, the state’s highest security prison. The trip down to Barwon was filled with foreboding and I had heard stories of its violence and how it was called the ‘‘glue factory’’ as people had trouble leaving it. I studied whatever was available – engineering, horticulture, creative writing, electrical, computers and small business management.

In early February 2008, I received notification that Legal Aid funding for an appeal had been denied. Legal Aid told me that it was the prosecution’s right to call or not call witnesses and nothing was done wrong in the trial. In the second denial they said it would not be in the public interest to fund an appeal, no reasons given.

It was suggested that I represent myself in the appeal court and that seemed impossible.

Slowly I came to the realisation that if I was going to have any chance of getting a retrial and possibly going home this is what I would have to do.

In late March 2009, I received an appeal hearing date of May 18. I was going to represent myself with no legal training at all before three senior Supreme Court judges and argue my case.

Several months later I received the appeal hearing date for October 18. I was cross-examined by the prosecution and questioned by the judges. My cross-examination went at a snail’s pace and once completed I got to utter the immortal words ‘‘No further questions’’.

On Tuesday, November 24, 2009, at 9.30am, after he sat down at the bench, Judge Nettle boomed out the following: ‘‘In the matter of Jensen v Queen it is the judgment of this court that the conviction be quashed and a retrial be had’’. It was a unanimous decision.


In October 2009, three Justices in the Supreme Court of Appeal – Nettle, Weinberg and Hollingworth – found a ‘‘very substantial miscarriage of justice’’. They found that the Crown’s failure to call his brother, Colin Jensen, as a witness ‘‘deprived him of a chance of acquittal to which he was entitled’’. They stated: ‘‘If Colin Jensen’s evidence were accepted, it had the potential to increase the possibility of suicide and, if suicide were rejected, to reduce the possibility that the applicant was the culprit.’’

Colin Jensen, their Honours stated, had a motive, he had threatened to kill his father and he had the capacity to make a weapon. ‘‘When one adds that it also deprived him of the ability to cross-examine Colin Jensen as to the latter’s motive and opportunity to kill the deceased, the injustice was very substantial,’’ the judges found.

Colin Jensen would appear at the retrial in February 2011 and vehemently deny that he was anywhere near the property when his father died.


The third trial started on February 1, 2011, and was presided over by Justice Stephen Kaye. [Defence barrister] Christopher Dane QC’s closing address started slowly and he built himself into a crescendo of operatic proportions with him ripping and tearing the prosecution case to shreds at every interval. He attacked members of the homicide squad as demonising me and stated that they did not know what it was like to ‘‘spend years in prison forced to live with other men’’.

‘‘The evidence tells you the level of the injustice.’’

I can remember Dane screaming at the prosecutor at a quiet time in court: ‘‘You cannot connect him to the firearm, you have put that firearm in his hand, you cannot do that.’’

On the morning of February 25 I showered and shaved as I had done for every morning of the 2450 days I had spent in custody. The jury came in with their verdict: ‘‘Not guilty’’. I had gone from maximum security prisoner to free man in less than 20 seconds.

The feeling of freedom was odd. It didn’t bring me any gratification – all it did was end my 6 years in custody.


Soon after his release, Douglas Jensen submitted a claim to the Victoria Attorney General for financial compensation for wrongful imprisonment. The claim was denied. Jensen was informed that the Attorney General was not obliged to give a reason.

Original report here




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